So I’ve started editing my book, Shard, again. I can’t seem to be able to leave this thing alone. Here’s hoping this is the final draft, so that I can send it off to be published. I comfort myself with the fact that it took Pasternak 10 years to write Doctor Zhivago. Not that this is anywhere near as good, but still. Anywho, that said, here’s an excerpt.
She was beautiful. She was so beautiful that I felt as if I’d had the breath knocked out of me, and I could do nothing but stare, clutching at the wood with my dirty, jagged fingernails. It took all of my effort to keep my breathing quiet so that they would not notice my presence. Shard’s face was grim, his eyes like flames, and the veins in his neck stood out as a show of just how much he had to concentrate to restrain himself.
“What is it you want?” he asked evenly. The firelight, the only glow in the room, played with their features and made Shard’s eyes seem even more fiery. Her own eyes – beautiful and grotesque all at once, burning and sulfurous, as yellow as a cat’s – watched him almost with amusement, almost mockingly. Although his frame was twice as large as hers and he loomed over her, there was some cold strength in her pale face, some steely invincibility in the way she carried herself.
“Jack,” she said in a whispery, smoky voice that somehow filled the room even though she spoke fairly quietly. “I haven’t come for a confrontation. After all, until the warrior who is to kill me is found, there isn’t anything to discuss.” She gave him a deep smile and walked to his desk, where a crystal decanter and two goblets waited.
Shard, I could see, was utterly in shock about what she had said. He whirled around, his frame becoming even larger as his chest heaved with breathlessness, and in a blur he had unsheathed a dagger and held it against the tight, pale skin of her neck, his other arm around her waist. Instead of panicking, she chuckled softly and put the decanter back on the desk.
“How did you find out?” he demanded, pressing the blade harder against her neck. I winced as a trickle of dark blood ran down the knife and dripped off the edge, landing in a sticky pool on the wooden floorboards. “How?”
“You did not think I would sit and wait to be destroyed,” she replied, and now there was an edge of hatred, of sulfur, to her voice. My skin felt cold at the sound of it and chills ran up and down my spine, raising goosebumps and tickling my scalp. “You cannot seriously think me so naive. Of course I know about him.”
Shard pressed the blade even harder against her neck, and now he drew out a faint gasp from her as more blood trickled to the floor. “Perhaps you are more prepared, then,” he growled, his lips close to her ear, his teeth clenched. “But you will be destroyed, and if your own conscience fails to do the job, the warrior will certainly step in. Do not overestimate yourself, Morgala. You are not as powerful as you think.” With that he released her, shoving her forward with such force that anyone, especially someone so slender as she, would have fallen over onto the desk. But she whipped around and steadied herself with surprising grace, her back to the desk and her palms on its edge.
“We shall see, Jack.” She took one finger and wiped the blood from her neck, then smeared it over her palm, looking at it with a somewhat fascinated expression. “But I did not come here for this.” She raised her gaze to his face again. “I came to tell you, if your sisters have not, that I have taken the last free city. Cristalia is all that remains. And it is not too late, Jack, to change your mind. Even now I will offer you freedom and riches – I will even spare your sisters – if you stop your search for the man and return with me. But,” she said, her eyes flickering fiercely, “if you do not come now, there will be no more chances. I will destroy you and all that you love.”
“I told you before, witch. I don’t negotiate with evil.”
Her smile returned. “Very well. For the sake of your mother I extend you these graces, but if you wish to spurn them, there is nothing I can do.”
“My mother!” He took a step towards her and his hand went to the hilt of his sword; his shoulders became stooped and every spring in his body seemed coiled and ready to release; instinctively I hunched my shoulders in a protective posture. “You destroyed my mother,” he bellowed, his voice rasping. “That you even dare to keep her appearance is utter cruelty. You caged her and reduced her to a whimpering mess, and now you say you extend me graces for her sake? No. No, I will not be coming with you.”
She shrugged, apparently unruffled by his outburst. “Very well. You have made your choice. In that case, I give you one final warning.” A grin spread on her lips, and it carried so much mockery, so much seething evil, that I suddenly thought she couldn’t be human. No human face could contort in this way and still be so strikingly, perfectly beautiful. “If you find the man, and he kills me, I won’t be going alone.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “Do you understand?”
Shard did not reply, but realization washed over his features, followed by a flicker of fear in his dark eyes.
“Good.” She began walking towards the door and I backed away from the frame, pressing myself tightly against the wall in the shadows beside his bookcase. If she saw me, or if he saw me, one of them would kill me. I was sure of that. I watched her as she moved gracefully across the little entryway and opened the door, then exited into the cool night. I only had a moment to wonder how she would get off the ship – for that matter, how she had gotten onto it – when a bright flash of light accompanied a forceful gust of wind; then darkness but for the firelight.
I remained in my place, my eyes on the frame where I had been listening. After a moment Shard came out, walking slowly, wearily. He shut the door quietly and turned to go back to the room – but his dark, fierce gaze landed on me, and a malicious, wild expression bled into his features as he walked haggardly towards me. My heart raced and I cowered against the wall.
“No, no, I’m sorry! Wait, please-”
“Silence, you bloody nuisance!” he growled, clutching my shirt and pulling me out of the corner. “How long have you been here?” he demanded.
“How much did you hear?”
Without waiting for me to gather enough courage to answer him, he dragged me out of the room, kicking open the door. I clutched at his arm as he pulled me across the deck to the railing and pressed me against it, threatening to push me over.
“Wait, please!” I shouted desperately. “I’m sorry. I heard everything, but I swear I won’t tell a soul,” I pleaded. “Please, I’m sorry!”
He seemed about to shout at me again, but slowly the wildness left his face and his expression softened a little. Abruptly he let go of me and stepped back, breathing heavily, his eyes on his hands. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t have done that.” He looked up at me. “Did I hurt you?”
I shook my head a little, my hand on my chest. “No.” But he had frightened me.
He nodded and walked towards the railing again. I put a little more distance between us as he placed both hands on the railing and looked out at the black sea, but I was fairly certain he wouldn’t do anything more. Little flecks of diamond dotted the black expanse where light from the slender, crescent moon was reflected. I was unsure whether he wanted me to leave, but as he hadn’t said anything I decided to stay. There was no chance I would be able to sleep now, anyway.
“Elizabeth,” he said after several long, quiet moments, using my name for once. “Since you have heard this, there are some things I should explain to you. I normally wouldn’t, but you’re quite clever, and I’d rather tell you the truth myself than have you find out some twisted version of it on your own.” He turned to face me, sliding one of his hands closer, and leaned towards me in an earnest gesture. “But you must swear,” he said, his voice suddenly grave, “that you will never, as long as you live, tell another soul what I am about to say. No one else on the ship knows; no other human on Earth knows.” He exhaled. “Can I trust you?”
The question hung in the air, floated in a mass of resounding, sudden silence. Even the ocean seemed to be holding its breath. I stared at him, unnerved by the change in his demeanor, suddenly feeling as though I was not speaking to a pirate captain at all, but to some sort of ambassador or general. I had never seen him like this before; even his face looked different. And what choice did I have? What would he say if I replied that he could not trust me? I closed my eyes for a brief moment and inhaled, then breathed out, “Yes. Yes, you can trust me.” I opened my eyes.
“I know,” he said, then straightened. “Come with me.”