– ‘The Magic of Wor(l)ds’ blog is a hobby, reviews and other bookish stuff on this site are done for free. –
Today I’m on the ‘The Wounded Ones’ blogtour, organised by Meerkat Press.
To promote this book I have an excerpt, but b
About the Author :
Title: The Wounded Ones by G.D. Penman (Witch of Empire 2)
Release Date: 6/23/20
Genre: Urban Fantasy / LGBTQ / Detective
Demons and serial killers are Iona “Sully” Sullivan’s bread and butter, but nothing could have prepared her to face off against the full weight of the British Empire at the height of its power. With the War for American Independence in full swing, she finds even her prodigious talents pushed beyond their limits when citizens of the American Colonies begin vanishing amidst rumors of crop circles, hydra sightings and worse. Through a wild and lethal adventure that will see her clashing with the Empire around the world and beyond, the only constants in Sully’s life are an undead girlfriend, a giant demon crow that has taken a shine to her, regular assassination attempts by enemies on all sides, and the cold certainty that nothing and nobody is going to make it out of the war in one piece.
The Gobi Grill was a Mongolian joint on Staten Island. Of the different boroughs of New Amsterdam, Staten had always been the wealthiest and the most resistant to what the IBI used to call “foreign influences,” but even here, the Gobi stood out. Amidst French cuisine, Italian pizzerias, Greek salad buffets and stolid British pub food, it was the only place with anything spicy on the menu. Sully had always hated it, which meant that every time it was her partner’s turn to pick a take-out joint, the delivery came from there. On the late nights in the office, there was nothing that Ceejay had enjoyed more than watching Sully eat the spiciest thing he could find on the menu without flinching. Sully had always appreciated his sense of humor, even when she was the victim of it.
Right on cue at twenty minutes to nine, Ceejay swaggered in through the door in a sky blue Ophiran suit. He spotted Sully sitting by the bar and spun on his heel to walk back out again. He made it as far as the street before Sully’s snort of laughter brought him back inside.
“General Sullivan! Haven’t you won this war yet? I can’t sleep at night with all the banging on the barrier. You are so negligent. It is amazing that I didn’t steal your job years ago.”
Sully got up to shake his hand but stiffened as he engulfed her in a hug. Softly he murmured, “It is good to see you.” Then he stepped back and was instantly back to his full braying volume. “Two coffees, please, and four Nai Wong Bao.”
They settled by the bar after Ceejay had made a big show of yawning and stretching so he could get a good look around the place. There was no breakfast crowd to speak of—a few people were grabbing take-out coffee orders and there was an old Oriental man snoozing over a bowl of fishy soup in a booth. As far as Sully could tell, the Gobi never closed.
The food was in front of them before Sully could get a word in. Ceejay asked, “You came alone? I thought you would have bodyguards and sycophants dribbling out behind you these days.”
Sully scoffed, “Like I’ve keep telling you all these years, I can take care of myself.”
He raised an imperious eyebrow. “I seem to recall your telling me that—just before I had to pull your ass out of the fire.”
Sully prodded at the gelatinous white lumps on her plate. “What am I eating here?”
“Steamed buns. They have custard inside. Very British. You should like them.”
She took a small bite. Swallowing took some effort. Ceejay waggled his eyebrows again. “No?”
“I didn’t miss eating your weird food.”
“I’ve missed watching you eat my weird food. Your face—”
She cut him off. “How’s business? They haven’t kicked you back down to the mailroom yet?”
Ceejay chuckled. “I think that if there was no war going on, all the polite white people would’ve had me taken out back and shot by now. But since you keep dragging your feet, I get to keep being top dog in the IBI.”
“Well, I’ll do my best to keep fucking up then. For your job security.”
He gave a little mock bow of thanks, then tucked into his own buns as Sully tried to wash the texture out of her mouth with coffee. After a moment of comfortable silence she said, “I hear you’ve caught an interesting case.”
“I catch all the interesting cases. I am like a net that hangs underneath a thousand useless constabularies, catching everything that isn’t completely obvious.” His voice was slightly muffled by the mouthful of food.
“I was thinking about a specific interesting case. One that is almost as interesting as the one that I had just before I left the IBI.”
He sighed. “I don’t know why I pretended this was a social call. You are here about work. You are always all about work.”
Sully stared intently down into her coffee. “When things are settled and the war is over, there will be time to be friends again. Hell, I might even apply for my old job. You could be my boss.”
That earned her a belly laugh. “I can just picture it—‘Sully, I need you to investigate this terrible crime.’ ‘Ceejay, go to hell, I am hungover.’” His smile never faltered as he hissed, “Did you check that we are safe to talk here?”
Sully let her arcane senses sweep out of her body and through the restaurant. She could feel the fire runes in the kitchen like a crackling pressure at the edge of her consciousness, and the alarm charms woven into the doors and windows vibrated softly against her gentle intrusion. Laid over all of it was the sensation of her own magic, an almost imperceptible bubble blocking anyone from scrying on them. “We’re good for now.”
“No pattern,” he started. “These people, they seem to vanish with no logic at all. They go to bed one night and the next morning, poof. Nothing. It is not isolated to Nova Europa. The Northern provinces of the Republic have been losing people too. I know that the United Nations have lost some, but they don’t trust us enough to even give names or locations. They give me nothing but dates of the disappearances and then they expect everything that we have in return. Pricks.”
“And the Schrödingers?”
“They go haywire. Spike off the chart. There is definitely magic at play, but if any of our guys have a clue what it is, they are keeping it to themselves.” Ceejay knocked back the last of his coffee.
Sully sipped hers. “Any theories?”
“The smart money is on spies. Everyone knows that the British had them everywhere. Now that the hammer is about to fall, they are pulling them all out. The crazy power spikes may be some sort of pumped up portals to get past the blocks your friends cast.”
Sully frowned. “That makes no sense .You don’t withdraw your spies when you are about to fight someone, you keep them in place so they can feed you vital intel—troop movements, morale on the ground. I don’t buy it.”
Ceejay was scowling. “It doesn’t matter what you buy. It isn’t your job anymore. Remember? You quit.”
A bitter laugh escaped Sully. “Yeah, lucky me.”
It was only when he turned on her that she realized he wasn’t joking. “Back off, Sully. You have your own business to be dealing with. Stay out of mine.”
Sully’s jaw clenched but she forced her temper down. She had a lifetime of practice at that. “I don’t know what you think is going on, but I don’t want my job back.”
“What’s going on is that just when I thought I was going to see my friend again for the first time in months, a spy walked in dressed in her clothes. Fuck you very much, Sully.”
Sully did not blow up the Gobi Grill. She even paid the tab for the coffee and glutinous lumps. When she stepped out into the street, the gathering of three dozen crows perched on every flat surface was probably a complete coincidence and nothing to do with her mood. She shooed them away and waited to watch them circle up through the canyon between the skyscrapers to vanish into the chill blue sky. She blew out a warm cloud of breath after them. She didn’t know what was worse: Ceejay’s calling her a government stooge or his being completely right. Her phone started to vibrate in her pocket and with great reluctance she drew it out. She wasn’t sure how Ogden had adapted to modern technology faster than she had, given that she had several centuries head-start, but there was his name flashing on the screen.
She grunted, “Sullivan.”
He replied, “Ogden.” She could almost hear the smug grin.
“What do you want, Ogden?”
“I just thought that it might be an auspicious time to invite you to visit with us in Manhattan.”
Sully tried not to growl. “Why would anyone want to do that?”
“You could take a look at the unique architecture? Get to know your new friends and allies? Come and witness the ritual that we use to tear down the Veil of Tears?”
Sully huffed out another plume of steam. “You finished the spell.”
“We have most assuredly finished the spell.”
What Manhattan used to be could be seen in its foundations. As she soared over the water Sully caught a glimpse of wood and whitewash here and there. The ground gravel beneath her course still bore the shape of cobblestones in places and there was unmistakably dirt and dung beneath that. Once upon a time, this had been a human place. The moment that she looked higher than knee height the illusion that it still belonged to mankind vanished. Conjured stone twisted up into the skyline, jagged and impossibly symmetrical. The spires of Manhattan resembled nothing so much as gargantuan termite mounds and the fact that the doorways and thoroughfares of the city had been designed with residents many times the size of humans in mind just hammered home the idea that humans were visitors here. The outer wall stood at more than twenty feet tall and the smooth white expanse of it was oppressive, but it also hid the strangeness of everything within its circumference very well. There was no gate in or out of Manhattan; there was no need when every one of the residents could fly. Sully tried not to shudder as she saw the demons coiled along the ramparts beneath her, nesting in the belfries and lurking in the shadows between the towers. There were not as many of them as there were Magi, but the numbers were close. In all of the dull meetings since the war began, Sully had not voiced her suspicions that behind their impassable walls the Magi were summoning more demons to bolster their forces. It wasn’t as though there was anything that could be done, even if they were; Manhattan was a law unto itself. That had been the problem since before it popped back into the world.
Sully took the scenic route down to the massive ritual circle in the center of the city where the mass of Magi were gathered. Intelligence about America’s allies had been even harder to come by than information about the British in the past months, so she was making up for lost time. That was what she told herself to justify her slow descent. It wasn’t because she was frightened to go down into a massive nest of demons that would eat her magic and tear her to shreds and it certainly wasn’t because she was keeping an eye out for Mol Kalath. The bird could be here or not, it made no difference to her. Once she was sure that it was not, she dove to land gracelessly by Ogden’s side. He was grinning. “A very pleasant afternoon to you, Miss Sullivan.”
“Right. How long have we got until the fireworks start?”
He swept his arms out to encompass this little town square. “They have already begun the preliminary casting. Each component shall be bound within the circle and when all of the parts have been assembled—”
Sully grumbled. “I know how ritual magic works. I’m asking for a time.”
When he laughed it tugged on the scars across his lips, making him flinch. “By this time tomorrow, the Veil of Tears shall be unpicked and all the hell of Europe will be unleashed upon the British. Even now we ready our envoys to meet with the trapped demons. We shall marshal our forces in France, then strike out before tomorrow ends. They will not stand against such an onslaught for long. I would expect surrender by the following dawn at the latest.”
“Good job. Has Pratt been told?” Sully cracked her knuckles.
“The Prime Minister has been informed, yes.”
Sully closed her eyes and felt the magic taking form, each caster stitching their spell onto the last, every spell simple and easy to replace if an error was made, but woven together into an immense, complex tapestry. She had punched through a few barrier spells in her day, but that was a momentary disruption of the stable patterns, not a permanent solution like this patchwork monstrosity of a spell. She could already see the shape that it was going to take from the gaps left in the framework that they had cast so far. Understanding the totality of it was probably beyond her, but she could appreciate the craft.
“So, did you invite me here to watch you all casting for twenty hours? Because I might need a seat or something.”
Ogden shuffled his feet. “Knowing the little that I do of you, I had assumed that you would want to be at the front lines when the fighting begins.”
“You assumed right.” Sully flexed her hands. The dense magic that saturated the air was teasing little sparks of spellfire from her fingertips.
“Which is why our mutual friend has offered to carry you with the vanguard to Europe.”
Sully grimaced at the tell-tale rustle of feathers behind her. “Hello again, Mol Kalath.”
“GREETINGS, SHADOW-TWIN.” The voice tore right through Sully every single time. Even the other demons roaming free around Manhattan chattering in their own tongue didn’t make her head creak as much.
“I guess that you’re my ride to Europe?”
“THE DISTANCE IS TOO GREAT FOR YOUR SPELLS OF FLIGHT. YOU SHALL RIDE UPON MY BACK AND AT LAST WE WILL HAVE TIME TO CONVERSE.”
Sully ground her teeth together while Ogden clapped her on the back. “Just think, Miss Sullivan. In two days’ time, the war will be over and we will have toppled the British Empire.”
She unclenched her jaw. “All right. Let’s do this.”
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