Deep Red, Chapter One

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March 3, 1698: Since we first arrived in this parallel reality, we have become thieves and ghosts. There are so many of us that we have to keep ourselves hidden, at least until we can devise a plan to spread out … August 11, 1968: The Residents, as we call the creatures in this reality that resemble us in sense and feeling, have begun to invite us into their tribes and to teach us their ways. One of their members, a primordial called Gentle Rain, has facilitated this union. She tells us that the primordials are responsible for creating  all life in this reality, though Rain says the originals have been slumbering for quite some time. While each primordial has the gift of life and large-scale creation, Rain says most are loathe to use it. Rain has convinced the Ute tribes that inhabit these mountains that we mean no harm. We might find a home here, after all … February 4, 1699: I fear these creatures that come in the night, the shadow versions of the volemics. Rain tells us they are new Residents created by primordials to combat the presence of volemics. Rain says she is not responsible, but she believes they mean us harm. She says that we will need to move to more populated areas, though she will not explain why. Subsequently, my people, changelings, kindred and volemic alike, are all moving away from the mountains … March 3, 1699: Instead of traveling with my Otherworld brothers and sisters, I have chosen to stay in the friendship of the local Residents for a time. The kindred shadows–or Ute witches [author’s note: may also be translated as “shamans”], are teaching my kindred wife their magic, and the changeling shadows–the wolf shifters–have inducted me into their pack … April 5, 1699: I went on my first hunt last night with the Resident shifters and discovered that I am much faster and stronger in this reality than in the Otherworld. I cut my foot on a rock in the canyon and within moments the wound healed. The Resident shifters tell me they have similar capabilities. Perhaps coming to this place is as fortuitous as Margaret, my now East-bound leader, predicted, especially now that the volemic shadows seem to have disappeared … January 25, 1700: There are many secrets that those who came before us kept. The new gifts of strength and healing are the least of them. I wonder if our predecessors feared the truth would delay our arrival. If only they knew that no truth could keep us in the Otherworld. The Resident shifters have been around since the first changeling came through the portal thousands of years ago, and they are much wiser than most of my departed brothers would have liked to believe. They know about wars and struggles between the Otherworlders and the shadows. I believe that the volemic shadows followed my brothers East to begin a new war … March 24, 1700:  Blacksoul Shinab, as my wife calls herself here–which is unusual since, in the Otherworld, we took the females’ last names–says we will only stay until she has mastered the magic of this region, which she claims is greater because of the energy from the portal … June 21, 1700: I fear for Blacksoul’s natural spirit. The magic here is unknown, and possibly unknowable. She becomes more obsessed every day, while I continue to seek a primordial. We must leave to warn our brothers and sisters of the dangers of the volemic shadows … October 17, 1700: After much searching, I have found one primordial in this territory. She takes no responsibility for the volemic shadows and will tell me nothing of their strengths or weaknesses. I don’t believe her innocence, and know that now the volemics have crossed, they will continue to be plagued by these abominations….

 excerpts from The Diary of Walker Shinab, 1698-1700, trans. by Jonah Shinab, 1849

Marlo

Chapter One

What’s in Your Blood?

Marlo’s fingers and toes grew numb from the heavy iron manacles that restrained her wrists and ankles. Her abdomen was also covered with iron, while her breasts and genitalia were exposed, not that she could do much with those. She suspected some attempt at shame from her captors. At least they were under the impression that she was nothing more than kindred, and that she cared about her modesty. If they knew better, they would use both iron and silver. Their mistakes would lengthen the clock for her by minutes, maybe hours.

She opened her eyes and tried to turn her head but realized it was in a vice. Opening her mouth slightly, she vomited blood, which trickled down her chin and onto her breasts. It turned cold and sticky against her skin.

The room was concrete bleak. Probably a basement. On a raised platform in front of her sat a podium topped with a half circle of panels tilted away from her. Other than that, she saw a staircase out of her periphery that started about fifty feet beneath the door it led up to.

She tried to remember what happened before she woke up. Whoever — whatever — hit her had preternatural strength she had never experienced before. For three years, getting pummeled in the head had been part of her daily routine. After healing each time at a masterful speed, she thought she was invulnerable. Now she knew better.

She had never seen anything move that fast. Not kindred, volemic or changeling, and especially not the Residents’ versions of them. With continuous discoveries in biomechanics and genetic manipulation, however, her enemies could have any number of solutions for the problem of her.

She fully integrated herself into her abilities more than a year ago, and what she once called her “condition” became an ally. In her current situation, that ally could save or damn her, depending on what kinds of tests they ran, and how talented their staff was. Though she perceived the advantages to all be on her side, time could run out and escape by her own means would reveal her secret.

She shut her eyes again and breathed.

“Still sleeping?” A clipped, unaccented voice broke the silence. Her eyes opened at the sound of his words, and his footfalls that echoed as he descended into the room. He stood in front of her and eyed the drying blood on her breasts. After he mounted the steps to the podium, he pushed a button. “Bring our guest some warm water and a wash cloth. Oh, and be sure to bring a swab kit as well.” He glanced at her. “Anything might be useful, of course.” She imagined he wanted her to agree with him. Curious.

Marlo noted his military haircut and his practiced posture. Though he looked like he was in his early twenties, he might have been much older. She could smell his humanity from across the expanse. She never understood the comfort the Residents derived from arrogance. Vampire or not, he was still fragile and perfectly aware of this world’s reality. Yet he lacked the fear that might have wizened him.

Marlo heard steps again. The woman who approached was appropriately nervous, and her gloved hands shook as she swabbed Marlo’s belly. After sealing the swab in a tube, the woman smeared the mess with a warm towel. She was too gentle and not thorough enough to remove more than the obvious pieces.

When the woman left, the man addressed her again. “Better?” he asked.

“I’d rather smell like puke than be dead, I suppose.”

The vampire looked at her with disdain. “Yes, we’re all somewhat surprised at that . . . unusual development. We sent our best man to kill you.”

“I’m flattered.”

The man frowned. “You’re meant to be dead.” He took a beat to compose himself. She realized he probably thought she was as unwise as she thought him. He didn’t know she had no reason to be afraid.

“Now,” he said, “I have to discover why you’re still alive.” Her headache worsened as the iron around it constricted. “Here’s how we play the game. I ask you a question, and you answer. If I like your answer, I inject a morphine-like substance made special for you Otherworlders. If I don’t like your answer, then I administer pain.”

Either way, Marlo thought, I die. At least in his fantasy world. “So,” she said. “If I play teacher’s pet, I’m free to go?”

“Precisely.”

“What do you want to know?” she asked. She almost smiled at the look of surprise and the thinnest whisper of dismay he betrayed at her answer.

Chapter Two→