Mon
Jun 3 2013 2:00pm

The Arrivals (Excerpt)

Melissa Marr

The Arrivals cover, Melissa MarrSneak a peek at Melissa Marr's The Arrivals, out on July 2 from William Morrow:

The Wasteland is a world beyond our own. It is a rough and ragged landscape under a two-moon sky, inhabited by monsters and creatures that could almost pass for human. Into this alternate world unwitting people are brought, from both past and present, for reasons none of them know.

Chloe Mattison goes to sleep, drunk and heartbroken, in Washington, D.C., and wakes up in the Wasteland. Chloe is welcomed by Jack and Kitty, brother and sister from a Wild West frontier town. “You're one of us,” they tell her, yet neither Jack nor Kitty, nor any of their companions, know why they were chosen.

Two questions loom large in all of their minds: Why are we here? Is there a way out of this corrupt, demon-filled world? Equal parts The Matrix and The Wizard of Oz, The Arrivals is a page-turning adventure set in a world you will not soon forget.

 

Chapter 1

Kitty saw the bullets tear into Mary’s belly, watched the red stain cover the flowered dress that she’d just stitched up for her closest friend, and her first thought was that there was no way she could repair that kind of damage. The dress was ruined. Close on the heels of that thought was: someone needs to kill the bastard that shot Mary.

They were supposed to be at a meeting, a peaceful, weapons-not-needed negotiation with representatives of a local monastic order. They were supposed to be collecting a payment. They were definitely not supposed to be dealing with trigger-happy monks, but reality had collided with expectations several minutes and a few corpses ago when the monks had pulled guns out from under their gray robes. Worse yet, as Kitty reached for her six-shooter, she heard the atonal mutterings as several of the monks started their prayers.

She slid the gun back into the holster. She’d much rather shoot than deal with the alternatives, but bullets and spells tended to mix poorly. Her partner, Edgar, tossed her a knife. Kitty caught it and kept moving, scanning the area as she walked. There were the two praying monks, two more that her brother, Jack, was dealing with, and the one she’d lost track of in the initial round of gunfire. She couldn’t shoot the praying ones, and Jack was handling his. It was the missing monk—the one who’d shot Mary—who had to die now. She needed to flush the monk out or lure him out. She stopped and turned slowly in a circle, watching for her prey and waiting for him to do the obvious.

Edgar’s expression was tense as he watched her. He never liked it when she was brash, and if she were honest, she’d be even worse if the roles were reversed. She averted her gaze from him and was about to move toward the shadowed interior of the nearest building when a bullet came from the building and grazed her shoulder.

“Found you,” she whispered as the second bullet hit the ground next to her.

The monk stepped out of the building; simultaneously, she charged him. The monk closed his eyes and joined his voice to the other praying monks, summoning their demon’s aid. He spoke faster, and Kitty felt the charge in the air around her as she reached him. It figured that he was the one who was accepting possession.

Kitty shoved the blade into the monk’s throat and twisted. As she stabbed him, she pushed her will into the monk’s body and concentrated on making her words manifest. The monk’s blood burned her where it splashed her face and forearm.

He opened his eyes, and Kitty could see the shifting colors that revealed that his demon was already sliding into his bleeding body. He couldn’t keep speaking his spell, but she hadn’t been fast enough to completely stop it. The last thing she wanted was a demon walking around in a bloody, dead-monk suit.

“Magic it is,” she said.

The monk took a step backward, trying to elude her. His lips still moved, although she couldn’t hear any words. She wasn’t sure if the whisper of the spell was enough, but she wasn’t going to take any chances.

“Speak no more.” She pulled the knife from his throat and jammed the blade into his left eye, before quickly repeating the action with his right eye. “See no more.”

He started to fall to the sandy ground as she withdrew the knife, pulling her will back to her, and letting his life spill out the wounds.

Kitty followed his body to the ground as she jammed the blade into his chest with all the force she could muster. “Live no more.”

As she pushed the knife into the monk’s chest, Edgar came up behind her. His shadow fell over the corpse, and she was briefly tempted to ask for help. She didn’t ask, and he didn’t reach down to pull her to her feet—probably because she had snarled the last time he’d tried.

Carefully, Kitty came to her feet, swaying only a little as the backlash from blood magic hit her. “I’m fine,” she lied before he could comment.

Edgar didn’t touch her, but they both knew he was close enough that she’d be in his arms in a blink if she started to fall. She wasn’t a waif of a woman, but Edgar was all muscle, more than capable of hefting her into his arms. That didn’t mean that she wanted to be hoisted into the air. It was a point of pride to her that she could stand on her own two feet after working magic.

Slowly, she turned to face him. “You have blood on your trousers.”

“True.” He stared at her, read her silences and her movements with the sort of familiarity that comes from too many years to count. “You aren’t ready to try to walk yet.”

Kitty pursed her lips. She was the only one of the Arrivals who could work spells like some of the residents of the Wasteland, but doing so made her feel like her insides were being shredded. Whatever had yanked the Arrivals out of their rightful times and places had changed her when it brought them to this world. She was too much like the native Wastelanders for her liking, but not so much like them that she could work spells without consequences.

After a moment she leaned against him a little. “I hate spells.”

“Is it getting easier, or are you hiding the pain better?”

“What pain?” she joked as the brief numbness of both the fight high and the spellwork receded. The agony of the bullet she’d ignored hit her, and the feel of the bloodburn on her face and arms added a chaser to the sharp sting on her shoulder. She could feel tears slipping down her cheeks, but she wasn’t stupid enough to wipe her eyes with monastic blood on her hands. Instead, she bowed her head, and a few curls that had come undone fell forward, helping hide the tears. As steadily as she could, she reached down and withdrew the knife. With exaggerated care, she wiped it on the monk’s gray tunic.

It didn’t buy her enough time to hide the pain. Maybe it would’ve done so with one of the others, but Edgar was too observant for her to hide most anything from him. When she stood, he had one of his dandified handkerchiefs in hand.

“There’s no shame in resting.” Edgar pushed her curls back and then wiped the tears and blood from her face.

“I don’t need to,” she said, but she put a hand on his chest. The pain would end. The wounds would heal. She just needed to wait them out.

Edgar didn’t comment on the fact that she was shaking. “Jack took care of the last two. You and I could wait here while I catch my breath.”

Kitty shook her head. Edgar was many things, but worn out after a tussle with a few monks wasn’t ever on that list. She wouldn’t be either, except for the impact of the spell.

“There’s no way Jack will agree to that.” Kitty shivered slightly as her body worked through the consequences of the magic. “These were the monks we saw, but there are others. Jack will want to travel.”

Edgar wrapped an arm around her, holding her steady as her shaking grew worse. “Fuck Jack.”

Kitty leaned her head against Edgar. “I’m fine. I’ll rest at the inn tonight and be fine by morning when we head to camp.”

Even though he didn’t argue, his glower left no doubts as to his opinion on the matter. If she truly couldn’t travel, she’d tell them, but she could make it as far as Gallows. What she couldn’t do was be responsible for conflict between the two men who looked after their group. She let herself lean on Edgar for another moment before stepping away.

When she turned, Jack and Francis were watching her. Francis’ face was carefully expressionless, and he held himself still, giving the overall impression of a cautious, slightly battered scarecrow. His long scraggly ponytail was singed at the end, and he had missed a smear of blood on his temple.

Kitty smiled at Francis reassuringly, before letting her gaze drift to her brother. No matter how difficult a conflict was, and no matter how many of them were killed or injured, Jack was always implacable. He was their leader, and to him, that meant focusing on the now. He looked much the same as he had for most of Kitty’s life: like a cross between a preacher and an outlaw. He had the lean frame that served him well in fights, and the baby blues that made him seem angelic enough to stand at a pulpit. Currently, his gaze was fastened on her studiously.

He cradled Mary in his arms, and Kitty forced herself to look at her brother’s eyes instead of at Mary. It was a scant comfort, not looking at her friend, but Kitty still had the childhood hope that her brother could somehow make everything right. He couldn’t, not usually and certainly not today.

She knew without having to hear the words, but Jack said them all the same: “She’s dead, Katherine.”

“I figured.” It hurt to even say the words, to admit the truth, but pretending wasn’t an option. Mary was dead. The only thing left to them now was waiting—and plotting revenge. Kitty walked up closer to Jack and brushed a hand over the dead woman’s hair.

In a procession of sorts, they started the walk back to town. Edgar and Francis kept watch on the windows of the burned-out monastery and any cover where enemies could hide. The monks had said that they were the only ones who stayed at their quarters, but they’d also said they wanted to break bread in peace.

The shadows were starting to gather, and Kitty wondered if they would all be safer staying at the monastery rather than tangling with whatever might wait in the shadows. This world held more threats than she wanted to think about, and more and more their group seemed to end up on the wrong side of them.

“We could wait here for the night,” she suggested. “Everyone’s tired, and the monsters have too much of an edge in the dark.”

“No,” Jack said. “We need to get moving.”

Edgar flashed a scowl at Jack that Kitty pretended not to see. Edgar knew better than anyone that she was weaker right now than she let on, but Jack had to think of all of them. She’d do whatever her brother decided.

Francis didn’t get involved in the decision; he never did. Instead, he glanced at her, assessing her injuries. She knew that he’d bring her some tincture, salve, or vile tea by morning. He was forever trying whatever remedies every snake-oil salesman sold—or mixing his own experimental treatments. A good number of his homemade concoctions were mildly useful, even though far too many of them tasted bad enough to make a person consider staying injured.

“Hey, Francis? I could use one of those muscle soaks when we get back to Gallows.” Kitty put a hand on his forearm briefly. When he stopped walking, she reached up to wipe away the blood on his temple. She reached up and patted his cheek fondly.

“We can’t stay in the inn tonight, Katherine. It’s not safe enough. We’ll head back to the camp.” Jack had stopped when she had. Her brother wasn’t going to admit that he could see how tired she was, but he would adjust his stride so she didn’t have to say it.

She smiled at him. She could make it as far as Gallows, but walking the extra miles to camp would be too much. “No,” Kitty objected. “We can stay in Gallows.”

“The inn isn’t safe enough right now.” Jack wouldn’t do anything he thought would endanger the group unnecessarily, even for her. “We’ll pack up when we reach Gallows and be on the road before full dark.”

“Tomorrow,” she said.

“The brethren are likely to have others here. We can make it to camp tonight. The inn’s not—”

“I’ll keep watch for Kit,” Edgar interrupted. “You and Francis can take Mary back to camp tonight.”

At the same time, both Kitty and Jack said, “But—”

“Kit needs to rest.” Edgar’s voice was even.

“We should stay together,” Jack argued.

Edgar leveled a daunting look at him. “We’re almost to Gallows, Jack. Either we all stay there, or we divide. Whether she’s willing to admit it or not, Kit needs rest.”

For a moment, Jack looked at Kitty with the sort of penetrating gaze that made her want to lie to him. She didn’t often succeed at that, but she felt like a failure for putting him in this position. He didn’t understand how much any sort of death magic drained her.

Before Kitty could lie and say that she was well enough to travel tonight; that she didn’t want to abandon Mary; that she wasn’t exhausted from being shot, bloodburned, and backlashed, Edgar added in that absurdly reasonable tone, “Mary’s dead, Kit. You won’t do anyone any good in this state, and Mary won’t wake for six days.”

“If at all,” Jack added. She could tell his answer had changed as he’d studied the girl.

“If at all,” Edgar concurred.

Jack nodded, and they fell into silence as they walked. There wasn’t a whole lot to say. Either Mary would wake, or she wouldn’t. No one knew why any of the Arrivals did or didn’t wake after they’d been killed. Most everyone woke a few times, but there was no pattern to the hows or the whys of it. They got poisoned, shot, gutted, drained, or killed in any number of ways, but they often stood back up alive and perfectly healthy on the sixth day as if they’d only been sleeping—except when they didn’t.

It wasn’t until they reached the junction where they had to go separate ways that Jack suggested, “Francis maybe ought to go with y—”

“No,” Kitty cut him off. “You’re carrying Mary, and you have further to go. If you run into trouble, you’ll need him.”

“Be careful. Please?”

“Like Edgar would let me be anything else when I’m injured.” She tried for a reassuring smile.

“And you’ll come straight back to camp in the morning?” Jack prompted.

Kitty wanted to argue that he was being difficult, but she’d earned his suspicions—plus she was too tired to argue. She nodded. “Promise.”

Neither Francis nor Edgar said a word, but she knew that they’d both obey Jack if it came down to a direct order. And while she wouldn’t admit it aloud, she knew that they should obey him. There weren’t a lot of things she believed after all these years in the Wasteland, but the one truth that she held on to like it was her religion was that her brother was worth obeying. She’d follow him to Hell without a moment’s hesitation. For the first few years after they’d arrived here, she was pretty sure she had followed him to Hell. In the Wasteland, any number of impossible things lived and breathed. The one unified truth here was that the denizens of the Wasteland all thought the Arrivals were the most unnatural creatures in this world. Sometimes, Kitty thought they were right.

Tonight, though, they were simply a weary group of displaced humans. Kitty watched Jack carry Mary away, saw Francis scan the area for threats, and hoped that come morning no one else would be dead—and that in six days, Mary would be alive again.

 

The Arrivals © Melissa Marr 2013

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