This is a repost, sort of. There has been a title change, some edits to the chapter–but most of the edits happen later in the book. Some very big changes in how the book started. I will post a scene or two here and then move it over to my Substack. Links for that will be posted next week. Hopefully, life has settled down enough I can finally get back into blogging regularly. Fingers crossed.
A little background. Surtr’s Fury is an urban fantasy/modern fantasy/post-apocalyptic tale. It is different from my other work but it’s something I have been excited about. Depending on how this book does, there are at least two more planned. Anyway, here we go with the opening to Surtr’s Fury.
Living up to my name, heaven help me.
I hate Mondays almost as much as I hate mornings. Monday mornings tend to be the worst, especially in my line of work—both of them. Mondays are when the idiots who acted without thinking—and often after ingesting too much booze or pills or other pharmacological concoctions—over the weekend realize they have a mess that needs to be cleaned up yesterday. When that happens, too many of them become even more foolish and act without thinking. Their panic compounds the problem, crossing the line that brings them to the attention of my bosses and, therefore, to me.
My name’s Ellen Ripley Walker, Ripley or Rip to my friends. Yes, my parents were big science fiction fans. For some reason I’ll never understand, they thought it would be a good thing to name me after one of the most kick-ass heroines in the genre. The fact I was born the same year the world turned upside down and inside out only confirmed—to them, at least—that they made the right decision.
For me, well, that’s a different story. The family legacy weighed heavily enough on my shoulders. Add in the name and, well, there were times I wanted nothing more than to disappear and become Mary Sue Jones, worried only about than watering my plants and feeding my cat.
But that’s all a dream and a far cry from my reality.
Welcome to my world. A world where, when I’m not tending bar, I work for the Council of Paranormals for North America. You might say I’m following in my parents’ footsteps. You see, the Council is responsible for keeping the paranormal community in line. It monitors the various packs, prides, pards, covens, clans, nests and all the other various groupings of paranormals in the United States and Canada. The Council enacts laws and hands down punishments the human courts, for whatever reason, can’t. After all, the last thing we need is for some moon sick shifter or a magicker whose talents have gone wild to attack a human.
When that happens and, unfortunately, it happens all too often for my liking, the Council calls in one of its Marshals. If a situation arises in this part of the country, that usually means me. Like my parents and grandparents before me, I serve the Council as what might best be described as its fixer.
In other words, when the Council calls in one of its Marshals, we become judge, jury and, when needed, executioner. We report directly to the Council and when a para breaks Council law, our authority takes precedence over local and federal law enforcement. It’s not something we advertise to the world-at-large, but it is something every para is taught from an early age—or at least they should be. My parents taught me as a child this was necessary to help keep the peace between our kind and the normals. We might not live in the shadows any longer, but there are still too many who fear or envy us simply because we’re different.
Marshals like me are why the paras and humans can co-exist without war breaking out. The truth is most paras are no more dangerous than the average human. We even tend to have stronger moral and ethical codes than most because we had to hide who and what we are for most of human history. But, as with humans, there are those who think the rules don’t apply to them, those who are evil, and those who just don’t give a fuck. It’s our job to keep them under control or make sure they are located someplace they can’t cause anyone else any harm.
And the Upheaval made our jobs all the more important.
When the first rifts opened, releasing a torrent of magical energy across the world, everything changed. Our existence became known to the rest of the world. That doesn’t mean all paras stepped out of the shadows. Far from it—and that’s just fine with me. Hollywood and the bestsellers lists made vampires and werewolves sexy and, well, normal. At least as normal as anyone with a thirst for blood or the ability to shapechange without donning a costume can be. But there are other paras out there who truly are the things of nightmares. Whether it’s because they know they sit at the top of the food chain and the rest of us are just a snack waiting to be taken or because of how they look unless they use magic to hide their true appearance, those paras chose to remain hidden. But they aren’t the only ones. Some of the smaller—and I do mean smaller—members of the paranormal community hide as well. Not that I blame them. If I was only the size of a hummingbird, I’d hide as well.
The Council lets them stay in the shadows, knowing there’s a very real possibility that panic would run rife among the “normals” if they knew just how many different species of paranormals exist. It wouldn’t matter the normals outnumber us by a magnitude in the hundreds, if not thousands. All they’d see are the monsters from their nightmares, waiting to steal their children and murder the rest of them in their sleep.
The fragile peace between our kinds would shatter into a million pieces. The inevitable result would be bloodshed and death. Neither side would emerge unscathed.
That’s why the Council laid down strict laws forbidding interaction between certain para species and the humans. It’s also why they created safe zones near the magical rifts that now dot the Earth’s surface. These rifts tore away the veil hiding our kind from the normal world. These safe zones became home for those who either couldn’t or didn’t want to live near the normals. The Zones are the only places where humans risk more than their lives if they stay too long. Doing so risks their humanity because we still don’t know what exposure to a rift’s energies for more than a few hours might do to them.
I pushed open the front door of the converted warehouse, shoving all thoughts of the Council and the Upheaval from my mind. The smells of stale coffee, sweat and microwave popcorn assaulted my nose as I stepped inside. It was a direct contrast to the almost spartan look of the waiting room. Alyce Hampton, hedge witch and the current receptionist, looked up from her laptop and nodded toward the door behind her, the message clear. He was waiting and I needed to get my ass in gear before he sent someone out to hunt me down.
I blew out a breath and stepped forward. Even though Alyce already let Red know I was there, I knocked once and opened the door, stepping inside.
I closed the door and closed my eyes, blowing out a long breath. I didn’t need to look up to know the gruff voice matched the gruff expression on my foster father’s face. Of course, it was nearly impossible for him not to look that way. Part troll, part dwarf, and part who knew what, Redmond Oakley no longer bothered with personal glamours to hide his true appearance. He was short, barely five six inches tall, with a barrel chest and thick arms and legs. His skin was a deep russet. He sported thick greying hair, except for the top and sides of his head where he shaved it close to his scalp. But it was his almost black eyes and the way they seemed to see everything that one remembered.
Red ran what he euphemistically called a reclamation agency. Most of his employees focused on finding paras who went missing. Sometimes they disappeared of their own accord and sometimes because they crossed the wrong person and sometimes—fortunately not too often—because someone abducted them to find out what made them what they were.
But all that was a front for the actual work done here. Just as the bar Red owned was a front for some of his other interests. Here, Red and “the team” did research and trained. It’s where clients came to discuss their cases. It is also where Red ran interference with—and sometimes for—the Council. At the bar, we gathered information and monitored those paras who loved their drink and drugs and couldn’t hold their tongues if their lives depended on it.
Yes, we. Because I spent most evenings and all too many weekends slinging drinks behind the bar at The Red Dragon Brew Company. It might not be the sort of job most parents want for their kids, but it fit my needs and, well, my folks weren’t around any longer to approve or not. I owed Red for taking me in and this was one way of repaying him.
“Well? Anything to say for yourself, girl?”
I glanced at my watch and rolled my eyes.
“Late? Really?” I crossed the office and dropped onto one of the two chairs in front of Red’s battered desk. As I did, I considered reaching out with one booted foot and nudging the corner of the desk to see if any of the stacks of files and loose paper would topple over. In the five years I’d worked for him, the stacks had grown and multiplied until there wasn’t a bit of the desktop visible. “It’s barely noon and I’m not scheduled to go on shift at the bar until six.”
“Then why’re you here, Walker? I’m not gonna pay you overtime.” His black eyes glittered, and one corner of his mouth lifted in what someone might generously say was a smile.
I barked out a laugh and crossed my legs. “When have you ever paid overtime, Red? You’re a stingy bastard, but we love you anyway.”
I grinned as he growled. But the sparkle in his eyes gave him away. I might frustrate the hell out of him at the best of times, but he liked me. More than that, he liked the bounties I brought in when he managed to get me to agree to take the job. Besides, I always got my paperwork in on time and did my best to make sure the other Marshals did as well. That meant money in my pocket and his, something he appreciated more than just about anything else.
“Yeah, you say that to every guy who signs your paychecks.” His voice rumbled deep in his barrel chest.
“You haven’t signed a check in years, Red. Everything’s digital now.”
“You’re such a bitch, Walker.”
“No argument there, Red.”
Survival in this post-Upheaval world meant being able to take care of yourself. Doing what I did, you’d better be a ball-buster who wasn’t afraid to draw blood if you wanted to live to see the next day. That was the first lesson my mama taught me when she sat me down at the ripe old age of ten and told me this was my legacy. She’d been a Marshal until she disappeared on a job for the Council. My dad had been one until a feral wyvern killed him protecting its nest.
I’d been nine when Dad died and almost thirteen when Mom didn’t come home. Red took me in and put me to work. First, I helped out around the office, sweeping the floors, running errands, that sort of thing. Oh, he made sure I finished school, but he also saw to it that I got the training I needed to carry on the family legacy. When I asked him about it a couple of years ago, all he said was he promised my parents and he always kept his promises.
“As long as you remember you’re my bitch.” He grinned and cracked his large, hairy knuckles.
I arched one brow. Nothing else. I didn’t need to do or say anything, not when he paled and swallowed hard, realizing how badly he stepped in it.
He licked his lips once. “You know what I mean, Ripley.”
I waited, watching as sweat pricked out on his forehead. Then I grinned. I didn’t mind letting him sweat, but I did know what he meant.
“No worries, Red. Just don’t say something like that in front of anyone else.” That was all the warning he’d get.