Dark Union, which is Descent #2.5 (more on this later), has been 90% completed for quite a few weeks now. Actually, since I finished The Darkest Gate. I was spending a lot of time poking at it without getting much of anywhere, so I pushed it off so I could wrap things up with Gray Moon Rising.
The problem was, I didn't really know what I wanted to accomplish with it, and I can't finish a rough draft until I know what The Point of the story is. There has to be some greater message that says something important about the series--some critical statement of character or theme, for instance--and until that comes together, things just don't cohere.
I had a breakthrough last week. I suddenly knew, about five minutes before I passed out one night, what this novella's about. So I hurriedly scribbled a few notes on my iPad before going unconscious. Miraculously, they were actually legible when I woke up next morning!
So! Dark Union. Descent #2.5. It's done.
I'll edit it next week, abuse my editors with it, and get it to you guys shortly.
Every fifty years, the most powerful ethereal and infernal beings convene on Earth to resolve conflicts with mediation by kopides--humans born to police relations between Heaven and Hell. They're meeting in Elise Kavanagh's territory this year, and she used to be the greatest kopis in the world. But she's not invited.
An old friend, Lucas McIntyre, asks her to attend the summit in his place. When she arrives, she discovers that a human faction called The Union has taken charge of the summit, and they're not playing nice. Worse yet, someone has killed a prominent Union member, and now they're demanding blood.
Elise has to bring justice to the summit in DARK UNION, a 30,000-word urban fantasy novella featuring a decrepit ghost town, angry men with guns, and even angrier angels.
The cover probably doesn't look familiar to you, since I was originally going to release it with this cover, but the blurb should ring some bells if you've read the rest of the series. This book is tightly linked to Descent continuity in a few ways:
1.) McIntyre made an appearance in Death's Avatar. He's Elise's kopis friend in Las Vegas.
2.) I mentioned the semi-centennial summit in Death's Hand via phone conversation with McIntyre, too. (Remember that part?)
3.) The Union has also been making rounds in my books lately, too. And they're big bullies.
So why book #2.5 if it's so high on continuity? Why not stretch it out into book #3?
The origin of this one is a little funky. Dark Union was actually meant to be the beginning of Damnation Marked (DM). But it turned out that the summit had too much going on to be relegated to the first act of book three, and it doesn't have much to do with the over-arching plot of DM, so I removed it.
I thought I could make it a novelette, like Death's Avatar. Then it grew... and grew... and now it's about twice as long as its novelette sister. And while Death's Avatar stands alone beautifully, Dark Union does not. You have to read it in between books two and three if you want it to make any sense.
But it's not long enough to be a full book. Sigh.
What the heck am I supposed to do with a weird, in-between story like this? Make it #2.5, that's what. It's the best solution I've got. I'm open to better suggestions if anyone has one. ;)
Fans of The Descent series will really like Dark Union. Anthony actually gets some time on the page as a hero (since James isn't around), Elise is her usual I-chew-nails-for-breakfast badass self, and we get to meet the greatest kopis who replaced her. I'm really excited about it. It was a lot of fun to kick around, even if it's kind of a funky story.
Here's an excerpt, which hasn't been edited yet, so please forgive the rocky writing.
Lucas McIntyre wasn’t a patient man. He didn’t have to be. He lived life on his own schedule, which usually entailed nonstop movement—jogging in the desert behind his mobile home, or lifting weights, or doing whatever chores Leticia told him to do that day. That was how it had been since he gave up on high school at the ripe age of fifteen and moved to his grandma’s trailer outside Las Vegas.
He knew he wasn’t the most educated man, but he took care of his family. And he did it by constant motion. Always working, always surviving. Waiting was foreign to him.
Yet he found himself in the parking garage outside McCarran International Airport at eleven fifty-five at night, sitting on the hood of his 1983 Ranger, and trying not to go crazy while he waited for help to arrive.
McIntyre dug under his fingernails with a flip knife, cleaning out bits of dirt and blood. The blade was etched from his last kill. Some spider-demons the size of his truck had wandered out of the north and tried to eat him. All the bad stuff came from the north.
He flicked dirt and dead skin onto the pavement and checked his watch again. The scratched face said only a minute had passed.
McIntyre flipped the knife shut, then open again. He put it in his pocket. Took it out. Checked the time.
Still eleven fifty-six.
Even at night, the airport was busy. Lots of people going in and coming out. Lots of cabbies, lots of casino shuttles, lots of gamblers in a big hurry to lose money.
The worst breed of tourists had been passing through in the last few weeks, too—the inhuman kind. He saw a dozen demons pass through the parking garage and knew them by the tickle at the back of his skull even though they passed for human. He itched to intercept one of them and demand a passport. If they didn’t have evidence of amnesty at all times, it was his prerogative to throw them out.
But McIntyre wasn’t at the airport to police demons that night, so he waited.
Finally, he caught a glance of the person he was waiting for on the other side of the walkway. He raised an arm to catch her attention. She hurried over with some guy he didn’t recognize at her back.
Elise Kavanagh had aged and softened since the last time McIntyre saw her. She used to be such a hard motherfucker. All hard lines and scars and barely-bridled fury. She used to be the greatest demon hunter in the world, too, and she’d always acted the part. But years later, she looked like any other woman. Lots of brownish hair. A few more scars that she was trying to cover with a long-sleeved blouse, fingerless gloves, and cutoff shorts.
She didn’t look anything like the same person that helped him take down a whole centuria of demons in the Grand Canyon eight years back, but there was no mistaking her. She still had that weird emptiness in her eyes, and when they gripped each other’s wrists in greeting, he felt those damn knives under her sleeves.
“Security fucked up on that,” he said by way of hello.
“Checked baggage. I put them on after I got off the plane.” Her speech was more precise than it used to be. She’d gotten educated.
He jerked his chin at the man behind her. “The hell is this? Where’s James?”
Elise swayed on her feet, putting a hand to her forehead. She took a deep breath. After a beat, she straightened again, giving no sign of her momentary weakness. “Lucas McIntyre, meet Anthony Morales. He hunts with me.”
Anthony set his suitcase on the ground and shook hands with McIntyre. “I’m her boyfriend,” he said. His skin was tan-brown and he had a cowlick in the front that made his hair stick up. It looked like he’d been sleeping on the flight. There wasn’t a visible scar on his body.
McIntyre chewed on the corner of his mouth as he studied both of them. By the way Kavanagh stood two feet away and barely acknowledged Anthony’s existence, they looked about as intimate as a lion and the gazelle she was about to eat. Leticia was going to have a field day with that one.
“All right,” he finally said. “Put everything in back.”
He opened the camper shell. They had only brought a suitcase and a backpack. Anthony threw the first one in, but Elise hung onto the second as they climbed into his truck.
“How’s Tish?” she asked. He could tell she was just trying to be polite. That was new for her, too.
“She’s in a good mood,” McIntyre said. He threw the truck into gear.
Elise arched an eyebrow. “At least that’s one of you.”
He hadn’t been in a good mood since the doctor told him that fluid levels were low in his wife’s womb—whatever the hell that meant—and that her cervix was too open for that part of the pregnancy. Those two things were bad, apparently. She’d been on bed rest for weeks, and they had an induction scheduled for Friday morning if she didn’t “stabilize,” even though she wasn’t due for another month. The clock had just ticked over to midnight on Friday. He needed to get her to the hospital in five hours.
It was silence in the truck as they got on the highway. Elise’s supposed boyfriend was staring out the window with puffy red eyes. She hugged the backpack to her chest and didn’t look at him.
“Thanks for coming,” McIntyre said after a few dozen miles of listening to static-filled country on the radio. The road out of Vegas was long, and they had to go through a lot of suburbs to get there, but traffic was pretty much dead. It wasn’t long before the lights of downtown receded.
Elise gave a slight shake, like she was clearing her head. “You called in a really big favor to drag me down here. I had to borrow about three hundred bucks off James to even make the flight. So let’s get to it—what do you need?”
“I emailed all the info I have to you.”
“I didn’t have time to read any of your six attachments,” she said. “Anthony and I got on the plane an hour after you called. Give me the recap and save me a few minutes of reading.”
McIntyre blew a breath out of his lips. “Okay. The summit runs tomorrow—or today, if you want to do it like that—through Sunday afternoon. You sign in at—”
“What summit?” Anthony interrupted. His voice was almost as dead as Elise’s. He sounded more annoyed than interested.
“It’s this thing they hold every fifty years,” Elise said. “Angels and demons hash out their issues while kopides watch to make sure nobody dies. It’s between the Reno and Vegas territories this year.” She shook her head. “I wasn’t invited. I didn’t plan on going.”
“Everyone thinks you’re dead,” McIntyre said.
“Yeah. They’re supposed to.”
“Anyway, they only invite the best of the demon hunters to go.” He shrugged one shoulder. “I’m not one of the best. I just got called in because it’s so close. But Tish is going into the hospital this morning.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Elise staring at him. Her eyes glinted in the street lights as they soared past them. “So what? You want me to go to the hospital and hold your wife’s hand?”
“I want you to go to the summit and pretend to be me.”
She laughed. It was a weird noise. He didn’t think he’d ever heard her laugh before, and it turned out that it wasn’t a particularly nice or happy sound.
“Are you serious?”
“You’ve got to do it. There’s these guys at the summit called The Union of Kopides and Aspides—just ‘The Union’ for short. They’ve taken over the whole thing, and I know they’re watching me.”
“Who cares? If the Union’s got things covered, you don’t need to be there.”
“This Union is trying to become a big faction, and they’re doing a good job. They got half of the European territories under control in the last couple of years, and now they’re working on taking over of all of goddamn North America. They’re turning kopides into soldiers. You surrender your territory, get enlisted, get trained, and get reassigned to somewhere new. And they’re matching every kopis who doesn’t have an aspis to a witch.”
“That’s impossible. I would have heard about that happening.”
McIntyre took the exit off the freeway. The road noises grew softer as he slowed, filling the car with ominous silence. “You’ve been out of it too long. They’ve got Mexico. French Canada, too. The US is a big nut to crack, so they’re starting with this summit. If I can’t make a good show and get them to back off, they’ll take Vegas.”
“Can they make you enlist?” Elise asked.
He grimaced at the loaded question. “I hear they’re pretty convincing.” McIntyre stopped at a four way intersection. It was completely dead, but he didn’t go through. He took his hands off the wheel and caught Elise’s gaze. “They could take everything I’ve got. You’re the only one who can help me.”
“They’ll know I’m not you.”
“Sure, they would. But this guy can pretend to be me, and he’s a nobody, so he won’t be recognized,” he said, waving at Elise’s boyfriend. He shook his head at Anthony’s incredulous look. “Sorry. But all anyone knows about me is that I’m some guy. I get around with the local demons, but I’ve never met the Union; as far as I know, they don’t have any pictures on file. So your boyfriend is me, and then you say you’re Leticia. You’ve changed since you were the greatest kopis. Nobody would recognize you even if they looked close, and they won’t.”
Elise’s mouth twisted like she tasted something sour. “It’s a bad idea.”
“It’s all I’ve got,” McIntyre said.
Anthony didn’t seem to care about Elise’s decision. He went back to staring out the window, even though there was nothing to see—they were beyond the last of the manicured suburbs, and there were trailers on one side and empty desert on the other.
The Elise he had known a few years before would have refused. She wasn’t one for sympathy. He could only hope that saving her ass a half dozen times would be enough to coerce her. “Fine,” she said. “I’m already here anyway.”
He didn’t thank her. He knew she wouldn’t like that. But he nodded, and she nodded back with a knowing look in her eyes, and that was more than enough.
McIntyre stepped on the gas and everyone in the truck went back to ignoring each other.
(FYI: Once this is ready, the generals in my Army of Evil will get first dibs on it. I'll send it out as a free download before I enroll it in Amazon's exclusive program.)