The Bloodshade Encounters & The Songspinner (Shadeborn Book 2) (15 page)

BOOK: The Bloodshade Encounters & The Songspinner (Shadeborn Book 2)
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BOSTON, MA, 1998

 

Victims of Progeny

 

The elders of the American House of Cross had once called on Salem for a favour. The bloodline of that particular family of shades, as Evangeline had so eloquently put it, was ‘mongrelised beyond belief’.  They had intermixed with so many other families that there was seldom a true Cross to be found any more, unless one went back a few hundred years to seek out those purer-blooded shades that were still living. Salem was one such shade. It made him perfect breeding material in the elders’ eyes.

When he was first asked about progeny, all Salem could think of was the disaster that was Lemarick’s upbringing. The little monster was spiteful and self-sufficient, even in his infancy, always more keen to cling to the first respectable person that came along than ever beg for his father’s attention. Salem had always blamed it on the Novel bloodline, since it seemed that house was naturally predisposed to look down its nose at him, even from birth. They had never approved of his relationship with Evangeline, not even when they were happy together, and they had approved even less of the child born from their union.

Until, of course, Lemarick renounced his father. He swore away from the House of Cross and changed his name, barely even acknowledging the paternal side of his heritage when they met at events. So, when the elders of Cross asked Salem to be father to a new group of shades, he made certain that family ties were severed before the children were even born. That way there would be no chance for them to grow up and decide that they hated him, because you couldn’t hate someone that you rarely saw or barely knew. He was certain enough of that fact to agree to the elders’ suggestions.

Three sisters were born. The elders were disappointed by the lack of a male, but Salem couldn’t go through the awkward process of meeting with the girls’ mother any more times than he already had. Shaileene Cross was an extremely distant cousin from some half a century ago: a cold, calculating woman who treated her partner like a servant sent to perform a necessary task. Salem would have rather she thought he was doing her a favour, but in ten years their relationship had never really thawed out. She insisted that Salem came by once a year to see the girls, which was how he came to be sitting in an apartment in Boston, setting down a cool iced tea on a tatty little coffee table.

“Are you hot?” Shaileene asked. “The air-con’s busted.”

The beads of sweat dripping from Salem’s dark brow were enough of a reply. Shaileene waved her arm and a blast of cool air shot forth from her hand. It started to encircle them in the cramped room and Salem breathed it in gratefully. He glanced around, taking in the worn furniture and wincing at the loud cry of a car horn outside the window.

“What happened to your house in the suburbs?” he said, “The one with the little white fence?”

“We had to move after Lex set her elementary school on fire,” the mother of his children replied.

It was that moment that the door swung open in a magical burst. Three small figures charged through with the force of a herd of wildebeest, spearheaded by an uncommonly pretty little thing with long brown hair and deep, dark eyes. When they fixed on Salem, those eyes shone like precious stones.

“Daddy’s here!”

Alexa Cross had been named by her mother, a sweet coincidence that Salem had never challenged. Though she went by Lex to all that knew her, the little bundle of terror had always given Salem’s heart the faintest glow. The ten-year old smashed into his broad chest, climbing into his lap as her schoolbag went flying into the air. Shaileene caught it with a flourish of gravity, doing the same for the other two terrors who were running to catch up to her. The two smaller creatures were Millicent and Abigail, who grabbed Salem’s left and right arms respectively as they too tried to gain purchase on him.

“My Daddy!” The younger of them cried.

“Get lost Millie!” Lex shot back.

A fist of flames appeared dangerously close to Salem’s face and the little girl threw them at her sister. The four year old deflected them perfectly with a raised palm and stuck out her tongue. Salem found a pang of jealously worrying his stomach. To think that children of his could be so strong, when it had taken him all his life to have the basic skills that they already possessed. Abigail, at the tender age of six, took the opportunity to raise herself off the ground until she was head-height with Salem. Her balance was irritatingly perfect.

“You didn’t say you were coming, Daddy,” she said with a scolding tone. Abi was the most like her mother of the three.

“I had to come early this year,” Salem explained. “I’m going to be in London for the rest of the summer.”

Lex swivelled in her father’s lap, looking up to his face with clear awe in her grin.

“Are you gonna be on the stage in front of all those people again?” she asked him.

“That’s right,” Salem said as he returned her smile.

“Will you take us to the Common today Daddy?” Abi butted in.

“Common, Common, Common!” Millie chimed, banging her tiny fist against her father’s knee.

“I think I’ve got time,” Salem said with a shrug.

At once the three girls were lifted away with a wave of their mother’s hand. Shaileene let them land in a heap at the far end of the room.

“Go ‘n’ get ready then,” she urged.

The trio ran away, with a noise that would have signalled a heard of buffalo in a different part of the country. Salem sat back with a contented sigh, but it was short-lived as he caught Shaileene’s irritated glare.

“They treat you like a freaking rock star,” she grumbled. “Lex draws pictures of you on stage, like you’re David Copperfield or something.”

“I was thinking about stealing his sawn-in-half bit,” Salem replied glibly, “the Brits haven’t seen that one yet.”

Shaileene made a loud scoffing noise.

“The Great Pretender,” she said wryly. “You wait ‘til those girls get older and figure out who you really are, Salem.”

Perhaps it was fortunate that Salem didn’t have time to shoot back the offensive remark he wanted to deliver. The three girls floated in on a blast of air, dressed up for fun at the park and carrying a wild array of toys between them. Salem rose from his seat, trying to forget Shaileene’s words as he looked down into the three beaming faces. He was a master of illusions, and the vision of ‘Salem as the great but long-distance father’ was one he intended to maintain for as long as he could.

“Come on you three,” he said, scooping Millie, the smallest, up into his arms. “I have to catch a window tonight straight back to Covent Garden. If you want playtime, we’ve got to get a wriggle on.”

His daughters squealed happily as he led them away, but Salem was sure he could still feel the ice-like stare of Shaileene on his back as he left her little apartment.

LONDON, 1998

 

The Great Escape

 

Magic was a popular thing in the bustling atmosphere of London’s trendy Covent Garden. Salem had a nice little set-up in a small local theatre, where he wowed crowds of residents and tourists with a variety of daring tricks. His best performances were those involving feats of escapology, and Salem Cross was known throughout London for his re-enactments of Houdini’s most famous escapes, wherein he used his small but effective shademagic to make everything just a little bit easier to perform. Crowds marvelled at the timespan that he was able to breathe underwater for, whilst all that time Salem concentrated his magic on generating extra air for his lungs as he worked his way out of his chains.

He was thinking of moving into illusion after paying an albeit-accidental visit to Lemarick. Salem knew that his son lived in a theatre, but it was purely by coincidence that he had gone with some London colleagues to see a performance up north in the Imaginique. Lemarick had an impressive variety of performers, but it was his son’s own dabblings in visual tricks that Salem was interested in. He thought it was funny how they had both been drawn to the performing arts in the end. Lemarick didn’t find it amusing in the least, and he wouldn’t give up even one of his secrets to his father. Salem was no longer surprised by the insulting tone in which he told him thus.

It was Saturday night in London and Salem was due to perform in the late slot at eleven o’clock. They often caught a horde of tourists who were piling out of the West End theatres at that time of night, so when Salem peered out through the black curtains and saw a full house in the little venue, he was extremely pleased. A row of pretty young women sat in the centre of the front row, their skin kissed by a golden sun. They certainly weren’t products of English weather. One of them caught sight of Salem in the curtain-gap, her sea-green gaze meeting his with curiosity. He gave her a flirty wink and disappeared to prepare for his show.

With good old-fashioned practice, Salem had amassed a large collection of the easier-to-do human magic tricks. He could also make a little fire and lightning in his palms with shademagic, certainly enough to impress the likes of mere humans, and when his introductory music played, Salem often sang along to the chorus loud enough for the crowd to hear him. His silver tongue gave him that last bit of assurance that his audience weren’t going to be the difficult kind. Every night he brought the house down, with a sea of elated faces staring up at him, their eyes glazed over. The tips were incredible.

With no-one waiting at home in his swanky London flat, Salem often took his pay straight to one of the many all-night clubs London had to offer. Most of the bar staff in these places knew him by name, so when he took a seat in Rooster at one in the morning, a familiar smile greeted him behind its neon bar. The tender was Freddie, a spotty kid barely out of college, who had a terrible propensity to loiter with Salem and ogle the women who inevitably tried to approach the broad, good-looking shade whilst he drank.

“Usual, Mr Cross?” Freddie asked hopefully.

“Go for it,” Salem replied.

He listened to the music, some new pop beat that the kids, no doubt, were crazy for, and wondered idly if Lex and the girls were bopping to this sort of thing in their apartment in Boston. This last time that he’d gone to see them, Lex was talking about middle school and boys, and how her mother wouldn’t buy her lipstick, a notion which had scared the heck of out Salem when he heard it. Lemarick had been born mature: he was astute when he was tiny and criticising Salem from the moment he could form proper sentences. The girls had always just been children, who fawned over their long-absent father. If they had known him better this last decade, he wondered if they would still have adored him the way they did.

“Hey, you’re that magician guy.”

The voice that broke Salem’s thoughts was strange. It took him a moment to place the twang of the female’s accent and work out her words. Salem turned, surprised to see the sea-green eyes and golden face of the girl who had sat front-row-centre in that night’s show. She still wore the placid look from the effects of his melody, her glazed eyes framed by sun-bleached hair that fell to her shoulders. Her freckles shifted as she grinned.

“You were amazing,” she added.

“Thanks,” Salem said, holding out a hand, “I know.”

She shook his hand and giggled. Her skin was soft in his grip, and Salem felt an old temptation stirring in his blood.

“I’m Sienna,” the girl said.

“Salem,” he replied with a nod. “What brings a young thing like you out this late?”

“London life I guess,” Sienna said with a shrug. “I’m on a gap year from university in Aus. I met some other girls from round Canberra area and they sure like to party.”

“You need to take a breather?” Salem asked her.

Sienna nodded gratefully. Freddie was already lingering, most likely listening in for tips on how to pick up cute students. Salem waved him over and paid for Sienna to order her drink. Non-alcoholic. Salem felt a squirm of guilt in his stomach. Sienna was clearly a good girl, and the romantic glisten in her eyes couldn’t fool Salem into thinking otherwise.

“So, where does a famous magician spend his nights?” Sienna mused. “You like it around here?”

Salem swallowed the last morsel of his own drink, draining the glass as it stung the underside of his tongue.

“Actually, I was just leaving,” he lied seamlessly. “Enjoy your drink, Sienna. It was a pleasure to meet you.”

He hated the look of hurt and confusion on her face as he got up. Salem walked through the throng of people that were dancing and drinking, feeling more alone than he would have in his peaceful, spacious flat. Judging by the magic left in her gaze, he could easily have persuaded Sienna into joining him there. Shaileene’s judging look returned to his mind in that moment, followed by the bright faces of his girls. Lex, especially, held him in such esteem, and she was only a decade off being a bright young thing like Sienna was.

Salem took a long walk home on the busy London streets, pondering what he would do with his life if his days of enchanting women were definitely at their end.

Retraced Steps

 

Salem Cross never ever went to St James’s Park. Though the old winding lanes of 1891 had long since been landscaped into new vistas, there was an atmosphere about the place that still prickled his spine. His posh flat was a stone’s throw from the south end of the park and sometimes Salem had to skirt around it if he felt like having breakfast in one of the nicer cafés in the area. The morning after he had walked away from Sienna, the Australian beauty, Salem didn’t feel like breakfasting alone. He was tired though, from such a late night out, and so the idea of rounding the park didn’t seem appealing either.

For the first time in a century, Salem walked the paths of St James’s. The bright blooms of flowers were dying off in the baking heat of an unusually sweltering August, and countless Londoners were already out enjoying the morning rays. Young sunbathers, children and the elderly all came together in the brightness of the verdant park and Salem rushed through them all, his mind set on a secluded corner of Bistro Noir where he could eat proper pancakes and drink real American coffee in peace. Sometimes he wondered when he had become so anti-social to the human world, but thoughts of that nature only ever led Salem to an empty whiskey bottle, and memories of Evangeline.

He was shaking the old romance from his mind when he thought he heard someone call his name. Salem was certain he had imagined it, for no-one in the park was likely to know him, so he kept walking, until the sound of jogging feet behind him made him slow his pace again.

“Salem!” A female voice called, “It is Salem, right?”

“Sienna?” he asked as he turned.

It was her, looking stunning in a floaty summer dress. Her eyes were clear and crisp, with no sign of the songspinner magic left in them as she grinned up at him.

“What are you doing here?” he said, feeling suddenly off-balance.

“My relatives live just up there,” she said, pointing in the direction he’d been heading towards, “I’m staying with them.” She pulled at her fingernails for one awkward moment, looking up at him under long blonde lashes. “Listen, I didn’t mean to offend you or anything last night.”

“What?” Salem said, his brow furrowed. “You didn’t. Oh, no, I left because I was tired. That show stuff takes it out of you. I’m not as young as I used to be.”

When had he gotten so tongue-tied with women? Sienna’s bright face settled into a smile.

“Come on,” she said, raising a brow, “You’re what, thirty-five?”

To humans, that would have been about right. Thirty-five decades didn’t even come close to the truth. Salem ran a hand through his dark hair and shrugged by way of reply.

“You’re out early,” he said, looking up at the sun.

She went with his change of topic smoothly. “I thought a bit of light would be healthy after all the strobes at Rooster. It’s amazing how this city can be so still in the morning and so crazy at night.”

She was making small-talk with him. It had been so long since Salem had talked to a woman who was outside of his magical influence that he didn’t really know what to say any more. Usually everything he said was met with a girlish giggle, no matter how scathing or insulting he tried to be. Now Sienna was actively trying to keep him there in the park with her conversation. She was still smiling at him, and fighting to keep her long hair under control against the faint breeze that permeated the heat. Salem was bolstered enough by that to try his luck.

“I was going to get some breakfast,” he said, thumbing over his shoulder at the path ahead, “Have you eaten?”

“Is it a good place?” Sienna asked with another grin.

“To die for,” Salem replied.

She offered him her hand boldly and he took it, leading her through the park towards a morning of fine food and even finer conversation. Sienna was studying criminal justice back in Australia, but she had taken a year out mid-way through her studies to see the world. She’d got stuck in London with her relatives when her money ran out, and now she was working a couple of shifts in a local supermarket to try and get some cash together and see Paris. Salem only took in her half words, spending the rest of the time amazed that she was there right in front of him. He felt like Alexander in that moment –young, handsome, charming – the kind of man who impressed pretty girls with his little magic tricks. This time there was no witch-hunt ready to hang him for his charms. There was only Sienna and her glorious golden smile.

“Do you work every night in the show?” Sienna asked, topping up her coffee for the fourth time as the morning loitered lazily around them.

“I take Wednesdays and Sundays off,” Salem answered.

A bright grin popped onto the young woman’s face.

“Today’s Wednesday,” she stated.

“I know,” Salem replied with a wink.

Sienna let her fingertip run over the top of the sugar bowl, circling its edge.

“So…” she said playfully, “we could do something this evening.”

“What about your drinking buddies?” Salem asked, grinning.

“They can manage without me for the night,” she replied with a shrug. “I have to work a shift this afternoon, but we could meet again tonight, around seven?”

Salem tried to quell the rush in his chest as he nodded.

“And go where?” he asked.

“Back here of course,” Sienna replied. “There’s a concert in the park tonight, and fireworks. It’s free.”

St James’s by night wasn’t something Salem had banked on, but braving the park today had brought him to Sienna. He considered that perhaps his luck was changing at last.

“Meet you at the north gate? The one we just passed through to get here?” he suggested.

“Sounds divine,” Sienna answered.

Salem suppressed his surprise and keenness as best he could, but it really did sound like things were looking up.

BOOK: The Bloodshade Encounters & The Songspinner (Shadeborn Book 2)
12.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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