Authors: Foz Meadows
The Key to Starveldt
Foz Meadows is a self-confessed geek with a penchant for cheese, webcomics and silly hats. She currently lives in Scotland with not enough books and her very own philosopher.
By the same author in this series
The Rare: Book One – Solace & Grief
The Key to Starveldt
First published by Ford Street Publishing, an imprint of
Hybrid Publishers, PO Box 52, Ormond VIC 3204
Melbourne Victoria Australia
© Foz Meadows 2011
2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1
This publication is copyright. Apart from any use
as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part
may be reproduced by any process without prior written
permission from the publisher. Requests and enquiries
concerning reproduction should be addressed to
Ford Street Publishing Pty Ltd
2 Ford Street, Clifton Hill VIC 3068.
Ford Street website:
First published 2011
National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry:
Author: Meadows, Foz
Title: The key to Starveldt / Foz Meadows
ISBN: 9781921665257 (pbk.)
Target audience: Young adults
Subjects: Vampires – Young adult fiction.
Dewey Number: A823.4
Cover design: Gittus Graphics ©
In-house editor: Saralinda Turner
Printing and quality control in China by
Tingleman Pty Ltd
For my grandmother,
Mary Andrews (nee Ryan),
who taught me that my legs were made for walking
and that nobody is ever too old for adventures.
We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world forever, it seems.
With wonderful deathless ditties
We build up the world’s great cities,
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion an empire’s glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song’s measure
Can trample an empire down.
We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of the earth,
Built Nineveh with our sighing,
And Babel itself with our mirth;
And o’erthrew them with prophesying
To the old of the new world’s worth;
For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.
rasmus Lukin’s night had been far from pleasant. Not only had Solace Eleuthera and her friends escaped, but they’d managed to do so through means utterly beyond his comprehension. That it was Rare in origin went without saying, but to Professor Lukin, that was less than useful. His lack of knowledge burned like shameful acid. He had spent the better part of three centuries struggling to unlock the vagaries of inherited magic. How could such a powerful phenomenon have eluded him?
Sanguisidera had been wrathful at his ignorance – rightly so. Even her mildest rages were vicious, and yet Lukin’s current agony stemmed not from wounded flesh, but wounded pride. He should have
, and during the hours of his mortification, he had begged the Bloody Star for a chance to remedy his shortcomings. Sanguisidera had only laughed, the sound hard and angry and wonderful all at once, a melody of broken bells. Yet when the whip was put away, Lord Grief came and knelt quietly by Lukin’s side, ignoring the waste of blood spattered nearby.
‘Your ignorance in this matter has been irksome. Nonetheless, it is within your power to rectify. Give this matter your utmost attention, and no more will be said about it. For the time being.’
‘Yes, my lord.’
‘Excellent.’ In a single motion, Grief grabbed Lukin by the hair at the nape of his neck and yanked the professor upright. ‘I have assigned your cousin a different task concerning the retrieval of my sister. Mikhail will explain the details. You will work. And then we will talk again.’
‘Yes, my lord.’
‘You are dismissed.’
Wincing, Lukin obeyed, taking the swiftest route from Sanguisidera’s caverns to his lair at the university, where Mikhail was waiting. Without words, his cousin laved and bound his back and fetched a fresh shirt. Lukin contemplated what manner of being was able to teleport six people from Sanguisidera’s adjunct realm back to Earth without being physically present. Such noteworthy gifts were not usually the province of humans – at least, not on this plane – which suggested that the antagonist was altogether more exotic and intriguing. Even before Mikhail had finished the bandages, Lukin found himself rummaging through the myriad files and papers cluttering his desk, searching for every note he’d ever written on non-human magic-wielders, one-in-a-million Rarities and hybrid entities. Could he have missed something, after all?
Behind him, Mikhail made a tutting noise at his disorganisation. Lukin pretended not to hear. More than once, his cousin had urged him to purchase a computer, but Lukin always refused, pointedly and with bitterness. Although human technology remained beyond his comprehension, he rooted his objections in more solid arguments: accessibility, the danger of protection, permanence. This last was of especial import. Lukin had held artefacts carved a thousand years ago that still remained intact, yet the floppy disks of even a decade past had long since grown obsolete. No. He preferred his quills.
Trust only ink and feather. Nothing more.
‘You think the phenomenon is documented?’ Mikhail asked, interrupting his chain of thought.
‘Perhaps. Perhaps not. Either way, I will put a name to it.’
‘I do not doubt you.’ Stepping forward, Mikhail crouched down beside Lukin, bringing their eyes level. ‘My duty, however, is the recapture of Solace Eleuthera.’
‘Ah, yes.’ Lukin rubbed his head. ‘Tell me, is Lord Grief of a mind to try his hand at blood-magic again – or rather, to try your hand?’
‘He is. The experiment in your dungeon worked well enough. We have a purer sample to work with now, one that will hold her indefinitely.’
‘You have assured him of this?’
Lukin frowned. ‘Mikhail, you know I have no qualms about your abilities, but think for a moment! Who was it that told you the wards around Solace were weakening? Who has forever claimed that she is inaccessible, only to recant, now, for reasons unclear to the rest of us?’
‘Sharpsoft,’ said Mikhail after a moment. ‘I take your point, cousin, but surely –’
‘Surely what? I do not trust him,’ Lukin declared, and as he spoke, he realised it was true. ‘Never mind that the Bloody Star favours him. He has always been closely twined with Starveldt, and his first oath was not to our cause, but to House Eleuthera. That means serving Lord Grief, yes, but also encompasses duty to his sister.’
Mikhail’s brows shot up. ‘You accuse him of being in league with her?’
Lukin hesitated. ‘No. Not on the current evidence. I merely suggest that it is possible. You must agree that he shows a disquieting tendency to be merciful, especially to the young. That boy who stole the book for us – Glide, was it? He claimed to have killed him; and yet we saw no body, no evidence that Sharpsoft had fed. On that basis alone, I am inclined to doubt his word.’
‘There may be something to what you say.’ Mikhail tapped the fingers of one hand against his opposite arm. ‘The blood-magic will still proceed, but I am prepared to keep a watch on the warehouse shell. Assuming our catspaw lives, my instinct tells me he will return to what he knows. Bait the line, and see what bites?’
‘Yes. A sound policy.’
Mikhail straightened. ‘Will you inform Lord Grief of our suspicions?’
‘I will,’ said Lukin, noting Mikhail’s use of the word
, and not quite liking it. ‘You do not require my assistance with your project?’
‘Not as such.’
‘Then I will continue researching the guardian.’
Mikhail rested a hand on his shoulder, gentle of the surrounding wounds, and nodded. ‘Of course.’
For a long time after his cousin departed, Lukin remained seated at his desk. Having voiced his suspicions about Sharpsoft, he now found himself unable to set them aside. By way of distraction, he picked up the surveys Solace and her companions had completed, leafing absently through them to be sure he’d missed nothing of their talents. It was always possible that the two friends of Solace who’d escaped capture had orchestrated the rescue of the others. Between the pair of them, he deemed the more likely culprit to be the blonde-bright Electra. Reading afresh of her strange ability to summon lost objects or transport known ones in the space of a heartbeat, Lukin hungered to claim the girl; to strap her down and probe the delicacies of her flesh until her blood gave up its secrets. Computers were one thing, but human science – and the ease with which it could be twisted to inhuman designs – was another. Though it was a daily temptation not to dine on certain of his mundane colleagues, their usefulness was undeniable. So long as he stood between them and the appetites of his masters, their blood analysis would continue.
He shook his head, wincing as even so simple an action caused the wounds on his back to pull. Lord Grief required answers. Distractions were not an option. With renewed discipline, he threw himself into the study of his notes, thinking always of the nameless guardian who had thwarted Sanguisidera. Hours passed, but the professor neither moved nor relented.
‘How are you progressing?’
Lukin jumped. Without his noticing, Lord Grief had entered the office. He was looking about the place with his usual flat curiosity.
Setting aside his current page, Lukin stood, winced at the pain this swift action caused, and managed a half-bow. ‘My lord. I had not expected you so soon. I have been reading, but so far –’
‘Tell me,’ said Grief, cutting him off, ‘what do you think of Sharpsoft?’
Lukin stared at him, unable to help himself. ‘Has Mikhail already spoken to you, my lord?’
Grief ’s brow crinkled in puzzlement. ‘Mikhail? No. What of it?’
Dry-mouthed for no reason he could articulate, Lukin related their earlier conversation. Lord Grief listened thoughtfully, his head cocked in the same attentive attitude he had always assumed in childhood lessons. When Lukin was finished, he leaned against the snake terrarium, a faint smile on his face.