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Daughter of Danger: The Dark Avenger's Sidekick Book One (Moth & Cobweb 4), page 1
Daughter of Danger
The Dark Avenger’s Sidekick, Vol. 1
A Tale of Moth and Cobweb
John C. Wright
Daughter of Danger
Moth & Cobweb Book 4
John C. Wright
This book or parts thereof may not be reproduced in any form, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise—without prior written permission of the publisher, except as provided by Finnish copyright law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. Any similarity to actual people, organizations, and/or events is purely coincidental
Copyright © 2017 John C. Wright
All rights reserved
Cover: Scott Vigil
Chapter One: The Nameless Girl
Chapter Two: Rookie Magical Detective
Chapter Three: The Three Worlds
Chapter Four: The Scene of the Crime
Chapter Five: The Eyes of Hungry Ghosts
Chapter Six: In the Narrow Pass
Chapter Seven: Wolves and Shadows
Chapter Eight: Hunters and Trappers
Chapter Nine: The Sign of the Swan
Chapter Ten: Werewolves and Elfs
Chapter Eleven: Desecrate Ground
Here with an arrow, lo, I trace
A magic circle ere I leave,
No evil thing within this space
May come to harm thee or to grieve.
Step not, for aught, across the line,
Whatever thou mayst see or hear,
So shalt thou balk the bad design
Of every enemy I fear.
—Toru Dutt (1856-1877)
Chapter One: The Nameless Girl
1. An Unblinding Light
She found herself in a blinding light that did not blind her. It was a dozen times brighter than sunlight, but restful to her eyes, filling her with golden warmth. Before her was a shining and beautiful young lady in a white robe and bright red mantle. Standing before the bright lady, point downward, was a heavy iron sword, and the lady rested her hand on its hilts. In this hand, between her fingers, were a white lily and a green palm frond.
In her other hand the bright lady lifted up a golden chalice from which a scent more fragrant and savory than any wine of earth stole forth. The light of gold came from this cup.
The lady spoke. Her eyes were fixed on some high point. “By highest Heaven’s express, unalterable will, your lost life is to you this hour restored, that you shall serve the purposes of Heaven. All prior oaths are void, all vendettas forgotten: you are made new.
“The dawn of eternal light is come when the mists of forgetfulness and deceit are driven hence, and all dark things revealed, all truths uncovered. Therefore tell the Twilight people, who are neither wholly of the Daylight World nor of the Night World, that when eternal day breaks, twilight is no more. Then will all their deeds be laid bare and judged. That hour is at hand!
“Let not the soul of thy beloved be drawn into darkness.”
The bright lady lowered her gaze, and her voice grew soft and sad. “I am sent, for those beset by sudden death are mine. Wake now, lest ye die. Those who seek your life are nigh.”
She woke. Even before she opened her eyes, from the smells and sounds of disinfectants and hushed electronic beeping, she knew she was in a hospital room. She opened her eyes.
The room was dim and small. Indirect lighting gleamed against soundproofing ceiling tiles. The other bed was empty. Through the cracks in the Venetian blinds glinted the lights of skyscrapers and murmured the crawling street traffic, sounding like the growling voice of a beast. Opposite the window was a door with a square window leading to a corridor.
Green curtains hanging from a track in the ceiling cut off the rest of her view of the room.
She raised her hands. They were slender and well formed. The nails were unpainted. The skin hue was yellowish, between tan and very light peach.
She flexed her fingers slowly. Something felt wrong.
On her forefinger was a little instrument like a cap, glowing with an eerie laser-light. A band was taped about her wrist. Taped to the back of her hand was an intravenous needle. She looked up.
The intravenous tube led to a drip of saline solution. From the doctor’s notes scribbled on the bag, there were no other drugs in the drip. She impatiently pulled the needle out and pulled off the cap. This made the little machine on the rack next to her buzz angrily.
She tossed the disinfectant-scented bedsheet aside. She was wearing a flimsy blue hospital gown which left her arms and legs uncovered, as well as everything from her spine to her hamstrings.
She sat up and scowled at the buzzing machine. She saw the volume knob and gave it a sharp twist, shutting it off. She pulled off the wristband and tossed it down.
She flexed her fingers again. Without the distracting sensation of foreign objects affixed to hand or wrist, she could feel a small, solid weight circling her right middle finger near the knuckle.
But she could not see it. There was nothing there.
She gingerly reached with the fingers of her left hand. She felt something cold, hard, metallic instead of her skin in that spot. It was a ring. She could feel the intaglio. It had some design or device mere blind touch could not reveal.
She pulled on the unseen ring. It did not come off. She held her finger close to her face. She could touch the metal band with her nose. A faint and unpleasant odor issued from it. The smell of blood.
She then caught a glimpse of a closet door with a mirror bolted to it. That was when she realized she did not remember what she looked like.
She was on her feet and over to the mirror in a bound, expecting to see scars, wounds, or bruises from whatever fight it was that landed her in the hospital.
Looking back at her was a girl of the classical beauty for which Akita Prefecture was famous: the pale skin, slender face, high cheeks, piercing eyes and narrow lips which was called the kitsune, or “foxlike” look. Girls from the southern parts of the island were famed for being wide-eyed and round-faced, and having a softer, gentler cast of features, called tanaka. Whereas hers was the delicate, cool beauty of the north. But the prize of Japanese notions of beauty was the hair, and hers was dark as India ink, shining black, straight and rich, falling to her elbows.
She blushed in embarrassment. “Am I vain? I must be, to think of my face so highly. What would mother say!”
She had spoken aloud in English, and the voice that came out was huskier than she had expected a girl’s voice to be, tenor rather than soprano. Strange. Why had she not spoken in Japanese?
And why had she assumed she had survived a fight and not, for example, a plane accident? And why was she crying?
She looked at the mirror, at the tears she saw on the cheeks of her reflection. “Mother…” she whispered. And then she knew.
Mother was dead.
The sorrow in her heart had no other meaning. As she raised her hand to wipe the tears, she saw a flash of black metal, darker than midnight, on her finger.
She could see the an invisible ring in the mirror. In the mirror. She could see it, but not with her eyes. How was that possible?
The band of the ring
A freakish, frightening sensation came over her without warning. She had the unmistakeable sense that someone was looking for her. She could feel unseen eyes gazing at her; hostile, dreadful, implacable, inhuman.
She slapped the light switch as she jumped into the corner and crouched down, eyes darting to the window, the door, the ceiling panels, looking for some clue from which to guess the angle of the incoming attack. With the lights out, the lines of parallel glare from the Venetian blinds seemed bright. The headlamps of moving cars far below made a wavering ripple of shadows across the blinds.
The unseen ring frightened her. She tried to yank it off, but she could not get it over her knuckle. She twisted it, trying to loosen it. She felt it turn. Once, twice, thrice, she turned it.
There was an eerie tingling in her finger as she turned the ring. She felt lightheaded. She turned it a fourth time. It felt looser. Again, she tried to yank it off. But it was stuck.
Her eyes flicked back toward the bed. Why had she torn off her wristband? Her name would be on it, the date of her admittance, the physician in charge of her case. And the clipboard at the foot of the bed should have details of what exactly had happened to put her in this room.
But now she was afraid to step across the open space between her corner and the foot of her bed, for anyone standing in the corridor looking through the window in the door could have a clear view of her when she moved.
Instead, silently and quickly, she drew a corner of the green curtain around her. There was half a foot of open space between the hem of the curtain and the floor, so it did not entirely cover her, but it made her position less obvious.
She gathered up her hair and tied it in a rough knot at the back of her neck, hoping to make it harder to grab and wishing she had time to braid it or for a tight cap to wear.
She looked around for something to use as a weapon. The headboard above the bed, now out of reach, contained a panel where electrical equipment, oxygen tubes, catheters, and so on could be plugged. A table on wheels stood next to the bed and held the oscilloscope she had turned off. Atop a smaller table, also on wheels, were the nurse call button and the remote control for the television. Two silent television sets with dark screens peered down from metal arms near the ceiling, one above each bed. There were a sink and some drawers near her and cabinets she had not opened. The metal stand holding the I.V. was about the only object in the room one could hit someone with, and it looked unpromisingly light and thin.
The door opened quietly. She heard the sound of a soft, stealthy footfall. The figure in the room slowly approached the bed.
She opened her mouth in the hope of making her breath less audible.
3. The Three Intruders
A strange, painful sensation of hope came across her then. It was like a sick, hot feeling boiling in the pit of her stomach. Maybe nothing was wrong. Maybe those who sought her life were not nigh. What if this were merely the night nurse, walking softly so as not to wake a sick patient?
She lowered her eye to the gap between the curtain hem and the floor. Her check touched the floor tile, and she realized it was linoleum. It was good for footing: resilient, and splinter free. And if she were horribly wounded, there would be no delay to getting her to a hospital, would there be?
That stray thought produced a second: where was the hospital staff? Who had brought her here? Why hadn’t he stayed to look after her?
The sight of the figure bent over the bed drove all other thoughts away. He wore a red cap with a white owl’s feather atop his shaggy head, and a long green coat over his broad back, but beneath the lower hem of the green coat were not sterile and comfy shoes favored by doctors. He wore knickerbockers buckled at the knee and was barefoot.
His seemed to have a skin condition: his feet were covered with clumps of hair, and strands were even growing up between his toes. His feet were too long and thin. She wondered if a bone disease in his feet had disfigured them. His toenails were an inch long, half an inch thick, and yellow as horn.
Not a nurse. Not a normal person with healthy feet.
He lowered his head toward the empty bed. She heard a soft noise. A snort. A snuffle.
He was sniffing. The stranger with the bad feet was sniffing her bedsheets.
She was waiting for him to be far enough into the room that she might have a chance to slip out behind him and race out the door.
That hope was quashed when she heard the rustle of two other people entering the room. She heard the creak of the door being eased shut, and heard a slither of steel and then the click of a padlock shutting.
She was locked in the room with three of them.
4. Laignech Faelad
Her mind went blank. There was no other exit, no escape.
The first man was still sniffing the bed. He spoke without turning his head. “The ring was here, but the scent is confounded! Phaugh! My nose be filled with starch and stink, ammonia and disinfectant!”
A second man stepped into her view. He was bald, stocky, and dark skinned, wearing a green leather motorcycle jacket and steel-toed workboots. In his hands he carried a chain. He held it with his hands apart so that the chain was taut and the links would not rattle. He also wore a red cap. “The moon is near the earth. Let us take up our true forms.”
The second man shrugged out of his jacket, tossed the chain on the bed, and began undoing his belt and trousers.
The third was not a man. He stood on two legs and had arms and hands like a man, but his head was the head of a goat. His knees bent backward, and his hoof was split. He was over seven feet tall, thick of chest and broad of shoulder to match. Except for his own natural pelt of brown and black, he was naked. A barnyard smell came from the monster. Between his ram horns was perched a red peaked cap with a white owl’s feather. In his hands was a long trident, whose tines scraped against the ceiling tiles.
The monster spoke in a strangled voice, like a man sounds when he speaks while breathing in. “Here as yet, I wager, missy? Here as yet?”
The monster clip-clopped to the closet and yanked open the door, brandishing his trident as he did so.
“We are come to crack your bones and lap the marrow!”
Inside were a small toilet and sink. The goat-man’s ears drooped.
The butt of his weapon brushed against the wheeled bed stand and knocked it over. The remote control for the TV bounced on the floor and came to rest a foot or so from her hand.
The second man had his trousers about his knees and was scowling and unlacing his boots. His face turned darker and began to elongate, and hair sprouted from his bald head as well as from his cheeks, jaw, neck, naked back, and shoulders. His ears were getting larger and standing out from his skull, like the ears of a dog.
The first man, the barefoot one, was beginning to turn his head as he looked to the other corners of the room. He was about to turn his head far enough to see her. She pushed the red button on the remote.
The noise of the television overhead, and the light from the screen, were startling in the quiet gloom. All three flinched and looked up. The barefoot man stepped backward and thus was half a step closer to her.
It was close enough. Instinct moved her limbs. Before she was aware of what she was doing, she had vaulted toward the barefoot man, selecting him as the most immediate target.
She heard the echo of a voice in her memory: In fighting a man, a girl is less in strength, reach, speed, and spirit. Your bones are more easily broken. Your heart more easily frightened. This does not mean victory is his! Use his strength against him. Use his speed against him. Use his skill against him.
The first man turned and rushed at her. She saw that he was an amateur fighter, one who tries to punch or tackle before judging his distance properly. She stepped closer, inside his swing, bobbing her hea
She snap-kicked, using her shin rather than her foot to land the blow. His legs guided the blow to his groin, and his strong forward momentum gave it force. Had he been a weaker man, moving less quickly, he would not have injured himself. But he was very strong.
On the backstroke on her same kick, she drove her instep down his shin and brought the heel of her bare foot onto his strangely narrow foot hard enough that she heard a cracking noise.
The echo said: If a man cannot walk, he cannot fight.
He doubled over in pain. He tried to grab her, but missed.
While he was doubled over, she gripped her own wrist and twisted her upper body to drive the corner of her elbow into his temple. He stumbled and fell.
The second man, the one who had been bald but was now halfway transformed into a wolf-creature, swung at her with a limb that was neither a man’s arm nor a forepaw. But because the limb was still in the midst of changing length, it neither struck nor clawed her.
She grabbed the hairy wrist with one hand and drove her palm into the elbow joint. It is usually an easy joint to damage, but the man simply grunted in pain and swung at her with his other hand. With his trousers binding his knees, he was off balance. But he still had quick reflexes and he was blindingly fast.
She deflected his blow with both her forearms and let the force of his blow pull her inside his reach. His reflexes had betrayed him: now she was inside his guard.
She straightened both of her arms and struck at his face, one hand to either side of his nose. The index finger was extended, and the other three fingers were bent underneath in support, lest her index finger break from the blow. The curves of the face naturally guide the blow into the eye sockets.
The echo said: If a man cannot see, he cannot fight.
by John C. Wright / Science Fiction / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes