Please welcome authors Clay & Susan Griffith here today! They have a new steampunk/urban fantasy series that I am really looking forward to reading. The Shadow Revolution is the first novel in the Crown & Key series. It will be released on June 2, 2015 from Del Rey/Random House. Enjoy their take on the Sorcerers Apprentice below!
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Simon Archer and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Clay and Susan Griffith
Not far from Soho Square, Mirandola’s Emporium was located behind a nondescript door below street level. It had no sign and made no advertisement. Its clientele knew where it was and what it sold.
Simon Archer stepped down into the refuse piled on the landing. He opened the door and went inside. The smell of incense and tea surrounded him. There was a hint of distant music in the air, thin and metallic, reminding the lean man of far-off Burma or Malaya for some reason. Books rested in teetering piles. Scrolls were tossed in corners. Jars of herbs and dirt were scattered about, some open with piles of contents lying next to them. Faint squeals and flutters of living things sounded from dark corners.
Simon waited, pulling off his gloves and slipping his hat from his head. His elegant cloak and crisp clothes marked him as an oddity in this part of London. He whistled idly, scouting the titles of books and sniffing an open jar of something mummified. The rear door opened and a young dark-haired man entered. He stared at the floor, hunched at the shoulders, with twitching hands and shuffling feet until he saw he had a customer.
The lad jerked to nervous attention. “Mr. Archer?”
“Ah, Cosimo.” Simon saluted the youth, his long fingers tapping at his sleek raven hair. “I am looking for Mirandola.”
“Master Mirandola isn’t here.” The lad’s stammer was in an Italian accent as if he was fresh off the boat from his native Umbria. “He left me to run the shop.”
Simon paused with surprise. “He did? That’s an enormous amount of trust to place in an apprentice.”
The lad summoned some manner of uncertain assertiveness. “What may I help you with, Mr. Archer? We have none of your usual ink, but I did just unpack a supply of mummy linen.”
“No, I’ve come for — mummy linen? From where? Karnak? Memphis?”
A scowl momentarily marred Simon’s handsome features. “Bah. I wouldn’t write my laundry list on Ptolemaic mummies.”
“That seems wise.” The apprentice drew attention to a table covered with skulls of all sizes and species. “Skull?”
“No, thank you. I’ve come for the Blackfriar’s Bell I ordered.”
“The Blackfriar’s Bell!” The boy grinned knowingly, waving his hands in the outline of a curvaceous figure. “Are you giving it to Lady Dunston?” He snapped his fingers. “Or the Duchess of Anselm.”
Simon arched an eyebrow. “Those notable ladies are married, Cosimo. And why would I resort to an attraction spell and ruin my rakish reputation?”
“Why else would you need it?” Cosimo began to shuffle through objects behind the counter in search of the bell.
“Your occult studies are deplorable. I intend to banish an unsatisfied spirit from Lady Dunston’s boudoir this night. It has been causing her sleepless nights and I will grant her restful slumber, after the ceremony. You would do well to remember that some magical items have multiple uses.”
Cosimo gave up his rattling behind the counter in frustration. “How about a skull? That one is Ulrich Zwingli.”
“I don’t want the skull of Ulrich Zwingli.” Simon’s voice rose with ire. “Must I return when your master is about?”
Cosimo shook his head, obviously still eager to make an additional sale as he pulled a large pile of mildewed cloth from under the skull table. “Master Mirandola has just the thing. He bade me show it to you. He said you would be delighted. Take off your coat.”
Without questioning, Simon threw off his opera cloak and slipped out of his tailcoat. Cosimo threw what appeared to be a long coat onto Simon’s shoulders. The stench of mold and half-tanned leather was unbearable. The apprentice spread his hands across the garment as if he was a Bond Street tailor. “There.”
“There what? What is this foul thing?”
“What does it look like? It’s a magic cloak.”
Simon gazed more closely at it. The poorly made drape was a rough conglomeration of scraps that looked quite suspicious. “What exactly is it made from?”
“No one you knew.”
“Dear Lord.” Simon shrugged the thing to the floor. “I’m on my way to a party. Do you think I want to stink of some vile flesh coat?”
Cosimo gathered the rubbery cloak. “I’m very sorry. I was unaware of your social calendar. You could just buy a skull.”
“Did Mirandola overpurchase skulls? Stop pushing them on me.” Simon picked small hairs and bits of skin off his once-white shirt. “Now I’ll have to return home and change my shirt before going to Viscount Gillingham’s ball. Do you have my bell or not?”
“Just one second.” The young apprentice dove back behind the counter and began shoving objects aside noisily.
Giving up on the lad finding his special order, Simon gathered his cloak and coat, preparing to depart. A soft yellow glow rose from behind the counter. There was a scraping sound followed by a loud crash.
Cosimo jumped up with a look of fear on his face. “Damn. Damn.”
“What’s wrong?” Simon asked warily.
A small shape appeared at the edge of the counter. It wriggled onto the top. The thing stretched. It was about four inches high, vaguely human in shape, but with a long face and dangling fingers nearly half its full length. It glistened wet in the faint lamplight. Simon took a step back, his voice full of trepidation. “That’s a brownie.”
“Not just a brownie. There were ten in the jar I broke.”
“Ten? Then get another jar. Quickly.”
“They’re not going to voluntarily jump into another jar! Master Mirandola will kill me!”
The little creature on the countertop chattered and opened its wide jaws to reveal sparkling sharp teeth. Gossamer shapes, wrinkled and damp, spread from both shoulders.
Simon pointed. “Its wings are drying. You should really do something before it can fly.”
“I’m looking for something to do!” Cosimo shuffled frantically through the detritus around him.
Another brownie pulled itself into sight with wings flapping.
Simon whispered a word and he felt a flicker of aethereal fire touch his body. Beneath his white shirt shone a spark of green light. A surge of energy pushed through him as he stepped up to the counter. The two little beasts snarled. Simon brought a hand down flat on one of the brownies. He felt it crunch under the hammer blow of his mystically enhanced strength. Pinkish ooze squirted out from under his hand.
The second brownie squealed and leapt into the air, fluttering awkwardly on damp wings. Simon tried to grab it, but it slipped away like a dust mote. From behind the counter came a weird hissing cackle and a concerto of insane buzzing.
“Oh no.” Cosimo scampered from behind the counter and quickly grabbed a conquistador helmet. He shook it to dislodge the skull inside, and jammed the steel bonnet on his head.
Tiny figures rose. Their large eyes glared angrily and their teeth chattered. They sped off in all directions. One of them zipped at Cosimo, but he ducked and the little thing clanged off the helmet.
Simon swatted the humming air around him, studying shelves and tables for some sort of weapon. He could protect himself with his magic, but it would leave Cosimo vulnerable. And eventually the brownies would escape the shop.
He felt an intense sharp pain in his shoulder. He looked down to see one of the tiny figures clinging to him, already having chewed through his shirt. There was a growing red stain on the cloth. Simon grabbed for the thing, but it flitted away.
“Don’t let them bite you!” Cosimo shouted from under a table. “They like blood.”
“I’m not letting them bite me.” Simon felt a tear in his leg. He slapped at a brownie on his calf, catching its wings which dissolved like spiderwebs. The little thing dropped from his pantleg and started to crawl away. He stomped, but with his strength spell diminished, it felt more like he was stepping on a tiny pile of nails. After another whispered word sent a second spark across his chest, his shoe met the floor with a satisfying crunch.
The fairies buzzed overhead and lit on walls, crawling like bugs. Two of the creatures were on the window latch, struggling to pull it open. Simon seized up his opera cape and swung it at the little shapes. The wasplike things capered away, but then quickly returned to their work.
Simon shouted, “Do you have a bucket of water? Jug of wine? Anything to wet their wings?”
“No,” came the reply from beneath the table. “Can’t you create a vortex and suck them into a nether realm?”
“Do you know anything about magic?” Simon lunged about with his cape like a crazed matador, trying to swat the growling beasts from the air. “Honey? Do you have any honey?”
“Honey? Yes, but what—”
“Get it! Now!” Simon saw Cosimo scurry on his hands and knees toward a back room. Then he felt his cape being grabbed. Three brownies had latched onto the hem and were pulling it away from him. The little fiends were quite strong. He braced himself and pulled back just as one of the things started crawling toward him over the taut landscape of the cape. It stared hungrily with sparks shooting off its gnashing teeth. When the creature hunched to leap at Simon’s face, he released the collar of the cloak. It flew back as if the brownies had been shot from a cannon against the far wall.
“Where’s the honey?” Simon shouted. There was a scream and tremendous clattering of pots and tools. The youth stumbled from the rear carrying a pottery crock. One brownie was latched onto his face and another on his hand. The lad screeched with pain.
Simon grabbed the crock as the young man stumbled past. “Thank you.”
The window swung open. The jibbering shapes all responded by immediately flitting toward freedom. Simon raised the crock over his head and smashed it to the floor, releasing an explosion of amber honey. The brownies paused at the window, hovering and considering their options. Their conversation was a weird hypnotic buzz. Then all the little creatures sped back into the burning shop, circling and finally dropping onto the honey pool. The things lapped the sweet ooze, and occasionally glanced up with drunken sneers at the humans.
Simon backed away slowly. “Would you mind closing the window, please?”
Cosimo pushed himself off the floor. Blood streamed down his face and soaked his shirt. He staggered to the window and pulled it shut. He fell back against the wall. “Can we kill them now?” he rasped.
“I’d rather not. Bring me another jar, if you would, and quickly. It won’t take them long to eat this honey.”
Cosimo reappeared with a large specimen jar. He wavered on his feet, looking quite pale. Simon knelt with a calm, easy motion. He gently seized one of the lethargic brownies. It gibbered but offered little resistance, trying to bite without success. Simon smiled and dropped the fairies, one by one, into the jar where they flopped around the bottom. He set the fat stopper in place and affixed it with the bracing metal handle.
The young apprentice collapsed onto the floor. “You owe Master Mirandola for two brownies you crushed.”
“He owes me for one formal suit, and you owe me compensation for saving both your life and your employment. This jar of brownies will cover all.”
“That’s outrageous!” Cosimo reddened as much as possible after having lost so much blood. “Those brutes are rare. Master Mirandola will be furious. Why don’t you have a skull instead?”
“You have forced me to be more than just fashionably late to my party, and I have no bell to soothe Lady Dunston tonight.” Simon wrapped the jar of brownies in his cloak and wedged it under one arm. He regarded the downtrodden apprentice. “Will you survive, young Cosimo?”
“Yes.” And finally there came a bedraggled, “Thank you.”
“I’ll never be a magician.” The apprentice bent over his head in his hands, staring at the honey stains on his filthy clothes. “Oh dear, how will Master Mirandola sweeten his tea in the morning?”
“I gather he won’t.” Simon perched his hat on his head. “Take heart. You did well tonight. I was once as inexperienced as you.”
“You were?” came the hopeful query.
“No, not really. But you’ll learn, or you’ll die. I’ll check on you tomorrow, colleague.” Simon nodded to the young apprentice and went out of the shop.
“Thank you, sir. Come again.” Cosimo rose to his feet and surveyed damage of his day running the shop. He would need an army of brooms to clean the mess.
Clay and Susan Griffith met at a bookstore thanks to Uncanny X-Men #201. They got married because of a love of adventure stories featuring heroes who both save the day and fall in love. Soon they were writing stories together. After years co-writing television, comics, short stories, and novels, they remain happily married. When not writing or talking about writing, Clay and Susan are watching classic movies, playing Warcraft, and struggling to entertain a cat.
They still have that copy of Uncanny X-Men #201.
Want to read more from Clay & Susan Griffith?
Available June 2, 2015 from Del Rey/Random House
About this Book:
A thrilling new Victorian-era urban fantasy for fans of Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles, the Showtime series Penny Dreadful, and the Sherlock Holmes movies featuring Robert Downey, Jr.
They are the realm’s last, best defense against supernatural evil. But they’re going to need a lot more silver.
As fog descends, obscuring the gas lamps of Victorian London, werewolves prowl the shadows of back alleys. But they have infiltrated the inner circles of upper-crust society as well. Only a handful of specially gifted practitioners are equipped to battle the beasts. Among them are the roguish Simon Archer, who conceals his powers as a spell-casting scribe behind the smooth veneer of a dashing playboy; his layabout mentor, Nick Barker, who prefers a good pub to thrilling heroics; and the self-possessed alchemist Kate Anstruther, who is equally at home in a ballroom as she is on a battlefield.
After a lycanthrope targets Kate’s vulnerable younger sister, the three join forces with fierce Scottish monster-hunter Malcolm MacFarlane—but quickly discover they’re dealing with a threat far greater than anything they ever imagined.
Click HERE to read an excerpt