Dianne Sylvan visits Fantastic Fables with a wonderful morality tale set in her Shadow World series. Of Shadow Born is the fourth novel in the Shadow World series and it was released on March 26, 2013. Want to know our thoughts on the first two books in this series? Read the reviews for Queen of Shadows and Shadowflame by clicking on the title names.
The Lion and the Mouse
By Dianne Sylvan
You could say I’ve got poor judgment. You could also say the Titanic got into a little fender-bender.
People make themselves such easy targets, it’s like hanging a piñata full of 40s in front of an AA meeting – I just can’t resist grabbing the stick and swinging. These days it takes no effort at all. Everyone walks around town staring down at their cell phones; even when you bump into them, they just mutter “Sorry, man,” without even looking up. I could make off with their pants and they wouldn’t notice the cool breeze until they got to the car.
Still, it takes a special kind of idiot to try and rob a vampire.
In my defense at the time I just thought he was your average d-bag 99-Percenter.
The best part is I was on my way to a new job that night. It was only my second week and things were going really well. I was going to make my caseworker proud; she’d see I really was a responsible kid. Sort of. Sometimes.
But then there was that guy – the one in the long black coat.
I followed him down Congress for quite a while; we happened to be headed in the same direction, so if anything went wrong I could just say it was a coincidence. I wasn’t really going to do anything. I’d never be stupid enough to risk jail just for a wallet.
Like I said. Special kind of idiot.
I could tell the guy was seriously rich just from the back. Just from the drape of the leather and the way it was cut I was willing to bet it set him back five grand. No obvious designer, but it was an absolutely perfect fit, and you don’t get that off the rack.
Pickpockets know these things. We try to go with the best odds; sure, anyone could have a fat wad of cash, but when it comes to risk versus reward it’s best to stick with the obvious.
We approached a stoplight, and I got a little closer – not moving in yet, but getting a better look at the setup of the coat and which side to aim for. Aha – left-handed, so I needed to move around to that side. He was talking on his phone: iPhone, but I couldn’t tell if it was a 5S or not. In fact it was a little weird-looking, the silhouette a bit more streamlined than usual.
“I’m on my way there now,” the man was saying. “Are you out of rehearsal yet? You could meet me…yes, I’m still in a bad mood. The damn thing just isn’t working.”
Quick evaluation: wedding ring, so probably talking to his wife, who was likely a musician of some kind. Everyone’s a musician in Austin.
Then I sidled around to get a glance at the front, and blinked, confused by the total incongruity of the thing around his neck. Everything else from the coat to his precise, accentless diction said “to the manor born,” but this big ruby and silver amulet he was wearing said “I double-fist black eyeliner and wear fake fangs to get chicks.”
To make matters weirder…I could have sworn the thing was glowing.
“All right then, beloved. I’ll see you there – we can have a quick dinner and then meet the Good Doctor.”
Just as I expected, when he hung up he slid the phone into the left-hand pocket of his coat. The light turned green, and the knot of pedestrians moved into the crosswalk, Coat Guy striding purposefully without even a hint of a slouch.
At the next light he turned right, and the crowd thinned out to maybe five people. Next light was the time – now that we were off the main thoroughfare he’d probably be reaching his destination soon, and besides, I didn’t have time to follow him if he turned off. I was pushing it as it was – I didn’t want to be late.
I’m quick. Seriously, the only reason I got caught last time was that the lady I was stealing from happened to look to the right as I was getting my hand in her purse. It was just bad luck. Two more seconds and I’d have been in and out, gone.
Turns out there’s something out there way quicker than a pickpocket.
I got close enough behind the guy to smell leather, and got ready to bump into him as soon as he stopped walking. The light turned red–
–and suddenly my back slammed into the wall of the nearest building, and I was lifted off the ground and held up by a single hand wrapped around my throat.
I choked, struggling, and stared helplessly into dark blue eyes that, as I watched, lost their color and became silver ice. When he spoke the street light caught something even more unbelievable…his canine teeth seemed…no, it had to be a trick of the light. It had to be.
“Foolish boy,” he snarled. “Don’t you think I knew you were following me all the way down Congress? You won’t be so bold with that hand when I rip it off and feed it to you.”
I smacked his hand desperately, trying to speak–oxygen was becoming a serious issue, and spots began to appear before my eyes. I realized there was a real possibility he was going to kill me.
“David,” came a woman’s voice, “Is that really necessary?”
His grip immediately loosened, and he dropped me unceremoniously; my knees gave out when I hit the ground, and I fell against the wall, coughing and gasping. Still, he loomed over me, menace written in every line of his body–and my eyes caught, just for a second, the edge of what could only be a sword hilt under his coat.
“Please,” I panted. “Don’t kill me.”
“He’s not going to kill you,” the woman replied, apparently as much for the guy’s benefit as mine. She walked closer so I could see her, and again my brain went around in a little circle–I recognized her. I couldn’t be 100% sure, but I could swear it was that singer, Miranda Grey. I’m not a fan but everyone in Austin’s seen her in the Chronicle at least once. Her songs are on every radio station. “Although I think a call to Detective Maguire might be in order.”
At the word “detective” I groaned. “No…please. Come on, don’t turn me in–I’ll go to jail for sure this time. I’m sorry. I won’t do it again. Like, to anybody ever. I’ll do whatever you want.”
Finally the man relented and took a step back. His eyes went back to blue again, and the hard knot of fear in my stomach unclenched just a little. “What’s your name, boy?”
“Um…Mouse. Everybody calls me Mouse. Seriously, if you let me go I’ll repay you.”
“In stolen wallets?” He asked. There was a hint of humor in the words. He snapped out of his anger so quickly my brain got whiplash.
“No, but…I…um…” I had absolutely no idea what to offer. Most of my marketable skills–thievery, hacking, breaking and entering–were likely to get me choked again. Mandy, my caseworker, had decided the best thing to do was capitalize on what I knew, let me use my powers for good instead of evil, so she’d hooked me up with an entry-level position at a research firm in the security systems development department. So far I’d done really well; even the director had come down to meet me after I submitted a solution to one of their network issues.
The woman smiled at my gibbering and took her husband by the arm. “Come on, baby. Let’s get going. I’m sure he won’t do anything like this again. Will you, Mouse?”
I shook my head. “Hell no.”
The man gave me one more look, this one the sort of thing a mouse like me would get from a lion. “If I catch you stealing again I won’t bother with jail,” he said. “I’ll find a much more creative way to ensure you can’t pick another pocket.”
“I promise. Hand to God.”
The two of them exchanged a look of faint amusement–faintly condescending amusement. Then, they walked away, and I had to drop down on my ass for a minute and convince myself not to pee my pants.
“You were kind of a jerk to that poor kid,” the Queen of the Southern United States said to her Prime in the elevator an hour later. “350 years is a bit old for a temper tantrum.”
“He caught me at the wrong moment,” David said. “If we don’t figure out why the sensor network keeps crashing in Sector 7, the whole city’s at risk, especially if one of the gangs finds out there’s a hole in security.”
“Which was not the fault of some skinny pickpocket,” Miranda pointed out.
“We should have turned him in. The kid was a professional. Our letting him go means dozens of humans will be victimized.”
They got off the elevator on the main R&D floor of Hunter Development, where the director, Dr. Novotny, was waiting. “Sire, my Lady,” he said. “Welcome back.”
“Tell me you have good news,” David told him.
“As a matter of fact, I do. You said something about needing fresh eyes on the problem, so I thought, what better opportunity to test our new hires down on the 3rd floor.”
“The hackers,” David clarified to Miranda. “The Security Systems Development department isn’t very old–we created it after I built the first sensor network to track vampires in Austin. Most of its personnel are young, too.”
Novotny nodded. “A few days ago one of them came up with a rather inspired solution for a similar issue one of our other clients, the Texas Diamond Exchange, was having. I sent your problem down there too, and about an hour ago, damned if this 19 year old community outreach kid didn’t send me exactly what we needed.”
“Community outreach?” Miranda asked. “You mean the at-risk kids Maguire’s friend asked you to find jobs for. Not to sound judgmental, but is it a good idea to hire aspiring criminals to work in security?”
“Criminals are ideal for security,” David said with a smile. “They know how to get in and out of any system. We’re careful what information they get, nonetheless; I’m sure Novotny used a mock-up of the system and not the real thing…right?”
“Of course, Sire,” Novotny said, sounding offended at the thought he would be dumb enough to hand out the secrets of their network.
“Let’s see it, then.”
Miranda followed them over to a monitor where Novotny brought up a screen full of code; she sat on the edge of a worktable, knowing she wouldn’t be much help. She had absolutely no interest in programming, but it still impressed her when her husband, or anyone really, could stare at a monitor like that covered in what looked like utter nonsense and read it as easily as she read music.
In fact, David considered code an art form in that same vein; music had its precision and its poetry, and programming did too. Even though it still made about zero sense to her, the Queen still loved the way his eyes lit up as Novotny pointed out the subroutine that the 3rd Floor kid had created that apparently solved all their problems.
“That’s perfect,” David muttered. “I’ll get that inserted into the primary code as soon as I’m back at the Haven. It might need some tweaking but I think it will work.”
“There,” Miranda said. “Maybe you can be a little less bitchy now.”
He snorted softly and came over to kiss her on the forehead. “Perish the thought.” Then he looked over at the doctor again. “I want to meet this prodigy of yours. He might qualify for a security clearance sooner than planned, if he keeps up this kind of work.”
“As you will it, Sire.” The grey-haired, lab-coated human went over to a phone and sent out a page for Mr. Murida.
A few minutes later, the elevator chimed, and Miranda couldn’t contain her laughter as the young hacker stepped into the lab. She looked over just in time to see David shake his head and roll his eyes heavenward.
“Ah, yes, here we are,” Novotny said. “Sire, I’d like you to meet John Murida; everyone calls him Mouse. Mouse, I’d like to introduce David Solomon…your boss.”
MORAL: No act of mercy is ever wasted.
Dianne Sylvan, author of the Shadow World novels (Queen of Shadows, Shadowflame, Shadow’s Fall, and at least two more forthcoming) as well as two books on NeoPagan spirituality (The Circle Within: Creating a Wiccan Spiritual Tradition and The Body Sacred), lives in Austin, Texas, the only sane part of the entire state.
She is an unabashed Mac enthusiast, a froofy iced coffee beverage addict, a chronic Twitterer, a seasoned snark professional, a Spiritual Nomad, a shameless Vampire Diaries (TV) fangirl, a happy herbivore, a bit of a moody Scorpio, a sock junkie, a slightly freaky tattooed postmodern hippie, a cupcake baker extraordinaire, and is prone to hyperbole as well as fits of profanity.
She collects vegan cookbooks, wacky t-shirts, blank journals, obsessions, and dust.
She lives with two neurotic cats, Stella and Owen.
Want to read more from Dianne Sylvan?
Available March 26, 2013 from Ace/Penguin
About this Book:
Spread throughout the dark corners of our world lies the Shadow World, a society of vampires who feed off the living. In Austin, Texas, one woman must rise from the ashes of tragedy and confront an ancient evil before it destroys everything she holds dear…
After a heartrending night of loss and blood, Miranda Grey-Solomon, vampire Queen of the South, now stands in the ruins of her life determined to pick up the pieces and move on. David, her husband and Prime, is missing and presumed dead, and Miranda is lost without her soul mate by her side…But she has little time to grieve as enemies both old and new emerge to test her yet again.
Between vampires trying to take advantage of a Queen without a Prime, incursions by a mysterious organization of humans calling themselves the Order of the Morningstar, and the continuing threat from those within the Shadow World who have already tried to destroy her, Miranda and her allies are running out of places to turn. In order to save her territory and the ones she loves, Miranda must look to the ancient past, to the first days of the vampire race, and uncover secrets about the Signets that could change the course of history…
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