Nothing interesting ever happened to fifteen-year-old orphans Eliot and Fiona while they've lived in the strict, oppressive household of their grandmother. A chance visit, however, reveals that there is much more to the twins. They are the offspring of a goddess and Lucifer, Prince of Darkness.Now, to settle the epic custody battle between these two families, the fallen angels create three diabolical temptations, and the gods fashion three heroic trials to test Eliot and Fiona. More than ever they need to stick together to survive and to learn how to use their budding supernatural abilities . . . for family allegiances are ever-shifting in the ancient, secret world they have entered. At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
Fifteen-year-old twins Eliot and Fiona Post are, unbeknownst to them, descended from two age-old warring dynasties. Their oppressive grandmother, Audrey, hides them from the political machinations of their centuries-old, magic-wielding relatives by making their lives as mundane and boring as possible, an expedient that leaves them predictably miserable. The opening chapters share the sluggish pace of the Posts' life in dull Del Sombra, Calif., and even several impossible events at first fail to penetrate the twins' belief in the utter normalcy of their family. Fortunately, the characterization of Eliot and Fiona is lively and realistic, and Nylund (Halo: Ghosts of Onyx) rewards readers willing to slog through the first of the twins' three magical trials with a sparkling and complicated story filled with dangerous, intriguing events and characters. (Feb.)
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
February 02, 2009
Number of Print Pages*
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Mortal Coils by Eric Nylund
Due to the controversial nature of all Post Family stories, and recent revelations that some popular "nonfiction" titles are slightly less than accurate, the editorial board at TOR Books has at this time decided to classify Mortal Coils as "fiction." We have no interest in entering the debate over the authenticity of Post Family stories in the popular press.
Footnotes to pertinent resources have, however, been added throughout, so enthusiasts and scholars of modern mythology may follow up with their own research and draw their own conclusions to what is the most exciting contemporary legend of our time.
Editor, TOR Books
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life,
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despis'd love. . . .
Hamlet act 3, scene 1
TWO LITTLE NOBODIES
Eliot Post and his sister, Fiona, would be fifteen tomorrow and nothing interesting had ever happened to them. They lived with their grandmother and great-grandmother, who, with their iron-fist-in-velvet-glove ways, held them captive from anything exciting. Eliot slid a plastic milk crate to his dresser and stepped up to see into the mirror. He frowned at his mop of unruly black hair; the bowl cut had grown shaggy. At least it covered his ears, which stuck out. He looked like a dork. He smoothed his fingers through the mess and it fell into place ...then the cowlicks sprang up. If only he had some hair gel. There was, however, a rule banning brand-name shampoo, soap, and other "luxury" items. His great-grandmother concocted homemade versions instead. They cleaned (occasionally stripping off the first layer of skin) but left something to be desired in the fashion department. Eliot glanced at the pages taped to the back of his bedroom door: Grandmother's 106 rules that governed every breath he took. The lack of hair gel was covered by RULE 89.
RULE 89: No extravagant household products--including, but not limited to, store-bought soaps, shampoos, paper towels, and other unnecessary disposable goods.
Fortunately this did not include toilet paper.
The clock on his dresser made a rusty "ping." It was ten o'clock. The lunch shift started at Ringo's All American Pizza Palace in forty minutes. He suppressed a shudder, already tasting the sweet dough and pepperoni grease that would permeate his skin.
Eliot grabbed his homework off his desk. He flexed his hand, working free the stiffness from writing all night. It'd been worth it. He was proud of his report on the War of 1812. Grandmother would have to give him an A.
His thoughts of the Chesapeake campaign and "The Star-Spangled Banner" vanished as a car drove past outside. Three stories on the street below, its radio thumped and bumped into Eliot's room.
The music washed through him, swept aside all thoughts of homework, pizza, rules, and for one moment he was somewhere else: a hero on the high seas, cannons blasting, and wind screaming through the sails.
The car passed and the music faded.
Eliot would have done anything for a radio of his own. "Music is a distraction," Grandmother had told him over and over. There was, naturally, a rule for it, too.
RULE 34: No music, including the playing of any instruments (actual or improvised), singing, humming, electronically or by any means producing or reproducing a rhythmic melodic form.
It sucked. All of Grandmother's rules did. He never got to do anything he wanted . . . except, of course, read.
Three entire walls of his room were not walls at all, but floor-toceiling bookshelves installed sometime in the Precambrian era by Great-Grandmother.
Two thousand fifty-nine volumes lined his tiny bedroom: red spines, gray cloth covers, faded paper jackets, and gleaming gold letters, all exuding a scent of moldering paper and well-worn leather, the entirety a solid mass of age and authority.1
Eliot ran a hand over their vertebrae--Jane Austen ...Plato...Walt Whitman. He loved his books. How many times had he escaped to differ
1. Excavation of what experts believe was the Oakwood Apartments building (the alleged Post Family residence) revealed the remains of more than one hundred thousand books on all floors: leather bindings, partial pages, literally tons of parchment ash, and a handful of intact volumes. These fueled the intense blaze that eventually caused the entire town of Del Sombra to burn to the ground. Gods of the First and Twenty-first Century, Volume 11: The Post Family Mythology, 8th ed. (Zypheron Press Ltd.).
ent countries, centuries long past, with colorful characters as his companions?
He just wished his life could be as interesting.
Eliot went to open his bedroom door, but halted before the pages of Grandmother's rules. He glared at them, knowing the biggest rule of all was unwritten. RULE 0: No escaping the rules.
He sighed, twisted the doorknob, and pushed open his door.
Light spilled into the darkened corridor. At the same instant a second rectangle of light appeared as his sister's door opened. Fiona wore a green gingham dress, a tattered suede belt, and sandals that laced up her calves.
People said they looked alike, but she was five foot five inches, while Eliot was still only five foot three inches. For being his twin sister, she didn't really look anything like him. Her posture was wet-noodle limp, hair in her eyes except when it wasn't pulled into a tail of frizz, and she chewed on her nails.
She stepped into the hallway at the exact same second as Eliot. She was always pretending this synchronicity thing to annoy him. The myth was that twins always thought the same thing, mirrored each other's motions-- were practically the same person.
She must have been waiting at her door, listening for his to open. Well, he wasn't buying it.
"You look sick," Fiona said, her voice dripping with mock sympathy. "Naegleria fowleri?"
"Haven't been swimming," he replied. "So maybe you're the one with brain-eating amoebas."
He'd read Rare Incurable Parasites, volume 3, as well.
This was their favorite game: vocabulary insult.
"Lochsmere," he said, and eyed her contemptuously.
Her brow scrunched in concentration.
That was a tough one--a character from the thirteenth-century Twixtbury Chronicles by Vanden Du Bur. Lochsmere was a plague-ridden dwarf, evil and puppy-drowning vile.
The Twixtbury text lay on the top shelf of the hallway bookcase, covered in a layer of dust. No way she had read it.
Fiona caught his look, followed it, and smiled.
"You have me confused for noble G'meetello," she said, "master of Lochsmere . . . who is obviously you."
So she had read it. Okay. The score was still nothing to nothing.
Fiona half-closed her eyes and murmured, "Sometimes, little brother, I think your wit so tantalizing it would be better for everyone if you were at Tristan da Cunha."
Tristan da Cunha? He didn't know that one.
"No fair using foreign words."
Fiona had a talent for languages, while he did not. They had a pact, though: no foreign words from her and no made-up words from him in their games of vocabulary insult. Eliot had a particular talent for finding colorful but nonsensical terms that had no place in any dictionary.
"It's not foreign," she said, beaming with satisfaction.
He believed her. They never lied in vocabulary insult.
Eliot tried to puzzle it out. Tristan... like the knight of legend? Maybe a castle? Fiona was forever reading travel journals. That had to be it.
"Yes," he said, adopting his best fake ironic air. "Behind its walls I might be safe from seeing your face."
Fiona blinked. "A good guess, but absolutely wrong. Tristan da Cunha is an island in the South Atlantic, thirteen hundred miles from the nearest inhabited land. Population two hundred eighty. I believe their official currency is the potato."
Eliot deflated. "Great, you win," he muttered. "No big deal. I let you. Happy early birthday."
"You've never let anyone win anything." She gave a short laugh. "Happy birthday to you, too."
"Come on." Eliot brushed past her.
She caught up to him and squeezed by. Thousands more volumes crowded the hallway on either side, from hardwood floors to water-stained plaster ceiling.
They emerged in the dining room and squinted as their eyes adjusted to the light. A picture window showed the brick building across the street and a faint band of sky bisected by high-tension power wires, only partially obscured by the overflowing bookcases on all sides.
Great-Grandma Cecilia sat at the dining table writing letters to her many cousins. Her paper-thin skin was a web of wrinkles. She wore a brown dress that buttoned all the way up her throat and looked as if she could have stepped out of a tin daguerreotype.
Cecilia beckoned to them and hugged Fiona, then Eliot, adding a dry kiss for good measure.
He returned her trembling embrace, but oh so gingerly, because he was afraid he'd break her. A hundred and four years old was nothing to fool with.
Eliot loved his great-grandmother. She always had time to listen to him, no matter what she was doing. She never gave him advice or orders. She was just there for him.
"Good morning, my darlings," she whispered. Her voice was the rustle of autumn leaves.
"Morning Cee," Eliot and Fiona said together.
Eliot shot his sister a look. She was doing it again: that synchronicity thing. Just to get to him.
Cecilia patted his hand. "Yesterday's homework." She nodded to the papers on the edge of the table.
Fiona was a little closer and grabbed them before Eliot. She frowned, peeling off the top sheets, and passed them to him. "Yours," she murmured, then focused on the rest of the pages.
Eliot took them, annoyed that she had looked at his grade before he could.
A large C+ had been scratched at the top of last week's essay on the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. Next to it was Fine thesis. Flawed execution. Writing closer to aboriginal than English.
Eliot winced. He had tried so hard. He had all the ideas in his head, but when he put them onto paper, everything got tangled.
He glanced at Fiona; her olive complexion had paled. He stepped closer and spotted the large C- on her page.
"My ideas were 'amateurish,' " she whispered.
"It's okay," Eliot said. "We'll help each other rewrite them tonight."
Fiona nodded. She took bad grades harder than Eliot, as if she had something to prove to Grandmother. Eliot had given up trying to live up to her expectations. Nothing was ever good enough. Sometimes he just wished that she'd leave them alone.
"Alone or together," said Grandmother, "I expect those rewritten tonight along with your new assignment."
Eliot jumped and turned.
Grandmother stood behind them in the hallway, arms folded over her chest, one hand holding two crisply typed pages.
"Good morning, Grandmother," Eliot said.
It was Grandmother always. It was never Audrey or Gram, or any other pet name like they used with Cecilia. Not that it was forbidden, but Grandmother was the only thing they ever thought to call her. It was the only title that carried the authority her presence demanded.
Grandmother's thin body stood with perfect posture and towered over them at an even six feet. Her silver hair was shorn with military precision, and her olive complexion had not a single wrinkle, even though she was sixty-two years old. She wore a plaid flannel shirt buttoned all the way to the top, jeans, and steel-toed boots. Her expression, as usual, was one of ironic inscrutability.
She handed them the pages: tonight's homework, which consisted of seven geometric proofs and a new essay on Isaac Newton's personal life.
Eliot flexed his hand and wondered how short he could make this new essay and still get a passing grade. A passing grade according to Grandmother was an A-. She always told them that "excellence is the least that is expected of you" and made them rewrite subpar papers until they were good enough.
"They've had breakfast?" Grandmother asked Cecilia.
"At eight thirty." Cecilia gathered her letters and envelopes into a neat stack. "Oatmeal, juice, one hard-boiled egg."
Boiling water was the upper limit of Cecilia's cooking ability. Eliot always offered to help, but she never let him.
Grandmother plucked up their turned-in homework, and her gray eyes scanned the first lines noncommittally. "They should go," she said. "Being late for work will not do."
"Couldn't . . ." Cecilia's weathered hand curled around her throat. "I mean, tomorrow are their birthdays. Must they do homework the night before--"
Grandmother shot Cecilia a look that guillotined her words midsentence.
Cecilia looked down at her letters. "No, of course not," she whispered. "Silly of me."
Not even Cecilia could get Grandmother to bend a rule. Eliot loved her for trying, though.
Grandmother turned to Eliot and Fiona and tapped her wristwatch. "Ticktock," she said, and leaned closer.
Fiona gave her a polite kiss on her cheek. Eliot did, too, but it was just a formality, part of the morning's scheduled activities.
Grandmother gave him the slightest hug.
Eliot knew she loved him--at least, that's what Cecilia always said. He wished her "love" would be something other than rules and restrictions, though. Just once he wished she'd cancel homework and take them all out for a movie. Wasn't that "love," too?
"Lunch is on the table by the door," Cecilia told them. "Oh, I didn't get to the store yesterday...."
Eliot and Fiona glanced at one another, understanding.
Fiona bolted for the front door first and Eliot followed--but too late. She grabbed the larger paper bag off the table, the one Cecilia had slipped the last apple into, and ran out the door.
Eliot reluctantly grabbed the remaining bag, knowing it only contained a dry tuna-fish sandwich on rye.
"Have a good day, my darlings," Cecilia called after them, smiled, and waved.
Grandmother wordlessly turned away.
"Thanks, Cee," Eliot whispered.
He ran after Fiona, down the hall, past the elevator, and to the stairs. She was always trying to outrace him--everything was a competition with Fiona.
Eliot wasn't about to let her win without a fight. By the time he hit the upper landing, though, Fiona was half a floor ahead of him, her longer legs carrying her farther, faster.
He chased her down the three flights, round and round, Eliot now only a few feet behind--until they burst through the steel security door onto the street.
It was a sunny day in Del Sombra, and they rested a moment in the narrowing shadow of the brick fa�ade of their apartment building.
On Midway Avenue peach trees sat in planters. Their branches swayed in the warm breeze and dropped not-quite-ripe fruit on the road to be spattered by the tourists racing to Sonoma County.
"I won," Fiona said, breathing heavily. "Twice. In one day." She shook her paper-bag lunch. "Extra apple, too. You need to be faster, Bradypus."
Bradypus was the genus name for the three-toed sloth, one of the slowest mammals in the world.
Eliot's mood darkened, but he didn't let her bait him into another round of vocabulary insult; instead he just shot her a glare.
He unclenched his paper-bag lunch, still in a tight grip from their sprint. A metallic clink came from inside. Eliot unrolled and then peered into the bag. At the bottom were two quarters. That was Cee, trying to make things even between him and his sister.
Eliot plucked them out and held them up to the sunlight. They gleamed like liquid mercury.
Fiona grabbed for them--but this time he was quicker.
"Ha!" he said, snapping them securely into his fist.
He'd use them to buy carrot juice from the health-food store on his break. Better than the flat soda or tap water they got at Ringo's. He dropped them back into the bag.
Fiona shrugged as if those quarters didn't mean anything to her, and she briskly started to walk down the sidewalk.
Eliot knew her; it mattered.
He caught up to her. "You think anything's going to happen tomorrow?"
"Like what?" Fiona asked. "New rules?"
His stride faltered. It was a distinct possibility. Grandmother's list of rules grew longer every year. The latest entry was just five weeks ago.
RULE 106: No dating--single, double, dutch, chaperoned or not, or otherwise.
As if that were going to happen in his lifetime. Maybe it was for Fiona. The guys at work sometimes talked to her.
"I just thought . . . ," Eliot said, running to catch up to his sister. "I don't know. Like school--maybe we'll go to a real school. With other kids. Wouldn't that be better than Grandmother's assignments every night?"
Fiona said nothing, her silence voicing her opinion.
Other kids were sometimes a problem for him and his sister. While Eliot knew the capital of Angola (Luanda), the number of genes in the earthworm, Caenorhabditis elegans (about nineteen thousand), ask him to make small talk with a girl and his IQ dropped thirty points.
"Yeah," he said, "maybe not such a great idea."
But something new had to happen. Almost fifteen years old. You couldn't live your entire life just doing the same thing every day: Ringo's, homework, reading, chores, sleeping.
Was this what it was going to be like until he was eighteen? Would Grandmother keep them home until twenty-one? Forty? Until they were as old as Cee?
Fiona brushed back her hair, hooking it over her ear. "I want to travel," she said in a faraway voice. "Go to Athens or Tibet . . . actually see at least one of the places we've read about."
His sister had the right idea. He turned the same fantasy over in his head every day: running far away. Where would they go? And more important, how could they ever defy Grandmother?
He and Fiona might as well have been corked inside a bottle, sailing nowhere on a tiny balsa-wood ship.
"Could be worse." Fiona nodded ahead at the entrance to an alley. "We could be like your friend there."
From the shadows in the alley, a pair of worn sneakers missing their laces protruded onto the sidewalk. Holes in their soles revealed bare feet inside.
"He's not my friend," Eliot muttered. "He's just some guy."
Fiona increased her pace as they neared the shoes.
The sneakers were attached to tattered jeans and a tangle of gray rags that might once have been a trench coat.
They saw this old man every day on their way to work. Sometimes he huddled on different corners or like today sat in the shadows. And while his location changed . . . his smell never did: a combination of sardines, body odor, and burnt matches.
Eliot slowed to a halt.
The old man's face squinted up at him, his leathery skin contorting into a mass of deep laugh lines and white scars. His lips parted into a greasy smile; he leaned forward and held out an Angels' baseball cap. A piece of cardboard jammed into the brim had the word vet printed on it.
Eliot held up his hand. "Sorry I don't . . ."
His words trailed off as he saw a kidney-shaped object tucked behind the man. A violin.
Eliot could almost feel the waves of sound resonating off it, almost taste the notes, sweet and wavering, oscillating through his skull. He wanted to touch it--even though he'd never played any instrument before.
The old man followed Eliot's stare, and his smile brightened, revealing yellowed teeth thick with saliva.
He pulled the violin into his lap and ran his thumb over the chipped fingerboard ...for all the good it would do. All the strings were missing.
The music in Eliot's head screeched to a halt.
He would have given anything to hear him play.
The man's smile vanished and he set his cap over the violin.
Eliot bit his upper lip, unrolled his lunch bag, and fished out the two quarters.
Fiona stopped, watching him. She set her hands on her hips and shook her head.
Eliot didn't care what his sister thought; the money was his to spend any way he wanted.
"You should buy a few strings," Eliot whispered to the old man. "I bet you could make more money if you played a little." He dropped the quarters into the cap.
The man grasped the coins, rubbed them together, gazed lovingly at the violin ...and then back up to Eliot. He said nothing, but his dull blue eyes brimmed with tears.
Fiona couldn't believe her brother. She watched him drop his quarters in the bum's baseball cap. Only ten minutes older than Eliot, she sometimes felt it might as well be ten years. How could he be such a little boy? She stalked back to extricate him, before he gave his lunch away, too. The old man looked from Eliot to her and his gaze hardened. He glanced her over. It wasn't the way boys sometimes looked at her. "Elevator eyes" she had heard other girls call it. This was more as if he could see past her skin, right down to her bones. She could smell him now, too: sardines, a month of curdled body odor, and smoke. The stench aside, there was a magnetic repulsion, too. She just wanted to get as far away from the old man as she could. He gave her the creeps. She grabbed Eliot's hand, which was uncharacteristically ice-cold. "Come on," she whispered. "We're going to be late." She jerked him toward her. "Yeah," he said, still looking back at the old man. They fell into their hurry-up stride. "You might as well have tossed your money down the storm drain," she said. "That guy can't even play. Probably found that violin in the trash." "Sure he can play," Eliot muttered, and rubbed his hand. "I bet he's good, too." Eliot was too nice sometimes, and people like that bum took advantage of him. For a moment she considered turning around and getting his money back. But maybe it would be better if Eliot learned that not everyone operated by Grandmother's 106 rules. At fifty cents, it would be a lesson learned cheaply.
He had that dopey look on his face whenever he talked about music. Fiona knew better than to lecture Eliot about RULE 34--you might as well talk to a trash can about aesthetics, or a brick wall about aerodynamics.
She wondered what life would be like without having to look after him. Eliot was always trying to find ways around the rules, and getting them both into trouble.
Like it or not, though, he was her brother--like a third, mutated arm growing from the middle of her chest--he was annoying, but she couldn't quite bring herself to cut him off.
"Cee told me you were adopted," she told him. "I saw the birth certificate. It said, 'Eliot Post. Sarcoptes scabiei.' "
This was a microscopic mite that caused scabies, whose symptoms included pimplelike irritations and intense itching.
Eliot scratched his head. "Got to get your nose out of the medical books. I've read them all, too. Are you losing your touch? A dose maybe of Mycobacterium leprae?"
That was the strain of bacteria, also called Hansen's bacillus, that caused leprosy. Nice double entendre.
They rounded the corner of Midway and Vine. Across the street was Sol Granda Florists, perfumed by a hundred dozen roses and bushels of lavender. Fiona wished someone would send her roses once in her life. Just once. Anyone.
Kitty-corner from this was The Pink Rabbit, a health-food co-op and juice bar. A plywood rabbit sat upright on the corner drinking from a plastic cup full of frothy green liquid. Eliot loved to hang out there. Thursday afternoons was open mic, where he pretended never to listen to the folksingers.
Opposite the Rabbit squatted the Colonial columns of Ringo's All American Pizza Palace. It was supposed to look like a miniature version of the White House in Washington, D.C. . . . only one of the wings was bare cinder block--a recent addition that would one day house four lanes of bowling. Next to the double-glass-door entrance was a mural of Uncle Sam with a red, white, and blue bowling ball in one hand, and in the other a wedge of gooey pizza.
At this junction, the smells from the three buildings collided: rose, lavender, freshly pulped carrots and oranges, clove cigarettes, yeast, and pepperoni.