As a bisexual bastard born to a country stuck in antiquated mores and ideals, Charles Perry had learned long ago to set his sights low: all he wants is a drink, a dram, and a whore of each gender to share them with. But strange visions haunt his dreams, and now the ghosts are following him into his waking hours. Charles must seek help from an alchemist or risk running mad. Charles's House blood makes him a high prize in magical circles, so he'll have to be careful.
But what the alchemist discovers in Charles's blood turns the whole world on its head. And in the arms of an exotic male pleasure slave, Charles will discover a destiny so huge it doesn't seem possible, but it's true. Charles Perry, noble bastard, is the lost consort of the Goddess of All Creation. And as the forces of darkness converge on him, Charles must learn to channel his power to save the world--or risk becoming the pawn that destroys it.
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Loose Id, LLC
April 18, 2011
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Excerpt from The Seventh Veil by Heidi Cullinan
In a dark, close room at the back of a dockside inn, there was a bed and nothing else.
The bed itself was old, sagging at its center, and it stank. Despite its wear from years of use, not a single person had slept a night upon it, though a few had passed out briefly within its confines. No one had ever dreamed of airing it, though at one point someone had swapped sheets with another bed when one of its occupants had left some sick on the coverlet. Its pillows had been stolen long ago, but they'd been only stain-filled accessories for those desiring more creative sexual positions or a means of stopping the breath of one whose partner had feared a loose tongue. It was a dirty, filthy bed in a morally bankrupt establishment, available to anyone who could plunk down the coin to rent it for an hour.
It was Charles Perry's favorite bed.
Goddess knew it was practically a passive delivery system for disease, and there was that horrible lump in the middle of the left side that always managed to ram itself into Charles's thigh just as he was about to come. But -- well, in fact, yes, Charles loved this bed, not for what it was but for what it meant to him. In this inn and in this bed, no one asked questions. It was the worst whorehouse in the city, but it was popular because here he would not get arrested. And because Charles was such a loyal, frequent customer, and because his grandfather's fat purse was open to him so long as he was discreet, Charles had this particular bed reserved. When he came to the Randy Sailor with a man or a woman, the proprietor simply smiled, passed him the key and a bottle of wine, and wished him well.
Tonight Charles had come with a man and a woman, but not even this had made old Bimsy blink. Charles was having more trouble with his doxies, to tell the truth. The man was squeamish at the idea of a naked woman in bed with them, and clearly the girl's Hainian accent had been as fake as the rest of her, because it was pure Etsian revulsion she'd expressed when she'd caught Charles kissing the man when she'd come back from the loo. "A bloody molly!" she'd whispered angrily to another whore lingering at the bar when she thought Charles had gone upstairs. "He wants to fuck that dark bugger, then stick it in me!"
Charles had nearly let her go then, but she'd pasted on a smile when she went into his arms, and after he fished out a dram for them both to sniff, he'd found her revulsion almost amusing. "I don't want to stick it in both of you," he had told her, tugging at the laces to her bodice. "I want to stick mine in you while he sticks his in me."
And after some drunken fumbles and a great deal more drug, this was precisely what they had done. There had been some kisses, and there had been some sucking, but mostly everyone was ready for the fuck, and they had quickly gone straight to business. The girl lay back on the bed, her head lolling off the side, her legs thrown over Charles's shoulders as he'd wedged himself inside her. The man came up behind, whispering nasty, incoherent Tansian into Charles's ear as he'd gripped Charles's biceps and found his position. Charles cried out as he entered the woman, and so did she, and then the man cried out as he entered Charles, and then it had been nothing but sensation and heat, and then, blessedly, there had been release.
Now the man and the woman Charles had hired for the night were curled up beside him in his favorite bed, drifting in and out of consciousness, purring in the afterglow of sex and the lingering effects of Hain's finest illegal substances. Charles stroked their naked necks and sweaty tendrils of hair. This was why he loved this room, this bed: because here he could find peace. This was why he kept coming back to the docks, despite his grandfather's disgust for the habit. And to be here with a man and a woman at once, however awkward the herding had been, to lie here like this was worth it all. For this single, fleeting moment, he felt happy. As his blood pounded and the drug blasted his brain, he knew a fragile peace, and he reveled in it, letting it expand around him.
When the woman would have risen, he kissed her and urged her gently back down beside him.
"Just rest," he said. "Rest and enjoy the moment."
She wrinkled her nose at him, but she smiled too, the indolent leer of one high and sated. "Are you one of the Goddess chasers?" she asked, her false Hainian accent only half in place. "Did we fuck so you could 'touch the divine'?"
Charles laughed and touched her nose. "You're the only goddess I believe in" -- he tried to remember her name and failed -- "darling." He kissed her lips, then turned to nuzzle his male companion as well. "The pair of you are the only Lord and Lady I need."
The girl giggled, nipped at Charles's nipple, then settled down beside him again.
Charles leaned his head back against the metal rail and sighed. He could stay this way for hours. Days. If he didn't have to eat and piss, he could stay this way forever. But he could not stay forever. Soon the darkness that drugs and sex had chased away would find him. This moment of peace was fragile, and it could not last.
And then, though it was far too soon, the light shifted, and the peace came to an end right then and there.
There were shadows everywhere, but now those shadows began to move. Slowly at first, hesitant, and as they grew more confident that they had found him again, they moved with purpose and deliberation.
Charles tensed. The drugs were not even out of his system yet, but here they were: the ghosts, the wraiths returned once more. They should not have been able to find him yet. They should not have been able to come back so soon.
They should never have been able to find him here.
It was not the drugs that made the shadows shift about the room. It was supposed to be the drugs that stopped this. They still purred inside him, making the room swim and dance in colors only addicts knew, and Charles's cock was still half-hard, but as he stared at the edges of the room, the dark shapes were already rising. They were thick, gray mist curling against the floorboards, the walls, the handles of the windows, and the knob of the door.
They were here. The wraiths were here again.
They can blast through both drugs and sex now, Charles realized, despairing. Though he turned his head away, he didn't close his eyes, knowing that the gesture would only make his suffering worse. In that darkness, they were terrible. He stared at the pretty man beside him instead: dark, so dark, his skin like smooth chocolate, his lips so fat and plump, just like his lovely, perfect cock. Charles tried to focus on the sex, sliding his hand down to the other whore's breast, teasing it, making her gasp. Yes. Yes, let us lose ourselves again in pleasure. Make them go away, my lovelies. Make them go away.
But the wraiths had their grip on him now, and Charles suspected not even the most carnal of lovemaking or a priceless dram would chase them off now. And even as the woman began to coo and slide her hand down his stomach to Charles's naked sex, even as he shut his mind to nothing but cock and cunt and carnal acts, he was still lost, because the mist was curling now around the bed and rising up its sides. He looked up and found the shadows were on the ceiling. Charles turned to the male whore, staring at the beautiful expanse that was his chest, but the wraith mist was curling around him too.
"Help us," it whispered.
Charles cried out.
The woman sat up, confused, then narrowed her eyes as she saw Charles's face. "You're doing it," she said accusingly. She nodded at the door. "Marie said you did this, that after you fucked, you went all strange."
"What is this?" the male whore asked, sitting up and rubbing his eyes.
"It's nothing," Charles said quickly, then winced as he watched a smoky finger form against the man's sweaty neck.
"He sees things," the woman said to the man. "Unnatural things. Ghosts. And worse."
The man paled. "Ghosts?"
"No," Charles lied, then shuddered and looked away as a face began to form over the man's shoulder. He could not bear to see their eyes.
"You're seeing them," the woman accused. "You're seeing them now, aren't you?"
They were pushing through her body, making their faces merge with hers. They made it appear as if she were dead, decaying right before him, her eyes hollowing to deep black sockets, her cheek sliding away as he watched. Charles looked down at his hands.
"It's just a side effect of the drugs." The mist was coming across his lap now, curling against his wrists. He resisted the urge to shake it off. "It will go away."
The woman gave a dubious grunt. "Marie says you scream like you're being skinned alive."
A tiny, gray-black face appeared above Charles's shaking hands. It had no eyes, and its mouth only gaped. It was a skull, but it was a skull warped and twisted into agony.
"Help us," it pleaded and reached for him.
"It only happens to me," Charles assured her. "You won't see them. Ah!" The skull before him had begun to disintegrate, and he'd made the mistake of closing his eyes. When he opened them, he was sweating, and his doxies were climbing off the bed.
He reached out, trying to pull them back as they retreated through mist so thick now he couldn't even see the walls. "Please," he begged. "I'll pay you double. Triple. Whatever you want. Just stay. Don't leave me alone with them. Please."
The man was shaking his head. "Ghosts are bad," he whispered, and he turned away.
"No!" Charles climbed to his feet, stepping over the mist figures, swallowing his revulsion and shivering from the cold that emanated from them. "Please! You don't know what this is like! Every day! Every day, every moment, unless I am high or fucking! And even that's starting not to work." He wiped his cheeks, which had become damp with sweat and tears, and he tried to smile. "Please -- just stay with me. One of you. Just stay so I don't have to go through it alone. Please. I beg you. I will give you anything if you stay. Anything."
But the whores only shook their heads as they retreated into the mist, and then the mist thickened and they were gone. Charles called to them, reaching for them, but they did not come back. Soon he could not even see the end of the bed, and then he could not even see his hand in front of his face.
"No," he whispered, swallowing against the thickness of his throat. "Please, no."
The figures formed in earnest now, a horde of wraiths, gaunt-faced and empty-eyed, moaning, reaching, clutching at him until he did not know his own skin from the hands that pressed upon him.
"Help us," they pleaded, pulling on him. "Help us, Father. Help us. Set us free. Help us."
"I can't help you," Charles whispered, knowing they would not listen, but he couldn't stand it anymore. "I'm not your father -- I can't help you! I don't know who you are! I can't help you!"
The gaunt faces turned angry. "Help us, Father!" They tugged at him, pulling him down to the bed, their hands pressing on his chest until he thought his ribs would break. "Help us, help us, help us, help us!"
"I don't know how!" Charles shouted.
Cold fingers pressed against his eyes, forcing them closed, and Charles saw them all, all the ghosts, and he began to scream.
He woke hours later, cold and shaking and then vomiting. He turned on instinct to the side, and strong hands gripped his hair, aiming his head at a wooden bucket.
"That's the way," a gruff voice said, and the hands held him patiently as he emptied his stomach again. When Charles was done, his companion handed him a damp towel, which stank only slightly less than the bed. Charles ran it over his forehead, his mouth, and his neck.
"Thank you," he murmured and fell back against the mattress. He opened his eyes and smiled weakly when he saw his rescuer was Bimsy. "Sorry, good man. Thank you for looking after me. Again."
But Bimsy was not smiling, and his face looked grim and hollow in the lamplight. "You screamed like a banshee, Mr. Perry. You drove customers out of every bed and out of the bar. I had to send for an alchemist for my poor Alma."
Charles realized where this was heading. "I'll see you're well paid. I'll pay for all the business you lost. I'll pay you double."
But Bimsy's eyes were full of fear. "I can't bear to hear that sound again, lad. You couldn't give me all the money in the world to make me hear that sound again."
"Bimsy," he pleaded, "I have nowhere else to go."
"Sure as you do," Bimsy said gruffly. "Fancy man like you could buy your own place if you wanted."
"Not with my grandfather," Charles shot back. "Not with my family, as you well know. And you're the only innkeeper that won't turn me in for the Indecency Act."
"Go to an alchemist, then." Bimsy was grasping now. "That one in Golden Lane. The renegade -- did you look into him like I said?"
No, Charles had not. He'd gone as far as the door, seen the tubes and potions and smelled the sulfur, and he'd run straight for a dram. Charles sat up and reached for the old man's hand. "Bimsy, if you think the sounds I make are frightening, imagine being the one who sees what causes me to make those sounds."
Bimsy had the decency to look guilty, but he still pulled back. "I can't help you, Mr. Perry," he said with some apology, but mostly with fear. "I'm sorry. But you're no longer welcome at the Randy Sailor."
Charles wanted to plead. He wanted to get on his knees, to beg, to promise to be Bimsy's slave if that's what it took, but he didn't, because he could see by the man's face that this battle was already lost. The only victory now would be to leave with some small shred of his dignity, so Charles smiled weakly and leaned back. "Very well," he said with studied nonchalance. "Just send me your final bill, and I'll see you're paid."
Bimsy winced but nodded. "Go see that alchemist, Mr. Perry. It isn't natural to scream like that. Not natural at all."
"An alchemist is a bad idea for someone in my family," Charles said.
The room seemed to be growing darker. Was that a cloud going past the window? Was it something else?
He reached for his silk jacket, draped carefully over a nearby chair, and fished around for a cigarette before sticking the nub of one between his lips. "I may be a bastard son of the House of Perry and Whitby, but I carry that blood nonetheless. An alchemist would make a feast of me."
"This one's different," Bimsy said. "He's rogue."
"That only makes him worse," Charles pointed out. He searched the pocket again, now for his flint, then pulled it out and held it to the end of his cigarette. He caught a shadow moving in the corner of the room, just starting to creep, and his hand shook.
"This one isn't like that. He's after power of a different kind." Bimsy took the lighter from him and made a spark. "He does sex magic, that one."
Charles's eyebrows shot up into his hairline as he inhaled. He let the smoke pool in his lungs, felt the buzz smooth out the edges in his head, and he watched the shadow melt away. He let the smoke out on a sigh. "Sounds kinky."
Bimsy shrugged. "No worse than anything you already done, I reckon."
Charles couldn't argue that one. He smoked for a moment, considering. Sex magic with a rogue alchemist. It still sounded dangerous.
In the corner of the room, the shadow stirred again, and Charles quickly looked away.
"I sent a boy over to ask, and he said he could see you today," Bimsy pressed. "Said you sounded intriguing."
The shadows in the other corners were moving too, not yet forming, but they were gaining strength too fast. Within an hour, he'd be in their throes again. I can't take much more of this. He drew on the cigarette again with some intensity.
"I thought you was dead when I first found you today," Bimsy said. "Lord Whitby's grandson, dead in my house. I all but felt the noose around my neck, lad."
Charles tapped his cigarette into the bucket and shook his head. "The ghosts don't kill me. They won't." He didn't know how he knew this, but he did. Drive him mad, though -- that, they could do. Just like dear Dad. He sighed and turned to Bimsy. "If I go to this alchemist, can I come back here again?"
"If he fixes you, sure enough you can," Bimsy agreed.
The shadows were moving again, and the mist was rising. It wouldn't even be an hour before they were back.
"The alchemist said to send you over as soon as you were about," Bimsy said. "Just think, you could have a cure, go home and rest, and be back with a new pair of bunnies by tomorrow night."
It would never work like that, Charles knew. If it worked at all, with a rogue alchemist it would never be that easy. But the shadows stalking Charles were taller now, and he could see their faces forming as their thin gray fingers reached around Bimsy's throat.
Charles tossed his cigarette into the bucket and sat up in the bed. "Hand me my coat, Bimsy."
He shrugged into the blue silk, wrapping himself in stale beer and smoke and perfume, and headed for the door, ignoring as best he could the icy cold and the weak, plaintive cries that echoed all around him.