For today, I’m offering an exclusive first look at Convergence, my story premiering next week in the second Proud to Be a Vampire collection bundle. You can pre-order Convergence by itself here, or as part of a bundle with four other great stories here, which saves you 15% on the bundled titles. Having just read the galley to give it a last once-over, I’m really excited to bring this story to you–and it was a lot of fun to write!
Chris and Ling travel the world in search of rare, exquisite curiosities, but treasure hunting is rife with danger and comes with a price. In order to retrieve a lost treasure deep within a perilous mountain, Chris hires on a vampire. But traveling with a predator comes with its own risks, and their venture may collapse into absolute loss unless they can each find the opportunity in one another.
The trip to China was arduous, though less a danger than in times of old, but it meant cramped quarters and little privacy even with the modern convenience of first class compartments on the steam train. Dorran was a less challenging passenger than Chris had expected, having arranged for a human-tall box to be shipped in the cargo space.
“You’ve read Dracula a few too many times,” Dorran remarked upon hearing Chris’s arrangement for a cargo box, and retired to the dimmest corner of the shared compartment with a heavy cloak.
“Sunlight is not anathema?” Chris responded, startled.
“Only in that it illuminates the shocking paleness of my skin.”
With that, Dorran withdrew, leaving Chris and Ling to their books and conversation. It was an interminable trip rendered passable only through the engagement of the mind. As ever, Chris envied the ease with which Ling got up to roam the narrow strip of walkway. At least he could escape the compartment to take a turn about the train, even if it was in the guise of servant.
One dark morning, as the train streaked through winding hills etched in black relief against the paler grey of massed clouds, Chris found himself the subject of scrutiny from a pair of piercing green eyes. Dorran had pushed the hood back far enough to expose his face.
“He surfaces,” Chris said in a wry tone.
“The injury.” Dorran’s voice was a dry crackle gone rusty after so long a silence. “It kept you from being pressed into service for the war?”
Chris’s hand tightened on the silver handle of his cane. “Among other things.” He could walk, with pain so preferably only short distances. “It does not keep me from managing the curiosity arm of the business, or from self-sufficiency.”
“Mm,” Dorran said. “I’m sure. That’s why Ling fetches tea and toast.”
“He does so out of respect rather than requirement.”
Dorran sat forward, eyes intent. “How severe was the damage, Mr Bryant?”
Chris’s response was prompt and well-rehearsed from repetition. “The doctor who saved my leg cut away the gangrenous tissue. In his zeal, he removed muscle to a degree that it impaired function. Yet, I am lucky. I am not disfigured; I did not lose the leg.”
Dorran’s eyes moved down his body, resting on his thigh. “You surely have a good deal of scarring.”
“Not any that you’ll see,” Chris retorted, wondering at the line of questioning.
Black brows flicked upward and Dorran’s mouth quirked in a sensual, crooked smile. “We are in very close quarters, Mr Bryant, and look to remain so for quite some time.”
Chris looked at him askance. He did not want to encourage familiarity, especially not with Dorran’s words dripping innuendo, but the use of the title only brought his father to mind. While Chris was grateful to John Bryant for providing him with an upbringing and opportunities to allow him to pursue his interests, he disagreed with him on so many other fundamental points that they kept contact brief and to a minimum.
“You may address me as Chris,” he said at last.
Dorran looked up from where he’d begun to subside within his hood. “Eh?”
“As you say, we are going to be in close quarters with one another for the foreseeable future, and you may as well address me by my given name.”
“And you may call me Dorran.” The offer was returned promptly, but with the air of one conferring a boon.
Chris eyed him a moment longer. There were many esoteric subjects that provoked his curiosity, but none so much as the motives of a vampire and now he had one before him. He would be remiss as a scholar if he let the opportunity lapse.
“What moved you to respond to the advertisement I placed?” Chris asked. He had wondered since the moment Dorran had set foot in his shop. Tall and handsome, no hideous monster had appeared before him. Dorran could quite obviously pass for human, and apparently there had been a certain amount of risk in revealing himself to begin with.
Dorran sat up straighter, arranging a fold of hood to shield himself from the wan light that had pierced the clouds outside the window. Chris raised his cane, reversed it, and used the handle to draw the curtain securely closed in an adroit move. Dorran nodded his thanks.
“You expect me to say I’m fleeing the country, evading the pursuit of those who I’ve robbed of their loved ones?” Dorran sounded amused.
“The thought had crossed my mind,” Chris said dryly.
“I would accuse you of reading penny dreadfuls, if I hadn’t seen evidence of your standard fare.” Dorran gestured to two of the books that Chris had set aside when Ling got up to fetch them breakfast. “You may be scholar as well as linguist.”
“I have a wide-ranging curiosity.”
“You have a taste for the exotic.” Dorran fitted his fingertips together and surveyed Chris over them. “And I have an appetite for adventure.”
“That’s the reason?” Chris attempted to mask his surprise.
“Reason enough to get me out of London,” Dorran said.
“And away from any retribution due the crimes of your nature,” Chris was unable to resist adding.
Dorran laughed; it was a rich, unfettered sound, causing Chris to stare in surprise again. “A scholar’s nature, but a poet’s mind.” He seemed admiring rather than sarcastic.
Chris flushed. It was the first time someone had praised his poetical bent without contempt. “I hardly see what that’s to do with it,” he said stiffly.
“You embellish and invent,” Dorran said. “What I do, I do from necessity. And those that receive my embrace are more than willing, in the end.”
Chris frowned. “I don’t …”
“Because it is their end,” Dorran clarified, tone gentle. “And when they reach it, I am mercy. I am solace. And I take nothing that would not be spent uselessly, otherwise.”
Chris inhaled sharply. “Are you saying—” he began, and turned his head when the rattle of the door opening diverted his attention.
Ling stood on the threshold, levering the door open with one arm, a heavy tray balanced on his hip. “No, don’t move,” he commanded, when his dark eyes took in Chris’s struggle to rise, spurred by his need to help. “I haven’t dropped a tea service yet.”
With a sigh, Chris settled back into his seat and looked across the way. Dorran was already wrapped within his hood again, arranged as though he had never stirred.
The door slid shut on its own weight and Ling grasped the tray with both hands, edging his way into the narrow compartment and seating himself beside Chris. “Eat while it’s still lukewarm.”
Chris snorted and reached for the tea, which was badly over steeped. “Any trouble?”
“If there was, would I tell you?” Ling returned. He gave Chris a knowing look and a clap on the shoulder. “Relax, white man. The closer we get to Shanghai the more you will be the outsider, and I the man of means.”
“As always,” Chris said with a faint smile. “And have all your countrymen wondering why you put up with such a challenging situation.”
Ling shook his head and pushed a plate of toast on him. “Because it was the white man who troubled himself with bettering my situation,” he replied as he always did. “It’s you who is my brother now, Chris. You say challenging. I say it’s another word for opportunity.”
They shared a laugh over that together. Ling’s eyes were warm. He rarely smiled, but he was expressive in other ways. Having been a solemn child himself, Chris was best suited to understand that.
“My father should adopt you, if he had any sense,” Chris said. “You’d be best suited to run the company after him.”
“And leave you to your studies and haring off after fusty knick-knacks?” Ling exclaimed, copying his mock outrage straight from one of the elder Bryant’s rants. “You would like that, wouldn’t you? Left to your books, field studies, and your deep thoughts.”
Chris said nothing, merely turned a melancholy glance on his thoroughly stewed tea. He could not turn the question back on Ling on whether he would like that; it would be too cruel. He was satisfied that his station could at least provide Ling the ability to manage the business capably under guise of assisting Chris, even if he could not accrue the credit.
“Have your deep thoughts turned up an answer for what we’re to do with him, when we disembark?” Ling nudged him, sipped at his own tea, and made a face. Neither of them took their tea with sugar, and both were dismayed at the atrocious liquid that was being passed off under the guise of tea.
“I suppose we could find him a burqa and pretend he’s a woman, if we disembark in full daylight,” Chris said slowly.
Dorran’s hood retracted enough to show a slice of face and glaring eyes. “I hardly think that will be necessary.”
“Ah, you do listen. Thought so,” Ling remarked, appearing unsurprised. “You are too still at all times.”
“Being still takes no effort,” Dorran said. “It’s moving like a human when you have no need for it that takes practice.”
Chris shared a glance with Ling. Mirrored in Ling’s eyes was an awareness that they were out of their depth, and had no idea even how lightly to tread in their dealings. Had the particular artefact they sought not required a vampire in order to secure it, they could have remained blissful in ignorance.
“What curiosity are we searching out?” Dorran inquired. “The contract lacked specific detail.”
“It’s not the kind of detail I wanted to spell out in print,” Chris said, intercepting a warning look from Ling, who gave a slight shake of his head.
“Come, now, we’re en route and you need my help to secure it. You are going to have to bring me into your confidence, sooner or later.”
Chris hesitated a moment longer, measuring the reasonable request with his instinct that called for utmost discretion. He and Ling had been on many expeditions since they were in their teens, and more than once they had come to near ruin by entrusting the wrong people. It was another thing that knit them together.
“You don’t trust me.” Dorran’s voice was barely audible over the rushing grind of the train.
“Why should we?” Ling shot back.
“I am in your employ,” Dorran replied. “A deposit has been paid for my services, the rest due upon safe return.”
“And money is the only consideration?” Chris said, sceptical of that motive. “A tidy sum, no matter how enticing, would seem secondary to a creature such as you.”
Dorran’s laugh was tinged with bitterness. “I set my signature to your contract.”
“That means something to vampires?”
“It means something to me.”
Before Chris could phrase a reply, Dorran disappeared beneath his hood once more, shutting down the conversation. Ling made a sceptical noise in his throat and Chris exchanged a glance with him once more. Outward protestations to the contrary, they could not trust an outsider, let alone a vampire.
Though they had said nothing aloud, the message seemed to have been heard, as Dorran remained within his hooded cloak until the train reached its final stop.
Convergence will be available next Tuesday evening.