Sunday Snippet: Ash and Quill by Rachel Caine

Posted February 11, 2018 by Una in Sunday Snippet Tags: , ,


 About the Book

Ash and Quill   
Author:  Rachel Caine
Publisher:   Berkley
Released:  July 11, 2017
Series:   Great Library #3
Genre:  Young Adult (Urban Fantasy)
Author contact links:   Website
Purchase links:  Amazon


Jess fell asleep, too, despite the hard stones under his behind, and the chill.  He dreamed he was a guard at a gate, and the gate was on fire, and he knew, he knew, that what waited beyond it was something terrible and monstrous and impossible to defeat.  But that he’d have to fight it anyway.  The hopelessness of it overwhelmed him.

He woke up with a start when he heard voices, the dream still vivid and vibrating in his muscles.  The sun was well up, and the sky a cloudy teal blue beyond the window bars.  No one had arrived to wake them, Jess realized, and there was nothing to eat.  His stomach was growling.  He also had an urgent need for the toilet.  Bucket.  Well, he’d made do with worse, and he rose and made use of the thing.

“Wathen, what in Heron’s name are you doing?”  That was Wolfe’s sharp, annoyed voice, and Jess buttoned up and angled a look over at the cell Glain shared with Khalilia.  Glain was, bafflingly enough, doing a handstand in the middle of her cell.  Perfect balance, as steady as a rock.  “Practicing to become Philadelphia’s court jester?”

Glain put her legs down in a smooth, perfectly coordinated move that Jess could in no way have duplicated, stood up straight, and stretched.  “It feels good,” she said.  “Blood to the brain.  Helps me think.”

“Did you see anything useful from that position?” Dario asked.

“Did you, from lying on your oh-so-uncomfortable mattress, lazybones?”

The young man shrugged, which was a feat considering he was casually leaning a shoulder against the bars and had his arms crossed.  “What do you want me to say?  It’s a cell.  There’s nothing in here.”

“Dario, you’re hopeless,” Wolfe said.  “Jess.  Tell him how he’s wrong.”

“Strip the netting under the mattresses.  Braid it together, tie it to the window bars, and twist.  The torque will unseat at least one of the bars pretty easily.  You can use it for a tool, sharpen it up as a weapon…”

“The mattresses are flammable enough to make a decent amount of smoke,” Morgan added.  “We’d need to be careful to keep it to a distraction.  The air circulation isn’t very good.  Easy to breathe in too much if it gets thick.

Khalila held up her head scarf and unfolded it with a snap of her hand.  “If I weigh the two ends with pieces of stone, this makes a perfectly good weapon.”

Dario said, “Fine.  You’re all much better at dirty fighting and jail survival than I am.  But as the Scholar so wisely said, we need to think three moves ahead.  Let’s assume that we’re out of the cells, we’ve saved our lives form the Burners, we’ve found a way out of the city.  What then? I think we need a way to communicate with whatever allies we have left out there.  I don’t supposed you’ve got that answer tucked up your sleeve.”

Jess said, “If they’re getting supplies, they must have a smuggling tunnel.”

“Explain,” Wolfe said sharply.  “Because I’m not allowing you to run blindly out into unknown territory.  We must–”

“They’re coming,” Santi interrupted him.

Jess heard footsteps then, and the scrape of the lock turning to the outer door, and was on his feet and at the vars so quickly he might have been spring-loaded.  Thomas, by contrast, didn’t even move a muscle from where he sat on the edge of his cot–though it was an icy calm that Jess thought hard-won.

The door gaped open, and three men came in–different ones this time, but with a brawny look that said they were ready for trouble.  Khalila, across the way, unhurriedly tied her scarf in place and tucked the edges in to hold it.  How she could stay so perfectly clean in these conditions, Jess had no idea, but she wouldn’t have looked out of place in her own Library office, despite all they’d been through.  Made him feel somewhat better.

Morgan, on the other hand, looked more like he felt–pale, tired, her hair tangled and badly in need of combing.  He wanted to do that for her, run his fingers gently through that riot of silk and curls.  Had they come for her?  He was afraid that Thomas had been right–Morgan’s abilities were a valuable, vanishingly rare resource that the Burners would lock a collar around as sure as the Library had done.

But they didn’t stop at Morgan’s cell, which was a temporary relief that vanished as they stopped at Jess and Thomas’s barred door and pointed at Thomas.  “You there.  Come with us.”  The clipped tone of the guard’s accent made the command sound that much more unfriendly.  He had pale skin and straw blond hair cropped to a shimmer around his skull, and he’d been in more than one fight; noses didn’t get that distorted from just one punch.

Jess was caught wrong-footed, and it took him a second to realize what it might mean.  He turned to look at Thomas, and one glance at the other young man’s set face was enough.

“He’s not going anywhere alone,” Jess said.

“Back up, boy.”

“Never happen.  You want him, you take us both.”

The guard laughed.  “You mean, go through you?  Not a problem.”

Jess was afraid that assessment was correct.  He could fight; his High Garda training had made him efficient, fast, and deadly, and he was confident he could make them bleed.  But there were three of them, and he couldn’t count on Thomas, who wavered between sudden bursts of violence and crippling fear at the strangest of times.  Thomas would probably fight for others.  Jess wasn’t sure he’d fight to save himself.

Jess was afraid, but it was a fear he was familiar with, after all the High Garda drills and the horror he’d already survived.  An old friend, this kind of fear.  Almost a strength.

“If you make us put you down, you’ll go hard,” the Burner said.  He grinned and revealed an array of jagged teeth as battered and broken as his nose.  “Your choice.”

“Gentlemen,” Santi said, from the next cell over, and leaned against the bars of the cell he shared with Wolfe.  His tone was charming, which meant he was ready to do awful things.  “If you want answers, come and get someone who has command rank.”

“Oh, we’ll get to you,” the man said.  He smacked a heavy wooden club in his palm and moved down to look in at Santi.  “We’ll ask read loud, if you keep it up, booklover.”

“It’s funny you think that’s an insult.  Whereas, I’d rather talk about the misshapen state of your face.  Just how many fights did you lose?  I think a much greater number than those you won.  Are you sure you brought enough friends?”

The man slammed his club against the bars of Santi’s cell, which was a mistake; instead of moving back, Santi must have been ready, and he wrapped his fingers around the club and yanked the mans’s whole arm inside his cell.  The man yelped in pain.  Jess couldn’t see much, but he heard the clatter of the club as it fell, and Santi must have retrieved it first, because he slammed it against the cell bars, which rang like a struck bell.

All three of the men on the other side flinched.

Now we can talk,” Santi said.

It almost worked, but unfortunately, the touch in charge was smarter than Jess gave him credit for…and he backed off, drew a large, crudely forged gun, and pointed it not at Santi, but square at Jess.  “Throw it out, Captain,” he said.  “Now.  We don’t need all of you; you know that.”

The man cocked the weapon as he spoke.  Jess forced a smile.  “It’s a bluff, Captain,” he said.  He’d gone cold inside, but he wasn’t about to show it.  His family had trained him first and well to fight like a cornered rat when there wasn’t anywhere to run.  “He’s not going to shoot. His master would have his hide.”

“Oh, I don’t think so.  We can afford to lose one or two.  Especially those of you wearing Library uniforms.  No worth in your hides except to toss you over the wall at our enemies.”

Jess watched the man’s finger whiten on the trigger–and then quickly pull away as the club Santi had been holding hit the floor, bounced, and rolled to bump against the man’s boot.  “All right,” Santi said.  “Pax.”

“Smart choice.”  The tough lowered the hammer on the pistol–not Library issue, an American-produced slug-throwing device that undoubtedly would have blown a gruesomely large hole straight through Jess’s chest–and put it in a leather holster at his side.  “Now, let’s start over.  You.  The big one.  Like I said, you’re coming with us.”

Jess opened his mouth, but Thomas put a hand on his shoulder and moved him–not unkindly, but firmly–out of the way as he stepped up.  He silently turned his back tot he bars, which puzzled Jess until he realized it was to allow the men to reach in and snap ratcheted metal shackles around his wrists.  He’d obviously been through this process before, many times, while in Library custody.

Thomas nodded to Jess, blue eyes clear and calm.  “I’ll be fine,” he said, which was a rotten lie.

Jess tried to think of something to say, and as the key turned, the door opened, and Thomas stepped out, he finally did.  “Thomas.  In bocca al lupo.”  It was the phrase that the High Garda used to wish one another luck traveling through the Translation portals, a process that was painful and terrifying and dangerous in equal measure, and it seemed right now.  In the mouth of the wolf.

Crepi il lupo,” Thomas responded as Jess’s cell was locked tight, and then he was gone, prodded down the hall and to the outer door and away.  Kill the wolf.

It slammed and locked behind him.

Book Blurb:

Words can kill.

Hoarding all the knowledge of the world, the Great Library jealously guards its secrets. But now a group of rebels poses a dangerous threat to its tyranny…

Jess Brightwell and his band of exiles have fled London, only to find themselves imprisoned in Philadelphia, a city led by those who would rather burn books than submit. But Jess and his friends have a bargaining chip: the knowledge to build a machine that will break the Library’s rule.

Their time is running out. To survive, they’ll have to choose to live or die as one, to take the fight to their enemies—and to save the very soul of the Great Library…

About the Author:

Rachel Caine’s rich, diverse bibliography of more than 50 books in print covers many categories and genres. She started out writing horror and fantasy as Roxanne Longstreet (Stormriders, The Undead, Red Angel, Cold Kiss, Slow Burn) before switching to the name Roxanne Conrad and publishing romantic suspense and mystery (Copper Moon, Bridge of Shadows, Exile). By 2003, she began to publish under her current pseudonym, specializing in urban fantasy, science fiction, and paranormal young adult fiction.

She has been writing original fiction since the age of fourteen, and professionally published since 1991. She graduated from Socorro High School in El Paso Texas (where she was a UIL all-state champion in music and journalism) and went on to earn an accounting degree from Texas Tech University. She played professionally as a musician for several years once out of college, but ultimately gave up the music for writing.

She’s had a varied “day job” career, including web design, graphic arts, accounting, payroll management, insurance investigation, and (most recently) corporate communications and crisis management. (It all counts as research.)

Rachel loves reading, writing, and mild amounts of arithmetic when required … but she has a special place in her heart for history, music, and science, and you’ll find those themes in many of her works.