Three days until Codex Born [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy]. I thought today I’d share the first page or two of the very first draft of the book from January of 2012. There are no spoilers here, because things changed an awful lot between this and the final version. I’ve got nine different drafts of this sucker, though not all of them are complete and some required more major revisions than others.
Originally, I intended to tell this story from Lena’s point of view. To my tremendous frustration, it wasn’t working. There are elements of these opening pages I really like, and Lena absolutely deserves her own books, but as I progressed, it simply didn’t feel right. The tone, the voice … so eventually I flipped back to Isaac’s PoV, but inserted snippets of flashback and backstory from Lena’s at the start of each chapter.
Also, my first drafts tend to be very rough indeed, so please be gentle.
The forests in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula felt more like home than anywhere or anyone else in the world. I stopped running and rested a hand against a hemlock tree with a trunk as thick as a truck tire. My fingers sank into the irregular grooves and folds of the bark, then into the wood beneath.
For several pounding heartbeats, I stood motionless, sharing the tree’s strength. More than a hundred years old, the age and power of the tree made me feel like a child, even as that same power flowed into me. I closed my eyes, absorbing the warmth of the sun on the uppermost needles, drinking the moisture from deep in the earth.
Pressing my other hand into the wood, I hauled myself up, climbing like a spider past the old, naked branches that stabbed out like the broken spokes of an old-time wagon wheel. Halfway up the tree, I braced my feet on the branches, pulled one hand free, and searched the ground below for any sign of my quarry.
My phone buzzed. I tapped the earpiece nested in my right ear. “Hello, Isaac.”
“Not yet.” Movement on the ground made me tense, but it was only a deer. An older buck, at least eight points from the look of him. “Have the police shared anything?”
“Only that a man’s body was found in the park. Nothing about how he was killed.”
Nothing about the parallel slashes through the throat, or the lingering miasma that made my stomach rebel.
“Where are you?”
I smiled at the concern in his voice. “Red Bay Forest, about five miles west of the mine.”
The deer’s tail flicked up, flashing white. I held my breath, listening to the wind playing through the branches, the creak of old trees. The deer bounded away, hooves drumming the earth.
“Gotta go, lover.” I hung up the phone and eased my hand out of the wood. Wind raced past my face, making me grin despite the darkness of my mission. I hit the ground hard enough to leave deep footprints in the soft dirt. The impact would have shattered the knees and ankles of an ordinary human being.
I rested my right hand on the hilt of a wooden bokken that was tucked through my belt on the right side. The curved sword was made of unpolished oak from my own tree. Its twin waited on my other hip.
A gunshot cracked through the woods. Overhead, an owl burst from the branches, wings pounding as it fled. I slid the bokken free and turned toward the source of the sound.
A second shot followed. Whoever it was, they were close.
The bokken responded like my own muscles, tightening at its core while the edge shifted, growing into a blade as sharp and strong as steel. I wove between the trees, branches bowing aside like wisps of fog.
I tasted the blood before I spied the body. The blood leaked into the earth, flowing over the intertwined roots of the trees. I risked calling out, “Who’s there?”
I followed the warmth of the blood until I spied a man curled into a ball by a cluster of birch trees. Streaks of red marred the white bark. A hunting rifle lay in the dirt, the stock splintered as though it were rotten.
I drew my second bokken and turned in a slow circle, searching both the ground and the branches overhead. “Are you all right?”
He didn’t answer. I stopped moving and imagined my toes curling into the dirt, connecting to the trees around me. There was something . . . a presence to the north, moving away at inhuman speed.
I jabbed one of my weapons into the dirt and knelt to touch the man’s shoulder. “Don’t move. Whoever did this, I think they’re gone.”
I moved closer, trying to see the extent of his injuries. He wore an old flannel shirt and cutoff jeans. His feet were bare. One leg had been slashed across the thigh, and blood trickled slowly from the wound.
My jaw tightened. The breathing I had heard wasn’t coming from the man, but from a young wolf pressed against his body. I set down my second bokken and reached carefully beneath the man’s stubbled jaw to check for a pulse. The bones of the neck ground together beneath the skin.
The wolf snarled and snapped at my hand. Had I been human, the sharp teeth would have torn right through the flesh, but being a dryad had its advantages. I jammed my other thumb into the back of the wolf’s jaw until it let go, then flexed my fingers. I’d be bruised, but I’d had far worse. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
The wolf ignored me, burrowing its head into the man’s chest and whimpering softly. I studied the body more closely. His pockets held extra bullets for his rifle, a Swiss Army pocketknife, and a half-empty pack of gum. He appeared to be in his late twenties or early thirties, well-muscled, with heavily calloused hands and feet. His eyes were open. Thick blue-gray irises circled small pupils that stared into the distance.
I looked back at the wolf, whose eyes matched those of the man. My heart sank. “You’re not a pet, are you?”
I grabbed my phone and dialed Isaac again. “Any idea what could take out a werewolf?”
“Hypothetically, any number of things. The dominant species in the U. P. is vulnerable to silver, so anyone with—” I could see him in my mind, the pained look on his face as he realized why I was asking. “Are you sure?”
“Pretty sure.” The young wolf burrowed his nose under the man’s arm and whimpered again. I lowered my voice. “He’s cut up pretty good, but it looks like he died from a blow to the neck. It’s broken.”
“Are you safe? I can—”
“Whatever did this ran off.” I moved away and picked up the remains of the rifle. Bits of rotted wood fell away. What remained of the stock crumbled like Styrofoam at my touch. “I know upper Michigan has werewolves and a handful of vampires. What else could kill a werewolf and rot wood?”
“Rot wood?” His voice sharpened. “Nothing that I know of, but I’ll check the Porter archives. Be careful.”
“Define ‘careful.’” I retrieved my bokken, thrusting them back through my belt on either hip. I could probably track whatever had done this, but it had a head start and appeared to be a heck of a lot faster. And what was to stop it from circling back to finish off the kid? “How do I get in touch with the werewolf equivalent of foster care?”
“I’ll make some calls, but if they were passing for human here in town, it means they’ve left the pack, either voluntarily or involuntarily.”
“Call me if you find something.” I hung up and crouched by the wolf and his . . . father? Uncle? “I’m not going to hurt you, but I can’t leave you out here on your own.”
The wolf nuzzled up against the man and whined, a quiet, pleading sound that made me want to weep. I bent down, planning to scoop him into my arms, but the instant my hand slipped between him and the body, he snarled and tried to bite me again.
I reacted automatically, yanking my hand back and grabbing the skin behind his neck. He stopped struggling at once. “All right,” I said, sitting cross-legged in the dirt behind him. I relaxed my hand and began to comb my fingers through the thick fur. “We’ll wait until you’re ready.”