Shades of Grey

 

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SYNOPSIS-

       This may well be the most complicated story I've ever written, but it's also the best, in my opinion. I've split it into ten little sub-stories called 'Shades' that detail the adventures of the Creature Hunter, Grey, and her Maisling Fairy, Forma, as they traverse the English countryside en route to Vikka in search of the Vanguard vampire, Evan. Below is a general synopsis (I don't want to give anything important away!) Hopefully you will see this on bookstore shelves very soon!

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        Sam Jones thinks he knows everything about the legendary Grey Echo. Having studied her for several years in school, he knows that she was supposedly a Creature Hunter in an alternate version of the 19th century. He knows that Creature Hunters were special people detected by the magic of the Elves, granted with the power and speed to Hunt. He knows that Creature Hunters are psychically linked to a Maisling, a fairy that hatches upon the same time as the Hunter is born. He knows that they meet when the Hunter is admitted to a secret school, nestled deeply in the woods of France. He knows that they train in the school for ten years with their Maislings before they graduate, received their Flameswords (the weapon only a Creature Hunter is skilled enough to handle) and set out on their journey to destroy any and all Creatures that were not made by God.
 
       What Sam does not know, however, and does not suspect, is that Grey Echo is real. During a chance encounter on the streets of New York City, Sam spies a girl that fits the description of Grey Echo. As he follows her to her secret flat in a secluded neighborhood, he learns that she is in fact the real Grey Echo. Impressed by his fervent passion for the Creature Hunter legend, she agrees to tell him her story.
 
    Her story begins on the eve of her Commencement, the day before she is to graduate and begin her journey as a Hunter, which Grey is reluctant to do. Contrary to this, her Maisling, Forma, is elated that they are finally leaving the school and preparing to go and do what they have been training to do for ten years. 

    To add to Grey's apprehension, after the ceremony, the heads of the school call Grey into their office, whereupon they reveal why Grey does not remember anything before her first day at the school. They reveal that her parents were killed and the eight year old Grey was seen by two centaurs wandering through the French woods, crying and raving about the killer.
 
    Upon hearing this, brief flashes of memory resurface, revealing to Grey a frightening Romanian phrase and a beautiful face that stirs discontent and horror within her.
 
    But, before Grey and Forma can learn any more, an explosion suddenly rocks the school. Grey and the heads of the school rush down to the source of the blast and find that the Commencement Hall is in ruins. A flock of Avian-Centaur Hybrids are running rampant through the school, burning, killing and slashing whatever they can find.
 
     Eager to help, Grey prepares to fight, just as she has been taught. However, the heads of the school usher her out of the castle and tell her to run. Confused, Grey and Forma obey and escape to a cave nearby, where Grey ponders what she has just witnessed. As she does so, she then identifies the beautiful face she saw in her memory: a Vanguard Vampire, the smartest most ruthless vampires in the Creature world.  

      Grey and Forma then embark on an epic adventure that takes them to many places, little by little revealing pieces of a secret long buried in Grey's memory and unearthing her true destiny: beyond anything she could ever have imagined.

IDEA DERIVATION-

        Well, I wrote the story of Will and Speaker (Grey's parents) first, and originally Grey's story was going to be set in the year 14,786. Unfortunately, it's difficult to imagine the technological advancements that will occur in over 12,00 years and I ran out of steam for Will and Speaker's story. I then one day imagined Grey sitting on a brick wall, playing with her sword. The wheels then began to turn and I wrote the first draft originally in a red leather notebook, acting as a kind of mission log for Grey. This was a good chance for me to expand on certain ideas and test out what kind of voice I wanted her to have. The story has changed a lot since that first handwritten draft and, as I said, it is my best yet in over 18 years of writing.

 

EXCERPT-

 

Sam Jones took his bags and left the comic book store with the newest edition of the Van Helsing graphic novel in his possession, a new spring in his step. He had been waiting months for this edition to reach the market and, just like every other major graphic novel release, he had been the first in line to purchase his copy.

Sam sped through the crowded New York streets without looking anyone in the eye, eager to return home to the safety of his room and the safety of one of his many graphic novels.

“Hey watch it!” exclaimed a man Sam had inadvertently shoved past; judging by the level of his irritation, he was probably a tourist.

“Sorry,” he mumbled as he crossed the street and approached his run-down apartment complex, Starlight Villas. He had never been a fan of the name. It was a huge misnomer.

Walking into the Starlight Villas lobby was like walking into what could have once been a grand and impressive foyer. Ancient wainscoting was missing from half of the room, no doubt torn off by some unruly teenagers in a nocturnal act of rebellion. The paint colour was even worse: a sort of muted green base coat with navy blue splatters all over. Sam had lobbied with the superintendent several times to repaint, but he was always shut down. “Too much money!” the middle-eastern super would shout, shooing him away.

Sam kept his eyes down as he walked past the Lurch of a doorman, Frank (who was engrossed in what looked to be an exhausting conversation with a group of Chinese tourists, none of whom seemed to speak English), and entered the elevator. He quickly closed the rusty grate and pushed the faded number 5, waiting patiently as the prehistoric elevator began to shudder upwards.

“Too much money,” Sam muttered to himself in a spot-on imitation of the superintendant. He chuckled as the elevator stopped suddenly and sharply at the fifth storey. Normally, such a stop would be enough to send a person to the floor, but Sam had ridden this elevator so many times, he could hear the gears grinding and could predict exactly when the stops would occur, allowing him to brace himself for the sudden stop. He actually enjoyed this part about living at the Villas. It made him feel like he had superpowers.

After pulling apart the grate, Sam walked down the hall and approached apartment 5D, quickly inserting his key and entering his family’s three bedroom apartment.

“Sam? Is that you?” called his mom, Vera, from the kitchen. Her voice sounded strained, which made Sam groan inwardly. Vera Jones had been addicted to Vicodin for some time, ever since Sam’s father smashed her into the bookcase and broke two of her ribs. The doctor had prescribed it for the pain, but it seemed Vera didn’t know when to stop; especially with a man like Jack for a husband.

“Yeah, yeah it’s me,” Sam replied.

“Where have you been?!”

Vera strode angrily into the doorway, a wisk dripping with marinara sauce in her hand, which was locked firmly on her hip.

“I went to the bookstore. I told you that.”

Vera’s drugged out eyes narrowed; she didn’t remember.

“To get another one of your weirdo books?”

There was a drug-induced fit of giggles waiting just under her mocking smile, but Sam was all too accustomed to this. She loved to make fun of him.

“Yes, to get another one of my weirdo books,” he replied with waning patience.

Vera smiled and laughed again as she strode back to the kitchen.

“Those weirdo hobbies of yours are gonna get you killed one day boy!”

Sam frowned, unsure of Vera’s logic.

“How?” he probed.

“Oh, I dunno. It can’t be good for you!” Vera called. “Dinner is in an hour.”

Sam rolled his eyes and grunted in response before making his way to his room where he firmly locked the door.

Sam’s room reflected everything he had always had an interest in but no one else ever seemed to understand: fantastical paintings of dragons and castles hung in an abstract pattern over his bed; mirrored on the opposite wall by print outs of famous pirates and various fantastical sketches Sam had drawn himself. It was these pictures that Sam walked over to first after throwing his bag onto his bed. He stood in front of the wall, which by now was nearly completely covered in papers, and stared at the cluster in the middle depicting his own interpretations of his latest interest: the English urban legend, Grey Echo.

“You’re lucky, Grey,” he muttered to himself. “You never had a mom to nag or belittle your interests.”

Sam pulled out the book he had checked out about English mythology and opened the place marker, set to the chapter about Grey Echo and the legendary Creature Hunters.

Since overhearing the story on TV a few years ago, Sam had been fascinated with the British myth. The special he had seen on BBC America had detailed everything modern mythologists knew about her: the story of her parents’ death, how she travelled throughout Europe to Romania to confront their killer and all her adventures in between. Then it detailed the many different versions of the story, such as the widely disputed theory that she was actually insane and her many so-called “triumphant battles” with Creatures were really the calculated killings of innocent people before she leapt off of a cliff to her death at the age of thirty-one. Some even said that instead of her infamous partner, Forma, being a Maisling Fairy; she was actually a young child that Grey kidnapped and brainwashed into helping her kill the ‘Creatures.’ This was the part of the story in which Sam had left the place marker.

He didn’t believe a word of it. Inside the book cover sat all the research he had gathered; all that folklorists knew about the foundations of the Greatheart Academy of Creature Hunting, the structure of a Hunter’s education and the finer points of the relationship between a Hunter and their shape-shifting partner, the Maisling Fairy.

“‘It is said that the mythical Elf Council struck a deal with the Maisling Fairy clans, stating that one third of their children would be psychically linked to a Hunter, born somewhere out in the world on the night of a full moon.’ Wish I had been born on a full moon,” Sam added, looking up at his drawings of Grey. They were all vastly different, ranging from a thin girl in thick iron armour to a muscular young woman in a long trenchcoat with many weapons adorning her person. He had often wondered if he ever depicted her as she actually was—if she had been real, of course.

Sam closed the book and pulled out his new graphic novel, eager to escape into the pages and go on another adventure. Just as he opened the cover, however, he heard shouting from the front room.

“Why does it smell like cow piss in here?” shouted his father with a slight slur. Great, his father was drunk already. This would mean yet another night of no sleep as they argued back and forth into the morning hours.

“Quit complaining, Jack, or I’ll make you cook dinner!” Vera shot back.

“You just try, woman!”

There was a great crash as Jack Jones kicked the dining room table in his intoxicated rage. Sam flinched, but continued to read, trying to block out the familiar sounds of domestic dispute. Maybe tomorrow he would stake out a computer at the library and do a little more research on Grey. No matter how many times he read the articles, they still interested him. She was still fascinating…

 

The next day after school, Sam crossed the busy intersection and made his way up the street to the library, eager to seek the shelter of the large, quiet building and do more research. However, just as he was approaching the great stone building, he stopped short. His stomach dropped as he saw three familiar large boys leaving a McDonald’s up the sidewalk, directly in his path. It was too late to duck into the kitchenware shop he had just walked past, though; the boys had seen him.

“Hey Sammie!” called the tallest one, nicknamed Thor by the entire eleventh grade at Lexington High School. “Where ya headed?”

“Just walkin’ around,” lied Sam with a little more ease than usual. Thor and his compatriots, Flash and Shank (also widely accepted nicknames     bestowed upon them by the LHS juniors), laughed loudly.

“Really, Sammie boy? You just walking around? You know, that could be dangerous in this area,” stated Shank with mock concern.

“Yeah, there’s all kinds of weirdos down here,” Flash added.

“I’ve    noticed,” Sam replied, trying to sound brave, even though his voice was shaking.

The trio frowned, catching Sam’s remark. Anger flashed across their thick faces and Sam mentally prepared to run.

            “You’re gonna regret that, Sammie boy!”

            Flash and Shank casually grabbed Sam’s arms and dragged him into an alleyway between the McDonald’s and an upscale shoestore. The thick populace on the sidewalk hardly even blinked at the scuffle; just another day in New York.

            “I’m gonna enjoy this more than I usually do, I think,” Thor bemused. Flash and Shank exchanged sadistic smiles and Sam prepared himself for his weekly beating, when something suddenly flew through the air, directly across Thor’s line of vision. He stepped back in surprise, batting at the air and looking around for whatever had interrupted him.

            “What was that?” he called stupidly. Flash and Shank looked around as well, when the mysterious blur flew in front of their faces. They reflexively released Sam in their attempt to protect themselves.

            “Who’s there?!” Thor called, preparing to fight.

            There was a tense moment of silence before the biggest spider Sam had ever seen jumped off of the fire escape above Sam’s head and landed directly on Thor’s face.

            Thor let out an inhuman scream of terror and wildly began beating his face until he tripped over his own legs and smacked his head against a tin garbage can. Flash and Shank gave equally dumb cries of horror and concern, ignoring Sam and rushing to Thor’s side. Thor struggled to get up, but finally managed to do so and smacked the basketball-sized spider off of his face. It then leapt onto Shank’s pantleg, causing Shank to freak out and kick his legs wildly until Flash managed to grab a spare piece of wood from the ground and smack the spider into the opposite brick wall. The three boys then bounded out of the alley as fast as they could possibly go.

 Sam laughed to himself as they went, turning to the spider afterwards, which was now sitting scant inches away from Sam, watching him with uncharacteristic stillness.

            “Um, thank you,” Sam said, feeling slightly foolish. “That was really cool.”

            Sam could have sworn he saw the spider bow politely in response before scuttling across the alley towards the sidewalk and promptly up the wall. That’s when Sam saw her.

            She stood leaning against the wall of the McDonald’s dressed in a long black leather coat with sturdy, ancient looking lace boots. Her short black hair hung in a loosely wild fashion around her strong shoulders and framed oddly dark sunglasses, carefully hiding her face from view. The large spider promptly moved from the wall to her shoulder and the girl then stepped easily into the crowd, none of whom even gave her a second look. Sam frowned; the girl stuck out of the crowd like a skeleton amongst a room full of dolls and yet no one gave her a second glance. Only in New York could someone walk around looking like that and no one would notice.

Sam quickly stood up and ran after her, where he quickly noticed that she had to shove past all the adults, but what few children were out on the streets stepped aside for her. His heart dropped: that was one of the key characteristics that defined Grey Echo — all the claims of sightings had come from children.

He followed the mysterious girl with a cautious eye, keeping his distance while also keeping her in his sights.

“Watch it!”

Another irritated cry came from an adult who had not seen her. Puzzled, Sam followed with more diligence, tracking her agile movements as she moved skilfully through the crowd, almost like she knew he was following her…

After several minutes, the girl took a hard left and Sam then found himself in one of the nastiest neighborhoods New York had to offer. Garbage seemed to be permanently attached to the crackling sidewalks and was topped only by the dirt and rust that seemed to plague the buildings, none of which looked as if they had been cleaned in quite some time. There were significantly less people in this area and what people there were looked just as dingy and decrepit as the buildings.

Sam was so taken with the disgusting quality of the neighbourhood — and of the large dog chained to the rotten telephone poll that had suddenly decided to bark hostilely at him— that he almost forgot about the girl. He looked up in time to see her cross the empty street, approach a bleak looking café and quickly slip inside. Sam remained outside, trying to maintain an air of nonchalance, and then eagerly crossed the street to follow.

He met with disappointment. The café had been out of business for quite some time and the inside doors had a very thick padlock intertwined around the handles. Confused at where the girl had gone, Sam turned to leave when suddenly the bookcase to his left swung open and a pair of strong hands pulled him into a darkened staircase as the wall swung closed again; all within a fraction of a second.

 Sam tried to move, unsure of what had just happened, but the arms in which he found himself were strong and hard, almost like stone. He recognized the leather from the girl’s trench coat and tried to breathe under the suffocating thickness of her gloves.

“Why are you following me?”

Her English accent was seductively dark and her voice was deep with a sharp, raspy air of annoyance. As if to further add to his fear, the spider crawled down her arm and approached Sam’s face, hissing and clicking its fangs.

“ANSWER ME!” she ordered after Sam forgot to respond.

“I’m sorry! I just, I wanted to say thank you for saving me!”

The girl was still for a moment.

“What makes you think I had anything to do with that?”

Sam didn’t move, unsure of how to respond.

“Well, uh, I saw the spider go back to you and…um…you just, seem a lot like Grey Echo… and if you’re not then I’m really sorry and I’ll go away, but if you are…there are so many questions I want to ask you! Please! I’m sorry! I won’t hurt you, please!”

The girl began to laugh, a dark, rumbling sort of laugh that one would only use upon the suggestion of something so utterly impossible, its mere mention was humorous. The spider promptly ran back up her arms and out of Sam’s vision as she released him from her grip.

“You can’t hurt me,” she said, standing up straight, allowing Sam the freedom to turn and look her in the eyes.

She stood tall with the spider perched loyally on her shoulder, like the Pylades to her Orestes. She wore a stylish red and black top with tight black jeans and tall leather military boots. The stunning image was one of imposing strength and a learned, ancient nature that made Sam forget to breathe. There was no way this girl was human…

“No one can hurt me,” she added in a misty, almost remorseful voice as she turned and ascended the stairs. “Now go home, this neighborhood is dangerous.”

“Wait,” Sam called. The girl turned back towards him and took off her glasses, revealing her stark, golden eyes fixed in an expression of surprise. To add to the image of surprise and intimidation, the spider stood taller on her shoulder and gave a loud hiss of aggravation.

“Yes?” prompted the girl.

“Uh…” Sam had completely forgotten what he had wanted to say. Her stare was so icy, so penetrating…

“Do you want to know for sure whether I am Grey Echo or not?” she probed firmly.

“Yes!” Sam cried quickly. That had been his intention…had it not?

The girl gave a small chuckle and descended the stairwell until she stood one step higher than Sam, making her taller by only a few inches. She gave him a knowing smile and moved a stray bit of hair out of his eyes. Her fingers just barely brushed against his skin and he inhaled sharply in surprise. The smooth, steeliness of her skin was so strangely intriguing…as if she were made of glass.

“What’s your name?” she asked softly.

“Sam Jones!” he exhaled dumbly. She chuckled once at his excitement and then leaned in close to his face, whispering in an even softer voice than before, which Sam did not think was conceivably possible.

“Follow me, Sam Jones.”

Sam nodded dumbly as the girl turned to ascend the stairs, which were lit by several lamps made to look like old torches. Sam shivered uneasily.

 Sever   al minutes passed and Sam began to wonder if this was at all a good idea. New York was full of wackos, what if this was just a psychotic hobo who was leading Sam to his premature death? Just as visions of his face on milk cartons and the six o’clock news were running through his head, they arrived at an old door at the top of the staircase and Sam remembered to exhale.

By the light of an old antique gaslight hung to the right of the ancient, weathered door. The girl pulled out a large, ornately designed silver key and inserted it into the lock. She turned it twice and pushed the door open revealing the largest living space Sam had ever seen, even in the more lavish parts of New York.

It seemed to stretch over the entire breadth of the building, not just over the café. It was filled with furniture from every era of interior design known to man, yet everything flowed together; there was a smoothness and totality about the space that one would not have expected to see. Gothic style paintings covered the high walls lined with what looked like a wrought iron fence, interspersed with display cases containing beautiful swords and weapons from almost every era of warfare. Several items that Sam couldn’t identify hung loosely from the ceiling near portraits of people who clearly held some stamp of importance, creating a museum-like feel that made Sam extra careful not to touch anything.

“Wow, do you really live here?” he asked in awe.

The girl chuckled as she tossed her bag onto a red velvet couch.

“Yes. I really live here,” she replied, walking into another wing. Sam followed her (eager to see as much as possible) into a very stylish kitchen with modern appliances and dark mahogany countertops.

“Would you like something to drink?” she offered, pouring herself some water in a silver goblet. Sam looked at her, entranced by the many glittering rings that adorned her long, steely fingers.

“No, I’m fine,” he said listlessly.

“Let’s go in here to talk, then,” she said, gesturing to yet another wing separated by a high, wrought iron gate that extended from the iron fence that lined the walls.

The girl led him into a very crammed living room with furniture that looked contemporary, but carried the ancient, Gothic feel of the rest of the apartment. Sam sat tentatively on one of the chaise lounge chairs and tried not to look like a kid in a candy store as his eyes began exploring the wondrous decor.

“Are you sure you don’t want anything to drink or eat? I’m quite the experienced chef.”

A snort of laughter came from the spider perched on the couch, directly before the spider transformed smoothly into a tabby cat.

Sam gaped at the girl, pointing in dumb wordless shock to the cat. The girl smiled.

“Sam Jones, this is Forma, my Maisling Fairy.”

Sam gasped loudly, recognizing the name.

“I knew it! I knew you were real!”

Grey laughed.

“Have you been studying me?” she queried.

“Only since the ninth grade! You’re the most fascinating subject I’ve ever researched!”

Grey laughed, stroking the cat’s neck. The cat purred in contentment.

“Well, I can see that you are just dying to ask questions, so proceed.”

Sam sat down, taken aback by this opportunity, and tried to pick the most prevalent question out from the sea of wonder in his head.

“How did it start? Creature Hunting?” he blurted. She laughed.

“If you’ve done such extensive research, shouldn’t you know the answer to that already?”

“I know theories,” Same interjected in a rushed voice of excitement. “I want to know the truth, straight from the Hunter’s mouth!”

Grey chuckled once and her eyes grew misty as she remembered.

“Frederick Shore was a star reader in the early centuries of the world. One day he read of the Rip that would shortly occur in the fabric of the cosmos. Unsure of how to proceed, Frederick told no one. After the Rip happened, just as he had predicted, Frederick discovered that Creatures from another dimension had fallen into our world.

“Ashamed that he had allowed such a catastrophe to happen, he made it his life’s mission to destroy as many Creatures that had fallen through as possible, and he did so for the rest of his life; keeping records of his findings on how to defeat the Creatures, important attributes, weaknesses and other valuable information. These records were discovered a year after his death by his sister, Amelia. Once she realised exactly what Frederick had foreseen, she contacted the World Harmony Order with Frederick’s records, but no one believed her. So she went to the first Elf Council, the underground authority on supernatural phenomena. Being familiar in the magical arts, they saw very well what had entered the world and knew exactly what had to be done.”

“So they set up the school, right?” Sam guessed, mesmerized.

Grey smiled.

“Yes. Amelia sold them the Shore mansion in the French countryside and the Elf Council began to write the magical laws for Creature Hunters.”

“Like the Maisling Fairies?” Sam interjected again. “Their psychic link to the Hunters?”

“Yes. Frederick had struck a deal with a Maisling named Arda and after his death; she came to the Elf Council, telling them of how Frederick had promised to remove Maislings from the List of Dangerous Creatures in exchange for her help. She agreed and they spent the rest of Frederick’s life Hunting together. The Council saw the benefits of such a partnership and wrote the Federation laws for Hunters and Maislings.”

“Maislings and Hunters bond for life, right? Magically? If the Hunter dies then the Maisling gets stuck forever in whatever form they last took? If the Maisling dies then the Hunter loses all their power? ”

“Yes, that is true,” replied Grey with a solemn smile.

“And they can talk to each other in their heads, right? And even sometimes share senses? Like, you could see out of her eyes and vice versa?”

Grey laughed at his enthusiasm.

“Yes, both of those are prominent and useful abilities of ours. Goodness, where have you found all this information?” she asked.

“The internet,” Sam replied sheepishly.

Grey smiled and rolled her eyes.

“Of course, that damned internet.”

Sam leaned forward.

“What happened to you, exactly?”

Grey raised her eyebrows.

“Exactly?”

“Yes.”

“You want a firsthand account of my one hundred eighty four years on this God-forsaken planet?”

“Yes please.”

“Even though you most likely know it already?”

“Hearing it from you would be the highlight of my life.”

Grey laughed again and sat back, sighing.

“Oh, where to begin…”

Forma purred in her lap, looking her directly in the eye. Grey then furrowed her brow and cocked her head as she would if the cat had spoken verbally. Sam suppressed a laugh of excitement as she realised that he was witnessing the psychic link between Hunters and Maislings in action: they were having a telepathic conversation.

“Telling him everything will take days!” she answered verbally. “He doesn’t want to hear about every detail of my pitiful excuse of a life.”

“Yes I do!” Sam replied quickly with strong dramatic emphasis.

Grey laughed again.

“Alright, I’ll tell you everything, but you have to let me make you something to eat. You’re going to be here a while.”

“That’s fine!” Sam cried as he settled into the chair, eager to hear.

Grey smiled and sighed like a wizened raconteur.

“Alright, to start at the beginning, at the very front of my memory…”

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