As promised, here’s an excerpt from Creche, the sequel to Cruxim by Karin Cox.
“Come.” The female Cruxim put out her hand to me, but I made no move to take it. I shrank away, as if her touch might scar me, even as some force greater than myself seemed to tug me toward her.
“Why should I follow you?”
She shrugged. “Why would you not?”
I passed my hand over my face, the sand scratching at the makings of a beard. That I felt it at all—that I felt anything—hurt me. I wanted nothingness, to be as blank and empty and ephemeral as a wave that might turn and roll far back out to sea, where the tortured statue of my Sphinx love, Sabine, had yesterday plummeted to the ocean’s depths. I half wished that instead of diving for her, I had flown at my enemy Beltran, the Vampire orchestrator of all of my sorrows, and had plunged my fangs into his neck. That I had ended it, and him, for good. Instead, once more Beltran had beaten me. Once more, he had escaped me. Once more, he had destroyed me.
“I don’t know you.” I vomited saltwater into the sand, but when I looked up, she was still standing, watching, her face a beautiful but indifferent mask.
“Leave me!” I flung one arm toward the sea. “I do not wish to know you.” But the eyes I turned on her were as curious as her own.
Her mouth quirked up a little at one corner, and then she answered. “You may … one day. I already know you.”
“Stalking is not knowing. Being Cruxim is not knowing.” I snorted. “You know nothing of me. You think you know me from seeing me once, in a circus—on a cross and in a cage. Why did you not come to poke and wonder at me then, like all of the others?”
“Very well.” The grace of her stride, as she turned away, highlighted the litheness of her body. Her hair swung like silver silk over her shoulders, catching the sparkle off the ocean.
My grief craved her departure, longed for loneliness, but the thought of having nothing and no one—not Sabine nor Joslyn, nor this mysterious female with eyes that shone like a mirror—terrified me.
Almost as much, it terrified me that she might know me.
She was the only one of my own kind I had ever seen, outside of my dead mother, my infant sister and her sullen father, and Monsieur LeRay: the mortician I had watched from afar in Paris. When I had approached him, brimming with questions, LeRay had simply hissed at me, drawing his black cloak in tighter around his wings, and vanished. I had followed, but he was quick and he did not wish to be found. We were solitary creatures, so it seemed. But if so, why was she here?
I shook my head again. Was everything I thought I knew about Cruxim a lie? Could she tell me why, after the exultation of the boy’s blood, I was still here, alive, on a beach with human blood still coursing through me.
“How?” I raised myself to a crouch and shouted, “How do you know me?”
“Come,” she answered, turning back to me and holding out one hand again, “and find out.”
Standing, I shook the sand and shellgrit from my clothes and swiped at my face again with one salt-specked hand. My hair was crusted stiff, my body sore from the long night on the beach. My senses felt taut, crackling with exhaustion and loss. I wondered what I was doing. Then again, what did I have to lose?
They were both gone: Joslyn and Sabine. The two women I had loved, each differently, each equally, or at least I thought, were lost to me. Beltran had left me nothing to live for but revenge. A sharp, hopeless pain shot through me, far worse than the hunched cramp of my shoulders.
I took a tentative, lurching step toward the Cruxim on the beach.
She extended her hand further and assessed me with a squint.
“You have been following me.” I accused. “Haven’t you?”
“Yes.” The answer came too simply, dismissing my accusation.
“Yet you did nothing!” Salt and sand and sea foam spat out with each syllable. “You could have helped, could have stopped them. You could have helped me save Joslyn … but you did nothing.”
“For what?” It was just a question matter-of-factly stated, but its coldness formed a fist.
“For love.” I set my jaw, biting back angrier words.
“Your love.” She blinked and then turned her eyes away from me. “She was a Vampire.”
“She was a human being … once.”
“Yes. But you never were. And nor was I.” Her gleaming gray eyes held a question. “Why does it matter to you so that she was human?”
“She had her soul.” I sank to my knees again and retched into the sand. “In a soulless world.”
Silence passed between us, but thoughts swarmed thick in my head. Since my sister’s birth, all those centuries ago, never had I met another Cruxim. So why now?
I shook my head to clear the hammering of a headache. “You did nothing to help me—to help them, either of them.”
“I am helping you now.”
“You call this helping? You did nothing!” My fist, pounding the sand again, sent missiles of tiny shells into the air.
“She was a Vampire,” she said, softer this time. “They will all die, Amedeo … eventually. It is our mission. Have you forgotten that?” She put her hand on my shoulder and I looked up at her.
Her face was still free of emotion, her brow unwrinkled, her pillowed lips full. Neither frown nor smile tugged at her noble features. She was blank, as unmoved as the ocean had been at dawn when its stillness had mocked the tumult of my anguish.
I stumbled to my feet. “You think I can forget? You think I can just put aside what he did to them? Or what I mean to do to him?” The bite of my nails puncturing my clenched palms was nothing compared to the pain of knowing Beltran still lived. I turned away from her again, sick with the knowledge that perhaps no one could have helped them. The only help for Joslyn and Sabine would have been never to have met me. I was the cause of their damnation! Part of me wished neither had ever known me—not the blue-eyed child who had believed me her guardian angel until the Vampire Beltran had his way with her, nor the brave, golden-haired Sphinx who had loved me yet thought herself my pet. Yet the thought of never having known either of them drew bile up from my stomach.
What point is there in following this Cruxim, or even in going on? I thought.
Nausea overtook me again and I fell to the sand, curled like a shell, my back to her.
“There is Sabine.”
It seemed she had read my thoughts.
I felt the growl forming before it even left my lips. “What do you care?”
“She fought valiantly. I had hoped she might free herself from Beltran.”
“You hoped.” I raised myself again and glowered at her.
I passed my hands over my face, swiping away tears. “And Joslyn? What did you hope for her?”
“Must we argue again?” She sighed, as if she had hoped my love for the woman who had given her life for mine might have already faded. Then she kneeled beside me. Her pale skin gleamed argent up close.
“I mean you no harm, Amedeo. Nor her. I did not save Joslyn or Sabine, because…” Her eyes reflected the luminescent strip of the horizon. “Because…”
“I know.” My thoughts were as dull as my words. “They were not Cruxim.”
“No, they were not. But … there are many things you do not know. Many things I might teach you about yourself if you come with me.”
My eyes were dry, but my heart still cried for them both. “Now? Now, you wish to teach me these things. Why not before? Why not then, when such knowledge might have helped me save them.”
“It was not the time. It was never the time before.”
“Before!” I let out a bitter laugh that my throat was too hoarse to give life to. “How long have you known of me?”
Her silence was heavy with secrets I knew she would not divulge.
“Since I was a child.” She stood and put a hand down to help me up. “But I did not know where you were, not until the rumors began. All of France had heard: a winged being in a circus and with him a Sphinx, half female, half lion. All of Europe questioned what monsters Gandler was parading, and whether they were real. Did you think such things would not reach the ears of another Cruxim, or of Vampires?”
I nodded, considering it, my eyes on her still outstretched hand.
“Come with me. It is not safe here.” She glanced around. “It is too open, too exposed for us to hide ourselves and our wings from humans easily. And look at you.” For the first time, I saw warmth in her silvery eyes. “You are exhausted.”
What harm could there be in it? She was right: I was exhausted, weak, and stricken with grief. What harm could she do me, a Cruxim like myself? And if she could, would I care? If she possessed the honor of our kind, she might protect me until my strength returned.
“Follow me,” she pleaded, “and we shall talk.”
“I have had enough of talk.” I shrugged off her hand. “All I need is vengeance.”
“Where did revenge get you? There will be time enough to make the undead pay for their sins. First, you must atone for your own, as all of our kind must.” She glided over the sand towards the water’s edge.
“Come.” Her gentle wing flaps became a flurry as she rose up over the water.
I felt sure I would be too weak to fly, but as I watched the air currents stroke her feathers, I knew all I wanted to do was flee far from here, feeling the weightlessness, the lightness, the clarity of nothing but air.
I rose into the air after her, catching the wind’s breath in my wings. Then, with a last look at the mercurial gleam of the only Cruxim I had met in hundreds of years, I spun and flew as fast as I could away from her.
I would find Sabine, even if it meant kissing every stone on earth.
* * *
Hours passed in a whirr of tired wingbeats. I traveled far and fast, a willing Icarus shooting up towards a reluctant sun, craving the heat that might plummet me down into the ocean, where Sabine waited for me. She had not deserved the fate that found her. A Sphinx, with the head and breast of a woman and the lithe, winged body of a great cat, her only vulnerability had been the anchorstone her spirit returned to by day. With the stone safe, like me, she was otherwise immortal. We had found allies in each other, companions, and kindred souls, and lovers, too, had not the impracticality of our love stalled my passion. She had waited for me, searched for me, the forty years I had spent imprisoned in a tower in France, considered some kind of superhuman devil by the townsfolk. Unable to find the anchorstone, Beltran had cast her body, encased in molten metal, deep into the sea, but still she would be waiting for me.
“She is loyal, just like a lioness.” The thought came too easily into my head, and it was some seconds before I realized it was not mine.
“Why are you following me?” I snapped, thinking I should have asked instead how it was that she had come to know my thoughts. Perhaps it was a thing between Cruxim, although I could not read hers when I tried.
“Yes, it is.” She answered my second question aloud as soon as I had thought it. “You cannot read my thoughts if I do not wish you to. At least not yet.”
“And yet you would read mine uninvited.”
I felt the wind of her wings as she shrugged in mid-flight. “I imagined you might be less prickly, Amedeo.” Her expression hardly changed; I could not tell if she was hurt or angry.
“I told you—you did not know me.”
They were words to wound, but the serene face betrayed no hint of a frown.
We flew on in silence for some time. Then a voice, softer than the wind in the Cypress pines, entered my head again. “She is not dead, remember, only sleeping.”
“Sleeping!” I swooped away from her, Beltran’s mocking words ringing in my head: Think of her as just asleep, Cruxim. A very long, very cold sleep. Such a shame cats just hate water.
“A sorry euphemism. Sleeping on the ocean’s floor,” I spat.
“But living. Still living. Just like you.” With a great flap, she shot forward to face me, and this time her expression was of pity. “Do you know where her anchorstone is? Is it safe?”
I tried to keep any surprise from my features. She knows of anchorstones. What else does she know? I wondered.
“Would I be here if I did?” I answered her, above the wind. “But I will find it, and I will wake her. Alone. What can you offer me now that I have lost everything while you stood by and watched it slip away?”
“That, I can’t tell you. Perhaps I can offer you only fate, if that is what draws me to you.”
“Fate!” I spat. “What is fate?” Get out of my head, I screamed internally.
She smiled. “You can hear me now, as I hear you. You are a fast learner. Perhaps you should have more faith in fate.”
It was not the time for novelties. The pounding of my wings and muscles had become a dull throb that matched the numbness of my heart and mind. “Enough of fate, and of flight. I need rest. Leave me!”
She fell back a little. “Don’t you want to know who I am?”
“Leave me!” I screamed. “Leave me! I care nothing for fate, or for you, or for life.”
“Skylar,” she said softly.
I thought I detected a brief smile before the sharpness of the wind tugged it away.
“My name is Skylar Emmanuel.”
She spun in the air like a sparrow, rising on a draft before plummeting headfirst down towards the earth, her wings creating a magnificent silver V as she dove.
I can’t wait to read the rest!