Michael R Underwood’s new novel, The Younger Gods, is out today, looks like it’s going to be a good one, and thanks to the generosity of Pocket Star, I get to present to you all a chapter exerpt and a giveaway of 2 e-copies of the book!
Jacob Greene was a sweet boy raised by a loving, tight-knit family…of cultists. He always obeyed, and was so trusted by them that he was the one they sent out on their monthly supply run (food, medicine, pig fetuses, etc.).
Finding himself betrayed by them, he flees the family’s sequestered compound and enters the true unknown: college in New York City. It’s a very foreign place, the normal world and St. Mark’s University. But Jacob’s looking for a purpose in life, a way to understand people, and a future that breaks from his less-than-perfect past. However, when his estranged sister arrives in town to kick off the apocalypse, Jacob realizes that if he doesn’t gather allies and stop the family’s prophecy of destruction from coming true, nobody else will…
I’d never met lycanthropes before. There were no packs in the Dakotas. My father and grandmother had seen to that years ago.
I was starting to understand why. Our family’s sorcerous might was unmatched, but a wolf moving through thick brush, especially with a pack at her back, could make quick work of an unprepared sorcerer, unless the sorcerer was willing to bring down an entire forest to protect themselves.
It’s what Grandmother had done.
One of the many races made by the gods in the first days, lycanthropes could move among humans without notice, only revealing their power when they wished. When their creator, the moon, was strongest, so were they.
Antoinette cleared her throat. “I am Antoinette Laroux. And a friend told me to show you this.” She produced the Nataraja statue, holding it out in the scant inches between herself and the looming wolf-woman.
The woman chuffed once, very canine in that moment, all pretense of humanity cast aside. She looked Antoinette dead in the eyes, then sized her up, gaze going to her feet and then back up to her eyes.
She took a single step back.
“So you know the Nephilim. Fine. Why are you here?” “Someone’s after the Hearts. She’s trying to awaken the Younger Gods.”
The wolves snarled as one.All of them, the woman included. “And you’re here, what, to warn us? As if we aren’t always on guard? There’s precious little of the earth left in this place.
You think we aren’t always vigilant?”
“We want to help,” I said, breaking with Antoinette’s request.
The woman snapped at me, baring her teeth. “You smell of the Deeps, boy.”
Again, judged before I was known. Even thousands of miles away from my family’s center of power, I was just a Greene to them. Even if I bested Esther, would I ever be rid of that stain, or would I carry it with me my whole life, my family’s sins painted clearly across my face with the distinctively bland look of our family?
“We’ve had a long day already,” Antoinette said, by way of explanation. “But he’s right. We’re trying to get the whole city to join up so we can stop this woman. She’s ridiculously powerful.”
“Her power means little here,” the woman said. “Her power comes from the Deeps, but this is the horizon, the union of earth and sky, and we are protected.”
“Tell that to the Hidatsa and Arikara packs,” I said. They’d been the last two to give up the fight. The Hidatsa had fled west. The Arikara had been eradicated.
“We are not them. But we take your offer as it is intended, in recognition of the Nephilim’s friendship to our pack. Go. This island is sacrosanct. Help the others, and when the time comes, call for us and we will be there. Our fangs will tear her throat and spill her lifeblood. It will be washed away by the Hudson and her stain sent out to sea.”
A cheery sort, this one. I could just imagine what she’s like at parties.
“Care for some juice?”
“I will rip this cup to broken shreds and see its ruin smote upon the mountain.”
“No, thank you.”
“Thank you for your time,” Antoinette said. “How will we call you?”
The woman reached into her sweatshirt, and produced a spent exoskeleton. Cicada, possibly a grasshopper. I’d always been an indoor child. “Crush this beneath your boot and we will know.”
“Will you know where as well?”
The woman snarled at me. “We will know.”
I elected not to probe further, trusting the wolf-woman’s confidence.
Antoinette accepted the exoskeleton, handling it with care and sliding it into the pocket with the Shiva Nataraja statue. “Thank you for your time. We will go now.”
The woman nodded, and another wave of shadows passed over her, leaving behind the wolf she had been before.
In an unexpected act of kindness, the wolves led us to another way down the hill, such that we were able to leave the park with no more bruises and scrapes.
When we were out of earshot of the pack (or, when I assumed we were, the exact details of supernal wolf hearing being an area outside my expertise), I released the hold on my tongue.
“Why did she speak that way?” I asked. Antoinette raised an eyebrow. “You’re one to ask.”
“I am asking. That speech pattern is not familiar to me. I had been informed that the filmic depictions of Native American speech were inaccurate, but her speech was neither that stereotype nor anything with which I am familiar.”
“She’s a wolf, Jake.”
“A lycanthrope, yes. I assume they all are. Is that typical of the local group? A tribal cant, then?”
“Everybody’s got a dialect. They don’t talk to people much, from what I can tell.”
“But how will we know if we don’t ask?” I prodded, struck by Antoinette’s lack of curiosity. Some would call it prudence. But I’d never been the one to stop until I’d gotten to the bottom of something. Be that turning the basement until I found the frequently-cited text that was somehow not on the bookshelves, or waiting and listening at the door until Mother and Father thought we’d all gone to bed so they could resume their fights.
“I don’t really care. I’m not the needs-to-know everything type. That was more my mom’s bag.”
We arrived at the bus stop. A woman joined us, old before her time, with a multicolored heap of plastic bags in a laundry cart. We suspended our conversation, dwelling in silence as my mind continued to race. I checked my watch several times over the course of the same minute, then turned to Antoinette. “Have you heard anything from Carter?”
She shook her head. “Don’t worry, Jake. We have time.” I was not so optimistic.
After seven minutes of fidgeting and feeling helpless, the bus appeared, which led directly into another fifty-two minutes of powerlessness. But with the space in the bus, I felt comfortable drawing out one of the texts I’d borrowed from Antoinette’s store and refreshing my familiarity with agate/ruby sympathetic connections and their applications in combat.
The peridot would be my greatest asset in any combat against creatures of the Deeps, but I would be well advised to take a versatile approach, perhaps happen upon a configuration unexpected to Esther and catch her unawares. She was a natural, and had never needed to study as I had. Her power was unquestioned, but she was sometimes shortsighted.
On the ferry trip back, we found a corner of the deck sufficiently remote to speak freely, working through various scenarios—if Esther had already claimed this Heart and that one, this is what she could do, and so on. She had perhaps three of the Hearts at most, one at the least. Antoinette’s connections in the Bronx were not extensive. If she had three, the second circle would be opened soon, and the city would take notice.
My seasickness was not as pronounced as on the trip over, but I still found prudence in fixing my gaze on the horizon, the vision locked into my mind to help convince my inner ear that we were not about to be hurtled into the sea or whatever it was about the rolling motion of the water that unsettled my equilibrium.
“That place is a battlefield,” she’d said by way of explanation. “We go there next, then. She may hope to use our reticence against us. But what about Queens?”
“The Raksha in Queens are very capable, and even more secretive. Queens is a big place, and the Raksha have full cooperation of the entire community. People live in Queens to be safe, not for ambition.”
“That seems somewhat reductive,” I said.
Antoinette shrugged. “Not everything I say has to be the gospel truth, you know. This isn’t a trial.”
I blanched at the comment. “But why dissemble?”
“It was a turn of phrase, for emphasis. I think you’re right about the Bronx. It’ll take Esther longer to pin down the Bearer in Queens, so it seems only smart that she’d head north first.”
“Excellent. I would be amenable to stopping for lunch somewhere on the way. Preferably after my stomach has settled again from the ferry ride.”
Antoinette nodded, her gaze turning out to the water.
I wished that my stomach or the water would be calm enough to resume my reading. It was nervous distraction, but still far better than queasiness for my nerves.
Instead, my mind drifted to Esther, spinning out scenarios of the people she could be hurting this very moment, the carnage she could be tearing through this city while eight million people moved around her, ignorant of the coming storm.
Now that you’ve made it all the way down here, it’s time for the giveaway details! It’s a quick an easy enter, just comment on this post and include an email address (or link to where I can find your email address), and you’re in!
~ Open to US residents only (sorry, rest of the world!)
~ 1 entry per person
~ Contest will close at 11:59 PM, PST, on Wednesday October 15, 2014, and the winners will be drawn on Thursday October 16.
Winners will be emailed a promo code to download an e-copy of the book in the format of their choosing, except for Kindle formats.
Michael R. Underwood is the author of Geekomancy, Celebromancy, Attack the Geek, Shield and Crocus, and The Younger Gods. By day, he’s the North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books. Mike grew up devouring stories in all forms, from comics to video games, tabletop RPGs, movies, and books. He has a BA in Creative Mythology and East Asian Studies, and an MA in Folklore Studies. Mike has been a bookseller, a barista, a game store cashwrap monkey, and an independent publishers’ representative. Mike lives in Baltimore with his fiancée, an ever-growing library, and a super-team of dinosaur figurines and stuffed animals. He is also a co-host on the Hugo-nominated Skiffy and Fanty Show. In his rapidly vanishing free time, Mike studies historical martial arts and makes homemade pizza. He blogs at MichaelRUnderwood.com/blog and Tweets @MikeRUnderwood.