For the–er–forty or fifty people out there who actually bought A CIRCLE OF FIRELIGHT, you might be interested that I’m now officially 40,000 words through with its sequel, tentatively titled A CIRCLE OF MOONLIGHT. (Possible alternative titles include I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS IS TAKING ME THIS LONG and HOW DUMB DO YOU HAVE TO BE TO WRITE A SEQUEL TO A BOOK THAT SOLD THAT POORLY.)
And so, below, is a sample chapter. It doesn’t make much sense out of context but here you go.
Long Black Limousine
March 30 | Madison Square Garden, The Other New York
“Ya did good, there, Lady Ashlyn,” C.J. says. “Time to go home.”
“Not just yet,” I say, tears wet on my cheek. “One more thing to do. I need to make it to where Penny is, let her know that it’s okay.”
“No can do,” C.J. says. “You heard the Dark Lord. He gave you a job to do and you did it. Now I have a job to do, and that’s to send you back home. No time to run any other errands before you leave.”
“Call the Dark Lord,” I say. “Ask him for me. He understands about Penny; he’s not going to stop me from talking to her.”
“I have my orders, Your Worship, and they involve escorting you straight off this island.”
“I understand. I am not trying to get you in trouble. There’s just one thing.”
C.J. leans on her sword. “What might that be?”
“You have to catch me first.”
“I ain’t too worried about that,” she says. She cracks a cruel smile, then snaps her fingers. All the house lights in the Garden come up. The arena is filled with dark furry shapes, all of them wearing hockey sweaters.
“Maybe you can get past me, but all of them? Not seeing it, Your Worship. Best to come along quietly. I can be reasoned with, but werewolves, you know, they don’t excel in the art of negotiation.”
“I was right. This was a trap all along.”
C.J. smirks. “That’s as may be. Question is, what are you going to do about it?”
All right, Ashlyn, I think to myself. You against the Warden of the Eastern Marches, backed by twenty thousand werewolves. How do you get out of this one?
Assets: my brain, my sword, the most powerful wand in the world.
“What I wouldn’t give for a holocaust cloak,” I say.
“Old movie quotes ain’t gonna help you any, love,” Valentine says.
Fight or flight. Fight or flight. Fight or…
“Accio Broom!” I shout, and a push broom flies from behind one of the benches, into my outstretched hand. I climb aboard, and kick off the ground in one fluid motion. I rise into the air, wafted by a ragged chorus of howls.
Madison Square Garden turns out to be a pretty good place to learn to fly. No crosswinds, for one thing. I fly over the court in a lazy loop, about twelve feet up. The werewolves rush the court, but all they can do is mill around, waiting for me to fall. C.J.’s face is an unbecoming shade of scarlet, as she yells something at me that I can’t hear.
I take a second loop around the court, rising a little higher, until I’m level with the new bridges, which are lined with werewolves wearing Philadelphia Flyers jerseys and shaking their paws at me from behind the thick glass. I shake my fist back at them, and feel the broom dip under me; apparently this flying thing takes a good bit of concentration. Either that, or the enchantment on the broom is dying out. Whichever it is, I decide that I need to develop an exit strategy. I climb up to the level of one of the upper-level lounges and pull out my wand. “Reducto!” I shout, and the glass in front of the lounge explodes, sending shards onto the cursing werewolves below. There’s only a few werewolves in this lounge, and they duck for cover. I sweep into the lounge just as the magic in the broom sputters out, and hurtle into the concourse.
There are only a few werewolves hanging out here; they’re waiting in line for beer. I spring to my feet, snap a curse in their general direction, and take off in the other direction. I’m too high up now. I have to get downstairs, and find an outside door that will let me into the streets of the city. I have a vague idea where New York Presbyterian is from here; it’s somewhere on the East Side over by the UN building. Another platoon of werewolves spots me from the other side of the concourse, and I blast a curse at them, but it just slows them down. I spot a stairwell, and race towards it. There’s a horde of werewolves racing up it, and they spot me, and start howling.
I take a deep breath. The enemy’s gate is down, I think. There’s just enough room in the center of the stairwell to fit through. I hold my left hand over my head, and give my wand a flick.
I grip the umbrella with my left hand and vault over the rail, floating down the middle of the stairwell. The werewolves howl in frustration, and some of them try to swipe at me, but I manage to hold them off. I drift down all six stories, and land gently on the concrete floor. There’s a door that says “Emergency Exit,” and being chased by twenty thousand werewolves would seem to be a pretty big emergency. I fall against it, and it opens, and I am outside, in the still night air on 31st Street. I cross the street, dodging two tour buses (both thankfully werewolf-free, from the looks of them, or at least nobody was howling at me). I wind up in front of an Irish pub, next to a Vietnamese pho restaurant. I stop for a minute to catch my breath, and head east, racing past a parking garage and some kind of construction site. Seventh Avenue is up ahead. New York Presbyterian is northeast of here, up on First Avenue somewhere, if it’s in the same place. Easiest thing to do is head east and hope for the best, then turn north once I get close to the East River. It’s a plan, anyway.
Traffic has picked up a good bit, with the usual chaotic mix of police cars and taxicabs. I don’t see any good way through. I look to my left, towards the Garden, and there’s a crowd of werewolves, spilling out of the arena. They haven’t spotted me yet, and I don’t have a prayer of outrunning them if they do. I turn right, heading south, with the idea that I will cross over Seventh in a couple of blocks.
I don’t get five steps before C.J. Valentine appears out of nowhere, chewing gum and wearing a ridiculous chauffeur uniform. She’s holding a sign that says LADY ASHLYN REVERE, and is standing next to a sleek black limousine parked against the curb. “Get in the car,” she says. “Unless you want to get up close and personal with my furry friends.”
I have read too many Jack Reacher novels; I am not ever going to get into that limo. “Get out of my way,” I say, brandishing my wand.
The door of the limo opens, and the Dark Lord unfolds himself from the interior. He is tall, and bald, with his undertaker suit hanging off of him. “Miss Valentine is only doing her job,” he says. “Please don’t abuse her any more than is strictly necessary.”
“I don’t want anything to do with you,” I say, “not right now. I have a score to settle with you, but that can wait. I’m here to see my sister.”
“That is easily accomplished,” the Dark Lord says, gesturing to the interior of the limo. I look inside, and there is Penny, curled up in a ball in the back of the limo, shivering in a green hospital gown.
My wand is out, but I can’t think of any curse or hex that would be enough to blast him into oblivion for this. “She should be in the hospital,” I say.
The Dark Lord blinks. “She is in the hospital, of course. In your world. In this world, the place you call New York Presbyterian is a warehouse; publishing companies and literary agents use it to store rejection letters. Anyway, never mind, that’s not important. What is important is that your sister is asleep—really asleep, by which I mean not REM sleep. She will wake up in an hour or so, is my guess. And much improved, thanks to your banishment of that inconvenient ghost. You have nothing further to do here, and would be well advised to leave. And even better advised not to return, although I have to admit that I do admire the creativity of the bobsled run.”
“I’m not leaving without Penny,” I say. “You can’t hold her hostage like this.”
“Like every child, she is a hostage to fortune. You can’t blame me for that.”
I can feel the anger rising against the backdrop of the screeching werewolves behind me. I point my wand in their direction, and shout, ”Igneous!” A pool of lava erupts in the middle of Seventh Avenue, and the howls of the pack turn into yelps of pain.
“That was unnecessary,” the Dark Lord says. “They would not have hurt you without my leave.”
“There’s no need for anyone to be hurt today, least of all my sister. If you can’t let me have her, you can at least let her go.”
The Dark Lord smiles a ragged smile. “That would show exceptionally poor judgment on my part. And you are leaving without her, no matter what happens.”
“Don’t be so sure,” I say.
“I am sure,” the Dark Lord says. He pulls back the sleeve on his suit jacket and checks a gold watch. “It’s seven-fifteen. They just brought in dinner for the room across the hall. They’ll be waking you up any second now.”
“This isn’t over,” I say.
“It is for now.” And just like that, the towers of Seventh Avenue dissolve into smoke and ash behind the Dark Lord. I get a last glimpse of Penny, silent and helpless in the back of the limousine, before reality comes crashing in and erases the New York of my nightmare.
March 30 | Robert Wood Johnson Hospital, New Brunswick
I wake up with a start, heart racing, with my right hand outstretched, gripping the handrail of the bed.
“Didn’t mean to wake you up like that,” the orderly says. “You need to eat something, though. I’ve got macaroni and cheese, if you think you can handle it.”
I gulp in a lungful of air. My hospital gown is soaked in sweat. I try to brush away the droplets on my forehead with my left arm, forgetting for the moment that it’s in a cast. I stop just in time to keep from bashing myself in the head with it.
“If I can get a glass of water, first,” I say. “And my phone, please, it’s in the side pocket of the green bag over there.”
The orderly looks like he’s going to shoot off a smart remark, but he swallows it and nods. He pours me a drink from the pitcher on my left, and retrieves my phone for me. “Thanks,” I say, while managing to enter in my access code one-handed. I open up the phone app and call my dad, who picks up on the first ring.
“You’re awake,” he says. “Good. I was wondering.”
“How is Penny?” I ask.
“She took a real turn for the better about an hour ago. Morton thinks that the anti-rejection drugs started working. She’s not out of the woods yet; she still has a fever and they’re not sure whether the virus she has is antibiotic-resistant yet or not. But it’s looking promising, finally.”
I collapse back onto my pillow, exhausted. “Are they going to try to wake her up?” I ask.
“Morton says so. We’re actually on our way over to ICU. I’m not planning on telling Penny you’re in the hospital, too, no need to stress her over that. Understand?”
“How are you doing, though? Dr. Torrez texted me and thought you had come through okay, but he didn’t do the surgery, so I wasn’t sure.”
“Fine,” I say. “My hand is still numb, but all the fingers are there.”
“That’s a plus, in case you need to ever use the Yellow Pages. And you’re sounding good. That’s the best your speech has been in a long time.”
I hadn’t noticed that, exactly, but he’s not wrong. “I’ve been working hard in therapy,” I say.
“It shows. Look, we’re almost there. You need to try and eat something, get your rest. I’ll get you an update in the morning.”
I put the phone down carefully on the bedside table and try to sit back up.
“Are we good with the macaroni and cheese?” the orderly asks.
I take a long, cool sip of water, to try to chase the foul taste of the city out of my mouth. “Yeah. Sounds good.”