Authors: AR DeClerck
The Alchemist’s Kiss
A magical steampunk Adventure
Published by Raven’s Seduction Press
Fort Wayne, IN. 2015
Text Copyright © 2015 AR DeClerck
All Rights Reserved
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not,
by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, duplicated,
hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior
written consent in any form of binding or cover other than
that in which it is published and without similar condition
including this condition being imposed on the
Copyright © 2015 Raven’s Seduction Press
All rights reserved
Raven’s Seduction Press.
Fort Wayne, IN 46804
Edited by: Dawn White
Cover by: Rachel A Olson
Formatting by: Raven’s Seduction Press
I saw him on the battlefield at Gettysburg. Sitting the horse as if he was born to it, he rode through the throngs of infantry men with a wounded soldier across his lap. He bore down on me and stopped short, staring down at me.
“Are you a nurse?”
The voice was English. Deep, haughty.
“Here.” He climbed off the horse and tossed the man over his shoulder. Impressive considering the soldier was a tall lanky fellow whose legs drug. The Englishman strode past me and into the tent, dumping the wounded solider on a cot. I followed him inside and poured water over my arms from the pitcher before wiping them on my apron.
“What's the nature of his wound?”
The Englishman removed his cap, revealing a muss of curling blonde hair. He smoothed it down haphazardly before replacing his hat. “I don't know.”
I pushed past him and knelt by the cot, unbuttoning the soldier's coat and pulling it aside. I frowned. His shirt was whole, no bullet holes. No blood. I checked his abdomen, legs, and finally his head. No wounds.
“This man isn't wounded.”
The Englishman stared down at me, a frown twisting his lips. “He collapsed on the field.”
“Perhaps from fright.” I jostled the soldier and listened to the beat of his heart. Strong and steady. He was breathing evenly, and I pinched his earlobe hard, hoping the pain might wake him.
“Perhaps, but the man is Josiah Turnbull. I've never known him to be afraid of anything.”
“War is difficult for even the strong of heart.” I stood and wiped my hands on my apron. “You didn't see him take a blow? Perhaps to his head?”
The frown deepened. It creased the skin around the Englishman's eyes and mouth, but he was still a handsome man. I patted at my hair, a blush rising. I'd been up since before dawn, and I was covered in blood and mud.
“No. No physical wounds were dealt to this man.”
“I see.” I pulled a threadbare blanket from the stack by the door and laid it over the unconscious man. “I'll keep an eye on him. Unfortunately the doctor's to bed, and we're running short of supplies. I'll do what I can.”
“Thank you.” The Englishman turned and moved toward the door, but he stopped short and turned back to me. “What's your name?”
The frown grew. “Cora.” He pronounced it carefully, mocking my Southern drawl.
He nodded toward his friend on the bed. “Watch over Josiah will you, Cora? I'll be back later to check on him.”
“How much longer will the battle go, do you think?” I'd long since stopped counting the dead and the dying, but the screams and cries of the soldiers on the field still rose to the hilltop where we camped.
“Not much longer.” He bowed to me, a courtly gesture that made me smile. It wasn't something American men did, especially in the poor South. “Perhaps tomorrow at sundown will see the end of this.”
“Be careful, Captain.” I could see my words startled the man, as if he were unfamiliar with concern. But he nodded curtly. He fiddled with the long dark gloves he wore, despite the heat of the July sun.
“And you, Cora. I'll see you later.”
He was gone before I could answer, the flap of the tent closing behind him. I turned back to the sleeping Josiah and sat on the floor by his cot. I took his hand, well aware that comfort may be all I was able to give the man. I knew how to stitch a wound, remove a bullet, or saw off a leg, but a curiously unconscious man was beyond my medical know-how. I frowned when the necklace around my neck heated to an uncomfortable weight between my breasts. I adjusted the trinket on the chain and covered the unconscious soldier's shoulders.
I looked up when Mary ducked into the tent. She was pale and her face lined with fatigue as she hurried over to me.
“Cora Mae!” She untied her bonnet and let it fall to her neck on its strings. “What was Captain Kane doing in here?”
“Captain Kane?” I frowned at her. “Oh! You mean the Englishman? He brought his friend here for medical attention.”
Mary leaned over the cot. “Josiah Turnbull?” She sounded surprised. “I'd not heard that he was injured.”
“He's not.” I moved over so Mary could slump down beside me on the floor. Our days were long and our backs bent from the work of assisting the field doctors. She leaned her head against my shoulder.
“He is a mysterious man.”
“Turnbull?” I looked at the sleeping Josiah. He reminded me of every other young man who'd joined the Army. Ears too large for his head, shaggy hair he'd cut with his own knife, and freckles from his many years on the family farm before the war.
Mary laughed. She was an easy going girl with wide brown eyes and a sweet laugh. She'd make some soldier a lovely wife one day.
“Not Josiah! Captain Kane.”
“He is handsome.”
She shook her head. “He's strange. He came from England to fight in the war, and have you seen his tent?”
I admitted I had not.
“It's filled with all manner of odd scientific equipment. There are even whispers that the man practices magic.”
I laughed. “Magic? Don't be silly, Mary.”
“I'm not.” She turned her wide brown eyes on me. “Icarus Kane is a wizard, Cora.”
“I know that magic is a common thing in England, but there's not much of it tolerated here, Mary. The Grand Coven is having a dickens of a time trying to convince the government to allow wizards into the United States.”
“Just how much tolerance do you think we will need when our goods don't cross the ocean? It takes a wizard to power the ships.”
“Steam, Mary. I've a feeling steam is the future.”
“Tolerated or not, that man is a practitioner, I'd guarantee it.” Mary narrowed her eyes at me. “I figured you to be more tolerant of magic, what with your Granny Mae being a witch and all.”
I laughed. “Granny was a healer.”
“She cast a demon out of my Uncle Joe right in front of me, Cora.”
“Demons are not real, Mary. Your Uncle Joe was kicked in the head by a horse and his mind wasn't right.”
“And Granny healed a kick to the head with that pendant you wear?” Mary tapped the chain against my neck and shook her head. “You're as stubborn as she was.”
“She's always with me, Mary. I know she's watching over me from Heaven. I have nothing to fear.”
“Playing chess with the devil most likely.” Mary huffed with a grin. Her smile died away as she hugged me close. “I fear for you sometimes, Cora. Like something terrible is waiting for you in the dark.”
I patted Mary's hand and stood, pulling her up with me. I smoothed a strand of her sunflower hair behind her ear and pushed her toward the door. “Go to bed, Mary. Try to keep your imagination in your own head. The other camps will be tending the wounded tonight so we can rest. I'll keep an eye on Josiah.”
She left and I sighed as I bent to check on Josiah again. The man slept on, no change in his condition. I pulled a cot close and spread a blanket over it before lying down next to him. I was close enough to hear changes in his breathing if he woke. The night was hot, and sweat trickled between my breasts and over my neck as I closed my eyes for the first time in thirty hours.
I awoke with fear tickling my neck. My heart pounded, my muscles taunt before I even opened my eyes. I kept my breathing even by sheer will and I listened for the sound that had pulled me from sleep.
A growl. Sniffles. Panting. There was an animal in the tent. I could feel its breath on my face, moving the hair from my temple. It knew I was awake. The same way I knew it was nose to nose with me. Something wet dripped onto my arm. Drool.
Black bears were common in this part of Virginia, though they didn't usually get so close to the sounds of battle. I opened first one eye, and then the other. This was not a black bear. It was Josiah, leaning over me. I was face to face with him, but what stared into my eyes was not a man. Flames shimmered in the depths of his eyes, his face impossibly contorted. The sounds that came from his throat were guttural. He leaned closer, sniffed along my neck and over my cheek to my hairline. I swallowed hard, forcing myself to remain absolutely still.
“Cora, do not move.”
I hadn't heard him come in over the sound of my heart in my ears, but Captain Kane was behind Josiah. I moved only my eyes to look at him. He was still in his uniform. The moon shone behind him through the tent flap, illuminating him in silver light. He held a small book in one hand, a pistol in the other. Josiah turned slowly to look at the Captain.
the Captain lowered the pistol. “
revertere ad me.”
I knew enough to know that Josiah Turnbull did not understand Latin. He understood enough, as he howled long and loud, shaking his head like a dog from the water. Spittle flew, but I remained as still as possible. The Captain raised the book in his hand and read from it,
Solvite hoc anima, demon.”
I recognized the word
. Years of spending summers with my Granny Mae had taught me all about demons and the ways they loved to possess and torment the living. Not precisely a witch, Granny Mae was as close to one as our little town could get. She knew all the ways to expel a demon from a body, including a few potions and protection spells to keep them out of you in the first place. Healing the sick in our town with Granny Mae had set me on the path toward Gettysburg in the first place. I'd never believed her stories of the dark beings that existed outside man's normal realm of vision.
The thing the Captain called a demon moved away from me and closer to the Captain as he continued to read from his little book.
Revetere ad infernos. Hinc corpus!”
As the Captain kept the soldier focused on him I reached slowly for the pendant I wore around my neck. It was the one thing of any value Granny had, and she'd left it to me when she died.
Keep it close, little miss, because I have seen your future, and you're gonna need it.
Revertere ad infernos! Hinc corpus!”
I pulled the talisman from between my breasts and held it tight It was hotter now, the sting of its heat burning against my palm.
The Devil's Hand glows hot in the presence of the tainted, little miss. Grip it tight and doona let it go.
The madman wasn't affected by the Captain's words, and it had instead gotten closer. He would attack him, I knew, and then come back for me. I swallowed hard, my mind racing. I blinked as sweat trickled into my eyes. Granny's voice was soft in my head, encouraging me to believe what was right before my eyes.
Revertere animus huius!”
The Captain slipped the book and pistol into his pocket. He tugged on the glove on his left hand, and I once again wondered why he wore them. As his fingers slipped from the glove Josiah Turnball went mad. He shuffled backward, slamming into me and knocking the cot over. I tumbled to the floor, the chain around my neck snapping as I held the talisman tight in my hand. I righted myself as the Captain finished pulling off his glove. The man looked left and right, cornered. He sniffed and must have caught my scent as Josiah's head swung toward me with a sickening creak of his neck. Our eyes met again, and the voice of Granny in my head grew louder, warning me. Reminding me.
Don't deny what you see with your own two eyes, little miss. Feel it on your skin? Hear it in your ear? Magic is in your blood. You canna deny it forever.
The Captain held up his hand, a bluish glow emanating from the palm. I cringed back as the soldier lunged for me. Josiah Turnbull's strong arms wrapped around my waist and drug me forward, caging me in his arms. His teeth, elongated and sharp were against my throat. He licked me along my artery, and I shuddered with the feel of the tongue against my skin. I could smell the fetid rot of half-digested meat on his breath.
The Captain hesitated, looking at me.
“Hello again Cora.”
“Be very still.” he warned.
“What is happening, Captain?” I asked, though I knew his answer already. It was whispered in my ear as Granny's voice passed me like the wind.
Demon, little miss.
“This man is possessed by a demon.”
“Perhaps he's simply broken from the atrocities of war.” I hazarded the guess even as the Captain raised a pert eyebrow. “Death can drive a man mad.”
“This is not a man anymore, Cora.” The Captain held up his glowing hand Josiah hissed and turned his head from the light. “He's no longer Josiah.”
I struggled with the idea even as the evidence gathered before my eyes. The nails of the man who held me elongated, cutting into my waist as his breathing rasped and his guttural growl brought goose-pimples to my skin. The pendant in my hand felt blistering hot as the insistent whisper of Granny's voice pushed me farther into a realm of the impossible.
The Hand knows, little miss. Doona close your eyes to the truth anymore.
I locked eyes with the Captain. Somewhere in my heart, even frozen with fear, I felt an electric awareness of the man. I could not explain it to anyone who might ask, or even understand it myself, but I trusted the man completely.