Paul Anthony Shortt
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: WiDo Publishing
Date of Publication: October 8th, 2013
Number of pages: 300
Word Count: 80,000
Cover Artist: Steven Novak
Hope has returned to New York City. Nathan Shepherd leads a small band of dedicated fighters against the Council of Chains and the city's supernatural masters. But it's not enough. Because from the shadows of Nathan's former lives comes an old enemy, one who knows terrible secrets that Nathan has not yet remembered, secrets that could undo everything he has fought for.
Nathan's only chance to uncover the memories of his previous existence, and to conquer these new forces of evil, lies in Elena DeSantis. A woman he has fought beside in past lifetimes. A woman he has loved.
Together, Nathan and Elena are the only future the city has.
Nathan Shepherd opened his hooded coat and quietly drew his sword from its sheath. Scanning the doorways and rooftops for movement, he ventured through the alley, dark puddles rippling under his boots.
Nathan watched the doorways and windows for movement. The creature Nathan was hunting, a vampire named Garth, had been too greedy. The smiling face of a young woman was burned into Nathan’s memory, and the story of how her body was found, what had been done to her, buried in the corner of a newspaper like she didn’t matter. Vampires didn’t have to kill their victims, they just liked to. Garth would pay.
Someone screamed. Nathan followed the sound to a back street and took cover, stealing a quick glance around the corner. He saw two figures running. The lead was a small, rail-thin boy; late teens as far as Nathan could make out. He had a good head start on the pale, bald man hurtling along behind him. Even so far away, Nathan could make out the feral eyes and hear the snarls. That’s him. He lowered his sword and waited.
First the skinny kid ran past. Nathan counted a beat and swung his arm out from around the corner, clotheslining Garth. The vampire hit the ground. The boy he was chasing looked back, then tripped, careening into a trashcan.
“Evening, Garth.” Nathan stepped over him. “Been looking for you.”
The vampire wasted no time on words. He twisted and kicked Nathan’s legs out from under him before leaping to his feet and running toward the boy. Nathan pulled a small throwing knife from a slot in his leather utility harness and flicked it at Garth. The knife lodged in Garth’s back. He turned and snarled. “You’re pissing me off.”
“Good,” Nathan got to his feet. “I was beginning to worry I’d never get good at this.”
Garth sprinted down the alleyway. Nathan swept his sword in a low arc, cutting across Garth’s stomach as he passed. The vampire’s speed threw him off balance, and he let his guard drop. Garth lashed out with black claws across Nathan’s arm. The coat’s armored lining protected him from serious injury, but Garth followed up with two rapid punches to his face.
Tasting blood, Nathan thrust his sword out, running Garth through. He took Garth off his feet with a kick to the knee. Holding Garth down with his foot, Nathan lifted his sword and brought it down on Garth’s neck. It was not a clean cut, but it was enough.
The body began to dry up and broke apart into dust while Nathan backed away, taking in deep breaths. Sloppy. Too many mistakes. If Nathan didn’t get those under control they’d get him killed eventually. At least his hands didn’t shake afterward anymore.
Nathan turned to the boy that Garth had been chasing, who was still lying on the ground.
“You . . . ” The boy stood slowly. “You’re him, aren’t you?”
Nathan nodded. “What’s your name?”
“Eric.” The boy clutched a gray courier bag to his chest like his life depended on it.
“Why was the vampire after you, Eric?”
“He wanted my bag. I’m in the trade.”
The trade. It meant the boy wasn’t just aware of the supernatural; he was an active part of the hidden world. Probably someone’s apprentice.
“Where’s home?” Nathan asked. “Close?”
Eric nodded, “My dad’s store is half a block from here. Baum’s Curiosity Shop.”
Eric began to go, but stopped and turned. “Thank you, sir.”
Nathan nodded a goodbye and closed his coat again before making his way out of the back streets.
Would my parents be proud of me? It wasn’t the first time Nathan Shepherd had wondered that over the last nine months. His mother, Louise, had taught him to look out for those in need. Strength isn’t in your fists, she used to say, it’s in the way people take care of each other. His father, Mike, was a firefighter. He’d spent his life saving people. While Nathan could recall any moment in his life with perfect accuracy, the image of his dad, tall and broad-shouldered, walking out the door in his uniform, held a special place in his heart. The first hero a little boy ever had. The one person he could always rely on to save the day. After being injured by a vampire named Eli, Mike had chosen to save Nathan instead of getting himself to a hospital. He died while Nathan was fighting a soul eater, a monster that fed on the essence of mortals.
I never got to say goodbye.
His coat pulled at him in the light spring breeze. It had taken him five nights to track this one down. The Council of Chains had started to get cautious. Although it made his work more difficult, it meant they were starting to be afraid.
I’ve saved lives. That would make his father proud, wouldn’t it?
Nathan picked up some coffee on the way back to his truck, a dark green four-door flatbed pickup. He may have gotten over the shaking hands, but the hollow feeling in his stomach and brief dizzy spells told him his adrenaline was wearing off. He checked the time. Ten fifty-five. The coffee warmed Nathan’s throat as he drained the cup. He scanned the streets before climbing into the truck and starting the engine. No matter which station Nathan turned to, the radio announced increased gang violence. He really needed to get his hands on a police scanner. Mainstream media could only provide so many leads on supernatural attacks. Let the gang members kill each other. The cops could handle that themselves. Nathan had more specialized concerns.
Live jazz music flowed into the street as Nathan pulled up outside Hook and Ladder. His father, Mike, had dreamed of opening this place. Nathan waved to Sam Kinnon, a tall man with short blonde hair, tidy stubble, and shirtsleeves rolled up over thick-muscled arms.
Sam’s father had been a friend of Mike’s from his old fire fighter company. After an encounter with a vampire one night when they were closing up, Nathan revealed the truth about the supernatural world, and Sam admitted that he’d dreamed about past lives too.
“Done?” Sam leaned in to the car window.
“Garth’s dead. I’ll let the family know tomorrow. How’re we doing?”
“Business is good. The more vampires and ghouls you kill, the more folk feel safe here. But the Council sent people out again.”
“Some bruiser named Lucius.”
Lucius was a vampire. Nathan knew him by reputation only, but he had become the head enforcer for New York’s official ruler, Vincent Dorian.
“They’re sniffing close, boss. We need to be careful.”
Nathan rubbed his eyes. “I just need the support of a few more outside conclaves. Then they won’t be able to touch us.”
“They can kill you for this, can’t they?”
“Violating the treaty? They can do worse than that, if they have proof.”
The East Coast Treaty forbade reborn from entering the city. Nathan was free to stay because he hadn’t been involved in the war fought against the Council over fifteen years ago, but inviting others to New York was treading dangerous ground. Even employing Sam was technically a violation.
“You coming in?” Sam shifted uneasily as he changed the subject. “Band is good. You’d like them.”
Nathan shook his head. “Not tonight. I want to get some rest. Big day tomorrow. After the funeral I’ve also got to meet the people from New Orleans.”
“I thought Chicago was tomorrow?”
“No, their guy canceled.”
“Again? That’s the third time this month.”
“Apparently Chicago’s a busy town. Someone named Murphy is meant to fill me in when they get a chance.”
“All right. I’d better get back to work. See you later.” Sam went inside. Seeing the people through the doorway, drinking and dancing together, Nathan realized how long it had been since he’d had a night off. The band was playing an Artie Shaw cover. Sam was right; they were good.
Nathan parked his truck in the small lot tucked behind the bar and took two large sports bags out from under the tarp in the back.
The second-floor apartment had an external entrance up a winding set of metal stairs that rattled as Nathan climbed them. He’d been meaning to get them looked at for a while.
Inside the apartment was well kept. The previous tenant had decorated it with light earth tones and left behind several comfortable couches and a bed. Nathan stepped in to a small hallway that led to the stairs on his left and the door into the main room on his right. The main room spread out in a wide open plan with a kitchen area and breakfast bar in the far corner opposite the doors for the bathroom and bedroom. Bookshelves lined the wall, containing collections of novels and arcane texts Nathan had sourced from occult dealers. On one shelf, over a stereo and sitting between Mike’s jazz CDs and Nathan’s collection of classic rock, sat a small frame. Inside the frame rested the medal Mike had been awarded for rescuing half a dozen people from a burning building. Mike had been severely burned in the incident, forcing him into early retirement.
Nathan set his bags down next to the standing maps and charts arranged around his computer desk before hanging his coat on a hook on the wall.
Nathan left his sword propped against the wall. An ancient weapon he’d wielded in more than one lifetime, the hilt was decorated with the stylized image of a phoenix surrounded by flames. He left his leather utility harness on an armchair and went to the bathroom to check on his arm.
A gray reflection looked back at him in the mirror. Black marks hung under his dark blue eyes. Sleep hadn’t exactly been a major priority for a while. Just something he did as needed between patrolling the streets and looking for his next target. At least the broken nose he’d suffered fighting that ogre a few months ago had set well. His nose hadn’t lost its smooth line, angled like a hawk. A haircut might have been in order. His russet mop was far too unruly when allowed to grow out. And he needed to shave.
Nathan rubbed his eyes and took some antiseptic ointment from the medicine cabinet before removing his light long-sleeved t-shirt. The shirt was ripped a little, but he could patch it later. His coat would need some repair work too. It was already starting to look like the skin of Frankenstein’s monster, but the padding in the lining had saved his life several times. Nathan hated seeing the coat get damaged though. It had belonged to his father. Of course, that was before members of the underground-dwelling people known as The Lost had modified it for him, adding secret pockets and armor.
The cuts on his arm were light and had already stopped bleeding. Still, he wiped them down with some antiseptic, ignoring the sting. With that done, Nathan checked on the thick stripe of reddened, waxy flesh between his neck and right shoulder. The memento of a vampire bite that was treated both to purge the venom and to remove the scent of the vampire that had bitten him. Eli. Every time he looked at the scar he saw Eli’s sneering grin and the knife going into his father’s stomach. Killing him hadn’t made the pain go away.
Nathan flexed and rotated his arm, testing the skin around the joint. Still a bit stiff. He put on a fresh sweater and went to his map of the city, all stuck with color-coded pins representing recent numbers of attacks by supernatural predators. He kept a stock of blue pins for any time he managed to put one of them down for good. Nathan pressed one of the blue pins into the spot where Garth had died. That made 17 since he’d started his mission. Looking at the sheer volume of other pins, Nathan tried to tell himself that this was not a losing battle.
It was only a matter of time, he kept repeating to himself. Time and determination. Then one day he’d be ready to take on Dorian and topple the power of the Council of Chains for good. One day.
After booting up his computer and checking the news feeds for more reports of unexplained incidents or mysterious disappearances, Nathan sat back in his chair, feeling himself sink into the leather. He looked up at a collection of sketches pinned to a board on the wall. Faces of men and women dressed in styles from throughout history gazed back at him. Some pretty, some handsome, some homely. Some smiled while others frowned in anger or sadness. All young, between their late teens and early thirties. Nathan had known them all. Although he could recall their faces in perfect detail with a moment’s concentration, he still liked to look at them. Thoughts of killing and death faded away, sore muscles eased and Nathan drifted to sleep.
A child at heart who turned to writing and roleplaying games when there simply weren't enough action figures to play out the stories he wanted, Paul Anthony Shortt has been writing all his life. Growing up surrounded by music, film and theatre gave him a deep love of all forms of storytelling, each teaching him something new he could use. When not playing with the people in his head, he enjoys cooking and regular meet-ups with his gaming group.
Paul lives in Ireland with his wife Jen and their dogs, Pepper and Jasper. Their first child, Conor William Henry Shortt, was born on July 11th, 2011. He passed away three days later, but brought love and joy into their lives and those of their friends. The following year, Jen gave birth to twins, Amy and Erica.
Paul's first novel, Locked Within, was released on November 6th, 2012, by WiDo Publishing. Silent Oath is the second book in this urban fantasy trilogy.