The Order of Crows has existed for generations to protect the magical and divine community of New Verona. The current Order is mostly young and untested, having lost their parents in a tragic and mysterious event. Not surprisingly, they don’t get along very well.
Aleister Corigan is at the heart of the discord. The Murder’s planar-walker black mage, he has made it a point to alienate himself from the others. He is rude and stand-offish at best when they meet. That is until an obviously powerful enemy makes an attack on the city’s protective shield. As the enemy remains in the shadows, Aleister’s domain, the Corigan is forced to put aside his natural distrust of others and step into the spotlight. Just as he has to learn to put some trust in them, they must do the same for him.
As the Murder finds some footing in their cooperation, they also begin to uncover an ominous bigger picture. It’s not just one enemy at their doorstep but seemingly an army. They are the ones who have to make the choice, do they willingly put their city in the middle of a war, or do they try to avoid the enemies who won’t back down so easily? Can they trust Aleister in his element or will they crumble from within before they ever get a chance to defend the city and the plane as a whole?
Before him is a man who appears to be two-hundred years old, with black, leathery skin and ash-colored dreadlocks that reach almost to his waist. He wears a white linen shirt over tan linen pants and giant black sunglasses. He smells like garlic. He pauses for a heavy moment, then smiles so large he could swallow the city.
He says, “You’ve been busy, kid,” in a thick Caribbean accent.
He has grown fatter since the last time Aleister saw him and he leans on a cane these days, which hinders the don’t-give-a-damn stature that always captivated Aleister’s attention. The man isn’t much taller than he, but he feels the presence of countless secrets and feels small in their shadow. Aleister knows that despite the appearance of this being, immeasurable power lies beneath it.
So Aleister says, “Of course I have. You know, idle hands and all that.”
The old man chuckles like rolling thunder and says, “Why else would it take a massive attack to bring you back to my door?” He gestures in the air with his free hand. His giant smile is firmly in place when he continues. “I know, I know, you have business all over. You Corigans are all the same. Fucking with the vampires, the skates, the shadows, but you always come back.”
Aleister’s proper posture eases the tiniest bit and his shoulders relax. Already he has been granted access to the truths the old man can see. The attack was a huge deal and, regardless of the magnitude of this information, the pale one can’t help but grin. His host’s energy is contagious, and those who cheat death have one thing in common: they’re always bat-shit crazy from the wisdom they achieve.
“It seems you are also as lively as ever,” Aleister says, feeling the gravitational pull of the force in front of him, a being who surely knows more details about what has happened than any of the parties involved. He probably knew Aleister would come, for he sees many things.
The old man shrugs his whole form and gestures the other closer. Aleister breaks to the inevitable and allows himself to be drawn near as the other pulls up his giant shades to reveal pearly white-covered eyes. A heavy arm falls around Aleister’s shoulders, and the old one says, “Pshhhh, no one has come to see me in some time, but I’ll still be here to see your son’s son. Now let me have a look at you.”
He falls to introspective silence.
Aleister bites down on the surprise that rises at the sight and the news. The blindness that covers the other’s eyes is far worse than the last time Aleister saw him. He doesn’t stare into those wide, opalescent orbs, and still he feels himself being measured.
“You’re a bit skinny, don’t you think?” the man says finally, slightly crinkling his wide nose.
Aleister laughs, softly. Again, he can’t help but do it.
“If you say so, Montague,” he answers, shying away from the long, skeletal hand that pokes unerringly at his ribs.
“You’ve always been skinny,” the seer says. “You boys couldn’t gain weight if you ate a fifty-pound block of dry cheese. Let’s go.”
Then he heaves himself along with aid of a fat cane made of blackened, polished wood, into which are carved long, exaggerated characters engaged in all types of sexual encounters. Aleister watches the thing and lets the crude statement further amuse him as he follows. He’s also aware of the underlying tension in the other, a sense he attributes to his highly agitated energy. He does not, however, permit his memories to play along the vaulted ceilings that open above them, or the elaborate stone moldings that tell of a much older time. They both know there is a darker reason for this visit.
“Listen, Gue,” he says to the old man’s back, and he feels like the kid who first walked in this room. “I’ve got a real bad feeling about this one, bigger than anything before. I need your help.”
Montague hesitates at the use of his old nickname, one Aleister used to use when he was just a small child, one Aleister’s father had also used. Aleister wonders if the same memories of his youth are what gives Montague pause, or if it’s something else. He thinks the old one is about to speak, but he just presses onward with the rhythmic, dull thuds of his cane on tile flooring.
They enter a room where the ceiling again opens to something larger, and the air is slightly better. Montague navigates onto a large, tiled dais to his right. He hefts his old bones onto a huge ornate chair whose arms and legs are made of carved cherry that’s surrounded by a dusty, carved sculpture of a tree made of the same red wood.
Aleister takes a smaller but no less antique chair from its waiting place on the opposite wall and places himself a few feet in front of the old man upon the dais. He sits, then waits respectfully.
“What is it that you seek, child?” Montague asks. The joviality is gone from his tone and his smile has straightened itself into neutrality.
Aleister knows the only other eyes in the room are physically glazed over by time, but he feels great attention on him. Not a facial expression nor hitch in breath would be lost on this ancient being before him. He proudly pushes shoulders back and his chin upward.
He says, “I seek the city’s greatest enemy.”
“Are you sure you do not seek your own greatest enemy?” Montague asks. His head cocks to the side just a bit, but his expression doesn’t change.
“They are the same,” Aleister answers.
“Are you sure?”
Aleister steadfastly refuses doubt, but he finds he’s gripping his thighs to keep his hands steady. The air is suddenly stifling. The old façade crumbles into an open expression of disdain, and Montague’s hand grips his cane tightly. He looks as though spider webs should veil him and dust should cover him from view, like he’s been there for centuries.
The blind man says, “I have seen that look of determination so many times, and I have seen many enemies as well. If this happens, your blood must spill. There are paths to what you seek other than mine, especially for you.”
The Murder Meets at Dusk available 02/16/22!
HUGE thanks to The Illustrated Author for this amazing cover design!