Please welcome AD Starrling to the Mystique.
Seventeen Series Book One
Genre: Supernatural thriller
Number of pages: 420
Word Count: 108,187
Cover Artist: Streetlight Graphics
A half breed immortal. An international manhunt. A race against time to stop a terrifying plot that threatens to kill millions. The gripping, action-packed debut novel by AD Starrling and the first in the supernatural thriller series Seventeen.
‘My name is Lucas Soul.
Today, I died again.
This is my fifteenth death in the last four hundred and fifty years.’
The Crovirs and the Bastians. Two races of immortals who have lived side by side with humans for millennia and been engaged in a bloody war since the very dawn of their existence. With the capacity to survive up to sixteen deaths, it was not until the late fourteenth century that they reached an uneasy truce, following a deadly plague that wiped out more than half of their numbers and made the majority of survivors infertile.
Soul is an outcast of both immortal societies. Born of a Bastian mother and a Crovir father, a half breed whose very existence is abhorred by the two races, he spends the first three hundred and fifty years of his life being chased and killed by the Hunters.
One fall night in Boston, the Hunt starts again, resulting in Soul’s fifteenth death and triggering a chain of events that sends him on the run with Reid Hasley, a former US Marine and his human business partner of ten years. When a lead takes them to Washington DC and a biotechnology company with affiliations to the Crovirs, they cross the Atlantic to Europe, on the trail of a French scientist whose research seems intrinsically linked to the reason why the Hunters are after Soul again.
From Paris to Prague, their search for answers will lead them deep into the immortal societies and bring them face to face with someone from Soul’s past. Shocking secrets are uncovered and fresh allies come to the fore as they attempt to put a stop to a new and terrifying threat to both immortals and humans.
Time is running out for Soul. Can he get to the truth before his seventeenth death, protect the ones he loves and prevent another immortal war?
I woke up in a dark alley behind a building.
Autumn rain plummeted from an angry sky, washing the narrow, walled corridor I lay in with shades of grey. It dripped from the metal rungs of the fire escape above my head and slithered down dirty, barren walls, forming uneven puddles under the garbage dumpsters by my feet. It gurgled in the gutters and storm drains off the main avenue behind me.
It also cleansed away the blood beneath my body.
For once, I was grateful for the downpour: I did not want any evidence left of my recent demise.
I blinked at the drops that struck my face and slowly climbed to my feet. Unbidden, my fingers rose to trace the deep cut in my chest: the blade had missed the unusual birthmark on my skin by less than an inch. I turned and stared at the tower behind me.
I was not sure what I was expecting to see. A face peering over the parapet of the glass and brick structure. An avenging figure drifting down in the rainfall, a bloodied sword in its hands and a crazy smile in its eyes. A flock of silent crows, come to take my unearthly body to its final resting place.
Bar the heavenly deluge, the skyline was fortunately empty.
I pulled my cell phone out of the rear pocket of my jeans and stared at it. It was smashed to pieces. I could hardly blame the makers of the device: they had probably never tested it from the rooftop of a twelve-storey building. As for me, the bruises would start to fade by tomorrow.
It would take another day for the wound in my chest to heal completely.
I glanced at the sky again before walking out of the alley. I found a phone booth at the next intersection, closed the rickety door behind me and dialled a number. Steam rapidly fogged up the glass wall before me. There was a soft click after the fifth ring.
‘Yo,’ said a tired voice.
‘Yo yourself,’ I said.
A barely suppressed yawn travelled down the line. ‘What’s up?’
‘I need a ride,’ I replied. ‘And a new phone.’
There was a short silence. ‘It’s four o’clock in the morning.’ The voice had gone blank, devoid of all traces of emotion.
‘I know,’ I muttered in the same neutral tone.
The sigh at the other end was audible above the pounding of the rain. ‘Where are you?’
‘Corner of Cambridge and Staniford.’
Fifteen minutes later, a battered tan Chevrolet Monte Carlo pulled up next to the phone booth. ‘Get in,’ said the figure behind the wheel. I opened the door and climbed into the passenger seat. Water dripped onto the leather cover and formed a puddle by my feet. There was a disgruntled mutter from my left. I glanced at the man beside me.
Reid Hasley was my business partner and friend. Together, we were co-owners of the Hasley and Soul Agency. We were private investigators, of sorts. Reid certainly qualified as one, being a former Marine and cop. I, on the other hand, had been neither.
‘You look like hell,’ said Reid as he manoeuvred the car into almost nonexistent traffic. He took something from his raincoat and tossed it across to me. It was a new cell.
I raised my eyebrows slightly. ‘That was fast.’
He grunted indistinct words and struck a match. ‘What happened?’ The orange glow of a cigarette flared into life, casting shadows under his brow and across his crooked nose.
I transferred the data card from the broken phone into the new one and frowned faintly at the bands of smoke drifting towards me. ‘That’s going to kill you one day.’
‘Just answer the question,’ he said testily.
I looked away from his probing gaze and stared blindly at the dark tower at the end of the avenue. ‘I met up with our new client,’ I muttered.
Reid looked at me expectantly. ‘And?’
‘He wasn’t happy to see me.’
Something in my voice made him frown. ‘How unhappy are we talking here?’ he said guardedly.
I sighed. ‘Well, he stuck a sword through my heart and pushed me off the top of the Cramer building. I would say he was pretty unhappy.’
Silence followed my words. ‘That’s not good,’ said Reid finally.
‘It means we’re not gonna get the money,’ he added, clearly heartbroken by the news of my recent passing.
‘I’m fine by the way. Thanks for asking,’ I said wryly.
He shot a hard glance at me. ‘We need the cash.’
Unpalatable as the statement was, it was regrettably true. Small PI firms like our own had just about managed before the recession. Nowadays, people had more things to worry about than what their cheating spouses were up to. On the other hand, embezzlement cases were up by a third; unfortunately, the victims of such scams were usually too hard up to afford the services of a good detective agency. As a result, the rent on our office space was overdue by a month.
Mrs Trelawney, our landlady, was not happy about this: at five foot two and weighing just over two hundred pounds, the woman had the ability to make us quake in our boots. This had less to do with her size than with the fact that she made the best angel cakes in the city. She gave these out to her tenants when they paid the rent on time. A month without angel cakes was making us twitchy.
‘I think we might still get the goods if you flash your eyes at her,’ said my partner thoughtfully after a while.
I stared at him. ‘Are you pimping me out?’
‘No. You’d be a tough sell,’ he grunted as the car splashed along the empty streets of the city. He glanced my way. ‘This makes it what, your fourteenth death?’
Further silence followed. ‘Huh. So, two more to go,’ he murmured.
I nodded mutely. In many ways, I was glad Hasley had entered my somewhat unnatural life, despite the fact that it happened in such a dramatic fashion. It was ten years ago this summer.
Hasley was a detective in the Boston PD Homicide Unit at the time. One hot Friday afternoon in August, he and his partner of three years found themselves on the trail of a murder suspect, a Latino man called Burt Suarez. Suarez, who worked the toll bridge north-east of the city, had never had so much as a speeding ticket to his name before: he was later described by his neighbours and friends as a gentle giant who cherished his wife and was kind to children and animals. That day, the giant snapped and went on a killing spree after walking in on his wife and his brother in the marital bed. He shot Hasley’s partner, two uniformed cops and the neighbour’s dog, before fleeing towards the river.
Unfortunately, I got in his way.
In my defence, I had not been myself for most of that month, having recently lost someone who had been a friend for more than a hundred years. In short, I was drunk.
On that scorching summer’s day, Burt Suarez achieved something no other human, or non human for that matter, had managed before or since.
He shot me in the head.
Sadly, he did not get to savour this feat as he died minutes after he fired a round through my skull. Hasley still swore to this day that Suarez’s death had more to do with seeing me rise to my feet Lazarus-like again than with the gunshot wound he himself inflicted on the man with his Glock 19.
That had been my fourteenth death. Shortly after witnessing my unnatural resurrection, Hasley quit his job as a detective and became my business partner.
Over the last decade we have trailed unfaithful spouses, tracked down missing persons, performed checks on employees in high profile investment banks, took on surveillance work for attorneys and insurance companies, served process to disgruntled defendants, and even rescued the odd kidnapped pet. Hasley knew more about me than anyone else in the city.
He still carried the Glock.
‘Why did he kill you?’ said Reid. The car had stopped before a set of red lights. ‘Did you do something to piss him off?’ There was a trace of suspicion in his tone.
I grimaced and scratched my head. ‘Broadly speaking, he seemed opposed to my existence,’ I murmured. The rhythmic swishing of the windscreen wipers and the dull hiss of rubber rolling across wet asphalt were the only sounds that broke the ensuing lull. ‘He called me an abomination that should be sent straight to Hell and beyond,’ I added drily and paused. ‘Frankly, I thought that was a bit ironic coming from someone who’s probably not that much older than me.’
Reid crushed the cigarette butt in the ashtray and stared at me with narrowed eyes. ‘You mean, he’s one of you?’
I hesitated before nodding briefly. ‘Yes.’
Over the years, as I came to know and trust him, I had told Reid a little bit about my origins.
I was born in Europe in the middle of the sixteenth century, when the Renaissance was at its peak. My father came from a line of beings known as the Crovirs, while my mother was a descendent of a group called the Bastians. They are the only races of immortals on Earth.
Throughout most of the history of man, the Crovirs and the Bastians have waged a bitter and brutal war against one another. Although enough blood has been shed over the millennia to fill a respectable portion of the Caspian Sea, this unholy battle between immortals has, for the most, remained a well kept secret from the eyes of ordinary humans, despite the fact that the latter have been used as pawns in some of its most epic chapters.
The conflict suffered a severe and unprecedented setback in the fourteenth century, when the numbers of both races dwindled rapidly and dramatically; while the Black Death scourged Europe and Asia, killing millions of humans, the lesser known Red Death shortened the lives of countless immortals. It was several decades before the full extent of the devastation was realised, for the plague had brought with it an unexpected and horrifying complication.
The greater part of those who survived had become infertile.
This struck another blow to both sides and, henceforth, an uneasy truce was established. Although the odd incident still occurs between embittered members of each race, the fragile peace has, surprisingly, lasted to this day. From that time on, the arrival of an immortal child into the world became an event that was celebrated at the highest levels of each society.
My birth was a notable exception. The union between a Crovir and a Bastian was considered an unforgivable sin and was strictly forbidden by both races: ancient and immutable, it was a fact enshrined into the very doctrines and origins of our species. Any offspring of such a coupling was thus deemed an abomination unto all and sentenced to death from the very moment they were conceived. I was not the first born half-breed, both races having secretly mated with each other in the past. However, the two immortal societies wanted me to be the last. Fearing for my existence, my parents fled and took me into hiding.
For a while, life was good. We were far from rich and dwelled in a remote cabin deep in the forest, where we lived off the land, hunting, fishing, and even growing our own food. Twice a year, my father would venture down the mountain to the nearest village, where he traded fur for oil and other rare goods. We were happy and I never wanted for anything.
It was another decade before the Hunters finally tracked us down. That was when I learned one of the most important lessons about immortals.
We can only survive up to sixteen deaths.
Having perished seven times before, my father died after ten deaths: he fought until the very last breath left his body. I watched them kill my mother seventeen times.
I should have died that day. I did, in fact, suffer my very first death. Moments after the act, I awoke on the snow-covered ground, tears frozen on my face and my blood steaming as it stained the whiteness around me. Fingers clenching convulsively around the wooden sword that my father had given me, I waited helplessly for a blade to sink into my heart once more. Minutes passed before I realised that I was alone in that crimson-coloured clearing, high up in the Carpathian Mountains.
The crows came next, silent flocks that descended from the grey winter skies and covered the bloodied bodies next to me. When the birds left, the remains of my parents had disappeared as well. All that was left was ash.
It was much later that another immortal imparted to me the theory behind the seventeen deaths. Each one apparently took away a piece of our soul. Unlike our bodies, our souls could not regenerate after a death. Thus, Death as an ultimate end was unavoidable. And then the crows come for most of us.
No one was really clear as to where the birds took our unearthly remains.
‘What if you lived alone, on a desert island or something, and never met anyone? You could presumably never die,’ Reid had argued with his customary logic when I told him this.
‘True. However, death by boredom is greatly underestimated,’ I replied. ‘Besides,’ I added drily after a pause, ‘someone like you is bound to kill himself after a day without a smoke.’
‘So, the meeting was a trap?’ said Reid.
His voice jolted me back to the present. The car had pulled up in front of my apartment block. The road ahead was deserted.
‘Yes.’ Rain pounded the roof of the Monte Carlo. The sound reminded me of the ricochets of machine guns. Unpleasant memories rose to the surface of my mind. I suppressed them firmly.
‘Will he try to kill you again?’ said Reid. I remained silent. He stared at me. ‘What are you gonna do?’
I finally shifted on the leather seat and reached for the door handle. ‘Well, seeing as you’re likely to drag me back from Hell if I leave you high and dry, I should probably kill him first,’ I said wryly.
I exited the car, crossed the sidewalk and entered the lobby of the building. I turned to watch the tail lights of the Chevrolet disappear in the downpour before getting into the lift. Under normal circumstances, I would have taken the stairs to the tenth floor: dying, I felt, was a justifiable reason to take things easy for the rest of the night.
My apartment was blessedly cool and devoid of immortals hellbent on carving another hole in my heart. I took a shower, dressed the wound in my chest, and went to bed.
About the Author:
AD Starrling was born on the small island nation of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean and came to the UK at the age of twenty to study medicine. After five years of hard graft earning her MD and another five years working all of God’s hours as a Paediatrician, she decided it was time for a change and returned to her first love, writing.
Soul Meaning is her debut novel and the first in a supernatural thriller series entitled Seventeen. She currently lives in Warwickshire in the West Midlands, where she is busy writing the second novel in the series while drinking gallons of tea.
She still practises medicine. AD Starrling is her pen name.