The Masterby Melanie Jackson
Long ago the hobgoblin Qasim was turned to darkness, was made a master of evil. His newest plot is a sacrifice of unspeakable horror that will mean full-fledged war between all species. There exists hope to fight back. Nicholas Anthony, an ER doctor, doesn’t know of his own fey blood, or that others of his kind are massing in the Nevada desert. Alienated from himself, he is a man about to discover his destiny. Magic will draw Nick to his true self—and to Zee, an enchanting beauty with dark secrets yet to be revealed. To these two is entrusted the fate of the world, their kind, and salvation from THE MASTER.
- Montlake Romance
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- 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)
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By Melanie Jackson
Dorchester PublishingCopyright © 2004 Dorchester Publishing
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDec. 20th
Qasim's face twitched. It still hurt, but the surgery in New Orleans had been largely successful. There were just a few sutures in his mouth holding his skin together at the place where his tusks had been removed by a now dead oral surgeon. Contacts hid his eyes, though they were still an unpleasant shade of grey that resembled the smoke from burning tires, and he'd learned how to roll his tongue up so it didn't show when he spoke. Really, in spite of the pallor that belonged on someone in a crack house-and his size-he looked quite respectable. He could be any exceptionally muscular man involved in a near-fatal car crash and then stuck in a hospital for months recovering in darkness.
Still, the Christmas crowds tended to part around him, as though the sheep of commerce somehow sensed-in spite of his brightly colored shopping bag from Cherries Galore clasped in his now five-fingered hand-that he was not truly one of them. He had actually terrified the clerk in the fruit shop into trembling speechlessness. The boy would probably have to send his uniform to the cleaners after work. It had been an accidental revelation, a moment of unusual discernment on the young man's part when he had looked at Qasim's unguarded eyes and seen the true monster that dwelled there behind the colored plastic lens. It was potentially inconvenient, too, though it was good to know that he could still strike bolts of terror into the human heart without even trying. There would be time to put such fear to use. Still, if the boy talked, he would have to be taken care of, and Qasim would rather not have the police around fussing over a body. That would make everyone extra watchful and fearful.
Fear ... it had its uses, but it was overused as a tool in human civilization. Politicians routinely used the populace's alarm to turn them into a unified voting block that could be guided to key choices-that were always beneficial to society, of course. At least beneficial to the politicians' society.
Advertisers used low-grade fear, too, and quite effectively: dandruff, facial lines, body odor, bad breath, gum disease, flared or peg-leg jeans. It was universal, this insidious installation of concern about one's health and appearance. It made the human populace so predictable and dull.
Qasim stood still, eavesdropping on the thoughts around him. Yes, mild but chronic fear and worry. It was everywhere. Just as it should be. The sheep suspected nothing. They didn't know that death walked among them. They just milled about, row upon column upon regiments-human clots of worried eyes and troubled brains, looking at watches, looking at their children, mostly looking at the masses that stood between them and the throne where the fake Santa Claus held court. When there was nothing else to stare at, they gazed into the eyes of the mechanical snowmen who shoveled fake snow at the outskirts of the North Pole while they grazed on pretzels and popcorn. The snowmen ignored them, as machines almost always did, but that didn't stop them from staring raptly.
Qasim didn't understand the fascination that human had for machines-except guns. Those were useful and had no brains of their own. He didn't like complex electronic devices. From cars to computers to compact disc players, they had to be constantly coddled because they were only semi-predictable in their behavior. And you couldn't terrorize or cajole them into cooperation. Curse and threaten as he would, cars stalled for no reason when he was in them. Computers sometimes decided that routine functions were suddenly 'illegal operations' and would shut him down. And CD players invariably skipped his favorite tracks of music, even when he programmed them carefully. Hitting the machines didn't help either-especially not computers. Those semi-thinking apparatuses enraged him most of all because, though they pretended to give him what he asked for, it was almost never what he wanted or needed. Even the porn they supplied was sub-standard. He was sure that they laughed at him.
He knew they did this to humans, too, but people kept right on confiding in them, trusting them with all their secrets-even their taxes, where they told the biggest lies of their lives. This blind trust of something not of their kind baffled him. Humans, they made no sense.
Qasim actually sighed. His mood was odd. He was half-gleeful and half-sad. Qasim looked at the people near him and felt aggravated. Humans-what a pitiful army they would make. They had so many self-imposed limits on their world. Listening to those around him, he had the sense that the entire nation was suffering from ennui brought on by nervous exhaustion about the state of their personal appearance and finances. They couldn't seem to get beyond the perceived limits of their lives-their mental and physical flabbiness, or the limits on their credit cards. It was as if their imaginations-even their souls-were limited by worries about money and how fat they were. And in debt monetarily, feeling starved-and yet getting fatter every day, especially when they compared themselves to the anorexic heroin addicts advertisers insisted were the pinnacle of human beauty-they had run up a creative and spiritual imbalance as well.
Most didn't think. They didn't imagine. They just worried and drank and joined twelve-step programs, and then took prescription drugs to help with the drinking-which further addicted them and so they joined more twelve-step programs. Soon they needed new twelve-steps to get out of the first twelve-steps. And seeing no end to their debts or addictions-or their growing waistlines-they continued to try to buy what happiness they could afford on their impoverished budgets, filling up their lives with useless toys that they paid for in installments with hellacious interest charges that stretched out to the ends of their lives.
Disgusted, Qasim stopped listening. Their tedium was contagious. That was a hazard of having a really long life when you were alone. You had to keep busy, needed your passions to keep the boredom at bay. Revenge was a good one. It kept the blood hot and the mind focused. This was important. He knew his failings, that at times his mind was a voracious monster. If it didn't find occupation it would begin to consume itself.
Feeling the concentration of sparkling power that had called him there in the first place, Qasim finally turned toward the electric wonderland that was the heart of the shopping mall. Children's thoughts were always the purest, the best source of energy-and so easy to sip from. He'd always loved the young ones. And everyone had heard the saying about how you are what you eat. Qasim couldn't play mind games with the fey, who would make the best meal, but humans were easy and available.
O come all ye faithful, he thought, watching the masses line up ever deeper before the throne where the surrogate saint in the red suit presided. Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, Kris Kringle-he was America's only patron saint-not recognized by any church, but acclaimed and worshipped by the will of the empty mall-people. He wondered how Kris would feel about that. He'd probably hate the way the commercial interests had hijacked the holiday. Not that the elf had anything to say about it now. He had been missing and presumed dead for more than a century. It happened to a lot of the goblins' enemies.
Qasim pushed the thought of Kris Kringle aside and opened up his mind just a little and began drinking in the children's tiny dreams, nibbling away at their innocent souls. He shut his mind against the adults' mental pollution which might ruin his quick-energy snack and instead concentrated on the youthful excitement that welled up in these small bodies. He'd get to the adults soon enough. Maybe he'd start with that neurotically feminine creature dressed up like a parody of a sex goddess from the twenties. He could tell that she was terrified of aging. Such terror was bitter and filling. Or maybe he'd try the man beside her who had lifted weights until his bulky shoulders impeded his small head's movement. Men usually distorted themselves that way because secretly they were frightened of being weak. That was good. He'd gorge on their hidden fears shortly-this was just a sweet appetizer.
Qasim quickly grew light-headed, his thoughts slightly less coherent, though his tirade never entirely stopped.
Let the politicians have the triumphs of their petty fears-those chronic aggravations of the masses that were like an attack of dry scalp; annoying but not deadly to the sufferers. Not a as rule. He wasn't going to do anything so mundane as fret the masses; he was going to horrify them. They would know soul-shattering fear. It was time for those treacherous lutins to pay for everything they had done to him-to all his people-and human kind was the tool he had chosen to carry out his revenge. Just like human credit-card debt, the Lutins would pay on an installment plan. With interest. Forever. Or at least until they were all dead. And it would happen in the new year. As the commercial said-it was an idea whose time had come.
He had thought once to use his daughter for revenge, to guide her and her fey friends into an attack on the lutin empire, but he had another plan now. A better one. He could have arranged for a slow campaign of tiny terrorisms to bring the humans around to doing his will. But they reacted so much more predictable and cohesively-not to mention swiftly-when they were simultaneously horrified and enraged. Fifty or hundred years ago, he would have arranged for the rape of some respected woman-or women-by a hapless goblin to get people up in arms. But these days, no one would care about such an assault. Not enough. But even mall-people still reacted very satisfactorily when their children were in jeopardy.
Once the humans discovered the horrifying evidence of the lutins' massive child-stealing ring, most would react swiftly and terribly against the hives though there would be much official outcry and protests from the pacifists. There would be exceptions of course. There were aberrant humans. For some twisted beings, this would be as much fun as an auto-da-fe, as good as a public hanging. But such monsters were a minority and easily consumed. Most humans would move heaven and earth-and goblin hives-to save, or in this case, to avenge those stolen children. But even they would not really understand. It wasn't murder he planned; it was sacrifice. He wasn't killing for fun-it was death with a holy purpose. It was about power. The children would die to start a holy war-one long overdue-and it would cleanse the United States of goblins.
And in the aftermath, the hobgoblins would rise. They would feed on the energy of the great death from the children's sacrifice. And finally-finally-they would be free.
It would be wonderful-the brave new world he had always dreamed of. And to think that he owed this plan to his half-human daughter, Nyssa, and her husband, Abrial Nightdemon. In an effort to escape a goblin trap laid for them, his daughter and son-in-law had enlisted the aid of Abrial's dead uncle, The Pied Piper of Hamelin. Dear Uncle Farrar and his magic pipes had planted the seeds in his mind that germinated into this splendid idea.
"So merry Christmas to you all," Qasim whispered in his thick voice. "I'm afraid it will be your last."
A new ripple of energy passed through the crowd. Santa was getting up from his throne and a choir-surely composed of hard of hearing spastics-had closed in and begun caroling, competing obnoxiously with the mall's piped in music. Cacophonous, off-key and off-beat-he loved the din. Still, it was time to go. He had people to kill, wars to plan, Santa suits to steal.
Excerpted from The Master by Melanie Jackson Copyright © 2004 by Dorchester Publishing. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Melanie Jackson and her husband, also a writer, live in the California Gold Country. She is a two-time nominee for the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award. She was also a finalist for the 2004 Romantic Times Career Achievement Award in the category of Contemporary New Reality. Her fluid, evocative style and compelling characters and action have helped her develop a devoted following. Jackson published over 20 titles with Dorchester.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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As the author recommends and so do I do read these books in the order written. I do like the beginning of the book reading about all the silly things people do to themselves during the holiday season and end up in the emergency room. I enjoy this series and the world that the author has created I do wish that the author would do a little more character developement about two thirds of the way into the novel. I hope that we will find out about Nick's sister and her children. This series is definitely the authors best work.
Rather weak offering in this engaging series but still an ok read. I actually found the villian more appealing that the hero! Character development was not as good as usual in this one. You simply never got to know Nick and Zee well enough to care much about them. The most interesting parts of this book for me were the references to the characters from previous stories. If you have never read a book in this series, do not start with this one. Either begin with The Traveler, first in the series, or Still Life, which is my personal favorite.
Dr. Nicholas Anthony isn't quite as bad as Ebeneezer Scrooge, but he's seen enough stupidity, commercialism, and pain intensified by Christmas to be rather apathetic towards the holidays. Then, he finds himself in an abandoned cabin with Zee, a lovely woman who is half fey, half goblin, and her two young siblings over Christmas. She awakens feelings in Nick he didn't know he had, drawing him into her quest to stop Quasim from sacrificing countless numbers of children to darkness. Nick also learns that he has fey blood himself. Over the hours they spend together, Nick and Zee discover each other's worlds, each awed by the newness. They are joined by the heroes and heroines of previous Lutin books for a battle filled with danger and surprises. ............................... ***** The early scenes describing some of the whacky Christmas emergencies that Nick encounters are laugh out loud funny. Many of us can identify with Nick's tiredness of the Christmas hype, and the way he finds his way to the true heart of the season brings joy and hope. This book has one of the most uplifting endings of any novel this year at least. *****
Qasim the hobgoblin has come up with an ingenious plan to free his peers. All he needs is several hundred human children to die. To attract the kids to him, this Pied Piper intends to pose as Santa at the mall. --- At about the same time that Qasim begins implementation of his brilliant strategy, hybrid (human, Fey, and Goblin) Zee Finvarra flees with her two younger siblings from her Goblin kin. She recognizes the disguised Qasim and knows he cannot be up to anything good. However, a nasty ice storm created by her relatives pursuing her detains her from warning anyone. Dr. Nicholas Anthony is also caught by the sudden storm. He ends up sharing a cabin with the stranded Zee. Though a non-believer, he willingly risks his life to keep the Finvarra siblings safe from creatures that just cannot exist as a confrontation between good and evil is about to occur on a Nevada desert. --- No one does romantic fantasy better than Melanie Jackson does (see TRAVELER, DOMINION, and THE COURIER). Her latest thriller is another winner as readers will root for the lead couple to defeat the vile villain (as nasty a malevolence as fans will find) and make it with one another. Especially interesting is the metamorphosis of Nicholas from non-believer to doubter to convert as he learns there are plenty of mysteries under the heavens including his own bloodline. Ms. Jackson is at her masterful best with this exciting tale. ---Harriet Klausner