Curio

Curio

by Evangeline Denmark

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Overview

Grey Howard always tried to stay unnoticed.

At least as unnoticed as a tall, strong girl can in a town of diminutive, underdeveloped citizens could be.

She detests the Chemists, the magicians-come-scientists who rule her small western town. But she obediently takes the potion the Chemists ration out—a concoction that is supposed to help her and the rest of the town’s people survive each day.

Then her best friend, Whit, is caught by Chemist enforcers, and Grey feels everything shift inside her. Especially after Whit is severely punished for reasons that go beyond his minor infraction.

Little does Grey know, her growing defiance has a greater meaning. And when her rebellion leads her to the family shop one night, a treaty is accidentally broken. Grey then finds herself transported to a world within an ancient curio cabinet, where the porcelain figures are real, and a strange man known as the Mad Tock beckons to her. To escape, she must find a key—one that could end the Chemist’s dark rule forever.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780310729518
Publisher: Blink
Publication date: 01/10/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 707,369
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 7.80(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 15 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Curio


By Evangeline Denmark

BLINK

Copyright © 2015 Evangeline Denmark
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-310-72966-2


CHAPTER 1

The Chemist came just before closing. Granddad shot Grey a warning look as he hurried to the front of the store. Time to make herself unnoticeable. As if that were possible.

She returned to her work, swiping a cloth over the filmy glass of a curio cabinet shoved against the back wall. A layer of grime coated the inside, but Granddad never opened it for a thorough washing out, and neither did Grey. As she rubbed the surface, she squinted to make out the shapes within. Movement flickered inside the case. She bent closer. It must've been a shadow.

An odd quiet stretched through Haward's Mercantile. Heat shot through the fabric of Grey's blouse and her skin prickled. The newcomer had spotted her. Surely she didn't stand out so much this close to Four Points. All manner of people walked the streets of downtown Mercury City, and more new and exotic folks stepped off the train every morning.

"Your granddaughter, Olan?" The Chemist's voice wrapped around Grey, compelling her to face the man. Late afternoon shadows cloaked his features — all but the pale green flash of his teeth. The face beneath the top hat fixed on her.

"Grey, best to get on home." Granddad moved to stand between her and the black-garbed man.

Maybe the man simply had business with Granddad. After all, Chemist Council equipment in various stages of repair lined one entire wall of the store. Some of the devices ticked, chimed, or emitted occasional puffs of smoke, though she was most anxious to be rid of the instruments that glowed green. But the stranger near the door ignored the machinery and stepped closer to Granddad.

The air zinged with currents that set Grey's teeth on edge. Chemia. And something more than the green magic — animosity. She stiffened, her lower spine pressing into the waist-high cabinet behind her. Grey reached back and grasped the cold metal edge with both hands. Her feet wouldn't budge.

"Go on now." Granddad glanced over his burly shoulder, the crease between his eyebrows the only mark of concern on his unlined face. "Curfew's coming."

Grey pried her fingers from the curio case and ducked into the back room. Haimon hovered like a ghost a few steps from the cutout doorway. She stifled a squeak and shifted her gaze away from Haimon's scars. "Is he here for an order — the Chemist?"

Granddad's assistant shuffled to the doorway, moved the curtain, and peered into the front of the shop. "No, not Adante."

"But Granddad's done nothing wrong. At least nothing they know of, right?" She searched the small room. The table and rug concealing the trapdoor were perfectly in place, though Haimon had no doubt crept up from the laboratory moments ago.

An instant too slowly, Haimon hid a wary expression. "All's well. You'd best get on home before the last boom."

Grey peeked through the door one more time. Granddad stood in his shirtsleeves and leather apron, a giant amongst the rows of shelves and tables loaded with knick-knacks, foodstuffs, appliances, and mining equipment. He didn't need protection from a sixteen-year-old girl no matter how her instincts screamed stay.

"Grey."

She started and twisted to face Haimon.

He tilted his steely head toward the Chemist. "Adante's nothing your granddad and I can't handle. Now go."

A blast echoed down the hills and carried through the city, rattling windows and displacing dust. End of the day shift. She had just over twenty minutes to get home before the deputies swept the streets for curfew breakers.

Grey grabbed her coat from the hook on the wall and struggled into the tight garment. As if the crimson wool didn't call enough attention to her statuesque frame, the fitted bodice emphasized the reason for the color requirement. Female. Untouchable. She fumbled the frog closures over her full chest and dashed out the back door.

Another blast sounded from the hills above Mercury City as Grey darted up the alley, slipped down a gravel path between storefronts, and emerged onto the Colfax Street walkway.

When her boots hit pavement she slowed her stride and checked her surroundings.

Two men five paces ahead on the sidewalk. A group of miners a ways behind. A draulie clanking up the middle of the street. The light from the hydraulic miner's headlamp glinted off his metal suit and the water cannon attached to one arm. Horses shied away from the draulie's heavy tread, and coach drivers and a lone motorist maneuvered out of his path.

Grey shivered as a bitter wind accompanied the next echo down from the mountains. With her arms clamped against her sides, she sped up and called in warning, "Excuse me."

The men in front of her looked around then stepped away, cramming their hands into their coat pockets. Neither met her eyes or gave any indication that her height and frame were unusual. She sighed her relief and rushed by. Outsiders. From the slums of New York maybe. Or Chicago. Crowded cities where immigrants and tenement dwellers believed the propaganda about the gleaming town in the West. Mercury City, Colorado, where property, provisions, medicine, even education for your children could be had in exchange for honest labor in a Chemist mine. They stepped off the train wanting to work and willing to keep Mercury's strange laws if it meant a chance for a different life. And that's what they got, all right.

By the time Grey reached the corner of Colfax Street and Reinbar Avenue, her breath puffed in quick clouds. She stopped and drew in a mouthful of air that burned as it reached her lungs. White steam shrouded the Foothills Quarter Station a few blocks to the north. A mass of dark figures emerged from the vapor, jostling each other in their hurry to get home. One by one they slowed until each miner became a distinct shape. And each one turned his head from side to side, checking alleys and side streets for deputies.

Grey turned south on Reinbar and walked quickly, the long hem of her coat flapping against her stocking-covered calves. Her knee pants didn't keep her legs warm, but at least they allowed for unencumbered movement. From the back she must look like a red column bobbing along the business district.

Another boom jarred her bones just as a miner passed on her right, giving her a wide berth. She snagged her pocket watch and pressed the catch. The fist-shaped cover sprang open, revealing ten minutes until curfew. She could cut five minutes off if she took the alley behind the ration dispensary, but that meant crossing the street ahead of a crowd of weary workers.

The train whistle made up her mind for her. The deputies would start their rounds only minutes after the last car pulled away from the station. She stepped off the curb, one eye on the returning miners and one on her destination across the street.

"Whoa." The miner nearest her flung his arm to the side as if he could hold back the procession. Heads jerked up and murmurs traveled through the crowd.

"I'm sorry." Grey met the marbled blue eyes set deep in a grime-covered face. Blue eyes? Nobody in Foothills Quarter had blue eyes, besides her family and her neighbor. "Whit?"

He frowned and flicked a glance the way she'd come. "Where's your granddad?"

A shout of "Oy! Let's move!" carried from the rear of the company.

"Held up at the shop," Grey muttered. "Chemist."

"So late?" Whit grimaced. With dirt lining the creases of his face, he looked much older than his eighteen years. He smoothed his expression. "Don't worry. Olan's more mountain than man. He'll be fine."

Grey nodded and darted for the other side of the street amidst the grumbling of the shift workers. As soon as she reached the sidewalk, the throng moved on, their measured steps growing faster as dusk and the threat of deputies stalked behind them.

The sound of boots followed her toward the brick-lined alley connecting Reinbar to the Pewter Street hill and the outskirts of town. She folded her arms, shrinking as much as her stature would allow.

"I'll see you home, Grey." Whit's voice rose above the clamor of curfew hour.

She turned and caught him standing in the gutter, scrubbing at his face with his sleeve. He crammed his tweed cap lower on his clump of coal-black hair. He'd only traded his school uniform for miner's clothes a few months ago, but already he'd changed. His limbs looked harder beneath his coat, and muscle thickened the slope of his neck where it met his shoulder. He straightened, and she could make out the arrow shape of his almost-filled-out chest and lean torso. An ache lodged in her chest and she shook her head. "I'll slow you down. You've seen your Stripe and passed it."

His frank gaze skimmed her. "And you're not far from it."

Her cheeks warmed. "I'm not yet seventeen, as you well know, Whitland Bryacre. If I get caught, they'll just turn me over to my parents for discipline. But you ..."

Beneath the remaining dirt, the color drained from Whit's face. "Best we hurry, then."

He slipped by her into the alley papered with adverts and Chemist flyers. He turned to stroll backward, his smile gleaming in the swift dusk. "It's not against the law to take a shortcut."

Grey's gut twisted. She shouldn't let him do this. They weren't walking home from school, safe in their Council School uniforms. Whit was an adult now. And she was practically a walking sandwich board bearing the slogan Keep Away. But he'd offered to escort her and he wouldn't back out now. The best she could do was hurry and hope they both reached their homes before six o'clock.

"All right, but if you didn't live next door, I'd be refusing the offer." With a glance over her shoulder, Grey followed him into the alley. He shoved his hands into his pockets, and she picked her way over the uneven ground, staying a careful three paces behind.

The thrum of an engine began low and quiet, but it lodged in Grey's chest, sending ice through her veins. Whit melted into the shadows ahead, and she shrank into the space between the wall and a large rubbish bin.

The drone of the chug boat grew louder. Deputies.

She ducked and wedged farther into the corner, covering the beacon of her blonde hair with her arms. A protruding metal seam on the bin dug into her shoulder, but she didn't dare shift position.

Sharp wind lifted the hem of Grey's coat and bit through her stockings. The muscles in her thighs stiffened.

The quick scuffle of his shoes and a muffled wheeze gave away Whit's presence. He'd taken a spot on the other side of the rubbish bin. "Grey?" The worry in his voice coaxed a spark in her belly.

"I'm here," she answered. "You should go. I'll stay out of sight till they pass."

No answer came. Neither did the sound of his retreat. The hum of the chug boat vibrated through Grey's bones and sent spasms up her neck.

"Sounds like they're a block away," Whit whispered. "What can you see?"

She inched her head up. The slice of street behind them was clear. She eased her way toward the mouth of the alley, keeping her back to the brick wall behind her. A beam of light cut through the dusk, illuminating a group of deputies in long dusters with wisps of green vapor trailing up from their face masks. They stalked from Colfax onto Reinbar, their clotters drawn and crackling with energy. Behind the men a dark craft floated low on an emerald cloud of steam. Black pennants with the spiky Chemist Council emblem fluttered from a mast on the boxy wheelhouse, and more deputies clung to pipes and handrails sprouting from the deck, their attention fixed on something out of sight.

Relief mixed with a sick feeling. "They're tracking someone." She and Whit could get away, but some poor soul was bound for a punishment facility tonight.

"Can you see who they're after?"

Snarls and frenzied barking answered his question. The men in the street scrambled into a half circle that tightened with each cautious step. So they weren't hunting a curfew breaker but a pack of animals. Probably coywolves, hungry and desperate this time of year.

Grey crept back to her hiding spot. On the other side of the bin, Whit drew in a ragged breath. She pictured his chest rising and falling. Her pulse quickened and she squelched the image. Shortcuts weren't against the law, but her thoughts about the boy next door might be. "Fraternization between unmarried males and females," the Council called it, or "indecent contact."

Whit's face appeared around the bin, his blue eyes searching for her in the shadows. When he spied her, his shoulders dropped and he released a pent-up sigh. She straightened from her crouch, and gestured toward the section of street visible from the alley. "I think they have the pack cornered."

Whit stole a foot closer to the building's edge. He kept his knees bent and his body poised to run. His jaw clenched, erasing all traces of his easy smile. The shadow of stubble on his chin was thicker than it had been two months ago. What would it be like to slide a finger along his cheek?

She buried her dangerous curiosity as frantic yelps filled the air, underscored by the deputies' shouts. The rumble of the chug boat engine deepened. Whit's eyes snapped to hers.

"A second patrol," he whispered.

She lurched toward him. "You've got to run for it. Get home."

He stared at her, motionless.

"Go. I'll be right behind you."

Whit scanned her face again then his mouth tightened and he nodded once. "I'll watch for you."

He darted down the alley, but Grey hovered between a squat and a spring, her muscles tight. If Whit was caught out after curfew, they'd stripe him for sure. She had to give him a head start. She imagined him already safe in his home, watching from the window as she dashed to her front door, coywolves and deputies on her heels. The image gave her courage — Whit's angular face, his black hair falling in his eyes, ropey arms crossed over his chest. And a wall between him and the Council's deputies.

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. She scooted around the bin. Whit was nowhere in sight.

A shout and a growl sent cold iron through her limbs. Running footsteps, snarls, and a human cry of pain followed.

Grey took a step, but a silhouette in her periphery set her nerves skittering. One glance over her shoulder and the hope of escape evaporated. She whirled to face the threat creeping into the alley.

The coywolf wasn't huge. But his yellow eyes tracked her every move. Matted fur clung to the outline of his ribs, and saliva dripped from his mouth as he advanced. Starving and rabid.

Grey stumbled backward. Where was the patrol now? With Whit safely away, she'd welcome the sight of armed men.

More growls and yelps sounded from Reinbar Avenue along with the clipped tones of deputies fighting off the pack. The coywolf slunk toward Grey, separating her from the mouth of the alley and her only hope of safety.

She took another step backward into the shadow of the buildings. Pain sliced the back of her calf. Her flailing hand met a jagged surface, and she crashed into a stack of pallets behind the ration dispensary.

She braced a bloody palm on the brick wall and pushed to her feet. Eyes locked on the nearing teeth, she scrambled around the pallets. Warm blood seeped down her leg and glued her stockings to her skin.

The animal lunged, teeth snapping an inch from her leg. He charged again, but something hit Grey from behind.

She struggled as her body was swept into jostling motion. Her limbs bounced to the rhythm of panicked steps. Whit. She clenched the fabric of his shirt. The muscles in his shoulders bunched beneath her arms as he ran, carrying her.

"What are you doing? Put me down."

He spoke between gasps. "You're bleeding."

"It's not bad. Put me down, Whit, they'll take you."

"That wolf ... will take ... you."

Grey peered back into the alley. The coywolf gained on them. Whit faltered. She was equal to him in height and almost in weight thanks to her father's genes. Lugging her, he'd never outrun the animal. Grey thrashed against his chest, her wounded hands sliding over his sweat-slicked neck.

"Put me down, Whit. Please."

A heavy whirring sound preceded the blinding green light by a millisecond. Grey's heart seized.

"Drop me," she breathed in Whit's ear.

He halted but kept his grip on her.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Curio by Evangeline Denmark. Copyright © 2015 Evangeline Denmark. Excerpted by permission of BLINK.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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