|The Artifact of Foex by James L. Wolf|
When Chet, a graduate student of archaeology, is invited to show a gorgeous woman named Journey around their summer dig site, he has no idea what he’s in for. For one thing Journey isn’t a woman: she’s Flame, one of the reviled, shape shifting, gender-fluctuating people of Uos. Then Journey uncovers a deadly secret in the dust. Chet must run to keep up with spies, murder, long-lost magic, and a romantic dream embodied by a 332 year old man who holds the key to absolute power on the world of Uos. (Other, M/F, M/M)
Chet realized he was shaking. Hard as he looked, he couldn’t see it anymore. Would he ever get another chance to see Rory again?
Knife sighed and sauntered back toward the hotel. He wasn’t going fast enough to lose Chet, yet there was something about his body language that was chilling. Repellent. Chet followed him, rubbing his arms, cold from the inside out. He knew only one thing: Knife had lied, earlier. Rory had said Pelin couldn’t do something, and Chet assumed that meant she couldn’t destroy the Raptus. Why had Knife lied?
“I don’t suppose you want to tell me what that was all about.” Chet’s tone sounded whiny even in his own ears.
“Not particularly, no,” Knife said pleasantly. He opened the hotel doors for Chet, ushering him inside. “You ran out of the room without your key, didn’t you?”
Chet had. He scowled, feeling like a child caught sneaking after bedtime. “I still don’t see what my girlfriend has to do with any of this.”
“You mean your ex?” Knife still appeared calm, but a slight sharpness had crept into his voice.
Chet hadn’t told him or Journey about their relationship. Had Rory said something? Abyss, his whole life had turned upside down. He had no control over where they went next… where were they going, anyway? Knife had spoken of Flame Council members scattered across the world.
“So, where do we go now?” Chet said as they started up the stairs. At a leisurely pace, no less.
Knife turned and, without warning, slammed Chet into the wall. Chet yelped—then his air was cut off. Knife held him by the throat in a secure manner. It felt like a practiced move. Chet’s body was supported, his weight distributed evenly, yet he was unable to defend himself or breathe.
“You will say nothing of what you just heard. Do you understand?”
Chet nodded frantically as best he could. He was held a moment longer—long enough to understand he wasn’t in control—then released. Chet crumpled over, coughing and gasping, tears running down his face.
“You may have been sheltered all your life, but this isn’t a game. Time to grow up, Chet Baikson.”
“Abyss! Why on Uos…” Chet looked up with watering eyes as he felt for bruises on his neck.
Knife turned and started up the stairs; Chet realized he had to follow. The Raptus made it so. It had changed everything. Still, Chet couldn’t help bucking at the enforced order of silence. “What if I do say something?”
Knife paused and Chet tensed. He turned slowly and Chet scrambled away, but not too far. He couldn’t go far on the invisible leash. Knife finally smiled. “I was under the impression you’re a smart guy, Chet.”
There was a long pause. Very long. Chet could feel his face growing hot. “Um. I like to think so.”
Knife nodded. “Just so.” He turned away again.
This time Chet followed without the backtalk. But he couldn’t help asking while Knife was keying their way into the hotel room, “So where are we going?”
“We need to find Oak, the first Flame Council member on our list.” Knife kept his voice down, but he was by no means whispering.
Chet glanced around the hotel room. The lights were off, but the curtains were pulled back from the glass doors, letting in the glow of streetlights. Alas, it was too cloudy for Elderbeth—the enormous gas giant which Uos followed doggedly in her orbit around the sun—to lend more light. Nevertheless, he could see Journey was awake, sitting cross legged on the bed. Fenimore still seemed to be asleep. Or at least he was snoring.
“Where would we find Oak, then? Maansterdam? Plainsdaugheau? Some Pantheon forsaken island? The arctic circle?”
“We go to Semaphore University. Your university.”
Chet shot him an incredulous look. “There are no Flame at Semaphore.”
Journey smiled at Chet and extended a hand. “Come to bed, sweetie. Tomorrow may be a long day.”
Chet stared at her, his stomach sinking. The Flame wouldn’t explain—they were definitely in on this together—and he had to go along anyway. Whether he wanted to or not.