by Addison Lane
Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest 2012: Second Round Young Adult Fiction
Fergus Irvine is a hybrid–a human who shares his body with a fairy’s soul. Like other hybrids in the human-governed metropolis of New Peiling, his life seems stuck on okay-at-best—but that all changes the day he returns to his apartment to find his best friend Flynn dead. Unable to accept that Flynn would kill himself, Fergus decides he must find out for himself what really happened.
He must survive arson, anti-hybrid vigilantes, airship crashes, ravenous fairies, and his catty kind-of-girlfriend to peel back the layers of lies and find the truth about Flynn… and himself.
“The plot is well done, it's hard to put the book down because there's always something new and unexpected going on. You never know how things are going to turn, what decision characters will take, and the author keeps surprising you with things you never saw coming.”
“New Peiling is a dystopic futuristic steampunk world unlike anything that has been introduced into the genre before, full of rollicking airship rides, occult magic shops, a highly sophisticated political and social climate, and a gritty underground music scene to boot!”
“It takes a talented writer to be able to neatly intertwine the material world with the mental world of their protagonists as much as Addison Lane does.”
An airship slowly cut through the sky from the east. Now and then, it disappeared behind wisps of clouds as the late morning breeze pushed last night's storm out to ocean. It was the noon air ferry from Lancaster. Fergus Irvine had never been to Lancaster before; he'd never been further than the water ringing New Peiling. He leaned back, bobbing on the waves, and watched as the airship was momentarily obscured by the towering, craggy silhouette of the city, stretching up so far into the clouds that he couldn't even see the white buildings at the top.
The water drew him closer to the rocky shoreline, but he wasn't worried, because due to the tiny island that housed the airship docks, this particular strip of ocean wasn't dangerous. He'd been coming here to swim since he was a small child, and he'd swum in much more challenging areas around the city, too. Even if there was a storm, water wasn't such a big threat to a hybrid with a kelpie spirit.
"Fergus, could you please come on already? I have to go to class."
He righted himself to see a dark-haired young man on the shore. Flynn pushed his black ringlets out of his face and scowled.
"Just go by yourself. I swear, Lady Gemini isn't gonna eat you," Fergus called.
Flynn, however, either didn't hear him, or he didn't want to hear that answer, because he didn't reply. Sighing, Fergus began to swim for the rocks, scrambling up onto the path between them.
"Turn around," he instructed, picking up the threadbare towel he'd brought along and doing his best to dry off before pulling on the jeans and jumper laying over a nearby rock. They were wet from the spindrift, but he was damp from the shabby towel. At least, he thought, it was late spring, so once the sun came out, he'd be all right. He scrubbed at his messy brown hair and then shook his head, sending drops everywhere.
"Watch it," Flynn said, holding up his hands to block the errant splatters.
Fergus snorted. "Whatever. Like a little salt water'd kill you."
"You never know," Flynn said, tucking his hands into his pockets and pulling out a copper watch. "Jeez, I've only got 20 minutes."
"You'll make it," Fergus said and began picking his way up the path towards the docks. "You gotta get over this old lady phobia."
"But you know she's right 90% of the time. Remember what happened last time?"
"When she said that Sarah girl was gonna dump you?"
"And then she did half an hour later. Just like that."
Fergus shook his head, glancing over his shoulder at his roommate and best friend. "Weren't you having problems already? Seems like a coincidence to me."
"Yeah, well, I don't like the kind of coincidences she heralds."
Fergus sighed. Flynn had been afraid of going to the marketplace alone for nearly a year now, ever since he'd had a run in with Lady Gemini. Lady Gemini was a seer of no small talent. She was very good at picking out the exact type of fairy-soul a hybrid might be sharing for those who couldn't work it out on their own, but few wanted her to say more than that. This was due to the fact that she was a hybrid with a banshee soul, which meant that her predictions were eerily accurate and mostly dire.
Though Fergus brushed off Flynn's paranoia about running into her, he had to admit, she was known as the best fortuneteller in New Peiling for a reason. He'd rather not have her running into him, eyes rolled back into her head, weird scar stretching her face, and spouting out doom and gloom. He'd long since decided that he was just going to run if she ever started stumbling his way. He wasn't sure why Flynn couldn't adopt the same plan, but ever since that fateful day, he wouldn't go near the docks without Fergus at his side.
The dockside marketplace was probably the only really good thing about lower New Peiling. The rest of the area was made up of slums cobbled together out of the remains of buildings that had once stood in direct sunlight before the Cataclysm. Now, though, they were just the rotting remains of another time, kept in the dark nearly 24 hours of the day and shouldering the layers of the city above. Unsurprisingly, nearly all of the hybrids made their homes in the lower city. Most humans avoided it as a result, but since the docks housed the ferry that went to the airship port, it was the city's entry point for supplies, which meant that the fruits, vegetables, fish, and meats sold there were the freshest in the city. It was enough to make the denizens of the upper city brave the admittedly dubious express lift and the hybrids.
On a Thursday morning, it wasn't very busy. Fergus tucked his hands in his jeans, watching Flynn look around for the gnarled form of the old fortuneteller before going over to inspect a pile of carrots. He stifled a yawn, turning back to the sky. The airship was a little larger on the horizon, which meant that it would soon be noon, and he'd be due at the Magpie to tell Felix that this would be his last afternoon of washing dishes and clearing tables. He was a little sorry to be giving his resignation.
Felix was a great boss. He employed a number of the homeless kids around lower New Peiling, giving them wages that he probably couldn't afford, along with a meal a day to keep them from starving. If Fergus believed in saints, he might have thought Felix was one. But now things were picking up with his band, Everyday Resources. They were getting more gigs, and though the gigs didn't pay exceptionally well – especially when split four ways – it was almost as much as he made at the Magpie, and he figured he'd been there long enough. It was time for some other hungry soul to get a chance to eat.
Besides, he also had his job as shop keep at Beathag's, the number one magic shop in all of New Peiling. Fergus had been working both at Beathag's and the Magpie for a few years now, ever since his mother had disappeared. He'd lived with her in the apartment he and Flynn now occupied until one day, four years ago, he'd returned from school to find her gone. She'd also been a hybrid with a kelpie soul. Maybe there was something wrong with her fairy-soul, but she wasn't easy to deal with on the best of days, and in the last few years before she left, she frequently erupted into fits of violence. When he found her gone, he wasn't entirely surprised. He'd dropped out of high school shortly thereafter. That was when Felix and Ursula (the owner of Beathag's) had taken pity on him and given him jobs. Even with their help, without Flynn, he never would have made it.
He'd met Flynn not long after his mother had abandoned him. Actually, he'd found Flynn sleeping on the stoop of his apartment, so he'd invited him in for the night, and he just never left. Together, the two of them managed to pull together enough for rent and food. Fergus wasn't entirely sure where Flynn worked, but he thought it might be an apothecary near one of the universities of magic, which worked out, since Flynn was enrolled as a part-time student there. Besides the markets, the magical universities were the only things in lower New Peiling that rivaled the offerings of the upper layers. Luckily, they were also free. Fergus had no head for magic, though, and he hadn't finished high school, but he did enjoy watching Flynn work on his potions and spells.
The only magic that Fergus knew was music, and it was the only thing that got him through some days. He spent a lot of time at Beathag's jotting down lyrics on pieces of napkin, though his favorite place in the city to write was in upper New Peiling, in Erstwyre Park. It took nearly an hour on the lifts to get to the top, and though his mother had brought him there a lot as a child, as he'd grown and begun to show signs of being a hybrid, he'd begun to feel anxious about visiting. The cops were always on the look out for anyone who seemed like they might be from the lower city, and they were all too happy to come up with phony misdemeanors to ban that person from ever stepping foot on the top layer again.
Fergus visited the park more than most hybrids. He was a fan of sunlight and fresh air, which were in short supply in the slums. It wasn't as often as he would have liked, however.
"Aren't you going to get anything?" Flynn asked, returning with a small paper bag in his arms.
Fergus shook his head. "Nah, I won't have enough until after tomorrow's gig. I mean, I'm kinda short on rent this month anyway."
"That's okay. I just got paid, so we should be good," Flynn said, digging an apple out of the bag and rubbing it on his sweater. "Want one?"
Fergus wrinkled his nose.
"Carnivore." Flynn took a bite of the apple and began to walk towards the city.
"Are you gonna come?" Fergus asked, falling into step beside him.
"Curse your silver tongue," Flynn said around a mouthful of apple. "Okay, I'll double try, but I've got a study group thing tomorrow evening, so I'll have to come after that."
They left the daylight behind, walking deeper into the labyrinthine streets of lower New Peiling. A curious mix of Victorian style street lamps and neon signs lit the streets. That was not all that illuminated the buried heart of the city. Here strange, magical things grew. Dimly glowing toadstools protruded from the sides of buildings, and patches of luminescent fungi peeked from the cracks of the walks. Soon the buildings turned into a cobbled collection of apartments built around and upon the remains of a dead city. Dried, ancient ivy clung to the walls, and romantic tumbles of decaying brick drifted into the streets. Tattered signs cropped up here and there with newer directions affixed to them.
They passed an abandoned building, smashed up between two newer apartment complexes, and Fergus thought he could see a rotting curtain flutter: drifters, willing to risk the roof caving in for a free night of shelter.
Fergus and Flynn also lived in an apartment constructed on the remains of an older building. The original architecture was damaged, leaving lions without snouts and the imprints of what might have been curling flowers and vines. It had been made of pale stone – perhaps some sort of public hall – but it had been cut down to only half its size in the Cataclysm. Two brick buildings now rested on the remains of its foundation. A fragment of the original wall was visible within the entryway and even within their living room, and though badly damaged on the outside, the inner sculptures were still mainly intact.
Fergus took one big step and cleared the stoop, opening the door for Flynn and following him up the stairs. They stepped over their old neighbor, who was where they'd left him that morning - half-drunk and half-conscious, draped across the stairway.
"You should get to your real bed, Mr. Farrier," Flynn called from the top of the stairs.
Mr. Farrier let out a loud snore.
Fergus took the rest of the steps two at a time and passed Flynn, walking up to the door and pulling out an antique key. He jangled it around in the lock for a couple of minutes until he felt it catch and give, and then he pushed the door open, ushering Flynn through.
The apartment was dark. He fumbled around in his jeans pocket for a match to light the lantern beside the door and, having shed light over the interior, shut and locked it. He could hear music coming from the apartment above and Flynn opening cabinets in the kitchen. Next to the kitchen door was a dimly glowing fish tank. He paused next to it and gave it a tap, peering in at two clownfish and three angelfish. None of the angelfish had names, but the smaller clownfish was called "Toby." Fergus gave the tank another tap, but as expected, Toby ignored him.
"Did you already feed them?"
"Yeah, of course," Flynn replied.
Fergus continued into the kitchen and opened the icebox, pulling out a nearly empty bottle of milk and giving it a discriminating sniff before tilting it back and taking a swig.
"You didn't buy milk, did you?" he asked.
Flynn shook his head.
"I'll get some tomorrow night on the way home." He put the rest of the milk back. He felt a little disappointed that Flynn hadn't bought any. Milk was pretty expensive; it would eat a considerable chunk of tomorrow's earnings. "Too bad we can't just live on beer."
Flynn gave a little snort. "Yeah, remember when we tried that? But hey, maybe Ursula will give you a little bonus if you sweet talk her."
"Yeah, 'sweet talk,'" Fergus muttered. "We'll see what kind of mood she's in."
Ursula had owned and operated Beathag's for as long as Fergus could recall, and before she'd hired him, she'd done it all by herself. He wasn't sure how old she was, but she looked like she was in her late 20s. It was a mystery to him just how she'd gotten on before him, because she had the obnoxious habit of answering questions with questions and possessed no sales persona to speak of. She did, however, possess other gifts, which she sometimes bestowed on him in the supply closet before handing him a little extra and sending him home, but Fergus had learned early on that these "bonuses" weren't something he could rely on.
Ursula's moods changed by the hour, and most of what she did was on a whim. It certainly wouldn't trouble him if she was in that mood, but he thought he should consider other means of obtaining cash.
"You should wear that blue t-shirt. You look good in it. Matches your eyes."
Fergus gave Flynn a little shove. "Would you shut up?"
"Fine, fine, fine," Flynn replied, holding his hands up.
"And wipe that stupid grin off your face. Aren't you supposed to be at class?"
"Oh, damn! Right!" he exclaimed, accidentally banging a cabinet door shut. "I may be out late."
"Okay," Fergus replied with a shrug, stepping back to let Flynn rush past. "See you whenever, then."
He barely caught sight of Flynn as he hurried out the door. He paused in the kitchen door and turned to the tank of fish.
"He's always got somewhere to be, huh? Guess I do, too."
The door to his room was hanging open, towel draped over the top. He only shut it when he was sleeping. Flynn's door was shut, though, as usual. Fergus already knew what lay beyond: a room much tidier than his own. The bathroom was across from Flynn's room. Fergus stepped inside and kicked the door closed before going about forcing the rickety old pipes to drudge up some warm water. This effort alone – the twisting and jerking and fiddling – could take up to five minutes. Several people must have showered recently, because it took nearly ten before the water was both warm and clear. He splashed his face in the sink as he waited for the shower to warm up a bit more and stared into the grimy mirror, watching water dripping down his cheeks.
For the most part, Fergus resembled the human denizens of New Peiling. He had longish, dirty brown hair, which was presently sticking out at strange angles, wide blue eyes, and freckles dotting his pale cheeks. Only one thing really separated him from looking wholly human: in dim light, as well as from certain angles, his eyes looked entirely white. Otherwise, he was just an average 20-year-old, if from the lower rung of the social ladder.
He rubbed the water from his eyes and stripped out of his damp clothing to climb into the shower. The shower itself was as old and unkempt as the mirror, and he nearly slipped on the tiles.
"Close," he muttered to himself as he took up his washrag.
After ten minutes in lukewarm water – even in the clammy atmosphere of the lower city, Fergus's kelpie soul couldn't stand hot water – he was feeling cozy and scrubbed as much as seemed reasonable. Climbing out of the shower, he picked up his damp clothes and took them to his room where he dumped them in the pile of dirty clothes dubbed "most recent" in his head before going over to open the narrow window opposite. He jerked it open a couple of inches, enough that he could see the lights going off behind the curtains of the strip club next door. The music was still thumping overhead. He sighed and plopped himself onto the palette he called his bed, pulling a pair of mostly clean jeans out from a pile of clothing and slipping them on.
His foot knocked against his guitar case, and he paused for a moment before pulling it closer. He didn't have time to play, but he thought he should at least lean it against the corner, so that he didn't step on it later. He then sought out the blue shirt Flynn had mentioned – even if he was joking, every little bit helped – to put it aside for later, before pulling on a grey hoodie and going back out into the street.
The Magpie wasn't much of a walk from the apartment. It was a squat brick building a few blocks towards the outskirts of the lower city. There was a weird, phosphorescent patch of green growing on the wall under a hand-painted sign with a picture of a black bird with white and blue markings. Fergus pushed the door open and stepped into the dark pub. It didn't open until one, but Felix was already busy at work, wiping down glasses behind the bar. Fergus walked over, sliding onto one of the hard-backed stools.
"Morning, Fergus," Felix said, looking up and studying him for a moment before chuckling softly. "Looks like you have something on your mind."
Fergus gave him a contrite smile. "Kinda. Well, yeah. I mean . . . "
"Guessing this is your last day?"
"I thought it might be coming. I still remember when you first came in – a scrawny kid with crazy hair. Well, the hair hasn't changed too much."
Fergus reached up to try to comb it with his fingers.
"If you ever need work again, you always have a place here. How about a drink to celebrate?" Felix put down the glass and rag and pulled out a bottle of whisky, pouring a little into two tumblers before sliding one to Fergus.
"Thanks. Gonna miss this place."
"Don't say you won't be back."
Fergus smiled, clinking his glass to Felix's with a brief, "cheers." The whisky burned the back of his throat, making him grimace, but he still took an extra drink before answering. "Of course, I will. Anyway, if you hire me back, I wanna be a barkeep."
Felix put down his empty glass and swatted at Fergus with the rag. "We'll see about that."
Fergus finished the whisky and stood. "I'll take the empty kegs out."
"Good man," Felix said, returning to lining up the glasses behind the bar.
• • •
They had a few more rounds before Fergus left for the evening, so he was tipsy when he stopped by his apartment to grab his guitar en route to the garage the band rented for practice space. The rest of Everyday Resources was already there, sitting on the floor and chatting idly. Fergus put his guitar in a stand and flopped next to the bassist, Terry Bridges. He had a wild mop of reddish hair and grey eyes. Fergus wasn't sure what sort of hybrid he was, because he rarely talked about himself. Beside him sprawled the lead guitarist – a girl with dark, curly hair named Evelyn Ross, whom he knew to be a púca, and who had talked her way into the band by getting cozy with the drummer, Raja Youssef. Raja had electric blue eyes and came from a place so far away, Fergus couldn't even imagine it. He was sitting with his arm around Evelyn's shoulders.
Fergus felt it was just lucky that she could play.
"Hey," Fergus said.
"Hey," repeated Terry and Evelyn. Raja nodded.
"You want to talk about the set list for tomorrow?" Evelyn asked, extracting herself.
"What about it?"
"Well, I was thinking we should switch out 'Lucy's Hymn' for . . . anything else. It's so downbeat."
Fergus frowned and blew his hair out of his face.
"You and Lucy have been split up for like over a year now. I mean, even Emily is old news by now," Evelyn persisted.
"I know," Fergus replied a little irritably.
Watching Evelyn and Raja getting all cozy irked him. Evelyn's remark wasn't helping. He hadn't had a girlfriend for several months. His last, Emily, had been the jealous type, and even though he had paused things with Ursula while he was dating her, she refused to believe him and demanded that he quit the shop. Seeing as how Beathag's was his highest paying source of revenue, he'd refused, and she'd dumped him.
"How about 'Magnet'?" Terry suggested, edging himself between Evelyn and Fergus.
"Yeah, that'd be okay," Fergus replied, pulling out his guitar and running a finger over the strings. Without the amp, it sounded hollow and thin. He adjusted the pegs. "I've got a new one, but it won't be ready by tomorrow. We can still practice it today, though," he said, picking up his satchel and rooting around for an ancient spiral bound notebook held together by rubber bands.
"What's it called?" Evelyn asked as he passed the notebook to Terry who glanced over it before handing it to her.
"You should set your sights higher."
"Yeah, and when you find that buried treasure, you let me know," he replied with a little frown.
He wanted it to happen – he wanted to leave New Peiling – which was in part why he felt even more annoyed at her. However, a trip to Clohaven, Lancaster, or even the farmlands, which were under two days travel, cost an arm and a leg. Since Fergus could barely afford to pay rent and eat, travel was a much longed for, but far out of reach, luxury. His guitar gave an angry little twang, and he cringed.
Terry began tuning his bass. "Lancaster's no better than New Peiling. If you're gonna go somewhere nearby, at least go to Clohaven."
"I'll keep that in mind. Okay, listen up. This is how it goes."
• • •
It was well into the night when Fergus returned to the apartment. The lights were off, and he couldn't hear any movement from Flynn's room, so he settled onto the couch with his lyric book and stared at an empty page for a while before deciding he was hungry and going to root around in the icebox. He drank the rest of the milk and stuck the bottle on the counter at the end of a long line of jugs and metal cans. The neon sign next door lit the room a dull red. It had gotten colder, and the whole unit felt drafty, so he turned on the oven and leaned against it, wondering when Flynn would be home.
His thoughts passed from Flynn to band practice. He'd done a reasonable job of reeling his temper in, but he still felt ruffled. Fergus didn't want to rename the song. He didn't want to go to Clohaven. Clohaven was where, as far as he knew, his runaway dad lived.
His mother didn't keep pictures. She had been very bitter about it. Fergus had no idea what his father even looked like, but he thought he would know if he ever ran into him. At least, he should know, and if that ever happened, he wasn't sure what he'd do. Maybe punch him. Maybe push him over a ledge. Well, maybe not the latter, but he still didn't want to see the man who'd abandoned him before he was even born. He thought of writing a song about that, but then snorted. He felt he was past the stage of writing things like, "Fall into the ocean and drown, useless human."
Fergus turned off the stove and collected his lyric book, putting out the lamp, and retired to his room to stare at the ceiling. He watched the red light blinking against the ceiling until he fell asleep.