The Story Plant
American Quest is a rousing contemporary novel filled with unforgettable characters, passionate relationships, dazzling magic and epic drama. It is the premiere of a quartet of novels that will capture your imagination and your heart.
Two supernatural forces – the benign Auxilium and the malevolent Pravus – are attempting to affect the balance of life on Earth. The mission of the Auxilium is to aid humanity in its quest to make the most of itself. Its “angels,” a consortium of entities that work for a common purpose, offer various forms of assistance and protection, but cannot fight our battles for us.
The mission of the Pravus, however, is to destroy all that is good in humanity. Its “demons,” led by an oligarchy of supreme despots known as Macul, regularly interfere in the affairs of man, actively seeking to undermine humanity’s nobility and pursuit of enlightenment and evolution. For each of our noblest qualities, a Macul leads a team of lesser Pravus to destroy it.
For the most part, the opposing forces balance each other out. Occasionally, though, the stakes rise to a new level when a person imbued with extreme potential unites with another person of extreme potential. When a match of this sort occurs, humanity gains the opportunity to make major leaps – unless a Macul can subvert it. If the Macul succeeds, it will gain so much power that the entire world – humans, Auxilium, and all other Pravus alike – will become its plaything.
American Quest is the story of two lovers, Bruce and Gloria, whose intense passion for life and for each other has made them unwitting pawns in this cosmic battle. Enervata, the Macul who opposes romantic love, captures Gloria. To save her, Bruce must embark on a quest across America, armed with only the scantest of clues, to collect the Four Pillars of Humanity before he can battle the enormously powerful demon.
Several people join him on his quest, including his best friend, a rocker, a stand-up comedienne, a little old Italian lady, an old-beyond-her-years child, and a strangely visionary fortuneteller. The questers face challenges from Enervata’s minions at every turn and struggle mightily in their quest to uncover the Pillars…all the while unsure of Gloria’s fate.
At once a spirit-stirring fantasy, a moving love story, and an endearing tale of friendship and sacrifice, American Quest introduces a wonderful new storyteller to the public and presents us with a thrilling new vision of our world.
- 1 -
Gloria pressed the cell phone to her ear and strode across the street, black boots mirrored in wet pavement. “I’m so ready to go home,” she said with a sigh. “I’m starving, but I only have time for a quick bite. I need to work tonight.”
The cool, misty air wreaked havoc on her curls, sending them aloft. The elastic band in her hair managed only to cinch her low ponytail into a bishop’s sleeve shape and errant curls haloed her olive face, tangling in her dark lashes. She brushed them aside.
“I have maybe an hour, two at most. Then back to ‘the Chang Enigma.’”
“Still an enigma, huh?” Bruce said through the earpiece.
“As much as ever. Benefactors can be such a drag sometimes.”
“They’d be insufferable if not for the massive sums they throw your way.”
“Or not, in Chang’s case. Anyway, I have to keep trying. If I can just refine the pitch a little tonight, things should normalize at the office.”
“Do what you have to do. You’ve put in a good sixty hours this week already. Maybe you only need a few more to crack this guy’s code.”
“That would be great.”
Gloria scanned the streets and saw a figure among the passersby that she thought was Bruce. The figure turned into a café and disappeared. She smiled, imagining Bruce’s easy posture and stride. No one walked like him, certainly not the guy she just saw.
“You close by?” she said.
She arched her back and surveyed the shop windows with a swivel of her chin. The crowd replicated itself in the glass and in the shining slick pavement. Sunlight broke through the cloud cover and bounced from one sparkling surface to another, leaping across the street and back again in hide-and-seek fashion.
“If I can just get Mr. Chang to provide funding for this project, my schedule will ease up a little and we can have more nights to ourselves.”
“You’ll get him. Woven Hillside does great stuff. I was telling someone just yesterday about the schoolbook program and the shelters you’ve gotten funded.”
Gloria gazed at the display where an opulent tapestry hung; a peacock woven in green, blue and gold, with backdrop motifs in royal purple.
God, it’s gorgeous. Her fingers itched to stroke the delicate threads.
Then, for a moment, she caught the reflection of a pale woman’s face. Someone so beautiful it sharpened the senses. And with her a man, also very pale. In the distortion of glass, it almost looked as if they had wings and impossibly thin, bent legs. Pivoting to look over her shoulder, Gloria searched for them, but saw no sign of anyone in white.
She stared at the window again. This time her eyes fixed on a reflection from across the street, where she found Bruce standing there, phone to his ear, watching her.
She grinned, refusing to turn around. “This unbridled faith wouldn’t have anything to do with our being engaged, would it?”
“Maybe we’re engaged because I have unbridled faith in you.”
Gloria’s heart melted a little and she longed to touch his hair. Still, she resisted the urge to wheel around and make eye contact. Her shoulders eased downward and the arch in her spine went slack.
He continued. “After all, I met Gloria the tireless fundraiser before I ever got the chance to touch Gloria the—aw, damn. I’ve been made, haven’t I?”
She laughed. “In fact, you have.” She turned to face him directly, phone still pressed to her ear. “And how long have you been watching me while I fussed about waiting for you?”
She could see the breadth of his grin even from across the street. “Actually, I kinda got here before you did.”
She ended the call and slapped her boot against a puddle, waiting for him to jog across to her. He did so and gathered her up into his arms, brushing his lips along her brow. “Bessy-me, baby!”
She playfully evaded him, heading instead toward the subway as he followed at her elbow.
“Shame on you!” she said. “Making me wait with my stomach growling!”
“Is that what that racket was? I thought we were getting some kind of cell phone interference.”
She chuckled and threw him a playful slap. “How did you suddenly know that you’d ‘been made’? Did you see me looking at your reflection in the window?”
Bruce laughed boyishly. “Nah. I could tell you saw me by the way your body changed.” He slid his hand down the length of her back.
She shivered luxuriously. “Am I so transparent?”
“Afraid so, babe. That’s why I had to watch you for a while first. I never get to see you in your powerhouse mode.”
“What do you mean? You see me in business suits all the time.”
“Yeah, and you’re beautiful in them. But I’m not talking about what you wear; I’m talking about how you are. Your face is all serious and you stand like you’re ready to lead a marching band down the street.”
“Is that so? And how am I otherwise?”
Bruce grinned. “Well, once I come around, you get all kittenish.”
Bruce gave a rueful shake of his head. “You can’t help yourself. You stop leading the marching band and instead you walk all sleek and catlike. And you get a kind of sleepy smile.”
She harrumphed, but could not banish the smile—probably a sleepy one—from her lips.
“No use fighting it, babe. It’s my natural pheromones. They’re awfully powerful. You’re pretty much helpless against ’em.”
Gloria snorted. “I see. Then explain this: since you observed this ever-so-dramatic change in me from across the street, how could I have been reacting to your, um, devastating pheromones? Wouldn’t I have to catch your scent in order for that to happen?”
“That might have been true a while back. But you’ve been with me long enough now that all you have to do is see me. Your response is downright Pavlovian.”
Gloria’s eyes widened. “Oh my. I had no idea I was making such a spectacle of myself.”
Swiftly, completely taking her by surprise, Bruce spun Gloria into an alley and kissed her deeply, pulling her tight into his warm chest. She felt the unmistakable flow she felt every time they touched like this. The first time it happened, she thought she might be coming down with something. Now she realized it was just the opposite.
“They want to do scientific research on me, you know,” he said huskily, their faces still touching.
He stepped back to wave his hand dismissively. “Yeah, they. They want to get to the bottom of this irresistible beacon of attraction I send out.”
She nuzzled his neck. “Well you know what? They’re right. To hell with dinner. I need to have you now.”
At first, Gloria thought Bruce was actually going to take her up on this. After all, there was that time in Prospect Park. But in midtown Manhattan? Even in an alley, they were completely exposed.
Then he kissed her again and took her hand to lead her back onto the street. “We’d better just get dinner instead. I can’t concentrate with your stomach growling so loud.” He led her back to the sidewalk and down the subway stairs. “Yeah, all those hunger growls scared some poor couple dead white.”
Gloria gave a start and a different kind of tingle went up her spine. “The people in white? I think I saw them, too.” She remembered the harsh exoticism of the woman’s beauty and the way the scrambled reflection made it look like they’d had wings and bent, ostrichlike legs. “Did you see what they were wearing?”
“I didn’t get a good look.”
Bruce’s face suddenly tightened. Gloria turned to identify the cause for his discomfort, and as she did, he steered her away from a man ranting near the token booth. The guy had wild brown and gray hair and a denim shirt. He carried a sign that read, THINE LOVE IS MINE DEMISE.
As Gloria made unintended eye contact with the man, his voice thundered.
“Kneel down now!” he said. “Swear your allegiance! You put them in power to rule us all because of your selfish longings!”
Gloria felt pressure on her arm as Bruce quickened their pace. But the subway prophet leaped into their path, cornering them before they reached the turnstiles.
“You!” he said. “A bond-recherché! My God. And you’re not even listening. Didn’t you hear what I just said? Can’t you see he’s sent the yellow-eyed canteshrikes to watch you?”
Bruce raised his hand. “Easy, friend. We’re just trying to get on a train.”
The man stared at Bruce, heaving, and then let his eyes travel to Gloria. “Yes. Oh, yes, yes. Enjoy it my friends. My dear, delusional friends. Take it. Ha! Wallow in it.”
He nodded in derision. “Soon there will be hell at your feet.
“Hell for all of us.”
Enervata watched the lovers on the street below. He could taste it full in his mouth. The taste of opportunity.
His bronze claw released the curtain as he turned back to the three Pravus attending him, the two brothers and the mouthless one, Sileny. Their eyes were intent on the young couple beyond the window, but he could tell they were subtly watching him as well. They were taking his measure. Sampling his mood. But he had no desire to cultivate their fear at this moment; his mind was on the lovers, and only the lovers.
“The time has come,” he said, his voice deep like the grinding hull of a ship as it buckles upon the ocean floor. “We have a rare bond-recherché before us. I shall assume a human form and take the woman soon.” He cast his black gaze upon each Pravus in turn. “And this time there had better not be any mistakes.”
Sileny averted her gaze. The other two—the round brothers, Hedon and Glueg—ambled to the settee and preoccupied themselves with fatty chops and pint jars of honey wine, their plump fingers tracing glistening streaks on the glass.
But Sileny’s worried eyes spoke the things she could not say. Enervata had removed Sileny’s mouth long ago. He might have simply killed her when she dared speak against him, but he preferred to keep her alive and suffering for his entertainment. A single mole capped her left cheekbone, the only feature marking the lower half of her face, and from it protruded spikes of brown hair that matched those on the top of her head.
He could see that her mind calculated all the ways in which they might fail.
Enervata’s tail twitched with a readiness to lash her. “Have you something to say, Sileny?”
Sileny’s hands flashed in quick gestures, daring to cite the incident, nigh on two hundred years ago, when last a bond-recherché dangled its promise so close within Enervata’s reach.
Enervata raised a hand. “No more, Sileny. It is not so difficult. They are but a man and a woman, a twosome. Does this twosome know anything of magic? I think not.”
The brothers laughed, muttering, slurping their honey wine.
Again, Sileny’s hands moved swiftly, recalling those lovers of long ago, the courtier and the minstrel in Paris at the time of the revolution. They, too, had remarkable talents, and they, too, had found each other, forging a rare, passionate, blind love.
Enervata affected a yawn, his tongue lolling across his fangs, a growl erupting from the depths of his throat. At last, Sileny halted. She seemed to sense the danger.
“You speak for her, Glueg,” Enervata said as he turned his back to Sileny and sat upon his chair. “I grow weary of bearing witness to this woman’s insufferable twitching.”
Glueg’s eyes flew wide even as his teeth tore off a bit of chop. He smacked it down and stared, his lips forming an O deep within his red beard. Hedon, his brother, tapped his fingers on his pint jar.
“Right.” Glueg jammed a fist across his mouth to smear away the fat.
Enervata could see Sileny’s reflection in the glass panel doors of the Rococo cabinet. With hesitation, hands shaking, she began to sign again.
Glueg cleared his throat. “She’s talking about the last bond-recherché, master. How you managed to break through their bond. You’d turned the woman to your side good and proper.”
Hedon broke in, shaking a chop at Sileny. “Tell’m somefin he don’t know, you stupid ninny! Why must you always try our master’s patience?”
Enervata felt the blackness welling inside him, gathering up all the hatred and putrefaction that defined his Macul heart. The Parisian courtier of long ago had been willing to lay with him, indeed, setting him on the verge of the ultimate fulfillment of his mission. To destroy a bond-recherché, to break their love, was to generate enough dark power to enslave all living things of the Earth—mystic, man, and beast alike.
But in a trice, it fell apart.
Enervata’s claws clenched and unfolded. “If you’ve a point, Sileny, you’d best make it, but I warn you to take your measure!”
The room was still. Hedon and Glueg stared at the floor. Enervata could see Sileny’s reflection tremble where she stood behind him. And then her hands began to move again.
Hedon cast a glance her way and shook his head, muttering. “The canteshrikes are down below in the heart of it and we must sit and endure this stupid mouthless slattern!”
Glueg cleared his throat with uncertainty but continued to interpret Sileny’s sign language. “She says how it could very well go like it did last time.”
Enervata needed no reminder of that. A rival Macul, the one focused on the defilement of human capacity, got the minstrel to leave the courtier by offering success in the symphony. The love between the courtier and the minstrel disintegrated because of this.
The trio of Pravus went very still. None dared speak.
Enervata’s words came slow and cutting. “Sileny seems anxious to remind us of this failure. By all means, Sileny, speak of how the bond was prematurely broken. How it rendered the courtier’s betrayal meaningless. And I was cheated of the power I might have gained in the despoliation of their love!”
Hedon waved a hand. “Why listen to this woman’s drivel, master? That’s all behind us now. After all this time, we’ve a new bond-recherché, and we’ll break them to pieces, we will.”
Sileny stepped forward, letting her hands fly.
But what’s to stop another Macul from getting to them first? Just like last—
Enervata snatched Sileny’s wrist, his claw cutting into her skin. She turned her face from him.
“Are you so devoted to the notion of failure, Sileny?” Enervata hissed.
Sileny pulled, but Enervata would not release her. A sound dislodged from her throat, a stifled mew. Finally, he cast her away and she stumbled onto Hedon’s lap. The brothers pinched her as she disentangled herself and stood, tapping nervously at her skull.
Enervata rose from his chair. “There will be no failure this time. And you have my promise: any hint of it shall mean your deaths. All of you.”
He parted the curtains again and watched the lovers on the street, enchanted with one another and oblivious to the canteshrikes who hovered about, cloaked in a different kind of enchantment. Passersby went about their business, lost in their own worlds. All of them ignorant, all of them destined to fall to their knees before him.
Glueg cleared his throat, swirling his honey wine. “When are we to begin, then, master?”
Enervata kept his black gaze fixed beyond the window. Eventually, he said, “I shall meet her a few days hence.”