Two young women find themselves entangled in a deadly game with an ancient creature determined to wipe out all human life. Tristan and Blessing are demon-hunting drifters destined to protect mankind from evil, but to do so they must exist on the fringes of society. Feeding their own bloodlust by murdering local criminals, they begin a dangerous hunt for a resurrected demon named Anasztaizia. But when Tristan meets a beautiful dancer named Mira, she is willing to abandon her calling for her one chance at a normal life.
Believing Tristan has betrayed her, Blessing finds solace in her natural talent for witchcraft. Anasztaizia, able to corrupt Blessing by exploiting her jealousies and personal tragedies as well as her power, next turns her attention to Mira. Mira has been keeping a secret from Tristan, and she is willing to do anything to escape her agonizing fate. Even if it means abandoning her humanity. Even if it means Tristan must choose between Mira’s life and her own.
Targeted Age Group:: Adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I had just begun grad school and needed an idea for my thesis project. I turned to an earlier, failed, novel and one of the secondary characters. She became the main character this time around. I was inspired by quite a few things that somehow all managed to come together–Chinese folklore, Roma culture, Nigerian “witch” children, fairy tales, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Diablo III.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The main character, Tristan, had existed for nearly 20 years already, though I originally conceived her as a man and about five years older. Blessing was initially a last-minute addition at the end of the third draft, until I realized I needed to tell her story because it paralleled that of the antagonist. She came about as the result of research into the children condemned as “witches” in Nigeria by Christian fundamentalists, which made her a perfect demon hunter. Tristan’s love interest, the ballerina Mira, was inspired after seeing BLACK SWAN in the theater. Anasztaizia, the villain, was inspired by the Chinese monsters the jiang-shi and huli-jing, as well as Drusilla from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
One moment, Tristan Marcsa felt the sting of hardwood floor against her cheek; the next she was on a gurney wheeled toward the red brick façade of St. Michael’s Hospital. Tristan drifted in and out of consciousness as nurses drained vials of blood from her arm. Her mother murmured that Tristan had gotten her first period this morning, and might it have caused the fainting spell? Momma had grown up in a small Hungarian town and, though one of the few Romani to attend school past Grade Eight, sometimes her rural upbringing showed.
Night fell. Nurses stopped by every couple of hours to check the IV needle or attach a new bag of fluids. It was dehydration all right, but of a sort that would have landed her in a much more unpleasant hospital ward had she admitted to it. Her experiment in deprivation had failed, and she would never be a normal girl. No one must know of the things she did in the dark after her family went to sleep.
A wet mop slapped against the floor outside her room. Moonlight streamed through the slats in the blinds. The whir of machines, coupled with the hard and narrow bed, conspired to prevent more than a few minutes of sleep at a time. Yet in those brief moments, Tristan dreamed of walking through a cemetery in a white dress flowing around her like a spirit. A presence too enormous to be human studied her from the shadows. White wolves attended her, silent until she reached a grave covered in a ragged cloth. Then they closed their unearthly blue eyes, threw back their heads, and howled…
Tristan, sensing someone that should not be in the room with her, struggled to open her heavy eyelids. Mami Treszka sat on the edge of the bed and placed a statuette of St. Sarah on the table beside Tristan. She laid one of Tristan’s favorite shirts before the figure, and then began to pray. Black Sarah, patron of their people, whom Mami believed would heal and protect her granddaughter.
“They will tell you it’s another thing,” Mami Treszka whispered, “but I know what it is.” Her halo of white hair glowed in the faint light from the window. “I have seen it before, and I can see it in you. You’re having the dreams. You’re already Hunting, aren’t you?”
When Tristan did not respond, Mami murmured ancient words even more frightening for their mystery. Momma allowed no Hungarian or Romani spoken in the house, not after what happened to Daddy. Tristan and her older sister, Jinny, hadn’t learned more than a few words of their ancestral languages.
“My youngest was like you—special.” Mami Treszka lifted Tristan’s hand from the bed and traced her fingertips over her palm. The gentle sensation maneuvered Tristan ever closer toward sleep. “You’ll see how special you are, Trissie. It is your destiny.”
“Don’t be silly,” Tristan said and squeezed her bony hand. She wondered why Mami would say such an odd thing, but she was too exhausted to question her. “My mother is your youngest.”
Mami smiled sadly and contemplated the window, as if expecting someone to appear outside. “She is now.”
“Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria,” the doctor said. Mami Treszka’s satisfied smirk sent a shiver through Tristan. “Your blood cells are dying prematurely, and your body has trouble producing new ones.” The doctor turned to Momma. “What Tristan experienced yesterday morning wasn’t her period; it was a discharge of hemoglobin due to the breakdown of blood cells, which builds up in her bladder overnight.”
“Is it serious?” Momma asked.
“This is a rare and potentially life-threatening illness. She may develop blood clots, leukemia, even heart failure or stroke. We can treat her with warfarin to prevent thrombosis, as well as transfusion therapy and possibly antibody therapy.”
Tristan studied the IV needle in her arm, following the red tube up to a blood bag. That was one way of getting it.
“I do not understand any of this.” Momma shook her head. “How did this happen?”
“We believe it developed on its own, rather than in conjunction with another disease. Other than that, we don’t have many answers. But I assure you, we’ll treat Tristan to the best of our abilities. The most important thing she can do is to limit her physical activity, because exertion can trigger these fainting episodes.”
“Nope.” Tristan sat up. She did not intend to tell Rosa, though Momma certainly would. “I’m a dancer.”
The doctor’s condescending smile made Tristan want to knock his teeth out. “You’re still young. You’ll find something else; you have plenty of time.”
“You’re not listening to me. I’ve already been dancing for most of my life. It’s what I do. There is no ‘something else.’”
“I’ll leave that up to your family, but my recommendation is that you stop immediately.”
“I recommend that you drop dead.”
The doctor’s mouth fell open, and his cheeks blazed.
Momma leapt out of her chair, apologizing profusely in one breath and promising Tristan’s punishment in the next. Jinny covered her mouth in a failed attempt not to laugh.
Only Mami Treszka sat quietly, with a strange and knowing smile on her face, hands folded over the handle of her cane. She nodded at Tristan and winked, but somehow the small acknowledgement made Tristan feel even sicker.
Jinny had started shaving her legs when she turned twelve. Tristan, eight years old and fascinated by her sister’s initiation into adulthood, sat with her in the washroom to watch Jinny’s first attempt with a cheap, disposable razor. The inevitable nick came and then the blood, welling up so brightly against Jinny’s coffee-colored skin…
Jinny banned her from watching, and they never spoke of it again. Tristan figured out how to pop the razor blades from the plastic handles and how to make the blood rise from her own flesh. It began almost as far back as she remembered, a desire sparked by the blue paths visible beneath skin, pulsing in necks. It struck when her mother opened a package of raw meat in the sink and pink liquid dribbled down the drain, so painful a waste it may as well have been her own blood hemorrhaging away. Even her period, which she did get soon enough after leaving the ER, filled her with an unsettling sorrow for the squandered blood and tissue. She understood soon enough what that made her, and why Momma never mentioned Daddy. Why Momma could not bear the sight of her. Why Momma had given her a boy’s name, a magical talisman to ward off the inevitable horror that befell girls in their family. Why Momma had locked away the memory of her younger sister like a lunatic in the attic, as if it would prevent Tristan from becoming the same.
Had Tristan known any of that at thirteen, had she been able even to grasp the enormity of the task before her, it still wouldn’t have hardened her to the devastation of losing the two things she loved most, and at exactly the same time.
“Come, let’s talk.” Rosa took Tristan’s arm and led her into her small office at the back of the studio. She gestured to a black plastic chair then sat behind her desk. Calendars, schedules, and catalogs of dance costumes for the upcoming recital littered her workspace, while posters of famous flamenco dancers formed colorful wallpaper over the otherwise dreary eggshell paint. Rosa’s desktop speakers blared Ramón Montoya, her favorite flamenco guitarist. When Tristan had first heard the melodies spilling like tears from acoustic guitars, the Spanish words lamenting the suffering of a people, her body could not help but convey their pain through its gestures. She didn’t miss the Victoria Ballet Academy one bit.
Rosa turned the volume down and pressed the “Do Not Disturb” button on the phone. “How are you feeling?” She spoke with a thick Spanish accent. She was obviously Rom, but Momma, of course, refused to concede the point.
“I’m fine. I got out of hospital a couple of days ago. Feel good as new.”
Rosa dropped her gaze to the large, dark purple bruise in the crook of Tristan’s elbow and pursed her lips.
“It’s nothing,” Tristan said. “You know how they are. When you come in through the ER, they test you for everything.”
“Your mother told me you have a rare form of anemia. They said you shouldn’t dance anymore.”
Tristan twiddled her thumbs. She couldn’t tell Rosa the cure was everywhere, in any creature possessing a heart and veins, and that she’d already made deals with some of the weird kids at school to get what she craved. She’d be locked up in a heartbeat. “Yeah, well, they might be wrong.”
“Tristan, I saw you faint. I’ve never seen you so ill, and it frightened me. If something were to happen to you, I couldn’t bear that kind of burden. Not to mention the liability that allowing you to dance creates for my business.”
“So I’m a liability now?”
Rosa’s eyes widened. She clearly regretted her choice of words. “No, no, Tristan, you are a brilliant dancer and a wonderful girl.” Her full, pink lips curved into a smile, making her cheekbones even more stunning. “I have enjoyed all of our time together. But you’re quite ill, and your mother has already canceled your lessons. I am so sorry.”
Tristan clenched her fists in her lap and sealed her lips together, but tears slid down her cheeks nevertheless. “Please, Rosa. Don’t make me quit. I won’t tell Momma I’m here. I’ll find a way to pay for it myself. Just please let me stay.”
“Oh, honey.” Rosa knelt beside Tristan’s chair. Tristan, quivering, welcomed her embrace even as she knew it was the last. “When you are old enough, maybe you can be my assistant. I’ve always meant to hire one—just look at this place.” Rosa offered another smile, but Tristan rejected it by turning away. She couldn’t stomach it any longer. “If there is a way they can make you well again, you will always have a place here.” Rosa dabbed Tristan’s eyes with a tissue. Her skin smelled of vanilla, her auburn hair of raspberries. Two scents forever entwined with heartbreak.
That evening, after Momma had taken Mami Treszka out to see a movie, Tristan stood beside the backyard fire pit and poured lighter fluid over the crumpled gored and ruffled crepe. She dropped a match on top and stepped back as flames whooshed up from the pit, then folded her arms over her chest as the inferno consumed her beloved purple flamenco dress.
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