Julienne’s aunts are the archer who shot down the suns and the woman who lives on the moon. They teach her that there’s more to the city of her birth than meets the eye – that beneath the modern chrome and glass of Hong Kong there are demons, gods, and the seethe of ancient feuds. As a mortal Julienne is to give them wide berth, for unlike her divine aunts she is painfully vulnerable, and choice prey for any demon.
Until one day, she comes across a wounded, bleeding woman no one else can see, and is drawn into an old, old story of love, snake women, and the deathless monk who hunts them.
Scale-Bright is a contemporary fantasy novella published by Immersion Press and introduced by Aliette de Bodard. Due out July 2014 in limited edition hardback, it blends Chinese myth, interstitial cities, and the difficulties of being mortal and ordinary when everyone around you has stepped out of legends.
Ebook edition is or will be available through Amazon, Smashwords, B&N, Gumroad, and Kobo.
Julienne is in a crowded train when a man whose skin gleams smooth as stone appears to inquire after her heart’s desire.
He wears white paper creased into sleeves and robe, and on his head black paper folded into a cap. His faceted eyes are amber glass on an ivory face. But it is when the rush hour parts around him that his inhumanity becomes beyond dispute.
Smiling he bares blunt shoeshine teeth and again asks, “What is it that you long for best, that clenches teeth and claws over the ventricles of your heart?”
She ignores him, gazing out the window where the tunnel blurs by in a gray-black haze. Overhead, the indicator blinks green between one station marker and the next. Fortress Hill, Tin Hau. The man disappears before her stop. The crowd flows back into the space he left behind without ever acknowledging he was there.
Afterward she does not remember what the man looks like and his words fade. This is the first strange thing she encounters that day.
(Julienne does not count her aunts as strange. It would be rude, and they are the best relatives one could hope to have.)
In the afternoon, having spent her half-day off in pursuit of a low-calorie lunch, Julienne goes to work. Sunlight around her neck noose-tight, she encounters the second strange thing: a woman bleeding under the clock tower. She wears a vivid shade of good emeralds from eyeshadow to stiletto heels, marred by that one slash of red. The woman bears this coldly, eyes straight ahead, only now and then caught by a spasm that tautens her lips over her teeth. Her gaze catches Julienne’s and holds fast. Some ten meters separate them.
Julienne looks away, hurries into the Ocean Terminal where conditioned air loosens the heat’s chokehold and lets oxygen pass into her lungs again. There is a woman in so extraordinary a color; there is a woman who bleeds–and no one has noticed. So there must be no woman, or there is no blood.
Her aunts have taught her that Hong Kong is not quite the city she knows. Not half so safe; not half so dull.
She works, finishes, and has an indifferent dinner with coworkers in the food court. She buys pastel notepads and browses books at Page One, heavy hardcovers on architecture and interior design that take up far too much space to justify their purchase. The requirements of normalcy having been fulfilled, she makes her way out assured in her expertise of ordinariness. In the face of the peculiar it’s best to shore herself up in an ecstasy of the mundane.
At an hour bordering on too-late, she goes back to the harbor with its familiar smells of sea and fast food, with its crowds clustering around taxi and bus stops, salt-sweat of an evening. For the length of a hesitation, she pauses before the turnstile to the Star Ferry. She goes past.
The woman remains at the precise same spot, bathed in yellow light. Blood has stained her shoes and pavement an uncertain black. She remains upright, but she has become so pale her eyes look immense, tinted as though with expensive jades ground down to dust.
When the distance between them has shortened to nothing Julienne purses her mouth, licking off her lipstick, cloying mango-scent. “Do you need help?”
The woman blinks rapidly, shaking herself out of lassitude, setting herself on the correct side of consciousness. “I thought I’d bleed out my life before you overcame your cowardice.”
Julienne stares. “What?”
“You see a woman bleeding to death and don’t think to give her succor until the hours have passed, the sun has set, and she could well be lifeless carcass come the night? What barbarian are you? Did your mother and father teach you no courtesy?”
She inhales slowly. “Are you going to let me–“
“Yes,” the woman says, imperious, and falls into Julienne’s arms: a weight of green like emeralds, a smell of butchery thick as velvet.