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THE STORY SO FAR…
Kane is slowly losing his memory, his self-control, and his sanity.
A rage is building inside him that isn’t his own.
In Tokyo, Kane slipped into a fury that distorted everything, except his famously accurate aim. Blinded by rage, he mistook his partner, Rebel, for an enemy and shot her in the head.
Nothing good came from the Tokyo mission. Rebel is dead. Skyler, Kane’s teacher, betrayed him one last time. And Kane is now a prisoner in his own bunker under Paris, held captive by an army of human survivors he once led.
The one slice of hope is also bitter as hell.
Before shooting Rebel, Kane recovered a scroll piece — the second of five fragments strewn across the globe. When brought together, they promise to deliver the one weapon that can help humanity win the war.
But first, Kane needs to escape…
Odin hung from the edge of a cliff with one charred, three-fingered hand.
I watched helplessly from above, like a floating spirit. A seismic exhale billowed out from the god’s chest and sent a mist of sweat across his one-eyed face.
The god wasn’t just afraid.
He was terrified.
How do I know all of this? Because he told me. Sure, he told me in a dream, but it was him. It was Odin hanging on for dear life. I was sure of it.
His other hand held a spear. Without aiming, he chucked it into the sky with the force of a cannon.
The spear slammed into my chest. I didn’t feel any pain, but I bled. Red ran down the spear, filling small crevices in the wood. Crevices? Or were they runes?
I tried to wake up. The nightmare was applying an epic wedgie to the very core of my being. I wanted to open my eyes, but I couldn’t.
Odin kept me there. He wanted me to see what happened next. So I lifted my eyes and took it all in. It was the most terrifying sight I’d ever seen, and I’ve seen a troll orgy, so yeah, it was bad.
It was the end of the world.
But it wasn’t the end of the world as I’d experienced it a few months prior. There were no vast landscapes of peaceful countryside. No fresh air, or unencumbered wildlife ravaging Mother Nature as she let them have their way with her.
No, this was the big, bad apocalyptic end of the world. The one we would have suffered if the Emperor of Vampires had succeeded in using Mjölnir, the hammer of Thor, to smash the northern tectonic plate to pieces.
The lava flowed hot enough to melt the flesh off. The skies burned, slowly letting the cold vastness of space seep into our atmosphere, strangling all living things below. Soaring figures swept past the dangling god, looping around playfully as if they were celebrating something that delighted their dark hearts.
There was no hope here.
The world around me looked dead, but it was the lack of hope that made it impossible to tolerate.
Odin wasn’t the Odin I knew. His body was long and thin and muscular, not short and stubby. His hair was black as tar. His one eye was golden, and wide, and looking right at me.
His mouth opened as if to speak to me. His lips moved, but the noise of the end of the world is loud as hell. Pun intended, as usual. I couldn’t hear him and I told him so. But I couldn’t even hear myself.
Wake up, Kane.
DON’T WAKE UP, KANE!
My head filled with voices. Dozens at first, speaking different languages with different dialects. Then fewer languages, and fewer voices. Then one voice. His voice. Odin’s voice. He’d searched for a language I would understand, and he dumped enough information in my head to make me scream in pain.
DO YOU UNDERSTAND?
I don’t know what you’re talking about, Odin.
DO YOU UNDERSTAND?
His fingers slipped from the cliff’s edge. A searing wave of lava, the color of the sun, surged up from directly below him. His feet melted off in an instant, but Odin didn’t flinch, even as he fell.
He met my stare with his one eye and spoke softly into my head.
The spear. Find the spear.
A familiar squeaky voice woke me up. “Lunch, Mr. Arkwright!”
The door to my room creaked opened and Lucas waddled in backwards, food tray balanced on top of his demon hoof-paw-things. The two guards stationed outside my door peeked in over their shoulders to make sure I was still bound tight to the bed.
“Oui, oui, Monsieur Arkwright,” Lucas said in a tone that conveyed his disdain for French everything. “Vee have zee clam soup with zee butter broth and fresh poisson de blah-blah-blah.”
He slid the tray onto the table and the scent of the meal took over the room. Even in the apocalypse the French found a way to eat well.
I went back to observing every detail of the ceiling above me.
Lucas rolled his eyes. “You’ll have to eat eventually, sir. You can’t pout forever.”
“I’m not pouting, Lucas. I’m thinking.”
“Bah. Don’t hurt yourself. Humans are no good at thinking. Overthinking! Now that they’re good at.”
“You still work for me, you know.” He’d been my librarian for years. He was a damn good one, too. A hypochondriac demon makes for a clean, dusted and well-organized collection of tomes.
“I haven’t been paid in, well, ever, sir.”
“Your payment was access to my library, and you know it.” My collection of books was famous for its diversity of topics, rarity and supernatural influence. It was a treasure worthy of a demon like him.
Lucas sighed. “I miss my library.”
“You get me out of this prison, and maybe we’ll have a shot at going home.”
“No can do, sir,” the demon muttered with a shrug. “They have their eyes on me. Second only to the eyes they have on you.”
“If someone would talk to me, maybe they’d see that it was an accident. I’d never shoot Rebel on purpose.”
“I tell them that, but they don’t believe me. Lancelot has taken over security detail after you got your hand free last week.”
That meant Lancelot saw me as a threat, too. I’d hoped he was plotting to get me out of there. Maybe Baldr would make a move on my behalf.
“Shit,” was all I could say.
“Yeah, he’s good. Incredible attention to detail.” The demon sighed. “He knows we talk. I’m afraid this will be my last visit.”
“You talk to me about the weather, for fuck sake. How is that dangerous? What are they afraid of, Lucas?”
The demon frowned at me like a disapproving grandpa. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe you shooting them in the head could be part of it. It’s only an educated guess, mind you.”
“It won’t happen again.”
“Really?” the demon asked, crossing his spindly arms. “You haven’t been experiencing memory loss and waking dreams?”
“Well, yeah, a few, but…”
“Sir, I’m on your side. But you have a mountain of paranoid people who would rather not take their chances with you.”
I saw a small opening to get him to talk. Even a little bit of knowledge would give me days worth of ideas to chew on. I knew that asking about Rebel would lead to the silent treatment, so I asked, “Were you able to translate the scroll pieces, Lucas? Do the two of them connect with each other in any way?”
“Why do you keep asking me questions you know I can’t answer?” The demon rolled up his sleeves, put on some rubber gloves because he was a germophobe, snatched the fork from my tray, and stuck it into the fish. He lifted it up for me to take a bite. I gave in. My lame-ass hunger strike of one day was doomed from the start. I didn’t have the stomach for it. Pun intended, as usual. It didn’t help that the chef must have been a pro. The meals were among the best I’d ever had.
As the demon’s hand moved back to the plate, I spotted some dark markings on his forearm.
He cut off another piece of fish with the edge of the fork. He positioned his arm so I could see the markings clearly.
It was a hand-written ink message on his flesh.
“DANGER! FRIENDS ARE TRYING”
He moved his arm back down to spear the next bite for me. He was feeding me too much, too fast. I worried I wouldn’t be able to see the whole message before he emptied the plate of food.
I chewed and stared at him. Lucas fed me bite three before I even swallowed bite two.
“TO HELP. TROOPS WANT TO”
Damn it, Lucas. He was going way too fast. I let some fish oil dribble out of my mouth, hoping he’d get the hint and maybe wipe my mouth. I needed more time to see the message.
I practically regurgitated the entire mouthful of food, but he didn’t notice. A chin of half-digested fish was probably perfect etiquette around his dinner table.
But his eyes suddenly opened wide as he read my face and understood what I wasn’t able to say out loud.
He smiled, revealing hundreds of tiny teeth. “Lookee at the widdle plane!” he sing-songed. He raised his arm and slowly moved it toward me, veering the ‘airplane’ of fish left and right. “Open wide for the nice pilot!”
“KILL YOU. BITE MY REPLACEMENT.”
The demon wiped my face with his inked-up forearm and scampered out of there as fast as he could.
He managed to glance over his shoulder before the door closed behind him. The expression was a clear warning. It screamed, “You’d better be ready to get sprung!”
My thoughts jumped between “TROOPS WANT TO KILL YOU” and “BITE MY REPLACEMENT”.
I took some comfort in the fact that the troops didn’t know me. I mean if they’d known me, they would have loved me like everyone else who had ever met me. The citizens of Paris were good fighters. They were ready to defend their city to the death. I remembered feeling at ease with my decision to travel to Japan. I knew the Parisians would be just fine without me.
But I’d been thinking so hard about my betrayal of Rebel that I didn’t consider how my actions must have looked to the soldiers. These people were hanging onto life and hope by a thread. The cheap shot I’d taken at my own partner hadn’t just shaken me to the core. If Lucas’ note was correct, my boneheaded move had kneecapped the people’s faith in our whole operation.
But Lucas’ message also told me some of my friends were looking out for me. I hoped beyond hope, once again, that Lancelot could be counted among my allies. He was a brilliant tactician. I’d seen his skills in battle and, while I didn’t clue him in, I was floored by his abilities. If he was rising to the top of the ranks then, even if I didn’t escape, I’d be treated fairly in whatever trial was coming my way.
My thoughts skipped to the confusing part of Lucas’ inky-flesh message.
BITE MY REPLACEMENT
Was it some kind of code? My brain filed through all of the relics I’d gathered in my portal. Did any of them have teeth to bite with? I couldn’t think of anything. I couldn’t get to my portal anyway. I’d tried a few days before. I’d opened it above my bed and tried to shake something loose. That pointless maneuver resulted in my captors strapping my head to the bed for two days.
No, I wouldn’t be doing that again.
But one of the benefits of being alone in bed for days is that you can get sick of yourself. You can call yourself every bad name in the book. You can think a thought through a thousand iterations until it’s so fleshed out that it’s back to its most basic form.
I called myself an idiot, took a deep breath, and reset.
I was over-thinking the message.
It meant exactly what it said.
Lucas had mentioned he was being watched closely. He was on his way out of the Kane-sitting business. His replacement, whoever that was, was to be bitten.
By me. By my teeth.
Simple as that.
Fine. Whoever walked through that door next would feel Kane molars on one of his extremities.
I was going to escape.
I should have felt relieved. Excited. I should have prepared myself mentally. Meditated. Stretched my muscles so I’d be able to move when the cuffs were off.
Instead, I went into a very dark place.
Dangling from high places was nothing new to me. Cliffs? Easy. Skyscrapers? Whatever. Planes. Three times. No, wait, four.
But I’d never looked down at the darkness inside me.
Even though I was lashed to a bed by a combination of chains and leather straps, I was actually hanging on for dear life by a fingertip.
“Dammit, Rebel,” I said in our comm for the thousandth time. The Comm Spell let us speak to each other with just a thought from a world away. But ever since I’d shot my partner and best friend in the head, well, she’d been silent. Likely because she was dead.
So I didn’t hear a “What the fuck do you want, Kane?”, or, “Oh, now you want to talk, asshole?”, or, “Put that thing away, Arkwright. You’ve shot it off enough today.”
Nothing. Silence. A silence that cut through my gut and made me want to surrender.
I kept telling myself I didn’t know it was her in my sights when I pulled the trigger. I didn’t recognize her. But just like everything else in my life, that was a lie.
Something in my head switched off that night in Tokyo.
My past, everything that made me who I was, had disappeared in an instant. Suddenly, I wasn’t Kane Arkwright anymore. I was someone else, someone so angry I couldn’t control him. The yearning for the relic was all-encompassing. The scroll piece we’d searched for and died for beckoned to me, stronger than ever.
When Rebel reached for it, she was my enemy. She was trying to keep me from my prize. It was rightfully mine. I’d waited too long and fought too hard to let anyone get in my way.
My despair deepened.
My demon librarian Lucas was the only ‘person’ I saw in my little prison cell/recovery room. He wouldn’t talk about that night in Tokyo. No matter how much I yelled, begged, and threatened, he wouldn’t tell me Rebel’s condition. This, of course, made me assume the worst. I’d learned that the end of the world is the perfect time to assume the worst. Even if she wasn’t dead yet, she had to be in critical condition. I’d shot her in the head. But being in critical condition during the end of the world was as close to a death sentence as you could get. It’s not as if a team of doctors and nurses could mend her with top-of-the-line equipment.
Lucas also did a masterful job of keeping news of the relic from me. I remembered that the mask had hidden the scrap of ancient parchment within its layers of painted papier-mâché. I remembered Lucas’ glee at having two scroll pieces in our possession. But the guards had cuffed me before I could learn more.
Had the scroll piece yielded any clues? Were we any closer to securing the unknown weapon that my old teacher, Skyler, had told me could end the war?
Even with all of these questions, one haunted me more than any other.
Had I killed my best friend and partner for nothing?
I’d finally surrendered to the idea that Lucas didn’t have to tell me anything. I was his prisoner, after all. But the day before, recognizing my weakening will, he’d taken pity on me and told me the war was going well. That was a relief. But I was pissed that my own team was kicking ass without me. Maybe I wasn’t so damn important to the war effort after all. Wouldn’t that be a hoot?
I stared at the wall of my room and searched for answers. I would have given my entire fortune to know something for certain. Anything.
I needed help.
After I escaped, I needed someone to help me get my head on straight. But who? Who could guide me? Who had answers?
Skyler, maybe. My old teacher might help if I held his balls over a flame. Literally. Even then, I doubted he’d talk. Skyler had his own agenda. He and his kid-god-opium-addict Loki were up to something that had little to do with the battle I fought.
I could track down Tabitha. Otherwise known as the goddess, Isis. Otherwise known as Queen of Vampires. Daughter and wife of Set. Mother and sister of Osiris.
Best known to me as hot-as-hell.
I tried to damp down the hormones. It wasn’t a good time to fantasize. But her blood ran through my veins, and it had a knack for showing my own blood who’s boss at times.
Tabitha knew more than anyone else about everything. Maybe I should search her out. But she’d made it clear that she wasn’t going to play the game anymore. Her role was done. She was waiting to kick the bucket. She’d told us that her destiny was to die at the hands of Rebel and me. That gave me some comfort. Yeah, taking comfort in the death of someone was what my life had become. But if Rebel did indeed have a role in Tabitha’s death, then that meant Rebel would live. She had to be alive if she was going to fulfill her fucking destiny, right?
Like I said, there was a lot of darkness for me to fall into, and no Rebel to fall with this time.
And then, at the bottom of it all, I had the dream to itch at me somewhere way out of reach of my scratching finger.
The spear. I must find the spear.
The wait for my new babysitter was painful.
Being alone, in isolation, with just my thoughts for company, could be excruciating. And what made it worse, was my memory was slipping away, bit by bit. I’d recall a pizza dinner I’d enjoyed with Rebel years before, and it would fade away right in front of my mind’s eye.
I racked my brain for memories, desperately holding onto each one that flashed by. Even a recollection of a favorite film or book would wash over me like a salve, easing the pain that grew inside me. For a short time, at least.
The guards shut off my lights, which I’d assumed was a sign of night time. Who the hell knows, though. It could have been noon and I wouldn’t have known in that dark, windowless room.
The realization that I couldn’t remember how my parents had died hit me hard. My breath would get away from me and I’d find myself struggling for air. An anxiety was settling in.
A madness, maybe.
The quiet. The darkness. The loneliness.
I found myself wishing I’d paid better attention to Skyler’s meditation lessons. The asshole could sit down, legs crossed, in the middle of Grand Central Station and relax. He was able to find a place of peace in himself no matter what was going down. No small feat for a selfish, conniving rat like him.
With no sense of peace within reach, I shifted my frantic brain toward something I could chew on.
Lucas’ ALL CAPS message only grew darker and deadlier as I thought about it. I wished there was a window so I could see what time of day it was. It felt like I’d waited for days. The darkness inside of me and out was smothering.
Finally, the fluorescent light flickered on. It surged three times before it popped on all the way.
I heard the door knob rattle as the key was slid into the lock.
I ran my tongue over my teeth. I tried to swallow a moan of desperation. I needed to get the hell out of there, or I’d go mad.
The door swung open.
The two guards leaned in so they could check out the room.
They stood aside and Lucas’ replacement slapped the floor hard with the heels of boots that would have been right at home on a femdom dominatrix.
“You hungry, dickhead?” Ronin asked me, as she squeezed her way between the guards with a plate of steaming hot food in her hand.
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I was nine when I spoke to Dad for the last time. I’d forgotten to thank him for a birthday present. I believe it was a Radio Shack radio.
“You forgot, huh?” he said, on the phone.
Long pause. I was a sensitive kid. I think I knew that my nine years as his son were about to get gutted.
“Screw off,” he told me, a thousand miles, and a two-month old divorce, away.
I remember Mom grabbing the phone and screaming, “What did you say? What did you say to him?” until she was crying as hard as I was.
Ten years later, he’d finally succeeded in drinking himself dead. As I stood over his coffin, I was out of tears. And regrets. I was out of everything, even breath. But I shoved a goodbye through the scar tissue. I found some words.
“Thanks for the radio, Dad.”