Pact Arcanum: Book One

An excerpt comprising Chapter 1-4

Text Copyright 2012 by Arshad Ahsanuddin

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Part I:  Revelations


Chapter 1


January 2040; Los Angeles, California

Everything seemed set for a celebration, whoever would be the victor. The award ceremony was widely televised, and people were actually tuning in this year because the outcome of the contest for Best Picture was a matter of contentious debate. The viewers watched the celebrities strut down the red carpet in their jewels and finery, the ladies’ colorful gowns forming a rich kaleidoscope that contrasted with the more somber styles of the men’s tuxedos.

Stars gathered under the refracted light of the chandelier in the center of the theater. Its multitude of angular crystals made the light dazzle and dance as it rotated, burnishing the curtains that concealed the stage and illuminating the azure and gold scrollwork that ran down the walls.

Jeremy Harkness noted all this on his television handset as he followed the rest of his team backstage. Ignored by everyone else, who thought him just another stagehand, he was conscious of the holstered pistol on his belt, covered by his loose shirt. If everything went to plan, Alpha team would have already secured the television control room. He glanced at Medusa. A middle-aged woman in a dark gray suit, she stood apart, calm and collected as always. Soon enough they would make their move, and his team would be front and center to secure the stage.

Under cover of the strident music, Gamma team pushed aside the risers for the final presentation and maneuvered the forklift into the open space. So far, everything was going by the numbers. Jeremy turned his attention back to the miniature television monitor in his hand. Timing was everything. It was his job to give the signal that would ultimately set the plan in motion.

As the final announcement of the ceremony approached, the shimmering curtains framed a holographic virtual screen that appeared over the stage. A hush fell over the audience. The dramatic music ceased. Glittering celebrities leaned forward in their seats as they watched clips of the nominees projected in midair.

After the final clip, Gavin St. Cloud, one of the hottest actors of his generation and the previous year’s Best Actor, stepped forward to the lectern.

“Are you ready?” he asked with a smile, picking up the white parchment envelope to a smattering of applause. He grinned wider. “I said, are you ready?” The applause came again, louder this time.

Jeremy signaled to the others, who pulled on their masks and drew their weapons as Medusa stepped up to the second curtain and waited.

On his monitor, he watched the actor tear open the sealed envelope and pull a printed white card from within. As St. Cloud faced the cameras and dropped his gaze to read, Jeremy signaled again. Medusa stepped out onto the stage in full view of the cameras, her combat shotgun in hand. Striding up behind the unsuspecting actor, who was milking the announcement for every last drop of suspense, she clubbed him over the head and he dropped, writhing, to the floor. Ignoring the gasps and screams of the audience, Medusa calmly beat him into unconsciousness with the stock of her weapon.

Jeremy snapped his fingers and followed his team onto the stage, his machine gun hanging from its strap. Two of the men from Beta team grabbed the unconscious actor by his limp arms and legs and dragged him off. Noting the appearance of more armed men at the exits, Jeremy and the rest of the team stood guard over their leader as she adjusted the microphone headset she wore over her close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair.

She fired her weapon in the air. “Silence!”

The celebrities paused, rigid with fear.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you may call me Medusa. Currently, my people have weapons trained on all the access points to the building, and this room in particular, as well as the television control room. I am now in complete control of your lives.” She signaled to her team in the control room.

The curtain behind her rose, revealing the forklift at center stage. It carried a white metal cylinder about four feet long and eighteen inches wide.

“The object before you is a nuclear bomb controlled by this remote.” She raised her right forearm, revealing a metal box strapped to her wrist. “I am prepared to detonate this device if my demands are not met. I hereby invite a single representative of the government to enter the building and inspect the bomb, just to demonstrate that I mean business. This invitation is good for one hour. I will issue my demands at that time. You should all get comfortable. None of you are going anywhere for a while.”

Jeremy watched the celebrities wilt in their seats, any thought of resistance cowed by Delta team covering the exits and even more armed men spreading out down the red-carpeted aisles. An actress in a red gown caught his eye; she clung to her husband in fear, real tears washing mascara down her face. Ironic, he thought. She had just received an award recognizing her impressive portrayal of a woman renowned for bravery in battle. I guess you never know what your limits are until you’re tested. Jeremy held his weapon at the ready, but inwardly he was calm, relaxed even, as he settled in to wait. The dice had been rolled. It was only a matter of time before the gamble paid off.

Thirty minutes later, Medusa still stood silently at the lectern, the shotgun cradled against her right shoulder. Gamma team, reassigned to perimeter duty, stepped onto the stage, leading a tall man in a navy blue suit. Medusa looked him up and down. Then she pulled the microphone free of the lectern and pointed it at the newcomer. “Tell the folks at home who you are.”

“Agent Jeffries of the Los Angeles branch of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I am here to evaluate the nuclear threat.” The agent’s voice was calm and controlled.

Medusa waved at the bomb. “Be my guest, Agent.” Beta team escorted the agent to the white cylinder and pulled back the metal casing so he could view the compact, intricate workings. Taking no chances, Jeremy kept his weapon trained on the agent the entire time the man examined the weapon’s components.

“Do you believe me, Agent Jeffries?” she asked.

“It looks authentic,” he said in a noncommittal tone.

Medusa snorted. “Proof can be easily provided, Agent, but you really wouldn’t like it. Are you prepared to hear my demands?”

“I am.”

She smiled. “It has come to my attention that the United States government has secretly developed a new ground-launched cruise missile system suitable for nuclear deployment, in clear violation of our arms reduction treaties. I demand the United States acknowledge the existence of this illegal weapons program and make ready to turn the prototype delivery vehicle and projectiles over to a more responsible party for safekeeping.”

The agent stared owlishly at her as she turned the microphone on him. Finally, he blinked away his surprise and answered, “I have no knowledge of the weapon you describe. Even if it were real, I find it hard to believe that it would have come to anyone’s attention.”

Medusa gave a bark of laughter. “Oh, I assure you I am quite capable, Agent. I am also an honorable patriot. Therefore, I have decided to give the Daniels Administration the chance to come clean of its own accord.” She pointed her shotgun at the bomb. “Naturally, I needed to offer some incentive. It wasn’t that hard to put the right people in place to acquire the warhead from our outdated stockpiles. Now, I assure you that the weapons program exists. What are you going to do about it?”

Agent Jeffries watched her through narrowed eyes. “Suppose it does exist, and the government confirms it. What will you do?”

Medusa shrugged. “Once the weapon platform is safely in my hands, I will simply leave and take the bomb with me. Relatively simple, really.”

“Safely in your hands?” Agent Jeffries straightened up and his voice was cold.

“I will take possession of the missile launcher, Agent. You will bring it to me here, and my men and I will dispose of it to my satisfaction.” The terrorist’s smile grew wider. “Until then, consider the bomb my insurance policy against your inevitable attempt at betrayal.”

Agent Jeffries stared at her, stunned by her brazen request. “You want us to give you a missile launcher? I’m afraid that is quite unlikely.”

Medusa casually let the barrel of her shotgun drop to point at the agent as she checked her watch. “Then the city is going to die. That missile platform will be destroyed one way or another, Agent. You have twenty-two minutes left before my original deadline. If I do not receive confirmation of the disclosure within that time, I will detonate the bomb. I will graciously allow you another two hours after the deadline for actual delivery of the launch vehicle from its current location at the Los Angeles Air Force Base.” She waved her people forward. “My men will see you out, so you can communicate with your superiors.”

Gamma team escorted Agent Jeffries from the stage.

A high-pitched chime sounded throughout the hall and Medusa hesitated, trying to pinpoint the source of the noise. Behind his gauze mask, Jeremy frowned. Something was not going according to plan. A bright light flashed to his left and coalesced into the shape of a fair-skinned blond man about thirty years old who stood on the stage a few yards away from Medusa. He was dressed casually in a short-sleeved white linen shirt, blue jeans, and sneakers. Jeremy lowered his weapon into position to cover the intruder while the rest of Beta team surrounded him.

The man raised his hands calmly. “Peace, Medusa. I am not here to hurt you.” His voice echoed through the hall, perfectly relayed by the audio system even though he didn’t have a microphone.

“Who the hell are you?” asked Medusa, her composure slipping momentarily.

He dropped his hands, meeting her eyes with casual arrogance. “My name is Nicholas Magister Luscian, but feel free to call me Nick if it will help you relax.” He nodded amiably at the armed men that surrounded him. “I assure you I am no threat to you at this time. I am constrained by law from interfering in your operation.”

“How did you get in here?” she barked.

“Phased dimensional manipulation, otherwise known as class three teleportation.” Nick grinned at her. “And I came because I was invited.”

“Teleportation.” Medusa stepped closer, her show of temper ruthlessly suppressed and her shotgun never wavering from its target. “An interesting claim. I don’t know who you think you are or how you got past my men, but I know you weren’t invited.”

Nick crossed his arms over his chest, completely at ease as he ignored the weapons pointed at him. If this guy weren’t screwing up months of planning, Jeremy would have admired his self-possession. He had to admit that Nick cut an impressive figure, standing tall and unconcerned in a forest of machine guns, even if he was dressed to go bar hopping.

“Actually, I was. You issued an invitation for a single government representative to enter and inspect the bomb. You didn’t specify which government.” Jeremy stared at him through the thin layer of gauze. What the hell was that supposed to mean?

Nick glanced at him, as if he had heard Jeremy’s unspoken question, and then proceeded to answer it. “There are four national governments in North America: the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the Triumvirate Council. I am here on the Council’s behalf to evaluate the nuclear threat. You let the Americans have a look—now it’s our turn.”

Medusa regarded him coolly, but Jeremy could see her curiosity was piqued. Shit. She never let go of a problem when it sparked her interest. It was what made her such a gifted intelligence analyst, but it was only going to serve as a distraction here. “What exactly is the Triumvirate Council?” she asked.

“The Triumvirate rules over the Free People of North America and keeps the peace.” Nick maintained eye contact with Medusa, ignoring Jeremy and the rest of his men. “Generally speaking, our laws require us to leave your people alone to clean up your own messes, but this time, since you’ve placed a significant number of our own people at risk, the Council has chosen to intervene up to the stated limits of your invitation.”

Medusa smiled, amused despite herself. “And who do you mean by my people?”

Nick looked around at the armed men surrounding him. “The humans.”

Medusa laughed aloud. Turning to Jeremy, she commanded, “Get rid of him.”

Jeremy waved forward one of his largest men. The other terrorist let his weapon hang from its strap and stepped forward to grab Nick’s shoulder. Reaching up, Nick caught the man around the throat with one hand and casually lifted him off the floor. The rest of the men stepped back in surprise as their colleague choked, held firm in the intruder’s grasp.

Jeremy snapped out of his shock. “Keep your weapons on the target,” he ordered his men.

Nick turned to look at Medusa. “It’s against my honor to kill human beings, but I will cripple him without a second thought. Now why don’t you just let me do my job, and I will leave you to do yours?”

Medusa stared at her man, who was desperately trying to pry Nick’s fingers away from his windpipe. “Put him down.”

Nick dropped the man to the floor with a thud.

“The terms of your invitation were very specific, Medusa. Are you going to let me take a look at your bomb, or are you not so honorable after all?”

Medusa’s face reddened. “Fine. If that’s what it will take.”

Jeremy could see she was annoyed at the insult, but she was too smart to be baited. Whoever this guy was, they could control him until he could be disposed of.

Nick walked toward the metal cylinder, stopping a few feet away. Jeremy and three of his men followed, their weapons tracking his every movement.

“Rapier,” said Nick, “give me a tactical analysis of the device in front of me.”

A new voice echoed throughout the hall. “The device is a B83 thermonuclear weapon, estimated yield 1.2 megatons. It is primed to detonate by microwave remote control. Ground burst detonation will immediately destroy all artificial structures in a two-mile radius, with extensive damage to civilian buildings for several miles beyond that, followed by progressive destruction secondary to the ensuing thermal firestorm. The subsequent radioactive fallout will render the greater metropolitan area inimical to virtually all forms of life for at least three hundred years.”

“Projected casualties?”

“Estimated human casualties exceed three million deaths. Metahuman casualties are estimated at twenty thousand deaths.”

“Inform Armistice Security that the threat is credible and recommend immediate evacuation of all our people in the greater Los Angeles area.”


Walking back to the front of the stage, he confronted Medusa. “Rapier seems to think you’re telling the truth.”

“Your partner must have a good view of the stage to be able to identify the weapon so precisely,” Medusa said, squinting into the shadows offstage. “Where is he hiding?”

“He’s not hiding. He’s right here. Introduce yourself, Rapier.”

“Greetings, Medusa,” said the voice. “I am Rapier, a third-generation artificial intelligence in contractual service to Nicholas Magister Luscian on behalf of Armistice Security. My function is to provide personal, administrative, and logistical support in his capacity as Triumvirate Council Ambassador to the Court of Shadows. My program is currently resident in a network of implanted cybernetic biocircuitry throughout the Ambassador’s body. My voice is generated by manipulation of the surrounding air to generate simulated sound, and I am transmitting the Ambassador’s voice and ambient sound directly to the local audio and television broadcast systems.”

As Rapier was speaking, Jeremy heard a faint whisper of sound, and then something changed. The colors of the room seemed too bright suddenly, and he felt the beginning of a migraine. Great. I haven’t had one of those in years. Why now? The noise level rose as the room filled with voices—too many to make out the words. He tried to focus on Medusa. I don’t have time for this. I have a job to do.

“Teleportation would be hard enough to swallow, without believing in AI.” Medusa snorted and glanced at her watch. “This has been a pleasant distraction, but you have now wasted eleven minutes of my time, and I am quite busy at the moment. I suggest you leave, or I will have you shot.”

“Nicholas,” said Rapier, “I am receiving a tactical update from Armistice Security being broadcast system-wide over the planetary communications grid. A level five emergency has been declared in the city of Los Angeles, California, subspecification: nuclear attack. Teleport evacuation of all Armistice personnel from the blast area will commence in ten seconds. Estimated time to complete evacuation is ninety seconds.”

Nick’s expression hardened. “Take me off the list, Rapier. I’ll be staying a little while longer.” He looked back at Medusa. “Just out of curiosity, what’s your real angle?”

She straightened a little. “My angle?”

“I know humans don’t need a reason to kill each other, though you’ve started to get more spectacular about it in recent decades.” Nick cocked his head. “But you knew the US government wouldn’t accede to your demands. Aren’t you even going to pretend to justify your actions?”

The terrorist stared at him in disbelief. “Are you mocking me?”

“A little,” Nick said without blinking. “I mean, you’ve gone to a lot of trouble to commit suicide and take millions of people with you. What’s your point?”

“I don’t answer to you, Boy.”

“Then who do you answer to?” Nick looked around at the armed men standing around him. “What about the rest of you? Are all of you so willing to spend your lives for nothing? Surely, you realize she intends to go through with it? She’s only held off this long to satisfy her own curiosity.”

Medusa laughed and gestured to her soldiers. “Don’t waste your breath, Nick. My men are deeply committed individuals. They know that we’re serving a higher purpose.”

As she spoke, just for a moment, Jeremy looked directly into her eyes. His awareness suddenly exploded—images and scenes he didn’t recognize but knew immediately to be true crowded together in his brain. He saw everything: from the present moment to the instant she first conceived the operation that had brought them here. Year upon year of memory unfolded before him in a heartbeat, and Jeremy finally understood just how completely he had been used.

“You unbelievable bitch!”

Nick and Medusa turned to face the interruption in surprise. Tossing his machine gun aside, Jeremy peeled off his mask and dropped it to the floor, revealing his pale skin and black hair. He stepped forward to stand between Nick and Medusa. “It’s all a lie, isn’t it?” he screamed at her. “We believed in you, and it’s all bullshit!”

The other armed men watched in confusion. Medusa’s backhand caught him by surprise, and he staggered.

“Get a hold of yourself, Harkness, and get back to your position!” she yelled.

Jeremy clenched his fists at his sides, his gray eyes blazing above the angry red mark on his cheek. “I can see what you are. You’ve been lying to us from the beginning! You said you were just going to threaten them, that the bomb was a last resort, but you planned to blow the city away right from the beginning, no matter what happened. This is all about revenge, that’s all!”

Medusa widened her eyes, and her face flushed. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, Harkness. Now shut your mouth and get back to your post!”

“Why didn’t you tell us about your family, then?” Jeremy asked. “The police killed them both, and now you’re just trying to make the city pay. There’s no noble cause here; there never was!”

Medusa turned white with rage and pointed her shotgun at Jeremy. “One more word and I will shoot you dead.”

“So kill me. But I won’t die for you.” Jeremy set his jaw defiantly. “My eyes are open, and I am not afraid.”

Medusa met his angry stare. “Fine. If that’s what you want.” She pulled the trigger just as Nick moved between them in a blur. The shotgun blast threw Nick backward into Jeremy’s chest, knocking both men to the floor.

Nick stood, his shirt now bright red and dripping. Jeremy watched in disbelief, unable to catch his breath as he lay on the floor.

“Stay down,” Nick said with a grim expression. He raised his clenched fist, and a bright orange light surrounded his hand. Then he hurled the ball of light at the bomb, which erupted in sparks.

Medusa screamed in rage before flipping open the remote on her arm and pressing the switch inside. Nothing happened. Howling, she shot Nick in the back.

Bright red stains bloomed across the back of his white shirt. Then he turned and snatched the gun out of his attacker’s hands, snapping it in half and tossing the pieces at Medusa’s feet. As she fumbled in her jacket for a handgun, Nick bent his knees and jumped backward, launching himself upward and into a graceful somersault in the air. As Jeremy watched, Nick came to rest about fifteen feet from her, suspended in the air about eight feet above the stage. Recovering from their shock, the rest of Medusa’s soldiers opened fire, but Nick ignored the bullets even as they struck him. His hands clasped in front of his body, Nick turned in a tight pirouette, spinning faster and faster as a tracery of brilliant lines blossomed around him, weaving itself into a cocoon of multicolored light. All at once, he stopped dead, facing the audience. He snapped his arms straight out from his sides, and the bubble of light expanded, washing over the terrorists still shooting at him. As the light touched them, they collapsed. The light continued to spread in a spherical wave until it eventually breached the confines of the room, armed men dropping like flies in its wake.

Jeremy lay where he was, huddled on the stage, untouched by whatever force had felled the others. Most of the audience, he saw, had snatched the opportunity to escape, trampling their erstwhile captors as they fled.

Nick lowered his arms to his sides and dropped to the floor. Walking to the front of the stage, he peered down at Medusa’s prone form and shook his head. Turning back to Jeremy, he held out his hand. “You can get up now.”

Jeremy scrambled to his feet, ignoring the proffered hand, and looked uncertainly around the stage at his fallen comrades. “Are they dead?”

“No. Just unconscious. Give them a few hours and they’ll all wake up with splitting headaches.” Nick pulled his shirt over his head and held it at arm’s length to inspect it, blood-soaked and full of holes. He sighed. “I really liked that shirt.” Balling it up, he then tossed it on top of the still-smoking bomb.

“How did you do that?” Jeremy stared at Nick in shock. “You’re covered in blood, but there’s not a mark on you.”

Nick shrugged. “I heal fast.” He scratched nonchalantly at his stomach. “But I’m not going to be able to go through a metal detector for a few days until I metabolize the bullets. I mean, damn, what are you people using? Steel-jacketed ammo?”

Jeremy nodded silently, his eyes seeking any sign of the bullet holes that should have riddled Nick’s chest.

“Ah, well then, make it a week.” Nick knit his fingers together, making a triangle out of his thumbs and index fingers. A soft green glow spread from his hands to envelop his body, then faded, leaving him standing fully clothed again, cleansed of bloodstains. He was now wearing white slacks tucked into white leather boots and a collarless, white, long-sleeved shirt with a Maltese cross embroidered over the right breast in silver thread, overlaid with three concentric circles in gold. “So, Harkness, is that your first name or your last?”

Jeremy continued to stare at him. “Last. My first name’s Jeremy.” He swallowed. “What are you?”

Nick smiled in approval. “That’s a good question, and probably the smartest thing you’ve said all day.” His eyes flickered to something unseen behind Jeremy. “Time to face the music.”


Chapter 2


The air behind Jeremy shimmered, and a third man appeared on the stage. He was dressed in a gray outfit, similar to Nick’s in design, and over the top wore a canvas vest embroidered with a logo—a blue sword surrounded by a circle half filled with white. Black leather bracers on his forearms each held a sheathed dagger. His wide, dark eyes silently expressed his amusement as his gaze raked over the fallen terrorists and the scorched bomb casing.

“Hello, Nicholas,” he said, and his chiseled features relaxed into a wide grin.

“Scott.” Nick gave him a crooked smile. “What brings you up here?”

Scott scratched idly at his chin. “Well, every gun-toting human for miles around just passed out. Your work, I believe?”

“Just something I’ve been working on.” Nick shrugged. “A souped-up version of standard Neural Shock, targeted at any human carrying gunpowder.”

“I figured that out as it passed me. Nice design. Well, after that, there didn’t seem to be any further need to keep out the Special Forces soldiers who were trying to storm the building, so I decided to see how you were getting along.” He nodded in Jeremy’s direction. “Looks like you missed one.”

“I thought I might need a witness.”

Scott’s voice hardened. “Is a witness really going to help your case, do you think?”

“That remains to be seen.”

“Why did you set the range so high? You knocked out police and soldiers all around the building, as well as the terrorists inside.”

“I didn’t have time to recalculate the parameters of the spell, so I had to stick with the original one-mile radius.” Nick’s voice was matter-of-fact.

Jeremy started at that, his gaze snapping from Scott’s face to Nick’s. “Spell?”

Scott ignored him. “You set it for a one-mile radius, with yourself at the center, and targeted it to incapacitate humans carrying firearms. What was it designed to do, take out an army?”

Nick was eloquently silent.

“I see.” Scott sighed. “Nick, I love you like a brother, but if I let you just walk out of here after this debacle, then they’ll hunt you down and kill you without mercy.”

“I know. Do what you have to do, Scotty.”

Scott was silent for a moment, lost in thought. “Quarrel,” he said finally, “bear witness.”

“Forensic recording enabled,” said another disembodied voice.

Scott stood straighter. “Armistice Security judicial proceeding initiated this time and date, Special Agent Scott Maxwell Phillips Consul Luscian presiding.” He looked at Nick. “Citizen, please state your full name for the record.”

“Nicholas Magister Luscian.”

“Nicholas Magister Luscian, the available evidence indicates you have engaged in multiple counts of the willful exercise of magic with hostile intent upon human beings without their consent. Do you challenge this interpretation of events?”


“At the time of your actions, were you aware that they would constitute a class-one offense, punishable by immediate and final death?”


“You are hereby charged with multiple counts of class-one breach of Armistice. Your unconditional surrender is required under article one of the Rules of Engagement.”

“I surrender.”

“The court finds sufficient evidence present to sustain a directed trial order of summary execution. Do you have anything to say in your defense before sentence is passed?”

Nick folded his arms and stood his ground. “I claim justification under article three of the Rules of Engagement.”

Scott scowled at him. “Acting in protection of life only applies to self-defense when your life is actually in danger. There is no weapon in this room sufficiently powerful to kill you, with the exception of the nuclear device itself, and you had ample opportunity to escape before detonation.”

“Not my life,” said Nick. He pointed at Jeremy, who watched with fascination. “I was protecting his.”

Scott glanced at Jeremy. “Article three doesn’t apply to defending humans.”

“He’s not human.”

Jeremy’s jaw dropped. “What?”

“I think he’s one of us. More specifically, I think he’s one of you,” Nick said.

Scott turned to Jeremy and scrutinized him. “I see no evidence of the Gift.”

“You’re looking in the wrong place.” Nick shook his head. “I believe his Gift has been silenced in favor of an alternate configuration.”

Scott’s eyebrows shot up. “The Celtic mutation?”

“So I believe.”

“Do you have any idea how long it’s been since the last confirmed case of the Celtic mutation coexisting with the full Gift?”

“Fourteen years.”

“And you think you found one of our Lost Brothers just in time to give you a pretext to prevent the massacre of the city of your birth? Isn’t that awfully convenient, Nick?”

Nick shrugged. “Coincidence.”

Scott gave him a calculating look. “Present your evidence.”

“While I was speaking to the terrorist leader, I conducted an active scan of all minds in the building in case an opportunity to intervene arose.” He looked at Jeremy. “A few seconds after I touched his mind, Jeremy demonstrated high-order telepathy. He performed a deep read on his leader, which revealed her true motivations—revenge for the murder of her family in a gang-related crossfire with police almost ten years ago. I had already independently verified that motive by my own deep read.”

Jeremy stared at him, eyes wide.

“His latent ability most likely responded to the direct touch of another mind,” said Scott, continuing to ignore Jeremy. “But telepathy is predominantly a function of human genetics and is not exclusive to those with access to the Gift, silenced or otherwise. The court dismisses your argument.”

Nick took a deep breath. “The Neural Shock spell I released was targeted at any human carrying a firearm. Jeremy is wearing a pistol on his hip.” All three men looked at the holstered weapon on Jeremy’s belt. “I did nothing to shield him from the spell, and he escaped its effects entirely.”

Scott considered that. “The court reserves judgment until such time as the parameters of the spell are reviewed in detail and an alternate explanation is excluded. Present your next argument.”

Nick met Scott’s eyes defiantly, straightening to his full six feet. “The last thing he did before the bullets started flying was quote the last line of the Words of Binding.”

Jeremy frowned. “What are you talking about?”

Scott pointed at him. “Please state your full name for the record.”

“What are the Words of Binding?”

“State your name, please,” Scott repeated.

“Jeremy Kenneth Harkness. What is he talking about?”

Scott spoke a few words in an unknown language, and then translated. “My eyes are open, and I am not afraid.”

Jeremy’s face paled and he clenched his fists at his sides. “That’s nothing.”

Scott stepped closer, maintaining eye contact. “They were the last words you were going to speak in your mortal life. Obviously, they have some meaning to you.”

Jeremy set his jaw. “It doesn’t matter.” The words are mine. No one can have them.

“My best friend is on trial for a capital crime, all because he saved your life. Don’t you think you owe it to him to be honest with me?”

Jeremy looked at Nick, who was watching him intently. It finally penetrated that he had come close to dying only a few minutes before. He sagged at the revelation, too shocked to censor his words. “It’s just a kid’s oath I made up, part of a game of make-believe I created in my head after my parents died. I never told anyone about it.”

“Will you tell me the rest of the oath?” asked Scott.

“No,” Jeremy spat.

“Because it means too much to you to share.” Scott’s voice was gentle. “Even if it was a kid’s oath. Even if it was just make-believe. It’s still vitally important to you, isn’t it?”

Jeremy said nothing, just scowled at him.

“Jeremy, I was born human, but I carried a powerful inherited magic called the Gift. It’s a hereditary spell woven into various bloodlines worldwide for tens of thousands of years. It only comes into its full power when inherited from both parents and then remains dormant until a very special set of circumstances awakens it. Nick believes you have the Gift but that it has been interrupted by a genetic mutation that arose in the human population of Ireland about three thousand years ago. It short circuits the Gift and diverts its power into human psychic abilities, such as telepathy, precognition, and telekinesis. The Celtic people referred to this phenomenon as Second Sight.”

“The Sight?” Jeremy’s eyes widened. “But that’s just a myth.”

“Do you have any Irish ancestry?”

Jeremy swallowed. “My mother’s family was from Dublin.” He shook his head. “No, this is crazy. I don’t believe you. You guys are trying to run some kind of scam on me.”

“Jeremy, when the Gift is kindled, it triggers a cascade of physical enhancements that magnify combat abilities, such as strength, agility, and endurance. Then it activates a preprogrammed sequence of memories and abilities attuned to the personality of the Gifted, turning the human into an instant soldier with all of the skills necessary to fight a war that has been raging in the shadows of this world for more than thirty thousand years.” Scott placed his hand on Jeremy’s shoulder. “The Gifted person stops being human and becomes a Sentinel.”

Jeremy stepped back, out of reach. “No. No, that isn’t possible. Sentinels are just in my imagination. I made them up. They were like knights in armor, but with magic.”

“That’s a fair description.”

“It was just a game,” Jeremy shouted. “It wasn’t real!”

“It was never a game, Jeremy,” Scott said with infinite patience. “It was a race memory from the remains of the Gift. A memory of who you were meant to be.”

“I don’t believe you!” Jeremy raised his fists and stepped forward to attack.

“I am a Child of the Twilight,” Scott said quietly.

Jeremy froze in place.

“I hold the line against the darkness, from the setting of the sun until the dawning of a new day.”

“I live for the Light; I die for the Light.” Jeremy’s voice softened with wonder as he let his hands fall back to his sides. “My eyes are open, and I am not afraid.”

“Are you satisfied?” Nick asked.

“The article three defense is sustained,” Scott told Nick, not taking his eyes off Jeremy. “The charges against you are withdrawn without prejudice. The court finds no fault in your actions and extends to you the thanks of the Sentinel people for your defense of our Lost Brother. This judicial proceeding is now closed. Set and done on this date over my seal and signature, Scott Maxwell Phillips Consul Luscian, called the Wind of Water, Armistice Security.”

“Forensic recording terminated,” said the voice of his AI.

Nick exhaled slowly. “Would you have done it, Scotty? If the verdict had gone the other way, would you have tried to kill me?”

“For a public breach this bad, I would have had to. No one would have stood for it. If I had let you go, the truce would have crumbled.” Scott grinned as he turned to face Nick. “Emphasis on the word ‘tried’. You’re stronger than I am, a lot stronger, but I would have slowed you down long enough for the others to get here.”

Nick raised his eyebrows. “Others?”

“You’re a high profile target.” Scott shrugged. “Every Sentinel in the country would have come running for the chance to help take down Soulkiller’s Bane.”

“Charming.” Nick grimaced. “A mystic free-for-all in the heart of Los Angeles.”

“It would have been a shame to have saved the city from nuclear destruction but then reduced all of Southern California to molten glass in the aftermath.” Scott looked around at the cameras. “So, I have to say, you certainly let the cat out of the bag this time. This kind of public disclosure would constitute a class three breach if the Triumvirate hadn’t agreed to let you handle it your way. I thought you were just supposed to provoke her into attacking you. Why didn’t you have Rapier knock out the cameras?”

“From reading Medusa’s mind, I knew she was going to press the button regardless. I had to keep her off balance until I could goad her into something rash. She was curious, though, and she had an authoritarian streak a mile wide. As long as I challenged her in public, with the cameras rolling, she would have held off on the detonation until she could put me in my place. Jeremy screwed everything up by taking my side. Anyway, it’s too late to do anything about it now.” Nick turned to Jeremy. “Speaking of which, it’s time for you to make a choice.”

“What choice?” Jeremy looked back and forth between them.

“One of our associates is maintaining force shields around the building. She’s keeping out the reinforcements that have arrived to replace the soldiers knocked out by Nick’s spell.”

“The shields will dissipate when we leave.” Nick indicated the bomb. “You came here to nuke the city, Jeremy. The fact that you changed your mind probably won’t cut much ice with the human authorities. If you want to stay here, you’re going to spend the rest of your life behind bars, along with Medusa and the rest of them.”

“But you have another option, if you choose to take it,” Scott said.

“What option?”

“You have obviously been able to subconsciously access some of the memories from your Gift, so they’re still there, just suppressed. I can bring those memories fully into your awareness and let you remember who you are, even if you won’t have the physical enhancements or the magic that should have been yours. If you choose that path, you can come with us and find sanctuary among the Free People, at least for a while.”

“What do I have to do?” Jeremy licked his lips nervously.

“You just have to give me your consent.”

“Can I ask a question first?”

“If you like.”

Jeremy looked at Nick. “If he’s a Sentinel, and I’m a Sentinel, then what are you?”

Nick smiled at Scott. “He’s a sharp one.”

“Maybe we should discuss this elsewhere,” Scott said, glancing at the cameras again.

“It’s too late to be coy, Scotty.”

Scott chuckled. “Jeremy, in your kid’s game, what was the purpose of Sentinels? What did they do?”

Jeremy frowned. “They killed vampires.” He shrugged. “I know—it’s stupid.”

Nick smiled wider, revealing his fangs.


Chapter 3


Jeremy stumbled back in surprise. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” He stared at Nick. “You can’t be serious!”

“I didn’t say a word, Jeremy.” Nick stopped smiling, and his fangs retracted. His voice grew serious. “If you choose to live your life as a Sentinel, you’re going to have to catch up on current events. The rules have changed.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You will,” said Scott. “But I need your consent.”

“Fine.” Jeremy stood up straight. “Do whatever you need to do.”

Stepping forward, Scott laid the tip of his right index finger on the center of Jeremy’s forehead. Jeremy’s eyes widened as he stared straight ahead into a brilliant white light only he could see.

“Jeremy Kenneth Harkness, by your true name I bind you. I call your Gift to my hand, and I command you—remember.”

A cascade of images funneled through Jeremy’s mind, shattering his awareness into fragments of thought and memory. Immediately, the spell stitched together the torn pages of his personality, as if rebinding a book.

Scott lifted his finger away from Jeremy’s skin, and the younger man collapsed to the floor, shivering.

“How do you feel, brother?” Scott offered Jeremy his hand.

“Awake,” Jeremy said, dazed. “Like I’ve been asleep my whole life.” He let Scott help him to his feet. Then he turned to look at Nick. Eyes bulging, he stepped backward in shock. Jesus.

“Jeremy,” Nick said, hurriedly raising his hands. “Wait a minute.”

Jeremy snapped his right arm forward with his palm facing Nick and his fingers splayed. The knowledge of how to strike had automatically risen out of his subconscious, as if he had always known.

Nick staggered back and screamed. Falling to his knees, he clutched his head in his hands.

“Jeremy, wait!” Scott grabbed Jeremy’s wrist.

“He’s one of them,” said Jeremy, his voice brimming with hatred.

“Listen to me, Jeremy. There are things you don’t know, things you don’t understand. Let him go.” Scott squeezed the younger man’s wrist, and Jeremy winced in pain. “Trust me. Please, just let him go and I’ll explain everything.”

Still looking at Nick, Jeremy slowly closed his fingers into a fist, disengaging his attack. “Only because he saved my life. For that, I’ll let you explain.”

Nick shuddered and then leapt to his feet, fangs and talons extended. “That fucking hurt!” he yelled, his voice deepening.

Scott let go of Jeremy’s arm. “Nick, you’re Third Order. Weren’t you shielding?”

Nick growled, his eyes blazing red. “Of course I was shielding!” Then he paused and his fangs and claws retracted. “I am shielding.” He looked at Scott and his eyes faded back to blue again. “All of my mental defenses are intact. He didn’t go through them; he went over. That was a Fourth Order attack.”

“There hasn’t been a Fourth Order telepath in sixteen hundred years,” Scott scoffed, turning to look at Jeremy.

“Jacob of Glastonbury—he took out half of House Daviroquir all by himself before they finally killed him.”

“Well,” said Scott, showing doubt for the first time. “That’s disturbing.”

“No kidding. His Gift must be immense to have channeled that much energy into psychic power.” Nick whistled. “He may be physically human, but psychically, he could probably wipe the floor with both of us put together.”

“If the two of you are done talking about me like I’m not even here,” Jeremy said impatiently, “could one of you explain why you’re acting so chummy? You are enemies, after all.”

“That’s part of those current events I wanted to tell you about,” said Scott. “Anywhere else and you’d be right, but in North America there’s a peace treaty.”

Jeremy laughed. “Sure, a treaty with vampires. That’s rich.”

“It’s true,” said Scott. “The truce has held for almost twenty years. They don’t kill us, and we don’t kill them. Armistice Security maintains the terms of the treaty, and all major disputes are settled by the Triumvirate, composed of one representative from each of the three races: Sentinel, Nightwalker, and Daywalker.”

Jeremy raised an eyebrow. “What’s a Daywalker?”

“A Daywalker is what you get when a Nightwalker takes back his soul and is cleansed of the Red Wind through a power from the higher planes called the ‘Grace’,” Nick said.

“Wait,” said Jeremy. “There’s a cure for vampirism?”

“There is.” Nick stood straight. “We are the Children of the Dawn, the soldiers of darkness redeemed, and we are not your enemy.”

“But you’re still one of them,” Jeremy said, his thoughts circling the citadel of Nick’s mind, which bristled with power. “I can feel it. You’re not human—and not Sentinel.”

Nick shook his head. “The physical changes wrought by the Red Wind are irreversible. That’s what you’re feeling—the altered architecture of my mind. But I am not Red. You’d be able to feel the difference if you had full command of your Gift.”

“But I don’t, so why should I accept any of this?” Jeremy said defiantly. “Show me some proof.”

After a long pause, Nick said, “Do you have any particular religious beliefs, Jeremy?”

“What?” asked Jeremy, surprised at the change in tack. “My mom raised me Irish Catholic, but I haven’t been to church in years. Why?”

Nick looked at Scott. “Give him a cross.”

Scott hesitated. “Are you sure?”

Nick nodded.

Reaching into an inner pocket of his vest, Scott pulled out a long silver cross and handed it to Jeremy.

Jeremy looked at the cross in his hand, confused. “What am I supposed to do with this? I don’t have the magic to activate it.”

“You have a faith-matched holy symbol to use as a focus,” said Nick. “Do you remember how to invoke a Faith Ward?”

“Sure, I know the spell, but that won’t do me any good. I have no power.”

“A Faith Ward is borrowed power,” explained Scott. “It exists outside the parameters of the Gift. Frame your intent, invoke the spell, and if your purpose is judged pure, the Light will answer.”

Jeremy swallowed, looking down at the cross. He glanced at the bomb and at the bodies of his fallen comrades before turning to Nick. “I’m not exactly a pure person.”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Nick. “You’re a Sentinel. You swore your allegiance to the White Wind with your very first breath and will serve until the day you die. Once the ward is established, it will negate any dark magic that touches it. If I am a Child of Darkness, I will be reduced to dust when I try to cross your circle.”

Jeremy stared at him for several seconds. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and bowed his head. Lord, I know we haven’t been on speaking terms lately, but I ask that You lend me the smallest part of Your strength so that I can see the truth for myself. His lips moved silently as he invoked the spell.

The world exploded in light. Jeremy’s eyes snapped open, focusing on Nick. The entire scene was lit by a bright blue glow, and he could see the light of the vampire’s soul shining from his chest. A halo composed of countless lights spun around his head. It was beautiful—beautiful beyond anything Jeremy had ever witnessed. That was enough to make him pause. I have to be sure. I have to know.

He lifted the cross in his hand and held it up toward Nick. It burst into searing blue light, encircling him with azure flames.

Stepping forward, Nick casually crossed the circle of flames unharmed. “Now do you believe me?” he asked.

“Take it.” Jeremy’s voice resonated with power. “Take the focus from my hand, and I will believe it all.”

Nick crossed the remaining distance between them and reached out to grasp the cross. For a moment, they both gripped it, and then the color of the light changed to a bright, actinic white as Jeremy let his hand fall. Nick was left clutching the radiant white cross, his eyes filled with light as the circle of flames died away.

“No!” yelled Scott. Sprinting forward, he pushed Jeremy out of the way and grasped Nick’s shoulders. “Nick, listen to me! You have to let go. You’re trying to channel a Pure Draw. You have to stop. It’ll kill you!”

“It’s so beautiful,” said Nick, lost in a dream, his eyes staring straight ahead. He began to sing softly in a language no one in the room could understand.

“I know. God, I know. But you can’t stay there! You have to stop!” He shook Nick roughly. “Nicholas! Come back!”

Nick slumped and slid from Scott’s grasp. Falling to his knees on the floor, still holding the glowing cross in both hands, he continued to sing.

Scott spun around and glared at Jeremy. “Damn you! What have you done?” Then he closed his eyes and yelled, “Ana, I need you! Come to me now!”


* * *


With a white flash of light, Anaba appeared on stage. Dressed as Scott was and holding a six-foot staff of crystal inscribed with runes, the Native American woman looked critically at the harsh white light streaming from the Daywalker’s eyes and from the cross he clenched in his hands. She turned back to the other Sentinel, her anger palpable. “You idiots shouldn’t have kept me away.” She glared at Scott, and her bronze skin flushed with rage. “What the hell do you expect me to do now?”

“There’s no time. I need you to anchor me while I go after him.”

Ana pointed into the heart of the light. “You can’t follow him into that! You’ll both die. Even if you don’t burn yourself out trying to reach him, he won’t come back willingly, and you won’t have enough strength left to compel him.”

“With both of us working together, we might have a chance of forcing him to return,” insisted Scott. “I have to try.”

“There’s no chance. None at all. You do this, and you’ll die. My soul alone won’t be enough to serve as an anchor. You’ll be swept away.”

“Are you going to help me or not?” Scott screamed.

Ana snarled in frustration. “If you’re dead set on suicide, we have to move fast—while he’s still close enough to reach. That’s the only chance you have.”

Turning around, Scott got down on both knees in front of Nick. Ana knelt beside him and cast the spell under her breath. Her staff flared with a crimson light, which filtered over her body and enshrouded her in a scarlet haze. Reaching out, she placed her hand on Scott’s shoulders, and the red glow spread out over Scott, too. Scott wrapped both hands around Nick’s, which were still locked on the glowing cross. Immediately, Scott gasped, and his eyes shone with bright light. The Sentinel hunched over in pain and cried out weakly. Ana felt the psychic anchor stretch to the breaking point. Please, God. Don’t do this to me. The anchor shivered, on the verge of shattering.

At that moment, she felt a hand on her shoulder. Shocked, Ana felt the presence of another Sentinel soul, and the anchor spell found extra purchase. The glow around the two kneeling Sentinels turned to scarlet flames. Scott’s head snapped up, and the light faded from his eyes. He drew a shallow breath.

“Now, Scott!” yelled Ana. “While there’s still time!”

Scott leaned forward, his eyes focused ahead of him, and shouted, “STOP!”

Nick raised his head, breaking off his song. “Scotty?”

“Forgive me, brother.” Scott clutched Nick’s hands tightly. Then the red flames washed over their interlocked grip and surrounded Nick as well.

A shriek of denial split the air as Nick tried to pull his hands out of Scott’s grasp.

“Nicholas Lawrence Jameson, by your true name I bind you.” Scott’s voice was perfectly synchronized by Ana’s as they simultaneously worked the binding spell. “I call your soul to my hand, and I command you—return!”

Nick wailed as the light faded from his eyes. The white fire of the cross faded to silver, and Scott wrenched it out of Nick’s hands and cast it aside. He wrapped his arms around his friend, ignoring the tears of blood that wet his shoulder as Nick sobbed.

As the red flames died away, Jeremy removed his hand from Ana’s shoulder and stepped back.

Ana turned to look at him. He was young, in his mid-twenties perhaps, and dressed in casual, non-descript clothes. Apparently, terrorists and stagehands make similar fashion choices. “Thanks for the assist. Without another soul to draw upon, the anchor would have failed. I would have lost them both if you hadn’t been here.”

“Don’t mention it.”

Ana walked over to Scott. “Scott, how could you let this happen?”

Scott carefully pulled away from Nick, leaving the Daywalker rocking slowly back and forth. Then he turned to face Jeremy.


Chapter 4


Scott shifted form. His bones and muscles flowed like liquid as he forced his hands into the shape he knew could inflict the most damage, growing red scales and long, curved claws.

“Sentinel Harkness,” Scott said through clenched teeth, “seeing as you all but tried to murder my dyad brother, I am completely within my rights to rip your head off in revenge, Lost Brother or not. Can you give me any reason why I shouldn’t?”

Jeremy took a step backward. “It wasn’t like that.”

“Then what was it like?” demanded Ana.

“It was what he needed,” Jeremy said unapologetically.

“What the hell do you know about what he needs?”

“Everything,” Jeremy replied with absolute confidence.

Scott scowled at him. “You have sixty seconds to explain that statement, Sentinel.”

“I invoked power to see the truth. When he touched the focus at the same time as I did, something happened. Time slowed down, and I could see everything around me.”

“An akashic event,” said Ana, her eyes narrowing. “The Light granted you a vision.”

“That’s right. It let me see him.” Jeremy stepped to the side, bringing Nick back into his direct view. “All of him. His entire life stretched out before me, and I saw everything. Every thought, every emotion, all his secrets, all the things he’s kept even from you both.” He turned back to Scott. “He was losing it. You may have thought your intervention helped before, but he was in a death spiral, slipping deeper and deeper into despair, wallowing in the darkness of what Luscian did to him. You were closest to him. You must have seen the signs.”

Scott was silent. Nick made the only sound—a quiet weeping.

Then Ana spoke. “That doesn’t explain what you did.”

“He needed something to believe in,” said Jeremy, “something to sustain him when the rest of you were gone. Honor and duty were the only things keeping him going. So I released my hold on the power and gave it away.”

Scott snarled, his teeth lengthening into razor-sharp fangs. “You gave the power to him after stripping away the constraints of your intent! You never let that kind of energy run free without restriction. Never! Nothing can stand against it. What were you thinking, passing him a Pure Draw? Unfiltered power of that magnitude destroys everything it touches.”

“It had to be pure,” said Jeremy. “Otherwise it wouldn’t have been enough. If he survived, he would have an eternal memory of perfect and everlasting light to keep him alive.”

“How was he supposed to survive that?” Ana demanded. “Nothing from our reality can coexist with what lives beyond the Gates. Nothing at all.”

“He is Soulkiller’s Bane,” argued Jeremy. “If anyone could have lived through it, it would have been him.”

“So you did it on purpose, knowing he would almost certainly die,” said Ana.

Scott flexed his claws. “Your sixty seconds are up, Sentinel. I hope you weren’t too attached to your head.”

“Enough,” said a tired voice behind them. They turned to see Nick struggling to his feet and wiping at the bloodied tear tracks on his face. “Leave him alone.”

“Nick, you can’t be serious,” said Ana. “He tried to kill you.”

“But he didn’t.” Nick walked past the two Sentinels to stand directly in front of Jeremy. “I heard you say what you did and that you thought I needed it, but you never said why you bothered. Why take the risk? You must have known Scott would kill you if I didn’t make it.”

“I was fully prepared never to leave this room.” Jeremy’s eyes returned to the bomb before he swung around to face Nick again. “You saved my life. You thought I was a pathetic, self-deluded zealot, ready to stain my hands with the blood of millions, but you did it anyway. You weren’t sure what I was, but you risked breaking the treaty just to give me the chance to know the truth, so that I wouldn’t die the way you died—alone, in the dark, without ever knowing what happened to me or why. You gambled your life to show me mercy, and you gave me a reason to keep living. The least I could do was follow your example.”

Nick smiled sadly. “Everything you said about me was true, and you succeeded in giving me a perfect memory that I will cherish forever. You’ve offered me a measure of hope I had lost.” He held out his hand. “For that, I thank you.”

Jeremy shook his hand. “We’re even now.”

“Yes, we are.” Nick let his hand drop. “We owe each other nothing.”

“I guess that offer of sanctuary has expired.”

“I guess it has.” Nick’s tone was neutral. “What will you do now?”

“I suppose I’ll get used to looking at the world through bars.” Jeremy gazed at the unconscious bodies littering the floor around them. “Maybe I’ll learn to play chess with the other inmates. I always meant to figure out that game. Now, I have nothing but free time.” He grinned at Nick. “I’m glad you survived, Nicholas. You’re all right, for a bloodsucker.”

Nick sighed. “Rapier, bear witness.”

“Forensic recording enabled.”

“I affirm and attest that Sentinel Jeremy Kenneth Harkness has demonstrated to my satisfaction the ability and willingness to think beyond the behavioral imperatives of the Sentinel Gift and, as such, has fulfilled the requirements of the Test of Reason set forth in the Armistice Declaration of 2021. Subject to his agreement to abide by the terms of the treaty, and ratification by the Triumvirate, he has my complete support and sponsorship should he desire to make an application for full citizenship among the Free People. Set and done this date over my seal and signature, Nicholas Lawrence Jameson Magister Luscian, called Soulkiller’s Bane, called the Prince of Thunder.”

Jeremy gaped at him as the AI spoke again. “Sentinel Harkness, do you accept this offer of sponsorship?”

“Before, you were going to hide me for a few months at most, until the heat died down,” Jeremy said, staring at Nick. “Not my entire life.”

“I changed my mind.” Nick gazed steadily into the younger man’s eyes. “Nothing is as precious as a second chance, Jeremy. What are you going to do with yours?”

Jeremy turned to look at Medusa’s unconscious body. “I accept the offer.”

“The sponsorship agreement has been duly registered and recorded,” said the AI. “Sentinel Harkness, you are required to present yourself to an Armistice Security facility within six hours for entry processing into the Armistice Zone. Failure to comply will result in severe penalties, up to and including imprisonment, forcible deportation, or final death. On behalf of the Triumvirate Council of North America, I welcome you among the Free People. Walk in the Light, Sentinel. Forensic recording terminated.”

Nick turned to face Scott. “Can you take him to the local chapterhouse?”

Scott shifted back to human form and nodded. “Come with me, Jeremy,” he said with unconcealed hostility. Ignoring the Sentinel’s bristling fury, Jeremy walked over to Scott, who placed his hand on Jeremy’s shoulder. The two men vanished with a crack of displaced air.

Nick was left on the stage with Ana, surrounded by the fallen terrorists.

“So, now what?” Ana gestured to the mess of bodies.

“Well, obviously, this didn’t work out exactly the way I planned.”

“Yeah, I kind of guessed that. It’s certainly going to put a crimp in all of our lives.”

“Things are different now. The humans know we’re here. We won’t be able to hide from them anymore.”

“We can try.”

“It’s too late for that.” He took a deep breath. “Well, I think my concert tonight is going to be canceled.”

Ana snorted. “You always did go the extra mile to get a day off, Nick.”

Nick grinned. “I might as well go and report.”

“If you don’t mind, I think I’ll take some time to explain this whole mess to my husband. I’ll meet you at Armistice Security Headquarters in a couple of hours. Will that be enough time for the Triumvirate to finish kicking your ass over how this went down?”

“Honestly? No, probably not. But I’ll be waiting when you arrive back in Anchorpoint.”

Ana’s staff flared as a radiant white light whisked her away.

Alone, Nick looked around at the bodies lying on the floor and the wisps of smoke rising lazily from the bomb. Then he took a deep breath and turned toward the cameras.

“Humans,” he said clearly, giving them his best showman’s smile, “we’ll be in touch.”

Then he gathered his will and jumped away.

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