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CHAPTER 1 Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. Then the LORD said, "My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years." The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. --Genesis 6:1-4
And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied that in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters. And the angels, the children of the heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to one another: 'Come, let us choose us wives from among the children of men and beget us children.' ...And all the others together with them took unto themselves wives, and each chose for himself one, and they began to go in unto them and to defile themselves with them, and they taught them charms and enchantments, and the cutting of roots, and made them acquainted with plants. And they became pregnant... --The Book of Enoch 6:1-3, 7:1-3
Jeremy Lee James / NEPHILIM / 3
Sarajevo Train Depot. You know that bass-heavy techno beat they play whenever the badass motherfucker first appears onscreen in a Hollywood blockbuster? Where they slow down their trench coat, dark-shades-strut until it’s choppy and lethal? You wouldn’t believe how accurate that is—almost verbatim the soundtrack cranking in my head right now. And I’ve gotta tell you, it pisses me off I had to wait the better part of 9,000 years to enjoy a synthesizer, or the adrenaline boost from an electric guitar. Tribal drums, the harp, the lyre—it’s just not the same. Off the train, briefcase in hand, I step out of the way of my fellow travelers and let them pass, eager as they must be to reach their destination before sunset. Aside from the deadly instrumental in my head, my whole world is three things: don’t quit, don’t die, get answers. Most importantly, find out how these fundamentalist fuck-stains have quadrupled their kill-rate after centuries of merely sporadic success murdering my people. This is a great opportunity, but only if I can make the rendezvous in time. It’s been twenty-three hours since I received the call back in New York. A call I remember word-for-word: “My name is Uri Kolenkov. Five-hundred-thousand dollars. Cash.” The Russian spoke heavily accented English. Not the language anyone who should have this number would use. ‘Dollars’ was rendered dole-irs. ‘Cash,’ cawsh. “You bring the money to Sarajevo and I’ll guard the body a little longer.” “Guard who?” “His name is Lucian…a few hundred years old perhaps? Young for your kind.” “Understood.” I’ve never met this twice-removed cousin of mine, but I am very close to his father, the Council member, Samsaveel. “Twenty-three hours, fifty-nine minutes, and thirty…five seconds,” he said. Very specific. “Then I leave him here.” “I’ll be there.” I said.
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And here I am, soaking in every possible avenue of attack available to the enemy. So far, no obvious threats, but I force myself to stay put on the platform a beat longer. Ordinarily I might stand here another ten minutes pretending to smoke, just to be sure. But the clock’s ticking. Clear enough. I hustle through the station and out front to the cab line. The streets are loud with honking and revving engines as people navigate their way through the logjam of suitcase toting pedestrians. I stick to the curb and try to get the attention of a taxi. At six-foot-three-inches, and twohundred-thirty-pounds, I’m no giant—at least not by today’s standards—but in this country, where much of the populace grew up malnourished, I’m a muscled blonde tower. A young, stern-faced mother stands beside me, clutching her little girl’s hand even harder than I grip my five-hundred G’s. The pig-tailed princess smiles up at me, maybe proud of her tiny painted fingernails, before someone on the other side of the street catches her attention. “Grandma!” she exclaims, waving frantically at an elegantly dressed older woman who smiles and waves back to her. She wriggles free of her mother’s hand, and darts triumphantly away toward the oncoming traffic, not a worry in the world. I reach out for her before she’s pattered more than two steps. I might have made a good father if not for— The first bullet hisses as it passes harmlessly over my head—a curb higher than my temple— close enough to tousle my hair. The second bullet slices cleanly through the triangular wedge of muscle above my collarbone and beside the neck. A chest shot if I hadn’t tried to save Pig Tails. Now it’s nothing but screeching brakes and a blaring horn, and mom shrieking no-ooo! behind me, frozen as her pride and joy prances into certain death. But she’s safe. In the crook of my arm, gaping up at me with wide eyes. So far, no one notices the little rivulets of blood streaming out of the exit wound and down the same arm I clutch her with. People applaud, cheering my “heroic” act. I turn and hand off Pig Tails to her mother who’s too stunned to say anything. She’s aware of nothing except her precious Sabine as she repeats the girl’s name over and over and kisses her hair. Now I’m starting to feel it.
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I fall into the backseat of the waiting cab which the girl risked everything to hail for me; the driver’s still hyperventilating over the close call. “Drive,” I say, more of a grunt than a request. The pain is intense even though it’s masked by endorphins. “Where to?” “I’ll tell you in a minute.” I lie down across the length of the backseat, trying to get my head lower than the windows. I’m pretty sure the cabbie sees the mushroom of blood wicking through the leather of my overcoat. “Is everything alright sir?” He sounds very alarmed. Hasn’t even remembered to start the meter. “Fine,” I say. “Just give me a minute. Drive wherever.” I fish the address Uri gave me out of my pocket and hand it up to him with a shaky hand. “There,” I say. “Go there. Quickly.” I force my mind to focus on the last sixty seconds. The bullets came from opposite directions. Two gunmen. Suppressed rifles, both; no sound except the turbulence as the first bullet whooshed past. The one that hit me punched right through, which means it was a jacketed round, the kind snipers use to protect their precision barrels. Normally a sniper wouldn’t bother silencing their weapon, because the extra hardware impedes accuracy, and they’re usually so far away from their target that no one can pinpoint their location anyway. They must’ve been close then, ready to finish me off in case I didn’t drop—or in case I did drop—and they needed to kill the part of me that won’t die so easily. The cabbie calls out to me from the front seat, “Sir! You are bleeding, sir!” There’s no hiding it now. My right sleeve is saturated, and droplets fall from the cuff onto my pant leg. My undershirt clings to my spine as it channels the blood from the entry wound down into the groove between my spinal erectors, and then past my tailbone and into my ass crack. I lie, “I’m fine, keep driving.” “I will take you to a hospital. There is one ahead.” “No,” I say. “Keep driving.” “Then you will have to get out of my cab, sir. You will ruin my seats. This is my livelihood. I am
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sorry sir.” The cabbie slows and pulls to the side of the road, his unblinking eyes fixed on me in the rearview. I can’t blame him. And I’m in no condition to argue. I have to save my energy. I nod to the mirror and say alright. I crack the lid on the briefcase and grab a bound stack of crisp hundreds. Tengrand worth—no time to fiddle with loosing one from the bundle. I hand it up to him and get out. “Go get your seats cleaned,” I say. “And you never saw me.” He nods and speeds off. I start walking. Here the road parallels the banks of the Milijacka river. From what I remember of the city, the address is not far. For the time being, another ambush is unlikely. The shooters only saw the direction I’m traveling, and that’s obviously no secret. But getting dropped here was pure happenstance, and they’d have no way to know in advance where best to position another sniper. Instead, they’ll wait until I get closer. Don’t quit, don’t die, get answers.
I’m very hard to kill. Knowledge that gives me confidence in situations like this. I’ve been shot before. I survived. So I know what I can withstand. And what I can’t. I’m bleeding out. Simple as that. My life isn’t the cliché flashing before my eyes; this is a slower death; past deeds crawl to recollection…love lost…promises… Like the one I made to my father—to all of our fathers, whether they could hear me or not—to outlive His wrath, to spite his judgments with our continued prosperity… Broken promises if I give in to this attempt on my life. Damned or not, I’d sooner live. I have maybe fifteen minutes left before I go cold and numb, and right now to do something about it, the ever present eternity. First things first: I have to stop the bleeding, or at least slow it down, and I have to change clothes. I can’t afford drawing attention to myself.
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I cross an invisible, yet tangible line and enter into the Turkish Quarter where most of the capital’s hustle and bustle takes place. At this late hour the usual din of haggling merchants and street musicians has given way to laughter and the occasional drunken ballad. There’s a men’s specialty shop adjacent to the alley on my right which should work for the clothes. They should stock something I can use for the bleeding, too. I duck into the alley and walk far enough back so that I’m invisible from the sidewalk among the shadows. The top of the building is about sixteen feet overhead, and I hope there’ll be access on top which isn’t barred up like the front display. I squat down and explode upward, clear the edge of the roofline just enough to grab on, and then pull myself up. Superhuman, I’m not. More like: genetic freak—human 1.5 . Still, what would normally be an easy
maneuver has me dizzy and gasping. The endorphins have worn off completely. I sit still and grit my teeth. The burning in my wound subsides. Thank our fathers there’s a skylight near the center of the roof. I crawl over to it on my stomach and remove the metal flashing and tar along one side to expose the plastic lip. I get a fingernail under, and then another, and now a decent grip with most of my left hand. I jerk it hard and the trashcan-lid-sized bubble pops free. I lower myself in and strip off blood-drenched clothes on the way to the cash register. The machine sits on top of a glass display case doubling as a countertop. Inside the case are wallets, drinking flasks, cigar cutters, tie clips, handkerchiefs, and decorative lighters. The cans of lighter fluid beneath the cigar display are an added bonus. I remove a handkerchief and a lighter from the case, palm the lighter, and lay the handkerchief flat on top of the glass. I douse it with lighter fluid from one of the cans until it puddles. With the cotton completely saturated, I roll it up so it forms a narrow, flammable cylinder and search for something I can use to snake the fluid-soaked rag through the hole in my neck. The pencil lying beside the register will have to do. I insert the tip of the handkerchief into the front of my trapezius with the sharpened tip of the pencil, like I’m crocheting myself. The fluid stings. I guide the handkerchief-wrapped pencil deeper into the wound.
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Sweat slicks my forehead, even though I’m nude and the temperature is probably no more than sixty-five degrees. My eyes tear up involuntarily, and I can taste stomach acid at the back of my throat. My bowels quiver, threatening to let loose as my body tries to shut down everything except what might help me escape from this demon of agony. It’s everything I can do to stay conscious. I press the handkerchief deeper still. The inflamed flesh parts away from the probe as it burrows deeper, a sound like maggots writhing in spoiled meat. The tip pokes through on the other side of my neck just when I think I can no longer stand the pain. I unsheathe the pencil from the handkerchief and pull it free from the wound, leaving the fabric in place. Leaning away, with my ear on my shoulder, and shielding my vulnerable cheek with my free hand, I light the handkerchief. It erupts into a wedge of orange heat, whooshing like the lost breath from a sucker-punch as it licks at the edges of its own fumy aura. I smell the hairs melt from the back of the hand protecting my face, and now the flame contracts nearer to the surface of the makeshift fuse. Vapor spent, the rag doesn’t burn quickly. The tiny flame inches closer to the opening of the bullet hole like the sail of a miniature ghost ship, propelled by an imperceptible wind. The edges of the wound start to bubble from the heat. I squeeze my eyes shut so tight against the pain, that for an instant, I’m afraid I’ve crushed my eyeballs—that the tears which stream from the corners of my lids are juices leaking from wasted orbs. I’m relieved only for a second, and now horrified as I watch with eyes still intact the flame sputtering out, the blackened stump of the handkerchief extinguished no more than a millimeter inside the wound. Fire requires oxygen (which I must not be getting) in addition to fuel—as does the brain to remember Boy Scout facts like this. Hypovolaemic shock, it’s called, resulting from blood loss. I’ve seen it before, just never on the receiving end. Am I already this gone? When I lost her all those years ago—lost them—I consoled myself, told myself I had forever to create another warrior in my image. The lies we believe to carry on.
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I’ll have to pull out the handkerchief and start over, and I have to be quick about it. My pulse is dangerously elevated now. I’m losing blood even faster from the rear of the wound as my heart struggles to maintain circulation to the rest of my body—and the more blood I lose, the harder its job. I start to shiver. My limbs feel heavy. Don’t be a pussy! I taunt myself. Remember your father, Jequon, watching you from his chains. I turn up the music in my head to stay awake, to refocus—to stay alive one heartbeat at a time. With my singed hand, I reach over my right shoulder and tug free the still protruding handkerchief out the backside. The pain is so intense I’m no longer able to feel it the same way. It merges with me; there is no more separation. I am the anguish. I am… Where am I? A shiny metal canister materializes in front of me as a hand steadies a flickering blue-tipped Zippo beneath it. Minutes pass? Hours? …Father? is that you? The hand holding the flask brings it closer to my face and then behind me where I can’t see it. I hear sizzle and hiss and then the hand returns with the flask. Reheats it. Raises it again and presses the metal to the right-front side of my neck. It feels good, like an ice pack. I smell roasted meat and it reminds me of when I was a boy and we hunted mammoths.
And when men could no longer sustain them, the giants turned against them and devoured mankind. And they began to sin against birds, and beasts, and reptiles, and fish, and to devour one another's flesh, and drink the blood. --Book of Enoch 7:4-6
The girl sighs in the throes of a pleasurable dream, waking me from mine. I’m kneeling, and I cradle her head in my palm as she lies limp across my thigh. Her hair spills down my shin, the silken locks mere inches from the cold grime of the alley. I have no recollection of finding her, no memory of saving myself, getting dressed, or exiting the store. The pain of the bullet wound has subsided to an almost pleasant tingling and a persistent itch near
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the surface of the skin—a sure sign of healing. I’m not fully recovered, but for that, I’d have to drain her of all precious life, a crime forbidden by the Codes. I kiss her on the forehead, and ease the sleeping beauty down onto some cardboard, tuck her in with a brand-new overcoat I must’ve grabbed from inside the store. It’s a chilly night, and being a pint short won’t help her circulate warmth. She might have been on her way to a party. A first date. A parttime job. None of these will matter now. Only her new craving until quenched. When she wakes, she’ll be a Veingel. Not the filthy animal her blood—still moist on my lips—spared me from becoming tonight. The urge to watch over her…to hold her…to be with her when she wakes up, more alive and more sensual than she’s ever felt in her life… Instincts I have to fight off to remember why I’m here: Lucian. Ezekiel, and all the others; a chain of murders stretching back to when our enemy still huddled together in caves and passed the time copying the white lies of their God onto papyrus scrolls; His latest mercenaries. Instead I slip a copy of the Codes beneath her bra and keep moving.
Thou see what Azazel hath done, who hath taught all unrighteousness on earth and revealed the eternal secrets which were preserved in heaven, which men were striving to learn: And Semyaza, to whom Thou hast given authority to bear rule over his associates. And they have gone to the daughters of men upon the earth, and have slept with the women, and have defiled themselves, and revealed to them all kinds of sins. And the women have borne giants, and the whole earth has thereby been filled with blood and unrighteousness... Then said the Most High, the Holy and Great One spoke, and sent Uriel to the son of Lamech, and said to him: 'Go to Noah and tell him in my name "Hide thyself!" and reveal to him the end that is approaching: that the whole earth will be destroyed, and a deluge is about to come upon the whole earth, and will destroy all that is on it. --The Book of Enoch 9:9, 10:1-3
The Flood didn’t get all of us. After the waters receded, His Chosen People also failed to wipe us out— though they tried in Canaan—slaughtering entire cities just to get to a handful of our kind who lived
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among the natives of the region. Eventually, the Israelites were distracted by other tribes returning their murderous favors. So He entrusted the task to a subset of the Hebrews—a more devout sect of fanatics: The Sons Of Jared (SOJ for short), a small clan who could trace their bloodline all the way back to their revered prophet, Enoch, and to their namesake, Enoch’s father—the seventh from Adam according to legend. From such progeny sprang Methuselah, and later, Noah—so fair-skinned and light-haired they feared he was one of us. Ah! the irony—amusing, were it not for their deadly persistence. For centuries, culling away only our weakest…helping to sustain the natural order, some of our leaders argued (a view I never shared). Now that the SOJ are becoming a more serious threat, I hope my more proactive stance will finally gain support from the Council out of necessity.
The last time I visited Sarajevo was in 1984, when the city (still a part of the former Yugoslavia) hosted the Olympic Winter Games. In my absence, civil war and ethnic cleansing ripped apart the region, threatening to crumble its most beautiful urban jewel. She’s recovered, though not without scars. As I move deeper into The Quarter, the streets and walkways are patched increasingly with red-painted cement in the shape of flower pedals. Sarajevo Roses. A solemn reminder of the mortar rounds which rained down from the surrounding mountains during the war. Men like Uri are another type of scar upon the city. Organized crime is always the first business to prosper in the wake of socialism—an inevitable progression of the black markets that operate beneath the radar of any communist government. Here in particular, the Russian Mafia sprouted up like poison mushrooms on the dung of oxen, still thriving today even after newly elected officials have sworn to crack down and to restore the rule of law. I rub the quickly fading circle of scar tissue embossed on my neck. It would be easy to assume Uri sold me out. But aside from his own self interest, it’s just as likely he’s an ignorant pawn. There’s too much I don’t know to jump to conclusions. For instance: Did the SOJ intercept his call and place snipers at all my likely points of entry into the city?
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Or, was the attack just an extension of their standard operating procedure? bait me with an opportunity to investigate their first target, and then hope to get lucky, when Jequon, the ol’ half-angel of vengeance arrives on the scene? Uri could have discovered Lucian’s body after they were long gone. They might not even know he stumbled upon their latest damning (an SOJ euphemism, not mine)—or, they might have made a deal with him weeks before they showed up at Lucian’s apartment, buying right-of-passage from Uri and a blind eye toward their duffels bulky with sharpened wood stakes, heavy mallets, and holy-water. Or maybe, just maybe, Uri got lucky and interrupted their ceremony—and luckier still for me— managed to take out a few of them on my behalf. I’m not known for luck (you might say Providence isn’t on my side), but this latter possibility intrigues me on many levels—it must—because rushing in here like I did, taking none of the usual precautions, was stupid, stupid, dumb; an act of desperation, which I’ve seen kill otherwise cunning warriors more often than any other mistake except for bedding the wrong woman. And yet, my gut tells me it was the right decision. I do think Uri is holding something back, but I don’t think he’s in league with the SOJ. Sure, they could pay him same as me. And one could argue that cash in hand is worth two full briefcases en route. But if that was the SOJ’s plan, did they really think I’d fall for it so easily? No. They’re more sophisticated than that. And there’s the matter of what Uri knows, that he shouldn’t know, that no one could have possibly convinced him of in the midst of a business deal: Lucian’s actual name. What he was…even his age, though his face must’ve claimed no more than thirty years (give-or-take, depending on his preference, and how many feedings he was forced to skip over the years during plagues). What’s more, Uri knew how to reach me. Knowledge no human should have. Only Lucian could have given him this information. It’s not something he would have written down in an address book where prying eyes could find it. Lucian must’ve told Uri of my existence, along with the only circumstance in which he dare call. The punishment for such an infraction is two-hundred years in a lightless pit. So the fact Lucian would take such a risk earns Uri a grudging credibility.
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After all, here is a man who seems to know who I am, what I am, and the unique role I serve in protecting my people. And if he knows all that, then he realizes beyond even a shred of doubt, that I am not to be fucked with. Which can only mean Uri has something else for me. Something more than Lucian’s body, too sensitive to speak of over an unsecured line.
Thousands of the city’s youth are out, most of them twenty-something girls with glitter adorning their necks in place of the lace and lockets of another era. The war decimated their available dating pool, and it shows in their hungry eyes and revealing dress. A seductive waif I pass sways into me as if the streets were much more crowded than they actually are; testing me with a hardened nipple, inviting me with the muscular curve of her thighs. She is not the only one. Not so long ago, nights like this were heaven. Looping trance music greets me a block from where Uri waits, like the chanting of Gregorian monks gone electronica. I hug the walls and dart under awnings as I move in. If this a trap, I’m getting close enough to show up on the SOJ’s radar. Up ahead I see the foil-covered windows of what must be Lucian’s apartment. It sits on the second floor of a brown brick building; below it, on street level, an all-night café advertising espresso and blintzes; and in the basement turned speaker-box, some kind of dance club I would suspect Uri’s in charge of. Not what I would call an unusual location for a 3rd Generation’s bachelor pad. Convenient as hell. I slip into the last remaining alley before the rendezvous and scan the approach. The air here is an interesting mix of raw dough, mixed drinks, and concrete. I’m looking at church towers, unlit windows with a view of the street, and anywhere else another sniper could be hiding. Nothing stands out, which leaves three possibilities of any likelihood: A) the SOJ put all their eggs in one basket at the train station, thinking there wasn’t a devil’s chance in the church choir that two world-class shooters could miss me; B) they don’t have the manpower in place to take another potshot from the perimeter; or C) I’m wrong about Uri, and they plan to ambush me inside Lucian’s apartment.
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I’m leaning toward ‘A’ or ‘B,’ but I could live with ‘C.’ The more numerous the enemy, the better the odds one of them will talk. I saunter up to the door adjacent the café and walk in. A poorly lit stairwell leads up to the second floor. I hunch forward to avoid the angled ceiling frosted with cobwebs on my way up. The wooden treads groan like banshees with every step. Fortunately the music is even louder in here, and should mask my progress. At the top of the steps there’s a cramped landing bracketed by two numbered doors, Lucian’s on the left, neighbor’s on the right. Still no sign of an ambush, but I’m ready if there is. Close-quarters combat is my world. I get down on one knee three feet in front of the entrance to his apartment and listen. My hearing is an order of magnitude more sensitive than a full-on human’s, but any breaths or heartbeats I might otherwise detect are drowned out by the revelry below in the club. I duck even lower. If someone shoots through the door, they’ll aim for my chest first. “Uri, it’s Jequon.” I don’t want to surprise him. “Do you have the money?” I’m surprised how relaxed he sounds. “Yes.” “Good. Come in, slowly, with both hands on the briefcase where I can see them.” He knows what I’m carrying, so he must have me on camera. “That’s not the way it works,” I say. “I’m paying you. You get the door.” I hear him stand up from a metal folding chair, and then the unmistakable schlack-klack of a pump-action shotgun as he chambers a round. A sound meant to intimidate, but tactically, quite foolish. One, I’m not intimidated. Two, until now, Uri was armed with no more than a heavy club. “Don’t worry,” he calls through the door, “according to Lucian, you’d kill me before I even raise the barrel and shoot. The gun is my escort back downstairs. Hand me the money as I pass. You’ll want to spend some time alone with your friend, yes?” “You’re not leaving, Uri. I have some questions for you.” The door creaks open about six inches and a plume of clove-scented cigarette smoke and vodka fumes billows out into the hall. It masks but does not cloak the warm coppery scent of blood—a lot of
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blood. The tip of the 12-guage pokes through the crack first, and Uri uses it to lever the door open the rest of the way while he remains obscured in the darkness of the room. “I’ll be in my club. Come ask your questions when you are finished.” He staggers through the doorway without making eye contact. He is drunk. I stand back up holding the briefcase, and he reaches for it. I hand it to him. A deal’s a deal. But if Uri thinks he’s going anywhere before I’ve had a chance to look at the body, he’ll just have to sober up and get to know my friend, Reality. “Sit tight,” I say, and grip him hard on the shoulder—not enough to hurt, but enough to let him know I’m not asking. “First I make sure I’m getting my money’s worth.” Uri nods, then drops the briefcase as if he’s too tired to hold it. I look suggestively at the shotgun. “Safety on?” Uri nods again. I confirm, visually, that it is indeed on safety. “Good. Now pick up the briefcase and hold it.” He does. “Now turn around and face the neighbor’s door.” I wait for him to turn. “If I hear your feet move even a millimeter, I will kill you. If you set down that briefcase, I will kill you. If I hear you click off the safety, I will kill you. Understood?” “Yes,” he says. I’m actually not as fast as Lucian led him to believe, but I am quick enough to take him out before he could click off the safety, drop the briefcase, turn, and raise the barrel to fire. I step inside and open up the door all the way behind me. Flip on a light. The apartment is one room plus a bathroom, sparsely furnished with a chair, a dresser, and an unmade bed that looks like it doubled as an autopsy slab. Lucian hangs from the far wall like a dying Christ; naked, suspended by ash stakes protruding through his crossed ankles, wrists, and chest. His face is mangled. His eyes gouged out. His throat meatcleavered clean to the vertebrae. Any of these wounds would have been fatal—not just the symbolic, stake-through-the-heart cliché, though it is an effective way (of many) to keep one of our kind dead.
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I move closer. Close enough that I can smell the faint vapor of perfume on his skin, a remnant of the beautiful young thing they must’ve distracted him with. But something isn’t quite right with the body. Something’s missing…or rather, different. I lean in to examine Lucian’s forehead, where the SOJ burn a unique brand at the completion of their formal ritual. Unbelievable! It’s the wrong— “Jequon. Long time no see.” The words cut short my thought. In fact, they make it hard to think at all, because I hear them in the sacred tongue of my people.
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