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Edge of Obsession
By Megan Crane
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Megan Crane
All rights reserved.
Tyr usually liked it when his enemies screamed like the little bitches they were. That was the sheer joy of taking down enemies, and he'd been tracking the one he'd expected to find here since the rains let up around the March equinox — this year, anyway. And if there wasn't a specific mortal enemy to gut and maim, he preferred a little mayhem, a lot of blood, and a worthy opponent or two when he ransacked a place. Otherwise, what was the point? This raid tonight was like a picnic.
Tyr hated picnics.
He wanted to express his feelings about getting shot at the way the war chief of the raider brotherhood should: by crushing the bones of his enemies and hacking off a few heads with a mighty swing of his favorite blade. Fun shit, in other words. Instead he was stuck in one of those pansy steel-and-concrete compounds outside the ruins of what was left of Atlanta that a toddler could have breached without trying very hard. Facing down what might as well have been a force of fragile flower petals.
Flower petals with assault rifles, that was. Pussies.
Most of the brothers had been headed back from the hunting trip on this forgotten little corner of the mainland that was their supposed purpose for being here at all, loaded up with game to add to their stores back on the islands. Tyr, meanwhile, had been on his way back from a grim reconnaissance of a lost clan settlement farther down the coast in the company of Wulf, his coldly furious king. What had once been a thriving stretch of land manned by older brothers past their combat years and some hardy captive farmers to till the soil was now nothing but burned-out buildings and salted-earth fields. It was the third ransacked raider settlement they'd found since the end of the winter rains this year.
I'm starting to take this personally, Wulf had gritted out as they'd stood there in the ruins of the settlement, where the smoke still rose and battered at their faces every time the wind changed. Very personally.
But it had already been personal for Tyr, because he'd known who was responsible at a glance. Of course he had. Krajic. Krajic was the only mercenary asshole Tyr knew of who could take on a raider settlement and leave nothing but smoke in his wake. Krajic, the sick sadist who'd strung up Tyr's blood brother Zyron when they'd tangled on a botched raid five years ago and then cut him up, piece by piece, until there was nothing but shattered bone left for Tyr to put on a funeral pyre.
Tyr wasn't getting over the mortal insult Krajic had dealt him personally, as the last of his blood, any time soon. What no one could figure out — and what had brought the raider king out from the eastern islands on what would otherwise have been a run-of-the-mill hunting trip at this point in the summer, the only time of year they weren't locked down by the storms — was what the hell Krajic was after these days. He'd been around for years, stacking up his body count as he whored himself out to the rich men who called themselves kings and ruled over the western highlands.
Krajic had always had a hard-on for the raiders, the way men like him with too much to prove always did, but they'd mostly ignored him as they'd gone about their business. What he'd done to Zyron meant he'd made himself one of the raiders' highest priorities — assuming the bitch ever came out of the walled kingdoms he preferred in the west without his own, private battalion. Pillaging raider settlements the way he'd been doing the past couple of years meant bringing down raider vengeance on his head, sooner rather than later, even if he hadn't already bought himself an inevitable bloody death at the end of Tyr's blade after what he'd done to Zyron.
Blood was always answered with blood. That was the raider way.
But not today, apparently, Tyr thought, glaring around the small, wet courtyard that held no hint of his enemy.
After they'd met up with the hunting party, Tyr had run up a far hill to see if he could nail down any kind of line of sight on Krajic and his little band of cutthroat blades-for-hire. Or as he'd always thought of such men, warriors for purchase instead of for a sense of honor or duty or clan: scum. His king and his brothers had gone on ahead toward the ships they'd left moored in a rocky cove a short hike up the ragged-ass coast a few days before.
Tyr was blinking at a tree trunk that had suddenly exploded four feet to his left when the second bullet streaked past him a whole lot closer, clipping his arm before hitting another tree in front of him.
Some fool had tried to take a raider out from behind.
With a gun.
Tyr hated guns. All the brothers hated guns, because only idiots who couldn't swing a blade ever used them, and said idiots liked to point them in the faces of the men who did know what to do with a blade as if that made it a real fight. Please. Anyone could pull a trigger from a safe distance. There was no honor in it. Particularly not with one of the guns that had made it through the Storms with the iffy, jacked-up bullets made up of waterlogged gunpowder that was all that remained this long after the seas rose. He'd have better aim with his own dick.
"What the fuck?" he'd roared into the quiet of the forest, scowling down at what amounted to little more than a scratch on his biceps — but it still burned. He could smell his own burned flesh in the air and it pissed him off.
"The only good raider is a dead raider!" came the shouted, infinitely boring reply from up on a nearby hill, and then a hail of more waterlogged bullets, none of which came anywhere near Tyr again.
"Then you shouldn't miss, bitch," Tyr had retorted when the fool ran out of ammunition.
The little shit couldn't shoot — but he could run. Tyr had tracked him back to this sorry excuse for a stronghold, and he'd let his quarry disappear inside the metal gates and call himself victorious for a few happy hours. His last. Then Tyr had rounded up a few of his brothers and come back. Hard.
Since nobody started a fight with a raider unless they were trying to commit suicide, Tyr had thought this was it. He'd thought he'd stumbled across Krajic's hideout and finally — finally — he'd get the vengeance he'd hungered for all these years, the vengeance his blood called out for as a warrior of honor.
Tyr swung his heavy blade and took out the pathetic shooter now, with about as much effort as it would take to haul out his dick and take a piss. Then he pivoted to duck a truly laughable attack from another pale and puny little man-child who weighed less than the assault rifle he tried to aim at Tyr's head. He swept the idiot's legs with an easy kick and sent him flying straight into his nearest brother, as if Jurin's vast chest were a stone wall.
The "sentry" crumpled to the ground at their feet and was still.
This was pathetic. They'd practically strolled in the front gate of this shithole, Tyr's first clue that it was unlikely to be Krajic's hideout. Tyr had thought it was a trap, but no such luck. The little pissant who'd shot at him must have known that Tyr would chase him — and more, that if he'd kept to himself the raiders would have left him alone, because there was no sport in stomping ants beneath their feet — and yet this was the best counterattack they'd been offered. It was hardly worth the trouble for a little graze. Tyr got worse cuts and bruises letting the camp girls suck his dick back home.
"If this couldn't be my vengeance, it should have been a raid," Tyr muttered, looking around the courtyard in vain, hoping that in the absence of Krajic a challenge might present itself. It didn't. "Yet I'm bored."
"Did you say something, brother?" Jurin rumbled. "I was taking a nap."
Jurin threw one of his axes, taking down one of the last standing members of what passed for a night guard here with that half-assed, lazy flick of his wrist. If a man threw an ax like that at Tyr, he would pluck it from the air and shove it right back up that man's ass.
The guard, however, fell to the ground with a thud instead. Jurin let out a heavy sigh.
Tyr eyed the remaining guards, who each took a look at Jurin's ax deep in their comrade's chest and gave up their sad little defense attempts on the spot. Ancient AK-47s clattered to the stones at their feet. One shot off a round as it fell, taking out a chunk of the concrete a yard or so in front of it. Tyr sighed and then waved a hand, wordlessly commanding them all to get down on the hard ground. He watched blandly as the men raced to obey him.
Men like these were nothing but prey. They deserved to be eaten by wolves, though he thought the scary-ass canines that had long since claimed the northern reaches deserved a far better meal than these spineless cowards. They should have known better than to arm themselves with weapons they couldn't control and they certainly should have known better than to skulk about the low forests taking potshots at raiders.
Why the hell would soft, breakable little men like this do something so stupid?
Tyr hated mysteries.
The generator the brothers had shut off so easily it verged on insulting kicked back on then, the roar of the machine splitting the quiet of the night, particularly as there was no competing sound of battle for it to drown out. And it made no sense to Tyr why a place like this, not particularly wealthy or impressive, had one of the rare generators that lit up the dark mainland here and there. The few, paltry outdoor lights burst on again a moment later, illuminating the sorry little cracked-concrete courtyard and the weak men who had utterly failed to hold it. Some of the remote places the brothers encountered on their raiding parties were so decrepit, all crumbling stones and ditches dug around the buildings like makeshift moats, it was like walking into one of those old stories he'd heard as a kid. But inside the ugly concrete rectangle of buildings here, there had been little flickers of screens through some of the windows while they'd done their initial reconnaissance, indicating that whatever this place lacked in defensive tactics and common sense, it had at least managed to keep up with some measure of tech.
The only places left with actual electric lights in what Tyr knew of the drowned world were the kingdoms in the western highlands, thanks to the greedy bastard kings who hoarded it and called it divine right or whatever else they could spin to consolidate their grip on their territories. Everywhere else on the mainland, men battled over ancient generators and the fuel to run them or went without, cozying up around rough wax candles and communal bonfires to beat back the long, wet winters as best they could.
A generator here should have meant the wealth and power to go with it. That asshole shooting at him in the woods had even less reason to attract the notice of raiders. It made no sense at all.
"This is embarrassing," Tyr announced, not bothering to check his disgusted tone when his brothers started herding the captives they'd gathered from the rest of the compound's squat, ugly buildings into the bleak square where he stood, surrounded by old concertina wire up on the walls like some kind of rusty halo. "For me. If I knew I could have taken this shithole alone and unarmed and half asleep, I wouldn't have asked my brothers to take part in this raid in the first place."
"It's not a raid if there's no goddamned raiding," Jurin growled, stalking over to reclaim his ax, then wiping the blade clean on the leg of his trousers. "It's a field trip."
"Why have a set of walls if you can't defend them?" Tyr demanded. The captive men shuddered and one even moaned while he pissed himself. Tyr glared straight at him, which only made the puddle beneath the moaner grow. "Why not live out in the open instead and let the wolves sharpen their teeth on you directly?"
"And I don't get any spoils of a raid if it's a bullshit field trip," Jurin continued, as if Tyr hadn't spoken. He fixed his wild eyes on the rumpled and wet and obviously frightened people slowly assembling there in the summer rain before him, his tangled red beard shaking against his freckled white skin when his voice rose. "I like spoils, you assholes."
"Look at this place," their brother Riordan agreed, moving a pair of wailing women out of his path with a relatively gentle boot as he walked through the pack of captives. "More spoils in a virgin's cunt."
"You generally find a lot of treasure in a virgin's cunt?" Jurin taunted him, because this was how it went. Brothers liked to fight. If not the idiots foolish enough to challenge them, then each other — because at least another brother would prove a worthy opponent and give a decent fight. Unlike anyone here. "I thought you were all about the ass, which makes sense, since you're my favorite asshole."
Riordan responded in kind, but Tyr tuned them out, focusing back on the soft, weepy people his brothers had hauled out of their beds tonight, all of them clinging and carrying on the way captives always seemed to do, for all the good it ever did them. If he and his brothers were happy to sack a place in the middle of the night and take whatever they wanted, Tyr always wanted to point out to them, it was unlikely they'd then feel bad about it when confronted by some tears and a few drawn-out wails.
But what was left of this grim little world was filled with scumbags, the way Tyr was sure it had been before the Storms came, too. Or else the end of the world wouldn't have happened, would it? Scumbags were nothing if not eternal, as soulless mercenaries like Krajic proved daily. This tiny little compound was no different. It was too far from the coveted high ground to the northwest and the kings and priests who ruled so grandly there to be of any importance. It was nothing but a ring of half-ruined old office buildings set at the edge of a gnarled forest choked with creeping vines and cut through here and there with the remains of paved roads that now led nowhere. Too close to the new sea level to be truly safe and too far away from any of the vast, reclaimed fields in what remained of the farmlands to be anything like affluent. It was at least a half day's march at a raider's quick pace to anything resembling fertile soil worth cultivating.
A waste of time, in other words. If that little shit hadn't shot at Tyr, no raider would ever have come here.
Which begged the same question. If these people had nothing to do with Krajic — and it was obvious they didn't, or they wouldn't have fallen apart at the sight of the raiders coming over their walls — why had that idiot shot at Tyr in the first place?
Tyr folded his arms over his bare chest, crisscrossed with the straps that held his weapons where he liked them, and glared at the collection of weaklings and dumbasses cowering before him. The leader of this would-be kingdom was obviously the tiny, sputtering, red-faced one in the middle that all of the brothers had thus far ignored by unspoken agreement. Because that shit was never not funny.
The little man met Tyr's gaze and for a moment Tyr thought this might have been worth it after all, that there might be a fight worth having, or a fight anyway — but the coward dropped his eyes like the cringing little piece of shit he was.
"Where's Krajic?" he asked the little wannabe king.
The little man's eyes bugged out in his head, as if not already finding himself skewered on a raider blade wasn't enough deference for him. Tyr had to bite back a grin. Tiny, furious would-be tyrants were his personal favorite. They were so easy to play with.
"I am Ferranti," the small man belted out, as if he expected some kind of awed response to that. Tyr only eyed him as if he was too toothless to bother fighting, which was clearly also true. "This is my compound." When Tyr didn't bother to respond to that either, Ferranti sputtered on. "There's no Krajic here. I've never heard the name."
"You'd recognize him if you came across him," Tyr growled. The memory of that mercenary whore was burned deep into his head, like every other detail of that terrible battle up near the Great Lake Sea where they'd lost Zyron. They hadn't found his remains for three days. What was left of them. "Shaved head, ugly scar down one cheek that my brother Zyron carved there himself, and a death warrant attached to his punk ass with my name on it." He grunted. "Of course, if you had, you'd be dead."
Excerpted from Edge of Obsession by Megan Crane. Copyright © 2015 Megan Crane. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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