As the world frays into occultism and terror, Matt Rowley stands at a crossroads. To rescue his comrade, Isuji Sakura, he must betray the oaths he swore to his country, a country that with every passing day becomes more dangerous to those around him. As Nephilim reveal themselves as modern-day gods demanding sacrifice and worship, Matt's unique abilities draw him away from his wife and son, whose own powers have made them targets of zealots and government extremists. When a killer crosses the veil to seek revenge on Matt for killing him, he brings gibbering horrors into the real world that render life and sanity to slake their insatiable thirst.
About the Author
Patrick Freivald is a four-time Bram Stoker Award nominee, a teacher, a beekeeper, and a high school coach for competition robotics. He is the author of Black Tide, Black List, and Jade Sky. He lives in Springwater, New York.
Read an Excerpt
By Patrick Freivald
Cohesion PressCopyright © 2016 Patrick Freivald
All rights reserved.
"Do they have her?" Matt Rowley ignored the bead of sweat trickling down the back of his neck and scanned the monitor, where night-vision green illuminated a landscape of buildings outside of Quantico, Virginia. The swarm of Dragonfly-pattern microdrones created a three-dimensional panorama of the target site, with bright orange triangles outlining potential targets – not only sentries armed with snub-nosed carbines wandering the rooftops, but six separate pillboxes scattered across the campus. Far too much hardware for a supposedly-civilian center with an eight-million-dollar annual budget.
The Office of Planning and Development wouldn't have been able to make rent on the facility that bore its name, much less hire rent-a-cops with machine guns. Sloppy for a covert operation, it looked too much like a trap.
Matt shifted his weight in the back of the panel van parked four blocks away and suppressed a curse at the lackluster whine coming from the air conditioner. "I said, 'do they have her?'" Janet LaLonde held up a finger, lime-green plastic nail jutting toward the roof, and tilted her head, listening. Even with his augmented hearing Matt couldn't pick out the words from her headset. After a long moment she sighed, chest heaving under a matted curtain of straight brown hair hanging in front of her face. "The lab weenies confirmed the blood and hair are Sakura's, but our source hasn't verified that she's there, no."
Seven months. Seven months and eleven unrelated missions since Shane Keene – a supposed FBI agent with perfect credentials but who didn't exist – had kidnapped Sakura 'Blossom' Isuji from the smoking ground of Centralia, Pennsylvania, the only place in the world that smelled worse than this van. Matt unclenched his fist and managed not to put it through the side wall. "And you still haven't dug up any more OPD facilities?"
"The El-Cee would neither confirm nor deny that 'The Shed' exists at all, and seemed more head-up-ass confused than cover-uppy when I pressed him about it, but who knows? Maybe he's a better liar than he lets on. Someone found out we're digging, though, and the attacks on our firewall haven't let up since that meeting. SACLANT's got a hole problem, or a mole problem, or maybe something worse." Lieutenant-Commander Roger Smith earned a paycheck as Head Douchebag in Charge of Douchebaggery at the NATO's Supreme Allied Commander-Atlantic's headquarters, which meant he outranked everyone in the Office of Special Threats, including Matt and Janet, though Smith had learned the hard way not to push his authority too far. Being irreplaceable had its perks, and no one on Earth could replace Matt Rowley.
Except maybe Sakura Isuji. The other of the last two augmented commandos on the Earth, the dour, stoic woman had pulled Matt's ass out of the fire on several occasions, and he both felt like he barely knew her and that they were best friends.
"Any leads on the source?"
Another shake. "You know what I know, bud. We couldn't descramble, but speech patterns put 'female' at eighty-nine percent probability, 'forties' at sixty-five, and she's definitely from the Tri-State area, most likely Connecticut. That plus clearance to know what she's told us narrows it down to, oh, four thousand people or so."
Sweat sheened Janet's high cheekbones, though the heavy black eyeliner stayed put around her dark brown eyes. Gorgeous and ever-willing to use it to her advantage, in the private confines of the surveillance van she dropped the sexy redneck act but still jawed a wad of pale green chewing gum. Spearmint undercut the body odor and gasoline, both almost overpowering to Matt's enhanced sense of smell.
He waited for her to add more, but she didn't.
"All right, then what's your gut tell you?"
She rolled her eyes. "My gut always tells me to ignore my gut and go off of solid intelligence, which we don't have. If you go in there you're flying blind, and you might not even find her, and if Blossom's still alive that might get them to make that not so true anymore. Our source isn't just unreliable, she's unknown. We got nothing, and it'd be stupid to go all cowboy right now."
Matt put his head in his hands. "All right. Call it."
Janet tapped her Bluetooth with a green nail. "Sorry, toots. Get us proof."
Matt heard the frustration in the reply, which cut off when Janet hung up on her.
"M'kay, bud, why don't you get us home? I could kill a skunk with my underwear."
Matt clambered into the driver's seat and gunned the engine, then pulled out and drove toward Fredericksburg and their home-away-from-home, the Motel 6.
* * *
Marcia Stein removed the SIM card from the burner she'd bought at Walmart, snapped it in half and swallowed it. The phone she cleaned with a Clorox wipe and threw in the garbage.
LaLonde had called her 'toots', which meant at the least that despite the scrambler they knew her gender. How much more did they know? And had LaLonde slipped up on purpose?
She pulled a photograph from her purse and traced her own face, eyes closed, bowing across from Sakura Isuji in an American-style Kimono, their bare feet on the edge of a six-foot circle emblazoned with the eye-and-thunderbolt of the International Council on Augmented Phenomena. Marcia's time at ICAP HQ hadn't intersected Rowley's, but she'd met Janet only twice, and neither had said more than "good morning" to the other.
Slow and dull since her Augs had failed, Stein's desk intelligence job at the Office of Planning and Development had paid the bills. But then the picture of her close-combat instructor had crossed her desk, a bloody shell of a woman secured to a table with steel straps, face blank, murderous eyes clear and focused at the camera. Marcia shivered at the memory of those eyes, and the indomitable will behind them.
No one had ever beaten her so badly, and Sakura hadn't shown her the slightest mercy, in the ring or out, for months on end. Countless bruises and a hundred broken bones later, she'd never once heard a word of praise.
Marcia owed Sakura Isuji a great debt, and wouldn't rest until she'd paid it.
* * *
Flames clawed at the darkening sky, their reflections snaking out across the water of Lake Barnacle. The Georgia heat hadn't fled with the day, and The Prophet Ben Case wiped away a sheen of hot moisture from his forehead. His hand came away red. He rubbed the liquid between his fingertips, hot and tacky and reeking of animal flesh. Stomach roiling, he wiped it on the crude fiber shirt one of his Katies had made him from the wild grasses around his commune.
Three crosses blazed on the shoreline, reducing to ash the symbols of his faith, the Process Church's three-fold god Jehovah, Lucifer, and Satan. Those crosses predated the earliest white settlers and even the oldest native legend. The air shimmered, a protestation at the confines of only four dimensions, a coalescing psychic wail of thetan-space shredding its way into reality. He averted his gaze, and gasped.
A Katie lay on the ground, her pregnant body three feet from her head, which lay in the lap of another Katie, eyeless and armless, sitting Indian-style in the lush green turf. Red-black liquid still gushed from her neck, leaping from the jagged tear across her throat to soak into the lawn and trickle through grass toward the shore. Another Katie lay shattered three feet beyond, her chest a crumpled mess of red meat and jutting white bone, eyes wide, mouth open to the wonders of the sky above. Three Bens lay around her, bodies broken and shredded to shards and chunks of bone and flesh.
Two more piles of three Bens and three Katies littered the shoreline, twisted bodies forming arcane symbols that struck lightning through his brain. Threes and threes and threes, sacred numbers in profane ink, an invocation and invitation to things that had no place on Earth. Not anymore.
Unable to look any longer at the remains of his followers, the prophet raised his eyes to the conflagration, a whirlwind of unknowable colors and incomprehensible sounds around and within the blackened crosses. It stank of shit and coal, the unclean smells of the capitalist world, and of the mysteries of birth and death. His mind shattered, and through the breach a human form emerged, tiptoeing from the flames with the care of a Ben or Katie trying not to crush mayflies during the spring spawn.
Six feet tall – two threes – the naked man's body rippled with muscle and not a wisp of hair as he approached, gliding over the ground with the grace of a cat. He grinned, dazzling white teeth glinting in the firelight. "Brilliant, brilliant." Conor Flynn's Irish accent hadn't faded with his years in the United States.
Ben shuddered at the unwelcome sound but nodded in greeting, a courtesy he'd give even the worst of mankind. "They told me you'd died, and how I thanked the Jehovah-pattern for it, eh-la ehla."
Flynn cupped his balls and gave them an upward tug. "Right is right, but you can't keep a good man down. Or me for all that." He stepped forward and wiped his warm hand down Ben's face, then smeared the coagulating blood across his own chest. "Who's 'they' that told you this, hmmm?"
"A colleague of yours. Matt Rowley."
"That's the chap who killed me, sure as sure. What did you tell him?" A fire smoldered behind his eyes, red embers behind light-green irises, before the black, infinite void swallowed it.
Ben met the gaze, and shivered at the mindless, eternal fury within. "I told him you came seeking knowledge of bridges, and took one of my Katies to help you. It seems you found one, eh-la eh-la."
Flynn chuckled, a dark sound in harmony with the stinking carnage and fading flames. "I had a little help on the other side, no thanks to you useless hippy cunts. Eh-fucking-la."
Ben flinched at the profanity, and again at the absurdity of offense at words when surrounded by the broken remains of his followers. "Yet of all places you emerge here, as the trifold Gods —"
Flynn's backhand knocked him to his hands and knees, and left a dark heat across his jaw. "No. Your gods are dead, or fiction. Don't speak to me of gods. I formed the bridge here because I remembered my time so fondly, and this first time I needed an anchor. They got rid of my favorite place, knocked it down and filled it with dirt, turned it into a little park for neighborhood kiddos, stole my trinkets, even that of your Beth."
"Katie." He looked up into those murderous eyes, and stood, head high, defiant. Whatever else happened, Ben wouldn't allow this monster to defame his Katies with their birth names.
Conor's grin widened. "Always Beth to me, even as I peeled her skin and ate it. She hated you, every touch, every whisper, and hated her mother for giving her to you. She asked for escape, so I gave it to her, and she loved me for it."
Ben still woke to her screams in his mind, and the sobbing of his people as Flynn flayed off her skin and then her muscle, treating her with medicines and unholy spells to keep her alive long past human endurance, raping and eating her body and shattering her mind over three days of demonic madness. "That is not what she —"
Conor struck again, too fast to see, and this time Ben dangled in the air, Conor's hand an iron collar around his neck. "I knew her better than you ever could, and she bled her secrets to me one precious cut at a time. We shared a beauty you couldn't even imagine.
"But enough blather. It's time to wake up."
He squeezed, and Ben gasped awake. Crickets protested the death of summer, their chirps an erratic staccato against the stillness of the night. His heart thundered, and the Lucifer-pattern's blessing of adrenaline flooded his body and ensured he'd not sleep again this night.
Three Katies lay around his teepee, their naked bodies a tribute to the beauty of the Satan-pattern's hedonism, a deliberate contrast to the asceticism of a life without electricity, drugs, or furniture. The night smelled of earthy grass and flowers and the subtle tang of algae on the lake. Serene simplicity, separated from the outside world and their maelstrom of thetans and apostasy.
Chest heaving, Ben ran his hand up one Katie's sweat-sheened belly, round with his child, brushing his fingers between her swollen breasts to caress her neck. She smiled without opening her eyes, and spread her legs, an invitation to partake of the Lucifer-pattern's hospitality between. Despite the horror of his nightmare, he felt himself stiffen, and smiled at the universal truth of human existence.
His faith wouldn't let him rejoice in the death of another being, but he couldn't stifle renewed relief, a mirror of the moment Rowley had told him of Conor Flynn's death. Rolling on top of the Katie, Ben kissed her chin and allowed himself a contented sigh as she parted for him.
A voice rang in his mind, friendly warmth smothered in eternal cold. "Brilliant then, on with it. I don't got three days this time."
Ben's fingers dug into her throat. Her eyes shot wide, beautiful and blue and broken with panic and pain.
"My prophet." Her strangled gasp cut off, and she mouthed, 'You're hurting me'.
He tried to pull back, and instead squeezed, black, venomous thought driving his body where his mind would not go. She clawed at his wrist and her heels hammered the ground as he pressed further, fingers splitting skin to dig hot red tunnels in her flesh. A wet gurgle escaped the wound as his fingers met his thumb behind her windpipe, and warm urine sprayed out around his genitals.
"One is done is fun, am I right?"
Someone screamed when he pulled, tearing out her throat.
It might have been him.CHAPTER 2
Monica Rowley frowned at the red pickup as it bounced down Turkey Vulture Lane, 'Wilcox Lumber' emblazoned on the side. Cory Wilcox waved, a gesture she didn't return, and in his enthusiasm he almost crashed into a news van parked the court-ordered sixty feet from the driveway.
The Rowleys had moved to the outskirts of White Spruce, Tennessee a decade ago for space and privacy, building their home on the dead-end dirt road with money from Matt's ICAP job, paying cash for the land and managing most of the construction with the help of family and friends. A short drive to town or her parent's house, it backed up to thousands of acres of mountain pines too steep and too rugged to develop. A busy day had meant four or five cars passing, and that only happened during hunting season, if then.
But not anymore.
She closed her eyes and tried to imagine the church going up across the road, a towering monstrosity that would destroy their front view and what little remained of their privacy, such as it was. The plans included a six thousand square foot worship area, four meeting rooms, and a banquet hall, well more than enough space for the eight hundred fanatics who now called White Spruce's their home.
A third of the town she'd grown up in were now strangers, new faces and names that gaped in rapture at Monica and her son on the rare occasions either of them would escape cabin fever to go out in public. Eight hundred souls didn't count the reporters, part-time pilgrims, construction workers, her security detail, or the raving, sign-wielding lunatics that thought her a soulless monster bent on destroying mankind and consuming their souls.
Gerstner hadn't lied. The fallen angel had told her that in order to escape the plain of needles she had to die, and in fulfillment of that promise Libby Kamen had shot Monica in the head on the Washington Mall, under the cherry blossoms. She remembered the gun, and the flash, and nothing more until Adam, her son, barely a toddler, had cradled her and lifted her on giant wings of feathers and light, brought her to her husband and breathed life back into her.
Unharmed, her shattered mind couldn't hold the memory, but she'd seen the video a thousand times. Everyone had, except maybe a handful of isolated monks in the Himalayas who didn't have YouTube. Half a year of refusing to give interviews or go on shows hadn't dulled the world's appetite for the miracle woman and her angelic son, yet she still couldn't wrap her head around a church built to worship her little boy.
Adam sat in the living room amid a pile of play blocks, extra-large Lego knockoffs as big as his hands that even the most determined toddler couldn't swallow. If he knew of the blasphemies committed in his name, he cared less about them than trying to corral Ted in a wall of cheap plastic. The Bassett Hound, capable of destroying his prison with one shake of his head, instead lay on his back, legs in the air, head flopped to the side, snoring.
The intercom beeped. She pressed the button on the wall. "Yeah?"
"Ma'am," Aaron Walters's deep voice resonated through the hall. Usually assigned to driveway duty, his massive frame and conspicuous pistol kept most people from approaching the house. "Mr Rees is here to see you."
Excerpted from Jade Gods by Patrick Freivald. Copyright © 2016 Patrick Freivald. Excerpted by permission of Cohesion Press.
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