Giant’s Rage Prequel

Here is a rough draft of one of my WIP’s.  Feel free to comment!  It’s the 3rd book in my Trials of Adrian Campbell series.


Prologue

Responsibility comes with power, but were power comes and goes responsibility sticks around and lingers like an unwanted house guest, so even though I was no longer invulnerable or super-powered, I still got tied to a boulder above Hawk’s Nest overlook in New York. I would have been less embarrassed about it if the people about to turn me into a human sacrifice had left me some clothes, or if they weren’t so darn… preppy.

I turned my head to the young man painting arcane symbols on my chest. “Are you sure we need to do this now? Couldn’t you take time to change into something different? I don’t want to disrespect your faith. I just don’t want to die at the hands of anyone wearing Izod.”

He gave me a smile that was more predator than preppie. “I dress for success, which Mar-Tack will grant me in exchange for your blood.”

I lifted my head off of the boulder. There were symbols painted all over the boulder, and candles burning on the end.

“You’re going to get your victory by stabbing me on a big rock table. Aren’t you worried about getting sued for copyright infringement?”

One of the two-dozen robed figures surrounding the boulder dropped out of the communal chant long enough to speak. “The sacrifice will be silent!” His words were slurred and husky.

I craned my head around to look at the face behind the mask. “You know, when you told me that we were going to go do some power ritual, I was right there with you. When it turned out that I was the power ritual my impulse to conform went right out the window.”

“Mar-Tack will punish you for your insolence!”

“Mar-Tack is apparently impressed by penny loafers and tops on sale at JCPenny. That takes some of the sting out of your threat.” I looked back at the painter, who was busy scribbling something on my hip. “Hey, buddy, I’m in your business law class, but that’s all. You go any further south and you’ve got to buy me dinner.”

“Ignore the sacrifice, Chester. This is your moment to claim your power and become one of us!”

I looked down at Chester. He was in his mid-twenties like the rest of the L2’s around him. Halfway through his law degree, he had a bald patch in his limp brown hair and he was working on a gut. “Listen to the sacrifice, Chester. Max is going to get you in real trouble one of these days. There is still time to change your mind. You don’t have to go through with this.”

“You wouldn’t understand,” Chester said. “I need this.”

“No, you really need to stop. There’s no future in this.”

“The sun rises!” one of the robed cultists shouted.

“The sun rises!” the rest answered.

Max looked over the mountain valley and raised both of his hands high. “The sun rises, and Mar-Tack rises with the sun! Come, Mar-Tack, Master of the Dawning Hunt, and witness this newest member of the pack as he proves your worth!”

The black-robed young men took up the chant. “Mar-Tack! Mar-Tack! Mar-Tack!”

This was embarrassing. It was a frat party revision of The Call of Cthulu. I refused to die in the middle of something so derivative.

I looked down at my body. Chester had finished his paint job. Max put a foot-long flint dagger in his hands. That dagger belonged in the stone age, right along with hunter spirits and human sacrifices. Everything about my death was thematically consistent… except for the Izods. Seriously…

My train of thought broke off when the law students called for their false god, and Mar-Tack arrived.

Mar-Tack looked like a cross between Daniel Boone and an abandoned tree stump. It was hard to tell the shape of him beneath the mound of furs he wore. Moss grew on his buckskins, and his white hair was a wind-blown tangle. Honest-to-goodness twigs stuck out of that elderly tangle, and I swore the branches seemed alive. He might have been six and a half feet tall of he weren’t starting to go stoop shouldered with age. He held a gnarled wooden staff in one hand, and a buck-handled hunting knife in the other. I didn’t hear him approach. He just seemed to appear at the edge of the clearing. There was nowhere he could have come from in that direction. I could still hear the occasional car pass on Route 97 below us.

Mar-Tack really knew how to make an entrance. The Delaware River Valley opened wide behind him, and the wind whipped through his hair like an aura of power.

“Mar-Tack!” the robed law students chanted, “your servants greet you with the dawn!”

The elderly man looked down at me like I was a piece of beef. He smiled. “I am Mar-Tack, Giver of Power. I recognized your praise as my due. Let the supplicant come forth.”

That was probably the wrong moment to start laughing, but I couldn’t help it. “You can not be serious.”

Someone hit me in the head with something solid, and I thought about the universe, mostly about stars spinning around in circles. Then I started tracking the ritual again.

I didn’t know how much time I missed, but Chester the potential cultist knelt at the old hermit’s feet. Mar-Tack’s eyes were closed and his hands glowed against Chester’s head. Chester’s body seized and trembled. I doubt he was aware of much of anything. The robed cult members chanted Mar-Tack’s name over and over again, swaying back and forth as they did so. The rising sun’s rays painted Chester and Mar-Tack in golden light, but it did nothing to stop the feeling of evil that crept down my spine. I mean sure, they had falsely befriended me as their fellow student, kidnapped me, and tied me up as a human sacrifice, but whatever Mar-Tack was doing to Chester just felt wrong.

I must have blacked out for most of it, because Mar-Tack released Chester, who fell to the ground and flopped around for another few seconds. Mar-Tack looked tired and winded, like he had just sprinted a mile. Chester opened his eyes and pulled himself to his feet. He looked even worse than Mar-Tack. Chester was pale and shaking. His movements were slow, deliberate, tortured even. Ugly bruises in the shape of Mar-Tack’s hands framed each of his eyes, but he was still smiling. His smile was the scariest thing about him. Whatever Mar-Tack had done to Chester, and Chester looked like he’d gone to a demolition derby minus a car, it had reached into Chester’s brain and hit the yes button.

I felt sick to my stomach.

“Hey,” I shouted, figuring that with my hands and feet tied down dialog was my best option. “What’s going on? I thought that Chester had to stick me with the knife and then you’d make him part of your little club.”

Mar-Tack looked at me over Chester’s shoulders. His voice sounded like creaking branches, and I could smell his breath from the altar, but his grammar was surprisingly high class and a little old-fashioned. “You have been misinformed, sir. Two lives enter the circle. One comes for power, and the other gives his life to seal the bargain, but the knife was never meant for you.”

Chester stood in front of his master, arms out, chest heaving. Mar-Tack took the stone knife from Chester’s hand and cut the law student’s preppy clothes right off his body. I noticed two things right away; Chester really needed to start working out, and Mar-Tack had lots of practice at this maneuver. There weren’t that many members of the little law school cult, so I guessed that he’d been doing this for a while.

“Chester,” Mar-Tack said, “take him.”

“Woah,” I shouted. “I’m pretty sure that somewhere in junior high I made a joke that I wanted to die having sex, but I take it back, I swear.”

Mar-Tack laughed at me. “I admire your spirit, sir. Well done, but we harbor no such unnatural perversions in the pack. Chester will walk over there and eat your heart. If he is particularly quick about it, you may even get to see the spectacle.”

“I thought you said the knife wasn’t for me.”

Mar-Tack shook his head. “Chester no longer needs knives. Now Chester, join us! Kill him!”

Chester took a step forward and every muscle in his body rippled. I thought he was going back into a seizure, but I should be so lucky. His legs bent and shortened, his arms lengthened. I heard every facial bone break, then tendons creaked as Chester transformed into something straight out of my very oldest nightmares. Three steps later a werewolf, seven feet tall and four hundred pounds of muscle, fang, and fur glared at me with Chester’s eyes. He licked his lips. Literally.

Who does that?

Adrenaline flooded my body and my mouth flipped over to autopilot. “You turned Chester into a freaking werewolf and you think gays are unnatural? You really need to rethink your priorities.”

The monster that used to be Chester Anderson took two more steps towards me. He walked hunched over, and his eyes pierced me with an inhuman hate. I wasn’t entirely sure that Chester was in the driver’s seat up there, but I decided to try one last time.

“Chester, listen to me, it isn’t too late. You don’t have to be a killer. You can succeed without this.”

I didn’t think that a werewolf was going to miss my words, but I wasn’t sure that Chester could hear me.

I raised my voice and called out to the whole cult. “Look! You can be forgiven! You don’t have to be murderers! The power to kill is nothing compared to the power to raise from the dead or live forever! Jesus died for your sins, even this one, but if you keep sacrificing people someone is going to stop you! All the money and power in the world isn’t going to help you out when you die!”

Mar-Tack wasn’t having any of it. “Listen to the powerless prey whine for its life. Jesus is a myth made up to enable the oppressors, a way for them to get rid of their false guilt. I have shown you the true power, power to take what you want from those weaker than you. You can survive for hundreds of years, ever wiser and stronger. As a pack you are greater than any mortal foe. Don’t be swayed by the powerless man and his threats of an imaginary tomorrow. Listen to the power in your flesh, the lust for his blood. Kill him, Chester, and we will drink his blood together!”

Chester took his time, but his claws were only a few feet away from my feet. “I’m not kidding,” I said. “Sooner or later someone is going to stop you. God isn’t going to let you get away with this forever. You need to repent before it’s too late.”

Mar-Tack laughed in my face. “Do you think you have anything to say the pack hasn’t heard before? Everyone tries to convince us, to persuade us. When that fails, they resort to religion and threats. Next you will offer us everything you have, everything you are if we just let you live. In the end, you will cry and call for your mother, but she isn’t here. She can’t help you. Make your noises, little pig, for the wolfing hour is upon you, and this is the end. What do you have to say to that?”

Chester the Werewolf leaned over me. He sniffed at my feet and licked a hot, wet tongue up my left shin. It was really sticky, and gross. I sort of forgot about Mar-Tack as Chester’s extra-large fangs got closer and closer to my junk. “Listen to me, Chester. You haven’t hurt anyone yet. You can still get free of this. I know it has to feel good… um… maybe even taste good. No. That’s a bad choice of words.”

Chester bypassed my family jewels and kept crawling over me. I could feel heat off of his supernaturally transformed body like an oven. He licked my ribs (gross) and lifted his head back with his eyes locked on my throat. If he’d been fifty pounds lighter, and not a flesh-eating monster, I might have felt complimented. As it was I just felt like a hors d’oeuvre.

My mouth ran into high gear. “Chester. Please, Chester. Don’t. You don’t have to do this.”

Chester’s eyes gleamed and he savored my helplessness, leaning closer by inches.

“No, Chester. Chester, stop. Stop! Stopstopstopstop….”

Chester’s fangs closed the final foot to my throat in one quick lunge with all his weight behind it.

So it must have really hurt when I Pushed my sword into my right hand. One instant I was naked and helpless, but I had an image in my head of Chester biting down on my sword, clacking his teeth on supernatural steel instead of the hollow of my throat. I felt the hilt of my sword in my hands, and called on my supernatural legacy, the one I got from my dear old demonic dad. I Pushed the image against reality. Basically I believed it with a supernatural amount of willpower until reality gave in and saw things my way. The sword was part of me, forged in the fire of my own magic and quenched in my own magical blood, I felt it in my hands as naturally as clapping. Chester’s chompers clapped shut on my sword blade, and he cried out in pain. Werewolves have really large lungs, and his mouth was an inch away from my throat, so that was deafening.

Chester reared back, snarling and clawing at his face. Chester didn’t back away fast enough. I whipped the rapier around with the twist of my wrist, the agile blade’s tip traveling a meter and a half as I moved my wrist four inches. Chester just wasn’t fast enough to overcome that sort of mechanical advantage. Werewolves might be really strong, but magic, holiness, and silver hurt them just like any other supernatural monster. My sword, forged in my own blood and quenched in anointing oil covered two of the three bases, and it slit his throat with a wound that sizzled and burned even as it killed him.

Chester flopped off of me, clawing desperately at the wound on his throat, which wasn’t going to help him any.

I cut my bonds away and stood. A flicker of mental effort called my clothes to me as well. It worked so well with my sword that I’d had an entire outfit made with bits of my hair and blood woven into the fabrics. I remembered my boots, pants, shirt, and coat. Then they were there. From commando to urban avenger in no time flat, it was a nice trick. But the nicest thing of all was the feeling of relief when I stopped using my Pusher’s powers to suppress my own supernatural nature. Werewolves were walking sensor suites, and I knew that they would be able to feel my strength, vitality, and power as if Roma Downey herself had put a spotlight down on my shoulders. Mar-Tack was no werewolf. He was what I was, a half-demon Fallen with supernatural powers woven into our very genetic code.

We locked eyes while the others hesitated. I got a first word into the silence.

“I never said that I was helpless, Marcus Takowsky. Today is the day God sends someone to stop you, the day when you brought all your followers together in one place for us to deal with.”

Mar-Tack was shaken, but he kept a good fame face on his surprise. “I can feel your powers, impostor. You’re a Pusher. You play at being a Caster, a Shifter, and the others, but it’s all just an imitation. You are the wanna-be of the Fallen world. You can call a sword and some undergarments? What good is your sword going to do against someone who can call fire? I will burn you where you stand!”

He wasn’t bluffing, either. He swept his wooden staff at the air between us and a wave of fire washed across the air between us. I lowered my sword, hunched my shoulders, and manifested my wings. Seven feet wide on either side, my wings beat at the wave of fire with inhuman strength and made a gust of wind that split the wave of fire to either side of me. I heard flames crackle behind me and at least one cult member cried out in pain. I flexed my shoulders, spread my wings wide, and leveled my sword at Mar-Tack’s face. “One more thing, Caster: leave my mother out of this.”

Mar-Tack looked at me with raw fury. “You’re not just a Pusher. You’re something else.” He made it into an accusation, like I had offended him by showing a power he hadn’t considered. “Who are you?”

“My name is Adrian Campbell. I’m a Reaper. Tell your followers to surrender and we’ll get them help. Fight, and you’re all going to die.”

More shock rippled through the cultists. Maybe Mar-Tack hadn’t told them about the things that made me famous in Fallen circles, the battle at QBI or the little vampire war in West Virginia, but I’d spent a few weeks on the top of the FBI’s most wanted list after a throw-down in Akron, so even normal folks reacted to my name. I thought for just a second that Mar-Tack and his followers might listen to reason and we could avoid a fight.

Then two dozen lawyer cultists threw off their robes and transformed. They threw themselves forward, howling for my blood. My claim that God was on my side was about to go on trial, and in the supernatural Shadow War the only trial was by ordeal. I raised my sword and gathered my power. God had really better be on my side, or I was going to die.

I didn’t stand a prayer against twenty-five enemies, even if Mar-Tack was the only other Fallen among them, werewolves were a nasty business all their own, but these were skin walkers, humans granted power. I was born with mine. Human werewolves weren’t as powerful as Fallen ones, but even if I could handle one or two the other twenty-odd sets of fangs would pull me down.

It was a good thing that I wasn’t alone. As soon as I called my sword my power would start pushing against nearby supernatural senses. The stronger someone’s senses, or the more powerful the Fallen, the stronger they pressed against their senses. Werewolves had some of the sharpest senses in the Shadow War, but they weren’t the best.

Oracles were the best. Hale didn’t just have the senses of a super-psychic thanks to his share of half-angel DNA. He could read minds, hear thoughts, and pretty much see the future.

So when Mar-Tack and his homemade werewolves came for my blood my team was ready. Mar-Tack witched twice, the slap-slap crack-crack of high powered rifle fire matching the wounds over his heart and his head. I worked with a man named Kerry Reynolds, and he was a Hunter. He couldn’t spout wings, throw fireballs, or see the future, but he was a born killer, and he had been a sniper since Gettysburg. He’d brought his Holland and Holland .300 Nitro-Express to the party. Two hundred some yards away, on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware river, Reynolds was shooting at point blank range. Cordite propellant sent the rounds rocketing forward at two and a half times the speed of sound, so even this close it took half a second for the sound of the shot to follow its round to the target. A third of a second to hit the target was too slow for a kill shot on something as fast as a werewolf, but the supersonic round meant the critters never knew they had fire to dodge until it was too late, and Reynolds’ Hunting powers sent every shot home. Reynolds’ H&H was one of the first-ever belt fed rifles, and he put it to good use. I heard another slap-crack as a charging werewolf fell lifeless to the ground and the werewolf downrange took the anti-elephant round in the shoulder. Reynolds was fast and accurate like a shooter’s dream, but even the nitro-express with blessed ammunition wasn’t going to stop them all in time.

With a little luck and a lot of favor from on high, the rest of our plan would.

Heather burst into view at over ninety miles an hour, head up and red hair streaming in the wind. She must have flown up the mountainside to gain speed and stay out of sight until just the right moment. She dropped the passenger that she’d been carrying in her arms the moment they cleared the ridge, then sped into the sky like a vision of a warrior goddess in close-fitting leathers. Agent Forrest Hale flew through the air on momentum for a quick arc. He hit the ground and bled off his momentum with the fluid grace of a true Aikido master. He flowed to his feet nearby, facing my back as if he’d had it planned ahead of time. Maybe he had.

There was time for one more slap-crack from Reynolds’ rifle, another werewolf down, and then they were on us.

My sword is a late Scottish rapier, light enough to fence with and sturdy enough to parry heavier blades. With a doubled grip on the cat’s head pommel I could use it as a light broadsword when I positively had to cut something in half instead of simply killing it.

I doubled up my grip. It wasn’t that werewolves needed more than a thrust to the heart or brain to kill. A good sword thrust was wider than a fifty-caliber round. The problem was that thrusts required recovery time that a press of battle wouldn’t give me.

People talk about battle being a blur. The fight in the woods came to me like shards of a broken glass picture. I cut a werewolf down, kicked a second, and used my sword on a third. My training was European and Korean, full of short, brutal moves that put all my body behind the strikes. My blade was magic because I was, so a werewolf’s healing powers couldn’t help them against my attacks.

Forrest Hale reached out to me with his mind, and we stopped fighting as individuals. I knew what he knew, saw what he saw, and suddenly neither of us had a blind spot. His sword was holy, not magic, and it flashed as it cut through flesh. Hale flowed through sword forms like smoke in the wind, never hard, never resisting, and never stopping. He wasn’t as fast as I was, and nowhere near as fast as the werewolves, but he didn’t need to be when he could feel each attack coming before it even began. Claws and fangs missed him by inches, but his katana slipped through flesh and bone as if it were nothing.

I caught a glimpse of Heather, the team Hawk over the fight. Her wings were the color of autumn leaves, and they flashed gold in the morning sun as she dove between werewolves. They threw themselves into the air again and again, but Hawks were the messengers of our kind. Fast and agile, she found the path she needed through their attacks by instinct. She had an M-16A1 tucked tight to her shoulder, and put three-round bursts of silver-tipped slugs into targets at will. Silver slugs have terrible ballistics qualities and they penetrate for crap, but we weren’t here to kill elephants, and shapeshifters hated silver.

Thumple-crack came from Reynolds’ Nitro Express as the bullets punched deep into the pack. His rounds were designed to hunt elephants, and for every werewolf he killed he injured one or two more. I would be terrified if anyone else was shooting that gun at my enemies in a sword fight, but Reynolds could feel and see everything in the fight with Hale’s psychic link, and his Hunter powers kept him from killing me by mistake.

Twenty-four werewolves had enough raw power to eat a regular army company for lunch, but we were trained professionals. We were Reapers. This was our job and we were good at it.

I held an image in my mind from a Korean swordsman flick where heroes with swords stood against hordes of monsters with flashing blades and the dedication to their righteous cause. I Pushed the image from my head into reality and suddenly I moved faster, hit harder, and my sword started to hum in the air. The skin walker I’d kicked away leapt straight at me with his hands outstretched. I leapt right back at him, horse stance, elbow out with all my weight behind it. The werewolf’s nose hit my elbow, and my Pushed image meant that it was his nose instead of my arm that broke. His arms slashed the air in front of and behind me as he fell snorting to the ground at my feet. I cut at the base of his skull and side-kicked another werewolf in the shoulder. The skin walker was twice my weight in werewolf form, which meant my kick stopped him cold but threw me up and backwards in the air. That was fine by me. I landed in a fighting stance right behind Hale and went right back to slicing.

I spun right to cut a werewolf down before he could eat my knee, and his pack-mate leapt at my exposed shoulder. It was a great tactic if I were a moose, but I swept my right wing forward and batted the monstrous law student out of the air. The blow wouldn’t really hurt him, but it did knock him to the ground right at my feet. I watched the injured werewolf’s nose reform itself in the time I would need for a deep breath, and then it hurled itself right at me. I ran him through just behind the shoulders, lungs and heart ruined in one thrust. The monster thrashed wildly, tore big furrows in the ground, and then fell over sideway to lie still.

Slap. The werewolf I’d knocked down jerked six inches to the side as a Nitro Express round took it in the heart. Crack. The rifle’s report thundered over the sound of battle. The werewolf snapped at its side out of sheer reflex, but there was nothing there to counter-attack. Then it fell over twitching.

The last pair of werewolves on the battlefield turned to run. Heather’s rifle took one and Reynolds the other. More gunshots echoed through the river valley, and then my team was alone.

I lowered my sword and dropped my Gumdo Superstar image. Reality un-bent around me like a slap in the mind, and everywhere my mind had been Pushing. My hands and legs shook and I couldn’t catch my breath or gather my thoughts. I stumbled to one knee, dripping sweat, and tried to regain my strength.

Heather O’Leary landed next to me with a flurry of wings that weren’t there a second later. She knelt by my side with a worried look on her face. Her hands searched my body for wounds without hesitation or any concern for my personal space. Times like this she tended to forget that our years as lovers were years behind us. “Adrian! Are you all right? Are you hurt?”

Her hands danced up the inside of my leg seeking arterial wounds. My body forgot our changed relationship status as quickly as she did, right when all of Heather’s attention was where she couldn’t possibly miss her effect on me.

Heather’s hand landed right on the issue and her concern vanished in a second and she slapped me upside the head. “You sexist pig.”

I shook my head but my words wobbled to pieces in my scrambled brain.

“It’s Kickback, Heather,” Hale supplied. “He Pushed too hard in the fight and his powers have shorted out. He’ll get his strength back in just a bit.”

Heather was still offended. “I know just the refreshment he needs.”

“Heather…” Hale started, but he could tell what she wanted to do as well as she could, and I could hear the laughter in his head.

Two coherent words made it past my static-fuzzed brain. “Uh oh.”

But there wasn’t anything I could do. Heather grabbed me by the ankles, leapt into the air, and her wings were suddenly back. I counted five flaps of her powerful wings as she accelerated to high speed. It felt like sixty miles and hour at least when she let go of my ankles.

I dropped my sword and flailed at the air as the western edge of NewYork flashed past me. I fell head-first so I had an upside down view of the Delaware River Valley. Route 97’s scenic overlook blurred past. I tried to pop my wings, Push an image of weightlessness… anything, but my fritzed-out powers gave me nothing but a dizzy fit as I fell into the Delaware at about ninety miles an hour. The water hit me like a slap from Godzilla, then closed over me as I hit the rock and muddy bottom. Several fish floated towards the surface, stunned by the concussion I’d created hitting the water. By the time I dug myself free of the river bottom they recovered and spun away. A snapping turtle bit at the water in my direction as an all-purpose warning and then retreated inside its shell.

My Powers came back by the time I swam to shore. By the time I popped my wings and flew back Heather had already retrieved our resident sniper from Pennsylvania.

“Supersonic interstate werewolf bullets,” Kerry Reynolds said as he slipped his Nitro Express back into a leather satchel fringed with tassels and a strip of wampum. “That’s a first.” Kerry was five feet and ten inches, a hundred and sixty pounds, and with his dirty red hair he could have been an extra from the set of Justified. He had a Civil War style cavalry saber on one hip and a Colt revolver on the other. Reynolds didn’t seem scary until you saw him fight, but I’d seen him take on a Shifter werewolf with nothing but a Bowie knife and attitude before. Reynolds won.

I landed next to the cultists’ stone table and knelt next to one of the bodies. One reason the rest of the world goes on ignoring the Shadow War is because most of the evidence doesn’t stick around long. Shifters, Giants, and Skin Walkers changed back to human when the angelic or demonic forces that changed them shuffled off to the next world, or to their next victim. So our big supernatural battlefield looked like a nudist party gone slasher film before dawn. That was probably what the police would write it up as. God only knew what they would say about the bullet wounds.

Chester’s eyes stared back at me with nothing behind him. He had a shocked, confused look on his face. Death had robbed him of any dignity he’d had in life. His bowels and bladder had loosed with no concern for his modesty, and his naked body was covered with spatters of blood from the fight. I was a born fighter. I was good at it, and in the middle of a fight I loved it more than I wanted to admit. But I never let myself forget this part, the part that came after. No one, whether they had two human parents or just one, was a mistake. All life came from God, and went back to him for judgment. Every living person carried the image of God, and killing them was worse than taking a knife to the Mona Lisa.

I’d killed him because I’d had to. It had felt good at the moment, which I had to live with every time I looked in a mirror. Now, I just cared about what was lost. But I wasn’t going to cry in front of my teammates. It wasn’t that they wouldn’t understand. It was because they would.

I closed Chester’s eyes and rested a hand on his cheek. He had been my enemy. But the fear of failure that I’d felt in him, driving him to get power at any cost was gone. I couldn’t even see the lust for my life that his werewolf face had carried. Now he was just one more victim of Satan’s empty promises of power: one more casualty in the endless Shadow War.

“Now, Chester. Now it’s too late.”

Hale wiped his spectacles free of blood and seated them over his dark brown eyes once gain. He rested a hand on my shoulder. “Come on, Adrian. There’s nothing that you can do for them now. They’re in God’s hands, and whatever he decides will be just.”

“Besides,” Heather said with a lot less compassion, “if we don’t make tracks we’re going to be late getting home, and I don’t want to miss the party.”

“Shoot,” Reynolds said. He pronounced it she-oot. “I forgot about the knee-biter completely.”

“It’s all right,” Hale said. “It’s a three state drive back home, and we can stop to find you something from a gift shop.”

“Who said anything about driving?” he asked. He held his arms straight out. “Taxi!”

I gave him a look. “What am I, a rickshaw driver?”

“Naw,” Reynolds said. “I ain’t paying ya. You owe me for at least two of those Skin Walkers by my count. I will graciously accept a ride as repayment in exchange for saving your life.”

“Whatever,” I said. “I totally would have had them.”

Reynolds arched an eyebrow. “Don’t argue with your elders, child. Now, mush!”

Hale shrugged a semi-apology as he spoke into his cell phone. “Boss-man, this is Reaper Team Three. Our Mission is accomplished and we’re heading back home. We’re going to run into a thunderstorm over West Virginia so we won’t be back until just before supper. Everyone’s fine, and we’re coming home.”

Heather stepped up behind Hale and wrapped her arms around him. A normal human would tire quickly carrying a grown man around, but with our supernatural strength Hale and Reynolds weren’t any more inconvenient than a backpack when we were kids.

I adjusted my gear, called my sword out of the Delaware river and into a scabbard on my back, and manifested wings once again. I hugged Reynolds to my chest and muttered in his ear, “I still say I would have had them.”

He just laughed and pointed west. “Come on, flying monkey. Get me back to the Farm.”

He was still chuckling as we hit Pennsylvania and made a straight shot for home.

Black Friday Freestyle

[Note: Amazon.com is experiencing some delays implementing the sale.  It’s a busy day for retail. I will keep you posted.  BB 2:33am 11/27

The Rogue of An Dinas is available for free on Kindle ebook. 2:42am]

I’m so thankful for my readers that I’m offering you a chance to share the adventure you love with people you love, or a chance to treat yourself to a series you haven’t bought yet.  My Black Friday isn’t a deal at all.  It’s not a steal.  You can’t steal what I’m giving away!

What is an author most thankful for?  You, my readers!  To share my appreciation with those who have joined me on adventures, sword fights, starship battles, chase scenes, for everyone who has threatened me bodily harm if I don’t type the next book for everything yesterday, I offer you my thanks…

AND THE FIRST BOOK IN EVERY SERIES FREE.

Tour Hote Slave FinJoin an amnesiac slave boy in the race to regain his identity before the secrets of his past destroy his new home.  Swords, sorcery, and space-age technology collide in The Slave of Tour Hote.

Pushing Back

Follow Adrian Campbell on a race across supernatural Minnesota in the dead of winter, and the agents dispatched to stop him before his inhuman nature forces him to kill again!  Pushing Back.

The Pilgrim's Chapel as a book cover

When the youngest Knight of An Dinas is caught betraying the code that upheld civilization for seven centuries on the lost colony of Salasia, he stumbles onto a conspiracy that will reshape his world.  The epic serial fantasy begins with The Rogue of An Dinas.

 

Whether you’re a fan of swords-and-horses fantasy, urban fantasy, martial arts action, or science fiction, I think you’ll find something to appreciate.  Don’t waste time!  Treat a friend!  Indulge yourself!  This deal runs from Black Friday through December 1st, and then it’s gone.

Black Friday: No Pushing

Lagrandil.com’s Black Friday deal: Normally $2.99, Pushing Back, the first Adrian Campbell novel, is absolutely free on Amazon.com from Friday, November 27th  through December 1st, 2015.  If you’re looking for a quick gift for an adventure lover in your life, or for your own action junkie, check out the first book in The Trials of Adrian Campbell.  If you like what you see, book 2, Shifting Gears, is available on Amazon.com.  Book 3, Giant’s Rage, will be released in 2016.

Pushing Back (The Trials of Adrian Campbell Book 1) on Kindle.

The Trials of Adrian Campbell #1

Adrian Campbell is on a mission. He’s racing against the clock across the forests of northern Minnesota. He has until midnight to save the world. Before the night is through he must face ice monsters, werewolves, vampires, and more in order to reach his goal. It’s an inhuman task, but Adrian Campbell will face it with a wry inner commentary and the powers that make him more than human…

Agents Hale and Reynolds are on a mission. They’re tracking down a man who’s gone missing in the middle of a bloodbath in Akron, Ohio. A twisting trail of interviews, lost files, and mysterious clues keeps indicating that there is more going on than meets the eye. Hale and Reynolds are no stranger to the supernatural, and they’re determined to find Adrian Campbell before he kills again…

The paths of both quests lead to the northern woods of Minnesota in the dead of winter. Supernatural forces are gathering there under the mysterious agenda of QuelleBiotech Incorporated. Three different goals will clash in the cold and the darkness. It is a battle waged with martial arts and firearms, magic spells and ancient faith.
Pushing Back is a supernatural action-adventure. It mixes Christian themes with a breakneck pace and plenty of swashbuckling action.

5-Days of Darkblade! Free Kindle ebook!

To celebrate the switch to Kindle Unlimited, my standalone space opera adventure Darkblade is available on Amazon.com for $0.00 Monday through Friday this week!  (11-16-2015 through 11-20-2015).

Starships, swords, sorcery, chases, battles, and an ancient mystery await in this excellent introduction to my fictional world!

Darkblade Kindle Cover

[This Second Edition has been updated with new maps, table of contents, re-edited and released for the tenth anniversary of its first publication in 2004.]

A RACE FOR THE BLACK SHIP…

Caith Moore is Mighty, one of the enhanced warriors that fight the battles between every Great House of the Overlords for dominance in the Hyperspace Web. Each house has its own brand of enhancement, and Caith wields supernatural Powers as well as the fearsome Mnemonic implant. He is the greatest warrior of his generation. But when his best friend reaches to the only forbidden power, Faith, Caith must put him down. Now he is bent on revenge. He will find the Fanatics who made him kill his friend, and bring them to justice.

But the Fanatic captain Deacon Rider is on a quest of his own. He has a lead on a Black Ship, an ancient artifact of untold power that could deliver his people from oppression once and for all. The two will race across the Hyperspace Web in a contest that can have only one winner, with the fate of a hundred worlds hanging in the balance.

Pilgrim’s Path: Bonus Prologue

In order to further promote, tease, and torment my readers, I’m posting the rough draft of the second book in St. Gavin’s Ghost.  It’s called The Pilgrim’s Path.

[If you haven’t read the first book, um, you might want to look to that on Barnes and Noble or Kindle first.]

[‘Cause spoilers…. duh.]

Prologue

Evan clutched his cloak tight against the cold and ignored the subtle threat as he scanned the forest for signs of pursuit.  The crackle of the camp’s fire beckoned his chilled cheeks like a wanton, but he kept his back to the blaze.  Comfort was a watchman’s enemy as sure as sleep, and one followed the other as often as not.

There was no comfort to be found in the darkened forest in front of him.  Early winter frost turned bare branches into claws that shone with the firelight behind him.  They mocked him with proof that comfort was behind him with his brethren, wrapped in their skins and furs against the night.

He thought about the fire again, and grimaced.  He shifted slightly on the fallen log he’d chosen for his watch.  He slid a hand to the fat bag of coin that hung from his hip.  Coins clicked softly through the leather.

Evan smelled heat and mint before he heard the soft footsteps behind him.  A hand wrapped in black fur held out a steaming mug of tea.

That was worth a moment of cold.  He kept his eyes on the horizon, but scooted over enough to make room for his comrade on the watch.  Another pile of furs settled down, but the massive log did not shift.  They’d chosen this camp for the fallen Bayit Oaks from last year’s storm.

Evan sipped the tea, and it was almost enough to make him believe in the Saints once again.  Hot mint, sivermoss rind, and some spice he couldn’t name chased most of the winter chill from his ribs.  “Mm..  thanks.”

His companion nodded.  “Any sign?”

Evan spat by his feet.  “Fetch was right.  The Posse never follows us past Tanglewood Tower.”

The other grunted.  “We’re safe until they learn to track over naked rocks and pools.”

Evan snorted.  “Never happen.  They’re sheep.”  He patted the fat money bag.  “Three towns in riding distance, the whole damned world open at our backs, and local Knights too superstitious to try hard.”

“Sheared them today.”

Evan took another sip of the tea.  The warmth spread from his ribs down to his knees and elbows.  “Even sheared sheep stop bleating eventually.”  He nodded back at the campfire, which had finally gone silent in the distance.  “Which girl did you pick?”

His companion shrugged.  “Pick?  I’m patient.  When everyone is tired I can take all three.”

Evan snorted.  “Merchant daughters.  They’ll be nice and broken in by then.  Unless you want the boy.  He’s got some fight left in him.”

“Why do all the work myself?”

Evan snorted.  He closed his eyes and drank in the warm feeling that reached right down to his toes.  “Which wagon had the tea?  We’ve got to steal more of this.”

“That tea didn’t come from the wagons,” the man said.  “I brought it when I tracked you past Tanglewood Tower.”

The voice changed as it spoke, the rougher bur of Gray Mountain peasantry slid into something fancier, something refined.  Evan hadn’t been a highwayman for long without hearing that accent.

“Crown Lands!”

Evan leaped for his feet and blurred his hand down to the recurved blade in its sheathe.  Fur flew from his shoulders, but his body betrayed him. His hand slapped uselessly against his sword hilt at the same time that his knees buckled.  He knew that the ground was cold and hard against his cheek, and he could hear the snow crunch in his ear, but all he felt was the warmth.

Evan’s companion threw off his own furs.  His fur-lined armor held a simple sigil over a gray and black sash.  Evan knew the symbol.  Every man from the Crown Lands to the New Duchies knew that symbol.  The sheep looked to it in hope, but Evan’s bandit heart only felt terror like fire.

Terror, and creeping warmth that numbed his tongue and turned his eyelids to stones.

“An Dinas.”  The fabled tower’s name was a curse on Evan’s tongue.  “Poisoner.  Coward.”

The Knight shifted the curved sword in his sash and clapped his gloved hands together.  “Now now, there will be plenty of time to spit curses on the road back to town.  Get your rest.  You have a long ride ahead of you, and a trial, and a hanging unless I miss my guess.”

Evan’s eyes closed, but the last few sounds drifted through the warmth.

“Also, I have a boy of my own, but not in the sense that you mean.  Squire Brian, come give me a hand with the horses, but don’t drink the tea unless you want to sleep until noon tomorrow.  That was not permission.  If you make my forty year old back haul all the bandits onto horses you’ll dance forms until you can’t lift your sword.”

A boy’s voice, deep but fresh came from the forest Evan had just scanned, the trees where he had seen nothing.  “Yes, Sir Kenneth.  Of course, Sir Kenneth.”  There was no missing the disappointment in the tone.

Evan heard the Knight sigh.  “You know, Brian, there is nothing wrong avoiding a fight.  The Saints know that we have enough killing from necessity without adding more by preference.”

Evan tried to fight his way to his feet.  He knew in his mind that he had to run, had to get away.  There was no fighting the Knights of An Dinas.  Even Grave Kelly would run, but Grave Kelly hadn’t even cried out.  He was either dead with his throat cut in his sleep, or he’d drunk the damned Knight’s tea and slept through it all.  Evan should feel fear.  He waited for the white light of terror to shake off the drug and get him to his feet.

Evan tried to spit another curse, but the warmth was everywhere.  It was everything.

After the warmth came the darkness.

***

Sir Zedekiah Montblanc appreciated the warmth of the afternoon sun on his face, but he wasn’t going to show that comfort any more than he would show his irritation at the mountains’ early chill.

Granite Falls’ cobbled streets parted around him as peasants, merchants, and nobles saw the white tower of An Dinas on his breast, as if the sash and the sword were not motive enough.

Sir Zedekiah nodded at the parting crowd.  “So you see, Squire?  Comport yourself as a Knight.  Let your very air demand respect and you will have it.”

The boy chuckled slightly, and it sounded wrong in Sir Zedekiah’s ears.  It wasn’t that his Squire should not appreciate his wisdom.  But even after the funeral, three days in airships, and ten more on the road, Sir Zedekiah still expected to hear Alex’s voice at his side

But the familiar features were not there.  Squire Thomas had hair so dark it was black, and the fact he wore it instead of Alex’s light brown locks only made it seem darker to Zedekiah’s eyes.  Thomas’s jaws were angular and already shadowed with stubble after this morning’s shave, not Alex’s round childish features and smooth skin that made his age a lie.

Not that Alex would ever see eighteen.

Two words tripped through Sir Zedekiah’s mind.  The Pilgrim.  The vigilante’s name was pious, but he’d killed a Squire of An Dinas, and for what, to protect peasants?  Nemedian peasants?  Foreigners with nothing to contribute but taxes and subservience?

Zedekiah drew in a quick breath and let it out again.  He would catch the Pilgrim, see his blood on his sword, and then perhaps the sight of Alex’s smile would not haunt his dreams.

Whatever fire burned in Squire Thomas’ gray eyes, Zedekiah did not care about their source.  The intense young man was full of himself, but full of An Dinas.  He did his duty, and he had pledged his life to the plan that would save the kingdom.  That was enough.

But Thomas’s shorter, thicker build still seemed wrong.  None of An Dinas’ warriors were clumsy, but Thomas stomped up the streets as if conquering the steps, where Alex would have flowed across them like the wind.

Zedekiah let out a long breath and forced thoughts of his fallen Squire aside.  A more introverted man might have wondered how much of his anger came from the loss of the boy An Dinas had charged him to train into manhood, and how much came from his own wounded pride that someone had taken something that belonged to him.

Such was not Zedekiah’s nature, and it did not even occur to him to think along those lines.  Power mattered.  Power, position, and duty were the sources of his life’s purpose. If he took pride in those things, that was only proper.  If he expected others to take pride in them, well, An Dinas held the kingdom together, and without them humanity itself might not have survived on this planet.  The other Landings had never been found.  Salas and the Duchies might be all that remained on the land.

Strength, duty and honor had preserved it.  Strength, duty and honor would continue to preserve it.

The sight of swinging bodies swept through Sir Zedekiah’s train of thought.  They hung from gibbets in front of the heliograph tower, and they had not been there long.

“He got them,” Squire Thomas said.  “He got them all!”

Zedekiah heard the sound of admiration in the boy’s voice.  That would not do at all.  “Squire Thomas,” he said quietly.  “While you ride with me, you will never express public surprise at An Dinas’ success.  We are the Knights of An Dinas.  Everyone knows that no force can stand against us.  We are the swords of justice and serve the Saints.  While other ears can here, news that we have done our duty means nothing but that the sun has risen, will set, and the shifting skies will dance until it rises again.  It may seem a small thing, but An Dinas must lead and you will comport yourself accordingly, or I will remind you with howsoever much vigor you require.”

A man’s beard and muscles did not make Squire Thomas older than other sixteen-year-olds at heart.  Sir Zedekiah caught the flash of anger and resentment in those gay eyes, but he saw the discipline slam down over the expression, and a single eyebrow trembled to show their passing.

“Yes, sir.”  The Squire allowed none of the emotion into his voice.  That was a very promising sign.  “I understand completely.”

Zedekiah waited one more breath to let the lesson sink in, and then waved his hand.  “Run ahead and find Sir Kenneth or Squire Brian.  An Dinas heliographed them to await us.”

“Sir!”  Zedekiah’s new Squire stalked off into the crowd that watched the bodies twist in the wind.  Zedekiah saw that Thomas’ demeanor parted people before him.  It was not as fast or wide a path as a Knight command, but it was progress of a sort.

The crowds parted again a few minutes later, and Squire Thomas had two other men in An Dinas armor walking behind him.

Zedekiah thought that Sir Kenneth would serve An Dinas better in a warehouse than wandering the towers.  The older Knight had passed forty recently, and a comfortable weight around his middle matched the complacent smile in his eyes.  Average brown hair, average brown eyes, only another warrior would see the swordsman behind the shopkeeper’s air.  It was in the way he moved as if the weight meant nothing to his muscles, the way he never stepped out of balance.

The young man by Sir Kenneth’s side was in the middle of a heated discussion with his master, even though his head only came up to Kenneth’s shoulder.  Blond haired, blue eyed, and classically handsome, Sir Zedekiah thought for just a moment that his old Squire, his murdered pupil was back from the dead.

It wasn’t.  It couldn’t be.  Zedekiah kept the surge of grief from his face with the ease of long habit and forced himself to listen to the An Dinan’s words.  He focused on the differences.  North Back’s hair was true blond, not a very light brown.  He was a year or two younger than Alex.  He held himself balanced, not forward as an aggressive fighter would.

Sir Kenneth’s voice was level and even.  “You sound like the last bandit, the one on guard.”

Squire Brian’s voice seemed too deep for the rest of him, hot with frustration.  “We had them.  We tracked them.  The guard couldn’t even see me.  You could have killed them all.  But you poisoned them instead.  It’s not right it’s…”

“Cowardly?” Sir Kenneth offered without heat.  “Squire, I have found in life that that it is much harder to heal than it is to kill.  We could have charged in with our swords out, and a single missed stroke or broken bone could have woken them all.  They were sleeping and we are trained, but even Knights of An Dinas are not immortal.”

Kenneth pointed to the back.  “We took them with medicine and knowledge, instead of swords and muscles.  Were they less taken?  Do you think the young people they kidnapped were better or worse when they had the chance to confront their attackers in court, tell what happened, and see those wrongs punished?  Do you think the town would have been better off if we told them that the bandits had died, or if the people who held them powerless came under their power?

“Knights of An Dinas do not exist to kill, though we do.  We do not serve ourselves, though we gain honor and glory.  We serve the Kingdom, the Pilgrims, and the Saints.  So it is good to stop bandits.  It is better to show justice, to uphold the law, and to empower the people.”  Sir Kenneth nodded towards Sir Zedekiah.  “Here is duty to call us away.  If the people see justice, see the Saints obeyed, then they are stronger instead of weaker when we go.”

Sir Zedekiah nodded in return.  The older Knight’s belly may have gone soft, but there was nothing wrong with his mind.  He was a fool, but he was good at his foolishness.

Sir Zedekiah put all of his admiration on his face, and swallowed his contempt.  Sir Kenneth was not the only one who was subtle.  “Saints preserve you, Sir Kenneth, Squire…”

Zedekiah’s ruse gave Squire Brian the moment that he needed to catch on.  The less Sir Kenneth knew about the other members of Sir Zedekiah’s little band, the harder it would be for them to catch their target.  Sir Kenneth knew their prey better than almost any man alive, but even the most dedicated Knight might balk when sent to hunt down their own apprentice.  Zedekiah, Thomas, and Brian knew the situation, and the plan, but an ideologue like Sir Kenneth could never be persuaded to see reality, so he must be given the reality he could handle.

That most especially did not include the fact that all of his companions had an entirely different set of orders than he was about to receive.

Squire Brian, the undisciplined young idiot, actually winked behind Sir Kenneth’s back.  Why did the insecure constantly feel the need to give away the fact that they truly belonged?  “It’s Squire Brian Templeton of North Back, Sir Kenneth.  We haven’t met, but I’m honored to meet the most famous swordsman of An Dinas.”

Sir Kenneth smiled and promised himself not to give Squire Brian’s pretty head anything too valuable to retain.  He would be useful to distract young ladies, or get information from the fairer gender, and he would keep Sir Kenneth full.  The boy might be one with the cause, but his idea of subtlety was deplorable, and he tried far too hard.  Still, perhaps Brian’s phasing seemed too obvious because he already knew his role in the upcoming drama.

“The Saints preserve you, Squire Brian.  This is Squire Thomas Roy of Clearbrook.”

With the formalities out of the way, Sir Zedekiah reached into his pouch and produced a roll of parchment with the Knight Marshall’s seal in the unbroken wax.  The gold and black fabric attached marked the order as a direct message from the head of their order.

“You are not wrong, Sir Kenneth.  An Dinas heliographed ahead to expect us.  We need your assistance with an urgent matter of state.”

Kenneth looked puzzled, but he kept his polite smile in place.  “I received the message.  I’ll certainly help however I can.  However I try, though, I cannot imagine how I can be of service to such a capable Knight.”

“On the contrary,” Sir Zedekiah said with his first fully genuine smile of the morning.  “You’re our best chance to help us escort an important witness to An Dinas.  We have four weeks before the Knight Marshal’s son returns from his Pilgrimage, and I am charged to find Robert Cooper and return before then.”

And, Sir Zedekiah thought to himself, if your precious morals get in my way, we’ll put you in a wood casket just like his.

A Preview of Preppy Death, Giant’s Rage Prologue

As a preview of this summer’s often-delayed upcoming novel, I present to you the Prologue of Giant’s Rage by Bruce R Burns.

Chapters 1-5 will be available a week at a time until the release date.

(All rights, are of course reserved, duh!)

Prologue

Responsibility comes with power, but were power comes and goes responsibility sticks around and lingers like an unwanted house guest. Take, for example, the fact that even though I was no longer invulnerable or super-powered, I still got tied to a boulder above Hawk’s Nest overlook in New York. I would have been less embarrassed about it if the people about to turn me into a human sacrifice had left me some clothes, and if they weren’t so darn… preppy.

I turned my head to the young man painting arcane symbols on my chest. “Are you sure we need to do this now? Couldn’t you delay your sacrifice long enough to change into something different? It’s not that I want to disrespect your faith. I just don’t want to die at the hands of anyone wearing Izod.”

He gave me a smile that was more predator than prep. “I dress for success, which Mar-Tack will grant me in exchange for your blood.”

I lifted my head off of the boulder. There were symbols painted all over the boulder, and candles burning on the end.

“You’re going to get your victory by stabbing me on a big rock. Aren’t you worried about getting sued for copyright infringement?”

One of the two-dozen robed figures surrounding the boulder dropped out of the communal chant long enough to speak. “The sacrifice will be silent!” His words were slurred and husky.

I craned my head around to look at the face behind the mask. “You know, when you told me that we were going to go do some power ritual, I was right there with you. When it turned out that I was the power ritual my impulse to conform went right out the window.”

“Mar-Tack will punish you for your insolence!”

“Mar-Tack is apparently impressed by penny loafers and tops on sale at JCPenny. That takes some of the sting out of your threat.” I looked back at the painter, who was busy scribbling something on my hip. “Hey, buddy, I’m in your business law class, but that’s all. You go any further south and you’ve got to buy me dinner.”

“Ignore the sacrifice, Chester. This is your moment to claim your power and become one of us!”

I looked down at Chester. He was in his mid-twenties like the rest of the L2’s around him. Halfway through his law degree, he had a bald patch in his limp brown hair and he was working on a gut. “Listen to the sacrifice, Chester. Max is going to get you in real trouble one of these days. There is still time to change your mind. You don’t have to go through with this.”

“You wouldn’t understand,” Chester said. “I need this.”

“No, you really need to stop. There’s no future in this.”

“The sun rises!” one of the robed cultists shouted.

“The sun rises!” the rest answered.

Max looked over the mountain valley and raised both of his hands high. “The sun rises, and Mar-Tack rises with the sun! Come, Mar-Tack, Master of the Dawning Hunt, and witness this newest member of the pack as he proves your worth!”

The black-robed young men took up the chant. “Mar-Tack! Mar-Tack! Mar-Tack!”

This was embarrassing. It was a frat party revision of The Call of Cthulu. I refused to die in the middle of something so derivative.

I looked down at my body. Chester had finished his paint job. Max put a foot-long flint dagger in his hands. That dagger belonged in the stone age, right along with hunter spirits and human sacrifices. Everything about my death was thematically consistent… except for the Izods. Seriously…

My train of thought broke off when the law students called for their false god, and Mar-Tack arrived.

Mar-Tack looked like a cross between Daniel Boone and an abandoned tree stump. It was hard to tell the shape of him beneath the mound of furs he wore. Moss grew on his buckskins, and his white hair was a wind-blown tangle. Honest-to-goodness twigs stuck out of that elderly tangle, and I swore the branches seemed alive. He might have been six and a half feet tall of he weren’t starting to go stoop shouldered with age. He held a gnarled wooden staff in one hand, and a buck-handled hunting knife in the other. I didn’t hear him approach. He just seemed to appear at the edge of the clearing. There was nowhere he could have come from in that direction. I could still hear the occasional car pass on Route 97 below us.

Mar-Tack really knew how to make an entrance. The Delaware River Valley opened wide behind him, and the wind whipped through his hair like an aura of power.

“Mar-Tack!” the robed law students chanted, “your servants greet you with the dawn!”

The elderly man looked down at me like I was a piece of beef. He smiled. “I am Mar-Tack, Giver of Power. I recognized your praise as my due. Let the supplicant come forth.”

That was probably the wrong moment to start laughing, but I couldn’t help it. “You can not be serious.”

Someone hit me in the head with something solid, and I thought about the universe, mostly about stars spinning around in circles. Then I started tracking the ritual again.

I didn’t know how much time I missed, but Chester the potential cultist knelt at the old hermit’s feet. Mar-Tack’s eyes were closed and his hands glowed against Chester’s head. Chester’s body seized and trembled. I doubt he was aware of much of anything. The robed cult members chanted Mar-Tack’s name over and over again, swaying back and forth as they did so. The rising sun’s rays painted Chester and Mar-Tack in golden light, but it did nothing to stop the feeling of evil that crept down my spine. I mean sure, they had falsely befriended me as their fellow student, kidnapped me, and tied me up as a human sacrifice, but whatever Mar-Tack was doing to Chester just felt wrong.

I must have blacked out for most of it, because Mar-Tack released Chester, who fell to the ground and flopped around for another few seconds. Mar-Tack looked tired and winded, like he had just sprinted a mile. Chester opened his eyes and pulled himself to his feet. He looked even worse than Mar-Tack. Chester was pale and shaking. His movements were slow, deliberate, tortured even. Ugly bruises in the shape of Mar-Tack’s hands framed each of his eyes, but he was still smiling. His smile was the scariest thing about him. Whatever Mar-Tack had done to Chester, and Chester looked like he’d gone to a demolition derby minus a car, it had reached into Chester’s brain and hit the yes button.

I felt sick to my stomach.

“Hey,” I shouted, figuring that with my hands and feet tied down dialog was my best option. “What’s going on? I thought that Chester had to stick me with the knife and then you’d make him part of your little club.”

Mar-Tack looked at me over Chester’s shoulders. His voice sounded like creaking branches, and I could smell his breath from the altar, but his grammar was surprisingly high class and a little old-fashioned. “You have been misinformed, sir. Two lives enter the circle. One comes for power, and the other gives his life to seal the bargain, but the knife was never meant for you.”

Chester stood in front of his master, arms out, chest heaving. Mar-Tack took the stone knife from Chester’s hand and cut the law student’s preppy clothes right off his body. I noticed two things right away; Chester really needed to start working out, and Mar-Tack had lots of practice at this maneuver. There weren’t that many members of the little law school cult, so I guessed that he’d been doing this for a while.

“Chester,” Mar-Tack said, “take him.”

“Woah,” I shouted. “I’m pretty sure that somewhere in junior high I made a joke that I wanted to die having sex, but I take it back, I swear.”

Mar-Tack laughed at me. “I admire your spirit, sir. Well done, but we harbor no such unnatural perversions in the pack. Chester will walk over there and eat your heart. If he is particularly quick about it, you may even get to see the spectacle.”

“I thought you said the knife wasn’t for me.”

Mar-Tack shook his head. “Chester no longer needs knives. Now Chester, join us! Kill him!”

Chester took a step forward and every muscle in his body rippled. I thought he was going back into a seizure, but I should be so lucky. His legs bent and shortened, his arms lengthened. I heard every facial bone break, then tendons creaked as Chester transformed into something straight out of my very oldest nightmares. Three steps later a werewolf, seven feet tall and four hundred pounds of muscle, fang, and fur glared at me with Chester’s eyes. He licked his lips. Literally.

Who does that?

Adrenaline flooded my body and my mouth flipped over to autopilot. “You turned Chester into a freaking werewolf and you think gays are unnatural? You really need to rethink your priorities.”

The monster that used to be Chester Anderson took two more steps towards me. He walked hunched over, and his eyes pierced me with an inhuman hate. I wasn’t entirely sure that Chester was in the driver’s seat up there, but I decided to try one last time.

“Chester, listen to me, it isn’t too late. You don’t have to be a killer. You can succeed without this.”

I didn’t think that a werewolf was going to miss my words, but I wasn’t sure that Chester could hear me.

I raised my voice and called out to the whole cult. “Look! You can be forgiven! You don’t have to be murderers! The power to kill is nothing compared to the power to raise from the dead or live forever! Jesus died for your sins, even this one, but if you keep sacrificing people someone is going to stop you! All the money and power in the world isn’t going to help you out when you die!”

Mar-Tack wasn’t having any of it. “Listen to the powerless prey whine for its life. Jesus is a myth made up to enable the oppressors, a way for them to get rid of their false guilt. I have shown you the true power, power to take what you want from those weaker than you. You can survive for hundreds of years, ever wiser and stronger. As a pack you are greater than any mortal foe. Don’t be swayed by the powerless man and his threats of an imaginary tomorrow. Listen to the power in your flesh, the lust for his blood. Kill him, Chester, and we will drink his blood together!”

Chester took his time, but his claws were only a few feet away from my feet. “I’m not kidding,” I said. “Sooner or later someone is going to stop you. God isn’t going to let you get away with this forever. You need to repent before it’s too late.”

Mar-Tack laughed in my face. “Do you think you have anything to say the pack hasn’t heard before? Everyone tries to convince us, to persuade us. When that fails, they resort to religion and threats. Next you will offer us everything you have, everything you are if we just let you live. In the end, you will cry and call for your mother, but she isn’t here. She can’t help you. Make your noises, little pig, for the wolfing hour is upon you, and this is the end. What do you have to say to that?”

Chester the Werewolf leaned over me. He sniffed at my feet and licked a hot, wet tongue up my left shin. It was really sticky, and gross. I sort of forgot about Mar-Tack as Chester’s extra-large fangs got closer and closer to my junk. “Listen to me, Chester. You haven’t hurt anyone yet. You can still get free of this. I know it has to feel good… um… maybe even taste good. No. That’s a bad choice of words.”

Chester bypassed my family jewels and kept crawling over me. I could feel heat off of his supernaturally transformed body like an oven. He licked my ribs (gross) and lifted his head back with his eyes locked on my throat. If he’d been fifty pounds lighter, and not a flesh-eating monster, I might have felt complimented. As it was I just felt like a hors d’oeuvre.

My mouth ran into high gear. “Chester. Please, Chester. Don’t. You don’t have to do this.”

Chester’s eyes gleamed and he savored my helplessness, leaning closer by inches.

“No, Chester. Chester, stop. Stop! Stopstopstopstop….”

Chester’s fangs closed the final foot to my throat in one quick lunge with all his weight behind it.

So it must have really hurt when I Pushed my sword into my right hand. One instant I was naked and helpless, but I had an image in my head of Chester biting down on my sword, clacking his teeth on supernatural steel instead of the hollow of my throat. I felt the hilt of my sword in my hands, and called on my supernatural legacy, the one I got from my dear old demonic dad. I Pushed the image against reality. Basically I believed it with a supernatural amount of willpower until reality gave in and saw things my way. The sword was part of me, forged in the fire of my own magic and quenched in my own magical blood, I felt it in my hands as naturally as clapping. Chester’s chompers clapped shut on my sword blade, and he cried out in pain. Werewolves have really large lungs, and his mouth was an inch away from my throat, so that was deafening.

Chester reared back, snarling and clawing at his face. Chester didn’t back away fast enough. I whipped the rapier around with the twist of my wrist, the agile blade’s tip traveling a meter and a half as I moved my wrist four inches. Chester just wasn’t fast enough to overcome that sort of mechanical advantage. Werewolves might be really strong, but magic, holiness, and silver hurt them just like any other supernatural monster. My sword, forged in my own blood and quenched in anointing oil covered two of the three bases, and it slit his throat with a wound that sizzled and burned even as it killed him.

Chester flopped off of me, clawing desperately at the wound on his throat, which wasn’t going to help him any.

I cut my bonds away and stood. A flicker of mental effort called my clothes to me as well. It worked so well with my sword that I’d had an entire outfit made with bits of my hair and blood woven into the fabrics. I remembered my boots, pants, shirt, and coat. Then they were there. From commando to urban avenger in no time flat, it was a nice trick. But the nicest thing of all was the feeling of relief when I stopped using my Pusher’s powers to suppress my own supernatural nature. Werewolves were walking sensor suites, and I knew that they would be able to feel my strength, vitality, and power as if Roma Downey herself had put a spotlight down on my shoulders. Mar-Tack was no werewolf. He was what I was, a half-demon Fallen with supernatural powers woven into our very genetic code.

We locked eyes while the others hesitated. I got a first word into the silence.

“I never said that I was helpless, Marcus Takowsky. Today is the day God sends someone to stop you, the day when you brought all your followers together in one place for us to deal with.”

Mar-Tack was shaken, but he kept a good fame face on his surprise. “I can feel your powers, impostor. You’re a Pusher. You play at being a Caster, a Shifter, and the others, but it’s all just an imitation. You are the wanna-be of the Fallen world. You can call a sword and some undergarments? What good is your sword going to do against someone who can call fire? I will burn you where you stand!”

He wasn’t bluffing, either. He swept his wooden staff at the air between us and a wave of fire washed across the air between us. I lowered my sword, hunched my shoulders, and manifested my wings. Seven feet wide on either side, my wings beat at the wave of fire with inhuman strength and made a gust of wind that split the wave of fire to either side of me. I heard flames crackle behind me and at least one cult member cried out in pain. I flexed my shoulders, spread my wings wide, and leveled my sword at Mar-Tack’s face. “One more thing, Caster: leave my mother out of this.”

Mar-Tack looked at me with raw fury. “You’re not just a Pusher. You’re something else.” He made it into an accusation, like I had offended him by showing a power he hadn’t considered. “Who are you?”

“My name is Adrian Campbell. I’m a Reaper. Tell your followers to surrender and we’ll get them help. Fight, and you’re all going to die.”

More shock rippled through the cultists. Maybe Mar-Tack hadn’t told them about the things that made me famous in Fallen circles, the battle at QBI or the little vampire war in West Virginia, but I’d spent a few weeks on the top of the FBI’s most wanted list after a throw-down in Akron, so even normal folks reacted to my name. I thought for just a second that Mar-Tack and his followers might listen to reason and we could avoid a fight.

Then two dozen lawyer cultists threw off their robes and transformed. They threw themselves forward, howling for my blood. My claim that God was on my side was about to go on trial, and in the supernatural Shadow War the only trial was by ordeal. I raised my sword and gathered my power. God had really better be on my side, or I was going to die.

I didn’t stand a prayer against twenty-five enemies, even if Mar-Tack was the only other Fallen among them, werewolves were a nasty business all their own, but these were skin walkers, humans granted power. I was born with mine. Human werewolves weren’t as powerful as Fallen ones, but even if I could handle one or two the other twenty-odd sets of fangs would pull me down.

It was a good thing that I wasn’t alone. As soon as I called my sword my power would start pushing against nearby supernatural senses. The stronger someone’s senses, or the more powerful the Fallen, the stronger they pressed against their senses. Werewolves had some of the sharpest senses in the Shadow War, but they weren’t the best.

Oracles were the best. Hale didn’t just have the senses of a super-psychic thanks to his share of half-angel DNA. He could read minds, hear thoughts, and pretty much see the future.

So when Mar-Tack and his homemade werewolves came for my blood my team was ready. Mar-Tack witched twice, the slap-slap crack-crack of high powered rifle fire matching the wounds over his heart and his head. I worked with a man named Kerry Reynolds, and he was a Hunter. He couldn’t spout wings, throw fireballs, or see the future, but he was a born killer, and he had been a sniper since Gettysburg. He’d brought his Holland and Holland .300 Nitro-Express to the party. Two hundred some yards away, on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware river, Reynolds was shooting at point blank range. Cordite propellant sent the rounds rocketing forward at two and a half times the speed of sound, so even this close it took half a second for the sound of the shot to follow its round to the target. A third of a second to hit the target was too slow for a kill shot on something as fast as a werewolf, but the supersonic round meant the critters never knew they had fire to dodge until it was too late, and Reynolds’ Hunting powers sent every shot home. Reynolds’ H&H was one of the first-ever belt fed rifles, and he put it to good use. I heard another slap-crack as a charging werewolf fell lifeless to the ground and the werewolf downrange took the anti-elephant round in the shoulder. Reynolds was fast and accurate like a shooter’s dream, but even the nitro-express with blessed ammunition wasn’t going to stop them all in time.

With a little luck and a lot of favor from on high, the rest of our plan would.

Heather burst into view at over ninety miles an hour, head up and red hair streaming in the wind. She must have flown up the mountainside to gain speed and stay out of sight until just the right moment. She dropped the passenger that she’d been carrying in her arms the moment they cleared the ridge, then sped into the sky like a vision of a warrior goddess in close-fitting leathers. Agent Forrest Hale flew through the air on momentum for a quick arc. He hit the ground and bled off his momentum with the fluid grace of a true Aikido master. He flowed to his feet nearby, facing my back as if he’d had it planned ahead of time. Maybe he had.

There was time for one more slap-crack from Reynolds’ rifle, another werewolf down, and then they were on us.

My sword is a late Scottish rapier, light enough to fence with and sturdy enough to parry heavier blades. With a doubled grip on the cat’s head pommel I could use it as a light broadsword when I positively had to cut something in half instead of simply killing it.

I doubled up my grip. It wasn’t that werewolves needed more than a thrust to the heart or brain to kill. A good sword thrust was wider than a fifty-caliber round. The problem was that thrusts required recovery time that a press of battle wouldn’t give me.

People talk about battle being a blur. The fight in the woods came to me like shards of a broken glass picture. I cut a werewolf down, kicked a second, and used my sword on a third. My training was European and Korean, full of short, brutal moves that put all my body behind the strikes. My blade was magic because I was, so a werewolf’s healing powers couldn’t help them against my attacks.

Forrest Hale reached out to me with his mind, and we stopped fighting as individuals. I knew what he knew, saw what he saw, and suddenly neither of us had a blind spot. His sword was holy, not magic, and it flashed as it cut through flesh. Hale flowed through sword forms like smoke in the wind, never hard, never resisting, and never stopping. He wasn’t as fast as I was, and nowhere near as fast as the werewolves, but he didn’t need to be when he could feel each attack coming before it even began. Claws and fangs missed him by inches, but his katana slipped through flesh and bone as if it were nothing.

I caught a glimpse of Heather, the team Hawk over the fight. Her wings were the color of autumn leaves, and they flashed gold in the morning sun as she dove between werewolves. They threw themselves into the air again and again, but Hawks were the messengers of our kind. Fast and agile, she found the path she needed through their attacks by instinct. She had an M-16A1 tucked tight to her shoulder, and put three-round bursts of silver-tipped slugs into targets at will. Silver slugs have terrible ballistics qualities and they penetrate for crap, but we weren’t here to kill elephants, and shapeshifters hated silver.

Thumple-crack came from Reynolds’ Nitro Express as the bullets punched deep into the pack. His rounds were designed to hunt elephants, and for every werewolf he killed he injured one or two more. I would be terrified if anyone else was shooting that gun at my enemies in a sword fight, but Reynolds could feel and see everything in the fight with Hale’s psychic link, and his Hunter powers kept him from killing me by mistake.

Twenty-four werewolves had enough raw power to eat a regular army company for lunch, but we were trained professionals. We were Reapers. This was our job and we were good at it.

I held an image in my mind from a Korean swordsman flick where heroes with swords stood against hordes of monsters with flashing blades and the dedication to their righteous cause. I Pushed the image from my head into reality and suddenly I moved faster, hit harder, and my sword started to hum in the air. The skin walker I’d kicked away leapt straight at me with his hands outstretched. I leapt right back at him, horse stance, elbow out with all my weight behind it. The werewolf’s nose hit my elbow, and my Pushed image meant that it was his nose instead of my arm that broke. His arms slashed the air in front of and behind me as he fell snorting to the ground at my feet. I cut at the base of his skull and side-kicked another werewolf in the shoulder. The skin walker was twice my weight in werewolf form, which meant my kick stopped him cold but threw me up and backwards in the air. That was fine by me. I landed in a fighting stance right behind Hale and went right back to slicing.

I spun right to cut a werewolf down before he could eat my knee, and his pack-mate leapt at my exposed shoulder. It was a great tactic if I were a moose, but I swept my right wing forward and batted the monstrous law student out of the air. The blow wouldn’t really hurt him, but it did knock him to the ground right at my feet. I watched the injured werewolf’s nose reform itself in the time I would need for a deep breath, and then it hurled itself right at me. I ran him through just behind the shoulders, lungs and heart ruined in one thrust. The monster thrashed wildly, tore big furrows in the ground, and then fell over sideway to lie still.

Slap. The werewolf I’d knocked down jerked six inches to the side as a Nitro Express round took it in the heart. Crack. The rifle’s report thundered over the sound of battle. The werewolf snapped at its side out of sheer reflex, but there was nothing there to counter-attack. Then it fell over twitching.

The last pair of werewolves on the battlefield turned to run. Heather’s rifle took one and Reynolds the other. More gunshots echoed through the river valley, and then my team was alone.

I lowered my sword and dropped my Kumdo Superstar image. Reality un-bent around me like a slap in the mind, and everywhere my mind had been Pushing. My hands and legs shook and I couldn’t catch my breath or gather my thoughts. I stumbled to one knee, dripping sweat, and tried to regain my strength.

Heather O’Leary landed next to me with a flurry of wings that weren’t there a second later. She knelt by my side with a worried look on her face. Her hands searched my body for wounds without hesitation or any concern for my personal space. Times like this she tended to forget that our years as lovers were years behind us. “Adrian! Are you all right? Are you hurt?”

Her hands danced up the inside of my leg seeking arterial wounds. My body forgot our changed relationship status as quickly as she did, right when all of Heather’s attention was where she couldn’t possibly miss her effect on me.

Heather’s hand landed right on the issue and her concern vanished in a second and she slapped me upside the head. “You sexist pig.”

I shook my head but my words wobbled to pieces in my scrambled brain.

“It’s Kickback, Heather,” Hale supplied. “He Pushed too hard in the fight and his powers have shorted out. He’ll get his strength back in just a bit.”

Heather was still offended. “I know just the refreshment he needs.”

“Heather…” Hale started, but he could tell what she wanted to do as well as she could, and I could hear the laughter in his head.

Two coherent words made it past my static-fuzzed brain. “Uh oh.”

But there wasn’t anything I could do. Heather grabbed me by the ankles, leapt into the air, and her wings were suddenly back. I counted five flaps of her powerful wings as she accelerated to high speed. It felt like sixty miles and hour at least when she let go of my ankles.

I dropped my sword and flailed at the air as the western edge of NewYork flashed past me. I fell head-first so I had an upside down view of the Delaware River Valley. Route 97’s scenic overlook blurred past. I tried to pop my wings, Push an image of weightlessness… anything, but my fritzed-out powers gave me nothing but a dizzy fit as I fell into the Delaware at about ninety miles an hour. The water hit me like a slap from Godzilla, then closed over me as I hit the rock and muddy bottom. Several fish floated towards the surface, stunned by the concussion I’d created hitting the water. By the time I dug myself free of the river bottom they recovered and spun away. A snapping turtle bit at the water in my direction as an all-purpose warning and then retreated inside its shell.

My Powers came back by the time I swam to shore. By the time I popped my wings and flew back Heather had already retrieved our resident sniper from Pennsylvania.

“Supersonic interstate werewolf bullets,” Kerry Reynolds said as he slipped his Nitro Express back into a leather satchel fringed with tassels and a strip of wampum. “That’s a first.” Kerry was five feet and ten inches, a hundred and sixty pounds, and with his dirty red hair he could have been an extra from the set of Justified. He had a Civil War style cavalry saber on one hip and a Colt revolver on the other. Reynolds didn’t seem scary until you saw him fight, but I’d seen him take on a Shifter werewolf with nothing but a Bowie knife and attitude before. Reynolds won.

I landed next to the cultists’ stone table and knelt next to one of the bodies. One reason the rest of the world goes on ignoring the Shadow War is because most of the evidence doesn’t stick around long. Shifters, Giants, and Skin Walkers changed back to human when the angelic or demonic forces that changed them shuffled off to the next world, or to their next victim. So our big supernatural battlefield looked like a nudist party gone slasher film before dawn. That was probably what the police would write it up as. God only knew what they would say about the bullet wounds.

Chester’s eyes stared back at me with nothing behind him. He had a shocked, confused look on his face. Death had robbed him of any dignity he’d had in life. His bowels and bladder had loosed with no concern for his modesty, and his naked body was covered with spatters of blood from the fight. I was a born fighter. I was good at it, and in the middle of a fight I loved it more than I wanted to admit. But I never let myself forget this part, the part that came after. No one, whether they had two human parents or just one, was a mistake. All life came from God, and went back to him for judgment. Every living person carried the image of God, and killing them was worse than taking a knife to the Mona Lisa.

I’d killed him because I’d had to. It had felt good at the moment, which I had to live with every time I looked in a mirror. Now, I just cared about what was lost. But I wasn’t going to cry in front of my teammates. It wasn’t that they wouldn’t understand. It was because they would.

I closed Chester’s eyes and rested a hand on his cheek. He had been my enemy. But the fear of failure that I’d felt in him, driving him to get power at any cost was gone. I couldn’t even see the lust for my life that his werewolf face had carried. Now he was just one more victim of Satan’s empty promises of power: one more casualty in the endless Shadow War.

“Now, Chester. Now it’s too late.”

Hale wiped his spectacles free of blood and seated them over his dark brown eyes once gain. He rested a hand on my shoulder. “Come on, Adrian. There’s nothing that you can do for them now. They’re in God’s hands, and whatever he decides will be just.”

“Besides,” Heather said with a lot less compassion, “if we don’t make tracks we’re going to be late getting home, and I don’t want to miss the party.”

“Shoot,” Reynolds said. He pronounced it she-oot. “I forgot about the knee-biter completely.”

“It’s all right,” Hale said. “It’s a three state drive back home, and we can stop to find you something from a gift shop.”

“Who said anything about driving?” he asked. He held his arms straight out. “Taxi!”

I gave him a look. “What am I, a rickshaw driver?”

“Naw,” Reynolds said. “I ain’t paying ya. You owe me for at least two of those Skin Walkers by my count. I will graciously accept a ride as repayment in exchange for saving your life.”

“Whatever,” I said. “I totally would have had them.”

Reynolds arched an eyebrow. “Don’t argue with your elders, child. Now, mush!”

Hale shrugged a semi-apology as he spoke into his cell phone. “Boss-man, this is Reaper Team Three. Our Mission is accomplished and we’re heading back home. We’re going to run into a thunderstorm over West Virginia so we won’t be back until just before supper. Everyone’s fine, and we’re coming home.”

Heather stepped up behind Hale and wrapped her arms around him. A normal human would tire quickly carrying a grown man around, but with our supernatural strength Hale and Reynolds weren’t any more inconvenient than a backpack when we were kids.

I adjusted my gear, called my sword out of the Delaware river and into a scabbard on my back, and manifested wings once again. I hugged Reynolds to my chest and muttered in his ear, “I still say I would have had them.”

He just laughed and pointed west. “Come on, flying monkey. Get me back to the Farm.”

He was still chuckling as we hit Pennsylvania and made a straight shot for home.

Veteran Idols

[Non-Stop Spoilers]

A dear friend of mine stated that the won’t go see Non-Stop because conservative media is in a froth because the bad guy is a 911 family member and a military veteran.  His position is that our servicemen deserve better treatment than that.  We shouldn’t make movies portraying them as villains.

So why am I making an entire post about this?

Reason 1: Idolatry!

I’m sorry, I know and dearly love many veterans of the armed forces.  I have also met many of them behind bars, or on parole or probation for various felonies.  Lee Harvery Oswald was a military veteran.  So was Colin Powell.  Veterans have done an admirable thing that is worthy of respect by serving our country.  I will not discount that.

Nor will I make them holy in my sight, since only God is holy.  Veterans can lie, steal, and as happens in this movie, go absolutely nucking futz.  There are even specially built prisons where we put the criminals who are servicemen and women.  So here in reality, people are people.  Those who have donned the uniform and put their lives on the line, or served in peacetime or in support capacities, have earned respect.

It is wrong to worship or idolize them.  When saying something against a veteran or putting one in the role of villain is some sort of blasphemy, this is an indicator that we have gone too far.  This violates the First Commandment, it does not honor God to make something other than him holy.  It does not honor our servicemen.  Even the most honorable men, if we place them in a position with no accountability or responsibility, are in danger.  Even King David fell when he was the war hero beyond approach or accountability.

I will never put that burden on my friends who have honored our country with their service.  When we make idols of our fellow human beings we harm ourselves, and harm the other.

“There is nothing so good that you cannot turn it into a devil by worshiping it.” -Evan Hartshorn

2] Sometimes it is appropriate to story and world that the military function in the role of bad guys.  I have a history textbook from my grandfather’s time, written in 1905.  It still carries the dehumanizing racist descriptions of American Indians that survived from the Indian Wars.  The term used was still “Savages,” and no matter how horrifying I found it, it did teach me a lot about the interactions between dehumanization and predation in human military and political history.

This comes up in my work in progress, Giant’s Rage.  My protagonists are Fallen/Nephilim.  They are half-demon superheroes who are good because they choose to be and thanks to the redemptive power of Christ.  Now, in all fairness, since most of the Fallen run around keyed in to their supercharged sinful natures, there is every reason for national security types to see them as an immense and immediate threat.

IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) tragedies happen often enough in military circles that they are a thing.  These days, with the UN sticking highly toxic and inefficient hands in every pie that won’t shoot the hand off, it is called Blue-on-Blue. [My apologies.  One of those veterans I mentioned has edumacated [sic] me that the origins of the term does not have to do with the UN.  Yes, it is still called Blue-on-Blue, and yes, the UN is highly toxic and inefficient, but the blue-helmeted people and the blue phrase are not, it seems, causally linked.  I reserve the right to still think it ironic.]

This isn’t just an idea of mine.  In the (predominantly liberal) comic book culture military threats are a theme.  Super powered people have the potential to do a lot of harm, otherwise Superman and the X-Men would get a lot more work gardening and landscaping than they do.  But if you were a government, how could you differentiate between the human-looking super-werewolves who protect people and the human-looking super-werewolves who don’t?  This isn’t a comic book where they get special colored fur because they have decided to fight for the side of the angels.

There are good stories here, and in book 3 of The Trials of Adrian Campbell I am going to take a swipe at them.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have no interest in writing the standard liberal claptrap that is as knee-jerk as it was brain dead.  There are no Japanese American Internment camps without a reason (like how in World War II Japanese American spies helped feed Japan much of the information used to plan the attack on Pearl Harbor, a fact that liberal-run public schools leave out in the rush to prove how racist America is).  I will never write a testosterone-imbalanced general who shouts “Chesty Puller!” before dropping napalm on civilians.  I grew up immediately after the Vietnam war and had to choke on these overused stereotypes my whole childhood, except I never bought into them.

And it is all the more difficult when the threat is real.  In the Trials of Adrian Campbell there really are biker gangs of werewolves who could eat your whole town.  If you have a family of Amish folks who can turn into 12-foot-tall bulletproof giants, what are they going to do when you try to haul their twenty-something son off at gunpoint?  Are they wrong?  Is the government?  Not only are these legitimate story questions but relevant ones to an American landscape where politicians repeatedly offer to take more of our freedom and rights and promise us that it will make us safer.

If a genuinely confused intelligence snafu sends armed men to shoot your next door neighbors, whom you know to be innocent, and you have the power to stop them… what do you do?  Where is the line?

The great thing about fiction is that we get an opportunity to ask the questions with imaginary people, imaginary bullets, and imaginary fallout.

But only if we lay down our knee-jerk idolatries and take a risk for a good story.  “My country, always right.” is just as false an idea as the currently popular “America is always the problem” I heard endlessly stated or implied at Bemidji State University.  We aren’t going to stop the liberal version of that error by being just as knee-jerk to the other side.

So those are some of my thoughts, what are yours?

PS.  I don’t stress about the bad guy in Non-Stop because whoever wrote his ending dialogue put together such a logically inconsistent pile of nonsense it is hard to even track, much less tack on to the genuine military or a particular outlook.  Anyone dumb enough to think the imaginary terrorist in Non-Stop has anything to do with a real serviceman, the Republicans, or the Tea Party already drinks the Cool-Aid and there is no great loss.