Wanna tell me where I messed up?
Let's be honest, there's nothing like being right. Especially when it means someone else was wrong.
If you're interested in reporting any typos/thoughts/gremlins/existential crises you happen to experience whilst reading, I'd be glad to hear 'em!
(Or just read on below, and enjoy!)
Introduction (Read for OPTIONAL context)
Remember Smirks the Seeker from Shadows of Divinity?
(It's totally fine if you don't. You can still read the following story as a standalone.)
Man, that guy was a beardsplitter. Especially in the early drafts.
But, as I'm wont to do, the more I toyed with the story (and there was a LOT of toying), the more I found myself leaning into the idea of giving him a redemption of sorts towards the end (I won't say more, for fear that that's already kind of a spoiler).
The only problem?
Smirks was still too much of a dick for that redemption business to even make sense.
Lisa, as she so often does, keyed straight in on this and was basically like, "I know you probably know in your head what this guy is thinking and why, but it's totally not coming across on the page."
(Joke was on her, by the way. I had NO IDEA what that smirk-happy Seeker was thinking. Not beyond my naive little belief that bad )
So, like a good little author boy, I went back to the drawing board to hash out a little character sketch that would help me understand how Smirks (AKA Garrett, for those of you who recall) could possibly have taken the path he did. I retooled the relevant scenes in Shadows of Divinity. I started to realize their was more to the story than that--details that would be pertinent not just through Book One but through the rest of the Enochian War trilogy.
So I started writing.
I knew not what I was doing.
And, long story short, we've now got ourselves a shiny new novel!
It begins about 2 years before the events of Shadows of Divinity and—SPOILER ALERT—ends up overlapping to show Garrett's side of things at key points throughout the story.
Spoiler alert #2: I think it's a pretty fun time.
... You know, in like, the dark-and-brooding kind of way.
Anyway, I'm planning on releasing a few more chapters every two weeks, so bookmark this page and stay tuned!
Now, let me tell you a story.
P.S. I happened to notice there are a few erratic spacing issues--I think from copying and pasting the story from the source over to the site here. Sorry about those, but I'm gonna go ahead and keep working on new stories rather than spend extra hours hunting them down. All should be right in the final version!
Chapter 1 - Natural Born
“We’ve got ‘em,” crackled a gruff voice in Two’s earpiece.
He perked up, downing the rest of his watery caffa and chuckingthe cheap cup. “I might need a location with that spot of sunshine, Ordo…” Whatwas it, again? Ordo Franklin? Ordo Fenner? Scud if he could remember.
“They’re holed up in the back docks, sir,” came Ordo Whatever’sreply. There was the muffled sound of movement in the background. “Sending navnow.”
Two straightened the fingers of his left hand, and his palmlightmap sprang to life a second before the red blip appeared at the southeasternedge of Divinity, right alongside the Red River. “Got it. Perimeter?”
“Moving into position now, sir.”
A bitter smirk pulled across Two’s mouth at the tone of the Ordo’svoice. The one good part about working with legionnaires: they didn’t askquestions. This guy didn’t have a clue who the scud Two actually was, and itdidn’t matter. The orders came down from above, and Ordo Whatever hopped toTwo’s command like a happy hound, tail-a-thumping.
“Great work, Ordo. You just sit tight until I get there.” Theamusement drained. “These two aren’t your everyday apostates.”
Two killed the connection and raised his palmlight to hail anautoskimmer.
Fifteen minutes later, he was soaring over the lower industrial area, skirting past the head docks straight for the dilapidated mass of rotted wood and blighted permacrete that was the back docks. The place was like a rodent’s nest of walkways, winding their twisted paths between the hundreds of tiny scuddy huts where poorer-than-dirt fishermen and scavengers squatted between their measly attempts at producing something of value. It was exactly the kind of place Two hated—not because of the dirt and the squalor, but because there were just too damn many winding paths and hidey holes to complicate his life.
Then again, he decided as he climbed out of the autoskimmer to thewaiting reception of three ragged homeless men, he didn’t love the dirt and thesqualor all that much either. They watched with a kind of stern expectation,brows furrowed and hands outstretched, their fingertips blackened and reekingof fish and sweet tar.
It was his fault he was here at all. There was no getting aroundthat. He should’ve nabbed the apostates back in the slums, but one of them hadspooked far too quickly. Which meant she—or maybe he, but his gut said she—waswell-attuned. And when a demon actually knew enough to catch Two’s probing andslip capture once…
Maybe he should’ve called for backup.
But grop that. He didn’t need Three—or,Alpha be cursed, One—stepping in here and trying to control his every move. No.He was perfectly capable of handling a couple rogue demons on his own. And ifnot… well, maybe today would be the day.
With that cheery thought in mind, he stepped forward—only to havehis three waiting tarheads shuffle in a little closer, walling him in, frownsdarkening. Half-beggars. Half-robbers. Even more charming.
He half-thought about reaching for his power and scaring themproperly, but he quelled the idea as soon as it surfaced. That was the road tolosing control—to letting the demon take over for good. So instead, he calmlypulled his jacket open and showed them the sidearm holstered under his leftarm. Frowns turned to dark scowls, and the tarheads scattered with a few choicecurses.
Two opened his palmlight map and set off with his own internalcurse, wishing he could dismiss the men as savages. It was easy enough, lettingthe blind hatred roll in. Justifying it was a bit harder. Condemning beggarsand drug addicts for their flaws when he was the one carrying anhonest-to-Alpha demon astride his blackened spirit?
“Shut up,” he muttered to no one in particular. He shook his head,trying to clear it. He was close. They might’ve even felt him already.
Time to let the demon out.
He was reaching for his palmlight to reestablish contact with histail-thumping Ordo when the gruff voice crackled in his earpiece.
“Sir, we’re picking up movement. The apostates appear to be—scud!”
Before Two could ask what in demons’ depths was happening, thereport of a gunshot split the fishy air. Even in the relative quiet of thepre-dawn hours, it was faint. A rifle, he thought, but maybe suppressed. Asniper? That probably wasn’t good.
“Ordo, I need you to—”
Another gunshot, followed by the Ordo’s barked orders—somethingabout contain that specialist and I said cease fire.
Two barely registered the Ordo’s words.
Adrenaline spiking through his veins, he took off at a sprint, mindracing, wobbly walkway creaking underfoot.
This was why he hated working with clueless squads. He needed a team that understood what they were up against. But Seekers didn’t get teams. Didn’t get friends. And as he rounded a corner and caught sight of the cramped muddy yard outside the target fishing shanty, he decided he wouldn’t want these softsteel sippers as teammates anyway.
They were already moving in.
He registered that fact just in time to watch the legionnaire onpoint turn around and open fire on his own squad.
Two took off with a curse, vaulting one last rickety railing and crossing the path to the muddy lot at a run, unable to look away from the perverse spectacle. A pair of legionnaires fell to the friendly fire almost immediately. The rest reacted as trained soldiers should and disarmed their maddened teammate, pinning him and dragging him roughly down the steps to where he wouldn’t be obstructing the squad’s avenue of ingress. Over it all, Two was vaguely aware of Ordo Whatever’s steady stream of barked, curse-heavy commands, telling the squad to move in, telling others to properly restrain their apparently mad point man.
Except it wasn’t the legionnaire who’d pulled that trigger. Norwould he be the last. Two knew it, just as he knew he was the only one here whocould do anything about it. So he braced himself, closing his eyes, pushingdown the sick feeling in his gut.
And he let the demon out.
The world exploded out around him. Rotting wood and cold mud, dampair baking a degree more fishy in the first beams of the morning sun, theflicker of a dozen legionnaire minds scrambling for order—all of it cascadingthrough his senses in the bare instant before he directed his focus toward theinexplicably trigger-happy point man. His brotos were slapping the restraintson him now. Two reached for the real problem.
He could feel it there, like a black serpent coiled around theman’s very spirit—the influence of a wild demon, freed of its chains by one ofthe pair inside who was either too desperate, too ignorant, or too stupid tounderstand what manner of evil they were playing with. And given the strengthwith which the demon resisted Two’s initial attempt to pry it from the pointman, he was guessing desperation had something to do with it.
He wasn’t going to win the fight for the legionnaire’s mind. Notdirectly. He could feel that much. So, Two turned to attacking the demon at itssource instead. He traced the long tail of that black serpent in his extendedsenses, up the steps and into the crumbling fishing shanty. The cramped space wasdark inside. There was an aura there, a sinister cloud of wild rage and blackhatred. Two pushed past it, fixing onto the source of the demon in his senses.A woman—he was sure of it now.
And she could feel him too.
Her demon crashed into his with the unerring speed of a strikingviper. No warning. No mercy. Anger flared deep in Two’s chest—a primal ragethat swelled just as surely as if she’d gone and sucker punched him right inthe mouth. The bitch.
He flexed his defenses tighter, the world of his physical body andthe muddy yard outside shrinking from mind as he sank deeper into the one thatbelonged to his demon. Sometimes, he almost felt for these tragic abominations.Today, he had a feeling, would not be one of those days—if for no other reasonthan that he didn’t have the capacity left to worry about anything other thansurviving.
Her demon was strong. Stronger than he’d ever felt from a wildone. Maybe as strong as One’s. Definitely as strong as his own. It was nearlyoverwhelming at first, the panic at finding himself equally matched. Therealization slipped its icy fingers through his mind—numbing his thoughts,tripping up his reactions. Her demon didn’t miss the opening.
The fighting was tight and violently rapid. Her demon dartingcircles around him, striking from seemingly all directions at once. Himtwisting to keep pace, balance faltering another sliver with each attack.
Then the onslaught abruptly ended. Two had all of an instant tocatch his figurative breath before realizing what that meant.
He leaned back into his physical body just in time to find OrdoWhatever leveling his sidearm right at Two’s face. The man most certainlydidn’t have that thumping-tail look anymore. Or any look, for that matter. Hewas vacant. Possessed.
Two caught the ordo’s wrist and shoved the weapon aside just asthe first shot roared, nearly deafening his left ear.
No time for tact. He grabbed the possessed ordo’s throat with hisfree hand and let his demon ride the contact in. It was forbidden. It wasdespicable. But in that moment, he didn’t know what the scud else to do. Hethrew his demon forward and pushed the ordo down into a deep sleep likeflipping a switch. The ordo hit the mud with a squishing thump. Two looked backto the shanty, where the legionnaires were already moving back in. Or had been.Half of them had stopped.
And they were pointing their rifles right at him.
For a second, Two couldn’t help but marvel at the power of a demonthat could take the minds of half a dozen soldiers at once. Then it dawned onhim that they might be acting of their own accord—that they were probablysimply turning their weapons on the stranger who’d just dropped their ordo likea bag of softsteel.
Alpha be damned.
“Wait!” he cried. Or tried to, before her demon found him again.
He fell to his knees with the ferocity of the attack, clingingonto control by the barest edges of his fingertips. The worst of it, though,passed surprisingly quickly as something else vied for the apostate’sattention. The legionnaires, Two realized. One fireteam was moving toward himnow, coming to apprehend him, by the looks of it. But the rest of the squad hadfinished ascending the rickety stairs and were stacking up on the shanty doorabove, preparing to breach.
Good. If he could just keep that Alpha-cursed apostate and herdemon under control for another few moments…
He sank back into their stalling contest, taking advantage of herdistraction to spring a far more concentrated attack. She gave ground. Too muchground. He could feel the tenuous hint of her breaking point—was mere momentsfrom claiming her mind and bringing a halt to this madness.
Then something yanked him away from their battle—away from herdark shanty and back to his physical body, right into a quickly soaking frontside and a face full of cold mud. The legionnaires, driving him to the ground.Working restraints onto his wrists. Telling him to take it easy, buddy, anddon’t try anything funny.
Two pulled his defenses tighter and tried to gather enough controlto tell the four goat-groppers where they could shove their funny business.Before he could, though, the shanty door exploded outward with a splinteringboom, taking two legionnaires down with it.
After that, things degraded quickly.
Soldiers barked orders at one another, regaining their wits and pressing forward only to be tripped up or smacked aside by some invisible hand. When the first legionnaire inexplicably went flying over the walkway railing and plummeted to the mud below, the fireteam of barking hounds sitting on Two’s back finally decided maybe he wasn’t the real threat here. They stormed off to help their allies, all but the one who kept his bulk pinned on Two via a knee to the shoulder blade, looking around like a frightened pup.
“Let me go, you idiot,” Two growled.
Curiously, the legionnaire’s decision only pended as long as ittook the demon to telekinetically hurl another of his squad mates from thewalkway above. Two pushed to his feet, his entire front sopping wet and heavywith mud. But that hardly mattered.
“That’s it,” he muttered. Then he threw his demon at hers like aferal hound to a bloody steak.
Alpha damn her blackened spirit, she somehow managed to catch hisattack, even extended as she was. But she certainly gave ground. Enough thatthe telekinetic maelstrom above ceased completely—so abruptly that thelegionnaires almost seemed too surprised to act.
“Shoot her!” he cried.
Three of the less doltish legionnaires sprang to action at hiswords, sweeping into the dark shanty, weapons at the ready. The apostate waspositively wild now, her demon bucking against his like a force of nature. Twoheld on with grim determination, strengthened by the knowledge that it wasalready over at this point.
A rifle cracked twice above, and made it so.
One of the shots must’ve found her head, judging by howimmediately she disappeared. One moment, a raging storm of bitter fury anddemonic presence. The next, nothing but… screaming.
Alpha’s blessed body, he’d forgotten about the kid—had been toowrapped in their mental wrestling match to remember there was a second apostateup there. In his defense, the kid’s demon had barely picked up when Two hadsniffed them out earlier that night. The fact that the kid hadn’t helped hispartner seemed to confirm that his demon was still too young to be a seriousthreat. Except now…
There were several crashes within the shanty. Shouted curses.Gunshots. Above it all, the screaming continued.
“Son of a bitch,” Two muttered, right before what few windowsthere were in the shanty exploded outward in a demonic gale of howling wind.
He took the stairs three at a time, ignoring the wide-eyed looksthe legionnaires shot him, and the wind whipping at his mud-caked jacket.Inside, three legionnaires were down in addition to the apostate woman they’dkilled, all four of them sprawled throughout the room in kind with the rest ofthe overturned furniture.
The kid had found one of the legionnaires’ sidearms. Hethrust it at Two’s chest, his hands visibly shaking with fear or rage. Probablyboth, Two decided as the storm began dying around them—replaced in the air bycold murder. Two reached out and calmly ripped the gun away with telekinesis.The look on the kid’s face as the weapon left his hands was almost too much tobear—the wide-eyed, slack-jawed epiphany, two parts panic, one part hopeless,morbid fascination.
It was the look of someone truly realizing they were about to die, and now he’d seen it one too many times.
“Restrain him,” he said, bending to pick up the gun. He probablyshould’ve neutralized the kid’s demon before doing anything else, but he waspretty sure the thing had already lashed out with everything it had. He’d heardtell that it happened sometimes, these untrained outbursts, but they were categoricallybrief and usually out of the young apostate’s control.
For now, the kid was probably harmless.
In the splintered doorway behind, the legionnaires werehesitating. Two was about to snap at them when they found their wrinklies andswept in. After that, they had the kid restrained and on his knees in the blinkof an eye. Two checked over the sidearm, making sure it was loaded, the safetydisengaged.
Alpha, he was tired. Straight to the bones.
Probably, he should’ve just skipped the next part. But he couldn’t.For the will of Alpha, and for his own sanity, he had to check.
The kid’s mental defenses were like soggy bread next to those ofhis fallen partner—or master, rather, Two saw as he broke into the youngerapostate’s mind and began rifling through his life’s memories. She’d found himon the streets a few seasons after he’d escaped the father whose need for thebottle had been increasingly rivaled by the man’s enthusiasm for offloading thepain to his son, physically and otherwise. She’d protected him. Taught him.Loved him.
It was unmistakable. But Two swept over the kid’s mind again, justto be sure, ignoring the legionnaires’ looks of growing discomfort with the oddsilence. He didn’t blame the kid for having fallen prey to a demon while livingthrough the kind of abuse he’d so clearly experienced. If the Sanctum had foundhim sooner, maybe… but they hadn’t. And there it was, nestled at the core ofhim like a dark ink stain on his very spirit, undeniable.
Too old to be trained as a Seeker. Too dangerous to be left alive.
“Why are you doing this?”
The kid’s voice was shaky with fear in Two’s mind. It almost madehim flinch.
He didn’t answer. Just finished his inspection as best he could.He’d tried before to explain himself to his marks. But there was no use. Itmade no difference in the end.
“I’m going to kill you.” This time, the kid spoke out loud, hisvoice brimming with a heartbreaking attempt to pass off fear as anger. “I’mgoing to gropping kill you!”
This was going to be one of those days, it turned out. One of thedays when Two would lie awake questioning himself and his place in ending thesetragic abominations. But Enochia was counting on him, whether they knew it ornot. His own brothers and sisters, too.
Alpha was counting on him.
So he stepped forward, raising the gun.
“Alpha grant you peace, fallen.”
He pulled the trigger before the legionnaires could finish askingwhat the scud he was doing. And like that, it was over.
Two tossed the gun and turned to leave, mindful of the incredulous stares piercing him from all sides. They thought he was a monster. And they weren’t wrong. But they didn’t know the whole story. Didn’t know that there’d been nothing else to be done for the kid. That he’d been corrupted by a demon, and that there wasn’t a single brig on Enochia that could’ve held him once he learned to control his curse.
But Two couldn’t exactly tell that to the two legionnaires whostepped in to bar his exit from the wrecked shanty. They glanced at each other,neither one sure what to say, only sure that they couldn’t simply let thismonster walk away. The entitled bastards.
“Check your orders,” Two growled, wanting nothing more than to beout of this shanty, and alone. “You’ll find I’m to be excused for my actionshere. That I was never here at all, in fact.”
Another uncertain glance between them, then a look back to one oftheir squad mates outside, who looked up from his palmlight and gave a hesitantnod.
“As much fun as this has been,” Two said, shouldering his waybetween the legionnaires, who stiffly shifted just enough to let him past, “Ihope no one will take offense when I say I genuinely hope I never see youassholes again.”
There was a curse and a rustle of movement from behind. Twoglanced back in time to see one of the doorway legionnaires catching hispartner before he could throw himself at Two.
Two shot the snarling man a smirking salute and turned for thestairs.
Only once he was well out of their sight and alone in a dark alleydid he allow his hand to drift to the thin black collar at his neck, as italways did after a kill. Only then did he remind himself that it wasn’t justfor the good of Enochia and for the will of Alpha—that he’d also lose his ownhead if he refused.
But that didn’t really change the fact that he’d pulled thetrigger again. That his hand hadn’t even shook this time.
So maybe Alpha willed it. So maybe it was all a little less blackand white than those legionnaires would imagine when they talked about thisover their ale tonight. But either way, it was getting hard to deny.
He was a natural born killer.
More adventure awaits on Enochia...
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