Here’s an excerpt from I WAS A TEENAGE WEREDEER available in ebook, paperback, and audiobook formats. The sequel is already out but I figured people would love a sample of what both books are about.


I was a teenage weredeer. Specifically, I ceased to be a teenager as of eight o’clock that morning. I was an adult, eighteen years of age. I couldn’t legally drink but I could vote and… Hmm, actually, that was pretty much it. I graduated from Bright Falls High School a year ago due to skipping my freshman year and started taking community college courses a month before. So my birthday was less of a rite of passage than it might have been.

Mind you, I was glad none of my family was making a big deal out of my birthday. Being a shifter meant you went through a lot of rites of passage, especially in my family. Your first change, your first antlers (thankfully, I didn’t get those), when your Gift comes (mine was reading objects), and that thing that involved a sweat lodge I’m not looking forward to. I was Jane, Jane Doe.

Which, yes, was probably the least imaginative name you could come up for a girl you expected to be a weredeer. Then again, my father’s name was John, and my mother’s name was Judy. I had a sister named Jeanine and a brother named Jeremy. So, really, I should be grateful I lucked out and got the name most identified with anonymous female murder victims.

Yes, could you tell I was bitter? I was busing tables at my mother’s diner, the Deerlightful. It was a groan-worthy pun but far from the only one I’d had to deal with from my family. Most weredeer seemed to find them fascinating.

My cousins owned the Deerly Beloved wedding supply, my uncle the Stag Party strip club, and my brother planned on opening a funeral home called the Deerly Departed. He was just dumb enough to believe this would fly. The Deerlightful was a 1950s-style diner that fits in well with the fact Bright Falls was stuck in said decade.

Well, aside from most of the townsfolk moving out and drugs replacing lumber as the primary source of employment. It was two in the afternoon, so the lunch crowd had left. It meant I had a chance to think in between busing tables. Jeanine was cheerfully taking the order of two flannel-wearing lumberjacks at the end of the room as the song “Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival played in the background.

My dad had thought it clever to make just about everything moon-related in our music selection. Other shifters in the town— and there were a lot— seemed to find it cute, so maybe there was something to it, but aside from this song and “Blue Moon” by Elvis, I wasn’t a fan. Jeanine was pretty much my opposite in appearance, being a tall and curvaceous curly-auburn-haired girl who resembled the weredeer ideal of beauty.

I was thin, an A cup, and had flat black hair that I kept in a bowl cut. The fact that the Deerlightful’s yellow uniforms were made for women quite a bit more, uh, well, ample didn’t help my job. I’d said my mother shouldn’t try to make her own daughters into Hooters waitresses, but she’d said I’d fill in. Not what you wanted to hear when you were seventeen.

Oh well, it was money for college and getting out of this one-Starbucks town. My dad pronounced it Star Bucks. Ugh. Hefting a bus box full of plates, I grumbled about the fact I could be writing my great American novel instead. It was a mystery-romance about my heroine caught between two handsome suitors in the unsettled seventeenth-century frontier.

Alas, it was presently more Twilight than Catcher in the Rye. You could take the teenage weredeer out of the forest, but you couldn’t take the forest out of the teenage weredeer. “If at first you don’t succeed, give up and decide to sell real estate,” I grumbled aloud.

Jeanine called over to me. “Oh, Jane, would you do me a solid and take the rest of my shift? Brad and I are going on a date and I need to get ready.” I stared over at her and wondered if my older sister was actually just going to dump all of her work on me. Oh, right, of course she was. “Do I get your share of the tips?”

Jeanine frowned. “You know it is hard living away from Mom and Dad.” No, I didn’t, because I couldn’t afford to.

“Sure, Sis, I will gleefully do even more work so you can mack with your incredibly rich boyfriend.”

“Super!” Jeanine said, waving at me, then walked through the doors to the kitchen. I stared at her then followed.

“Clearly, sarcasm is not my strong point.” The Deerlightful kitchen was a single large room with a walk-in fridge, bathroom on the other side of the room, office for my mother, and a series of fridges as well as stoves.

There was a calendar and bulletin board to my right, listing all the various messages my mother tended to get for her other job as the town shaman. Jeanine was already skipping out the backdoor and I didn’t have a chance to correct her misassumption about my volunteering to cover for her. I guess I was stuck with it.

I looked for my mother, but didn’t see anyone but Dad and Jeremy. Judy ran the Deerlightful while my father cooked. They were also weredeer or Cervid (I thought was a secret name for our kind until discovering it just meant “deer” in Latin) who’d married at eighteen in an arranged union. Both seemed cool with it and genuinely seemed to love each other.

Thankfully, John didn’t seem too eager to follow in late Grandpa Jacob’s plan to keep the bloodline pure and hadn’t talked to me about any of that. John, a tall, broad-shouldered man with a brown mullet, was presently grilling three burgers while singing “Achy Breaky Heart”. I swear, I could hear him call it ‘Hart’ in his inflection.

“And yet you do sarcasm so well,” my brother, Jeremy, said from my side. He was currently doing a fresh load of plates in the sink.

Jeremy was more like me than my sister in that he was thin with short, dark hair. Jeremy was wearing a white apron over blue jeans and a House Baratheon t-shirt. He had a pained look on his face that never seemed to go away which had started when he hadn’t made the Change by eighteen.

That was two years ago, and given that I’d made it by fourteen, it was pretty clear he was never going to be a weredeer and was just an ordinary human. Personally, I didn’t see the big deal, as it meant he didn’t have to do the family runs every full moon, but I could tell it bothered the hell out of him.

“Yeah, you know me,” I said, putting the bus box by the sink. “I’m always trying to bring a little dry hipster sarcasm to our lives.”

Jeremy half smiled. “You realize being a hipster is a bad thing, right?”

“It is?” I asked.

“Yes.” Jeremy nodded, sharing his sage wisdom of being two years older. Putting his arm over my shoulder, he said, “I’m afraid you have yet to realize you are not a sage source of post-modern ironic wisdom.”

“I’m pretty sure those words don’t actually mean anything when strung together,” I said, smiling and hugging him back.

“It means that I, too, am studying Mr. Jameson’s philosophy course,” Jeremy said, referencing our shared desire to go to college and escape Bright Falls. The chances of either of us escaping my small Michigan hometown were pretty slim, though. In 2008, the vampires had done all the world’s supernaturals a “favor” by coming out and revealing themselves to the world, which had resulted in all the others getting revealed in short order.

While there were plenty of people who hated the undead for being blood-drinking parasites and almost, to the man, sociopaths, shifters actually got the worst of it. Of forty-eight states— Michigan and Vermont exempted— if you were shot by someone then all they had to do was prove you were a shifter for it to be justified as self-defense.

Also, it was entirely legal to discriminate against shifters in the marketplace, so if I ever were to leave town then my options were to go to Vermont or Canada, and that felt like a lateral move at best. My cousin, Jill (God, what was it with the J names?), had moved to the newly revitalized Detroit, but that meant she was in the power of the vampires.

Plus, she was a stripper and while that was her choice, it wasn’t a career path I wanted or was equipped for. I was going to try to find somewhere other than the shifter capital of Michigan to live, but that was going to take more than the education provided by Bright Falls Community and Technical.

“Well, I suppose I should be grateful for the work,” I said, muttering under my breath. “It nicely avoids my parents having to pay for my college. Keep it all in the family. Specifically the money.”

“Hey, maybe she’ll marry Brad and then his family will eat her and we’ll collect a big insurance payout,” Jeremy said cheerfully. I chuckled.

“Yeah, I don’t think so. We can’t afford the insurance and the O’Henry family owns the insurance company.”

The O’Henry family was one of the twelve shifter clans in the town, and by far the most powerful. They were actually powerful on a national level, with lobbyists in Washington working on shapeshifter rights (badly) and rich enough to own a senator or two. The fact that they chose to live in Bright Falls to lord over the few thousand shifters here rather than someplace nice told me everything I needed to know about them.

“It’s a dog-eat-dog world with them,” Jeremy said.

“Hey, some of them are nice,” I said, thinking about my friend Emma. “I mean, there’s Sheriff Clara, who hates me, and… uh, nope, can’t think of any others.”

“Victoria is hot,” Jeremy said.

“Ugh,” I said, thinking about her and trying not to let my blood boil. “Talk about a woman needing a silver bullet.”

Victoria O’Henry was my own personal Mean Girl archnemesis and one of the chief reasons I was glad to have graduated from high school. She was a year older than me and one of the worst people I’d ever met. Werewolves were pack hunters and she’d assembled a little gang of her cousins around her to rule the school.

The fact that her Gift had turned out to be able to learn people’s deepest, darkest secrets had made her the terror of Bright Falls as a whole. The fact I’d been best friends with her sister Emma growing up made her desire to ruin my life doubly strange, but I guess Victoria didn’t want her sister crossing the predator/ prey divide. Now Brad and Jeanine were seeing each other, which meant we might become sisters-in-law. Yikes.

“You shouldn’t say that sort of thing,” John said, turning his head to look at us. “The O’Henrys are like royalty.”

I rolled my eyes. “Dad, it’s the twenty-first century. No one actually takes the whole royalty thing seriously anymore.”

“We do in this house,” John said, his voice low. “If they’re not royals then we’re not shamans.”

That was another thing about shifter culture that annoyed the hell out of me. Every one of the twelve clans had a specific role assigned to them. The werewolves were the rulers, the weredeer were the shamans, the werebears were the guards, and so on. It was like any other caste system in that the modern world had left it behind, but there were shifters, like my dad, who took it way too seriously.

“Mom’s a shaman, you’re a short-order cook,” Jeremy said, saying more than he probably should have.

Dad stood still for a second and I thought he was going to blow up. “You just keep doing your job, son, and focus on what making a connection with your true self.”

That was even worse because John was the only member of the family who still thought Jeremy had a chance of changing. I understood why Dad wanted it to be so: he was the one who believed most in the Old Ways, the old religion, and it was a stinging cut to know he didn’t have enough of a Gift to be a priest. But to sire a human? Someone without any Gift at all? That was bad. Made worse because I knew Dad loved Jeremy best. It sucked, but it was true.

“That’s it,” Jeremy said, pulling off his apron. “I’m gone. You can find someone else to do your damn dishes.”

“Jeremy—” Dad started to say before noticing the hamburgers were burning.

“Dammit!” I sighed and watched Jeremy walk away before looking to Dad. “Please tell me you don’t expect me to do the dishes.”

“I’ll do them,” John said, sighing as he started over the burgers again, tossing the burned ones into the trash. “I mean what I said about talking smack about the royals, though. They’re dangerous.”

I blinked and sighed. “What, is Victoria going to have my head cut off?”

John turned around and crossed his arms. “That’s not so farfetched an idea. You’ve grown up in a time when the supernatural was public. In my day, though, they had the power of life and death over their subjects.”

“Which is creepy,” I said, looking out to the restaurant beyond and seeing if we had any new customers. Thankfully, we didn’t. It was a slow Thursday.

“In any case, I’ve hated on Victoria for years and she hasn’t had my head cut off yet.”

“Yet,” John said. “The royals still have all their old authority. They don’t use it often, but most of the other clans respect it.”


“Just cut it out with the silver-bullet threats. Please.”

Seeing my dad was serious, I sighed and nodded my head before going to get a pad to take orders. That was when I heard thunder outside and my ears perked up. There was something in the air that made me uncomfortable and I couldn’t quite put it into words.

Closing my eyes, I saw a storm coming and felt a terrible thing was coming. I’d only had that kind of impression of the future a few times, one of which had been right before the vampires had revealed themselves and the subsequent violence.

All weredeer had the Sight, just varying degrees of it, with Dad having the ability to sense absolutely nothing more than his next dinner while my mother was able to see things years in the future as well as talk to the animals like Doctor Doolittle.

I was somewhere in the middle and could pick up impressions from objects as well as get visions of the future on occasion. Knowing something bad was going to happen didn’t give me a way to stop it, though, and my stomach turned a bit. Should I tell my father? Tell him what— I have a bad feeling about this? My mother? Maybe.

“Dad, where’s Mom?”

“Off,” John said.

“Off?” I asked.

“Off,” He repeated. “Shaman things.”

“Oh joy,” I said, knowing that meant she could be anywhere from the middle of the woods to selling scented candles at a party. I went back to work instead.

As Jeanine’s and my shift finally came to an end, I was pretty tired on my feet and debated going out back to change so I could regain my energy. A rainstorm had already been going for the better part of an hour, though, so I didn’t want to.

You’d think being part-wild animal I wouldn’t mind getting wet, but it turned out weredeer really resented thunderstorms. Heading to punch my time card— weird with a mostly family business— I watched the backdoor open up and my soaked best friend run through the door.

Emma O’Henry was about six inches taller than me and gorgeous in the same way my sister was, except with bright-crimson-red hair. Emma was wearing a pair of cut-off jean shorts and an open flannel shirt over a House Stark shirt my brother had given her.

A little silver locket was hanging around her neck in the shape of a wolf. I, personally, had never seen the need to advertise my animal type to the world. I was about to greet her warmly when I noticed she looked horrified. Her makeup was smeared and her eyes teary. I blinked.

“What’s wrong?” My father looked over at us.

“Are you okay, Emma?” Emma grabbed me in a hug. “It’s terrible. I came here right away.”

“Eh?” I said, wondering why I was the crisis person all of a sudden before remembering my earlier bad feeling. “What’s happened?”

“My sister has been murdered. They’re looking at your brother.”



Available on Amazon.com

Excerpt of Agent G: Infiltrator available

Here’s a sample chapter from my recently released book:

Chapter One

I was sitting in the driver’s seat of a 2017 Mercedes Benz S-Klasse, staring at a handheld computer screen tapped into the security feed of the Everhope Hotel. It was a cold Chicago night and the tomb-like atmosphere of the parking garage didn’t help. Still, it was appropriate for my job: to kill very rich and powerful people for money.

The target, Marshall Redmond, was fifty-two, possessed a net worth of sixty hundred million dollars, and was currently attending a fundraiser for a cause only the one percent of the one percent could care about. Conservation of a breed of salmon or something. The fat blond man was sitting at the table in the front of the ballroom with his unhappy-looking spouse beside him.

I was dressed in a chauffeur’s outfit, deep in the identity I’d established for myself, and doing my best not to be bored out of my mind. I was G, just G. Once I had a human name and background, but that’d been scrubbed from my brain along with the rest of my past. Real Total Recall stuff. Despite losing almost the entirety of my life, I didn’t sweat the details too much. I was paid exorbitant amounts of money to do what I did and would get the details back after ten years. Supposedly. One thing you learned when working for the—finger quotes—”International Refugee Society” was paranoia. It was the most valuable skill they could teach you.

To allay my boredom, I often tried to figure out why the Society had sent me to kill a target. I mean, obviously, it was because someone had paid them, but I mean the reasons behind the hit. Usually, it was depressingly simple: A target was having an affair and their spouse was a client. A target was a witness to a crime that could bring an end to a multimillionaire’s business. Or a political activist working for some group’s rights, or a political activist working against another group’s (many times the same group. Or someone who had made the mistake of betraying their employer in some way.

Not Marshall Redmond. No, he was special. To look at him, you’d think he was being targeted by his wife for decades of unhappy marriage or by someone he’d bilked out of millions. He looked like Bernie Madoff, not Osama bin Laden. However, it was closer to the latter than former. Marshall Redmond was a terrorist, or at least a terrorist financier. The difference was academic, really, since the former could kill a few hundred people in a bombing while the latter could kill thousands by organizing dozens.

Honestly, that had caught me off guard. People weren’t complex. Nine times out of ten, they were exactly what they appeared to be. It made me curious to see how a guy who’d grown up in the country club circuit had ended up dealing with everyone from ISIS to Red Sword.

“Well, I’ll find out soon enough,” I muttered. “Dead men tell no tales, but the about-to-die are remarkably chatty.”

After waiting twenty minutes for them to arrive, I saw Redmond and his wife part ways and move to their separate cars. Redmond and his bodyguard moved toward this car, the former looking distressed with the latter. Redmond’s bodyguard was a tall, thirty-two-year-old, muscular black man named Charles Dulcimer. Dulcimer was an ex-Navy Seal who had done contracts for Universiti and was currently working for the world’s largest security corporation. He looked violently ill and seconds later threw up on Redmond’s shoes.

“Tsk-tsk-tsk,” I said, shaking my head, adjusting the side view mirror. “You should always watch what you eat, Charles. You never know what someone might have slipped into it.”

Wow, I was so bored I was talking to myself.

Redmond backed away in disgust, yelled some obscenities at the man, and climbed into the back seat of the car. According to the profile, Redmond had never been comfortable with Dulcimer as his bodyguard. At the risk of pulling the race card, I suspected the ex-mercenary’s looks had a large part to play in it.

I was biracial myself, at least per my medical records, but light-skinned enough to pass as a white man. Doubly so since I dyed my hair blonde. Really, my appearance was perfect for putting people like Redmond at ease. These things I could disguise with the right wigs, contacts, and prosthetics, but tonight I was going as something close to the “real” me. It was dangerous, but the FBI didn’t exactly collect information on the Society either. Hell, they were one of its biggest clients.

“Take me home, David,” Redmond said, looking at his shoes. “God almighty, those people. Do we have a napkin or something in here?”

I reached into the glove compartment and removed some McDonald’s napkins I’d collected just in case this sort of situation happened. Putting on a stereotypical Southern drawl, I said, “Here, sir. I hope these help.”

Redmond took them before shooting me a dirty look. “Have you been eating in my car?”

I continued speaking like the expected hick. “No, sir, I ate outside, washed my hands, and came back in. I put the napkins in because you can never have too many napkins.”

“Good,” Redmond said, patting his interior lovingly. “Do you know that fucker actually wants to rezone the city to attract more foreign investment?”

“That fucker” I assumed to be the mayoral candidate. “Really?”

“Ugh. I’d tell him to go to hell, but I’m getting first dibs on several of those projects.”

I’d been working for Redmond for the better part of a week, having arranged for his previous driver to take a preferred assignment with an ex-fashion model known for banging her chauffeurs. I’d then taken over his job after making sure my name was at the top of the list via my Assistant’s computer hacking. Breaking into the limousine service Redmond used wasn’t exactly a challenge for a woman who had cracked the International Refugee Society’s servers, but Marissa was itching for work as much as I was.

I pulled out the car into Chicago’s busy streets. The most difficult part of the mission was over, and I could dispose of my target at any time. However, as I mentioned before, I was curious about what made a man like Redmond throw away a privileged life for something so ephemeral as politics.  “Do you ever give any thought to the matter of identity?”

Redmond reached into his jacket and pulled out a bottle of prescription pain killers before popping three into his mouth. “What the fuck are you going on about?”

It was over now. Redmond just didn’t know it. I’d managed to replace the contents of his bottle with a much, much stronger dosage, plus several other recreational pharmaceuticals that would kill even a healthy man Redmond’s age. That was just the backup plan, really, to make sure he didn’t get away. Not that I was afraid he would, but I wasn’t a Letter because I took chances. I also had something more . . . elaborate planned for his demise.

“Memory. It’s the basis of our identities, but so much of it is malleable. We recast events how we want them to be and how our present-day opinions influence them. For example, a person who commits a terrible crime might think of himself as completely justified in the events and recall things that drove him to it—even if they never happened. It’s why eyewitness testimony is so unreliable. Because a lot of times, what people recall happening didn’t happen at all.”

Redmond started coughing, unable to respond.

“For me, I can’t help but think it raises some interesting philosophical questions. Do we ever really know a person? Are all the various wars and conflicts of history because we interpret events solely through our own perspective? If you are a person without a memory, do you have an identity at all, or are you simply a hollow shell? I prefer to believe we’re like cups, emptied and waiting to be filled anew, but retaining some semblance of our past selves.”

“You . . . “ I heard a gasping, labored voice speak behind me. Looking over my shoulder, I watched Redmond clutching his chest, sweating like a pig and reaching for his cellphone. He was desperately trying to enter the number for 911.

I lifted up a small black box. “This is a cellphone jammer. You can buy them at almost any electronics store. It’s hilarious.”

Redmond dropped his cellphone on the ground. “Why? Is it . . . is it Mahad?”

Mahad al-Malik was a Saudi Arabian real estate developer who was suspected of having ties to Red Sword, but was so low on the totem pole he was allowed to conduct business in the United States. I couldn’t make up this shit if I tried.

“Do I look like the kind of guy who works with terrorists?” I said, chuckling “Then again, you don’t exactly look like that sort of fellow yourself. By the way, my name isn’t David, it’s G. I know—that’s a letter, not a name, but it’s as close as I’ve got. No Men in Black jokes, please.”

“I can pay—”

I rolled my eyes. “I hate when targets say that, I really do. First of all, if I spared your life, then you wouldn’t pay me because you’d call the police or the FBI. Next, if you paid me beforehand, there’d be nothing to stop me from killing you afterward. Use your head.”

Redmond looked at me with pure hatred in his eyes. “You’re . . . insane.”

“Possibly,” I admitted, shaking my head. “The people who employ me put me through a fairly punishing

regime of mental conditioning and drug therapies. Things designed to remove those qualities that don’t find humor in your situation, for example.”

Redmond started to cry. It was kind of sad, really. I usually felt better about these things when my target was dirty as fuck. Then again, Redmond was a racist white-collar criminal terrorist, which was a trifecta of things I loathed.

“I would like to know why, actually. That might change a few things.” It wouldn’t, but he didn’t know that.

“The money,” Redmond said, raising his hand into the air. “Red Sword robbed the banks of Mosul of . . . four hundred million dollars . . . they . . . needed someone to launder it.”

I stared at him, frowning. Such a disappointing motive. “Money? Really?”

“I had no choice.” Redmond wheezed, giving the excuse so many other targets gave. “They would have killed me and my family if I’d refused.”

“I’m sure they would have, once you took their money.” I shook my head and turned on the lights again before driving toward Chicago’s industrial district. It wouldn’t be long, now, until Redmond’s heart gave out. I’d have to work quickly if I wanted to make sure I got this whole thing resolved the way I wanted to. A good hit was like a work of art. If it was done properly, it was a remarkable sight and could be talked about for hours. It had to be done just perfectly, though, or the whole thing was ruined.

Redmond proceeded to surprise me again. “You . . . you work for the International Refugee Society.”

I looked into the rearview mirror. “Really? A twit like you knows about the Society?”

Redmond bitterly laughed. “You fucking bastard, they’re the people who arranged the meeting between Mahad and me.”

“As bad as I think my employers are, I don’t think they finance terrorism.”

Terrorists, by and large, couldn’t afford us.

“They’re going to steal . . . the money.”

“Good for them.”

“I can arrange for the . . . CIA . . . to help you. To protect you. They can . . . get you your memories back.”

Redmond knew way too much to be what he appeared. Worse, he was dangling the one carrot in front of my face that might entice me.

The chance to know who I was.

Pulling onto a set of train tracks just moments before the barriers moved down both in front and behind

me, I heard the warning bells as the flagger began flashing. I could see the train coming down from my left. I turned off the headlights to make sure the car wasn’t visible to the engineer. I had to make a choice now. Eh, who was I kidding? There was no choice. “The CIA won’t go against the Society.”

I stepped out of the car, went to the back of the trunk, and pulled out a drugged and confused-looking David Johnson, a.k.a Josh Harden. He was the man whose identity I’d stolen. An ex-convict and registered sex offender who was operating under a false identity while he sold pills to rich clients. We had a vague resemblance. Especially when you put as much effort into not being noticed as I did.

Putting him in the driver’s seat and adjusting his hat to be perfect, I shut the door and walked forward as

the 11:30 train barreled down the tracks.  I was fifty feet away before I heard the screeching, smashing, and crushing noise that was the death rattle of Redmond and his driver.

I confirmed both kills before walking away from the crime scene and turning my chauffeur’s attire inside out. The black suit top became a Chicago Cubs sports jacket and the hat a ball cap. The pants would become blue jeans, but I would wait until I was somewhere more private to change those. I also needed to contact the Home Office to confirm my kill.

Cramming my tie into my pocket, I pulled out my cellphone before removing a thin metal wire from its side with a needle at the end. I jabbed the needle into the right side of my temple, linking it up to the IRD implant they’d removed part of my brain to install. Cybernetics came with being a Letter.

The International Refugee Society had access to a lot of technology well above what regular humanity did, and instead of using it to help people, they used it to make better killers. Says something about the world, doesn’t it? I wasn’t the Six Million Dollar Man or anything, but I could run sixty miles per hour without breathing hard and recovered in two days the last time I was shot. OK, maybe I was the Six Million Dollar Man, adjusted for inflation.

“Hello, G, is the mission completed?” A woman’s voice interrupted my musings.

A holographic image of an older, white-haired woman in a white business suit appeared in front of my vision. It was Persephone, the Society’s Director. It was unusual for her to be the one answering this sort

of call. Usually, Marissa was the one to check on my progress and relay it to my superiors.

“No, I just love stabbing myself in the head with an information jack.”

“You should learn to watch your mouth. If you weren’t my favorite, I’d have it sewn shut.”

“I bet you say that to all the Letters.”

“Yes, but you should at least have the courtesy to not point that out.”

“Yes, Mom.”

I could feel Persephone’s irritation. I had to wonder what sort of person I was to continually challenge my superiors like that. I didn’t want to. I wanted to just serve out my ten years and retire with the ungodly amount of money I’d made during my contract. Preferably some place with large amounts of sunshine and rum. Yet I just had to push. It was unsettling.

“Now, I repeat, is the job done? No complications?”

“None. Tomorrow the headline will read a suicidal chauffeur decided to kill himself and his boss after deciding he couldn’t live with his crimes. Add in the business with the pills in Redmond’s stomach, and his businesses will be radioactive for the next few months. Just like the client wanted.”

Technically, they’d just said Redmond should die in “infamy,” but I’d interpreted that to mean something

like this.

“We’ll be sending in financial cleaners to his office tomorrow for the next part of the contract. Did he mention anything of importance before you completed your mission?”

“No, ma’am,” I lied, thinking about the whole Red Sword and CIA business Redmond had mentioned. Was it true? Maybe. It didn’t matter now. He was in a hundred pieces and any connection to the Society in his files would be erased tomorrow. It wasn’t my problem, though. I needed to stay loyal. I’d served five years of my ten years of service. I would make it to Reassignment.

“Good. Your payment is awaiting pickup with a bonus for prompt delivery. I’m afraid you’re not going to be able to enjoy spending it on your usual orgy of alcohol, hookers, and cocaine, though.”

“I don’t use cocaine.” I’d also rapidly cut down on my alcohol and hooker intake since beginning my relationship with Marissa. I wasn’t about to tell Persephone that, though, since I didn’t know how that would affect our working relationship. They might reassign her, or worse, and I didn’t want to imagine what life would be like without her. Marissa was one of the few things that made me feel human.

“I need you to come in to the Home Office as soon as possible. This is a time-sensitive issue,”

Persephone said, shaking me out of my thoughts. “High priority.”


“Say hello to the wife while you’re in town. I’m sure she misses you.”

“Like a bullet in the head.”

“Be prompt. Those can be arranged.”

Persephone’s image vanished from view and I removed my information jack. The encryption built into my head meant no one, short of the supercomputers at the NSA, could decrypt our conversations. Theoretically. I couldn’t help but think the Society’s overreliance on technology was a weakness rather than strength.

“Fuck, I need to get cleaned up,” I muttered, disappearing behind some empty rail cars as police sirens buzzed in the distance.

I was gone before they arrived.

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Excerpt from The Tower of Zhaal


The stars were not right. This fact was burned into the minds of every human being living on the ruin we called planet Earth. Once, the stars were white pinpricks of light against a black sky. They were comforting guides to astronomers, lovers, and sailors. The little dots of light hinted at vistas that humanity might one day visit. Those are not the stars of tonight’s world. The stars I’d grown up with, which hung above me this evening, were red, orange, and yellow burning orbs that pulsated and hummed with eldritch energies. Sometimes the night sky was black, other times white, and others still colors not meant for human eyes.

Billions of years ago, the alien gods known as the Great Old Ones descended from the sky to claim our still primordial world as their own. Entering an epoch-long hibernation, they and their servant races slept as the world evolved around them. A dozen sentient races lived, and went extinct before the rise of humanity. In the Twenty-First century, the Great Old Ones had reclaimed the Earth and humanity was reduced to small tribes, scattered towns, and bandit gangs.

It was like the Old West Reborn, though I supposed it was a New East given we lived in the ruins of Massachusetts. Every year, it seemed humanity drifted closer and closer to extinction with no end in sight. The stars were the most visible sign of the Great Old Ones’ presence, altering the very fabric of the universe with as causal a thing as a thought. Was it possible to survive in such a place where light, which should not have reached our world from distant solar systems for millions of years, now changed every second? I couldn’t say. It was a heavy set of thoughts for a caravan guard.

“Booth?” a voice called at my side. I stared up into the endless void above me. We were lying on rocky Earth in dusty plains far to the north of the city we called our home.

“Yes, Mercury?”

Mercury Halsey was one of my few remaining comforts. A short flame-haired woman of mixed Japanese and Caucasian descent, she had a thin, angular face with skin just recently weather-beaten from the sun. Mercury was not the sort of person one expected to survive in the harshness of the Wasteland. Appearances could be deceiving, though, and in Mercury’s case she was silk hiding steel.

Though she looked like either a merchant or scholar, Mercury was the former chief torturer for the recently overthrown New Arkham government. As a scientist, she’d been made to use her knowledge of healing to torment instead. In the end, she’d revolted and fled with me into the Wasteland. We’d been traveling together for almost a year and had become lovers—a development expected by everyone but me.

Mercury lay on a sleep roll beside me, her small body tucked under the blankets. I took a moment to admire it and wish we weren’t currently celibate thanks to my “condition.” Behind us, there were beaten-down carts and composite cars made from a hundred different vehicles being used to haul freight and drive cattle from Kingsport to New Arkham.

Creatures the locals called horses, but were a wide variety of strange mutated animals of a quad or hexahedral nature, also rode as part of the caravan. Dozens of humans were asleep or standing watch around us, a mixture of workers and guards like myself. Mercury was the caravan’s medic. The two of us had been intent on changing the world, but we’d somehow ended up becoming traders instead.

“What are you thinking about?” Mercury asked. Though we were resting, she wore  rough denim and goggles around her neck. Given the potential dangers of the Wasteland, we had to sleep lightly and wake instantly, ready for action at any given moment.

“The stars,” I admitted.

Mercury looked up. “Yeah, I suppose they are pretty tonight.”

I snorted. If there was one survival advantage evolution had granted humanity over the many Extra Biological Entities (or E.B.E.s, as the Remnant used to call them), it was the ability to normalize the inexplicable. Six-and-a-half billion humans had died in the Rising and the survivors had learned to share their world with all manner of strange creatures—many of which had lived beside us all along.

The surviving humans still hated the Deep Ones, ghouls, mutants, and Serpent Men of the world, but their existence no longer drove an otherwise rational man to madness. Even now, a century later, we were still scraping by with all the divisions that had existed before. The members of the Morgan Trading Company were more afraid of Dunwych tribals or human raiders than they were of monsters robbing them.

“The stars are beautiful,” I admitted, smiling. “I’ve been looking at them for hours.”

“Can’t sleep?”

“I don’t sleep much anymore. Sometimes I go for weeks at a time without rest.” I was speaking literally.

“Don’t let the others hear that,” Mercury whispered, looking over at my right arm. “They might take it the wrong way.”

“I’ll bear that in mind.”

I flexed my right hand, feeling the immense, terrible power within it. It was bound in bandages and cloth wrappings, long sleeves as well as gloves hiding its true nature. Arcane glyphs from the Necronomicon and Book of Eibon had been branded into my flesh while juju beads bought from Dunwych mystics were spun around the hideous black chitin that covered everything from my fingertips to my arm socket. On my right shoulder, spreading alien poison through my veins, was the Hand of Nyarlathotep. It was a scar in the shape of a human hand that often glowed with an ethereal white light.

The Hand of Nyarlathotep was a symbol of being “touched” by one of the Other Gods. I had only suspicions as to how I’d acquired it, but it now defined my life. Once, I thought the strange marking had been killing me, but time had revealed it portended a more insidious fate. I was becoming something other than human.

A stronger man would have taken his own life by now, but years of serving as a soldier had left me with a tenacious desire to live. The runes and beads kept the infection at bay, albeit poorly, and I’d gotten to live a few more months with my lover. Mercury could turn her attention away from the horror within me and love me regardless. Even so, she’d terminated her pregnancy last month lest she gave birth to a monster.

“How are the spells holding up?” Mercury asked, her voice uneasy.

“Not well,” I answered, more frustrated than scared now. “They slowed its progress in the beginning but I’m not sure they’re doing anything now.”

“We could try amputating it again.”



“It isn’t a matter of me not wanting to be a cripple. I tried cutting off my arm with the help of a tribal warrior during the trip through the Bloch Passage, but I awoke days later covered in blood and no idea how I got there. My arm had regrown and the amount of mutated flesh had doubled.” I didn’t tell Mercury that I’d awoken with blood in my mouth and a full stomach.

“I wondered what happened on that trip,” Mercury said, reaching over to place her hand on my shoulder. “I can judge the current rate of progression and give you a rough estimate if you want but—”

“How long do I have?”

Mercury touched my right and I shifted from her. Not only because it was my cursed one but also because of how her touch felt. It was electric and excited the dark alien parts of my brain that wanted to make her my mate in a way antithetical to human love.

“You have perhaps another two or three months until the change reaches your heart.” Mercury’s expertise with E.B.E.s and mutation had allowed me to get an accurate measurement of my condition. “After that, I don’t think it will stop. It will accelerate and consume your entire body. From there, you will no longer be John Henry Booth. You will be—”

“What?” I asked, daring her to say monster.

“I don’t know.” Mercury looked away.

I didn’t want to encourage her to try and cheer me up about my condition. There was too much scientist in her still. I felt like a specimen under her microscope some nights, a creature that might survive the end days yet carry some spark of humanity. Despite this, I loved her and tolerated her eccentricities. After all, Mercury was one of the few people I trusted enough to share my torn feelings with—just not all of them.

There was a part of me that I kept from her, a part of me, a repressed and hidden part that wanted to be changed. While I no longer slept much, I still dreamed. Azathoth, Azathoth, Azathoth. The relentless repeating of the Blind Idiot God’s name was a constant in the back of my mind now. Outside the ordered universe was an amorphous blight of nethermost confusion that blasphemed and bubbled at the center of all infinity.

Surrounding it was a court of nameless otherworldly priests, bards, and courtiers of descriptions that defied conventional reason. Their hideous chanting paid homage to the End of Everything and called to me to join them in an eternal dance of nightmarish joy. I wanted to join their revelry. To be free of this dead, dusty world of causal violence and hopeless nights so I could stop caring that every day seemed to bring us closer to oblivion.

But then I wouldn’t love Mercury. I wouldn’t love anything at all. Not my daughters, my son, or my squad mates living and dead.

Monsters didn’t love.

Only humans did.

“So what are we going to do?” Mercury asked, perhaps sensing my increasing ambivalence. There were times I’d seen her stand over me, thinking I was asleep, perhaps contemplating ending my life as a form of mercy. Her hesitation made me happy, but I wasn’t sure if it was the right emotion to feel.

“I don’t know,” I said, taking a deep breath.

“We need to make a final decision before the decision is made for us. Assuming we haven’t made the decision already by waiting this long.”

“I know,” I said, the bitterness in my voice harsh and thick.

I looked over to the other caravan crew to make sure no one was listening. Those who weren’t asleep weren’t close enough to hear, a fact I found relieving. Mercury hadn’t been exaggerating about the mutant burnings. I’d seen hundreds of them killed over my four decades of life, mostly at my hands.

Was the alien blood in my veins polluting my mind? Were the visions warping my will? Would a rational, uncorrupted John Henry Booth have hesitated to kill himself if it meant saving the world from one more predator? I just didn’t know anymore.

“Will you remember me if you change?” Mercury asked. “Us? Anything?”

“Nothing could make me forget you,” I lied to her.

“I can’t kill you.” Mercury’s blue eyes blinked in the darkness. “I’ve wanted to at times, even prepared the instruments, but I can’t. I’m as addicted to you as you are to me.”

It would have been a shocking revelation coming from anyone but her. Mercury had planned for killing every member of this caravan, should they turn on us, when we’d taken this job—and all our previous employers. It was a quality I liked about her. I’d already lost friends to my impending metamorphosis. Jessica O’Reilly, a woman I’d grown up with, had turned on me and tried to kill me. I still found myself wondering if she hadn’t been the sane one among us some nights.

“Thank you,” I said, looking down at the dusty ground beneath my bedroll. “I mean that.”

“I want you to live, no matter the cost. One more monster won’t make this world any worse. Maybe you’ll be able to remember it when everything else is dead.”

The bitterness in Mercury’s voice surprised me. It shouldn’t have. Mercury wasn’t just speaking grim cynicism, but prophecy. Nyarlathotep, the Messenger of the Other Gods and the inspiration for countless divinities, had spoken to me of humanity’s fate.

Three generations.

I did not know if he meant the accumulated lifespans of three humans or sixty years, but he had been clear in the rest of his statement’s meaning. Humanity, that weak race of primates I could no longer call my own, was doomed. Extinction would claim our race after Nyarlathotep’s ambiguous deadline passed and no force in the universe would stop it. I had sworn myself against this destiny, proclaimed I could stop mankind’s destruction, but that had been hubris. How could I save humanity when I couldn’t even save myself?

I reached over to grasp Mercury’s hand with my left one. Our fingers touched. “No one knows how long we have on this world. I might be cursed to something horrible in a few months or I might die tomorrow. The condition could reverse itself as well. Where there is life, there is hope.”

Even if it was a fool’s hope.

“Damn, you’re a bundle of joy tonight.”

“I thought I was being cheerful, actually.” I gave a half-smirk.

Mercury abruptly changed subjects, still squeezing my hand. “Do you think Jackie will be all right while we’re on this trip?”

Mercury was speaking of her our adopted daughter, Jackie Howard. Jackie was living under a curse every bit as dreadful as my own, possessing the hybridized blood of human and ghoul. Like my dear lost friend, Richard Jameson, Jackie would undergo a terrible transformation when she reached her thirties and cease to be as she was. The ghouls were not an evil race, their love of human flesh aside, but she would be forever ostracized from humanity thereafter.

“We left her in a city of murderers, pimps, and slavers—she’ll be fine,” I said, smiling.

Mercury snorted. “Not funny, Booth.” She was smiling, though.

I wasn’t joking. Kingsport was a town of criminals—it was also the only civilization I trusted not to kill Jackie out of hand should her true parentage become known.

“Mister Death has promised to look after her. The Dunwych tribesmen do not think of the E.B.E.s the same way we do. They think Jackie’s blood makes her strong.”

I did not trust the tribal shaman as far as I could throw him, but I did not believe he would betray our trust. I’d saved his people last year, as much through luck as anything, and he owed me.

“I just worry about her. Jackie’s the one good thing that has come out of the past year, our relationship aside.”

“Jackie is, indeed. We had to come out here, though.” One could not survive long in the Wasteland if one didn’t have a useful skill to trade for food and water. To feed our non-traditional family around me, Mercury and I both needed to work, and caravanning was the only thing that allowed enough payment for research into a cure as well as comfortable living.

Well, that and banditry. I wasn’t about to turn desert pirate, though.

“We will be home soon,” I reassured her. “You can continue to teach Jackie all the skills she needs to be a doctor or medic.”

“Fat lot of good they’ll do her in Ghoultown.”

I snorted. “Who knows, maybe they’ll find it amusing to learn about what humans called their bones.”

“Versus supper?” Mercury said, making an unfunny joke.

I laughed anyway. “Yeah.”

“I love you, Booth.”

“I love you, too.”

I leaned over to kiss her and as our lips met, I felt a dreadful pain in my chest. Pulling away, I placed my hand over my heart and felt it beat several times faster than normal. Looking up, I stared into the darkness and saw.

In a spectrum denied the three dimensions afforded to humanity, I saw past the dusty plains we were camped on to a group coming at us. A very large group. Dozens of gray-robed figures, each holding rods of crystal, were approaching in an eerie octagonal formation.

Some were men and women.


Others were not.

“Mercury, awaken the camp,” I said, sucking in my breath.

“Alarm!” Mercury shouted at the top of her lungs, running around the camp and waking up the guards who weren’t already on watch. “We’re under attack!”

Chapter Two

Cultists. There was one scourge greater than any other across the Wastelands, and that was those humans who’d chosen to devote themselves to the Great Old Ones. Not because they were more dangerous than the monsters around us, but because they focused their rage squarely on humanity. Not all the Great Old Ones’ worshipers were evil. The Dunwych, for example, walked the balance between fear and awe with practiced ease. Cultists mistook the Great Old One’s indifference to the Old World’s destruction as deliberate malice and attempted to curry favor by slaughtering their fellow man.

Now we were surrounded by them.

I did not know this group to be cultists because of their attire—robes were just practical desert wear, after all—but by the crystal rods in their hands. I’d last seen them wielded by the Elder Things on a trip to the Dreamlands—a dimension even more chaotic than our own. The weapons could deliver terrible electrical shocks and perform all manner of other, seemingly mystical, feats. No human could acquire them on their own. They had to have been given to madmen.

Our caravan wasn’t composed of fools. They went for their weapons and defensible positions. Everyone in the camp was armed and had ammunition to spare. Even a century later, it wasn’t difficult to find guns in the former United States—not that regular bullets did much against monsters. Hopefully, we’d get in some lucky shots.

On my end, I went for my A19 rifle. It was one of many composite weapons the United States Remnant had constructed in the aftermath of the Rising. A combination of a sniper rifle and an assault weapon, it had seen better days. Still, it was a weapon I knew well and had been trained in the use of. Furthermore, I had a secret weapon—a clip of orihalcum ammunition I’d managed to recover from the wreckage of a crashed Remnant helicopter. Made from a Deep One’s metal harvested from the bottom of the ocean floor, orihalcum could kill the unkillable.


Lifting the weapon’s crude half-functioning night scope, I gazed out into the darkness. The robed figures were a few dozen yards away now, having somehow traveled farther in the short time than they could have walked (or run). The one at the head of the group, a tall brown-skinned man wearing slightly more ornate robes than the rest, lifted a crystal rod as if to signal the others to do the same.

Snapping a cartridge clip into the chamber, I wasn’t fast enough to fire before the air filled with glowing bolts of light. The bright beams arched through the darkness like mortars before landing on our campsite. Explosions knocked over and killed many of the workers around me, igniting our cargo. The fire burned unnaturally fast, leaving a near-instant ruin of char in its place. Some of the guards I’d befriended—Davidson, Bone-Face, and Hillary—were already dead. I intended to avenge them.

It was Mercury who scored the first kill as she raised a pistol and fired repeatedly into the night. I saw one of her bullets strike a cultist in the chest and send him spiraling to the ground. I switched to automatic fire, gunning down another figure with tentacles for a mouth before switching to a second, and a third. The air filled with staccato bursts. My ears stung, but I ignored the pain, concentrating on taking down as many attackers as possible.

Unfortunately, the battle was lost before it began. More energy bolts sailed our way, adding to the slaughter. I saw a woman, Mavis, fall to the ground with her entire chest burned out like it was kindling. Her eyes stared into the star-filled sky, the orbs glazed over with a primordial terror.

The cultists continued to advance.  Their weapons could tear us apart from a distance, but they chose to move closer, enjoying the slaughter.  More of the robed figures dropped as the five or six of us remaining relocated behind cover to retaliate. As advanced as their technology was, the cultists weren’t bullet proof, and more of them died every step they took. The problem was, their steps were not normal. Somehow, they were warping space and time, not running, or taking long strides, but seeming to flash ahead, every foot they moved seeming more like a yard.

I kept firing. The cultists ignored the bloody bodies they left behind, proceeding as if not assaulted by a hail of gunfire. Only the brown-skinned man in the lead reacted differently. I targeted his head with my rifle and pulled the trigger. He showed no response at all—it was as if my bullet had passed through him.

“Fuck,” I muttered, focusing on the other cultists, who seemed more vulnerable to my attacks. They were less than thirty feet away now and their numbers had halved, but they still outnumbered us. They probably could have killed us, and I wondered if they planned to drag us back for some sort of ceremony. If so, I vowed to save the last bullet in my gun for myself.

“They’re not slowing down, Booth,” Mercury shouted, scoring her seventh kill. She was having more luck than I was. I noticed that several of the bodies I’d gunned down earlier were getting back up.

“No shit,” I muttered, before shouting, “We need to fall back!”

The other surviving guards didn’t get a chance to respond, as less than ten feet away, the cultists aimed their crystalline weapons and obliterated them. So much for not killing us. Their bodies didn’t get blasted apart as Mavis’s had, but were burned with such heat that they seemed to melt where they stood. Soon, only Mercury and I were left.

“Fuck!” I swore again, this time running backwards as I fired. Mercury did as well. All of the corpses on the ground we’d shot to pieces had risen. I decided to switch to my orihalcum clip but wasn’t sure those would do any good either. How did you fight an opponent who wouldn’t stay dead?

“What was that about us heading back to Kingsport after this?” Mercury baited me. “Funny, I seem to recall the word ‘easy’ for this mission.”

“Not the time!”

The two of us maneuvered through the burning wreckage of the carts and composite cars, firing at the cultists as we went. They were forming a circle around the camp. My head started to ache as I heard the chanting of Azathoth’s name in the back of my head change. No longer was it the sound of his distant court, but instead, seemed far closer and in an eerie language that was not meant to be spoken by a human tongue.

“F’gnarrgaa haaa’ra abagarnaaa cathaaal Yith. F’gnarrgaa haaa’ra abagarnaaa cathaaal Yith. F’gnarrgaa haaa’ra abagarnaaa cathaaal Yith.”

Taking yet another shot, I grimaced, feeling like my head was about to explode. I understood that language. It spoke to memories locked in the fabric of my DNA, or perhaps some spiritual link my consciousness had to the greater universe. Moreover, I knew the word Yith.

Spoken of in Unknown Kults, they were an ancient race which had once inhabited the Earth during the Cretaceous Period. Advanced yet peaceful, they psychically sailed the oceans of time and space, learning about other worlds by seizing the bodies of lesser creatures. They had lived among the dinosaurs before the latter’s extinction and occasionally popped up to record humanity’s dying days in the present. Did the cultists worship the Yithians, or had they simply adapted the word to their use with no understanding of what it meant?

Reaching the end of my clip, I bumped into Mercury as we slipped behind the one composite car undamaged by the cultists’ hellish bolts. A former school bus, the vehicle had carried the largest portion of cargo in the caravan—foodstuffs like grain, rice, and fruits for the people of Arkham. The other goods had been destroyed out of hand, but the cultists had left this one alone. Was it simple robbery? Were they just cattle rustlers and horse thieves? The lives of dozens sacrificed for the price of a few crates and animals? Perhaps. I’d seen people killed for much less.

Behind us, the inferno of three carts that had been pulled by a now-half-melted truck hid us from the cultists now encircling our campsite. I had no doubt they knew where we were, though, and that they could kill us at any time. Indeed, it was strange they hadn’t done so already. They had killed everyone else without hesitation. We were being kept alive for some reason.


Mercury turned to me, sweat covering her brow, her eyes reflecting the flames around us. The heat was tremendous and it was difficult to breathe. For all the horrible changes I’d undergone, I still needed to breathe, and we’d run out of the battlefield into what was close to a raging inferno. Still, I saw no hopelessness or terror in her face.

Only anger.

“If you have any ideas, now would be a good time to share them.” Mercury’s voice was choked, but I knew she’d rather go down fighting than become a cultist’s pet.

So would I.

I lifted up my ammo clip of orihalcum bullets and switched it out for the one in my A19. “Perhaps these will make a difference.”

“Ia Cthulhu, motherfuckers!” a voice spoke from the doorway of the bus beside us as the drunken figure of Rodriguez Castro stumbled out.

I did a double-take, seeing the wizened old man. Rodriguez was seventy years old if he was a day, but the white-bearded, hunched-over figure seemed more defiant than either of us.

Wearing a brown vest, linen pants, and a moonshine-stained shirt, he was carrying a small carved stone figurine and a revolver. I had not spoken to the man much, but my brief experience with him told me he was a lunatic who’d survived more terrors in the Wasteland than perhaps anyone else in Kingsport.

“Stay in the bus!” Mercury shouted, stunned by his appearance.

“I choose this!” Rodriguez shouted, waddling over to nearest flaming wreck and tossing the stone figure into it. “Die and burn!”

Then he shot himself in the head, And the ground started shaking.

“That was unexpected,” Mercury muttered, blinking rapidly.

I couldn’t quite believe what I’d seen. “Yeah.”

Mercury tugged on my sleeve. The psychic repetition in my head dissolved as I heard rapid discussion in a variety of languages ranging from the alien tongue I’d heard earlier to English. The last voice spoke words of panic and warning, and very suddenly, a sense of terror from our attackers. Whatever their mysterious plan, they had not counted on dealing with what we were now faced with.

A summoning.

Summonings were just one of the black arts mankind had turned to in the wake of the Rising. Ancient and inscrutable creatures had taught us the secrets of drawing them to this dimension through the power of will alone—I suspected this was akin to ringing a dinner bell as far as they were concerned. Controlling such creatures was possible if one were a very powerful psychic or if you were the one who summoned them.

I was not a powerful psychic and Rodriguez was dead.

“I’m not sure which way to run,” I said, clutching my rifle.

The ground beneath us began to crack as the air charged with static electricity. The largest of the cracks expanded while Mercury and I backed away. Like a rift between worlds, the ground beneath us had become a portal to somewhere else.

Mercury sensibly looked away from the manifestation, but I stupidly gazed forward and saw the harrowing sight of an alien world beyond. Its skies were green and storming with metal raindrops while vast glowing clouds hung beneath the planetary rings. A horrendous sickly-green tendril, as luminescent as the clouds of its world, moved up through the portal and planted itself on the surface of our world.

On its native planet, the creature might have been an average or weak member of its species, but Earth was fantastically blessed for fostering weakness even in its present shattered state. Evolution had created life in places where gravity was hundreds of times worse and the air would sear the flesh of men like dry paper when tossed into a fire. Here, this creature would be all but indestructible.

Yet another god in a world ruled by them.

My apathy toward death dulled my reflexes and left me staring at the creature in admiration while it rose to its full height. The glowing-green creature was several long tentacles stretching from a single body that resembled a half-melted wax candle possessed of a single enormous maw. Hundreds of glowing orbs of blackish light were buried into the side of its rock-like carapace, and above its head there was a nimbus of colorless energy swirling around its central stalk.

Mercury, thankfully, wasn’t as entranced by the monster’s sudden appearance as I was. Grabbing my A19, she aimed the weapon and began firing into the surface of the horrible, yet majestic abomination before us. Black orbs and pockets of its flesh exploded from the orihalcum bullet strikes. The creature thrashed and hissed under the fire, feeling the sting of the mysterious metal.

“Yeah!” Mercury shouted, keeping her finger pressed on the trigger.

Right until the clip ran out.

“Fuck,” Mercury hissed.

I pushed Mercury out of the way before she could do the same and found myself wrapped in the crushing vise of the alien monstrosity’s tentacle. As the creature’s carapace burned, its body heat felt like a hot iron pressed against my skin. It seared away my clothes where it touched, and with the slightest squeeze, it could have bisected my body like burning metal through cheese. The pain was immeasurable, erasing rational thought.

I cried out, the sound an incomprehensible roar. Inexplicably, I found my golden side-knife, a gift from my ex-wife Martha, in my right hand. A weapon of the Deep Ones, it was made of orihalcum and woven with spells far above those any human wizard could inscribe. Animal instinct took over and I jammed the weapon into the monster’s tentacles.

While appearing to be made of gold, which would have made the blade malleable, the weapon sliced through the creature’s carapace and I began carving it away to the flesh underneath. Orihalcum was a gold-like substance that tore other-dimensional creatures apart like fire and tinder. Black acidic ichor bubbled forth from the wound underneath, melting away my sleeve and revealing the chitin-covered black arm beneath.

I laughed insanely, stabbing my black arm deeper into the creature’s tentacle and pulling out a yellow set of tubes. The creature let forth an ear-piercing multi-pitch wail from a dozen holes that opened across its central stalk. The tubes I held burst when I squeezed them, causing more of the black ichor to pour out onto my mutated hand.

The creature dropped me on the ground, thrashing its tentacles in every direction. Hideous burning scars raked across my chest, but I felt no pain. Were I a normal man, I’d have been dead or screaming in agony, but instead the sensation felt like a baroque echo of pain. I threw up a greenish black substance on the ground.

“Ib’in ack thuhl kargrba zach ign Cthulhu!” I heard Mercury mangle and spit out the guttural language of the Deep Ones. I recognized the spell she was casting, one of the many described in the ritual section of the Necronomicon.

“Mercury!” I shouted, calling for her to stop. The forces the spell harvested were enough to tear most human hosts apart. I’d seen hybrids of the Deep One, regular humans, and ghouls ripped to shreds for attempting to invoke Great Cthulhu’s power.

Much to my surprise, the creature behind me stopped thrashing and began to sweat sulfurous ooze from dozens of holes across its body. The crack it had emerged from began to seal behind it and the creature attempted to flee through it, half of its vile body sinking back down into the alien world from which it had emerged.

“Ib’in ack thuhl kargrba zach ign Hastur!” Mercury screamed, raising her hands high in the air. “Ib’in ack thuhl kargrba zach ign Shub-Niggurath! KATHALL!”

The creature slipped into the last of the crack before it sealed over, disappearing from our world forever. I did not know if it feared the power of Cthulhu being channeled through Mercury’s invocations, the equivalent of a rocket launcher held by mice, or whether it had been forced back into its realm by her will alone.

Either way, she’d saved us.

Rushing to her side, I reached for her with my inhuman clawed hand. Mercury shuddered away from it and I hid it behind my back. Lifting my human hand instead, I said, “You banished it.”

“I did.” Mercury coughed, clearly shaken. “Yay me. Now we just have to deal with a horde of rampaging cultists.”

I looked over my shoulder and saw that all of the fires had gone out and we were surrounded by the dozens of gray-robed cultists who had left their circle to approach us. They’d done so silently. I hadn’t picked up on them—which was impossible.

“Oh, ha ha,” Mercury said. “Very funny, gods I don’t believe in.”

The brown-skinned cultist from earlier stood at the front. He was close enough now that I could get a better look at his features. The man was tall, as tall as me, with a handsome face and short, dark hair. A pair of wire-frame spectacles sat on the bridge of his nose and there was intelligence behind his eyes.

There was also a sense of contempt, as if I was not worth his attention. Then again, from his perspective I was a mutant who’d just gotten into a fistfight with a creature from another world. Not exactly someone you wanted to invite to a dinner party. The figure had a crystal rod aimed at my chest.

The man spoke in a calm, soothing tone. “I am Professor Harvey Armitage. Mister Booth, Ms. Halsey, we need your help.”

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