Chapter XIII

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Amsterdam, Present Day

JOHN CROSS MANAGED TO bribe his way onto an international flight to Europe. That had been too expensive, leaving him cash poor and not sure how he was going to get to Dubai. He sat in the terminal at Schiphol in Amsterdam, nursing a migraine from the cigarette smoke, and frustrated to be in this position. Dubai was one of the last fully functional urban centers in the world, and the only contact he still trusted lived in Dubai.

He'd had enough time to make a decision. The attack at his house had happened a week ago now, and he wouldn't sit by helplessly to await his daughter's death. His wife was lost to him, grief overtaking her—and some guilt, to be sure–so it was either sit around or find some answers. He was not good at sitting around.

There weren't that many people milling about. Schiphol was traditionally a very busy place, but today—and probably lately, John mused—it was a shell of itself. The only people travelling these days were those with means or connections or both. Weirdly, all of them seemed to be smokers. I'll never really get Europeans. The more things change . . .

Meanwhile, the world had changed, and, it seemed to John, irrevocably. Nearly a billion people—these were the best estimates—had perished in the Great Pacific Quake and the Global Tsunami, which, coincidentally, had happened on the exact same day the dragon dinosaur demon showed up in his daughter's bedroom.

Oh, what fun we had.

John suffered a twitching shiver at the memory of it. The big one had a head, sure. But its face was in its abdomen. That's why all those head shots were so ineffective, but the body shots had taken it out. What chilled him most was that the beast's face was human. Well . . . vaguely. The smaller one had vanished except for a pile of ash in the living room. John wondered if the thing was dead or on the run.

When he had calmed himself enough to examine the reason of the home invasion—because there was always a purpose behind violence of any sort—he didn't have to search Airel's room very long until he'd found it. A little black book, under the mattress—right where he'd hidden his own most valuable treasures as a youth. It was volume III of The Book of the Brotherhood, and when he first read those words, the claws of fear raked across his heart, tracing veins of ice deep and fast.

These assailants had been one military unit—albeit demonic, which he wasn't sure he could believe even now. Had they had come to retrieve this book? Why Airel had possession of it in the first place really puzzled him, though. What had she gotten herself mixed up in? The Alexander boy had something to do with it, surely.

But of course he opened it. Who wouldn't? Huddled in a corner of his daughter's bedroom, pulse pounding like a scared little boy, the corpse of a demon in the hallway, he had read. In five minutes, the necessary connections fired across his synapses and he knew that PILLBOX had set him up on a suicide mission in Glasgow to retrieve the most powerful talisman under the sun—the Bloodstone.

John didn't fully understand it all, and upon reading the book, he'd found opening up before him yet another set of problems he had to address. They had tried to kill him twice now. Airel was involved too, evidently. They should have kept her out of it—or at least kept him out of it. Either way, he could taste blood. Self-defense was altogether a different flavor than fatherly rage, though.

After having had a week to mull things over and do a little of his own research, John decided that Dubai was the place to start. He would meet his contact—he did not inform him of the visit; some things were better to do without announcement—and then retrace his steps to find out where the Bloodstone went and who was trying to kill him. Airel was in a coma because of all this. Someone is going to pay.

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