Chapter V

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DRESSED APPROPRIATELY IN A hooded black cloak, Michael Alexander crossed over to Dubai using the Threshold. With friends like Kreios, he thought there would come a time when impossible things ceased to be amazing. Wrong again. Oh, there's a little closet in your church of a bedroom, next to your arsenal of costumes—because everybody has one of those—and it has a door that takes you down the rabbit hole? Sure, I'll buy that. Michael could only think of Airel's snarky comments about Narnia. It brought the smirk back to his face, despite all that had happened.

All that has happened...

He could hear it in his head now, the call of the Bloodstone. His heart felt sick, dark. He remembered when he was last under the influence of the power of the Bloodstone. It was a potent drug. It was overwhelming, beautiful. He had been surprised—he expected to feel different when so intimately connected with the essence of evil. But it wasn't like that—it was raw and alive, no filter, no boundaries, no limits.

But that was then, back when Stanley had been around, back when it was all fun and games. The need he felt inside his body and mind now was not pleasant at all. It was demanding and painful. And whenever he succeeded in shoving aside these dark and forbidding urges, all he could think about was Airel. How artificial and empty she looked, lying there hooked up to tubes and machines. Life was a steady drizzle of tortures.

If I'd never met her, she would be living a normal life right now. She would never have been activated—she would have been happy. There were times when he wondered if he caused more pain than joy.

This is my only chance to make things right. Maybe he would be able to at least put an end to the bloodshed. He could remember the days when he thought killing the halfbreeds was honorable, even right. Stanley had taught him to hate. Guilt was the only logical result for him when he thought of how he had innocently fallen in love with Airel only to find out he'd been on the wrong side his entire life.

He successfully blocked most of the memories of his kills, but sometimes he would wake suddenly at night and see the dead faces of all his halfbreed kills from years past. He felt he could never repay and never atone for what he'd done, but this—this self-sacrifice—was a start. He could do this—he could give himself up in an effort to try to destroy the Bloodstone. I only hope Kreios can do what he told me he could do, and that he shows up on time.

When he stepped out into the stifling heat that suffocated the sands near Dubai, he knew he was close to where he needed to be. He could feel it. The Threshold read it on his heart and mind, and like a bird flying south for the winter, the part of him that was connected to the Brotherhood knew the location by instinct.

Michael climbed to the top of a sand dune, the wind whipping his face. The great city rose from the ocean like the spine of a great monster, the Burj Khalifa its most prominent feature. Look there. It's just another tower of Babel. Oh, how he resented all the lies he had bought over the years.

Somewhere beyond the realm of what he could see, he sensed a horde amassing, gathering to witness the anointing of the new Seer. I won't let you down. This was in his blood—it was what he was born to do.

"Welcome home, Master Alexander." The voice chattered and spit from behind him, each syllable subdivided into innumerable phlegm-riddled blasts. Michael smiled and turned, and thus began the grand deception.

"We've been waiting for you," they said.

"There are only two of you," he said to the anticherubim. "Where is the other one?"

"Engaged. It matters not. Come with us, master. We will take you to the temple of Tengu."

Michael nodded but said nothing further. He blocked out his mind, focusing with all his power and will upon his role.

I am Michael Alexander, the rightful Seer, blood child of the damned and son of Stanley Alexander. He would not fail, even if it cost him his life.

* * *

Boise, Idaho, Present Day

ELLIE STOOD IN THE open doorway in the gathering dusk on the front porch of Airel's house. The door was kicked aside, the lights—those that hadn't been broken—were on, and the place was totally trashed. The looters had come and gone, but as she looked more closely, she could tell there was more going on here than looting. Some of the high-value stuff was left behind, like the television. But the couch was overturned, its cushions denuded of their upholstery, and every drawer in the kitchen was out and spilled in a pile on the floor.

Someone is looking for something.

She unsheathed her sword and made her way through the rest of the house. She could smell Brotherhood stench—demon blood left a pungent odor wherever it was spilled. There was a pile of ash at the top of the stairs right outside Airel's room. Dead Brother. The rest was a stinking hunk of rotting flesh.

She gagged. This one was not a run-of-the-mill demon Brother. It stinks too much. And it hadn't vanished into dust and ash like those did. This one was more hardy than that. It did not need to bond with a person to gain its full strength; this was one of the Original Rebels, a killer, and a hunter.

She went back down the stairs and sat in the broken opening of the front door, breathing air that was not acrid. "What did you boys want here?" she asked, more to hear herself than anything else. She rubbed her chest. The Mark had gone deep, where she couldn't touch it. It was learning. Every hour, it took more of her heart, grasping deeper, binding to her DNA and replicating itself from there at the very foundation of her life. She didn't know how much longer she would last.

She sheathed her sword and tried to think.

What now?

The sun, a cool orange fire, was sinking low in the west. She wondered if she would see it ever again.

What am I? Am I angel, am I Brother, or am I just a girl who's lost her way in life? Am I a victim of circumstance, even after all these years? She was a 2700-year-old grandmother who looked all of maybe nineteen. That was what she was. A walking contradiction. She thought it over and then she took off running up the stairs, to the corpse.

She covered her nose and mouth. The stink was so bad.

I was one of these once, part of the Brotherhood. She knew she had the ability to manipulate kings and princes; she could maybe read the mind of a dead rebel, too. How hard could it be? Opening her mind, she reached into the dead monster's cortex and began looking for answers.

A flood of hijacked memories came at her, fast. They hurt physically. As she fought through the pain, it was difficult to keep abreast of her own identity and not lose herself in the storm. Finally, she pushed off, stumbled back through the hall, tripped in the dust pile of the other one, and fell halfway down the stairs.

She steadied herself and gasped. Now it's coming clearer. She understood why the two assassins were here now. It can't be even remotely true. Or possible. But she had to admit it was the only thing that made any sense.

Part of her wanted to have a moment to weep, but she didn't allow herself the luxury.

She knew where to go now.

She stood up tall, breathed deep, and walked to the front door. She swatted the ash from her jeans before vanishing into the atmosphere.

The anointing of the new Seer was imminent, and she wasn't going to miss the party—every last one of them was going to be there, and there couldn't be many of them left now. It will be like shooting fish in a barrel.

If she lived to see the end of it.

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