Dubai, UAE, Present Day
JOHN COULD HEAR SOMETHING in his head, feel a presence. It made the hair of his arms prickle. They had descended four floors to the 150th of the Burj, where a door opened onto the rear of an auditorium. He stepped inside as Jordan Weston held the door and smiled. The far wall was a bank of windows, and the room was empty except for a small pedestal under lights in the middle.
"What is this?" John was loose now. He had pounded those drinks down too quickly, and he regretted it. He had come here for answers to questions, but now he wondered what price revelation would exact in exchange.
Jordan's eyebrows came together. "You know what it is, John. I suspect a part of your mind has always known."
John stared at the red stone hovering above the pedestal as it moved slowly in a pool of red light. His next words were instinctual--his conscious mind did not exercise control over them. "The Bloodstone," he whispered.
Jordan's confirmation felt like a judge's sentence being read out, and John found in deep, dormant parts of himself a quickening. It was like a broken part of him had been stitched together and jump started, pulling over him a shroud of black smoke.
"It's the key to everything I've spent my life trying to build," Jordan said. "It's the reason you're here. John, haven't you always felt as if there's been something missing?"
John nodded, his wide eyes locked onto the stone.
"Well, this is the missing piece. Don't you long more than anything to put an end to the mystery of who you are, who you were meant to be?"
"But that's not why I'm here." John saw a shadow move past the large windows that overlooked the city of Dubai. Another shadow dropped from the top to the bottom, like an insect. Then more. It's a swarm. Demons.
Jordan put his good hand on his shoulder. "They're here for you, to witness the anointing of the new Seer."
"What is this—who are you, and what does this have to do with me? I'm just here to find out about . . . about . . ." John wanted to both fall asleep and run from this place all at once. Evil, palpable, simple and clear was what this man represented, and in his eyes John beheld naked and undisguised the pit of all darkness.
But it wore a salesman's smile. "You still don't remember?" Jordan edged his way nearer the Bloodstone, his hand reaching out, but he held back. Fear and longing flooded his face, and he closed his eyes as if in prayer.
John made a play at resistance one last time. He knew it would be his last. "I'm not here for that." As he uttered the last word, his life of lies, a house of cards, crashed in on itself and lay flat, burying under its paper slabs every care he ever had. There was a wife, there was a daughter somewhere in the distant dark mists, but they were irrelevant.
"You were drawn here by the Bloodstone, John Derackson. It is yours to have, yours to hold." Jordan licked his lips, and in the gesture John could see—and he began to feed on—the delicious surrender to the clean nothingness of the inevitable.
The door burst open from behind. Curses broke John from his stupefaction partway. He glanced back to see two thin, winged creatures like fungus-covered skeletons flit into the room. These were followed by a young man he felt like he recognized, but he couldn't put a name with the face yet. The creatures spoke simultaneously. "What is the meaning of this, Jiki? You lied to us."
There's that name again—I wonder what it means. John smiled as if drunk, but his mind was clearing up. The simple facts were becoming obvious. He moved toward the Bloodstone.
Jordan's voice wore the sound of a smile. "Calm yourselves. I have upheld the terms of our arrangement. The Seer will be chosen, just as you wanted."
John searched his mind for information about the young man. The depths of his thoughts were dark, hemmed in by evil memories of enemies, stumbling blocks he had never been quite able to cast off. Until now. There was a name at the peak of these hindrances, and it was bathed in hideous blue—Airel. He roared in rage, trying to shrug it off. With clenched fists and teeth, he turned toward the young man and spoke his name. "Michael Alexander."
John bristled once more. It was like he was being mocked. And then he corrected the young man. "Not Cross. Derakhshan."
* * *
ELLIE REFORMED ON TOP of a skyscraper overlooking downtown Dubai and scanned the sky. A dark cloud covered the top half of the Burj Khalifa. She took a second look when the nature of the cloud mass flexed and moved like a school of fish. It was the Brotherhood in full force, swarming the tower, howling and chanting. The Seer is here—or soon will be, if I don't hurry. She took a few breaths. "Guess I know where to go."
She reached out for Kreios but felt nothing. She thought of petitioning El, but her heart was divided. The Brotherhood had gathered here just as she had imagined they would, but their numbers were so much greater than she thought they could be. "What are you getting yourself into this time, Ellie?"
Shadowing herself, she took to the air and headed toward the huge tower that stood over the rest of the city like a spike of silver reaching into the sky. Could she get past the swarm and inside to find Michael? He was sure to be in the middle of it all, whether it cost him his life or not. I can relate to those kinds of desperate measures, she thought. Her life had been nothing if not a desperate chain of stumbles. Whatever Michael and Kreios had planned would surely be no match for what she saw before her now.
The Brotherhood had been busy. They are now truly beyond number. For the first time in a long time, Ellie found herself afraid.
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