Forced Ascent by John Conroe

Forced Ascent

Demon Accords number 7.

After pulling his goddaughter, Toni, from a secret base in New Hampshire and dropping one little space rock on the miscreants who kidnapped her, Chris finds himself in a tough spot with the White House.  Add to that a veritable plague of demons and the impending arrival of the most dangerous holiday of the year, Halloween. Chris and Tanya and their team will have to dance lightly to stay out in front of all their enemies if they’re to have a chance in hell of preventing all Hell from breaking loose.

Praise for Forced Ascent

As with all the his other books John Conroe is amazing. Every book just gets better and brings new twist. I don’t normally read a book more than once but I have read all his multiple times just to stay fresh for the next release. I read a little bit of everything SYFY, fantasy, historical, and even some non-fiction, but this is my favorite series to read by far. I’m no critic so my opinion is nothing important but if your looking for a action packed, spiritual, romantic, and humorous book that makes you truly think of the possibilities out there then you will enjoy this book and or course the whole series.

Read a Sample

Chapter 1

The hotel had seen better days—Hell, better decades. It was one of those generic franchises, forgettable in every way. This one had started its life as a sterling example of modern hospitality and gradually tarnished, day-by-day, till it had reached its current state of benign neglect.

It was located smack dab in the middle of a really nasty section of Albany. That’s Albany, New York, not the warmer, more Georgian location.

The lobby was worn and shabby, even though it was basically clean. The décor was stuck in the seventies and despite the signs proclaiming it to be smoke free, it still stunk of years of free-burning cigarettes.

A sign on a pedestal welcomed Pee Wee cheerleading teams to a regional competition, giving me the answer to the burning question of why so many screaming pre-pubescent girls were running helter skelter through the halls and lobby.

When I turned to the desk to ask directions, I found both registration clerks and their customers watching me with slightly widened eyes.

My first thought was that I had jelly on my face from the half dozen donuts I’d decimated in the car before coming in. After a moment I realized that wasn’t it.

Keep Reading

That’s been one of the hardest changes to digest—the attention I get. For most of my life, I’ve flown under the radar, drawing little to no attention from my fellow man and woman. But ever since I came to sudden, abrupt awareness in a Carolina forest, staring at a mansion and two giant wolves, that comforting anonymity has been gone, along with two or so years of memories. Now I attract glances and stares simply by entering a room or walking on a street.

But let’s be real. That’s the very least of the changes I’ve woken to. My physical abilities, my supernatural abilities, the psychotic combat persona that takes over during violent conflict and fights like a nuclear Bruce Lee, and my involvement smack dab in the center of supernatural politics all overshadow this attention thing. Not to mention that fact that I have a girlfriend. If you can call the future queen of the vampire world, who is the only vampire born to the species, just a girlfriend. Oh, and she’s a self-fallen angel—like me. Yeah, another little bombshell to fall on my head.

I was an angel till I volunteered to give it up and fall to Earth and become a human. Hence my odd ability to banish demonkind. My God-given talent. At least, that’s one mystery cleared up, although I’ve got to be the least angelic angel going and I can’t for the life of me remember any angelic memories. But the hardest change, the one that bothers me the most, is the fear. So many of the beings I find myself surrounded with fear me. Vampires, werewolves, humans who know what I can do, all of them smell of fear to one degree or another. There are really only a handful of friends who aren’t afraid of me.

But anyway, all four of these women at the check-in desk were just staring at me, their own business apparently forgotten.

“Ah, hi. Can anyone tell me which room was reserved for Congressman McFeeney? I’m supposed to meet him there.”

Of the two behind the counter, one was older, maybe middle-aged. She looked tired, of Slavic descent, and the least impressed. Her coworker was a fresh-faced, early twenty-something, with beautiful mocha-colored skin and brown eyes that were currently ready to pop out of her skull.

The two customers were both mom types, my conclusion based on the small child each had clinging to their purses and pant legs. One had heavily constructed blonde hair that weighed maybe as much as the toddler at her feet. The other was a tall black woman wearing an expensive gray pantsuit and flashy red shoes and clutched a designer purse that could double as a carry-on bag.

The Slavic lady pointed down one hallway to the left. “Heese in the Lock Georgia room.”

The accent confirmed my guess as to her ethnic background but left me wondering what she’d actually just said.

My confusion must have been apparent because her pretty co-worker gulped once and translated. “The congressman and the others are in the Lake George room, just down that hall and to the right.”

“Thank you,” I said, heading toward the hall and simultaneously dodging three laughing girls.

Some older buildings look better the further you go inside them, possibly because the main entrances get the most wear and tear. This wasn’t one of them. If anything, it looked worse. Stains on the industrial red and black patterned carpet, dim florescent lights, and little black streaks around the edges of the doors, about ten inches off the floor. Those had me puzzled until a uniformed maid came down the hall negligently pushing a cart that had black rubber bumpers on its edges about ten inches up.

I found the Lake George room right off the bat. The black-suited guard with the white curly cord leading up to his ear was a dead giveaway. So was my attorney, who was leaning against a wall, waiting for me. He straightened up, tugging his two-thousand-dollar Italian suit into perfect alignment with his athletic build. Six-two and a solid two-twenty at a guess, Darion Cornell looked about thirty and could have just as easily been an NFL wide receiver as an extremely well-dressed and very expensive attorney. This was only my second time meeting him, the first being last evening when Lydia and Tanya had set this whole thing up.

“You ready?” he asked me, looking me up and down, nodding slightly. I too was wearing a nice suit, although not quite as expensive as his. Tanya, once she had acquiesced to the meeting, had decided I needed to look utterly respectable but not ostentatious. “Who’s in there?” I asked, ignoring the Secret Service guy by the door who definitely was not ignoring me and was having a conversation with his shirt sleeve.

“Congressman McFeeney, Senator Gleeson, General Creek, Director Stewart, and a representative of the President,” he said. “And three more of him,” he added, swinging his head toward the bodyguard at the door.

“So who’s the leader of this little lynch mob?” I asked.

“Well, Stewart is likely on your side; the rest, not so much. The congressman and the senator each chair their respective Appropriations Committees, which control the budgets of just about all the alphabet soup intelligence agencies. They also both sit on the Intelligence Oversight Committee. That’s why they insisted on being here. McFeeney is a young Republican powerhouse, an up and comer, maybe even a presidential candidate someday. Gleeson is an old-school Democrat, likes to crow the civil rights stuff and work the minority votes. Underneath it, he’s an elitist bastard. Watch them both. But the most dangerous person in there is Alexis Bishop. Deputy Chief of Staff for the White House. The President’s Fixer.”

“Fixer?”

“She fixes problems. Makes troublesome people and embarrassing issues go away.”

“Which am I? Troublesome or embarrassing?” I asked.

“You’re a nightmare of Biblical proportions,” he said, looking down at his hands as he tugged each shirtsleeve into position. I froze up at his words, then realized it was just an offhand comment. Maybe.

He looked back up and then stepped back a smidge. “Hey, you are. Just being real with ya and all. The parts of the government that know about you—and those are growing by the day—have all classified you as the most dangerous man on the planet. And they don’t control you. That’s what this is about. They know that somehow, you bombarded a hardened facility with an asteroid and blasted it to dust. They don’t know how and have no idea how to rein you in under their control. So when we go in, let me do the talking. If they ask you a direct question and I don’t jump in right away, then feel free to answer, but don’t answer more than you have to. Tell the truth, as much as you’re willing. Don’t lie—these people can smell lies instantly. If I ask you a question, answer it fully, as I’m likely trying to make a point. Got it?”

I nodded, thinking that Tanya would do much better in my place. Not that she didn’t want to be here—hell, it had been a knockdown, drag-out fight, the worst I could remember having with her. She insisted on being by my side, and I insisted that having us both in the same room was too great a temptation for the government not to try something ultra-stupid. She finally settled for picking this out-of-the-way dump, telling them at the last minute, and staying very close by.

The guard opened the door, looking slightly offended when five yelling mini-cheerleaders ran by, and we filed into the meeting room. It was part of a larger room but had one of those folding dividers that cut the main room down in size. It was just as shabby as the rest of the place. A pair of long folding tables had been set up with tablecloths. One long side was open and empty, just two chairs, each place set with a pad of paper and a pen.

Across the table sat a thirty-something brunette in a red power suit; a middle-aged, ginger haired man in a nice black suit; and a silver-haired gent in a gray pinstripe with suspenders. At the left-hand end of the table, Nathan Stewart, Director of Oracle, sat looking relaxed and comfortable, white mustache twitching, while across the table at the right end sat a salt-and-pepper-haired bundle of tension with a hard face wearing a banker’s gray suit like a uniform. Another Secret Service-type guy stood behind the three politicians, and one stood behind the salt-and-pepper guy who had to be General Creek. Tanya and Lydia had filled me in on him. Apparently I had worked with him but he didn’t like me much—at all. The third and final guard was standing against the wall to the door’s left, leaving him behind Darion and me.

We moved to the table and took our seats. Director Stewart stood and shook my hand and introduced himself to Darion. The others remained seated and just studied us. Well, studied me.

I folded my hands in front of me and looked up, matching each of their gazes for a moment. The woman, Alexis, didn’t look away, and something about the set of her head and shoulders along with the up twitch at the corner of her mouth told me that she was enjoying this. Her gaze seemed mildly fascinated. Both politicians held my stare for a moment before their eyes slid away, both of them choosing to look at Darion. General Creek watched me like I was a rabid dog.

“Nice place you picked, Darion,” the senator remarked with a look around the room.

Darion smiled widely and opened his arms to include the whole room. “It’s perfect. Out of the way and easy to keep clean of any unwanted additions to our little gathering. But now that we’re all here, perhaps you could tell us what you wanted to discuss?”

“Well, your client holds the distinction of being the first person to aerially bomb the United States,” Gleeson replied.

“Ah, sorry, Senator but that distinction belongs the Japanese in 1942. A sub launched a two-person float plane that dropped two incendiary bombs on the Oregon forest. It isn’t widely known. Also, there isn’t any evidence that my client bombed anything,” Darion replied.

The senator frowned and looked ready to continue, but Alexis Bishop spoke before he could, and she spoke directly to me.

“Mr. Gordon, it’s an honor to meet you.”

“Really? An honor? I’m fairly certain not everyone here would call it that,” I answered.

“Well, I’ve heard a great deal about you. From Director Stewart, General Creek… the President. You left quite an impression on him.”

I felt myself frowning. I didn’t remember meeting the President, but Tanya and Lydia had filled me in on my most of my adventures, including my Skype call with the Prez.

“I have to say you’re not what I expected,” she continued.

“You thought I’d be taller?”

She shook her head. “Meaner looking.”

“Oh. ‘Cause I kick dogs and smack babies?”

She smiled and almost chuckled, but she caught it and instead, her smile became something a little hard, a little fierce.

“Oh, you are dangerous. You mask it with charm.”

“You have a different definition of charm than most people I know. They usually classify me as a wiseass.”

General Creek snorted and I inclined my head in his direction while continuing to meet Alexis’s gaze. She smiled again, then let it slide off her face, becoming serious.

“Here’s the thing. You, Chris, somehow attacked a military structure on continental United States soil and completely destroyed it. That’s never been done before. It immediately classifies you as a terrorist,” she said.

“Military structure?” Darion asked. “Is the United States government claiming the old missile silo as government property? Because our title search shows it being sold to a private civilian, then to a real estate holding company. Are you saying that the AIR group is truly a division of the federal government?”

“AIR? Agents in Rebus? That old fairy tale,” Senator Gleeson scoffed.

“Really? So the reams of information, computer files, prototype armored combat suits, gauss rifles, and advanced robotic drones were all made up? The ones that DARPA scooped up and stole away with?”

Alexis held up one hand, taking back control of the conversation. “All of that is classified and outside the purview of this conversation.”

Darion snorted this time. “Alexis, you disappoint me. I anticipated the whole terrorist label thing, but ‘classified’? Come on. The only reason any of you know enough about it to classify it is because my client has pretty much single-handedly rolled up a cancerous, corrupt organization that had completely penetrated the entire federal government. You should be giving him a medal… another medal, really. Let’s see: Chris Gordon has liberated a terrorist-held school in New York City, eliminated a supernatural gang of shape shifters that General Creek and his men were unable to handle, completely stopped all production of the Hance drug, and sealed off dozens of dimensional ruptures in the fabric of our universe that may, in fact, actually lead straight to Hell. Then when a rogue, out-of-control element kidnaps his goddaughter, he cleans them out, too. You should be backing truckloads of medals up to his door.”

“So you admit that your client assaulted the silo with an airborne kinetic energy weapon?” Alexis pounced.

This time, Darion held up his hand. “You’ve yet to answer any of my questions. Are you, in fact, claiming the missile base and AIR as federal government entities? Because that’s the only way your terrorist claim works.”

McFeeney sat forward and jumped in. “Let’s say we are, for argument’s sake. Let me quote you the FBI’s definition of terrorism:

“Domestic terrorism” means activities with the following three characteristics:

One, involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;

Two, appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and

Three, occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.”

He finished and held both arms open, palms up, with a there you have it look.

“Yeah, great definition. But it pretty much classifies everything that you folks do as terrorism. Intimidate or coercion? Sounds like standard politics to me. Congratulations, you all are terrorists, too,” Darion said.

“Your sarcasm has no place here, young man,” Gleeson said, leaning forward.

“Look, the point is that we all know you can classify anyone at any time as a terrorist by that definition. The real question is what’s your angle? What do you want?” Darion asked.

“What we have is a national threat to security wielding unknown abilities or technology, operating at random inside the borders of the United States with no checks or balances. Mr. Gordon here has served his country well over the last few years, but there is nothing preventing him from going off the deep end and assaulting that very same country. How do you think the people sworn to protect this nation from any and all threats feel about a rogue operator who can do the things he can do? It’s frankly worse than allowing test tubes of Ebola to be carted about at random by any federal employee that wants one,” Alexis said.

“Again… what is it you want?”

“We want controls in place to ensure Mr. Gordon’s compliance,” she said.

“And those are?” Darion asked while my stomach got tight and twisted.

“We want young Miss Velasquez in Federal custody. We want a… monitor implanted in Mr. Gordon’s body to track and isolate him. We want him shadowed by government agents at all times.” She sat back, watching us for reaction. I had plenty but I somehow managed to control my initial reaction—or more importantly, Grim’s response. The images in my mind were bloody. Very, very bloody.

“No, no, and no,” Darion responded. “Why would Mr. Gordon acquiesce to these ridiculous demands?”

“Because failure to comply will constitute a declaration of intent to commit further acts of terrorism and war against the United States,” McFeeney interjected. He paused for dramatic effect, which was ruined when footsteps thundered down the hallway outside accompanied by howls of pre-teen laughter.

“And once you’ve decided you’re at war with my client, how do you see that playing out?” Darion asked, smiling at the sounds of the kids.

“The only way it can, Darion. With the death of Mr. Gordon and all he holds dear. Nobody can hold out against the full weight and power of the United States Government,” Gleeson said, his eyes on mine.

“Really? I’ll tell you what I think,” Darion began, but the door to the room suddenly opened and the guard posted outside stepped in. Everyone but me jumped a little at the sudden interruption. The Secret Service guy took one step forward and one to the side, holding the door open for the service cart that came bumping through behind him. It was pushed by an older hotel staff person and was loaded with pitchers of water and glasses.

“Sorry to interrupt, but the water you requested is here, Senator,” the guard said, not acting apologetic at all.

Chapter 2

Everyone looked at the old lady while she clumsily moved the pitchers and glasses to the table—except me. I kept my eyes off her, even as I could feel her moving around the room, her presence bright in my mind. She shuffled and kept her head down, finally completing her task and then awkwardly dragging the cart out of the room.

The senator poured himself a glass of water then settled back into his chair, finally looking at Darion expectantly.

“Go on, Darion, tell us what you think,” he said.

“I think, Senator, that we’ve been down this path once before and it broke down to something like mutually assured destruction.”

“But that confrontation included an extremely supernatural powerful entity and the full resources of the worldwide Coven. The entity has completely disappeared and the vampire has been severed from the larger organization. You’re on your own,” Alexis said, looking me dead in the eye.

Darion turned my way. “Chris, that true?”

“That statement isn’t exactly true. I can call any of the Elders of the Coven from my cell and they’ll take my call,” I said, although I wasn’t actually certain of that. “In vampire politics, the term sever usually applies to limbs and necks, not relationships. Let’s just say we’ve been granted breathing room for our smaller part of the overall Coven. But let’s assume that any of you have a clue how the Darkkin mind works and let’s say it’s just me, Tanya, and some others. I think, in all honesty, if you force us into a corner, it’ll be a nightmare none of you will survive. Just my opinion. What do you think, General?”

Creek’s mouth was compressed in a thin, angry line, but he didn’t answer right away. He just stared at me, the wheels of thought almost visibly turning in his head.

“I think I’m having déjà vu. As I’ve advised the President, I do not favor the military option. It’s not viable,” he finally said.

“That’s not your call, General. Your only job here is to tell us what it would take to finish off Gordon here,” Gleeson said, voice sharp.

“In that case, Senator, in my estimation, as a professional soldier who has closely observed Gordon in action and studied each of AIR’s failed attempts to capture him, we would be fighting a guerilla war on US soil against an opponent who has enormous advantages in urban warfare. I’ve seen Gordon decimate the werewolf equivalent of a company of infantry by himself—in a ridiculously short period of time. From what I understand, his girlfriend’s abilities are comparable and he has an unclassified were of unknown capability.

From the data collected by Oracle, the three of them assaulted a hardened military facility and cleaned out its entire complement of heavily armed, highly experienced enhanced soldiers in less than fifteen minutes. Add to that an organization of an unknown number of vampires who have infiltrated our society, alliances with several Packs of weres, and God knows what else. And that was before he somehow dropped a multi-ton nickel-iron asteroid with pinpoint accuracy, yielding the equivalent energy of a tactical nuke. In short, it would be, as he indicated, a nightmare.”

Gleeson was almost purple and the closest Secret Service-type guy looked worried, like he might have to dial 911 and perform CPR. McFeeney jumped in before the senator could unlock his clenched jaw.

“How would you go about it, General?”

Creek didn’t speak for a second, looking pretty angry himself. “You really want me to detail our potential responses to the opponent we would be using them against? Have you any concept of operational security Congressman?”

“Of course General. Just the broad strokes. Outline the kind of resources Mr. Gordon would be facing.”

General Creek’s jaw clenched and unclenched a few times as his eyes moved between McFeeney and myself.

“We’ve been running scenarios from the moment we first became aware of the threat Gordon represents. We’ve constantly updated the models with new data with every incident to come to our attention. We’ve identified numerous geographic and urban design chokepoints in every major city in the United States to use as killzones. Then we use a Monte Carlo approach, like the Wall Street guys use, to run our scenarios one thousand times each and collate the outcomes. Here’s what we think:

“Aircraft and remotely piloted drones are pretty much a no go—Gordon can crash them at will and there’s evidence he can direct the crash to some degree, turning our airpower against us. However, the presence of a small amount of depleted uranium may mitigate his abilities to some degree. Each drone, aircraft, and ground element would carry a small object of DU. We would still have to commit overwhelming numbers to compensate for his abilities. If he and his vampire were in York City, I would use the 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum—they’re light infantry. The 174th Attack wing at Hancock in Syracuse for their Reaper drones and the Pennsylvania Air National Guard’s A-10 Squadron from Fort Indianhead Gap.”

“All of them?” McFeeney asked.

“Yes. We’ve designated other combined force packages for every geographic location.”

“And what success rate did your models return?” McFeeney asked.

“About thirty-three percent, with a troop casualty rate of eighty-seven percent. Of course, that was before the asteroid. Now we’re updating the models to assume we have no satellites, and that any armor or concentrations of soldiers are under threat of directed kinetic energy assault from above.”

“What about civilian collateral damage?” McFeeney asked.

“Those numbers were pretty bleak. Although, endangered civilians actually benefit the scenario – tend to draw him out. He has that whole hero complex thing going on.”

Bishop looked a little uneasy and McFeeney was downright upset.

“Well for God’s sake, just flush him into the countryside. Things will be wide open and you wouldn’t have so many civilians around,” Gleeson said after glancing at his fellow political allies.

“That approach yielded the lowest civilian death rate, but the success rate dropped to about twelve percent and we would lose almost all of our soldiers. Again, that was prior to the new data.”

Gleeson had gone pale while McFeeney looked shocked but thoughtful. The congressman turned to Nathan Stewart.

“Director, what could your group add?” he asked, flicking a glance my way and then back to Stewart.

The Colonel Sanders mustache twitched a few times as Stewart considered his words. “We’ve done quite a bit of work with Chris and Tanya and the rest of their crew lately. You know we’ve been trying to contain this little problem with dimensional portals—the ones that lead straight to Hell? Not that open Hell gates are a threat to national security or anything. Chris and company have been by far our most effective resource against them. They are a diverse group, closely knit and well-coordinated. I’m not a military man, although I’ve known many over the years and worked closely with more than my share. I think the general’s assessment is pretty good but his numbers might be a bit optimistic. Now, among my own group, we certainly have some talented people, but I’ll be the first to admit that they aren’t in the same class.”

“You’re not being helpful here, Nathan,” Gleeson said.

“Look, I’ve been doing this for over fifty years, this supernatural stuff. I’ve studied everything I could find, traveled the world collecting artifacts, people, and information. I can tell you unequivocally that my friend Chris and his group are pretty much unprecedented. Now, the general here is trained to see threats around every corner. I’m conditioned to see opportunities and allies. So far, Chris has done nothing but help this country. Destroying his natural-born allegiance to the United States would not only be a disaster, it would rob of us of his abilities. You are all concentrating on the fact that he pulled down an asteroid –” Stewart said, but was suddenly interrupted by Darion.

“Allegedly.”

“Darion, I was there. He yanked it down. But my point is if he can pull them down, he can push them away. Or if you want, let’s talk missile defense. What about it, Chris? Could you stop an ICBM? Could you deflect an earth-killer asteroid?”

I glanced at Darion, who looked thoughtful for a moment before nodding assent. I silently consulted my dark half, Grim, and then considered the amount of help I’d had from my brothers of the Host.

“I’m not sure. I had… help, of sorts, with that little ten tonner. A really big one? I suppose if I had plenty of lead time to influence it, then maybe. Last minute, doubtful. Missiles? Again, I’d need some warning, but I think so.”

“See, that’s the thing we should be working on, the useful, productive stuff. Not threatening him. So far, it’s been my observation that threats against him or his people are spectacularly counterproductive.”

Alexis turned to the two professional politicians. “You two through?” Both reluctantly nodded.

“To answer your question, Darion, we are not claiming the base or AIR as government entities. Rogue operation operating outside government control. Which is what we’re talking about here. Mr. Gordon and his group represent an uncontrolled, serious threat.”

“Whoa Alexis, let’s talk about that point. The government, or at least part of it, has been aware of the supernatural community for some time. You’ve created organizations to monitor them and yet you’ve made no attempt to imprison or control them. Yet Chris here represents, all by himself, more of a risk than all of them? Not buying it, Alexis,” Darion said. “I believe that you’re actually thinking more like Director Stewart. That he’s an asset… a weapon, to be deployed against whoever you decide to. That’s what this is really about. So you propose holding his goddaughter, a natural-born US citizen, hostage? Why not just tear up the Constitution and declare a new monarchy? Oh wait, whoever had a Chris Gordon in their arsenal could just about do that, now couldn’t they?”

A flicker of a frown flashed over Alexis’s features before she smoothed it away. She opened her mouth to speak, but it was my turn to interrupt.

“You can’t take Toni hostage. I’ve prevented it.”

Now a full-fledged frown appeared on her face and on the faces of the two politicians. Creek just continued to glare, and Stewart looked curious.

“Prevented how, Chris?” Darion asked, although he already knew the answer.

“Toni is now protected. Anyone attempting to attack or kidnap her will die almost instantly. Attacking her parents will have a similar result.”

“Explain. We know where the girl is and we know about the security around her. Believe me when I tell you we can take her at any time that we choose,” Creek said.

“No General, you can’t. If you check with your watchers, you’ll find her private security shadow has been drastically reduced. The ones left are all humans we hired, and their job is mainly to warn off anyone stupid enough to attack. If the assault looks determined, their orders are to get out of the way and seek cover. They are forbidden to be armed. Pulling a firearm near Toni is a really, really bad idea. Full disclosure: Anyone attempting to take custody, hold hostage, or harm her in any way will die. I failed to protect her before when AIR took her. I won’t ever fail at that again. Consider this your warning.”

Nobody spoke for several moments. Gleeson started to speak, but Alexis raised one hand toward him without taking her eyes off of me.

“You’re threatening us?”

“Semantics. I have given you warning. The security personnel around her are for the public’s protection, not hers. Hers is pretty much absolute and before you ask, the answer is no, I’m not going to tell you what her protection is. My advice is to sit back and watch. Someone’s bound to do something stupid and you can observe the results.”

“Well that was ominous,” Alexis said. “I’d normally say it was dramatic theater, but I’m told that you usually understate things. But I’ve never been part of the physical threat side of things. I come at things a little differently. So in the near future, here’s what you can expect. We’ll freeze your assets and those of every vampire or were you have around you. The media will receive anonymous tips about you—with sordid details about you and the monsters you consort with. We’ve kept it secret till now—now we let the whole cat out of the bag. Overnight, you’ll be famous, well infamous really because the details won’t be pretty. The entire country, hell the world, will revile you. Fear you. Toni’s family will be revealed, as will your grandfather. Any publicity-shy supernatural around you will be in sudden danger of being revealed. Multiple lawsuits against the Demidova Empire will appear, as well against your grandfather and yourself. EPA claims for the radioactive depleted uranium dust falling out from the asteroid strike. The Velasquez family will be unemployed, their professional lives ruined. Your goddaughter will grow up in the shadow of your disgrace. How will she view you then, I wonder. The Coven and Packs will cut you free, leaving you without resources and hated by the public. Some idiot will attack you and likely get destroyed or at least seriously hurt. It’ll be on Youtube three minutes after that, showing the world what a monster you really are.”

She finished and took a sip of water, coolly watching me for a reaction.

I’m not sure how I looked because inside, I was struggling with Grim while working through the implications of her little speech. We had discussed all the military and law enforcement angles, but not this. I ransacked my brain for a solution, for a hole in her attack, but nothing appeared.

Behind me, the door opened and I felt the maid come back in without turning to look. Alexis raised her head and spoke. “We don’t want to be disturbed at the moment.”

“Ah, then you shouldn’t threaten my Chosen, my goddaughter, or my family,” the maid said in an arctic voice. Wind whipped across my face as she circled the room too fast for the humans to follow, the three remaining guards slumping to the ground as she passed them. They looked dead, but their continued heartbeats told me she had just knocked them out. Next was the rustle when she pulled off her gray wig and then the sound of the Velcro ripping told me the uniform was being dispensed with. The faces around the table reflected shock and surprise and fear.

“Hi, I’m Tatiana Demidova and since you’ve just threatened to destroy my family, I felt I ought to join the discussion.” She moved up behind me and put both hands on my shoulders. Normally I would offer her my chair, but I could tell through our link that standing was a strategically dominant position and I was pretty sure she was ready to dominate the bejebbers out of them.

“So I listened in on your plot. It’s nasty and psychologically devastating. I’m impressed. You would make a good vampire, Ms. Bishop. But I’ll come back to that point in a moment. Did you know, General Creek, that we have copies of every bit of footage your people have ever recorded of my Christian in action?” She wasn’t lying. I had watched all of that footage in an attempt to get some of my memories back. She continued, “I have some really gifted hackers on staff, like Chet, who you already know, and a new young friend who can do things with computers that seem like magic.” Nathan Stewart stiffened a bit at that one, no doubt guessing who she was talking about. “We could show the whole Loki Spawn campaign as seen through the eyes of the military as they sat helpless while my Chosen protected the country. Talk about Youtube, whew, that stuff would go super viral. And Nathan, I’m afraid we have footage of all the portal-closing demon fighting stuff as well, not to mention some choice shots from that school in Brooklyn where my Chris killed the terrorists. Media? We can either give them the footage or flat out force it through the system. Hey, what would your Command and Control systems be like if we knock out all your satellites and leave our own? Food for thought, huh General? Miss Bishop, you make him infamous and I’ll make him famous. How fast would NBC, CBS, or ABC, not to mention Fox, jump at a chance to interview a Demidova?” She bent down and placed her face alongside mine, still looking at Alexis. “Wouldn’t we make a cute celebrity couple? And let’s talk about assets—good luck finding any. My people have been hiding their money for thousands of years; I’ve got tricks you’ve never heard of. Then, at the height of the whole thing, we’ll pull a Snowden. We’ll leave the country and seek asylum from Russia or China, both of which will fight tooth and claw to have us. As a matter of fact, the ambassadors of both countries are currently seeking a meeting like this but without any threats. The public will hate your President and Congress for forcing such a national loss. And please don’t quote me any crap about preventing us from leaving. We can penetrate the borders of this country or any other at will. And finally, Ms. Bishop, when your boss’s ratings are at their lowest and his respect and admiration for you have turned to hate, maybe at that point we’ll see just how good a vampire you’d really make.”

I could hear all their heartbeats and outside of a Zumba class, I don’t recall ever hearing any beat quite as fast.

The tension was almost touchable, stretched taut like a bowstring. After what seemed to be minutes, but was really just a few really painful seconds, Nathan Stewart looked across the table at General Creek and said, “As I said—she would be here.”

Creek looked pained as he looked from Stewart to Tanya at my side, but after a moment he reached into his hip pocket—slowly, with his other palm up toward my vampire—and pulled out his wallet. He slipped out a crisp twenty and handed it to Senator Gleeson, with a brusque wave to indicate that Gleeson should pass it down. The bill traveled down the table to McFeeney and next to Alexis Bishop, who blinked rapidly several times before putting a semblance of her former poker face in place. She handed the twenty spot to Nathan Stewart, who added it to a fat roll of bills from his pocket. Even as it left her hand, Alexis was turning her attention to me, the wheels almost visibly moving behind her mask.

“Do you agree with her?” she asked me.

I paused for a moment, thinking about the whole situation, studying my hands that were flat on the table. As I started to answer her question, I picked up one of the plain water glasses in front of me.

“Ms. Bishop, what none of you seem to grasp is that this whole thing we’re doing right here doesn’t matter,” I said, waving a hand at them and the unconscious bodyguards and the whole room. “I’ve been fighting demons since I was prepubescent. That’s demons as in the denizens of Hell. All this political crap is meaningless unless it results in giving them a free hand. Then it will mean the end of everything and everyone.” She started to speak, but I held up my right hand. “I’m not done. What you all need to understand is that there is a treaty of sorts between Heaven and Hell—an Accord. Demons have always been allowed on this plane as long as their visitation was non-corporeal. Just their spirit or elemental essence or what have you. If invited into a person, they could take over the body. Likewise, they could inhabit a location or place. Humans could fight back with religion and faith or they could fall and fail. It’s always been our choice. Free will. On the other side of the Accord, God would select a representative warrior—a policeman of sorts.” I ran one finger around the circumference of the glass, down near the thick bottom. The half-inch-thick base fell off the glass. “That warrior would have the ability to exorcise any demon on this plane. In case you folks have missed it, the current holder of that title is I. It’s a tough job—the average lifespan of my predecessors was pretty short, I’ve been told. Maybe fifteen or twenty years from the time they first manifested their abilities, tops. It’s been a losing battle. Till me.” Using the same finger, I cut the base into a sort of rectangular shape. “But now we have this whole manmade wear and tear on the barriers of space and time thing. The Large Hadron Collider. Our never-ending search for information and power has finally impacted the fence that keeps the demons of Hell at bay. Now they can come through in physical form—complete in their unholy glory.”

The little block of glass was now roughly humanoid shaped. I set it down and picked up the open-ended cylinder that had been a glass. “And guess what? Halloween is approaching. A friend recently pointed out that the barriers naturally thin at that time of year. How do you think that’s gonna go?” I traced an arched triangle into the glass—sort of a dolphin fin shape. It fell out of the cylinder. “My business is about to see its busy season—possibly the first and last at the same time.” Turning the glass, I cut the same shape out of the other side. Holding the first one up to the little glass man, I focused my aura on a spot on his back, pressing the triangle against it. The glass flowed together.

“So to answer your question, I’m okay with it. I’d prefer to go about my business without civilians knowing any different. I’d prefer you to leave my friends and family alone. If you choose to take this route, be aware it will flow both ways. None of you will survive unscathed. If it gets too crazy, we’ll leave. My charge is really the whole planet, not just the United States. At some point, I need to travel anyway. Tanya is right: China and Russia will absorb us without a second’s thought. Did you know that I have a grandmother of sorts in China? Me either. She’s one of the vampire Elders and she wields enormous influence over there. The politicians in that country understand what they’re dealing with and wisely leave her alone. Similar to Russia, where Tanya’s family is from. So foreign travel might be nice. We’ll let you deal with demons on your own.” The other triangle got the same treatment, the glass melding together.

“I see,” she said. “And what about the last part? The threat of turning me into a vampire? You would let her do that?”

“Let her? Have you met her? I didn’t let her join this meeting—look how well that worked out. But it’s a good warning for you. Vampires and weres don’t play by our rules. They have their own and they follow them strictly to keep the general population unknowing. If the federal government chooses to reveal them, then all bets are off. Be prepared for civil unrest on a scale never seen in this country, ever. And then be prepared for the retaliation. You called them monsters for a reason. Who knows, maybe you’ll end up one and if you do, you’ll work for us.”

“Okay, well on that happy note, I’d say it’s time to wrap this up,” Darion said, looking at his watch. “We’re not accomplishing much more today, so let’s all leave while the floor is still clean of blood, shall we?”

I stood up, turning to leave. Alexis spoke behind me. “Mr. Gordon, this doesn’t end anything. The government simply cannot leave you free and unchecked. There will be actions taken.”

“Ms. Bishop, before you go back to the evil plots blackboard, do me a favor. Borrow some footage from Nathan here—study that other threat we’ve been talking about.” Director Stewart didn’t look up; he was still studying the glass figure I had in my hand. I looked back at Bishop. “Then picture your friends and family right in the middle of one of those portal openings. See how you feel about me then,” I said, setting the little winged glass man down on the table in front of her.

Finishing my turn, I took Tanya’s elbow and we walked out of the room, stepping into a hall of screaming mini-cheerleaders. We turned the corner and moved to the stairwell. Once through the door, we headed down into the basement. I stepped off the stairs and stumbled, a wave of dizziness mixed with doubled vision slamming through me. The God Tear necklace on my chest suddenly burned hot—for just a second, before it all passed. The disorientation left and my vision cleared as the silver-wrapped jewel around my neck cooled to normal temperature.

“What happened?” Tanya asked.

“Somebody just tried to kill Toni,” I said, meeting bright blue eyes.

Copyright John Conroe