“You followed your heart, and look where it brought you. Makes you wonder if there was something wrong with your heart, doesn’t it?”
After six thousand years of captivity, the Grigori are free. With time running out, Ira Binyamin leaps into action, amassing a network of allies to wage all-out war against this new yet ancient threat. But as his mentor Aaron warned him long ago, to wage this war he must bear an awesome responsibility, one that will exact a crushing toll on his body, his conscience, and his very soul.
Dispatched by his new masters on a mission to the northernmost reaches of the world, Sherwood Brighton must come to grips with the consequences of his life-altering decision in Shamballa. To find what he’s searching for, he’ll have to look deep inside himself and confront the harrowing terror shrouded in the recesses of his own mind.
Opposing forces swirl towards their ultimate confrontation as Ira, Brighton, and those they hold most dear return to the place where it all began…
Where the worth of all humanity will be settled once and for all.
Mount Khunjerab, Pakistan
“We’re not alone,” Ira said, drawing out the words. He searched the terrain from one side of his vision to the other, squinting as the midday sun hit his eyes. To his human senses, there was nothing amiss. The sky overhead and the land below. Boulders and patches of heavy brush dotting the slope. The land fell precipitously, plunging toward a steep valley surrounded on three sides of the towering Karakorams, an impenetrable wall save the glacier trail they had just ascended. To his other senses—a sixth sense, a supernatural sense—he knew trouble was brewing.
Dario caught up to him, the lumbering form of Noam Sheply clinging blindly to the Italian man’s shoulder. Sheply was a pitiful sight, a once intimidating man reduced to this shadow of his former self. His wide eyes saw nothing, and yet they flared open, probing the darkness.
Perhaps it’s just as well he’s no longer dependent on his sight, Ira thought, though he kept it to himself. The danger ahead lurked unseen.
His gaze fell on the hole in the ground in the middle of the valley, a manmade opening large enough to serve as an aircraft hangar. Its shape was roughly oval, its earthen edges crowding right to the edge of the cavity.
So not all the dangers were unseen.
Dario’s expression was troubled, but before he could give rise to his fears, a resounding gunshot broke through the stillness, echoing off distant mountainsides and boomeranging back to them. Somewhere off to his left, a flock of birds took flight.
Two more shots followed. Ira’s hands flew to his chest, as though to confirm it was still intact. The shots had been fired into the air, he suspected. A warning.
In short order, Ira made out three people approaching from downslope—two men and a woman with fiery red curls. And there were three more gunmen flanking them to the rear, he realized, hearing the sound of their boots crunching over dry grass and cracked earth.
“We should have seen this coming, Ira,” Dario said.
Ira sighed. “I did. We came anyway.”
He considered disclosing the plan, just like he had considered disclosing it the previous night in the jeep. They had lain together across the reclined seats as crickets chirped around them, creating such a damned racket that sleep never came to him. He had sensed Dario’s frustration; it was a powerful force, straining against the young man’s skin, almost as powerfully as in Brighton. Just as in so many matters, the knowledge of what was to come wouldn’t have done anything but inflict great harm. He had to find Brighton and bring him back. Everything depended on that.
“Welcome to Shamballa,” the red-haired woman called to them, the wind snatching her words and flooding over them in a mighty gust. “We’ve been waiting for you all morning.”
Ira looked over her and quickly assessed what he was dealing with. Her confidence and aggression were unnatural, in opposition to her otherwise gentle features. It wasn’t really her, he realized. It was something else.
Aaron, this is where you’ve led me. We must not be too late. He turned his eyes heavenward and transmitted a silent prayer to his old friend. If all this turns to shit now, I only have myself to blame.
“Where are Sherwood Brighton and Elisabeth Macfarlane?” Ira said, lowering her eyes back to the possessed woman. “I have come to retrieve them.”
Her mouth cracked open and laughter escaped, her eyes crinkling in delight. “And we have come to retrieve you.”
Ira turned just in time to catch sight of the three men behind them. He stiffened as one of those men nestled a rifle into the small of his back.
If only Brighton had been sensible, it wouldn’t have come to this. But of course that expectation had been his flaw all along. He had thought too highly of the young man, who surely had no concept of his own importance.
“Check them for weapons,” the woman said.
One of the men grinned as he discovered a hunting knife inside Dario’s pocket. He slipped it out of its leather sheath and held it up, inspecting it under the light.
The woman joined them in another burst of laughter. “How much damage do you think you could have done with that?”
“Are you going to kill us?” Dario asked without flinching.
Perhaps it’s best not to goad her, Ira wanted to say, but he never got the chance. She nodded at the man standing behind Sheply, and a moment later the blade’s jagged edge was pressed against the blind man’s throat.
“Don’t move,” Dario whispered to Sheply, whose first reaction was to squirm free. “They’ve got the knife.”
Please don’t let this be a mistake. Ira closed his eyes as events swirled around him. He imagined a river, a fast-flowing river, and waded through the shallows, his fingers gliding over the willowy tips of bulrushes and reeds. He had been here so many times before, in times of crisis. It only took a moment to shut the world out and ground himself in the vision. The water pulled at him, gently at first and then stronger as he waded up to his waist, the cold water lapping against the sensitive skin of his lower stomach, seeping through his clothes.
“Behave yourself,” the woman was saying, her voice floating to him through the thick, humid air above the river. “I could let this one bleed. Is that what you want?”
The current tugged at his legs and soon he found himself drifting out toward the center of the river, caught in the flow. The trees along the riverbank passed quicker and quicker, almost in a blur. He fought to keep his head above water. The water was so fast, so deep. More than usual. He struggled to exert control.
“You, old man, are a delicious prize.”
Ira’s eyes snapped open to find the woman staring at him with a cold, hard intensity.
“The Grigori have been hoping to possess you,” the woman said.
“I have not come to assist the Grigori.” Ira’s eyes grounded him in the present moment, on the slope, the flanks of Mount Khunjerab all around him, but the vision was never far; the water still pulled him along.
“What you have come for is unimportant,” the woman said. “You will do what is required, or your friends will die. We have many methods to aid us in eliciting cooperation, including substances to make one pliable to our needs.”
Ira smiled as his feet dragged along the muddy river bottom, then dug in. “I have a stronger mind than most.”
“You may be right, but it may not come to that. Another plan is in motion at this very moment. Sherwood Brighton is on the cusp of making the most important decision of his life, and we have taken steps to ensure his pliancy.”
“Sherwood, too, has a stronger mind than you think,” Ira said, but he wasn’t sure he entirely believed it. Was it true? Did they have him? Had events progressed so far?
Damn it, Sherwood. All you had to do was trust me. We could have avoided this.
“How very self-assured for a man facing his doom.” The woman lifted a single finger and Sheply cried out, a rivulet of blood trailing down from the wound and pooling at the base of his neck.
Sheply whimpered and then cried in anguish. “Just kill me,” he pleaded in a whisper. “Get it over with.”
“What are we waiting for?” Dario clearly had no patience for this, and perhaps not much empathy for Sheply. “Either let us go or finish it.”
“You face two possible paths,” the woman said, turning to face him. “In one, you are a prisoner, and in the other, you are dead. Are you so impatient for the end to come?”
The end, Ira thought. How near to it we’ve come. And if Brighton has truly passed out of our hands, then we’ve arrived at it, full stop.
“No,” Ira said, his feet digging into the mud anew. He felt the course of the river, felt its various potentialities as it flowed downstream. He drew himself up, seeing the possibilities, and choosing a path. The path. The only one remaining to him.
He sensed all eyes turning to him in surprise.
“There is another path.”
He silently flexed his wrist, just as Aaron had taught him so many years ago, working his fingers slowly at first and then so aggressively that he felt like the joints would pop free of their constraints. Aaron had explained that the movements weren’t required, but the action was helpful in stirring the accompanying electromagnetic force that lay dormant inside. His mind formed the complex string of calculations he had repeated every night for ten years with steadfast resolve, eventually coming to memorize that which he had once deemed too complicated for the human mind. Oh how he had underestimated the human mind, through no fault of his own; so few people understood their inborn capabilities.
As the equation snapped into focus, the numbers and figures in their proper places, he felt a pulse of energy deep in his gut, running outward through his chest, his arms, and landing in the palms of his hands, even his fingers. As they gyrated to the internal rhythm of his subconscious, blinding light radiated out from his hands. From the initial spark, the warmth churned toward white-hot heat, enough to singe his fragile skin, blacken it, peel it back to expose muscle and bone; he gritted his teeth against the brain-melting pain that pounded through every fiber of his being, persuading himself that the physical harm was psychosomatic. If he concentrated, he could feel every electron rising and falling in its orbit, photons forming in accordance with everything he knew about quantum mechanics, blazing into the physical world in glorious streams of nonlocality.
Shrieks of torment erupted amidst the pain and ecstasy. When they had started, he couldn’t say. He had only inhabited this heightened state once before, and on that occasion he had lost nearly an hour of real time in the space of a minute. The heat was all-consuming.
He barely heard the shout through the maelstrom of wind that had kicked up around him. He lowered his arms slightly and pulled back on the source of heat inside him. All his focus went into the effort, imagining himself in the river, in control, and the light pulling back into his skin.
Those voices wrenched at his consciousness, fighting for attention, distracting him. He built a wall around himself to shut them out—or at least tried to. His eyes gaped open from the effort, but the flame would not be extinguished; he had fanned it too long. He tried clenching his fists, hoping to extinguish the energies now whipping so furiously.
Out of control, he realized.
One moment he was standing with arms outstretched, and the next he was flat on his back, wincing from where his shoulder blades had jammed into the rugged ground. All-encompassing yellow light lingered in the air as he raised his head, drawing in ragged breaths. He’d had the air knocked out of him.
The light soon faded just enough to reveal Dario’s face pressed into his chest, a frenzied look in the young man’s eyes. Ira turned his head to the side and saw the lifeless masses of razed corpses strewn amongst the grass.
You were supposed to stop them, not incinerate them.
“What have I done?” he whispered, the reality of the situation barely registering. “Oh Lord, what I done?”
Pops of gunfire broke through the roaring silence that surrounded him like a bubble, and with them the real world rushed in.
Screams rent the air and Dario’s head whipped around to face the carnage. A splash of bright red blood hit Ira right between the eyes, and in the background, just out of focus, Noam Sheply collapsed. Blood streamed out from his throat to his exposed belly where bullets had gutted him like a fish.
Tears sprang to his eyes. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.
Sherwood, why have you been such a fool? But then another voice, another perspective. If he was a fool, he wasn’t the only one.
“Dario,” Ira said, shouting to be heard above the gunfire.
Dario didn’t answer. He grabbed Ira by the shirt and hauled him backwards.
“Dario, what are you doing?”
“Shut the hell up.” With one final lurch, Dario pulled him to the relative safety provided by a boulder whose sharp point stuck out of the ground just high enough to shield them.
“What’s happening?” Ira asked.
Dario turned on him with frenzied eyes. “Ira, how can you ask that?”
“Tell me. I lost control.”
“Lost control?” Dario’s face had turned red. He was livid. “Is that what you call it? Everyone’s dead, Ira. Including Sheply.”
Ira’s heart broke to hear it. He’d harbored no sympathy for Noam Sheply, but he had certainly never intended to cause him harm. But for the others? Well, they had barely been people, after all. Possessed by the Nephilim. They hadn’t been themselves.
But they were people, underneath it all. You didn’t give them a chance.
Ira shook his head, tried to think clearly. “They were going to kill us.”
“But what about Brighton and Elisabeth?”
Another round of bullets sailed through the air overhead. Chunks of the boulder they hid behind shattered loose, pebbles spraying the ground.
“Clearly they’re not all dead,” Ira said.
Dario nodded. “Someone’s firing at us from down the slope, toward the hole in the ground. Short of flaying them with another burst of that light, I’m not sure how we’re going to get out of this.”
“I’m not doing that again.”
The look on Dario’s face betrayed relief and disappointment. “It may be the only option.”
You don’t understand, he wanted to say. You don’t understand what it did to me. To focus it. To control it.
The gunfire had stopped, and that could only mean two things. Either whoever held those guns had fled, leaving them in blessed peace, or more likely, that they were at this moment advancing on his and Dario’s position.
“But we have to do something,” Ira said after a few moments had elapsed. “Everything I’ve done will be for nothing if we’re captured.”
“Why?” Dario wondered. “After what you just did, I doubt these people would be able to contain you.”
Ira propped himself up gingerly. “Perhaps, perhaps not. The forces in this valley have powers of their own.”
“Who are they, Ira? Are there aliens here, like Carter and Marilyn believe?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
“Damn it, I’m sick and tired—”
Ira put a finger to his lips. “Now’s not the time. Perhaps I’ve held my cards too close to my chest, and if so then I’ve paid a price for that. For now, we need a plan.”
“I say we run like hell.”
“We won’t make it far.”
Ira closed his eyes again and summoned the river. Its water, not quite as cool and refreshing as he was accustomed to, flowed over him in a torrent. But he maintained control, his feet grasping the bottom and finding purchase there.
“Ira, what are we going to do?”
Ira ignored him and visualized the branching flow of the delta. He identified the path most suitable to their needs and channeled the figurative water toward it. The waters changed direction, and…
His eyes peeked open just as Dario was about to launch into another round of protests. He snaked his hand out and clenched Dario’s wrist.
A moment later, the air sizzled around them and the mountains popped out of existence.
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