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Ebooks   ➡  Fiction  ➡  Young adult or teen  ➡  Fantasy

Mercenary

 

Mercenary

Episode Two

Theta Beginnings Miniseries

 

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By Lizzy Ford

www.LizzyFord.com

 

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Cover design by Eden Crane Design

 

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Shakespir Edition

 

Published by Captured Press

www.CapturedPress.com

 

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Silent Queen copyright ©2016 by Lizzy Ford

www.LizzyFord.com

 

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Cover design copyright © 2016 by Eden Crane Design

 

 

All rights reserved.

 

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No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.

 

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This novel is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events; to real people, living or dead; or to real locales are intended only to give the fiction a sense of reality and authenticity. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and their resemblance, if any, to real-life counterparts is entirely coincidental.

 

 

Mercenary

 

I watched the world burn with glee. Fresh off a paid mission overseas, I had spent several years building up a reputation and career as a personal bodyguard for drug dealers, heads of criminal organizations, mob bosses and anyone else who paid upfront, asked no questions and didn’t care how many bodies piled up. They were the only kinds of jobs I could find after my two year murder trial ended five years ago. I was acquitted – compliments of the politician who hired me to make the hit landing me on trial – but I was also blacklisted from any sort of legitimate employment anywhere, thanks to a Supreme Magistrate determined to punish my former employer and anyone who worked for him.

So when I saw the words, Supreme Magistrate feared dead, scroll across the screen for the fourth time, I laughed. I continued to grin as the news stations in Washington DC, where I lived, scrambled for coverage of what was happening around the world. Whenever they managed to grab a live feed from another city, it ended up flat lining once the other station was struck by the gods’ fury.

“The gods show their true colors at last,” I said, smiling. Earlier in the evening, the gods had begun to attack humanity, everywhere but within the DC area and Maryland, an area reportedly protected by Zeus. The newscasters weren’t able to identify how far this safe zone extended, but they claimed Zeus’ priests had contacted them directly and assured them that DC would be spared whatever wrath the gods were displaying across the rest of the planet.

My eyes glued to the television screen, I loaded magazines into the weapons I spent the past hour cleaning and piled my favorite knives on one side of the coffee table for a quick inspection before I left my apartment.

The world had descended into absolute madness. I couldn’t conform to a society where my natural violent tendencies were condemned but this … this was chaos. This was me. An environment where only the merciless survived? I was born for this! The fatigue I experienced from nine months overseas disappeared when I began to consider all the possibilities.

My cell rang, and I grabbed it.

“Yeah,” I said gruffly into the phone.

“Good evening, Niko.” The polished voice was quiet.

Wariness crept into my excitement. “What do you want?”

“Are you watching the news?”

“Who isn’t?”

“Then you should know what I want.”

I had been hoping this particular man had been killed by the gods. I squeezed the hilt of a knife hard enough for my knuckles to turn white. Setting it down, I leaned back and allowed the sofa cushions to support my weight. “Humor me,” I said.

Cleon, the wealthy politician I allied with seven years ago, called when he needed my particular skills. We had a deal of sorts, one I wasn’t able to buck, when he alone knew what to hold over my head to make me comply with his demands. The good: he called infrequently, and it had been eighteen months since we last spoke. The bad: the jobs he hired me for were rougher than any of my other gigs. All the scars I had earned since we met were from jobs I did for him.

“I thought you would be pleased to know the Supreme Magistrate won’t be crushing either of us beneath his heel anymore,” Cleon said.

“You never call to discuss the news.”

“Very well, Niko. I try to make our exchanges pleasant as my way of showing you I appreciate what you do.”

I rolled my eyes. It had taken me some time to figure Cleon out. I was constantly surrounded by men whose reputations for violence were a source of pride. I had developed a sixth sense when it came to people and surviving strangers. Like me, Cleon was a different animal. Brilliant, driven, and obsessive, he was also capable of generosity and kindness. He fit the description of a psychopath – except he valued the relationships he shared with a select few too much to be incapable of empathy.

He was complicated, and for some reason, he genuinely liked me, which was how I got away with what I often did when dealing with him.

“I don’t need your shit,” I replied. “Tell me what you want. I’ve got some looting to do.”

“For such a talented man, you have such low ambitions.”

“Bye, Cleon.” I hung up but didn’t put the phone on the coffee table.

In his circles, he was supposed to be diplomatic, indirect and politically correct, to the point no one was supposed to know what his true positions on anything were. I usually had to remind him once or twice not to play those games with me. I already knew what he was. Likewise, he understood the depths of me.

The phone rang again.

“Yeah,” I said, answering it.

“This again.” A flicker of annoyance was in Cleon’s tone.

“We’re past the foreplay stage, Cleon.”

He released a slow sigh. “Half my personal security detail was in Florida in training this weekend. An opportunity presented itself I must take advantage of, and what remains of my personal detail is not likely to last until dawn. The city is a warzone. I’m not even certain who is attacking my convoy.”

It was then I heard the sound of a gun report, followed by several answering shots and the accompanying shouting of men.

“If you are in the city and available, I would appreciate your support,” Cleon said, ignoring the sounds.

I started to laugh. “You’re in the middle of it, aren’t you?” I asked.

“I am,” the unflappable politician confirmed. “I may be in the need of an expedient extraction. Can you bring your team?”

“They’re stuck overseas. But I’m here.”

“It might take more than you this time.”

“Text me your location. I’ll see you in thirty.” I hung up and tucked my phone in my pocket before strapping on my most lightweight protective vest. It was followed by various sheaths, ammo storage pouches, and weapons carriers. I had mastered the combination of mobility and firepower after several missions overseas in hostile, third world countries. I paid an exorbitant amount of money for the bulletproof vest that weighed a mere two pounds and was an eighth of an inch thick. Everything else was custom made for my body, fitted in a way to ensure I could reload a handgun in seconds and also kick someone in the head as needed.

When I was ready, I checked the location Cleon had provided and then began calculating how to reach him fast. I wouldn’t drive a car in this insanity if my life depended on it, but a motorcycle would be agile enough to maneuver through the chaos and carry me across the western part of the city towards his location, somewhere around Silver Spring, just inside the Beltway, at the border of Maryland and DC.

Leaving my apartment, I trotted down the stairs to the garage under the building and unchained my ride from the post I parked it next to. I walked it up the ramp leading to the street and paused. In the distance, first responder sirens screamed while the monotone blare of the foul weather warning system echoed off the cement buildings in my neighborhood. Otherwise, it was eerily still. No one on my street was out, though the lights in every building were on.

I slung my leg over the seat of my ride and didn’t bother with a helmet. The police had better things to do than enforce the helmet law tonight.

My bike roared to life, and I took off. The side streets were quiet, vacant, and I began to wonder where Cleon’s war zone was. It wasn’t until I cut through downtown DC that I began to see the looters struggling to carry stolen goods down the streets. The police cordoned off the memorials and governmental buildings but hadn’t yet barricaded the shopping and business districts – or the banks, which was where I would have been headed if Cleon hadn’t called.

I skirted police barricades and walked my bike through crowds of people on the verge of killing each other to get to the money in banks and ATMs. DC was a political city where someone was always protesting something. I passed two large rallies, one whose speakers were condemning the gods and another whose leaders urged the world to have faith during the end of days.

On several blocks, the police and people were clashing, and the acrid scent of tear gas was strong enough for my eyes to water a hundred yards away. I tore down side streets when the main routes became too violent or crowded, stair stepping my way north. The closer I got to Silver Spring, the more I began to see the war zone Cleon had described. It began with a woman sobbing over the lifeless body of a man in the middle of the street.

I followed the trail of bodies riddled with bullet wounds until I heard the active sounds of gunfire ahead.

Rather than plough into it, I hid my bike among the bushes of a small park and darted into the nearest apartment building, taking the stairs two at a time as I went to the roof. When I reached the top, I trotted to the nearest corner to scout what obstacles were in my path.

It looked like a tsunami was poised at the northwestern side of the city. Instead of water, the wave about to hit the city was made up of people and vehicles. They jammed the roads, neighborhoods, and every inch of space between them in order to seek refuge inside of Zeus’ protected city. The military had set up barricades and armored vehicles, the police riot gear, and they were both struggling either to slow or stop the surge of refugees pouring into a city already on the brink of collapse.

In addition, flashes of light from the muzzles of weapons and the report of rifles, as well as the occasional boom from a bigger gun – possibly from one of the armored vehicles – originated from a point just north of where Cleon claimed to be. Floodlights blazed along the edges of DC. The Beltway, and every other road leading into the city, was a parking lot.

To the north, in Maryland, the skies were clear as far as I could see, but to the west, over Virginia, from the direction the people came, fire rained down from the heavens to burn everything it touched to the ground. Everything within the Beltway was safe. I judged the firestorms in Virginia to be maybe thirty miles away, outside the Metro DC area.

Adrenaline surged through me, and I stood, mesmerized and grinning, as I watched the world outside of the DC area end. How Cleon could find any opportunity in this disaster, I had no idea. But the man was smart enough to capitalize on any chance he found to better his position, especially now that his primary complication – the Supreme Magistrate – was dead. Something here had caught his attention for him to travel from the relative safety of his home in northern Maryland to the city.

My phone rang, and I answered it. I was about to snap at him and tell him I was almost there when a scared, young voice spoke first.

“Mommy won’t wake up.”

The words, or perhaps the voice, yanked me out of my near-giddy state. Turning away from the chaos, I fought the sudden tension of my body. My chest tightened, and my free hand clenched in a fist. My primal side had already figured out what took me a full ten seconds to register.

“Sh…she said … if I got in trouble to call … this number,” the child on the other end of the call was starting to cry.

“Tommy?” I whispered.

“Y…yes. Can you … help us?”

Everything.

Just.

Stopped.

The voice belonged to my son, a six year old boy I had never met or spoken to before this night, a child I had willingly given up so he wouldn’t be infected by the sickness that ran in my family full of lunatics.

I stood, frozen, barely able to breathe, as I began to understand the larger picture of what the apocalypse meant for me. Cleon would have known this at once, but I usually only saw what was in front of me. New York, the first city hit by the gods, was where my ex and my son lived. I should have realized their danger the second I heard the city had gone up in flames.

“Where are you?” I asked after a long silence, where I was trying to figure out how the hell I was going to make it up the eastern seaboard to New York without being fried by the gods.

“I don’t know.” Tommy started crying harder.

“Hold one. Don’t hang up,” I told him.

I lowered the phone from my ear and swiped through the screens until I came to a phone locator app. I had no shame; I wasn’t embarrassed to admit I put a hidden tracking application on the phone of my ex, Theodocia, when I sent it to her. My merc jobs did more than fund my weapons and armor purchases; they also provided a financial cushion for my son in the form of a trust my ex had access to. As a High Priestess, she was supposed to give up luxuries and live on a small stipend that wouldn’t buy her a daily coffee in New York. In addition to the trust, I sent her money monthly so she could take care of our son, and once a year, a new phone, because I knew she would never buy one for herself.

“You still there?” I called to Tommy.

“Y… yes.”

I waited for the app to show me where Tommy was. To my surprise, he was less than a mile from Cleon.

“You’re in DC?” I asked, puzzled. I pressed the phone to my ear and strode across the rooftop towards the stairs.

“I don’t know.” Tommy’s next sentence was so garbled from tears, I had no idea what he said.

“Tommy,” I interrupted. “I need you to take a deep breath and calm down. I can’t help you if you can’t talk to me. Do you understand?”

I heard him panting in response as he tried to obey.

“Are you in DC?” I asked again.

“We were going to DC and our helicopter crashed,” he replied.

“Who’s with you?”

“Mommy.” His voice grew tight again. “Phoibe.”

The name meant nothing to me. “Are you hurt?” I asked.

“No.”

I was imagining Tommy the only survivor in some sort of horrific accident. “Are you safe? Are there people around you or anyone with a gun?”

“No. We’re … underground.”

I leapt down the last three steps and slammed the door to the apartment building open before trotting across the street. “I don’t understand. I thought you crashed,” I said.

“We did. We went through the ground.”

I couldn’t imagine what that meant, but I had his location. “Listen carefully. I want you to sit down by your mother and wait for me. Okay?”

“Are you coming?”

“I am. Right now.”

“Okay.”

“If anyone comes and they have a gun or scare you, you hide. Got it?”

“Y…yes.”

“See you in a few, kid.” I hung up, wired, and sent a quick text to Cleon telling him where to meet me.

This time, when I took off, I was filled with a sick sense of urgency, one that left my stomach churning and robbed me of all my former exhilaration about the chaos ahead of me.

I hadn’t wanted a kid. Theodocia and I broke up when she refused to have an abortion and took a job in New York. She abandoned me, chose a kid over a life with me. I’d never forgiven her for it and never would, more so because she knew why I refused to have children. Mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, propensity toward violence … all of these ran in my family. Ran in me. My kid had no chance, unless a High Priestess and the best person I had ever met in my life could save him like she almost did me. I wanted it to be true that her goodness would be able to drive out the half of Tommy that came from me, but I wasn’t hopeful. The men in my family were drawn to violence and died young.

Reminding myself this could have been anyone’s kid, I wasn’t able to rebuff the sick sinking of my stomach or why this – he – mattered when I had never met him before, and I didn’t want him in the first place.

I rode until I reached a barricaded area swarming with refugees, the military, SISA – religious police – and the regular city police. If anyone were in charge, I couldn’t identify who. I maneuvered away from this mess only to wind up in a second one, this one a full fledged battle between two well-armed factions: one hidden in buildings and the second a combination of SISA and military. The SISA-military alliance was brittle without the chaos around us. I doubted they’d be on the same page for long, and their turf war was likely to turn nasty once it did turn, more so since their commanders in chief were killed in New York.

I went around this battle, or tried to. The fight between the unseen forces and the city’s protectors extended north, towards the Beltway. It ran for a mile. When it became clear I’d have to enter the fray to reach Tommy, I pulled off the quiet road I was on, parked my bike and straightened my weapons. Any restraint I would have considered in not killing government officials vanished at the thought of Tommy being stuck in the crossfire. SISA, military, or other – anyone who crossed my path was going to be dealt with the same quick way.

Cleon had texted to say he was close – and my destination was where he intended to go in the first place. I didn’t care what he was up to or even if he made it to my location.

Armed and ready to face every kind of threat, I struck off at a jog towards the battle. I chose a quiet area to enter the contested street and slinked through the shadows, close to buildings, in the direction where the phone had been located. The closer I got, the more concerned I became. What had Tommy meant by underground? According to the map, he was south of the junction of the Beltway and Colesville Road, a major vein leading from Maryland into northern DC. The road was above ground at every point.

A firefight erupted in front of me between two factions stationed across the street from one another. Both were hidden in multi-story business buildings, and I waited for the exchange to end. More weapons began firing, and I slid back the way I had come to circle the building.

Chink. Cement from the wall beside my torso exploded into dust. My gaze snapped upward in the direction of the rooftop across the street. Someone had thought to place a sniper there, one who seemed to think I was his enemy.

Backpedaling, I dived for cover behind a car. Two more bullets pierced through the car and slammed into the cement of the building nearby. I scrambled up and darted for the alley, picking up speed as I bolted down its long, dark length. Irritated, I bolted to the next street over, where no battles were raging, and ran parallel, determined to reach Tommy’s position the fastest way possible.

I stopped once to gauge how close I was and checked the phone before tucking it away and breaking perpendicular towards the contested street. The fighting here was worse, and I cautiously moved down another dark alley, unwilling to alert those in the buildings across the street to my presence. When I neared the end of the alley, I saw what Tommy meant. Part of Colesville Road had collapsed beneath a massive sinkhole, too dark and deep for me to see into. Debris from the crash littered the area around the hole, and I studied my best route of approach, uncertain how anyone survived when the chopper’s engine was in pieces. The amount of force and speed required to shatter an engine meant it had plummeted to the ground from a high elevation or at full speed or both.

I counted fourteen active shooters, most with semi-automatic assault rifles, one sniper, and two with machine guns, on the other side of the street, capable of taking me down before I reached the hole. If there were additional men present, they were lying low.

Bodies littered the ground, all of them armed, all of them close to the hole. It hit me then that maybe those fighting were also trying to get to, or protect, whoever or whatever had fallen into the hole. If I had time, I could determine if one of these factions was protecting the hole and negotiate with them.

But I couldn’t think of anything except reaching Tommy before someone else did.

Easing back, I listened to the sounds of gunshots and mentally reviewed where the various shooters were located. Of everything I was prepared to handle, rappelling was not one of them, which left me with one alternative: jumping.

I grabbed two shrapnel hand grenades and a smoke grenade from the strap across my chest and balanced on my feet. A lull in the firefight indicated at least one side was reloading. Pulling the pin on the smoke grenade, I launched forward and flung it to the edge of the hole.

I pulled a second pin and flung the grenade into the bottom floor of the building nearest me, then threw the third across the street onto the main floor. Before either went off, I was firing with my handgun, hoping to confuse my opponents long enough for me to make it to the hole. The smoke grenade went off before the sniper found me. His bullet grazed my torso and threw me off balance. I wobbled and then threw myself straight toward the hole, dropping into it just as a second bullet whizzed by my temple.

I didn’t fall far and executed a perfect roll when I did hit the ground, bounding to my feet with weapons drawn and senses straining. A blue glow came from one direction, and I started towards it. Glass crunched beneath my boots, and I carefully stepped over chunks of metal and what remained of the helicopter. I expected to be in the sewers running beneath the street, but the area I was in was much larger, an underground chamber fifty feet wide with at least two tunnels leading into the darkness. It was too long for me to tell how far it extended beneath the streets.

The glow came from forty feet away, from behind a mass of either debris or partition six feet high and several feet wide. I crept towards it, listening for any sounds indicating the battle aboveground had found its way here.

I halted at the sudden, subtle scrape of metal against leather from behind me. Holding my breath, I heard the crunch of glass across the dark space to my right. If reading people was my sixth sense, my seventh was an otherworldly knack for survival. Killing was a highly effective tool to someone like me, one requiring unerring precision, solid instincts, foresight, resolve and lack of inhibition. Within the course of seconds, I was able to determine a dangerous foe from a harmless bystander, the distance and size of an attacker, how well he or she was armed, and the amount of force it would require to subdue or kill my target.

The dark required me to listen more diligently to my instincts, but I soon pinpointed the threat closing in around me as well as the danger ahead. I slid a knife silently from its sheath, double checked the locations of the men around me, and acted.

I threw the knife into the throat of the attacker across the expanse from me then whirled and dropped to one knee, firing my handgun at the man behind me. Both dropped where they stood before either could react. But firing my weapon caused a secondary problem. It alerted those ahead of me that someone was coming for them.

I was on my feet a second after I heard a cry from the direction of the glow. I circled the obstacle blocking me from seeing what was going on and immediately threw myself down to avoid someone’s kick. Three men, all armed. I let my instincts guide me and tore through two of them, putting a bullet in the head of one, the neck of another and smashing the third in the knee. When he dropped, I snatched his head, twisted and snapped his neck.

Releasing him, I looked around for any other attacker, my senses trained on my surroundings. When certain it was safe, I straightened.

A boy with Dosy’s dark skin and my bright green eyes was staring up at me from several feet away. He was crouched beside a wall, holding his phone, which was set to a blue flashlight. I had seen pictures of him before, whenever Dosy would send them, but he had never appeared like this: with dirt on his features, bloody clothing and an expression of fear on his face.

A strange feeling slid though me, accompanied by a memory from my childhood. Raised by drug addicts on a farm, I learned to fear adults when I was Tommy’s age and how to kill a few years later, after my father used me to bait his fighting dogs. I had no good memories of my childhood, and my first few years were nothing but a blur of confusion, fear and honing instincts that somehow kept me alive until I was old enough to fight back.

Tommy was staring at me the way I used to stare at the adults who beat and tortured me. I had given him up for the sole reason that I feared becoming what my parents had been and transmitting our mental illness to him.

Seeing the scared look on his face, I realized, on some small level, I was not like my parents and never would be. I couldn’t witness my son’s fear and continue to hurt him or ignore whatever was scaring him. Everything I’d ever done with regards to Tommy had been to protect him from people like me, to prevent him from understanding or fearing the world as he did now. I wanted him to have a chance at a good life. In this, I was aware of how my influence might taint him, unlike my parents, who hadn’t cared about the boy they didn’t want.

I sucked in a deep breath and reigned in the indescribable, sudden fury coursing through my veins. Was I angry with my parents? Or with myself, for failing to protect Tommy from the nightmares of the real world?

Replacing my weapons where they belonged, I crossed to Tommy.

He cowered away, against the wall, his eyes wide.

“Hi, Tommy,” I said and slowed my approach. I knelt in front of him. “You called me, remember?”

He gave a half-hearted nod. His hands were shaking.

“Are you hurt?” I asked again, eyeing the fresh blood on his shirt.

He shook his head.

“Where’s your mother?”

He pointed towards the darkness, and I made out the mouth of a dark hallway nearby.

“Show me.”

Tommy stood. He was trembling, but he didn’t move as if he were in pain. After seeing what remained of the helicopter, I didn’t know how it was possible for him to have survived.

I stood and followed him. Oblivious to the danger tracking us, he made more noise walking ten feet than I did my entire journey to find him. My senses indicated no one else was present, but I wasn’t about to draw anyone’s attention needlessly, either. I picked up Tommy and shifted him to one hip while I walked with disciplined silence towards the hallway.

I didn’t have to ask him where we were going; another glowing phone lit up a room ahead, its light spilling into the hallway.

“I told you to stay by your mother, didn’t I?” I asked him, irritated he had unknowingly placed himself in danger.

“I was waiting for you.”

I glanced at him in the dark. “Next time, do what I tell you.”

“But what if you got lost?”

“I’m a lot older than you, an adult, which means I won’t get lost.”

“But mommy gets lost, and she’s old, too.”

So she hasn’t changed. I snorted. Theodocia was one of those book smart types who was often on some other intellectual planet and never fully integrated to the real world.

I walked into the small room, taking in the bodies stretched out on the floor. Theodocia, a teen girl, a pilot with his headset in place, and another man, armed and wearing an earpiece, were all unconscious and neatly lined up beside one another.

“How did they get here from the crash site?” I asked Tommy. Setting him down, I crossed to Theodocia first. She hadn’t aged in seven years, and I checked her pulse. She was alive. Mild relief trickled through me, and I gently scoured her body for any injuries. She sustained minor scrapes and bruises but no other damage.

Tommy wasn’t answering.

Twisting from my position crouching between Theodocia and the girl, I saw him standing in front of the doorway, clutching the phone.

“You’re safe, Tommy,” I told him.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. I can handle anything that comes near us.”

He didn’t move. Sensing his distress, I pulled my smallest knife free and rose, crossing to him. I knew nothing about comforting kids and wasn’t interested in coddling anyone, even my own son.

“Take this,” I said.

He looked up at me then down at the knife.

“It’s up to you and me to protect these people, including your mommy,” I said gruffly. “Your job is to stand guard over there. This knife is magic. It protects you and anyone you’re close to, so stay close to your mom. Understand?”

Tommy nodded and studied the knife. “It can kill people.”

“Yeah. So be careful. Don’t drop it.”

Tommy obediently went to stand close to his mother.

I checked the pilot next. He, too, was alive, with no sign of major injury and out cold. How had any of these people survived?

“How did they get in here?” I asked Tommy, puzzled by the way the four were lined up. None of them awoke when I jostled them to check for serious injuries, which led me to believe they’d been unresponsive for some time.

“It’s complicated.”

“You’re six. What do you know about complicated?” I looked up, amused.

Tommy was gazing at his mother, worried.

“She’s okay, Tommy,” I said.

He was quiet for a moment, watching me, and then spoke hesitantly. “Are you my daddy?”

Kneeling beside the teen girl, I felt for her pulse. My kid seemed smarter than I thought a six year old should be. Then again, his mother was brilliant, and I knew nothing about kids.

“Yeah,” I answered.

“Thanatos said you would come.”

“Thanatos?” I bristled. “That your mommy’s boyfriend or something?”

Tommy giggled but didn’t answer.

Agitated by the whole situation, I checked the remaining unconscious man and then stood back. I had two options: searching the dark halls for a way out and risking someone finding Tommy before I could return for him, or staying here until daylight, when finding a route to escape would be easier. I didn’t care about anyone else here, except for Tommy’s mom, who I didn’t want to leave behind but would if the choice was between saving Tommy’s life and putting him in danger.

One of the four unconscious survivors groaned, and Tommy darted to the side of the teen girl. “Phoibe!” he exclaimed. He scrambled on hands and knees towards a wall and then grabbed the handles of a gym bag. Dragging it back, he reached the blonde girl just as she sat up. “Look, Phoibe!” Tommy pulled something from the bag.

I stared at the golden crown laden with jewels.

“I saved it!” Tommy said.

The girl didn’t respond. Her eyes were glazed, and she appeared disoriented.

Tommy placed the crown beside her and then wrapped his arms around her. Phoibe grunted but instinctively tugged him into her lap.

My eyes remained on the treasure worth enough to support me for ten lifetimes.

The creak of leather boots yanked my focus outside the room.

“Tommy! Turn off your flashlight!” I ordered him quietly. I snatched the phone left beside Theodocia and tapped the light app alerting others to our presence.

Tommy obeyed, and I crept into the dark hallway, senses trained on the noise coming from the main chamber. I stopped where the corridor met the large room.

Five men, possibly six. Drawing my weapons, I went still, listening. Whoever it was, they were well trained, their movements nothing louder than whispers almost too soft for me to locate who was where.

The sound of Tommy’s sneakers slapping cement as he ran after me was jarring compared to the relative quiet of those sneaking up on us. Whirling, I grabbed him and hurried back to the room where his mother was, depositing him on the ground.

“Stay here!” I snapped.

“But –”

“Shut up, kid. Don’t move from this spot!”

Before he could argue, I returned to the hallway.

My attackers were waiting, tipped off by Tommy. Before I reached the end of the corridor, I was ducking a punch. I launched into action. Close quarter fighting was my forte. Before I had been forced to sell my services as a mercenary, I had been accepted into the Gladiator Guild, an elite organization for skilled single combat fighters where violence was cheered on by millions of viewers watching on television.

With a knife in one hand and handgun in another, I tore through four of the men, leaving none of them alive to threaten Tommy, before I crept into the main chamber. Another four or five were waiting for me. I snatched the first, preparing to drive a knife through his eye into his brain, when someone spoke.

“Niko!”

I paused.

“Gods, man, are you trying to finish off the rest of my detail?” Cleon snapped in indignation.

I slowly released my grip on the man I’d pinned between my body and the wall. Easing away, I checked with my senses to ensure no one else was ready to attack or headed towards the corridor where Tommy was.

“You couldn’t announce yourself?” I snapped in return.

“I texted you.”

I rolled my eyes and sheathed my weapons.

“We don’t have much time. Do you know how to get out of here?” Cleon asked, approaching me.

“Not a clue.”

He barked orders for two of the remaining members of his security team to find an exit before addressing me again. “I find it interesting you knew to come here, the destination I was trying to reach.”

“And?” I challenged.

“Did you find any survivors?” By the note in his voice, Cleon didn’t expect anyone to have lived through the crash.

“Why do you care about a helicopter crashing?” I asked warily.

“When the gods made you, they replaced your brain with muscle,” he said in rare anger. “I was tracking the Queen of Greece’s escape from New York when I heard through secure channels that the military shot her down. The only reason I am here is to determine if she survived.”

The pieces fell into place. Theodocia was the High Priestess of Artemis entrusted with the duty of raising and guiding the Queen of Greece. I had only been thinking of Tommy from the first time I heard his voice.

“She’s alive,” I said.

Cleon’s silence was one of surprise.

“C’mon.” I led him back towards the small room with the survivors. Turning on the flashlight of the cell phone, I shone it towards the five. Tommy was back in the lap of the girl I assumed to be the Queen of Greece.

Cleon stepped into the room, his eyes widening. “How is this possible?” he asked.

I shifted weight between my feet, uncertain why I tensed when he entered. My gaze was on Tommy. I didn’t care at all about the girl, and I shouldn’t have cared about Tommy.

“Daddy, who is that?” Tommy asked.

Gods dammit, kid, I thought.

“Daddy?” Cleon’s focus shifted to me then back to the unconscious men and woman. “Of course. You knew to come because your ex called you. You never mentioned she was in the service of the Queen.”

Cleon had been using Tommy and Theodocia against me for several years. Whenever I was reluctant to take a job he sent me, he threatened to cut off my ex and son financially. Tommy’s trust was maintained by Cleon’s financial management team, and he dumped all my earnings from the contracts he hired me for into it. Cleon had always known about the existence of Theodocia and Tommy, but something about the three of them being in the same room together rubbed me the wrong way.

The teen girl looked up at us. Her eyes were sky blue, her slender frame borderline frail. She nudged Tommy from her lap and climbed to her feet, wobbled, and then straightened fully.

“Phoibe would like to thank you for finding us,” Tommy said.

My brow furrowed.

Cleon bowed his head and offered a warm smile. “It is my pleasure, Your Majesty,” he purred. “May I ask what happened?”

Tommy looked up at the Queen, waiting. After a moment, he spoke. “We were shot down by the military. Thanatos saved us.”

“Who is Thanatos?” I asked, eyeing the unconscious man who appeared to be part of their security detail.

Tommy giggled again.

“The God of Death, Niko,” Cleon said with a look of disapproval.

“Phoibe asked him to spare us, and he did,” Tommy added.

I knew the name of a handful of gods but not this one. “Why would a god help you, if they’re fire balling the rest of the world?” I asked the Queen.

Her gaze slid to me, but it was Tommy who answered.

“We don’t know.”

“You are very fortunate to be alive,” Cleon said, impressed. “But we aren’t out of the danger zone yet. We face a difficult time escaping, I fear. The city has descended into chaos, and I believe everyone in a position of influence is searching for you, Your Majesty.”

“Phoibe says if you can help us, she will be in your debt,” Tommy said.

I almost laughed. The girl had walked straight into Cleon’s trap. The politician was feigning warmth and gratitude as he responded, but I didn’t have to guess what was going through his mind. He had secured the favor of the most powerful woman on the planet, the only surviving member of the Sacred Triumvirate. His foolish trek into the war zone that was DC was going to pay off, assuming he survived.

I took up a position at the door, close enough to Cleon to stop him if he made any sudden moves towards my son.

“My most trusted man is on the job,” Cleon said with a look at me. “You must be Tommy,” he said to my son. He started forward, and I snatched his arm.

“Don’t,” I warned.

Unfazed, Cleon stayed where he was.

“Phoibe is worried about Theodocia,” Tommy said. “Is my mommy okay?”

Both Queen and boy were huddled next to the High Priestess.

“She’s alive and breathing fine. Whatever happened knocked you all out,” I replied.

The two exchanged a worried look, and I sensed I had somehow missed the meaning behind the question.

“She will be well, Tommy, I promise,” Cleon said. “My men are looking for an escape route. Once they find it, we’ll be headed to safety.”

“Which is where?” I asked quietly.

“The central compound in DC housing the Supreme Triumvirate. Her majesty has a palace there, and no doubt, security.”

I didn’t understand the extent of Cleon’s game – but I could definitely understand taking the vulnerable Queen to the one place in DC where she might escape the riots and chaos. With any luck, I’d have the opportunity to extricate Tommy from Cleon’s clutches before then.

“Sir,” one of Cleon’s men called, moving down the hallway towards us. He smelled of blood and sweat and was panting. “We found an exit. Our enemies figured out we’re down here. We need to move now!”

Before he was finished, I was at Theodocia’s side. I lifted her and shifted her over my shoulder. Phoibe appeared scared, and Tommy slid his hand into hers as they stood.

“How many men do you have left, including me?” I asked Cleon and joined him at the doorway.

“Three.”

I shook my head. “Can you handle a gun?”

“I sport shoot.”

“Those are rifles, not hand cannons.” I handed him one of my spares. “Close enough. Same principles. Now, let’s go.”

“Phoibe says we have to help the pilot and her bodyguard,” Tommy said.

“Can the woman speak for herself?” I snapped.

“She’s mute, Niko. Your son appears to have a gift to be able to hear her,” Cleon replied. “You two, grab the pilot and bodyguard.” He ordered the remaining members of his personal security team.

“They’ll slow us down,” I objected. “They can’t fight if they’re carrying people.”

“If Her Majesty wants them saved,” Cleon said, “then we will save them.”

“Phoibe says thank you,” Tommy said.

I strode out of the room, annoyed with Cleon’s attempted heroics when I knew he didn’t care about anyone but himself. “Tommy! Stay right behind me.”

He hurried to follow, tugging the young queen with him. With both my mobility and line of sight severely compromised, I had to stay sharper than before. One of my arms was wrapped around Theodocia’s legs, and I held a knife in the other hand.

The member of Cleon’s guard who had scouted the exit moved ahead of me, burdened by the weight of the pilot and carrying no weapons whatsoever. He moved quickly through the main chamber, in the opposite direction of the hole. I trailed him through a narrow tunnel that sloped upwards before opening up into a second chamber of indeterminable size. Aware of Tommy clinging to my belt, I kept my senses trained on what lay ahead of us.

We raced through another hallway before the bodyguard ahead of me stopped beside a ladder leading up to a manhole cover. We were all breathing hard from the pace and weight of those we carried.

I set Theodocia down carefully at the base of the wall and scaled the ladder fast. The manhole cover gave easily, leading me to believe we weren’t the first people to use it. In fact, the entire underground lacked the smell of sewers or mold or even dust and dirt I would have expected. Whatever the chambers and hallways were used for, they were maintained by someone.

Without time to consider the purpose behind it, I used my shoulder to push the heavy cover up and over until I was able to slide my fingers through the open space to force it the rest of the way open. From nearby, weapons were being discharged. The skirmishing between both sides sounded close.

“Stay here,” I called down to those below before leaping out of the hole. I scouted the side of the street leading into an abandoned neighborhood to determine the best route for escape. The gunfire and shouting came from the other direction, though I heard the signs of a battle in the neighborhood past this one as well.

The place was a mess. If ever I wouldn’t roll my eyes at Cleon using his helicopter, it was now, when such a thing was probably impossible. If the military had shot down the chopper belonging to the Queen of Greece, they wouldn’t hesitate to blow Cleon’s out of the sky.

When satisfied we had a somewhat safe route away from the main battle, I returned to the manhole cover and slid down the ladder.

“Go straight across the street and hide behind the house on the left,” I directed them. “Do not stop under any circumstances.”

No one spoke. If they chose to disobey, it wasn’t my problem, so long as Tommy and Dosy made it out alive. I picked up the body of the unconscious High Priestess. Cleon went first, followed by one of his guards carrying the pilot, the Queen, the second guard, and finally, Tommy. Balancing Theodocia, I climbed the ladder after my son.

He waited for me again, and we both darted across the street into the boarded up neighborhood.

“How far is the compound?” I asked Cleon.

“Far,” he said. “Too far to walk.”

“If you hadn’t noticed, we don’t have any other choice.”

“You’re creative with situations like this. I’m certain you –”

“Niko,” one of the guards called. He had set down the Queen’s bodyguard and was standing at the corner of the abandoned house we hid behind. He waved me over.

I lowered Theodocia to the ground and trotted to him, peering around the corner.

“Someone has been tracking us all night,” he reported. He was one of Cleon’s longtime security members who I had met during one of my numerous visits to Cleon’s home over the years. I wracked my brain for his name.

Dimitris. I had never worked with him, but I knew his reputation as a good guy, not too ambitious, who never disobeyed an order.

Two black vans had rolled up after we left the sewers, and no less than a dozen men piled out of the cars, gathered around a central person holding a tablet.

“When did you notice them first?” I asked.

“Not long after we left the manor up north.”

“Isn’t it protocol for you all to check for bugs?”

“We did. Except for the boss’s phone, since he won’t let anyone touch it.”

“Any chance it’s something else?”

“No.”

Ducking back around the side of the house, I strode to Cleon and snatched the phone out of his hands.

“They’re tracking you through this,” I snapped. I threw the phone as far as I could. “Any idea why?”

Cleon glanced at the Queen and Tommy, who were watching. He shifted closer to me, so they couldn’t hear him.

“You know very well I have a long list of enemies. I haven’t been able to deal with all of them,” he replied. “I also doubt I’m the only one who heard about the Queen’s accident. There might be more than one player with similar ambitions to mine.”

“Two vans full of armed men just showed up,” I replied.

“I’m sure you can handle it.”

I clenched my jaw. If I didn’t believe Tommy’s life to be in immediate danger, I’d let Cleon wallow in the mess he created. As it was, I had sufficient motivation to do what he wanted – even if I wasn’t happy about it. “I’ll take care of this mess and then you’re on your own. It’s not like a trust fund will be worth anything now that the banking institutions of the world are being destroyed.”

Cleon frowned, as aware as I was he wasn’t going to make it far, if someone wanted him dead.

For once, I had the upper hand with him. Once the danger passed, I could take Tommy and leave – and there was nothing Cleon could do about it this time.

“Niko!” Dimitris called once more. “Thirteen.”

“What d’ya know? My lucky number,” I said wryly and drew my weapons. It had nothing to do with saving Cleon’s ass and everything to do with giving me the best chance possible at escaping with Tommy and possibly Theodocia, assuming she didn’t weigh me down too much to fight. We needed a clean break, though, to give us a shot at putting some distance between us and anyone pursuing Cleon or the Queen.

I joined Dimitris at the corner of the house. We observed the newcomers in silence. They were well armed and wearing body armor, which meant mainly head shots or, if I had time and space, aiming for the vulnerable areas in their armor.

“Dimitris, keep the others safe,” I said quietly.

He looked at me quizzically.

“This ain’t gonna be pretty. If something bad happens, protect the kid.”

“Um, we stand a better chance fighting in tandem than you alone,” he said.

“You’ve never seen me fight. You’ll get in my way.”

When he appeared ready to object again, I rested my hands on his shoulders.

“I’m not a team player, Dimitris,” I said deliberately. “You heard about the Athens episode, where no one was left standing, attacker or ally?”

He nodded. “I heard it was a massacre.”

“That was me. I don’t play well with others.”

He shifted away from me.

I smiled. “Stay here. Protect the kid or I’ll make sure you regret it for however long I let you live.” Satisfied he was sufficiently warned, I left him standing at the corner of the house and darted to the adjacent home.

With frequent looks to ensure the small force wasn’t positioning itself to attack Cleon’s exposed group, I raced three houses down, far enough away to draw the fire of the men and hopefully avoid the kind of collateral damage that would place Tommy in greater danger.

Sliding the rifle off my back, I settled on the ground, concealed beneath a hedge in need of trimming, and took aim. I squeezed off a round.

“Twelve,” I murmured and then lined up the next shot. “Eleven. Ten. Nine.”

Number Eight fired on my position before I could put a bullet in his temple. I dropped the weapon in place then ducked back around the side of the house and snatched my sidearm. One of the attackers was belting out orders. Gunfire splintered the face of the home, and I dropped to my stomach, waiting for the automatic fire to cease. It stopped about sixty seconds later, and I remained completely still and silent. At some point, someone would be forced to check my position and determine if the threat had been neutralized.

I waited for the poor fool they sent first. When he crept around the side of the house, I slammed a knife into the side of his neck and covered his mouth with my other hand to keep him from crying out. Lowering him to the ground, I waited for the next attacker.

And so it went. In the course of ten minutes, I managed to kill every single one of them. A few got in punches, and one grazed my arm with a blade. Otherwise, the battle was one sided as I did what I did best: unleashed indiscriminate violence upon everyone in my path.

When it was over, I snatched the keys to the vans from the two drivers and double tapped a couple of the attackers who had taken body shots. Wiping the blood of others from my features, I collected the weapons I’d left in the bodies of the dead, or on the ground, before returning to the group waiting for me.

“All clear,” I said. My pace slowed as I approached. Dimitris was down, holding his stomach, while the other guard was dead.

To his credit, Cleon was huddled with the Queen and Tommy, his arms around them protectively as he looked from me to Theodocia. My ex was awake – and holding the knife I’d given Tommy. It dripped with blood, and three bodies lay at her feet.

I definitely wasn’t expecting that. Sweet Dosy hadn’t had it in her to swat a fly when we were together. How did she manage to kill three armed, trained men with a tiny knife?

She shuddered and dropped to her knees and then passed out, slumping to the ground.

“Mommy!” Tommy ran to her and knelt. He murmured something to her I couldn’t hear. Phoibe went with him, shaken but on her feet.

“Did she do that?” I asked Cleon.

“Slightly less brutal than your approach but not by much. I’ve never seen anything like you two,” Cleon answered uneasily. “She fought like she was possessed.”

“Maybe that was the infamous maternal instinct.” Curious, I was nonetheless done with putting myself and my son in danger and shrugged off Dosy’s strange display. Now was not the time to deal with it. I tossed Cleon the keys to one of the vans. The other set I kept for my escape.

“Tommy.” I waved my kid over. “We’re getting out of here.”

“Niko, wait,” Cleon said.

I ignored him, not in the mood for his shit. I bent down to pick up Theodocia. Her breathing was rougher and she was bloodied. I’d worry about her potential wounds later. My goal was to leave before someone else tracked Cleon’s phone and showed up with more firepower.

Cleon trailed me. “This is the new world order. Those in power are gone. The whole world is up for the taking, and I plan on being the one who takes it,” he said. “But first, I need you to get us to the compound in central DC.”

“Or I can be on the north side of Maryland by the time you make it there.”

“And where would you go? The protected zone isn’t that large, Niko.”

“It wouldn’t matter,” I replied. “When this fire stops, I can go wherever I want.”

“You assume the gods wrath will not take on a different form once their initial attack is over. This isn’t a warning, Niko. They are determined to punish humanity for reasons I can’t comprehend.”

“I don’t care.”

“You should. Can you face a god?”

I hefted Theodocia. “If I have to.”

“You’re a fool to believe so and to put your son at risk if you try,” he said firmly.

“Thanatos says we won’t survive outside the safe zone,” Tommy said in a scared voice.

“Don’t tell me you talk to gods, too!” I snapped with more heat than I intended. “I heard enough of that shit from your mother.”

Tommy gasped. “You said a no-no word,” he whispered, stricken.

The Queen of Greece nudged him. Tommy looked up at her.

“Phoibe wants you to stay with us,” he said.

I straightened and glared at the tiny royal. She didn’t back down, as small as she was.

“I agree,” Cleon seconded. “We need to stick together.”

“I can protect my own son. I don’t need you,” I replied. “Tommy, come on!” I started walking away.

“For this moment, yes. But what happens next?” Cleon called.

“Daddy, stay with us!” Tommy cried.

The panic in his tone sent coldness streaking through me. I turned and saw him hugging Phoibe. I didn’t care about Cleon or the Queen, but it was Tommy’s refusal to follow me that stopped me in my tracks.

Sensing my dangerous mood, Cleon approached and paused a short distance from me. “You’re too selfish to care if I tell you we have a duty to save the Bloodline, the only person who might be able to talk some sense into the gods,” he started. “Humanity will survive in some form, and the new world order is going to need her alive. I plan on being at the top when the world rights itself. You stand to gain a lot, if you are at my side.”

“Pretty big ambitions for someone who won’t survive ‘til morning on his own,” I pointed out.

“You’re right. I won’t. Not without you,” he agreed. “What if tonight we renegotiate our business relationship to make it more advantageous to both of us? What if I could protect your son indefinitely in exchange for you taking us all to safety?”

I didn’t know why this question sank in so much deeper than anything else. I didn’t want to be in charge of the kid’s welfare. At the same time, I was determined to ensure he survived. How did these two warring ideas exist simultaneously in my mind? How did I want to protect Tommy while also shying away from the responsibility of ensuring he didn’t end up like me?

The kid was turning out to be much more similar to his mother than I liked. Aside from the ability to talk to deities, both of them were capable of scrambling my brain and making me question myself.

“Big picture, Niko,” Cleon pressed. “When we do make it to the compound, which we will, what do you think happens?”

“I don’t care.”

“You should. The highest level political positions in the world are up for grabs. Not only this, but the Queen of Greece is in my hands,” he said loudly enough for only me to hear. “The sole surviving member of the Sacred Triumvirate. Think about it. In a week, with her good favor, I can have control of the military.”

“For what purpose? There won’t be anyone to command!” I said.

“Perhaps. Or maybe, come dawn, this will be over, and we can rebuild. The truth is no one knows what’s going to happen tomorrow. In a week. A month. A year. Are you willing to put your son’s life at risk outside of DC?” Cleon asked. “Or take a chance everything I’ve worked for is about to pay off, and you’ll be on the ground floor of what I’m creating, with Tommy safe at the center.”

In a different circumstance, where my son wasn’t directly involved, I would have walked away. “You never do anything without a reason.”

“I always reward loyalty, don’t I? And smash those who betray me.” A dangerous glint passed through Cleon’s gaze. “What happens to Tommy if you aren’t here to protect him?”

I tensed, sensing the subtle threat. Much of what Cleon said made sense. I was leery of leaving the safe zone guarded by Zeus and equally aware of what happened if I earned the wrath of Cleon. I had never had a reason to doubt myself before now, never had another life depending on my decision. What if I made the wrong choice, and Tommy suffered?

This twisting emotion inside me was another reason I didn’t want the responsibility of a kid in the first place. With Dosy unconscious, I alone had to decide how to protect our son from gods and men like Cleon or worse – men like me, who would rise out of the ashes of the apocalypse because of their ability to survive, at any cost.

“With the old world order gone, there will be no one to scrutinize either of us. I can make you an official member of my security team. You won’t be forced into the shadows anymore, and you’ll never have to grovel to criminals for some dangerous, bottom feeder merc contract in some third world country,” Cleon continued. “You want to be my official security advisor? The job is yours. Stable enough for you to keep your son with you, and you can assign as many of my men as you want to his protection.”

Cleon was asking me to think about tomorrow when I never thought past dinner. My gaze settled on Tommy, who was standing a few feet away, waiting for us to finish our adult conversation. The Queen of Greece had one of her arms wrapped around him, and the boy clung to her. It was clear they were close, two kids stuck in an impossible situation, vulnerable to whatever the gods threw at them. I alone would determine which of the people before me survived the night.

Tommy’s life was a given. It was less Cleon’s pretty words that convinced me and more my fear of how the unknown might hurt my son. I had seen Cleon in action. I understood how deep his ambition ran. There was nothing he would not do to become the person he envisioned himself. If anything was left standing in the morning, Cleon would find a way to claw his way to the top. But was Tommy better off in the reality Cleon hoped to create or with me, away from DC?

The moment I recalled the firestorms I had seen outside of the DC Metro area, I knew the answer. I had a choice between two evils.

I glanced at the Queen. She was a pawn – but a powerful one. Even I understood why Cleon had risked his own life to come to DC. I began to see how Cleon might be in a position to offer what he promised.

Before I could respond, I was distracted by Theodocia tensing. I shifted one arm to prevent her from falling as she began to struggle.

“It’s okay, Dosy,” I said with a grunt. I set her down.

With reflexes nearly as fast as mine, she snatched the handgun out of my belt and pushed me back, pointing the weapon at my chest.

“Whoa,” I said, not expecting her to react this way. True, we hadn’t parted on the greatest of terms, but …

… something about her was off. I studied her eyes. Her dark skin was crimson around the edges of her face, and her gaze was hard and glassy. She appeared fevered. If she recognized me, she didn’t show it.

“Mommy!” Tommy cried and hurried towards her.

Theodocia turned towards our son, cocking the hammer back on the pistol as she did.

Something was definitely wrong.

I snatched her wrist and disarmed her. My second surprise of the night: Dosy fought back. Her attempts at punching and maneuvering my body weight to her advantage were calculated and fast. She was pretty good. Not as good as me, but definitely better than most.

It took a minute to completely subdue her. With one arm wrapped around her neck, I hauled her against me.

“What’s wrong with her?” I asked the royal.

Tommy glanced up at her as well, as if waiting for an answer. None came.

Theodocia’s body relaxed in my grip. Her breathing became erratic, and she clawed at my forearm.

“Niko?” she asked, sounding baffled. “What the hell are you doing?”

The sudden change in her left me uneasy. “I could ask you the same thing.”

“You stay away from Tommy!”

“The kid’s cute. I kind of like him,” I baited her.

“Let me go!”

I did so warily, not lowering my guard until she twisted out of my grip and faced me. The anger on her beautiful face was normal, and fire blazed in her eyes. I had always considered her to be the prettiest woman I had ever known, with a face that matched the beauty of her heart. She hadn’t changed since we last saw one another. Whether she was smiling or furious, her direct look always lit my blood on fire.

“You shouldn’t be here,” she snapped.

“Our son called me. I saved his ass and yours.”

Dosy’s anger faltered, and she glanced around, as if not certain where she was or why. Her eyes went to the Queen, and I guessed the girl was talking to her.

Dosy shook her head. “No,” she answered.

“You must be Theodocia,” Cleon said, approaching. “I’m Niko’s … employer. I believe I have you to thank for bringing us together. He fell into my arms after you left town.”

“Left town,” she repeated, one eyebrow going up. “Is that what he said? That I left him?”

Glancing at me, Cleon didn’t try to use any fancy charm at this question.

“Well you did,” I said, unafraid of the woman who tore my heart in two.

“You left me,” she retorted. “After telling me to abort my child.”

“Our child.” I gave a half smile, genuinely happy to see her again, even if she hated me.

“He’s not yours.”

“I pay for him. He’s definitely mine,” I snapped. Any second guessing I’d been doing about my place in Tommy’s life melted away. If she didn’t want me to see him, I’d definitely be there.

“Shall we table this discussion for later?” Cleon broke in before she could respond. “We need to flee at the moment.”

Theodocia glared at me a moment longer then turned away and went to the two kids. She threw her arms around both Tommy and Phoibe, who hugged her in return.

I watched, unable to take my eyes off Dosy or my son.

“Now would be a good time to leave, if you’ve decided to accept my offer,” Cleon prodded me again.

“Help Dimitris up,” I said. I reluctantly turned my attention to our surroundings. “I’ll check the van.” I started towards the vans in front of the house.

Dosy, Tommy and the Queen hurried after me, while Cleon wrapped an arm around Dimitris’ shoulders and supported his trek to the van. I hopped into the back of the van. Cleon’s enemies had left body armor and weapons, a laptop I threw out the back door and two cell phones I also tossed, in case someone had them tagged.

The others gathered around the back of the vehicle, waiting for direction.

“Put this on,” I told the Queen and handed her a heavy, bulletproof vest. Nothing in the van was small or light enough for Tommy, though. After passing out armor to everyone else, I stripped off my weapons and then tugged off my lighter body armor. I draped it over Tommy’s head and belted it in place. I handed Cleon and the Queen weapons, ignored Dosy’s expectant look then cleaned off Tommy’s knife before returning it to him. A quick examination of the van revealed it had been professionally modified to withstand minor combat. The walls and windows were lined with bulletproof material, the gas tank reinforced, and the underside covered to prevent damage to the transmission and drive train from explosives.

“Your enemies are well funded,” I said to Cleon. “Any idea which one sent a small army and mini-tanks after you?”

“Why don’t we discuss the challenges of your new position at a later time?” he countered politely.

I said nothing. I wasn’t convinced trusting him was the best idea, but I did want Tommy safe on some government compound where the teen girl could order anyone who came near him shot on sight. Whether or not Cleon would follow through on his promise, I sensed Tommy was safe with the Queen.

I climbed into the driver’s seat and placed three weapons within reach on the passenger seat. The others climbed in back, with the Queen helping bandage Dimitris. Cleon gave me the general location of where we were headed. On a good day with light traffic, it would take forty minutes to cross DC. I didn’t know how long the journey would be this night but was pleased to have a full tank of gas.

When the back door closed, I shifted into gear, about to start driving, when Dosy climbed into the passenger seat beside me. I eyed her then shifted the weapons closer to me, in case she had another weird episode.

She stared straight ahead, ignoring me, and I began to drive.

My gut told me to head west and then south. I stuck to side roads and went out of my way to avoid any area I thought might be filled with looters, first responders or military personnel.

“Tommy seems smart,” I remarked.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Dosy snapped.

“That he got those genes from you.”

She glanced at me.

“For the record, you did leave me,” I added under my breath.

“Only because you were about to walk out on me. In my book, you left me!” she replied.

“We’ll have to agree to disagree.”

“Can this night get any worse?”

“It’s definitely not how I planned to spend it,” I agreed. “What happened back there? You weren’t you.”

“What?”

I gave her a look. I knew when someone was hedging.

“It’s complicated,” she said more quietly.

“Second time I’ve heard that tonight.”

She said nothing.

“You almost pointed a loaded gun at our son after you murdered three men, or do you not remember that?” I pressed.

“I would never do either of those things!”

“Ask the Queen or Cleon. They saw you.”

I felt her eyes on me briefly before she twisted to view someone in the back of the van. When she straightened once more, she was silent, frowning.

“You’ve got potential. You need a good combat trainer,” I said. “I can teach you to fight better.”

“I don’t want you in my life! In our lives!”

“Too late for that,” I said. “If the world is done, and we’re both going to have to defend our son, I want to know you can do it as well as I can. You already know no one can get by me. You’re the weak link here, Dosy.”

She wrung her hands together in her lap.

I had no idea what she was thinking.

I drove in silence for thirty minutes. I was moving us closer to our destination a little at a time, doing my best to keep us off the radar of anyone and everyone.

“I don’t want that,” Dosy said through gritted teeth.

“Don’t want what?” I asked.

“I’m not talking to you.”

I glanced in the rearview mirror at the Queen, who was gazing intently at Dosy.

“Phoibe’s right. I’ll be okay, Mommy,” Tommy chimed in. “Daddy’s here.”

Theodocia gripped her temples. “We’ll talk about it later.”

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“None of your business.”

“How can you not remember killing three men?”

Dosy sighed. “Just drive, Niko.”

Whatever it was, she was serious about shutting me out. I wasn’t as upset as I thought I would be. After all, it had been seven years since we last saw one another. If not for Tommy, we never would’ve seen each other again.

I began to notice SISA roadblocks the closer we drove to the compound Cleon spoke of. I avoided several. However, it soon became clear the compound had layers of security extending outward in every direction, blocking any attempts at entering illicitly. We’d have to bypass the outer layer somehow.

Drawing to a stop in front of a set of barricades, I evaluated the ten men on guard, displaying SISA riot gear. Behind them, a block away, was an armored vehicle blockade with some serious firepower and beyond that, a metal gate topped with barbed wire and probably sporting some serious security deterrents I wasn’t able to see from here.

“Cleon,” I said. “This is an official blockade. I suggest, before I smash through it, you do what you do best and see if you can’t get us in another way.”

“I’ll handle this,” he said and opened the back door of the van.

I put the vehicle in park then leaned down to grab weapons, just in case Cleon’s political sweet talking didn’t pan out. He approached the SISAns with his hands up and began to talk. Several minutes later, one of them radioed back to someone else. Cleon remained where he was, and my eyes stayed glued to the situation.

A full ten minutes later, two armored cars drove through the second layer of blockades to us. Two men dressed in purple exited the lead car.

“Oh, thank the gods,” Dosy said when she saw them. “It’s the Queen’s royal guard.”

Cleon led them to the van and opened the back doors.

The two men bowed deeply to the teen girl. “We thought you dead, Your Majesty!” one exclaimed. “Praise the gods!”

“Screw the gods,” I muttered under my breath.

Dosy slapped my arm before she got out of the van and circled it to act as the intermediary between the mute Queen and her guards.

Within seconds, everyone was hurried out of the van and toward the awaiting cars. I hung back, eyeballing the SISA guards who lifted their weapons when they saw how well armed I was.

“Hey, Niko, can I have the keys to the van?”

Dosy’s question drew my attention from the nervous SISAns. “Why?”

“Does it matter?”

“If you don’t want to tell me, yeah.”

She sighed. “I have to go somewhere.”

“In this mess?” I asked.

“It’s important.”

We stared at one another.

“I don’t know if I’m coming back,” she said in a hushed tone.

“Want company?” I asked casually. “I’m pretty good at surviving shit storms.”

She almost smiled for the first time tonight. “No. If I don’t make it back, promise me you’ll watch over Tommy. And the Queen. We’ve never met the DC arm of the royal guard. I don’t trust anyone here yet.”

But you trust me to protect our son. “Done,” I said. I handed her the keys without another word. I couldn’t begin to imagine where she was going, but I found myself looking forward to spending time with the boy I never wanted.

Dosy pocketed the keys and strode away from us, back through the barricades, and to the waiting van.

I watched her for a moment before facing the car my son was in. I slid into the backseat beside him.

“Phoibe says we’re safe now so not to worry,” Tommy told me matter-of-factly.

I glanced at the Silent Queen on Tommy’s other side. I didn’t trust her any more than I did Cleon, although, she appeared to be fond of Tommy. If Cleon’s plan failed, then maybe the strength of the relationship between the Queen and Tommy would offer my son some protection from what was going on outside of DC.

Tommy slid one of his hands into mine. The knife I’d given him protruded from the pocket of his jeans.

“What’s this mean, Daddy?” He touched the tattoo of a winged foot displayed on my neck. It was the mark of Hermes, the patron god of mercenaries.

“It means people hire me to do jobs they don’t want to do,” I replied.

“Like dusting the house?” he asked. “Mommy hates that.”

“Something like that, kid,” I said, the corner of my mouth lifting in a smile.

One of the guards closed the car door, extinguishing the light.

“Will Mommy be okay?” Tommy whispered.

“Yeah,” I lied. I had no idea what she was doing or whether she was coming back. I didn’t think Tommy needed to hear the truth after his rough night.

We were whisked away from the barricades and towards the compound, everyone except Theodocia, who, for some reason, had somewhere else to be.

My hand closed around Tommy’s, and I couldn’t help thinking again about where I’d been at his age. There was a time when it was smarter to keep my distance from him; that time had burnt to the ground with the rest of the world. Cleon was right. We were on the cusp of an existence very unlike the lives we used to live where we had to learn to survive both the wrath of gods and the ruthlessness of men. I didn’t belong in Tommy’s life when the world was safe, peaceful and secure.

But in this world, I was the right kind of dysfunction to keep Tommy alive. I’d do whatever it took to protect him, even if it meant working for a man like Cleon.

 

 

Theta Beginnings Miniseries

 

Silent Queen (Available now)

Mercenary

Shadow Titan

People’s Champion

 

Also by Lizzy Ford …

 

Non-Series – 2014 & 2015

Black Moon Draw (about a reader sucked into her book)

Highlander Enchanted

The Door

Water Spell (2016)

Dragon Tear (2016)

 

Trial Series

Trial by Moon

Trial by Thrall

Trial by Blood

Trial by Heart

 

Super Villainess Chronicles

It’s Not Easy Being Evil

It’s Complicated

(untitled)

 

Lost Vegas Novellas – young adult post apocalyptic

Aveline

Tiana

Arthur

Black Wolf

 

History Interrupted – Time Travel Romantic Adventures

West

East

North (2016)

South (2017)

 

Omega Beginnings Miniseries – individual episodes

Alessandra

Mismatch

Phoibe

Lantos

Theodosia

Niko

Cleon

Herakles

Omega Beginnings Miniseries – complete set

 

Theta Beginnings Miniseries (2016)

Silent Queen

Mercenary

Shadow Titan

People’s Championi

 

Omega Series

Omega

Theta (2016)

Alpha (2017)

 

Starwalkers Serials (with Julia Crane) – new adult science fiction serial

Severed

Trapped

Exiled

Revealed

Escaped

 

Heart of Fire – sexy dragon shifter

Charred Heart

Charred Tears

Charred Hope

 

Incubatti – Buffy meets 50 Shades

Zoey Rogue

Zoey Avenger

 

Rhyn Trilogy – new adult paranormal with demons

Katie’s Hellion

Katie’s Hope

Rhyn’s Redemption

 

Rhyn Eternal – Death finds love

Gabriel’s Hope

Deidre’s Death

Darkyn’s Mate

The Underworld

Twisted Fate

 

War of Gods – paranormal with gods, guardians and exceptional humans

Damian’s Oracle

Damian’s Assassin

Damian’s Immortal

The Grey God

 

Damian Eternal

Xander’s Chance

The Black God

 

Hidden Evil – paranormal with angels and four horsemen

Hear No

See No (2016)

Speak No (2016)

 

Unnamed Series

Unnatural (2016)

Unmade (2017)

 

Omega

Omega

Theta (2016)

Alpha (2017)

 

Anshan Saga – new adult science fiction romance

Kiera’s Moon

Kiera’s Home (novelette)

Kiera’s Sun

 

Santa’s Ninja Elves (short stories)

Natasha & Hunter

 

Non-series titles – 2011 – 2013

Star Kissed

A Demon’s Desire

The Warlord’s Secret

Maddy’s Oasis

Rebel Heart

 

Witchling – young adult paranormal

Dark Summer

Autumn Storm

Winter Fire

Spring Rain

 

Broken Beauty Novellas – new adult dramatic fiction

Broken Beauty

Broken World

 

Voodoo Nights – young adult paranormal

Cursed

Chosen (2016)

 

Writing as SE Reign, erotica writer

101 Nights

Claimed

Tainted

Crushed

Volume One Box Set (Serials 1-3)

Tempted

Captured

Twisted

Volume Two Box Set

Cornered

 

 


Mercenary

At first, hardened mercenary Niko is thrilled to watch the gods destroy the planet from the heart of the safe zone in DC, especially when he learns of the death of the man who forced him to work in the shadows. His excitement is short lived, however, when he realizes the reach of such wide scale destruction. His own son, whom he has never met, is caught in the middle of a war zone, and the one person who can guarantee his long-term safety is someone Niko knows not to trust. For once in his life, Niko must think beyond today, and he doesn’t like what the future holds. He’s faced with an uncomfortable choice: become the father he never wanted to be, or continue to live life by his own set of rules and let the two people he cares about fall beneath the wrath of gods.

  • ISBN: 9781623782665
  • Author: Lizzy Ford
  • Published: 2016-04-04 21:05:07
  • Words: 13236
Mercenary Mercenary