The Offer

There was a knock on the door just before it opened. A middle-aged man walked into Jacob Lott’s office.

“Hello, Jacob. Good to see you again.” He extended a hand.

Jacob took the man’s hand and shook it before inviting him to sit down. “Have we met? I’m sorry, I don’t remember.”

The man chuckled. “You did have a lot to drink last night, so it isn’t surprising that you might forget.”

“Last night…” Jacob vaguely remembered going to a bar, but much of the rest of the night was a blur. “I don’t really…” His memory finally dredged up something. “You… were sitting next to me…”

“Indeed. I listened to you most of the night.”

“… While I complained about the state of the world, the mess it’s in. The way we’ve screwed up the planet, ourselves, and society.”

The man smiled. “For as drunk as you were, you were also very articulate. Until you passed out.”

“Very sorry about that. It’s been a rough week.”

He waved away Jacob’s apology. “I could tell. Happy to lend an ear.”

“So… how did you happen to come by my work?”

He pulled a small white card from his pocket. “You gave me your business card.”

“Oh. So you have work for me?”

“No… Well, not exactly. I have a proposition for you. I can give you the tools you need to make the world a better place.”

“Well that sounds… implausible. You shouldn’t start your sales pitch with such grandiose hyperbole.”

“It’s not a sales pitch. And it’s not hyperbole. I really listened to you last night. You seem to genuinely care about this world. I want to help you set it right.”

“And how would you do that.”

“I can give you power. Resources. Whatever you need.”

“And the price for all of this?”

“None. You just have to try to fix the world. I think that’s price enough.”

Jacob eyed the man sitting across from him. He didn’t trust him, but he couldn’t figure out his angle. What was he after? He just sat there, a mild smile on his lips as he waited for Jacob to respond.

“What’s your name?”

“I’ve had many names. At the moment, I go by Lucas.”

“Lucas? But your original…”

The phone rang.

“You should get that.” Lucas stood to leave. “Think about my offer, Jacob. And I am very sorry about your sister.”

“What about my …?” But Lucas was gone before Jacob could finish his question.

The phone rang again, and he picked it up. “Hello?”

“Jacob. This is mom.” Her voice sounded weak, as though she had been crying. “There’s been an accident.”

“An accident?”

“Yes. Your sister. She’s been…” His mother started sobbing.

Addiction

Beth looked at the stranger across from her.  Broad shoulders draped in an overcoat.  Hat covering his short hair (or perhaps mostly bald head?).  His age was impossible to determine looking at him.  He might have been in his forties or his sixties.  The way he looked, something about it, reminded her of…  someone?  She couldn’t place him.  What had he said his name was?  Thomas?

The man was talking about someone else, someone she also didn’t know. But someone he was trying to warn her about.  “I don’t know how to explain this to you, but let me try an analogy.  You probably like to drink alcohol.  Or maybe you like sex.  But you don’t understand the alcoholic’s craving or the nymphomaniac’s desire.”

Beth had no idea where he going with this.  Addiction?  To blood?  Was he trying to tell her that vampires were real?  Maybe her first instinct, that he was just a crazy person, was right after all.

Thomas continued before she could leave.  “Well, he’s addicted to life.  Everyday he’s alive is another day off the wagon.  There’s no twelve-step recovery program for life.  And every moment leaves you wanting more.  The only cure for this addiction is death.  The advantage is, you don’t have any relapses.”

“So what?  Nobody wants to die.  I mean, sure, some people commit suicide, and there are people with death wishes.  But everybody else wants to live, too.  What makes him so special?”  Beth was at the end of her patience with this.

“No.  You’re right that most people like living.  But that’s like you liking alcohol or sex.  Most people don’t think about living all the time.  Sure, they might worry about death from time to time.  Maybe when they’ve had a close call, or someone close to them dies.  But I’m talking obsession here.  He is constantly thinking about life, his life, and how to prolong it.  It consumes him.  And it’s that obsession that sustains him.  It has sustained him for a very long time.”

“How… how long?”

“At least several hundred years.  And he is a dangerous man.”

First Meeting

“You should pick your targets more carefully.”

Krina spun around, her dagger drawn. Sitting in a chair ten feet from her was an old man in a traveling cloak. His shaggy grey hair and beard made him instantly recognizable as the man whose purse she had cut earlier in the tavern.

Her first instinct was to run. But doing so meant leaving her few possessions behind. Besides, he had not brought the town guard with him. She was intrigued.

“How did you get into my room?”

“Wrong question.” The half smile on his lips did not fade.

“What do you mean?”

“You should know as well as anyone that getting into a room is not that difficult. What you should be asking, instead, is how did I know this was your room.”

He was right. Both times. “Okay, how?”

“Another time. Perhaps. I need you to return the pouch you took from me.”

“I did not…”

He held up a hand to stop her. “No denials. I know it was you. For your sake, please return it. Now.”

She considered her options. She was still closer to the door than he was. And he was old, how quick could he be?

“I am faster than I look.”

Krina wondered how obvious she was. This was the first time she had been caught, but he seemed to know everything. Instead of running, she brought out the pouch.

“Good girl. Give it to me.”

What was so important? Was it just the money, or was there something more? Her curiosity needed to be sated, so she emptied the contents onto the table next to her.

“No…” But he was too late.

Out came several coins, probably enough to keep her comfortable for a month or more. Something else caught her eye, however. It was a larger coin, with emerald and onyx set in the middle. It looked familiar. There was also a blue gem. But the black and green kept her attention. Black within green…

“Give it back.”

She gasped. “The Terrgat! This is one of their medallions. That means you must be one of them…” Her voice trailed off as her blood went cold. Stealing from the Terrgat? What would the punishment be?

Without her noticing, he had stood and closed the distance between them. With one hand, he ripped the medallion from her, and with the other grabbed the blue gem.

“I am not a Terrgat.” She had never heard a denial so firm. “Keep the money. Forget you saw me. Or this.”

“But if you are not Terrgat…?”

“Better that you remain ignorant.”

She stopped him as he began to leave. “Wait. I need to know. Who are you?”

He sighed. “It really is better for you not to know.”

As soon as he was gone, Krina replaced the coins in the pouch and stowed it away in her jerkin. She quietly left the room and followed the old man out into the night.

Jacob Lott

Jacob Lott had made a deal with the devil. He knew from the start it was a bad idea, but he didn’t care. The world had gone to hell, and Jacob had decided it was time for it to end. The devil had merely provided the means. The one thing that worried him the most was that the devil had asked for nothing in return. Jacob was given power and resources to use as he saw fit. The devil had put no conditions nor price on it. It was reason to be suspicious, but it was too good an offer for Jacob to pass up.

There were all the usual complaints about the state of the world, humankind’s basic inhumanity in treating other humans. The senseless death of good people, including Jacob’s sister. Humanity needed to be taught a lesson before it was scrubbed off of the Earth. And then all the suffering in this world would end. If human beings were the cause of evil, then eradicating them was the only answer.

Yet he had to go about this the right way. Yes, the deal had given him what he needed. But simply eliminating humans was not enough. They needed to know why. It would be a slow process, accumulating power and influence to make getting his message out possible. To lay bare the various sins of humankind. Only then would he be ready to end it all.

It was time to get started.

Death Wins

“…Police are still looking for the suspect. While officials refuse to comment on the events, in this exclusive video, you can clearly see the suspect – this woman – being shot by police. The bullets seem to have no effect on her as she escapes the scene. Some have suggested that the police were using rubber bullets, but at least one ballistics expert thinks otherwise…” He turned off the television and looked back at her.

“This is the situation you’ve put us in. People are speculating about how you got away. Scrutiny is drifting ever closer. Why did you do this?”

“What is the point of this conversation? You’ve already made up your mind.” Her stare was fierce; he found it difficult to match. Were she not restrained, he was certain she would try to kill him.

“We were friends once. I just want to understand why you threw everything away.”

“Don’t you ever tire of your stupid rules?”

“They are our rules. Yours too. And you know why we have them. To keep them from finding out about us. Trying to capture us. Study us. Or worse.”

She snorted. “This life we created for ourselves. It’s a poor imitation of what we thought we were making. Yes, we live. But what sort of life is it?”

He shook his head. “You knew what the consequences would be. You knew we could not ignore this. Were you trying to force our hand?”

“If I had wanted to die, there are easier ways than to get you to hunt me down.” She struggled a bit, testing the ropes, but they were secure. “This is torture. Cruel. Kill me, if you have the resolve. Otherwise, let me go. In either event, quit talking as though you care.”

That last hurt him. However, he could see no way to get through to her. If she were determined to flaunt the rules, he had no alternative. Blinking back a tear as he raised the pistol to her forehead, he muttered “Death wins” before pulling the trigger.

The Others

It was almost impossible to hear the music over the din of conversation and dancing. He sat, sipping his whiskey, absorbing the spectacle of the crowd while remaining apart from it. The atmosphere of people drinking to forget, or drinking to get up the courage to ask someone to spend the night, or just drinking… It never grew tiring. It was life in the raw; he could never get bored with it.

He could not fully enjoy it, however. Someone would come along, and it did not take long before he arrived. The newcomer resembled him: They both appeared to be in their late thirties or early forties, and both dressed in a similar nondescript fashion. Neither man wanted to draw attention.

He gestured for the newcomer to sit across from him. “I’ve been expecting you.”

“Of course you have. You’ve made no secret about your intention.”

“She broke the rules. You know as well as I do what must be done. And I did warn you not to get involved with her. It is safer if we stay apart from such entanglements. Even with each other.”

“I won’t let you kill her.”

“If not me, someone else will. At least I will make it as painless as I can.”

He took another sip of whiskey.

“Damn you. You can’t do this.”

He put his glass down and thrust a finger at the other sitting across from him. “I can. And I will. It has to be done. She puts us all at risk with her behavior. And if you try to stop me, you will suffer the same fate. I will not let her – or you – threaten the lives we have worked so hard for. We all agreed to these rules for our own protection. She threatens to bring unwelcome scrutiny down on all of us. I WILL put an end to her!”

He sat back in his chair, exhausted. Anger was one of the many emotions he had learned to suppress. It drained away too much energy. Letting even a little of it out left him feeling closer to death than he liked.

The other looked chastened for a moment before a steely resolve returned to his eyes. “I will kill you before I let you kill her.”

“You are welcome to try.” His practiced calm had reasserted itself.

“Is that why you are here, to give you enough witnesses that I won’t try anything?”

He replied by taking another sip.

“How do you know I won’t do it anyway? Why should I care about the stupid rules if you are going to use them to kill her?”

“I think you still care about your own existence too much to throw it away on a meaningless gesture. You know killing me won’t change anything.”

The other stood up with enough force to knock his chair backwards. “That might not be true for much longer.”

He just shrugged. The other stormed off. He would have to do it soon, before this situation got any more volatile. But it could wait a bit longer. He sat back and tried to enjoy the energy around him.

The Secret

It doesn’t matter much that my second novel in the series about the mage Ice hasn’t been finished yet. When ideas hit, they hit. And thus the story for the third novel is starting to gel in my mind. It is likely to be awhile before I can really get started on it in earnest, but I already have a good sense of the general plot. Relatedly, while I always planned to call the third novel The Thief, I am thinking I will have to come up with a different title. Oh well…

The land surrounding the old capital was blasted and lifeless. The devastation extended for a hundred miles in every direction. The damage had been done centuries ago, and the tales of it were little more than rumor and legend.

The perpetual fog, which hung over the whole region, made it easy to discern the boundary of the area and also made it impossible to navigate. No one who had entered ever returned. Tales spoke of hideous unnatural creatures that lived inside the fog, waiting for unlucky travelers to devour. It was the stuff of nightmares.

The truth was both more deadly and more mundane. The land itself was dead, and in an attempt to restore itself, it absorbed any life it could to use as nourishment. The process was slow. Humans had, for the most part, learned to stay away. only the occasional fool wandered inside. Every once in a while, an animal would find itself on the wrong side of the boundary. With so little life to draw on, the land did not heal quickly.

Magic had done this, though not directly. In one act of rage, so much power had been used that none was left, and still it was not enough. The demand was so great that it did not stop when the magic gave out; rather, it continued to draw the very life force of everything around, killing thousands of people and countless plants and animals.

In the center of this wasteland, under the ruins of the old capital was a secret. It was this secret that the king sought. It was the secret to how all of this had happened and how to make it happen again.