LEXY FIRST CHAPTERS
I clung onto Christian’s back for dear life, arms clasped around his chest and my legs wrapped around his waist, as we floated twenty metres above Winnipeg’s largest electrical power station. Christian’s arms were stretched wide and angled downwards, directing Hagalaz’s stream of energy into the damaged building below us.
My Guide, Tiwaz, was doing her thing, amplifying Hagalaz’s power as he generated the electricity needed to keep the crippled power grid functioning in one of the coldest cities on the planet. It had been crippled by my people, the Settlers, a small but significant proportion of whom were now running amok, attacking global power and communications networks in a haphazard attempt to prevent further environmental damage to this planet we all called home.
I couldn’t help but be reminded of another time, a crazy and ultimately sorrowful time, when another bunch of misguided Settlers, led by a man named Seth, had tried to melt a good portion of the Antarctic. They’d failed thanks to us, but they had managed to murder my father in cold blood.
Eco-terrorists. That’s what the news media was calling them. Extremists who were vilified for wanting to stave off a future many of the Settlers had already experienced. My own family had picked our side. But still, I sometimes wondered if our side really did have the high ground. After all, the eco-terrorists were only trying to stop the environmental freight train that was rolling down the track.
‘Is it working?’ I whispered in Christian’s ear. The air was so cold I could see my words as they traversed the distance from my mouth to his ear. ‘Can we at least get the heat back on until the army arrives with generators?’
‘It’ll work,’ Christian grunted, sweat pouring off him even in this freezing temperature. His whole body was shaking with the effort of controlling Hagalaz’s chaotic power.
Guilt flowed through me again. Whichever side I picked, I could never deny that I was one of them, that it was my kind that were wreaking this havoc; the same damned havoc my father had lost his life trying to prevent.
There had to be another way to rein in the reckless abuse of our world that was happening in the name of capitalism, continual growth, and free markets. But if there was, nobody that mattered seemed to be looking for one. But now is not the time to contemplate the great questions of life, I thought sadly. Not while I clung to Christian’s back and we worked desperately to save the lives of the innocent inhabitants of the city below who would freeze to death if we failed.
I felt a quiet knocking on a door in my mind; the door my Tribe had learned how to waltz through whenever they goddamned pleased. Moments later, that mind-door got blown off its hinges by Zack, who last I knew was fighting alongside the Canadian military and the recently recruited, but practically untrained, Winnipeg militia on the other side of the city. Together they were battling the Settler insurgents that had destroyed all the major elements of the Winnipeg power network.
Throughout the harsh winter, they’d been picking off small northern cities across the globe, making migrants out of the affluent people of the West. They were targeting those who they believed had done the most to bring us to this environmental tipping point, and they were doing it well. The Tribe had been heading from one crippled city to the next, Christian and I providing temporary power while the authorities scrambled to provide generators. The rest of our Tribe, led by Kai and Zack, hunted down the terrorists, but they managed to evade us every time, likely escaping each targeted location before we’d even entered the city limits.
We were determined to capture at least one of the terrorists so that we could find out who the hell was behind it. But until now, the cities they attacked were too far from our base for us to get there in time.
The urgency of Zack’s call told me our luck had changed.
‘We need you!’ Zack shouted, so loud I snatched one hand away from Christian’s chest to clamp it over my ear. There was once a time when we could only communicate telepathically during our meditation sessions, but when Mishka joined us with Tia’s mental abilities, we found we could chat the day away as long as we were within a mile or two of each other.
‘Shh!’ I hissed. ‘No need to bloody deafen me, idiot.’
‘Get over here!’ he whisper-shouted back. ‘We need reinforcements to hold off the insurgents while Kai tends to the wounded, and as you’re the equivalent of an entire battalion, you’re it.’
‘They’re still here, fighting? Do you think we could capture one?’
‘Oh yeah, they’re fighting alright. Must be two dozen of the bastards right in front of me, and you’re never gonna believe this…but I’m pretty sure I spotted a couple of Fae in the mix too. It makes no sense. What the hell are they doing here?’
‘Can you hear this?’ I asked Christian.
‘Yeah, I hear it.’
‘Can you manage alone if I go save big bad Algiz from the scary Settlers?’ I said, kissing him on the neck. It was electric. ‘And maybe, if you’re really good, I’ll bring you back a prisoner to interrogate.’
Christian huffed out a laugh, though it was strained. ‘Yeah, this baby is up and running now. All I have to do is keep the power flowing.’
‘So I’m surplus to requirements?’ I teased.
‘Never,’ he said, his tone serious, but I could feel his grin against my cheek as I let go my other arm, unclamped my legs, and dropped the twenty metres down to the street. I flexed my knees on impact, confident my Guide’s strength would protect me from injury.
Less than a year before, when our desert training facility had been attacked by a crazy man named Flak, who also happened to be Raven’s brother, Ben had lost control of his Guide, Ta’xet, and I’d been hit by a flying sabre. It turned out Tiwaz is susceptible to silver and it was touch and go as to whether I would survive. But as I lay dying, my friend Kai battled to save me, literally with her hands inside my chest, holding Tiwaz inside my body. She knew, in her heart of hearts, that if she could keep my Guide inside me, I had a chance. And she was right, because Tiwaz isn’t a quitter, and neither am I.
Once the dust had settled and the battle had been won, I’d been left with a partially severed spinal cord and only one arm. Like I said, it had been touch and go for a while, and I can’t say I haven’t been changed by the experience. But Kai had been proved right. Tiwaz had improvised. As the injury was from silver, she couldn’t heal me in the way she normally did, so the fierce battle-maiden inside of me found another way.
Where my arm had once been, I now had what I called my goddess arm. It was pure goddess without the human coating, skinless and shining. If I wasn’t wearing a long glove, I looked a right sight, but I was alive with two functioning arms, so I wasn’t complaining.
‘I’m off!’ I shouted up at Christian. ‘Try not to do too much damage while I’m gone.’ And with that, I was running towards my jeep, heading for Zack and the Settler army.
I sprinted through the dark city streets, heading for my Tribe, my head swinging left to right as I scanned my route for danger. It was carnage; dogs barking, people screaming. I had to hurdle a toppled statue and swerve around a sea of broken glass blown out of the windows of the high-rise buildings that towered over me. I saw all of this through the orange glow of the overturned, still burning cars that littered the streets.
Sirens wailed in the distance. This is different… worse than the others, I thought. It seemed these Settler activists were no longer satisfied just taking out the power and moving on, no longer content just to let people freeze. They were tearing Winnipeg apart, causing as much terror as they possibly could, and from what Zack had said, the violence was escalating.
As I closed in I realised this whole side of the city was dark, apart from those car fires and the occasional flash of light from the barrel of a gun taking pot shots at my Tribe from the roof of a nearby skyscraper. And then there was the light of Zack’s shield, which glowed rainbow colours as it shielded a small group of huddled civilians. As I watched, Zack ripped a lump off his shield and hurled it at the sniper overhead. The sniper took cover, and it smashed into the side of the skyscraper, sending chunks of concrete tumbling below.
‘’Bout time! I’m pinned down, but Adi and Mishka are on the move!’ Zack yelled across at me, pulling a scared civilian back under his shield just before a bullet ricocheted off the pavement. ‘There’s a sniper up there!’ He gestured towards the roof, as if it wasn’t obvious from the muzzle flashes and loud boom every time he let off a round. ‘He’s alternating between firing on us and a group of those moron militia. Clever enough to be armed to the eyeballs, but stupid enough to get themselves pinned down in the middle of a firefight.’
‘So what do you need me for?’ I asked, grinning, knowing it would piss Zack off. He was fun to bug.
And it did. ‘Now’s not the time for your jokes, Lexy,’ he growled, shifting in and out of his bear form, scaring the shit out of the civilians. Oops. ‘Neutralize the sniper, then I can get to the brave and stupid civilian militia, and we can all get the hell out of here.’
I nodded, scanned the building for a way up and paused. ‘Wait, where’d Kai go? And where the hell did the military get to?’ I asked.
‘They left! Casualties are higher than they’ve ever been, and now isn’t the time to debate battle techniques and the efficiency of the Canadian military. Get moving!’
‘On it,’ I said, crouching low and running as fast as I could in the direction of the nearby residential high-rise. It was close to 100m tall and looked like an out of place sentry guarding the artsy Osborne Village neighbourhood. The sniper on its roof only added to its looming menace.
I zigzagged between shrubs and benches, heading for the main entrance. Zack gave me cover by flinging more of his balls of shield plasma, blowing out windows and sending showers of glass raining down on the street below.
‘You could try not to slice and dice me while I try to save your sorry hide,’ I said telepathically.
‘You’re fine,’ came his unapologetic reply, which I decided to ignore as I sprinted the last few meters and dashed through the door into the silent building.
We’d been chasing these guys for months. They worked in individual units, like regular terrorists, with little or no communication between their discrete cells. It made them hard to track.
As I dove through the door, charging forward to crouch behind the security desk, I had a feeling of déjà vu thrill through my body. In the years since I’d been claimed, I’d been through hell. My bond with Christian and my Tribe helped get me through everything, but more than anything it was Tiwaz who saved me. But Tiwaz was a warrior goddess, which came with its own set of issues. Too much peace made her antsy, which in turn made me antsy. So it was in moments like these, heading into battle, that everything inside me came together in union.
Still crouched low, I hustled over to the bank of elevators at the far end of the atrium. If Zack had any chance of getting everyone to safety, I needed to deal with this sniper, pronto. The thing was, if the sniper was as good as I thought he might be, he’d have spotted me bolting across the open area out front. He’d be ready for me.
I slapped my human palm over the call button. Two of the elevator car doors opened in unison, and I leaned inside the first to press a bunch of random buttons, sending it off on a slow journey up the building. Then I did the same with the second elevator before heading for the emergency staircase, snatching open the fire door and beginning the long hundred-metre climb to the rooftop.
With any luck, the sniper wouldn’t know about my powers, would think I was just another Settler who’d sided with the humans. That would give me the element of surprise, I thought as I passed the halfway point of the staircase.
I ran fast, and my mind flew faster, planning, strategizing.
I paused when I made it to the top, connecting with my Guide. The moment we became one, I felt her surge forward, alert and focused, and right then I knew with absolute certainty that the sniper was going to regret ever messing with Tiwaz, Goddess of Justice and Sacrifice.
On that thought, I snatched open the door and, still crouched as low as I could at over six feet, darted through it. With Tiwaz ascendant, I could sense the sniper’s presence immediately. He was standing, facing away from me, with his sniper rifle swung casually over his shoulder, about halfway between my position by the elevators and the roof’s edge.
I didn’t wait for him to turn and spot me. I hitched in a deep breath and charged, arms pumping and legs moving so fast they must have been a blur. I’d almost made it to him when he spun around to face me and swung his rifle over his shoulder. But I was too close, soaring through the air, leg raised to kick away the gun, so he changed tack, shifted his grip on the weapon like a baseball bat, and drew it back to take a swing.
I’d have said time slowed down, but Adi wasn’t here, and anyway, he aged so damned much when he used that particular power that we’d made him swear not to use it.
Instead, it was Tiwaz’s warrior instincts that sped up my reactions, which gave me time to raise my arm and slam my goddess hand right into the rifle. It’s metal barrel just collapsed around my arm, melting around it like well-cooked spaghetti, and I couldn’t contain the yelp of satisfaction when it dropped to the floor, useless, looking more like one of Uri Gellar’s spoons than the lethal weapon that had held Zack, and the humans we were trying to save, captive.
Tiwaz had saved those people, but now she and I had to save ourselves from the irate Settler in front of us. I pirouetted, spinning round and round until I was ten feet from the man.
‘You’re one of us!’ he said, and I only had a second to study the fanatical fire in his ruby eyes before he took three gigantic strides towards me and pulled a long, curved dagger from a sheath on his belt. He swung his arm from right to left, aiming for my gut, and if I’d been the praying type, I’d have prayed that the blade heading my way wasn’t silver. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, I thought, as I ducked down, flung out my leg and swept it under the Settler’s feet.
The man was solid, however, and I only managed to take out one of his legs as he stumbled forward, stretched his arms out to steady himself, and just managed to keep his footing.
‘Fuck,’ he hissed, lurching backward.
‘Yeah, you said it.’ I faked right, turned left, and vaulted onto his back in the time it took him to ready his dagger for another swing. Legs secured around his middle, I wrapped my goddess arm around his neck and cinched tight. He turned his head, and I looked into the man’s eyes as they widened into saucers when my arm transformed into a thick, silvery rope that tightened into a noose around his neck.
He grabbed hold of the rope, desperately trying to jam his fingers beneath it so that he could pry it lose. No luck there. Next, he used his knife, sawing at the rope in an attempt to cut it away from his neck. But it was pure goddess power he was dealing with, and no man, not even a Settler, could get free of Tiwaz’s embrace unless she wanted them to.
‘Let…let me loose,’ the man gurgled, twisting his neck, trying to get a good look at me.
‘Never!’ I snarled, more warrior goddess than woman in that moment. ‘But if you tell me what I need to know, I’ll put a good word in for you at Guantanamo Bay. Capiche?’
‘Never!’ the man answered, throwing my own words back in my face. Stalemate.
A look of peace crossed his face – the terrible, fanatical peace of someone beyond saving. Tiwaz shifted inside me. Something was wrong. I tensed up, looked side to side for any sign of an ambush. Nothing.
Then, before I had time to stop him, the man relaxed in my grasp. I tensed again as he whipped his knife up to his throat and slashed it from left to right, just above where my goddess arm was wrapped around it.
Blood spurted from the wound down his alabaster skin and bubbles of air hissed out of him. His head fell back, landing on my shoulder. A dead weight.
It’s a mortal wound, no doubt about that, I thought as I relaxed my arm, guiding his now lifeless body to the floor. I glanced at the pool of blood spreading around my feet and cursed the lost opportunity. Another one of my kind, my people, gone. And for what?
But more pressing was the fact that I still hadn’t been able to take one of them alive. Too late to worry about it now, I thought before sprinting across the roof and waving my arms like a crazy woman, signalling to Zack that all was well – crisis averted.
Zack, gentleman Texan that he was, tore off a portion of his glowing shield and tossed it up to me on the roof. It unravelled like tape as it flew through the air and, just before it reached me, he flicked his wrist and it shifted into a long, slightly arched set of steps.
I raced down, thinking about the humans at the bottom. How are we going to explain this little demonstration? I wondered, but as I got closer I noticed Zack had turned his shield opaque, blocking me from view. Relieved, I relaxed, though I shouldn’t have, because when I’d made it to within ten feet of the bottom, Zack – no longer trying to act the gentleman - flicked his wrist again, ironing my staircase flat, and forming it into a slide, which I tumbled down arse over elbow, landing flat on my back at his feet.
‘Idiot,’ I muttered as I stood up and dusted myself off. But this time there was none of the resentment or rage there had been, just fondness. Tiwaz was happy, at peace within me, which meant I was at one with the world and my Tribe.
Zack grinned, turned towards the river, and started hustling the terrified group of humans still huddled under his shield away from the chaos.
I took off at a run, passing them quickly, heading south towards the river. If I was quick about it, I knew I might be able to catch up with Adi and Mishka before the Settlers scarpered.
I skidded to a halt at the entrance to a tiny park which butted right up to the frozen river running through Winnipeg. Scanning the area, I spotted more muzzle flashes, this time coming from a low, white building close to the water. They were raining down bullets on a bedraggled looking group of stranded civilians, who were using a nearby copse of trees for cover.
‘Mishka, where are you?’ I called telepathically, again scanning the area, searching for Mishka and her brother, Adi. They had to be here somewhere, but where?
‘We’re about a hundred feet behind the little white building with the tiled roof,’ came a whispered answer through the open door in my mind. ‘We managed to scare most of the terrorists away, using some of Tia’s smoke and mirrors. But a couple stayed behind, convinced that we are the bad guys in this story we’re writing together.’
Ha! Tia must have got inside their heads, convincing them of some dire consequence or other, and scared them away, and now my clever friends were creeping up behind the ones that had stuck it out, while they were focused on the terrified little group down by the trees.
‘Hang tight,’ I said. ‘I’m almost to you.’ As I spoke, the texture of the cold air around me changed. Suddenly, my legs, instead of flying, felt heavy and slow, like I was running through treacle. ‘Dammit, Adi, I said wait!’ I shouted, and kept on running, even though the world around me had ground to a halt.
‘Can’t risk losing them,’ Adi shouted back as I stumbled and almost lost my footing. I sprinted down the grass bank which led to the building. Dammit! He was going to fuck himself up for no reason. We didn’t need him to stop time now when, between us, Mishka and I could have handled it. But as usual, Adi had to play hero.
‘Idiot!’ I shouted as I rounded the building and skidded to a halt in front of Mishka. She had one of the Settlers face down on the ground, her knee in his back, securing his hands behind him with zip ties. Not five feet from her, Adi was doing the same with the second Settler in a similar position.
It looked like I was surplus to requirements again, only I wouldn’t have been if Adi had kept his word and left time rolling like he was supposed to.
‘If you’re not careful, you’ll end up old and decrepit while the rest of us will still be radiant gods!’ I said, closing the distance between us and giving Adi a none too gentle shove so he knew for certain that I wasn’t joking.
‘Whatever,’ he replied, unapologetic, but I’m sure I saw more lines around his eyes, and the distinguished grey flecks in his hair had faded a little whiter.
‘Shut up and switch time back on so we can get on with this.’
‘Your wish is my command, goddess,’ the smartarse replied, then everything – the sounds of the city, the cool feel of the icy wind whipping against my face – came crashing back as Adi released his hold on time.
‘Get off me!’ one of the Settlers shouted, writhing beneath Mishka.
‘I will as soon as you answer a few questions,’ Mishka said, obliging, while at the same time shoving her knee even harder into his back.
‘I don’t know anything. I’m just following orders,’ he said, but that didn’t sound right. He’d hung back to finish off the stragglers, even after Tia had no doubt given him good reason to leave. He could have just made off with his brethren. No, these two knew more than they were telling.
‘It’s no good reasoning with them. They’re not going to volunteer any information. We’ll have to pry it out of them,’ Adi said, grinning down at them. I saw a shiver run through the man’s body. He was afraid. ‘Sister, why don’t you see if Tia can help?’
‘But—’ Mishka started to reply, but I interrupted her.
‘Don’t get squishy on us now. These are the same terrorists who were taking potshots at civilians until a few moments ago. Do you think we owe them anything?
‘No, I guess not,’ said Mishka, but she looked worried. ‘Just… you know how Tia can be when she gets going.’
‘Brutal,’ Adi said, nodding. I watched as an almost imperceptible grin passed over his face. He liked watching his sister work her harsh magic.
‘What are you talking about?’ the other Settler asked. ‘Who is Tia?’
‘They’re just trying to scare us, Dron,’ Mishka’s Settler hissed.
‘And I don’t mind admitting they’re succeeding, Bray,’ Dron replied, his voice shaking. This we can work with. We could put on a show that would scare the bejesus out of him, and then, when he was more frightened than he had ever been in his life, he’d be more than eager to answer a few questions.
‘Don’t worry your pretty little head,’ I told him. ‘Tia will get to you eventually. But first I’m going to ask your friend a few questions.’
Dron was silent, though his Adam’s apple might have bobbed. It was the one Dron had called Bray, the hardened soldier, who blustered, ‘I’m not scared of you.’
‘No?’ I asked, pulling the protective glove off my goddess hand, revealing its semi-transparent white outline. ‘You should be.’
Ten minutes later, I stood in front of Bray. As I could have guessed, he hadn’t talked, and now he was exhausted beyond speech, but I hadn’t had to kill him – which is what Tia would have done. Though he had spoken in a way, because his friend Dron was practically begging to tell us everything he knew about their leader – the man who was masterminding the attacks systematically taking apart our civilisation.
‘Stay away from me, please. I’ll tell you anything you want to know.’
‘Same question as your friend. We want your leader’s name and location. I think it’s time we met,’ I said quietly.
‘Hesch! His name is Hesch. He’s the one who coordinates the different teams. He’s the only one who knows who we all are and what we are tasked to do.’
‘Hesch,’ I repeated, rolling the name in my mouth. He was an incomer. Very few of those of us who were born here had been given traditional names. Our parents wanted us to fit in, not stand out like sore thumbs. Yes, Hesch was a name from the future. Interesting.
‘And where can I find this Hesch?’ I asked, moving closer, almost pressing my body against the terrified man held by Adi and Mishka. I felt him quake in fear, watched the internal struggle behind his eyes before his inevitable surrender.
‘London,’ he whispered, as if that lack of volume might diminish his betrayal of all he held dear. Moments later, I had the full address and details of what we might expect when we got there.
Nodding, I reached inside my ski jacket and pulled out my mobile. I skimmed through my favourites then hit the green button.
The phone rang three times before it was answered. ‘Sweet girl,’ Uncle Simon practically sighed into my ear. ‘What an absolute delight to hear your dulcet tones.’
‘You haven’t heard my tones yet,’ I grumbled back, though my annoyance was obviously feigned, and I could hear the laughter in Uncle Simon’s voice when he answered.
‘Your ringtones, my dear. What else could you have imagined I meant?’
I huffed out a laugh, the moisture of my breath freezing in the air in front of my face. ‘I have news.’
‘As do I,’ he replied.
‘As ever, my heart,’ the old charmer crooned in my ear, and I watched Mishka’s hand rise to her face as she rushed to cover her chuckle.
‘We’ve captured a Settler. We’re going to secure him here. Can you send someone to pick him up?’
‘Of course,’ Uncle Simon agreed, now all business. ‘Text me the coordinates and I’ll get someone over to you pronto. Do we need an interrogator?’
‘Can’t hurt,’ I replied. ‘But we already had a chat, and I have a location.’
‘Roger that. Don’t share over open airwaves. Just come straight to me.’
‘Will do,’ I replied, getting ready to sign off, but I’d forgotten Uncle Simon had news of his own.
‘My turn,’ he said, and I waited, disinterested, for him to get it over with, not knowing he was about to blow my little piece of news right out of the water.
‘I saw Raven today,’ he said. ‘He was on the roof of my garage, here at home. It was like old times really. He didn’t stay long, and he didn’t transform, though I didn’t expect him to after what you’ve told me. He just sat there, perched, staring me out with his unblinking, black eyes for, perhaps, ten minutes. Then he ruffled his feathers, spread his wings, and left.
‘I thought I might be imagining things, so I called the Desert Training Facility to see if he was there. He wasn’t.’
Simon stopped talking, but I’d been struck dumb by the news. Raven was on the move, still in bird form as he had been in the close to twelve months since he’d retreated into himself. He’d had good reason, and he hadn’t budged from the roof of the facility since that day. He made a nest and was “sulking” from that day to this, according to Malcolm. Well, until now.
‘I couldn’t tell you where he was going,’ Uncle Simon added, breaking the silence.
‘Th…thanks for telling me,’ I managed to stutter out. ‘Maybe I’ll catch up with him when I get there?’ That sounded trite, stupid even. But what else could I say? I wondered as I hung up the phone.
‘Shall we head back to Christian? Make sure he’s got things in hand?’ I asked Mishka and Adi.
Mishka nodded, but Adi just shrugged and said, ‘I guess. What about this one?’ He looked down, not waiting for a reply, leaned back with his hands in his pockets and casually booted the still-conscious, interrogated Settler in the side of the head, leaving him unconscious and tied. ‘That’s better.’
‘Not necessary,’ I said, sighing but ignoring him as I’d gotten into the habit of doing. They followed me as I walked slowly back up the incline, retracing my footsteps.
My head was buzzing. I was going to have to go to London to track down this Hesch guy. It had to be me, a Settler, who made the first approach. Maybe all this was just his way of getting the world’s attention? I thought. With luck, he might see reason.
And while I was there, I’d see if I could track down Raven and find out what he was doing in England. But I’ll keep that last bit of information quiet, I decided. No need to worry Christian. He was needed here and had to focus on keeping these coldest of cities running. If he knew about Raven, he’d want to go, and then what would become of the people who needed him to keep them warm?
Yes. I’ll keep it to myself for now, I decided, picking up my pace and eager to get moving.