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Authors: Craig Schaefer

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BOOK: Red Knight Falling
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From the sea, it looked like a flying saucer had collided with the sheer California cliff side. Half of a rounded disk jutted from the rock, sporting floor-to-ceiling windows and gleaming white as alabaster. The rest of the mansion—all four levels of it, along with a full-size underground parking garage—cut deeper into the mountain. A $30 million dream house, built for one man’s pleasure.

Not that there was any joy to be found tonight. Bobby Diehl sat slumped in his black leather recliner, all the lights out, a glass of 1939 Macallan whisky dangling in his nearly limp fingers. An ice cube clinked against the glass as he slouched lower, swallowed by the chair, staring at the 110-inch television set on the far side of a polished hardwood expanse. He’d been staring at it for hours, barely registering what was on. Some sitcom. Laugh track washing over him. Laughing


The voice came from the open arch at his back. Cooper. She stood on the threshold, hesitant. He didn’t answer.

“Did . . . you need anything else, sir?”

“No,” he finally replied. “Nothing else tonight. Go home.”

He listened to the click of her high heels, and the soft hiss of the elevator door. Leaving him alone to wallow in his failure.

On the television, a precocious preteen was haranguing her father for concert tickets. The father mugged for the camera, giving a long-suffering sigh as the laugh track played.

Then a deafening shriek exploded from the sound system as the show was replaced by the close-up of a bloody, screaming face, contorted in agony.

Bobby lurched in his chair, the glass slipping from his fingertips, falling to the floor and shattering as the sound cut out and the television went black. The room plunged into darkness.

He sat up, heart pounding, catching his breath. The television flickered.

A sigil appeared on the screen, an ornate rune traced in silver light. The jagged lines made him think of spikes and spiderwebs and the cutting edge of a razor blade. Then the sigil was gone, replaced by grainy black-and-white footage of maggots. Maggots, feasting on a side of rotten beef.

Another heartbeat. Footage gone, now another sigil, no less barbaric, no less cruel-looking. Another heartbeat. An eye filled the screen, impossibly blue, impossibly hungry, staring right at him. Another sigil. Next, a barbed-wire fence, a tornado on the horizon, and—
Is that a baby doll?
Bobby asked himself.
It is. It has to be a doll.

Another sigil. A vivisected dog, still breathing. Another sigil. A vast, silent, and empty plain; nothing but hard, cracked earth and desolation as far as the eye could see, going on forever. The images came faster and faster, flickering as the sound system popped and crackled with static, a background hum droning louder like an airplane readying for takeoff.

Then it stopped. The final image took up the entire screen. An amalgamation of all the individual sigils, twisted and woven together into one terrifying whole. It was just a symbol, just silver lines drawn on black, but looking at it turned Bobby’s stomach and made him want to throw up. Something in his brain, some evolutionary instinct, recognized the image on the screen. And feared it.

To his left, a tearing sound, like the arm of a paper cutter bearing down on a slice of parchment. Bobby perched on the edge of his seat, trembling, watching as the copper blade of a knife slowly tore a crack in the world. The knife protruded out from empty air, no handle, no source: just the blade, slicing downward and leaving a jagged black line in its wake.

Then the crack wrenched itself open.

A howling void stood before him, a chasm of frozen darkness. And from that chasm stepped a giant of a man. He wore only loose black-silk trousers, his feet and chest bare, standing at least seven feet tall. Big, muscled like a weight lifter, but his muscles weren’t right. They rippled the wrong way on his chest, or maybe there were just too many of them. Everything about him was crudely shaped, with boxy ears and a squat, bald head and oversize, crushing hands, like he’d been modeled from clay by an enthusiastic but untalented amateur.

The void whipped shut at his back. The air smelled like cinnamon. The giant took a step forward, offering a cruel-lipped smile and a formal bow of his head.

you?” Bobby whispered.

His voice was a deep, echoing rumble, like the sound of a rockslide.

“Call me Adam. We have been watching you, Robert Marius Diehl. And we like what we see.”

“We? Who is—” His voice faltered. He looked to the television, to the great interlinking sigil, every line interconnecting and creating new patterns. “The Network. You’re with the Network.”

Adam didn’t respond.

“But why?” Bobby said. “I

Adam chuckled. “Sometimes, attitude and intent are more useful than results. You’ve come a long way. Improved yourself. Learned to look beyond petty materialism. You’re almost ready to understand
power. If anything, your only failure was thinking too small. After all, why bask in the glory of
king . . . when you can have nine?”

Bobby swallowed, his throat bone-dry, and nodded.

“I want it. I’m ready.”

“Good. The Network would like to offer you a seat at our table. A full membership. There’s just one tiny thing we would like you to resolve for us first, as a final proof of your abilities.”

“Name it.” Bobby rose to his feet. “Anything you want.

Adam swept his hand toward the television set. Smaller images popped up and blossomed, a string of windows opening onto still pictures, security-camera footage, faces from every angle. Familiar faces.

Like the man and the two women who’d invaded his laboratory and stolen his victory away. The architects of his failure.

“Vigilant Lock,”
Bobby hissed, clenching his hands into fists at his sides.

“Yes. We crave their obliteration. The entire organization, every trace of their existence, down to their very last operative. And we would like for them to suffer. You will do this for us. Make their destruction a fitting tribute to the kings, and you will be welcomed into our fold.”

Bobby’s response was a trembling, furious whisper.

“With great pleasure.”

“Good,” Adam said. “Always remember: we’ll be watching.”

The room plunged into pitch darkness. When the television flickered back to life, another banal laugh track on another banal sitcom, Bobby Diehl stood alone.

He turned, without hesitation, and strode toward his office. He had work to do. And plans to make.


With the King of Silence held at bay, Bobby Diehl’s plan in ruins, and a dangerous pyrokinetic in custody, Harmony and her team should be able to enjoy a nice, long, trouble-free vacation. Of course, that’s not going to happen. The real battle for Earth’s future is about to begin, against an enemy deadlier, and stranger, than anything Vigilant Lock has ever faced. I hope you’ll join me for the fireworks.

Special thanks to Adrienne Lombardo and all the great folks at 47North, to my developmental editor, Andrea Hurst (who has helped to elevate my work so much, I can’t even begin to tell you)—and of course, to you, for taking a chance on a new series and spending some time in my dark little world.

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Photo © 2014 Karen Forsythe

Craig Schaefer’s books have taken readers to the seamy edge of a criminal underworld drenched in shadow through the Daniel Faust series; to a world torn by war, poison, and witchcraft by way of the Revanche Cycle series; and across a modern America mired in occult mysteries and a conspiracy of lies in the new Harmony Black series. Despite this, people say he’s strangely normal. He lives in Illinois with a small retinue of cats, all of whom try to interrupt his writing schedule and/or kill him on a regular basis. He practices sleight of hand in his spare time, although he’s not very good at it.

BOOK: Red Knight Falling
7.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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