Authors: Anderson O'Donnell
But the balcony was slick with rain and sweat and before Morrison could land another punch he slipped and a second after Morrison hit the floor Dylan was on top of him, straddling his chest as he rained blows down on the man’s face, pummeling it with a grim determination. He felt Morrison’s
nose break—the cartilage bent sideways as Morrison howled with rage, his face a crimson mask.
And then Dylan was wrapping his hands around Morrison’s throat, squeezing so hard he thought he might pass out, the rain and wind strafing the balcony with such fury that Dylan could barely see; his world was a narrow window of blood and rain and the feeling of Michael Morrison’s neck between his hands—slippery with soft mushy veins and a windpipe that felt impossibly fragile—and Dylan kept squeezing, watching Morrison’s face contort, waiting for the end but the end didn’t come: Morrison’s hand shot up, his fist driving into Dylan’s ruined ribcage.
Dylan yelped in agony, his grip on Morrison’s neck broken. Staggering away from the old man, Dylan’s momentum drove him backward until he crashed into the railing. The pain exploded through his entire body, and so when he first saw Meghan appear in the doorway to the office, he thought he was hallucinating. But then Meghan was stepping out onto the balcony, moving through the rain, toward him, her hair getting wet, sticking to her forehead, his blood staining her shirt as he crashed into her arms before collapsing to his knees. Looking up at her, he reached out and put his hand on her stomach, wondering if he would survive this night, wondering if he would ever meet his son—a son! He was going to be a father, and this realization drove him past the pain and back onto his feet just as Morrison was pulling himself off the tile, lunging for Meghan, the man’s face a wreck of crimson and snot and sinew.
Morrison managed a single step toward Meghan before Dylan was on him, hammering him back against the balcony; Morrison’s fingers clawing the wet concrete, seeking traction because he could hear the horrible roar of the city below; he could feel Tiber swell in anticipation; an impatient god, greedy for sacrifice.
Then Dylan hit him again—a direct blow right above the old man’s heart—and
then Morrison was tumbling over the edge of the balcony, slicing through the darkness, and as he fell toward the earth, Michael Morrison wondered if he had a soul.
n the first day of spring, three men set out across the desert. They crossed the southern border and continued to push south, scouring the shantytowns for news of the young couple. Most turned away; others just shook their heads and stared at the earth. There were some, however, who took the men aside and offered what information they could—the older denizens of these desert lands knew these men; they remembered when things were different and so they spoke of the girl and the boy: how the girl had long black hair and was clutching her swollen belly; how the boy walked with a limp and held the girl’s hand.
The men asked which way the couple had gone.
The ones willing to help could only point south.
These were not young men and their bones ached from the constant travel, the constant searching; from the wind and the relentless blast of desert sand and stone. But there was no time to rest; other men were hunting the couple as well; dark men who covered their faces and brought tidings of war and famine and civil unrest to these desert lands.
The radio crackled with news of Tiber City burning; of martial law and tanks in the street. The men turned the radio off and pressed ahead.
As they moved through the desert, sightings of the couple intensified; new signs of life were appearing where before, there had been only death. A shadow still lingered in these lands, however, and the men feared they would be too late.
One month after they had set out, the three men found the couple. The child had been born two days earlier in a tiny motel room on the edge of the desert. The girl had insisted on no doctors; on no help: The danger was too great.
The boy answered the door but he was no longer a boy; he was a man and the girl was a woman; their faces hardened by the sand and the wind and the sleepless nights: Months had aged them years but the man’s eyes were still a deep blue, the same blue that was in his child’s eyes, and he held the door open with his left hand; there was gun clenched in his right.
The three men rolled up their sleeves to reveal an identical tattoo etched across each man’s forearm: an asterisk inside of a circle—the symbol of the Order.
“It’s time,” the first man said.
would like to thank:
My wife, Whitney, for her love, support, and refusal to accept my bullshit;
Jack O’Connell, for his patience, friendship, and the guidance that made this book possible;
My mother and father, who believed in me;
Robert Cording, for the discussions that sparked this book;
Colin Heffernan, for always listening and reading;
John Heffernan, for his insights and early support;
Karina Rollins, for her killer early edits;
Sean Moran, for the early read and great music;
Rebecca Smith, for helping bring this story to life; and
My son Lochlain, for giving me a reason.