The first novel in the controversial Godless Saint series!
Caden Lyndsey was a Man of God. He battled demons, saw visions of the future, and wielded the fire of Heaven.
He lost his faith, but not his power.
Now, his visions drive him toward rural Washington. A madman seeks to summon the Norse god Wotan and unleash the Wild Hunt on an unsuspecting populace. If he succeeds, hundreds will die. Caden must battle witches, monsters, and ancient deities in order to stop him.
Read the first chapter now!
A shotgun barked, and the wall in front of me sprayed shards.
Demons aren't supposed to use shotguns.
Burning sulfur summoned from the Dark Below? Sure. Barbed chains and rusty hooks? Classic. Hell, even a big ass kitchen knife? It worked for that guy in the Shatner mask in Halloween.
But they don't use guns. Guns are too modern, too Michael Bay. What's the point of being a spirit of darkness and hate if you're just gonna pull a gun and shoot your enemy?
No one respects tradition anymore.
I was crouched behind my Jeep, at the dead end of an alley. It had snowed earlier and the pavement was still wet, which meant my jeans were soaked. Next to me, huddled in a ball, rocking slowly and whispering "It's only a dream" to herself, was a twenty-something Pakistani girl named Aseelah. We'd met twelve hours ago.
So far, it had been the worst day of her life.
The demon's shotgun barked again, and the window over my head shattered. Pieces of glass showered down on us. "Come on!" I shouted. "I just had this thing fixed!" I shook bits of glass out of my shirt.
The shotgun fired again, and the rear passenger tire exploded. The Jeep rattled and lurched toward the ground.
The demon had fired three times.
Five shots. The demon should be out of ammo.
I jumped to my feet. Aseelah grabbed for me, but I pulled out of her grasp. "All right," I said as I came around the Jeep, "I've--"
Boom! The demon fired, right at my face.
It must have been a tactical shotgun. Eight, nine rounds, not five. Damn it.
The shotgun pellets met some invisible resistance, and the air around me rippled like a stone had been dropped into a pond. The lead balls stopped a quarter of an inch from my face, hung in the air for a moment, and fell to the ground.
The demon stared at me. She was attractive, or at least the body she'd hijacked was. Blonde, miniskirt, letterman jacket. But I had learned to see through illusion, to protect my mind from the glamours and veils of the spirit world. I opened my senses to the Aether, let the magic whisper to me, and I saw her for what she really was. Her hair was brittle, broken. Her teeth were rotted, cracked. Her skin was leathery and covered in sores. Her eyes were empty black pools.
"Shit," the demon muttered.
"Sorry," I said with a smile. I waved my hand, the Aether leapt to my command, and the same magic that had stopped the pellets tore the shotgun from the demon's claws. It landed at the far end of the alley, twenty yards away.
The demon shrieked and came at me, fingers hooked like claws, ready to gouge my eyes out. Again I raised my hand, and again the Aether answered.
This time, the spell I wove didn't create a shield or summon an invisible force. This spell was older, more powerful, more violent. This spell was an evocation of divine wrath, of righteous anger, of holy retribution.
Only I didn't have any gods backing me up, so the spell was fueled by my own wrath and focused by the lens of my own sense of justice. The flames that I summoned, which should have been a pure, brilliant white, were tinged with shades of blue.
The Aether swirled around my hand like sapphire lightning bugs, formed into a lance, and raced across the alley. The light slammed into the demon, knocking her ass over teakettle and slamming her into the ground. The magic burned away her disguise, and for a moment you didn't need magic to see what she really was.
But the illusion reformed, and the demon gathered herself to attack once more. She howled like a siren getting fed feet-first through a wood chipper and threw herself at my face.
I stepped aside. She flew right past me, over the Jeep's hood, and crashed into the wall blocking off that end of the alley.
Aseelah screamed. Honestly, I couldn't blame her.
The demon growled. I jumped over the hood, Dukes of Hazard style, and slammed my hand down onto the circle of salt I had poured on the ground a few moments before.
The Aether rushed through my body. Blue-white fire raced along the salt, forming a burning azure cage.
The demon realized she had been tricked, and screamed.
She pounded her fists against an invisible barrier. She hurled profanities and blasphemies and salacious allegations about my sexual preferences. She threatened to eat my eyes and boil my reproductive organs and flay my skin.
But it was all bluster. She was trapped, and I had won.
I extended my hand to Aseelah. "It's all right. She can't hurt us, not as long as she's trapped inside the ward."
The demon said something about introducing me to Satan's spiked love muscle, but I didn't catch the details. Aseelah, still shaking, stared at her. "Can she break out of there?"
"Eventually," I said. "The salt will hold the spell in place for a while, but it'll only last so long."
"So, um, what do we do when she's free?"
The demon suggested Aseelah might enjoy ministering to her Prophet while submerged neck-deep in filth.
I held out my hand and whispered, "Come out of her."
"Go fuck yourself," the demon spat.
"Come out of her," I repeated.
The demon pounded both fists. The invisible barrier vibrated. It sounded like someone banging on Plexiglas.
"Come out of her." This time the Aether answered me, causing my voice to echo in the tiny alley. The demon choked and fell back against the ward.
"Come out of her," I said, again and again. I closed my eyes and reached out with my mind, searching for the demon inside of the girl. No... no... there.
I grabbed the unclean spirit and seized it with my will.
The demon screamed and fell to the ground.
"Come out of her."
Demons are ugly, nasty creatures, but they're just spirits of air and smoke. They can't really do anything unless they get a body. The mechanics are different from person to person--a secret sin, a personal weakness, an honest-to-god deal with the Devil--but once a demon gets a body, they can wreak all kinds of havoc. And they won't leave unless you make them.
Problem is, demons are like rock stars in a hotel; before they check out, they like to trash the place. They'll stuff towels down the toilet, piss on the carpets, and set the curtains on fire.
And they'll kill whoever they possessed.
I've never seen a victim of possession survive an exorcism. Ever. From the moment the demon enters a person's body, that person is as good as dead.
But I wasn't willing to accept that, and I'd been trying to perfect a ritual that would force a demon out without killing the host in the process.
My current plan was to bind the demon, to subjugate it to my will and force it not to hurt the girl on the way out. I pictured the demon, and in my mind I wrapped it in thick, heavy chains made of blue and white light. I wrapped it tight, binding its arms and legs, gagging it, locking it up, and then I pushed that thought into the Aether, making it real.
"Come out of her."
The girl's mouth opened and smoke, tinged with sullen red embers, began to pour out.
I locked down my mental grasp on the demon. "Come out of her."
The girl began to shake. I wound the chains tighter. "Come out of her."
The girl screamed--the girl, not the demon--a wounded, painful, baleful cry. Skeletal fingers, burning red, came out of her mouth. Her lips stretched wide. Her jaw cracked, shattered. Blood sprayed.
The demon escaped her body and stood before us, a creature of ash and fire. Skeletal wings hung off its back. It crouched, a caged animal.
"I'll see you in hell," the thing hissed.
"No," I said, "you won't."
I knelt down and touched the salt. The ward containing the demon flickered and died. The demon howled, triumphant, and lunged for Aseelah. Aseelah screamed and covered her face.
I held out my hand and summoned my magic. I poured my rage into the spell, my hatred, my failure. The demon burned and wafted away like smoke on the wind.
I knelt next to the possessed girl and touched her neck.
"God damn it," I whispered.
A few moments later, Aseelah placed a gentle hand on my shoulder. "She's in a better place."
"Of course she is," I said, even though it was a lie.
I stood up, brushed off my knees, gathered myself. "All right, gimme the lamp."
"I don't know what you're taking about," Aseelah said.
I turned to face her, slowly. "Look, you just saw the thing that's been hunting you. You saw what it did to that girl. And we both heard it say that it wanted the Jinni. Do you think they're gonna stop coming? Do you think you're safe? Because if you do, if you think you can handle the next shotgun-toting mean girl from hell, then by all means, keep it. I have better places to be, anyway. But if you don't, if you're finally starting to realize that you're in over your head, if you're finally ready to admit that summoning occult forces for help on your math test or to get Timmy to ask you to the prom is a bad idea, then give me the goddamned lamp."
"Oh," she said, reaching into her purse, "you mean the medallion. Here." She tossed me a bronze coin, a bit larger than a silver dollar, inscribed with various Arabic charters. "Jinni don't live in lamps, you know."
I put the medallion in my pocket. It would stay with me until I had the chance to stash it in the Vault. "I didn't know that, actually."
"That's a cultural stereotype."
"Really, it's almost kind of racist."
I stared at her again. "You're welcome, by the way. For not letting the ravening hellspawn eat your soul."
"Oh. Um, thanks." She kicked the ground and looked at the blonde girl. "What about her?"
"The police will find her. Autopsy will show she died of a heart attack." I'm sorry, I thought.
"Um, her jaw is kind of ripped off."
"They'll figure a way to explain it."
Behind me, the Jeep's radiator exploded.
Damn it. I'd just had that thing fixed.
I let out a long-suffering sigh. "Come on, let's get--"
A piercing pain appeared between, and a little above, my eyes. The ancient mystics (and the hippies) called that spot the Third Eye, and identified it as the center of psychic abilities. I identified it as the worst goddamned pain I'd ever felt. I grabbed my temples and squeezed, trying to keep my brain from escaping out my ears.
"Are you okay?" Aseelah asked. "Do you need me to..."
Her voice, and everything else, faded away, replaced with a prophetic vision.
By the roadside stood a decrepit man, hunched over and leaning heavily on his traveler's staff. He was wrapped tightly in a cloak of midnight blue, and a wide brimmed hat hid his face. A beard the color of storm clouds reached to his stomach. On his left hip was tied a bag filled with stone runes, and on his right hung a yellowed stierhorn. A pair of ravens sat, one on each shoulder, and a pair of old dogs lay at his feet. In his left hand he clutched a worn book filled with songs, melodies that could shape the world.
Lightning split the sky and he raised his face toward the heavens. He had but one eye; the remaining socket was empty, hollow, and black. His face was lined and worn.
The ravens took flight, traveling in ever widening circles through the dark sky overhead. He tracked their progress eagerly. Suddenly they changed course, flying as fast as wing allowed toward the heart of the great forest. They called out, their cawing hoarse and raucous. The old man smiled.
He placed the old book of rhyme in the pocket of his cloak and reached for the horn tied to his belt. He brought it to his lips and drew a great breath, filling his lungs with the crisp night air, and let forth a single great trumpet. The sound pierced the night and echoed from the hills.
Lightning flashed impossibly bright and thunder roared unbearably loud. For a moment the old man was hidden, veiled by impenetrable light. The maelstrom passed and the man stood transformed. He was clothed in a swirling black cloak lined with the pelts of frost giants, and was shod in thick boots made from the skins of those he had slain. His staff was a great oaken spear, so heavy that a grown man could scarcely lift it. It was carved with ancient sigils and tipped with a blade of the purest gold. A Warrior's Knot hung from his neck, held in place by a thick golden chain, and a heavy golden ring adorned his right hand. His head was crowned with a helmet carved of bone, and two great antlers protruded from either side. The hollow of his taken eye was filled with a brilliant ruby. Twin wolves, ravenous and feral, crouched before him, their snarls echoing in the night. Smoke curled from their nostrils and their eyes shone with infernal light.
His name, spoken only in hushed whispers, was Wotan. He was the Wanderer, the Lord of the Hunt, and the Leader of Souls.
A gray steed emerged from the shadows, an impossible beast with eight legs and feet shod in iron. Wotan climbed astride and urged his stallion forward. Sparks flew as ferrous hooves struck the earth. Wotan let out a terrible cry, a warning and a challenge and a call to arms. From the distance came a sound like thunder.
On fierce black stallions they rode, great stags which shook the very earth in their passing. Fire burned in their eyes and smoke trailed from their mouths. The hounds of hell ran alongside, with wiry fur as black as pitch and slavering fangs like great knives flashing. They howled and barked and growled, a sound to terrify the soul. A congress of ravens accompanied them, drifting along on the bitter wind. They were the eyes and ears of the Huntsmen, their shrill cries drawing the fell troop inexorably toward their prey.
Ancient Hunters they were, the souls of the damned held captive by the Rider of the Storm. Some were overtaken by the Hunt and joined their company on threat of death. Others took saddle gladly, their bloodlust finding good company among the forsaken horde. But they were captives all, bound for time and eternity to this infernal guard. They were dressed in heavy furs, and wooden masks carved in the visage of terrible creatures hid their faces. In their hands they carried corroded sickles flecked with dried blood, or spears with shafts of mistletoe and tips of iron. Some bore longbows, the staves made of yew and the strings woven from the sinews of those overtaken. Rusted chains dragged the ground behind them, rattling and clanging, a tumult to wake the dead.
Miranda DuBois ran through the night. The demons followed after her.
My name is Caden Lyndsey, and I can see the future.
That isn't as much fun as it sounds. I can't tell you who's going to win the Super Bowl, or what this week's lottery numbers are. I couldn't pick a stock to save my life. That stuff is governed by chance, impenetrable to my visions.
I can only see things once a choice has been made, once a human mind has decided to put a plan into action, and even then I can only see it when the consequences of that choice are dramatic enough to ripple out through the Aether. That ham sandwich you're going to eat for lunch, or that fight you're going to have with your spouse? None of my business, and no offense, not important enough to trigger my gift.
But a murder? That might catch my attention. Chaos and ruin? More likely. Wholesale slaughter? Now you're talking. Oh, and there's one more thing that's almost certain to make me stand up and pay attention.
Not your garden variety magic. Not the kind of magic that most people encounter, the kind of magic that blows a light bulb when a guy gets angry or teleports your keys into your sock drawer when you're frazzled. I'm talking the real deal, big time, in your face, wish-fulfilling, reality-warping magic, the kind of stuff H.P. Lovecraft and J.R.R. Tolkien wrote about.
The kind of magic that can get somebody killed.
Like Dr. Matthew Warren's fascination with, and patronage of, the Norse God Wotan.
I knew some of the details, the same way you just kind of know things in a dream. I knew that Matthew Warren was some kind of academic, a college professor or a librarian, and I knew that he was involved in the Neopagan movement. I knew that Miranda pronounced her last name like the French would, Doo-Bwah, and that she ran a bed and breakfast with her aunt or grandmother, Ethel. I knew that they all lived near Mirrormont, a suburb of Issaquah, Washington.
And I knew that they were all going to die.
Unless, of course, I could do something to stop it.
I rubbed my temple. The visions were getting easier to deal with. They still hurt like hell, but I hadn't had blood come out of my nose (or my ears) in weeks. But they were still disorienting, and it took me a moment to remember where I was.
"Hello? Earth to weird exorcist dude? Are you all right?" Aseelah was staring at me, her arms crossed over her chest. She was tapping her freaking toe on the slick pavement.
"Yeah," I muttered. "Let's get you home."
I had somewhere to be.