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Hitmage Alexi Sokolsky used to sling spells for the Russian Mafia. That was before the man he loved was murdered, before his boss tried to turn him into his vampire slave, and before he learned about the Organizatsiya’s dirty trade in supernatural children.

He’s still a hitman – but now he hunts monsters.

Join Alexi as he reveals the true nature of the FBI’s witch hunters, finds love, and finally discovers the true reason why the Gift Horse appeared in New York.

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 Zero Sum: Chapter One

Revenge is a filthy addiction, a drive as banal and compelling as the craving for sugar, or nicotine. I knew vengeance was bad for me, that it was unsatisfying, but every time I sat by Vassily’s ruined grave trying to think of an alternative, I always arrived at the same grim conclusion: that a bloody zero-zero draw was better than letting the motherfuckers sweep my chips off the table and walk away.

Part of it was that I knew now I’d never have the man I loved, even if there had never been a chance to begin with, and I wanted them to suffer as my family and I had suffered. Part of it was that no matter how far I ran from the Mafiya, it lived on in me. The ecstatic wisdom of a mage is always tempered by the selfish impulses of a wiseguy: the knowledge that I could squeeze a trigger, pull a blade, cast a spell, and find at least a fragmentary relief in the act of destruction.

This selfishness drove me to Wall Street on the morning of October the 25th, 1991. The dreary gunmetal sky was gravid with rain, looming over the four of us – myself, my cat, Jenner and Angkor – as we pulled up in a one-way alley not too far from the New York Stock Exchange. I clambered out onto the narrow sidewalk into a bitter wind that slapped at the vent of my suit jacket. The suit was slightly too large, loose over the padding I’d taped around my midriff. Angkor, seated in the back, held my agitated familiar away from the door and passed me a carry-on suitcase, then a black leather briefcase. I took them with a wan smile.

“All set, soldier?” Jenner had cleaned up a bit to better fit in with the Manhattan crowd, which meant she’d given herself a razorgirl haircut with a bowie knife, worn her best eyepatch, and shrugged on a denim jacket over her ‘Satan Loves Pussy’ t-shirt. She’d tried.

I set the carry-on on the ground and pulled out the telescoping handle, then nodded. “Give me an hour, including walking time. If I’m not at the Charging Bull by twelve thirty, cruise back to this alley and scope the entry to the building.”

Angkor checked his watch and set the timer, idly pushing Binah back from the window as my Siamese suppository tried to follow me onto the street. “It’s 11:35 now. I’m coming up to look for you if you’re not back within seventy minutes.”

“I’m sure I’ll handle it.” I leaned in and rubbed Binah’s sail-like ears, waggling them from side to side. She glowered at me. She did not like being left behind.

“I’m sure you will.” Angkor flicked his dark gray eyes up to meet mine, mouth sly. “Take care up there, and good hunting.”

Something about the look he gave me briefly drove all thoughts of revenge from my mind. Angkor was beautiful enough to stop traffic. I cleared my throat, and offered a quick, stiff smile. “Thank you. I mean it, both of you.”

“No worries. Go kick some pedo ass.” Jenner winked and clicked her tongue. With a final lingering look, Angkor wound the window, and the pair of them cruised off to rejoin the main road.

Stage one complete. Time to find my mark.

Yegor Gavrilyuk, CPA, worked out of a private suite at 44 Wall Street. In a neatly pressed suit and tie and a good-quality wig of fashionably blond, slicked-back hair, I looked like any other yuppie bustling between his office and the New York Stock Exchange, one of many nameless faces pushing through the canopy of black umbrellas bristling in expectation of rain. No one gave me or my carry-on bag so much as a second glance as I entered the atrium of Yegor’s building, stepped into the elevator, and pressed the button for the 28th floor.

Camouflaged in the forest of suits and several inches taller than usual, I read the front page of the Wall Street Journal and listened to the awkward throat clearing, clicking rustle of too many people crammed into a too-small metal box. My stomach gnawed at me, and I was queasy from the press of bodies around me by the time I reached my floor. When the doors opened, I gratefully pushed through and clacked my way across the checkered marble floor to the glass-fronted reception of Weiss & Co. Financial Services.

The lady at the desk – financial executive receptionists were always women, weren’t they? – was a pencil-thin redhead with dark eyebrows and brown eyes. She wore an artfully fitted gray dress that was probably worth more than both my suits: the one in the carry-on, and the one I was wearing.

“Good morning, sir,” she chirped. “How can I help you?”

I didn’t bother smiling, and dialed up my Slavic accent from a three to a nine. “I am here for appointment with Mr. Gavrilyuk.”

The woman’s brow creased slightly. “Sir, I’m sorry, but… Mr. Gavrilyuk doesn’t have any appointments until twelve.”

“Yegor forwards his calendar to my boss in case we need to speak with him urgently,” I replied. “Please call his extension, and tell him that Mr. Chiernenko would like to discuss the AEROMOR accounts.”

The receptionist blinked at me, deer-like and indignant, but she slowly picked up the receiver and began to dial.

While she hung on the line, I nosed around the office, marking the fire escape, the location of cameras, and the orderly geometric patterns of magical energy in the room. Practically every building in the Financial District had wards – good wards, wards that I, a single mage working alone, could not hope to overcome in an emergency.

It is just as well we will not need to.” An inner voice like the whispering of leaves over dry ground broke through my reverie. “They were not made with our kind of work in mind.

Kutkha did not speak aloud. My soul’s voice was an intrusion into my thoughts – a welcome intrusion.

Mm. They’re fire alarms, I think.” I thought back. The wards laid into the building were beautiful in the orderly way that cathedrals were beautiful, and playing my senses out along the elegantly formed web of magic woven through the stone and metal was a good way to stay relaxed before the job. By their persistence, pitch, color, and geometry, I knew these were enchantments laid down by the Adepts of the Inner School – one of the older occult fraternities who’d come to the East Coast with the Puritans. Back in the day, before mages had reason to fear the Vigiles Magicarum and the concept of ‘illegal arcana’, the Orders who were contracted to protect these buildings signed them with special patterns of magical energy, like maker’s marks. I now knew that this energy was called Phi, but those men – mostly men, back then – probably did not.

I tuned back into the material reality of the room when I heard the receptionist talking behind us. “Hello, Mr. Gavrilyuk? Yes, this is Lisa… I have a Mr. Chiernenko here who would like to see you regarding one of his accounts, if you have time? He says it’s urgent. No, he’s alone. Alright, thank you. I’ll let him know.”

I turned as she hung up, and she smiled with double rows of laser-white teeth. “Someone will be out to see you in in just a moment, Mr. Chiernenko. Please, take a seat.”

“Thank you, but I would rather stand.”

She smiled again, a little woodenly this time, and then turned back to her monitor and keyboard.

Five minutes passed before another woman strode around the corner from the same direction I’d first arrived and pushed through the glass door separating the reception from the lobby. She was also well-dressed and startlingly beautiful, her blonde hair pulled into a tight bun. When she saw me, her eyes narrowed slightly.

“Mister… Chiernenko?” She asked.

“Yes?” I turned, hands jammed in my pockets, shoulders hunched. It was how Nicolai usually stood.

“Oh… I’m sorry. Excuse me for saying so, but I remember someone who was… less well-built.” She spoke Russian. There was an uncertain lilt in her voice, green-yellow.

“I am Anatoly Chiernenko. Nicolai is my cousin. He is thin and tall, and I am fat and short.” I replied in the same language, forcing a small smile and trying to make the most of my temporarily blue eyes. “Like those video game characters, eh? Mario and Luigi.”

Her face suffused with hidden laughter. She gestured with hand and head toward the door. “Yes, well, please come this way, Mister Chiernenko.”

The P.A. – I assumed she was the P.A. – led me back to the elevators. Yegor Gavrilyuk was one of the silent engines of the Yaroschenko Organizatsiya, New York’s largest ‘Russian’ Mafia. He was a man few could name, but many relied on. As Sergei’s American stockbroker and financial manager, he couldn’t be expected to work in the boiler room with lesser brokers and market analysts. No, he had his own private suite: a well-insulated suite, in a building as old and solid as this one. Twenty years of near-anonymous success within and outside of the Organizatsiya had made him king of the castle. He was well-liked, and he had become complacent.

I was led to a solid oaken door in a gold-and-cream corridor. The P.A. swiped her card, knocked, and then opened it a crack, but before she got too far, I gently touched her wrist with one gloved hand.

“Excuse us, please,” I said in Russian, meeting her eyes. “This is a sensitive matter.”

“Oh… of course.” The lady blinked and withdrew from the momentary contact, smiling nervously as she glanced at my hand. I didn’t have any of the distinctive Vory hand tattoos: but I was in the business of letting people think I did.

After she was a good way down the hall, I opened the door myself and then closed it behind me with a sharp click. Yegor looked up from his ledger, then stood in alarm. The blood drained from his face.

“YOU! What are YOU doing here?” He pushed back from the edge of the desk, putting distance between us. “I’ll call security, I’ll-!”

Kaph.” I spoke the single-letter word calmly, forcefully, and made a sign with my fingers.

Magic thrilled through my body and out into the room. The lights blew; the door behind me made a grinding sound as the lock short-circuited. Every other electronic device in the room simply died. We were left in the confines of a strange, humming silence.

Yegor stared at me in desperate shock. He was a soft, paunchy man with a fleshy face, small eyes, and a fluff of brown hair. He’d turned the same color as his yellow linen shirt.

“Please, Yegor Vladimirovich. It does not become an Authority of the Organization to stand. Take a seat.” I motioned to his chair. “And put your hands on the desk where I can see them, or I will speak another word of power and boil your brains in your skull.”

“You can’t.” Shaking, sweating, Yegor dropped back into his chair. He thumped both his hands down on his desk pad, almost petulantly. “You don’t know how. You’re not that good.”

“Are you sure?”

“You’re just a thug with a couple of magic tricks.”

“And I’m well on the way to filling my new spellbook with the names of the dead.” I arched an eyebrow. “Grigori. Kir. Lev. Demyon. All gone. Are you feeling froggy, Yegor?”

His nostrils trembled. He did not reply.

“Let me tell you a story,” I said, setting the briefcase down on the edge of the desk. “After years spent knowing that you piece-of-shit muzhiki called me and Vassily faggots behind our backs, it turns out that all of you were fucking children together.”

His eyes narrowed. “Don’t be disgusting. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

I opened the case, staring at him. Inside was an ordinary ball peen hammer.

“Of course you do. You’re a smart man, aren’t you? Vanya’s Advokat.” I took the hammer out and set the briefcase aside. “His direct adviser and confidant.”

Yegor’s eyes widened, fixated on the weapon in my hand. “All I do is the money for him, Molotchik. Just the money.”

I blinked slowly, and glanced at the far wall of his office. Photos of Yegor, trimmer and with slightly longer hair, standing with a fair woman and two small children, both boys. “You do, in fact, handle the money. And it occurred to me, while I was recovering in hospital, that Vassily was your direct competition.”

He glowered petulantly, like a child. “I didn’t have anything to do with that business. I liked Vassily, and his family.”

“Perhaps. But you had everything to gain by putting him out of the picture,” I said. “So I admit that I’m not sure what disgusts me more: that you accepted whatever Nicolai offered you to support his bid for power at Vassily’s expense, or that you’re a man who fucks little boys on camera while doting on his own sons at home.”

My proclamation was met with resounding silence.

“I have two issues. Firstly, Vanya arranged for someone to rape Vassily in prison,” I continued, walking a serpentine trail away from and around the desk. “Someone who got him sick. Then Vanya and Nicolai got him hooked on drugs. Drugs are expensive, Yegor. Smuggling them in takes money. And what do you do?”

He swallowed. “I didn’t-”

“You handle the money,” I said. “Now. Vanya and Nicolai arranged to kidnap twenty-one kids from a group home last month. Boys and girls, eight to fourteen years old. He and his men fucked them, filmed themselves doing it, sold the videos and photos, then cut up some of them for their organs on the black market. And that’s the other reason I’m here. We only managed to rescue twelve of them. Where are the others?”

“How the fuck am I supposed to know?” Yegor’s face flushed dark. “What is this? Alexi Sokolsky to the fucking rescue? What, you think you’re fucking Superman, now?”

“I’m more of a Rorschach, actually,” I replied.

“Like you have clean hands.” He was sweating profusely now. I’d brought zipties with me in case I had to bind him, but he was paralyzed in his fury and fear. “Don’t pretend to be some kind of saint, Alexi. You were part of this.”

“It wasn’t my flabby ass pumping away in a few of the photos of those kids,” I kept my voice low and steady. “Why do you think I came to you, Yegor? Of all the good old boys in the Organization?”

He sneered. “You didn’t see any photos.”

“We pulled them off Moris Falkovich’s computer.”

Yegor blanched.

I smiled. Pleasantly. “You never were a brave man, Yegor. So now, you’re going to answer my questions, or I’m going to break all of your joints, sit on you, and choke you on my fist. Who was buying the tapes?”

“I-I don’t know,” Yegor stammered, but I caught the flicker of desperation in his voice. Reading faces was hit or miss, but sounds had a color and texture that were hard to conceal. His voice had shifted to orange, sharp and tangy. He had what I wanted, but he wasn’t quite ready to give it up.

“You do the money, Yegor. Everything Vanya buys and sells goes through you. Who. Was. Buying?” I grasped the hammer around its rubber haft and leaned across the desk until there was only a foot of space between our noses.

Yegor was breathing quickly. I saw his leg jerk as he hit a panic button with his knee, but it was as dead as everything else in the room.

“They’ll kill me, Molotchik.” His face went from yellow to green. I could smell him now, the acrid pungency of terror in his sweat.

I fixed him with a reptile’s glare. “I’ll kill you, right here in front of GOD and everyone. Answer my question. Who was buying the skin flicks and organs?”

“MinTex Oil and Gas,” he blurted. “Or I mean, that was the shell company. V-Vanya knows more than I do. They-they nearly all used shells, b-but there were some individual clients from Israel for the organs. It was handled by a couple of rabbis. All the money for the porn came from offshore. Now, please just-”

“Do you have a list of names?”

“Ps-pseudonyms.” He pointed at his filing cabinet. “That’s it. Now let me-”

“No. That was the first question” I could see the artificial blue reflection of my eyes in his glasses. “I want to know where Vanya keeps his cash. Physical cash. I don’t care about the Organization’s accounts.”

His jaw trembled, then tensed as he gathered his willpower and his resolve to refuse. I slammed the hammer down on his desktop with a sharp bang, and he jumped in his own skin.

His eyes welled up with tears. “Alexi, please-”

This time, I slammed the hammer down onto the back of his hand. The wet crunch I felt through the handle was drowned out by his piercing cry of agony. Yegor clutched his shattered hand and pushed himself up to stumble away, but he knocked his chair so hard that it tumbled over and spilled him to the floor instead. I stalked around the desk, put my hard-soled shoe down on his broken hand, and twisted.

He squealed, voice raw with pain. “Help me! Anya! Security!”

I glanced back at the door, then down to Yegor. The door was probably armored, thick enough that I didn’t have to worry just yet. “Where is the stash, Yegor?”

“Won’t tell you anything! Fucking suka!” He spat at me, and then squealed as I hauled up on his hair, my foot still pushing down on his hand. “Grrr-AAARGH-I’ll tell Sergei about this-”

I backhanded him with the flat side of the hammer and let go of his hair. He went to the floor, shielding his face as I beat him over the arms and head, but he couldn’t hold his guard up forever. When his arms faltered, I grabbed him by the front of his shirt and pulled him back up to his knees.

“You don’t get it. I want Sergei to know I was here.” I pressed the ball of the hammer against his temple. “So let us reason together, Yegor. Do you really want to die like this?”

His nostrils flared as sweat from his nose and blood from his ears dripped from his face to the floor. He sagged in my hands.

“Where does Vanya keep his cash?” I repeated, calmly.

Yegor squeezed his eyes closed, pushing out a wave of fresh tears. I saw and felt him break, watched the armor shrink and fold away as he went limp.

“We don’t keep cash any more. Not since Rodion died. There’s… there’s guns, drugs. That’s it,” he said, his voice thick with mucus and pain. “I swear, Alexi.”

I wrinkled my nose, disappointed. He seemed to recognize the sign of my displeasure, because he kept babbling.

“It’s all at Kozlowski and Sons, you know, the scrapyard. T-There’s a locked yard where they keep all these old school buses. Vanya u-used it as a switch point. He stores things in the buses… in the floors of the buses.”

“And what kind of security do they keep around these buses?” I knew K&S well enough. Biggest scrapyard in New York. We took our stolen cars there.

“I don’t know! B-barbed wire. Dogs. V-Vanya might have men there, I don’t know. Let me go, Molotchik, I didn’t have anything to do with Vassily–”

Before he could continue – before I had time to get angry – I smashed the ball of the hammer into the side of his head several times, hard and fast. When I felt the steel catch, I tugged it free of his skull, pushed him away and stepped back, letting him fall like jelly to the floor. For several long minutes, Yegor gasped and convulsed his way through death, a process not nearly as sudden and final as movies were wont to portray. Eventually, he fell still.

When word got back to Sergei that Yegor was dead, he’d know exactly who had taken his piece off the board. My klichka, the nickname I earned in the Organizatsiya, was Molotchik, ‘The Hammer’. I’d earned that name – half-honorific, half-stigma – after I put down my father like a rabid dog with his own prison sledge, continuing a tradition of patricide that had begun when my grandfather killed his father for joining the Bolsheviks in Ukraine. Sergei was good to be reminded how Sokolsky men dealt with their patriarchs.

I went back around to the suitcase, set it on the desk, and opened it up. It held a roll of thick paper bags, a grooming kit, a small squirt bottle of bleach and one of isopropyl, and a complete change of clothes. Black leather gloves, shoes, socks, an identical blue tie, trousers, shirt, and a jacket, all neatly rolled. The suit was of a different material than the linen I’d worn into the office, a heavier wool suit in a similar, but not identical color.

The aftermath of a hit was a ritual performed in very specific steps. From smallest to largest; from dirtiest to cleanest. I wrapped up the messiest things, the hammer, my jacket, and tie, and then stepped around to squirt Yegor’s exposed skin with the bleach. Face, hands, neck. The odor of chlorine burned my nostrils, a clinging, lurid pink smell.

After that, I stripped and packed the dirty clothes into the suitcase along with everything else. I checked myself for blood, dabbing at my face – carefully, so I didn’t take off all the makeup I’d used to subtly change my features – then swabbed my hands and forearms with dilute bleach. Alcohol-soaked cotton got rid of the chlorine smell, and then I was able to investigate the filing cabinet.

Yegor was right. A saint would know better than to think revenge was going to fill in the void Vassily had left behind. But it wasn’t just for me: it was for Jenner, who had lost her partner and friends; for Angkor, who was still trying to heal the brain damage done to him by the Deacon and his men. It was for Josie, the little girl I’d pulled out of a mad surgeon’s dungeon. That kid was going to need therapy for the rest of her life. Some of the others were still missing, being used to breed monsters. Others were dead, or locked in their own minds. Forever.

“May your sons grow up to be better men than you and I, Yegor.” I set the carry-on down on the soft carpet, the best that money could buy, and locked the door on my way out into the relative cleanness of the city.

Blood Hound Excerpt

This is an excerpt from Chapter 11 of Blood Hound, which is on sale for 99c on Amazon between the 29th – 31st, just in time for Halloween!

Outside, Yuri loomed down over me like a coffin on its heel. The old wolf was actually older than Nic, which meant he was cresting his early 60s. He was enormous, the kind of hoary man that could pound the shit out of thirty-year-old prizefighters in the ring without breaking a sweat. Now, his heavy shoulders were hunched in towards his chest, his hands buried in his pockets. His skin was clammy and pale.

“Yuri. You look… dreadful.” I was, for a moment, bereft of words. “Where have you been?”

“Long time explaining.” His voice caught and clicked weirdly, like he was talking through a mouthful of soggy bread and thumbtacks. There were awkward, painful pauses between his words. “Can I sit… down?”

Details filed into my awareness in seconds. The bruises under his eyes. The dried spittle at the corner of his lips. The coat he was wearing was too heavy for the summer heat. My nape prickled. “Perhaps. Tell me where you’ve been.”

“Came back to talk about Vincent.” He finally looked down at me then, and I recoiled slightly from the door. Yuri’s eyes were normally dark, the whites a little yellow from hard years of prison hooch and nicotine. Now, they were black—a blackness that sucked in light and didn’t return it. No reflection, no life, no anything. For a moment, they held me captive with the siren promise of knowledge. I knew somehow that Yuri, or the thing that had once been Yuri, now held more knowledge than my own curious mind could withstand.

Letting him in felt like a bad idea, but the mystery was irresistible. I licked my lips, throat suddenly dry, and opened the door to let him pass. “Shoes on the rack, please.”

Yuri crossed the threshold. He didn’t take off his shoes, and my brief captivation disappeared. Honestly. I really hated it when people didn’t take their shoes off.

The huge man lumbered to the kitchen, turning his head one way, then the other. He stopped, neck craned, and stared at the icebox section of the refrigerator. The icebox. The seal was still in the tin chalice, in the icebox. My heart rate leapt.

“I’ve been underground.” Yuri didn’t look at me as he took his seat, shuffling heavily into a chair at the kitchen table. The table was a small, square thing, no bigger than a card table, and barely sat Vassily and me. Yuri, sitting side-on with his elbow braced down, dwarfed it. “Underground. I figured you might be interested in some new work.”

“That depends on the nature of the work.” I stayed standing. “I assume you don’t want coffee?”

“No.” Yuri swiveled his face towards me just as I was about to step in through the door. The look in the other man’s eyes stopped me. “We have the kind of work you want. The kind you really want. None of this underpaid Girl Friday bullshit.”

“Who’s ‘we’?” In the closeness of the kitchen, Yuri smelled like alcohol. Not liquor, like vodka or whiskey, but pure alcohol. The cold, nose-stinging smell of preservative. Surreptitiously, I rubbed my fingers together and then pitched my own thigh. No, I wasn’t still dreaming. “The Manellis?”

“Manelli.” Yuri ground the word out like a woodchipper. It could have been agreement or just echolalia. “Hell no. I was sent t-to make you an offer. The kind that suits a true magus.”

Now there was an expression you didn’t hear every day. I stared at Yuri intently, trying to pick up anything I could. He wasn’t right, but he wasn’t… anything. I was beginning to mistrust things with a lack of aura, and I was beginning to think I’d made a mistake letting him into my house. “That seems reasonable. You have three minutes to make your pitch.”

The big man looked up lazily with his void-black eyes and laid one of his hands on the table. “Power. Instruction. A position of leadership. And an out from the Organizatsiya, and the geas that Sergei has on the whole damn thing.”

A creeping sensation ran up through my spine. I remembered the dream, though I could not recall the face of the pale-skinned, white-haired woman in the circle. I did remember the last stark image before rising: my mouth stuffed full of my own entrails. “You’re not Yuri. Yuri knows nothing about these things.”

“I do now,” Yuri said. The words seemed to carry a weight to them, wielded like a fist through the thickness of his tongue. “And I’ll tell you this, Lexi. You’re so powerful that you could become a god.”

I was rendered speechless. It was partly the awful cliché, but it was also because the thought had never genuinely occurred to me. I wanted to be better at my Art. Who wouldn’t? Godhood was never on the agenda. “Why on earth would I want to be a god?”

“Men like you are either masters or slaves. Most of ’em are slaves. That’s why the Vigiles take kids with the gift, Lexi. It’s why operations have spooks, and don’t let them out of their sight. You don’t want to stay here.” In that moment, Yuri sounded more like his old self, halting voice and all. “Living and d-dying… under someone like Sergei? Lev? They all think you belong to them.”

The words hooked in my sense of pride. I tried reaching back inside, towards Kutkha, but I felt nothing there. It was as if I were walled off from him, left with nothing other than the distant sense of beating wings. “I have on good authority that gods don’t exist.”

“They do. Men become gods. Jehovah? He was a war leader and a spook. Alexander the Great? Jason and the fleece? Heroes and mages, the lot of ’em.” Yuri’s black eyes bored into me. “Just like Carmine.”

My eyes narrowed. “How do you know Carmine?”

“Maybe he got the same offer. Maybe he said ‘yes.’ He was tired of being somebody’s bitch. What about you?”

“I’m no one’s ‘bitch’,” I replied, crisply.

“Psh. You’re Sergei’s bitch. I watched you grow up right into his design, kid. Grisha’s skinny little weirdo, accidentally sorted out onto the conveyor belt for fighting cocks before he got thrown into the grinder with the rest of the chicks.”

“Sergei is coming back to Brighton Beach,” I said. “He will likely name Vassily Avtoritet, and I will be his second.”

Yuri leaned in. The prickling was worsening, ringing cold bells through my nerves. There was something wrong about Yuri’s skin. It was distended and tight, and when I looked down, I noticed his tattooed hands were bloated and puffy. “Kid, they haven’t even made you a captain. They think you don’t have the experience. Killing people doesn’t put you in line for anything except a bullet between the eyes when the big cats vote you’re too out of control. That’s just cold hard reality. Did you ever wonder what Sergei sees in you?”

Of course I did. Numerous men had been born in or on the periphery of the Organization, and of all of them, Sergei had selected me and Vassily. I have one clear memory of him from my childhood: a memory of being hoisted up in tattooed hands the size of Christmas hams, looking down into his broad, beaming face and bushy beard. Sergei was as much a Slav as Vassily and I were, but he had red hair: red hair and violet eyes. I remember looking down into those twinkling purple-blue irises, understanding even then that they were full of cold humor and equally cold assessment. When he was here, he’d been a shadow over my shoulders, always watching. Every school report, every play, every equestrian competition. He watched everything with indulgent, predatory patience, rewarding the good and being outwardly disappointed by the bad. The same way you trained a dog.

“No. And how would you know?” I asked.

“Son, I was the first guy to bring heroin here from the ’Stans. Me and Nic. We took a convoy of poppy over the border all the way to a ship in Karachi.” Yuri exhaled, and his throat buzzed with phlegm. “I knew Sergei before you were a gleam in your daddy’s eye. Man is a Class-A shitbag. A real circus master. He’d fuck you with a razor blade for your jacket if he wanted it.”

I glared at him in sullen, offended silence.

“I know what Sergei sees in you. Same thing he sees in all t-the rest of us poor motherfuckers.” Yuri grinned. “Machine parts.”

The undeniable truth of Yuri’s words made me pause. I rubbed my hands on my thighs, leaning away. My fingers were stinging with salt, rubbed raw within the illusory security of their casings.

“Tiny, fragile, cheap… machine parts.” Yuri’s voice dropped to a brittle hiss. “Itty bitty. And there’s lots of you. Lots of Alexis. Lots of Yuris. You’re already a slave. Just like your mother.”

“You don’t know anything about my mother.” That remark snapped the growing hypnotic fugue short. I reached back and pulled the gun free from my waistband. “Shut up.”

“I know more than you do.” Yuri’s soulless eyes burned under the fluorescent lights of the kitchen. “You think your dad was her only man before she capped herself?”

“SHUT UP!” I barked.

A weird, choked sound bubbled up from Yuri’s throat. It took me a moment to realize he was laughing. “She hated him. Hated you. She hated us. The Organization.”

Shaking, I raised the pistol in a teacup grip. My arms, back, and stomach were taut with rage.

“Yeah. Get angry.” Yuri sat back but didn’t otherwise move. He didn’t give two shits about the gun. “Think about it. You get t-to choose what Sergei did with you? Choose what you were born into? How you turned out?”

My nostrils trembled as I drew a deep, furious breath.

“Had your school paid up, car paid up, all sponsored… so you could do this. Pull a gun on the guy tellin’ you how things work. You’re a slave, kid. You joined the system, and they got you good.”

It was true. It was all true. Sergei had put Vassily and me through The Knox School together, bought our cars. After my mother’s funeral, Sergei had bought my first horse. They weren’t gifts—they were investments. We’d both known it and worked hard out of gratitude and obligation and maybe more than a little fear. Our patron had checked us into college and assigned us our subjects. Finance. Business. He wanted white-collar leaders with a taste for comfortable living and big money. I had done everything he wanted—except one thing.

“So you tell me, Alexi. Where’d it get you? Your loyalty?”

I lifted my chin. My instincts screamed at me to disengage, but pride wouldn’t let me. I’d taken so much shit from the other muzhiki in this place. “I’ve got everything I need.”

“You work like a dog, live in a shitty apartment, and half the Organization thinks you should be put down. There ain’t no respect for spooks in this place, kid. I know the guys at work, what they say about you.” Yuri didn’t blink. “Rumor is you’re a faggot.”

“Say that again.” Every muscle in my body trembled. It couldn’t be true. My finger tightened on the trigger. In the ensuing silence, the small click seemed very, very loud.

“Faggot.” He sounded it out long and slow, like I hadn’t heard the first time. “You don’t believe me? Ask Nic. Everyone thinks you make out like you’re a big tough guy after killing your dad to hide it. But it doesn’t have to be that way,” Yuri replied. “You want your soul to walk beside you like it was real, like Carmine? You can do that. Want to learn how to walk on water? It’s possible. Create gold? Skullfuck people from across the room? You can. I can sense it, Lexi. You woke up. You’re one of the big boys now.”

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God Has Heard: LILIUM #1

God Has Heard

Nephilim are the super-weapons of the future, hapless pawns in an unending trench war between two great super-nations: the theocratic, totalitarian state of the UNAC, and the techno-socialist Pacific Alliance.


The Samuel-226 PatriotRangers are one of the most successful units in the Holy Legion of the UNAC. They have never lost a man, until one of their brothers, Twofer, disappears during a training exercise. The Host, self-proclaimed reincarnations of Christ, tell them that Twofer has been Saved and taken to Yetzirah, the promised land of the Nephilim.

This, like many things the Host tells its slaves, is a lie.

God Has Heard is military science-fiction told up close and personal: a dark war story of martyrdom and ultimate triumph, brotherhood and dignity in the face of total oppression. With echoes of 1984 and Saving Private Ryan, it is a short, intense, thought-provoking read.

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Thieves’ World

Thieves’ World

Afghanistan, 1989. After five years of honorable but involuntary service on the front lines, ex-convict Nicolai Chiernenko found power and respect in the Soviet Army. Not that it counts for anything. The USSR has lost the war in Afghanistan and is in retreat. Tempers are rising and discipline is breaking down on base. Nic can only count the days until he regains his freedom.

The day before Nic leaves to start a new life in America, the body of a teenage soldier is found dumped in a ditch outside base. The boy’s sergeant calls in a favor and begs Nic to help him find the killer. Nic has the connections to sniff them out, but the only clue he has is the method of execution: a deadly technique straight out of the Russian special forces handbook.

Blood Hound

Blood Hound

“One of the first things every new mage learns about magic is that—despite your newly discovered powers over the universe—you are forever a struggling speck of krill in a very large, very cold, very dangerous ocean.”

My name is Alexi Sokolsky: blood mage, occult scholar, and hired killer. Three things that should convey me some immunity in the dog-eat-dog world of the Russian mafia. Fat chance. I think too much, drink too little, and if there’s one thing the underworld teaches you, it’s that there’s always a shark bigger and hungrier than you are.

Life gets tough after a man turns up dead in our territory, his mutilated body scrawled with demonic sigils. It gets tougher again when a key ally of my Organizatsiya is kidnapped by a secretive death cult… and I’m sent like an errand boy to hunt them down and bring him back.

Then I get captured, nearly killed, and am immersed in a sea of cosmic horror the likes of which I’ve never known. The stakes are nothing less than the life of GOD Itself… and it’s calling to me for help.

My name is Alexi Sokolsky: blood mage, occult scholar, hired killer, and hapless pawn in the great game between Everything and the NO-thing trying to destroy it.

All books in this series:

Blood Hound (#1)

Stained Glass (#2)


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