Nena Tacita now knows the terrible truth about herself, but she doesn't dwell in self-pity for long. Death is still out there wreaking havoc among the living, and her friends and she are the only ones that can stop him.
Unfortunately, there are unknown adversaries lurking in the shadows, foes who have their own plans for Death. Foes that need Nena for their plans. Those plans involve murder, and that’s what leads Nena and her friends to a corporate dealer of the Underworld. There they’re lead through a ghoul’s gallery of grisly deeds against humanity as the true horrors of being a Death Touched are revealed to her.
The horrors hint at a darkness that Nena realizes resides in her own body. Fear begins to creep into Nena’s mind, a fear that maybe she won’t even make it even to the end of the world.
Darkness. It was a darkness so thick Nena could almost feel it. She stood in the middle of that bleak, shadowy world and looked around her at the nothingness.
“Hello?” she called out.
Nena winced when her own voice came back, but it was distorted. There was a cruel cut to the edges of her words like a bitter flavor unexpectedly found within a sweet one. A part of the shadowy world shifted like a black whirlpool in front of her. She took a step forward, but froze.
Her eyes had caught sight of a shadowy form within the bleak darkness. She squinted and followed the outline of a black overcoat that reached to the ground. Atop the high collar of the coat was a deathly pale neck, and above that a skull mask covered the features of a young man. The mask couldn’t hide the person’s sunken eyes that glowed like cooling coals in a once-blazing fire.
“Hello, Nena,” the person called to her.
Her still heart would have stopped beating if it could.
Nena turned and fled in the opposite direction, but at a few steps she saw the same figure standing at the same distance in from her.
She stumbled back and shook her head. “No. . .go away. Just go away!”
The figure reached up and, with black gloves, removed the mask. The face beneath it was that of her father. He smiled at her. “I can’t go away, Nena, not yet. We both have things we must do.”
She balled her hands into fists at her side and glared at him. “You’re not my dad! You’re not him!”
His face fell. A deep sorrow replaced the smile. He drew back his arm and tossed the mask at her. The facade hit the floor on its face and slid across to stop near her feet. She looked down and her eyes widened. Beneath the mask lay her own face.
Nena’s eyes flew open and she sat up. She was on her bed in her bland room within the bowels of the Agency. She wrapped her arms around herself and shivered as a chill settled over her already cold body.
“What the hell was that?” she whispered.
The hour was after evening, so Nena slipped out of bed and into her clothes. She walked out of her room with her head clutched in her hand as the dream haunted her thoughts. Her distracted mind meant she wasn’t watching where she was going and walked into a hard object.
A strong pair of hands grasped her shoulders and kept her from falling. She whipped her head up and found herself staring into the teasing eyes of Jack.
“You could get somebody killed that way,” he teased.
She shook herself and scattered the cobwebs on her thoughts. “Sorry. I guess I was just distracted.”
“I bet I have a better distraction. Pete wants us to meet him in his room for a little debriefing on the ‘project’ he’s been working on,” Jack revealed.
Nena blinked up at him. “What project?”
He jerked his head down the hall. “Come on and I’ll show you.” He strode down the hall.
Nena remained in place and furrowed her brow. “Jack?”
He paused and half-turned to her. “Yeah?”
She looked at the floor and bit her lower lip. “Can. . .can Death Touched dream?”
He arched an eyebrow. “I don’t know. Have you been dreaming?”
She ran a hand through her hair and shook her head. “I don’t know. I don’t know what it was.”
Jack pursed his lips and walked back to her. He set his hands on her shoulders so that she looked up into his concerned eyes. “What’d you see?”
She bit her lower lip. “I. . .I think D-that is, I think Death came to see me.”
Jack’s expression darkened. “In the Agency?”
She shook her head. “No, in my dream. At least, I think it was a dream. I was standing in this black place and I felt like I was suffocating, but then I heard his cane tapping, and he was standing right there smiling at me.”
Jack furrowed his brow. “Did he say anything to you?”
Nena shrugged. “Just something about me having a job to do.” Jack stiffened. She frowned as she studied him. “Do you know what he was talking about?”
Her friend shook himself and smiled at her, but she didn’t feel any warmth from it. “It’s nothing, but come on. Pete doesn’t like to be kept waiting.”
They hurried down the white halls and to the scratched door. The pair stepped inside to find their pale friend at his laptop. Jack walked over to his side, but Nena paused and looked at the ground. The floor was littered with bits of skin and claws.
She pointed at the strange items. “What are-”
There came a sound above them like tiny little screeches and a hole appeared in the thin white styrofoam ceiling tile. Bits of flesh fell through the hole and created another pile of junk on the floor.
“So Scratch is curious, huh?” Jack mused.
Pete nodded. “Yes, and persistent. He continues to send small robots designed to record audio and video.”
“Do we have enough time to talk?”
“Yes. There is a delay of five minutes between demon hordes.”
Nena wrinkled her nose. “Demon hordes?”
“Scratch’s little minions who hide in the ducts trying to listen in when the electronic devices fail,” Jack explained as he glanced up at Nena. “You wanted to know what we found out, right?”
She met his gaze with her own unblinking one and nodded. “Yes. I don’t want to be useless anymore.”
“Then you should know there’s a third partner in all of this, the president of the Rogue Rouge company, a guy by the name of Gegner,” Jack revealed.
She arched an eyebrow as she glanced from one of her companions to the other. “But how do you know that? I thought all the information we gathered from that company was destroyed by the Owl.”
Jack grinned and jerked his head at Peter. “Pete here is a master at making backups and his silver pieces are the best place to hide the pin drive. That was one of the reasons we needed to get them back so bad.”
Peter paused and looked up at him with a frown. “Among others.”
Jack smiled and nodded. “Among others,” he agreed.
“And what does ‘Gegner’ mean?” she asked them.
“It means ‘adversary’ in German,” Jack told her. “Whoever he is, he’s the one pulling most of the strings in this Project Endzeit.”
“So he’s my dad’s-so he’s Death’s lieutenant?” she guessed.
He nodded. “It seems that way. He must be a cool customer because all we can get out of the information from both Matt and the Rouge is that Project Endzeit and the Ley Lines are somehow connected.” Jack noticed that Nena was still and that she stared ahead. “Something wrong?”
She swallowed the lump in her throat and looked to him. “Is it. . .can a virus move across the Ley Lines?”
He shook his head. “No. The Ley Lines are used only by souls.”
“But what if the soul is the thing infected?” she persisted.
Jack’s eyes widened as he lifted his head to stare at the wall in front of them. “My god. . .”
A bitter snort escaped her lips. “If only he was involved.”
Jack whipped his head down to Peter. “Is this infection something that can be started at one end of the Lines? Like by Owl or another programmer?”
Pete leaned back and furrowed his brow. “I cannot be sure. If someone is attaching a virus to souls at any point in the Lines then it is the first I have heard of this being possible.”
“What might keep it from happening?” Jack asked him.
Peter shook his head. “A number of possible and theoretical difficulties. There is the trouble in affixing anything onto a soul, and then there is the Ley Lines themselves. In my brief stay within their paths I recall feeling as though I was surrounded by a great pressure. If anything artificial were to be created that would attach to a soul, it would need a great deal of strength to it in a physical sense.”
Jack frowned. “Strength like weaponry strength?”
Peter nodded. “That could certainly be applied in this case, though all of this is pure speculation.”
“So you think maybe Archimedes might have had a hand in developing some of this stuff?” Jack asked him.
“That is certainly plausible.”
“But he’s dead now, so do we have anything else to worry about?” Nena pointed out.
Jack frowned and glanced down at his friend. “Can you get the surveillance footage for when Archimedes was killed?”
Peter’s fingers flew across the keyboard. “In a moment.”
A media player window popped open on the screen and revealed the parking garage. The time stamp showed it was twenty seconds before Archimedes would arrive. Azazel walked into view and stopped facing the garage entrance. She folded her arms and glanced up at the camera with a smile and gave a wink.
Jack frowned. “She knew we’d be watching this.”
The door swung open and Archimedes stumbled out. He saw Azazel and froze. “I-I can’t stay. I can’t betray them any more.”
Azazel chuckled. “I’m here to lead you out of here.” She raised her hand and faced her open palm toward him. A red ball of swirling flames appeared an inch in front of her palm.
Archimedes shook his head and took a step back. “No. No! Please no!”
He spun around and reached for the door. Azazel fired off her ball of fire. It hit him in the back, and for one brief moment they witnessed his last look of terror before the fireball consumed his body, leaving only the charred circle on the ground.
Jack pursed his lips and shook his head. “Damn. I didn’t see anything.”
Nena frowned and glanced at her companions. “Have either of you ever seen Azazel use that fireball on a human before?”
Peter nodded. “Yes, some years ago when she captured me. I had revealed my levitation abilities and a human witnessed our fight. When we were finished she destroyed him with one of those fireballs.”
“And what was left of him?” she persisted.
He furrowed his brow. “I do not recall anything other than ash.”
“So there wasn’t a black spot on the floor?” Nena asked him.
A crooked smile slipped onto Jack’s lips as he looked across Peter’s back at Nena. “That’s my girl.”
Peter glanced over both of his shoulders and arched an eyebrow. “If I have this correctly, you are both assuming that the remains of Archimedes are in fact those of a formerly human employee used as a sacrifice to hide the fact that Archimedes is in fact alive.”
“This stacks up with the rest of the info we’ve gathered. He’d be too valuable to kill,” Jack mused.
“But why would they want to lie about him being dead?” Nena asked her companions.
Jack furrowed his brow as he shook his head. “I don’t know, but we’re going to find out.”