When they revealed themselves to the world, they changed everything. Creatures of legend that were thought to be little more than myth and superstition came out of hiding to found a new nation for their kind and those who would be willing to live with them. The Republic of Argyre, founded on an artificial island they built in secret over half a century, would act as a safe harbor for the creatures now calling themselves “Alters”. But it wasn’t enough to just construct this haven, they needed to ensure the rest of the world would accept their kind as well. Realizing that not every Alter could reach their island, Argyre established the Alter Control Task Force – an international organization meant to act as police in Alter situations. These stories follow the ACTF and the Agents of Argyre.
Returning this summer with new editions, a new format, and new covers, the Agent of Argyre series is back to tell the stories of the Seattle branch of the ACTF – starting with the return of the first book in the series: Shards of Glass.
Please follow me on Twitter for updates on where you can find it! In the meantime, enjoy this excerpt from the new edition:
They were too busy screaming like idiots to notice us as we rolled in. Lucian blared the sirens to give them a shock. All of a sudden, the once unruly crowd opened up like the Red Sea and allowed us to coast through. The few who stayed close to the car beat on our windows while we calmly rode by, the rest migrating away as though they’d started to fear the backlash.
But it didn’t faze the man on stage, a fellow with no apparent respect for our unorthodox lights. It just made him scream louder while his blood pressure visibly rose. His eyes were practically ready to pop from the back of his head, his face turning a shade of red the visor reserved for the mentally disturbed, and he screamed, “Here comes the long arm of the Fang law!”
I grimaced at the phrase and looked to see what Lucian intended to do from there. I only saw the back of his head as he climbed out of the car right into the lion’s den. A thunderous roar rose from the crowd as the man continued to scream through his megaphone, “And here’s the Fang!”
They sounded like a group of chimps surrounding the ever-calm Lucian. From my position in the car, it was like looking at a zoo behind glass. But Lucian took it in stride as he walked ahead, acting without a moment of doubt, beckoning me to join him without a word.
So I did.
The man watched me get out and bellowed, “And his Fang-bitch!”
Instantly, I knew where we stood with this man. It was one thing to use Fang in a chant: it was short and rolled off the tongue like any good slur. But yelling it like that, three times, there was no question we encountered someone who would’ve picked up a pitchfork and a torch in another age. It made me feel better about the idea we were stomping all over his little demonstration.
Sure, I’d known there’d be a few of them by the nature of their protest. But it’s hard to identify whether it’s part of the rhetoric, mob mentality or personal character until someone’s screaming the right words with such conviction. The Fangtowns may try to embrace the labels, try to take some of the power away, but it’s just a defense – a scab over a wound that hasn’t quite healed. After all, we were standing in front of a man willing to scream at a tall, silently pissed off Vampire.
I waited for an explosion that never came as Lucian merely smiled. It was a strange smile, not showing his teeth and yet being too broad to be a simple smirk. It was like he was trying to stifle back powerful laughter and yet not making a sound. In fact, I could see more activity in his aura than I could in his body-language as he stood almost perfectly still with that strange grin.
It bothered our bald, screaming friend almost as much as it disturbed me. Voice straining, he shouted one last time, “You have no jurisdiction here!”
He was right, we had no reason to break it up and the US laws have always sided with the right to protest. We were just rattling our sabers to let them know that we were watching. They knew that as well as we did and started to smirk right back at us, mocking the fact we were even standing there in the rain with them. But Lucian knew what to say and, like the news had been pointing out, it never really stopped us before.
In the calmest, eeriest tone I imagine they’ve ever heard, he spoke loud enough to hear over their own chuckles and the rolling rain, “One, you’re protesting about Alters, so it’s within our rights to make sure you don’t do anything stupid. Two, there’s Alters in the crowd, so we have to make sure you don’t turn on each other.”
The crowd fell silent under the sound of the rain, the river and the sea. A quiet, uneasy murmur rose among them. It didn’t take long before one of them cried foul from the back of the group and the ringleader tried to scream us down again. Unfazed, Lucian raised a hand to wave off their objections and turned to me with a question.
“What do you think?” he asked. “Dwarf?”
I had no clue what his angle was at first. Looking at the faces around us, though, I realized his motive: divide and conquer.
“Well, he’s short, broad shouldered and has stubby fingers,” I said, gesturing at the loudest man before trailing off.
“But?” Lucian interjected.
“Well,” I continued, crossing my arms to try to look even the slightest bit more confident, “while the nose says Dwarf, the eyes tell me Leprechaun. Notice the way they’re sparkling like emeralds in the dark.”
The crowd found new life after that little accusation. They roared and balked at the idea that one of their own wasn’t “one of their own”. But the reaction of the bald man – that was the best of all.
I don’t know if you’ve ever made someone so angry that they lost the ability to speak coherently for a while. It was awkward but amusing to watch the man stutter over himself as he seethed. If the red aura coming off him was heat, the rain would have rolled off in clouds of steam.
“How dare you?” he finally screamed at us, “I’m a good Christian man! I’m not one of those monsters!”
I nearly burst out laughing. I couldn’t tell you the number of people I met who believed the stories of Alters and holy ground. Never mind that genealogy studies show that three of the last seven popes were Alters. If that doesn’t prove crosses and funny hats don’t do anything to them, nothing will.
Lucian, a Catholic himself by some accounts, ignored the silly comment and snapped right back at him, “So you’ve been tested?”
The bluster and rage faded away from the man’s face as he stammered, “W-well, no.”
“Have any of you been tested?” Lucian cried out to the crowd. “If you haven’t, you might be protesting yourself.”
It didn’t sway them much, an angry growl swelling under hushed voices. Still, Lucian was undeterred by the sound of the pack sizing him up. “If you’re going to do it, we’re going to need to check all of you to see who is and isn’t in our jurisdiction.”
Following a cue I was never given, I grabbed a blood monitor from a pocket and raised it for the others to see. It was too good to pass up. Looking at me, he gave an approving nod and pointed my way. “Just present yourselves to Devotee Leone and let us get this sorted.”
A voice rose to protest, “Testing us like that is a violation of our rights! You can’t do that!”
“Unfortunately,” Lucian replied to the confused faces of the crowd, “I’m legally required to.”
All of a sudden, that riled crowd became a timid brood of chickens. I lifted the monitor and waved it around like a crucifix in an old movie. It was like we’d asked them if they had an STD and offered a free public screening for everyone. For all of their boisterous attitudes they became gun-shy awfully fast.
The crowd started to thin and move away. Lucian had played some half-truths and assumptions in our favor and used that “one in four” chance to turn the crowd around. I wondered as I watched them if that might have been my lesson for the night.
“Well,” I said with a touch of hope, “that was interesting.”
But Lucian looked at me, smiled and replied, “That wasn’t even what we came here for.”
Sitting in the dark, watching the new workers pile in, it was hard not to think about why Lucian would break up the protest. A lot of personal reasons came to mind off the top of my head but none that felt quite right. Lucian’s usually had a reason beyond being petty. It was more important that we maintained balance and supported the local laws in the long run. So I found myself wondering why exactly I’d just helped scare off a screaming bald man and his minions.
I wouldn’t have my answer for another few hours. After the workers reported for their shift, Lucian took our car to the far end of the island and shut it down. Our lights, all the identifying digital markers and everything that could be used to spot the car were off, leaving us sitting silently in the dark. We’d gone into stake-out mode.
Stake outs have never been enjoyable to me. They’ve always been like an endless mind-numbing road-trip. You sit in a car for hours on end but there’s no listening to the radio, no new scenery and no bathroom breaks. Instead, it was just me, the sound of the rain and a Vampire humming show tunes for three hours. By the time he’d gone over “Seasons of Love” for the third time I was slowly fashioning my coffee cup into a sharp spike. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it, but whatever it was I was probably going to do it five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred times.
I was only stopped by a glimmer in the dark – one of the warehouses, a run-down, abandoned hole, was suddenly busy with activity. Something was going on that wasn’t supposed to in a building that hadn’t been used for some time. Before I could even ask, Lucian was out of the car and on his way. I followed his cue and climbed out after him.
We crept through the shadows to avoid being spotted by the people gathering inside the old crumbling heap. The constant drizzle didn’t do much to stop us from seeing the auras from a distance as we weaved through the darkness. They were mostly blue, either Alters wanting to avoid detection or possibly regular humans. I couldn’t be sure at that distance, but it made me wonder about our jurisdiction again.
“Is this ours?” I asked quietly, peering around a corner at the people marching through.
Lucian glanced my way and whispered confidently, “I’m sure of it.”
I was ready to protest, opening my mouth to question him again. He silenced me by pointing at the doormen of the little gathering. Standing there at the warehouse was a pair of tall, muscular men with the auras of Werewolves.
I shut up and followed him around the edges, the dark shades of our uniforms blending with the stormy night. Around the back of the building we scaled crates as quietly as possible and peered through one of the old dirty windows.
It was strange and confusing at first. The crowd of at least a hundred people, both human and Alter side-by-side, encircled the entire building. Gazing over them, I saw the old familiar sight of a cage erected in the center of the room.
Seeing it brought me back to what seemed like another lifetime. The smell of blood and sweat washed over me, memories of tape wrapped tightly around my fists, the sound of people rattling the chain-link fence we’d used as a cage. These people were there for the same thing I was all those years ago.
They were there for a fight.
Lucian nodded, stroking his fingers along the side of his badge as the center lit up. It linked with the Oracle and placed a mark on the map signaling to the rest that we’d found something. Whispering to the badge, he filled them in on the details as the Oracle started to sweep the area and signal for backup.
I wasn’t listening very closely just then, instead watching the situation and wondering just what exactly he expected to see here. The audience was technically our problem, but the best we could get them on would be a few misdemeanors that hardly seemed worth the trouble of removing baldy and the gang. I’d help bust up Werewolf “dog fights” under my previous lancer and the audience usually made it ten times worse for half the gain. Watching the fight was criminal mischief but hardly the big score of engaging in organized crime and aggravated assault. For a moment, I even doubted the tip really paid off. But then I saw the fighters…or at least the reaction to them.
The audience cheered and parted to let the men through. I couldn’t see what they were looking at, just an aura through my visor that told me it was huge. Blood pressures rose rapidly in waves through the crowd as hearts started to race and hormones ran wild.
When I finally saw the reason behind our visit I could only say one thing: “Holy shit.”
Once, I’d been a fighter myself, before Lucian recruited me. But not once had I ever run into what was walking to the cage just then. They were Giants. Not the Giants you’d picture in a fairy tale. No, these were ten foot tall, seven hundred pound modern day Neanderthals wearing crude boxing gloves made of old towels and duct-tape. And Lucian apparently thought we should try to arrest them.
This seemed like a silly idea to me…
Continued in Shards of Glass, available now!