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 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. And now, after the rerelease of Shards of Glass this July, we come to the return of the second book in the series: A Patchwork Soul.
Please follow me on Twitter for updates on where you can find it! In the meantime, enjoy this excerpt from the new edition:
As clouds rolled in over the city and my left arm started to throb, I thought back on that night. Honestly, I probably think back on it a little too often. Sometimes, I still hear the sounds from when that gun went off and tore through those rooftop solar panels. Somehow everyone else had just seemed to forget it. I wasn’t sure what bothered me most about that.
It was something to figure out on another day.
On this cold winter evening, getting my first call and driving into the sunset, I passed under those rolling clouds as they threatened to choke off the last remnants of light from the horizon. The Seattle PD sent out a request for one of our agents just as I got in my car and started my shift for the night. It was at least a mile north of my usual patrols, but it wasn’t often the SPD called for a hand. So before I could finish my “morning” coffee I was driving through the center of downtown Seattle.
An Alter woman, a Vampire from what we’d heard on the call, had been found lying in an alley by tourists walking from Olympic Sculpture Park to the Seattle Center. She’d managed to go unseen for hours somehow, crumpled over in the shadow of a high-rise, obscured by a dumpster. It was an impressive trick in one of the busiest parts of town, the Space Needle looming in my rear view as I came to the scene. It lit up in the twilight hours, putting on a friendly face, hiding the fact someone was dead only about a quarter mile away.
The SPD and a couple ACTF investigators were on the scene, making sure it was taped off and keeping anyone from contaminating the place. Though, seeing the clouds above, I figured nature was going to take care of that for us soon enough. With night setting in, I put on my shades and let my visor’s night-vision light the alley. The police’s biometrics made their auras light up more than humans usually do with colors in their spectrum that told me they were way more agitated than they should have been even around a dead body. Unfortunately, I knew it probably wasn’t something they’d be too open about.
I did what I could to ignore them for the time being and turned my attention to the investigators. A pair of Elves, wearing a uniform similar to mine but sporting patches for the science division, hovered over the woman’s body in a hurried pace. Their slim figures and bladed ears told me who they were even from behind, recognizing Dulaf’s “minions”: Philip and Xander. They were younger than her, their ears short enough to almost pass as a pair of overzealous Trekkies. But their lean figures and the way they moved easily gave away their identities.
It was a bit strange they were here first – field agents usually call in the investigators after taking a quick look around. Either I was late or they were early on this one. It was still fortunate, given the weather. The longer she sat outside, the more time there was for us to lose everything that could be of use. With the weather rolling in, I was more than sure the important details were going to be washed away soon. Documenting things now was vital and we were running out of time. Even my first look at her revealed that nature had done some of that work already.
Her clothes were tattered and stained – office attire shredded and soaked in her own blood like something had pounced on her. Beyond the clothes she was covered in burns and open sores. Her face wasn’t recognizable, a pained expression frozen in what was left past the burns, cracks and blisters. She’d turned towards the wall and dumpster before the end, possibly trying to hide in what little shade she found. Our victim had been caught out in the sun while she was still alive.
Before she died her body started to destroy itself, reacting to the UV radiation in a violent outburst of blisters and ulcers. The old myth that they burst into flame was more of a translation error – she’d sun-burned to death. The third degree burns might have been what did her in, but the condition of her clothes told me she wasn’t left in the sun by accident.
Kneeling by her carefully and taking a few shots of the scene myself, I muttered quietly, “Hate crime?”
The Elves tensed at the words, their sharp ears being the only ones to pick up what I’d said but still worried about the other “normal” people in the alley. Philip shot me a look with bright blue eyes that shined slightly in the shadows and whispered back, leaning close to make up for my woefully un-pointed ears, “Someone definitely left her to die out here.”
Xander’s ears folded down and back as his partner spoke, green eyes shining through a lock of over-styled platinum blonde hair as he looked our way. “If it was a person at all – she’s covered in slash marks.”
He was right, even if his hair was silly; she’d definitely been gashed in several places before the sun rose over her. The bloodstains were too large for ulcers and her position was awkward. It hurt to curl up the way she had, cradling an arm before she died. The question was: what could have possibly attacked her in this part of town? It’s not like people were torn apart on the streets of Seattle often, not even around the Werewolf heavy areas northwest of Fangtown. You didn’t just find people mauled and left to die. Maybe, I thought, that was what was causing the police to look so agitated through my visor. Then again, it was too soon to tell anything. In fact, I realized at that moment that I didn’t even know who she was yet.
“Did you two manage to ID the victim?” I asked, glancing between Philip and Xander.
They both shook their heads with a solemn look on their faces and ears folded down. Her face was beyond what our hand-links would recognize. The Oracle system, height of technology and biology it was, wouldn’t be able to identify someone through the horrible burns. Even dental records were going to be something of a stretch with Vampires being able to grow new teeth like a shark. We were going to have to get DNA identification if we couldn’t find something on her.
The air started to feel moist, the smell of a strong sea breeze blowing in from the water front, a chilling wind squeezed through the alley and washing over us. I glanced up at the clouds now fully covering the sky above and took a deep breath of the moist air.
“Is she ready to move yet? We’re running out of time here.”
They exchanged looks and Xander gave the go-ahead nod. The two of them stood and quickly unrolled a body bag to get her out of this place. Even if the rain hadn’t been on the way we owed her some dignity. Someone who’d suffered like this, frozen in her agony as she burned away in the sun, didn’t deserve to be left in an alley overnight.
Figuring we needed to identify her at the very least, I reached for her arm and carefully started to turn her away from the wall. Her body was stiff, her skin cracking as her limbs were moved. Her face scraped the wall for a moment before I could wedge my hand between them. Slowly, I pulled her out of the position she’d died in and laid her as gently as possible across the ground. Though, as her body leaned away from the wall, we all got a glimpse of something that couldn’t be seen before. My Elf friends hesitated with the bag and the few police that could see for themselves were sickened by the sight.
With her arm cradled and turned to the wall we couldn’t see it before, but exposed finally we realized the full extent of how much harm had been done to the poor woman. Her hand was missing, wrist and all, cut away from midway up her forearm as a ragged stump. The wall she covered was soaked in her blood. Her left side, the one she’d been concealing before, was stained almost entirely red.
The police murmured among themselves, reeling back, their auras showing confusion and even heavier agitation than before. Meanwhile, Philip and Xander grew pale while standing with the bag and looking on with disgust.
“An animal,” Xander muttered.
Philip shook his head and swallowed, taking a deep breath and opening the bag for her. “Focus, we don’t have time to get squeamish about it.”
I nodded to Xander, starting to feel a little sick myself while examining the bloody arm, seeing shattered bone jutting from the end. Until I turned her away, it was a fairly standard scene for a hate crime or some other crime of passion. Now, I knew this was a lot more than the ordinary. It was one of those times you’d normally hesitate, but we had to push on and do what we were meant to do. I calmed the feeling of disgust, took a couple shots of her with my hand-link and started to carefully search her for ID.
I managed to find a small wallet tucked away inside what was left of her coat. The money was all there, the credit cards untouched and not a sign anyone even tried to open it. Though the outside was covered in blood, everything inside was clean. I found her photo ID, seeing what she looked like before. Her raven hair and alabaster skin were a stark contrast to each other that made her soft features stand out. She was a beautiful girl before this had been done to her, practically a child by Vampire terms. She was 22, only a Vampire for the last two years of her life. Bright hazel eyes with flecks of gold in them stared back at me from the ID.
Her name was Alice.
Philip walked over and took shots of her condition himself. I handed him the wallet and lifted the ID in the other hand. “Alice Winchester,” I said solemnly, looking up at him.
“She looks young,” he replied, putting the wallet away in a baggy and writing her name across it. “Do you think whoever or whatever did this to her knew who she was?”
I swiped my hand-link over the card, the information from it being transferred to my screen, a high definition photo of her replacing the small, blurry photo from her card. Seeing her gently smile, a rarity for a young Vampire in front of a camera, it seemed hard to believe.
“I’m not sure,” I said with a growing edge to my voice, standing and offering the card to Philip. “But we’ll figure it out.”
Xander walked around me and kneeled by her feet, preparing to move her into the bag. “The police over there aren’t too happy about this.”
Philip nodded, kneeling by her head. “Yeah, I was hearing that too.”
I peered over my shoulder at the police, starting to pack it up and leave the alley without a word said to me, likely getting the standard conversation out of the way with the Elves on the scene. As they left they were still whispering, shaking their heads and exchanging concerned glances. As one climbed into his car he stopped for a minute to look back at us in stunned silence.
“What were they saying?” I asked the investigators.
Xander looked back over his shoulder while Philip zipped Alice’s bag closed. Frowning, he watched the last car leaving before looking back to me and saying in a hushed tone, “I don’t know about Philip, but I kept hearing the same phrase over and over again.”
I watched the bag close and Alice’s face disappear from view. “What phrase was that?”
Xander’s ears dipped while he helped Philip lift the bag, glancing across to his partner. Philip cleared his throat and nodded along. Finally, with a bit of a bass I didn’t expect from someone who looked like part of a boy band, Philip replied in a steadier voice than his friend could manage, “Yeah, I heard it too. Over and over, they kept saying, ‘it’s another one’.”
The phrase hit me hard as it left his mouth, almost tangible in the way it pressed on me. I couldn’t say anything, only silently step out of the alley and watch the police cars roll away. The rain finally started to fall over us as Philip and Xander loaded Alice’s body into their van. My old paranoia flared again, thinking back on that unnoticed change and realizing the local police weren’t being entirely honest with us about something. Watching their lights disappear past the bend, I reached up and absently rubbed my arm.
It was hurting again.
Continued in A Patchwork Soul, available now!