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Chapter One

"The killing of a monarch must not only be planned, but timed. The void left will either be filled by a tyrant or a figurehead if the murder is done at the wrong moment. Do it right, and both history and future can be yours."

-Lexicanium, Fracture seventeen

 

On a normal evening, one could stand on this small peninsula overlooking the harbor of New Charleston and consider it a peaceful respite from the world. The sounds of the crashing waves, the ocean breeze, and the view of the coastline were a calming and introspective force of nature. On a normal evening, the beautiful tiered gardens, lovingly manicured and tended to, would have been barely able to contain their colorful splendor from the bright moonlight that lit the peninsula. On a normal evening, the tightly cut grass would have given a clear and unimpeded view from the gardens all the way to the manor itself, a shining nod to the southern plantation culture of generations past.

 

This was not a normal evening.

 

The grounds were covered in a fog of wispy smoke. It rose from the earth, thick and white, but dissipated a few feet above. The cool light of the moon complimented the flickering of flames scattered across the grounds, breaking through the fog. These tiny licks of fire helped illuminate the massive plantation in a ghastly glow. The full moon pierced through the flippant illumination as the ocean breeze washed away the fog.

For a moment, before the breeze relented and the smoky fog returned, there was nothing but charred ground where beauty should have been. The manse itself, hundreds of yards away, hadn't escaped. It was wreathed in a corona of flickering smoke, the flames made worse by the breeze as it cultivated the flames of destruction.

The blast wave had been so intense that the garden tiers, cascading down towards the ocean side cliffs, had been smoothed over into a roughly stepped hill. Their stone and timber structure had been thrown into the air, much of which ended up peppering the front of the manor house itself. Trees were nothing more than shredded stumps of splintered oak. The manse, even at such a distance, had taken the blast full on. It had crumpled in on itself and was now beginning to burn in earnest.

At the epicenter of this blast was a crater of charred earth. Crouching in the concave circle, his eyes at ground level, was a figure in black, unaffected by the surrounding destruction.

His features cut clean lines across his face. A brow that cast a shadow across his deep set eyes. Defined cheekbones and angular nose followed by thin lips and a chiseled chin. He wasn't handsome, but he held himself with a rare confidence. Determination was written on his face. Sweat dripped down his brow from his mess of black hair. The dark cloak helped him melt in to the grounds, its hood draped across his shoulders. The face of this man was only known to a handful of others as he seldom exposed it from behind the mask clipped to his belt.

His eyes darted across the grounds, ignoring the smoldering corpse that lay in a broken tangle next to him in the crater. The body still sizzled and smoked from the inferno. The crackling flesh kept the small crater awash in the nauseating smell of cooking meat. He had become accustomed to that stench. It didn't bother him as he reached down, grabbed the throat of the body and yanked, ripping the side of its neck out in a spray of thick gore. It was better to confirm the kill than to find out later his victim had somehow survived.

The stench of burnt flesh intensified, but the man ignored it as he searched across the grounds for his true target. He had hoped the inferno would flush his prey out, like a deer bursting from cover in the woods. Time was not on his side, though, and so he looked for a sign of the only three people that had it in their power to ruin his assault.

He knew they would show up here, somewhere. The trio were fated to arrive on the plantation grounds. It was written in the Lexicon, and may as well have been carved into stone. The lines of time and fate drew them into battle here, misguided as it was. Sometimes in a frontal assault. Once, up the ocean cliffs. Regardless, they'd be here.

Once the three youths spotted him, there was no variable he could apply to change the eventual outcome - so he needed to find his prey sooner rather than later. He searched the ruined landscape, seeking the telltale movement of both his target and the trio so bent on stopping him. The smell of the salt ocean air washed over him, temporarily displacing the surrounding stench. The cool midnight breeze pushed against his hair and whipped the frayed ends of his cloak. But even the cleansing wind of the ocean couldn't clean the bitter stink from the wounds he had inflicted on the grounds of the plantation manse.

The former ancestral home of the Grand Duke himself. It lay in ruins, fire burning through wood and stone and illuminating the smoke around him with an ethereal, angry orange glow. The sigil of his once mighty duchy, a rising sun over the beaches of the Atlantic ocean waves, still fluttered impossibly untouched in the breeze atop its pole.

The Duke was still alive. Hiding like the coward he was. He always hid from this fight. Using his small cadre of bodyguards to defend him whilst he ran away. The Lexicon told of two possible outcomes here - either he needed to find and kill the Duke before the trio arrived, or he had to let it go and move on. It was the only window they had to remove the monarch from power. Killing him at any other time in the fracture accomplished nothing. So far.

A small shock wave of displaced air heralded the arrival of his partner. The charred bits from the former plantation gardens spattered against his leg as The Modu seemed to apparate out of thin air. She was lithe and fit, covered head to toe in seamless black flexar armor.

The tight weave of the graphene fibers moved with her body as if she wasn't human, but rather sheathed in the skin of a deadly black serpent. It undulated and shifted to stretch and move with her. She wore shoulder braces that crisscrossed her chest in a mass of straps, covered in a variety of handles. Each handle connected to a razor-sharp blade, deadly in her hands.

She covered her face, hiding behind the graphene cloth. It masked grotesquely marred features, but not the feminine curve to her jawline and neck. To him, he always tried to see through the mask to what she was before the scars.

The bracers around her forearms, blackened aluminite, had been forged especially for her and were able to deflect whatever projectile she was fast enough to block. She didn't lift her sleek mirrored goggles, nor look at him as she spoke in her customary harsh whisper. Her head turned towards the wreckage of the house, undoubtedly using the sensors in her goggles to continue hunting for signs of movement or remaining life.

"He wasn't in the house," she said. "Nor the grounds. He must have a bunker we don't know about this time."

He looked up at her, one eyebrow raised.

"Impossible. Vidd would have known. He would have recorded it in the Lexicon," he said. The Duke had disappeared again? This was quickly turning into another unforeseen disaster.

"He's. Not. Here." She tightened her fists and spoke through gritted teeth.

A shock wave imploded with snap of air as she disappeared, shaking him off balance for a quick moment. The charred chips of mulch and foliage on the ground were tossed into the air by the unnatural disturbance.

We still have time to find him.

He crunched the variables in his head. It was such a small change they had made to the fracture...not enough to cause the Duke to disappear. He should have run out of the mansion as soon as it began to collapse, per the Lexicon. 

This should have fixed the last problem! 

Last time the Duke's son had held them off as his father fled. This time they had drawn out that same son, Cainen, and annihilated him in a fiery explosion. Someone capable of those speeds was hard to kill. A precise, powerful explosion was one way to do it. His frustration at this fracture was boiling over. The cost of this fight was too much to repeat it. The cost of the fractures was always too much. He sighed in frustration.

The communications implant in his ear opened up with a burst transmission. Three quick, hissing clicks. He touched the outside of his ear twice, sending back a confirmation. Time to go--before the trio arrived. He stood to his full height and began trudging up the side of the crater and into the burnt gardens. He took special care to kick the charred corpse at his feet when he stepped over it. The spattered and blackened blood from the dead noble--Cainen, son and heir to the Duke--clung to his hand. It covered the exposed flesh of his left thumb.

He rubbed the crust against the outside of his jacket in an attempt to clean it, but the fabric wouldn't budge the gore that had already welded itself to his skin. Fixated on his hand for a moment, he almost missed the telltale sign of the arrival of the trio. It was a slight feeling in the air, the rent in the very fabric of the surrounding atmosphere. A deep, subtle shock wave that he felt through his entire body.

The trio was here, but where? He snatched the mask off the back of his belt and pulled it over his face. The grounds became awash in a yellow-orange hue as the eyes of his mask glowed.

 

The mask of the terrorist, Omni.

 

Not fifty yards from where he stood, the air shimmered as the trio's Historian brought them through the rent in the fabric of space. 

Damn! They came in close this time.

The three of them typically transitioned in from further out and approached with more caution.

Omni knew Sara would be the most dangerous coming out of a transition, as Eli would still be charging whatever ability he had been able to siphon away from someone this time. It was odd that he did something different every fracture. Omni found in the past that it had related to the different Collegiums Eli attended in each fracture. 

He still didn't know why Eli changed Collegiums each time. Or why he found different talents. Sometimes the different variables in all the fractures hurt his head. Omni couldn't fathom how Vidd handled it all.

He had a quick glimpse of the three of them before they noticed him standing at the lip of the crater. Eli stood in his ill-fitting jeans and one of the tight, long sleeved white shirts he loved to wear. He never changed. The slender, almost frail boy had a look of contempt on his pale, youthful face as he clenched his fists to his side in preparation for some sort of attack. 

Not even out of infancy yet with his talent. He's too slow, easy to predict.

Sara was still stunningly beautiful, as always. Her long golden hair contrasted with her tanned and unblemished skin. Silky locks swept across the graceful lines of her youthful face as the wind played with it. She visibly stiffened when she saw him.

Omni sighed to himself in frustration. The trio typically transitioned near the plantation, not on it. He thought he had more time. Out here in what was once the gardens, he felt exposed. The Lexicon was clear. Once the trio saw him, the fight with the Duke was over. His opportunity to prevent the war had slipped through his fingers. Again. Omni took a small amount of solace in that when Vidd brought him back, he wouldn't remember the painful part of this. 

Damn it, I didn't want to deal with them this time.

Eli was still looking around, attempting to get his bearings in the smoky landscape. He stood close enough to Sara that her hair blew over into his face, and he stepped forward out of the blond tangles whipping around his head. Immediately, he fixated his gaze on Omni. His chest heaved at the sight of the renowned terrorist. The youth had frail, sickly features, wrenched up in anger.

The third member of the trio towered a few feet behind where Sara and Eli had transitioned in, staring at Omni with his unnerving red eyes. The eyes, softly glowing through the filters of Omni's mask, were set at such contrast to his shock of white hair. The pupils were without any color save crimson in the iris, a side-effect to the talent he had manifested. Those eyes penetrated into his soul for a moment before the large boy shimmered away into nothing. Bryce, the third member of their trio, was no doubt placing himself seconds ahead of this current timeline to observe and remove his team in case of catastrophe. 

Dangerous, that. 

A Historian's mind, strong as it was, often stretched beyond its limits as it attempted to keep track of every fracture. Bryce observing just outside this one would add the slightest of burdens on his mind, but that weight would never leave him. Better to hide in a safe place and allow his team to be assaulted. Bryce would learn in time, hopefully.

Instead of attacking him, Eli and Sara stood there and watched. He peered over the flickering horizon of smoke and smolder, looking for a sign of his own partner, but she wasn't anywhere in sight. He assumed she was watching. She knew she had a part to play in this, whether she wanted to or not. The Lexicon was clear. There was a slim chance that their deaths here would embolden Eli and Sara to great feats in the future. The more likely scenario was that it would accomplish nothing, but it was worth trying for.

"Omni!" Eli yelled at him over the wind and crashing waves of the bay.

For all his bravado, Omni knew the Eli in this fracture was still a child, an aimless teenager fresh out of the Academy. He'd only been in Collegium for half a season. An angry child, but nothing more. Omni had seen fourteen-year-olds that looked more intimidating.

Omni planted his feet at shoulder's width and squared himself up to the duo before him. Most people quivered in fear at the sight of him, but not these two. Eli and Sara were frozen in place, but there was no sign of dread on their faces. Even while outwardly acting the part of the evil Omni, inwardly he sighed. He knew they'd have to go into another fracture later. 

We need to visit the Collegiums. Start weeding out the teachers. The ones that help the Duchy later. Perhaps we've focused on the wrong nobility.

Eli took a step forward, his shaky voice almost lost in the wind. "You killed my mother! You're a monster!" he blurted. Tears welled up in his eyes.

Eli always was impetuous, regardless of his anxiety. It looked like a few months of Collegium training was all that kept the youth from collapsing in on himself.

Omni knew his courage was like a thin sheet of paper set under a sharp stream of water. It had the possibility to turn into mush at any moment. Omni caught a sliver of movement as Sara set her feet apart, bracing herself for an attack. 

She looks like her combat classes are not preparing her enough. Telegraphing her intent to move...shameful. 

Omni grasped onto his speed, a talent that felt much like clenching a tightness in his chest. He readied it for when she moved.

Sara blurred from his vision as she sprang towards him. The tightness in his torso intensified as he focused. Time around him slowed as he enhanced his own speed to a blistering level. To his perception, Eli froze in place. The wind stopped. The sound of crashing waves became muted. Everything went quiet, peaceful - save Sara, who was grunting and running across the twenty-foot divide between them. In real-time, she would be a blur. Perhaps not even that.

Her Beta-level talent was fast. He chose to slow-burn his Alpha speed to match Sara's. To him, she was now running at a normal pace. Mentally preparing to dodge out of the way if she made it to him, he smiled as he caught a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye.

The Modu streaked across the landscape at least three times faster than what Sara was capable of running. Sara had only made it halfway across the gap between her and Omni, and although he hadn't moved - any movement would have given away to her that he was capable to match her speed - he had been watching for The Modu. He would have eventually dodged if she hadn't sprung her trap.

The Modu looked to be pushing herself with everything she had. She was a blur as she slammed into Sara's side with a crunch, blowing the teenager ten feet into the air. The pretty youth flopped through the rising smoke, landing in a crumpled twist of limbs on the charred ground. Bits of burnt mulch clung to her beautiful golden hair as she slammed into the muck.

Omni grimaced. He didn't like seeing Sara hurt, but this was war.

She had transitioned out of her speed and back into real-time when she was knocked unconscious, and so she froze in mid-tumble. It gave him no pleasure to see her knocked out of the fight, but the Lexicon told the tale - Eli had to strike the blow, not Sara. In fact, it told that the odds were higher of Eli succeeding if Sara was removed from the battle.

Omni had used much of his stored speed talent in the battle earlier with Cainen, and so using it again had drained it. His transition back into real-time caused an impact to his senses as the air returned, roaring around him. The entire exchange had taken less than two seconds.

"Sara!" Eli screamed as his friend burst out of her speed and crumpled on the ground. To him in real-time, she would have disappeared in a pop of displaced air and then reappeared a tangled wreck on the charred ground. The shaken youth took a step towards her before realizing he was in the fight of his life. "You bastard! I'll kill you!"

Omni shrugged, increased his bone and muscle density two-fold using a stored transfer from an Ironskin. His feet sank another inch into the soft mulch. He braced himself and waited for the inevitable attack. His skin would be nigh impenetrable by blade or bullet for only a short time, as he didn't have a lot of this particular talent stored. 

What will it be this time, Eli?

Eli raised his hands and they started to glow an ethereal green, the energy seeping through his white sleeves. He thrust his hands forward and a bolt shot out towards Omni, a beam of pure destructive energy. Omni felt his world tumble as something slammed into him from the side with incredible force. The scorched ground tumbled as he flew backwards, slamming into the lip of the crater.

Looking up, he saw the green bolt still shooting across the harbor like a bolt of lightning, over the old fort on the bay island and into the ocean night. He looked up and saw The Modu standing over him. He chuckled at Eli, even as he lay on the ground. 

Of course you'd use my favorite talent against me, wouldn't you?

Eli screamed in frustration and erected a shield around his body. It shone in a hazy, light blue and crackled with static while he ran towards the pair of them. Omni also saw Eli's tracks in the burnt mulch getting deeper with every step. Omni was slightly impressed with his adversary. The boy had already pulled three talents in under a minute, all ones he rarely - if ever - had previously utilized in this fight.

"Careful, he's pulling an Ironskin," he told The Modu. She didn't look back at him.

"I see it," she hissed before disappearing again with a pop of displaced air.

He stood up from his position in the crater, glad for the impact-resistant graphene armor he was wearing. When she had tackled him away from the plasma beam, it had felt like a truck had hit him. Even pulling a Gamma Ironskin talent hadn't prevented the impact from bruising his torso. Without that, she would certainly have broken something. Broken ribs weren't fun to mend, and were always excruciating. The Modu had broken a few of his in the past. Well, more than once. He already felt his ribs getting tender.

As he stood up, he looked back and saw Eli engaging in hand-to-hand combat with The Modu. The youth was fighting with surprising efficiency against the assassin. His shield flared blue light as her strikes hit home, but the force of the blows weren't moving him back due to his increased density. He struck back at her in a blur of his own, most likely pulling from a well of Sara's beta-speed to fight. Speed, shield and density. 

Three powers simultaneously? He's more prepared than I thought.

Of course, M isn't giving him everything she has. He'd be dead if she did.

It also dawned on him that Eli was handling more than Omni himself had been able to manage at the same age. He almost laughed out loud at the thought.

Omni sent Juicing strength to his legs and leapt over the crater's depression, jumping towards the pair of fighters. He found himself watching and studying some of the strikes Eli made towards his agile opponent. Eli's hands were a blur, so fast they were difficult for Omni to follow at real-time speed.

Eli's arms started to glow a malignant red, foreshadowing the call of another energy power. Waves of heat shimmered around him. 

That's new. Heat coming from his hands...is this an Inferno talent of some sort? 

Omni placed his finger on his ear and provided one long burst to his partner. She responded with a frustrated grunt that only he heard through the implant, but he could see her slow down and leave an opening. She wouldn't remember her death anyway, and this fracture needed to hold Eli's revenge.

Eli, to his credit, didn't miss a beat. With his hands glowing a hot crimson, he burst forward and punched through The Modu's chest with both hands. Her graphene weave crumpled against the supernatural force of the heat-based talent.

The burst of blood and viscera out the back of her body showered the garden in a crimson rain. Omni clearly saw her ribs and organs as the entire left side of her torso disintegrated by the force of the attack. Her body, unsupported on that side, crumpled up and fell in upon itself. She spewed a cloud of blood through the weave of her mask and dropped forward. A last gurgling choke emitted from her chest and with a few twitches of her leg, she finally died.

Eli stood over her with a look of incredulity in his face. Omni stalked over towards Eli, exuding an air of carelessness regarding the shattered body of his friend in front of him. 

"She and I have been together a long time, boy. You owe me quite the blood debt," he growled, taunting the young man.

Eli's chest heaved with exertion, but his eyes still shone with a fire that Omni was all too familiar with. The heat washed away from his hands, that talent exhausted. The shield was still in place, but Eli wasn't sinking into the mulch, nor was he twitching.

So you've run out of both speed and density as well.

The fight with The Modu, however brief, had drained him.

"I owe you? I owe you!?" he raged back. "I have been dreaming of this moment for my entire life!"

"Boy, you don't know the half of it...." Omni trailed off as he said it, catching himself. 

Can't tell him the truth here. Tried that before. He'll just go into a shell. I need to push him! 

"Well, what are you waiting for, then?"

Omni looked for a sign that Eli was calling a new power, but nothing seemed obvious from Eli's body language. Eli stood before Omni, staring him down and clenching his fists. Omni knew couldn't give it away, Eli had to think he truly beat Omni.

The boy was splattered in gore, blood from The Modu coating him to the shoulder. The silky white shirt, tight to his body, displayed chunky bits of her remains in a brilliant crimson. Bits of flesh hung from his wet fists as they shook and spattered her blood on the ground. 

Eli flexed his energy shield and grinned at Omni. "Waiting? I'm not waiting, you murdering prick. I'm stalling."

Omni cocked his head and looked at him. He glanced to the sky, a sixth sense of something happening above him raising the hairs on his neck. No longer could he see the stars and the moon through the cloudless night. No longer was the night cloudless at all. Now, rolling clouds covered the cosmos in a near perfect disk over the plantation grounds.

"Ah...shit." Good one. Quick and painless.

The flash of light was all he saw, along with a sudden jolt in his body as the lightning struck him. He didn't even have time to see Eli's victorious face at the redemption of his mother's death.

 

Even if it was misplaced.

Chapter Two

"The significant acts of destruction really occurred as we were learning that these abilities were becoming commonplace. The first in society to manifest their talents attempted to set themselves above the rest of humanity. It caused the societal world cracked under the burden of a thousand warlords and fiefdoms. The resulting order put in place by the Codifiers and the forming of the Triconfederate from the remnants of the United States of America kept us from becoming separated as a culture. Thankfully the Codifiers continue to be quick to react to those that wish to misuse their abilities for personal gain in the Triconfederate."

-The History of Triconfederate Class Inequality, 2nd edition (possession subject to public flogging)

 

 

~Four months earlier~

 

Elijah Littlemore scampered down the old wooden steps behind Bryce, the ancient nails groaning in protest as the pair of boys thundered down into the living room. The Spaldings' home was small but cozy. The aroma of cooking bacon had awoken the pair and brought them down from their slumber. Sizzling sounds in the kitchen confirmed Eli's craving would be satisfied. He considered the Spalding home to almost be his own. He was there often enough.

Bryce, almost six and a half feet tall, towered over Eli's small stature - though he'd only seen fourteen summers. He was like his dad, more of a beanpole than a hulk, but a keen eye could imagine how a little training would fill out his height with muscle.

They walked through the living room together, feet padding on the worn wooden floor, dodging the organized layout of old furniture. Eli ran his hand across the spine of the old cushioned couch before turning his attention to much more important things.

 

Time for breakfast.

 

Mr. Spalding stood in front of the old stainless steel stove while his wife sat at the table head bowed over a data reader. The patriarch of the house was debating some point that he must have found important, as the spatula in his hand was being wielded in great swooping arcs.

Bryce's father had a tall, lean whip of a body that stood ramrod straight, a carryover that never left him after his brief stint in the military. He bore the price of his service on his face. The triple scars that ran across the side of his head had left puckered skin through his hair, claimed half his left ear, and worked their way across his cheek and to his jawline. The scars marred an otherwise handsome, if not long, face. His black eyes matched those of his son, as well as the hooded brow and wiry black hair. As a professor, he brooded with the best of them.

In contrast to Mr. Spalding was Mrs. Spalding, or as she preferred - Beth. Where Bryce's father was always rigid in both his posture and formality, his mother was like a stern, kind Aunt to everyone she encountered. Her stocky frame was always finely clothed in pressed floral dresses, her hair set in a pristine bun, and her makeup flawless.

Kindly appearance notwithstanding, she believed in perfect manners and decorum. Eli snuck over to the table and reached in front of her to grab a few slices of finished bacon while Mr. Spalding kept talking, and he received a stern glare.

"Pardon me for reaching, ma'am," he said to the single upturned eyebrow. She hated the honorific 'Mrs. Spalding', but she expected proper 'ma'am's and 'sir's'. Eli had always found it funny.

Bryce turned his head to Eli as they both munched on the crispy bacon and rolled his eyes. He nodded at his father. "Politics again..." he said. Eli giggled but couldn't help listening to Mr. Spalding.

"...and furthermore, if the idiot nobles in the Pacific Alliance actually ever aligned, they would sweep across this continent and consolidate their power. But they can't seem to find their head from their ass - err...rears," he corrected himself under a withering stare from his wife. She set the data reader down and looked up at Eli and her son, amusement dancing in her bright green eyes. Such a contrast, those eyes to the dark pools her son had inherited from her husband.

"Hey dad, I heard there was another attack yesterday?" Bryce asked. Talking about an 'attack' with his father only meant one thing - the terrorist known as Omni. It was an obsession of Mr. Spalding. He and a small group of other scholars studied the terrorist with relentless fervor.

Eli had heard mention of the attack yesterday as they left the Academy, but didn't know the details. He leaned in, trying to look inconspicuous in his interest.

"Yes! What a fascinating instance this time. It looks like he had secreted himself inside a building on the motorcade route. The parade was a celebration of the end of the school year in the upper Atlantic. He must have had some other terrorist cells helping him this time. The shield that the Baron had erected was at least Beta strength, and rumor has it that it was fire proof..." he paused and looked to the floor, lost in thought.

"...could it be that he found a heat resistant Shielder? I should be able to find that in the archives if--" he stopped as his wife cut him off.

"Dearest, you were saying?" she asked. Eli chuckled. This was pretty normal for the two of them.

"Yes, yes. I digress. He needed the heat shielding of course, because Baron Gareth was present in the motorcade. His twin daughters had graduated Academy, and his son Maerin had returned from the war in the Plains," Mr. Spalding said.

He took a drink of his coffee and continued. "Omni vaporized the Shielders that Gareth had guarding the car, somehow. It's not yet known how he got inside the shield. Once the shields were down, The Modu came in and sliced Maerin's head clean off. We had to slow down the vid footage to see a glimpse of her. She's so fast. Alpha-level speed, really." he said.

Bryce was open-mouthed, bits of the bacon crammed in his mouth sticking out. "She cuth hish headth off?"

"Yes, and he was sitting right between his sisters in the back of the convertible when it happened. Baron Julian incinerated the entire side of the block in a rage when he saw the blood spurting. In the vid, you can see the blue haze of a Shielder pushing back against the fire of the Inferno for a moment. The flames flattened out against it before the shield collapsed and it either consumed Omni or he escaped. Omni had obviously prepared something to hold Gareth's talent back, but I think Gareth was stronger than his shield was able to handle. I would bet that he got away, though."

Eli chimed in. "The Baron destroyed a whole block of buildings? Were people in them?"

"Yes, yes, of course. They were apartment habs. Casualties were around six hundred, many of which were watching the parade from their windows. Tragic, really," Mr. Spalding said.

"Will anything happen to him?" Eli asked, horrified.

Mr. Spalding looked confused. "Happen to who?"

"To the Baron! He killed six hundred people!" Eli exclaimed.

Mr. Spalding shared a look with his wife. "Eli, he's an Alpha - and the Baron of the entire upper Atlantic. He was trying to kill a known terrorist after his son was assassinated in front of his eyes. Nothing will happen to him."

Eli put the other piece of bacon he had taken back down on the plate. He had lost his appetite. Bryce grabbed it and crammed it into his mouth. Eli scowled at the thought of the injustice.

"Why did Omni kill the Baron's son?" he asked.

Mr. Spalding tilted his head, thinking for a moment. "You know, I don't have any clue. But that isn't abnormal. Omni seems to select very specific targets for reasons we haven't been able to link or understand. It was in his ability to have killed all three of the Barons' children, but he picked the war hero sitting in the middle. Perhaps it is a statement? Saying he can do anything he wants, with impunity? My colleague at Yale mentioned that he has been looking at the war records of the recent targets, and they all had fought in the Plains. Maybe there's a connection? We haven't figured it out yet."

Beth Spalding cleared her throat. "Well, boys, that is enough politics and news. How are we this morning?"

Both of them mumbled something resembling a "fine" or "good". Bryce kept working through his share of bacon and Eli leaned against the refrigerator. Eli was feeling a little queasy at the thought of the carnage. Was killing one person worth that many lives? Does Omni even know that his targets have collateral damage?

Beth raised an eyebrow at their poor manners. Nothing was ever quite proper enough for Mrs. Spalding. Decorum, always.

"Mmm, okay. Well, enjoy your last couple days of freedom before Trials. Will you be home tonight for dinner, Brycey?" she said. Bryce hated when she called him that.

"Ma! Seriously," he said with bits of grease and bacon slathered around his chin. His mother reached and wiped his mouth with her lap napkin.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

T.S. Brothers writes what he loves to read – character-driven stories with action, suspense, and a fast paced plot. In the end, he hopes to just tell a good story. If you like a dark and gritty setting, with authentic characters, visceral action, and entertaining dialogue – you’ll enjoy T.S. Brothers.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
This book has a lot of 'me' in it. I hate spiders, and you'll find that this is a somewhat common theme in the book. I also like pork schnitzel and tend to talk with my mouth full.
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
There are a lot of 'meta' clues throughout the book that hint to something larger brewing. This is the first of not only a series, but an interwoven universe. I'm looking forward to down the road when someone may say, "Hey! I just connected the dots here!"
Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
I loved the question of: What would happen to society if the guy who drives the garbage truck - let's call him Lenny - became more powerful than anyone on the planet? Would he become a tyrant? A benevolent leader? Would he simply take a state and call it "Lennyland"? Let's find out.

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