What have you got today, Ernest?” his boss asked him as the man slid in through the door, silent as a stalking jungle cat. The weight of the steel door that led into the aptly named “war room” should have made some noise, yet there hadn’t been so much as a click for a warning. Which only set Ernest’s rather human heart into high speed. Ernest cleared his throat. “A new abnormal just came in, she is . we’ve been hunting a long time for her. We found her in a hospital in Montana. Childbirth complications. They alerted us immediately, as we’d requested.” “Name?” Gardreel asked softly, his voice a careful caress. Ernest knew Gardreel had been searching for one abnormal in particular and the idea that this could be her caused a reaction in his boss he wasn’t sure he liked. His eyes glittered and the front of his pants tightened, his human body reacting strangely. The boss had just returned to the facility after heading a successful grab operation in Northern Ireland and Ernest did not want to upset him when his human body was already fatigued.
Ernest cleared his throat, again, and read from the single page on the clipboard he held. “Name: Phoenix, aka, Nix. “Age: Thirty-four. “Abilities: Assassin. Knowledge of weaponry, hand-to-hand combat, tactical warfare. Considered extremely dangerous. “Abnormal abilities: Unknown, but suspected ascendant. No training. “Connections: Father—New York crime boss, Romano. Deceased. Dealt with demons. “Spouse. Killian Fannin, leader of the Irish mob, abnormal. Whereabouts unknown. “Son: Bear (Possible abnormal abilities connected to his mother’s abilities.) Whereabouts unknown. Possibly deceased.
“Daughter: Un-named. Whereabouts unknown. Possibly deceased. “Both children are off the radar, though being searched for actively. “Medications prescribed: Patient can metabolize sedative at a rapid rate. It is suggested that all her meals be loaded with the highest dose of amobarbital possible. As we’ve seen in other patients, this will effectively depress her natural inclination to fight and increase her willingness to accept new memories.” He paused. There wasn’t much else on the chart. More would come later as they observed her, but she’d been in a perpetual state of sedation since they brought her in. Gardreel looked at him over a pair of spectacles, his blue eyes sharp. “Ascendant? She is the one then, she has to be.” “I suppose,” Ernest hedged, not sure he wanted to agree too much with his boss. “Was she truly that difficult?” He tapped at the monitor they stood in front of. “She seems quiet.
The redhead fought for weeks. In fact, all the other abnormals fought the sedatives far more. This one is, dare I say, peaceful.” Ernest stared at the screen with an image of the woman on the bed, her arms strapped down, her eyes closed, and her breathing slow as if she were sleeping. That would be the amobarbital keeping her quiet, yet his boss wasn’t wrong. The other abnormals, when they were brought in, had fought as though their lives depended on being free, more like wild animals than anything even remotely human. But his boss wasn’t right either. She wasn’t asleep, just lying there quietly if her breathing was any indication. Too fast for sleeping. Other than her initial drive in with the medics, she’d been almost silent. Easy for anyone to deal with. A complete angel, if you asked any of them. Ernest had heard from the other handlers of how an abnormal could fight when they were cornered. They looked human, but they fought with the strength of ten men. Some of them could even change their bodies to other forms.
Animals or worse. Some didn’t look human—though those were often destroyed as soon as they were located as there could be no fixing them. He shivered. Ernest had not seen any of those, and he didn’t want to. Bad enough that he would have to live so close to these abnormals and their dark blood. Of course, things had changed since Gardreel had developed the box and the incantation. Since then, their effectiveness at bringing in abnormals had more than quadrupled. “Keep reading, what we have on her has been largely based on stories and theories. She’s been here how long now?” Ernest swallowed hard and traced the paper with a finger. “One week; she was brought in a day after you left. The doctor wanted to keep her quiet until we’d spoken with you and found out how you’d like to handle her rehabilitation.” If she could be rehabilitated. Ernest suppressed a shudder. If she could not be helped, she would be destroyed and that . bothered him.
Death was a part of life here, but that did not mean he had to like it. Gardreel stared at the screen. “Have they tested her blood? What is the breakdown?” Ernest knew the answer, but he looked at the paper again anyway, struggling to understand how it could be accurate. “Fifty-five percent darkness. Twenty-six percent human. Nineteen percent . unknown.” Gardreel slowly turned to him. “That is the highest percentage of darkness we’ve found. She could very well be the key to this all. Her connection to the others . is it strong? Can she control them?” Ernest shrugged, wondering why his boss didn’t ask about the unknown blood. Wasn’t that noteworthy? It was not for him, though, to decide anything. “We don’t know yet. We would have to let her out into the general population to see how they react to her.
” Gardreel twitched his long red coat, tugging on the lapels in a staccato pattern. “A puzzle then. The most dangerous of them all, yet she is quiet as a lamb.” Ernest swallowed and gave a slow nod. “Yes, she is a paradox indeed. The stories of her . they are there inside the other abnormals’ minds as per their handlers and are all rather consistent with her violence and terror that she used against them. Yet, here she is.” He waved a hand at the sedated woman with the midnight dark hair. She’d barely opened her eyes once, but he knew they were blue according to the charts. “And you are the best at puzzles, aren’t you?” Gardreel continued to stare at the visual of the Phoenix on the screen. Ernest looked with him at her image. Unmoving. Harmless. Like a sleeping child with her hair spread across her pillow and those long, dark lashes fanned over her pale cheeks.
She looked younger than her thirty-six years. Far younger for one with such terrible claims to her name. Ernest had an urge to touch that soft cheek to see if it was as smooth as it looked. He swallowed hard again. Damn this mortal body and its weakness. He had to remind himself that she was a monster hiding under that beauty, that according to all reports, she was the most violent abnormal they’d ever captured, a dangerous, heartless killer who felt no remorse. If the records were right, she’d actively hunted the abnormals who’d crossed her father for years, acting as his enforcer. She’d helped make him the most powerful mob boss of New York. The others were afraid of her—according to their informant, she was known as the boogeyman of the underworld—both human and abnormal. As if his thoughts had summoned their informant, the man appeared silently in the entrance to the small monitoring room. “Do you have her?” They both turned to look at him. This man was swarthy with soulless black eyes and an aura of otherness that made Ernest’s skin crawl. Gardreel chuckled. “Brother, do not be afraid. She is in hand and will soon be gentle as a lamb.
Do you see her sleeping?” He pointed at the monitor. “She can no more hurt you than could I.” Ernest fought to keep his face motionless. He wasn’t sure how comforted he would be if Gardreel had said that to him. But the informant was an abnormal. He did not know the boss, or what he was capable of—he had not seen Gardreel at his worst. The abnormal folded his arms over his chest, flexing biceps that were easily the size of Ernest’s head. A pair of overly sharp teeth peered out of his mouth, as if winking at Ernest, reminding him of what they could do should they find themselves on opposite ends of a situation. “I’ve done my part. I helped you identify the abnormals you brought in. I helped you find others. The ones who could’ve truly fought you are all immobilized in one of your facilities. Now, I want what you promised me. You give me back my life and pretend I never was an abnormal. And you keep her”—he pointed at the sleeping woman—“off me.
” Fear laced those last words. This abnormal feared the Phoenix far more than he feared Gardreel and Ernest knew that was not smart. Gardreel gave a slow nod. “Fair is fair. You have done this world a service. That is a reward in and of itself.” He turned just his head toward Ernest. “Will you have George bring me around this one’s payment?” Ernest picked up the phone obediently and rang through to the head of security. “George, the boss is asking for you. Bring the box.” “The box?” The informant shook his head, wariness creeping into his feral eyes. “I didn’t ask for no fucking box. I’ll be taking my new papers, my money, and an escort out of this fucking place. As promised.” “It is just a manner of speaking,” Gardreel said, once more twitching with his long coat, the ends fluttering around his ankles.
George did not dawdle, for once. He tapped on the door fewer than ten seconds later, and Ernest opened it, letting him into the confined space. Of course, he’d probably seen the informant arrive, and had been waiting with the box in hand. The captain of the guard took up what little room was left. Ernest found himself pushed up against the monitors. Or maybe he’d backed up, away from the abnormal and what he knew was coming. “Why is the little one afraid?” the informant asked, although he didn’t sound alarmed. Yet. Gardreel smiled. “Ernest is always afraid. He is a natural coward.” George opened the box in his hands, pointing the opening at the informant. A dark green flash of light burst out of it, catching the abnormal square in the face. He went down snarling, shaking his head, but it was too late. The deep green magic coated his face, sank into his skin, and seeped into every orifice, cutting off any chance of escape.
The abnormal was on his knees, shaking his head, trying to throw it off, clawing at his own face. He was holding his breath. Ernest pushed back farther. “It won’t work,” George said, bending to put the box on the floor and secure a pair of silvery bracelets on the abnormal. “Captain at the mountain facility said they got one like this. Best to kill him now.” The abnormal gave a lazy lurch forward, and George pinned him to the ground with a big boot. “Deal with him.” Gardreel waved him away. “If you think we can use him—” “Perhaps we can,” Ernest said, his mind working through the puzzle that was the woman on the monitor. “Did he not say she was strong enough to kill one of his kind of abnormal? If in fact that is true, he would be an excellent litmus test for her strength and skill set.” Why was he saving the monster in front of him? The answer bothered Ernest, getting under his skin. To see if he could save another monster who intrigued him with her soft skin and dark hair. “You see, this is why I like you, Ernest,” Gardreel said. “You may be a coward, but you are a thinking coward.
Which makes you useful.” Ernest lowered his eyes, hating how little he felt next to his boss. “Say thank you, Ernest.” “Thank you, Gardreel,” he said. His shoulders shrunk as Gardreel slapped a hand on the back of his neck and squeezed just a little too hard. “Perhaps you will make captain yet.” Gardreel left the room, following George and the still struggling but mostly incapacitated abnormal. The box remained on the floor. Wooden, with a lid that hung open, dangling, wisps of green magic trailing out of it. He knew the incantation by heart, although he could not himself produce anything so powerful. His abilities lay elsewhere. Not like the abnormals they were dealing with, of course—his abilities were a God-given gift meant to help humanity. Yet, standing there, seeing the last bits of the spell dissipate and knowing the savage damage it wreaked on the minds of those it cleansed, he had a moment of doubt. Just one, yet it was enough to send his heart racing. What if they were wrong?