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Ebony ran in, followed by Siobhan and Aiden. They crowded around Lih’s untidily folded form. Lih’s white-gold head was bowed. His skin was pale, as though shock had sucked blood out of him when he fell over. Lih didn’t know what to do.

In the face of so much concern— for him! he was speechless. Hooray for me, then.

Lih stared at Siobhan. He wasn’t used to being spoken to, or even acknowledged by many women.

His hands were shaking. He wanted to take a pill, but he didn’t want Siobhan or Aiden to see. He’d almost enjoyed being the center of such attention.

“I'm…," he said, and faltered. He breathed deeply and tried again.

“I’m alright,” he managed to say. They’d helped him up, steadied him. He composed himself and explained. “Just tired."

Slipping and falling.

He hadn’t been sleeping. He was bone tired, and didn’t want to show it. He wanted to impress the other police officers. He’d always considered himself fit, but detective training was punishing.

He’d spent a lot of time reading the domovoi cases Alex recommended. The trouble was, he believed them, the wit and words of officers who seemed so much fitter and stronger than Lih. They didn’t make him feel any better about killing, and, if he couldn’t even convince himself, he stood no chance of putting fire into his belly and killing monsters. When he thought about it like that, Lih felt the fear inside him grow. It made him want to throw back another pill or two, but he didn’t have his supply. His hands trembled.

He wished… he wished he wasn’t afraid. He wasn’t afraid. Not of death. He was afraid of living. Afraid of the things he’ll have to do before death took him. Pain, injury, fleeting things like that. He was afraid of life and the effort life took.

He didn’t want to be found wanting. Didn’t want to die knowing those around him despised him or thought he’d let them down. He didn’t want to face… the afterlife with question marks on the account of his life. The things he was expected to do before he died. Duty. Courage. Fortitude. Sacrifice. Those were difficult things.

In the far end of the kitchen, he watched as Sage crossed to Aiden, kneeling next to him, pouring him wine. Lih meant nothing to Sage, why should he? Lih was incredibly young. Incredibly stupid, too. He had a crush on everybody...

Caring. Gentle. There were more reasons than just good looks to admire Sage Parker. Lih kept watching as Sage and Aiden spoke quietly. He assumed they were talking about what happened. Lih tried to remember the last time anyone had looked him in the eyes the way Sage was looking at Aiden.

Lih looked Sage in the eye.

“Thank you.”

Lih sat back and wiped his hand across his mouth. He set the water glass down, taking a deep breath. “Let’s stop worrying about me, shall we.” he said, rather too fast, as brightly as he could manage. “What about the mess?”

He stared.

Lih was silent for a time.

“Forget it,” he said at last, closing his eyes and shaking his head. “It’s not my business."
Viktor Lih
Officer of CCDPD
Sage offered to call the paramedics for Vitya. A kind gesture, but Aiden suspected that was the last thing anyone wanted here; despite the fact that there were cops living here. There were Channelers, Ex-Atharim, and now a Wolf-sister under the roof… Too many oddities would raise questions, and besides, who knew where the Atharim had contacts? If Nox was to be believed, the cult had infiltrated every aspect of society. They had sounded a lot like the ‘Illuminati,’ but less wealthy and fabulous. It would just take one of those leeches to slither into the mansion and everything would be compromised. Aiden shivered.

                “No need for that, babe, I’m sure. If Vitya needs to see a Doctor, we can take him… I don’t think he fell hard enough to suffer a concussion,” Aiden took the glass of wine from Sage and pecked him on the lips before turning to the albino, “You don’t have a headache or blurred vision or anything do you?”

                It was unfortunate that Nox was still out. Aiden figured that the man would know if it were possible to heal injuries or sickness with magic, and if it were possible Nox would probably know how to do it. The man was a marvel with the elements. Aiden filed that thought away in the back of his brain for later. He’d have to corner Nox before leaving the country. Aiden had only just begun learning the art of magic from the man, and already he was galavanting off on adventures. Jaxen certainly knew a thing or two, but Aiden suspected that the man wouldn’t be as forthcoming with his knowledge on the subject as Nox was.

                No. He wouldn’t.

                Did the flows and the weaves of magic show up in digital recordings or communications? That would be convenient… Nox could just record himself running through the exercises and Aiden could gobble them up during the journey. Hell, he might not even need Nox for that. Sage hoarded information like a Dragon did treasure, surely he had recordings of his friend’s training. Later. He’d ask about that later. For now, he had Siobhan to entertain, who was looking increasingly restless.

                With a song on his lips, he wove Air once more (he was starting to really get that hang of that Element) and sailed the wineglass he had taken from her back, preferring to sip on the one that Sage had poured.

                “So, Sio, earlier you asked about us traveling?”

Russian Dolls and Broken Gods, a new Fantasy novel by best-selling author, Aiden Finnegan, out this December! Preorder online and instore today!
Siobhan finally caved and opened the back door for Ebony, letting her out to roam. She had been pacing so much that it was beginning to wear on Siobhan. She wouldn’t have minded a run, herself, but now was not the time to go off on her own. She had finally tracked down Aiden and she wouldn’t leave until she had said her peace on his future.

                Finally, Ebony sent over the bond.

                Yeah, yeah, yeah. You coming back tonight? Siobhan sent back.

                I shall be around. Scouting the area. If there is trouble I shall be back. If there is not I shall be back.

                Cool. I’ll call out to you if you’re not back when I’m ready to leave.

                Ebony didn’t waste any more time, she dashed out onto the back patio and disappeared around a corner. Siobhan waited at the door for a moment, making sure she didn’t hear any loud noises. The she-wolf hadn’t set off any traps. Siobhan felt Ebony’s presence lessen until she was sure her friend was well away from the Cruz Mansion. Aiden asked a question as she walked back to the group. Her eyebrows shot up and she grabbed at the floating wine glass, taking a huge gulp from the crystal.

                “Yeah, about that…” Siobhan said as she sat down next to Vitya.

                A great cavern appeared in her mind and something that looked like a dragon lurked within its shadows. She had seen Aiden and an unfamiliar man battling the great beast, whipping their magic at it. She had seen Sage there too, but she couldn’t remember what he was doing in the vision. She just knew that he was there, close to Aiden and the stranger. There had been two paths the vision had taken. One showed Aiden triumphantly pulling a flaming spear out of the dragon, the other…


                Siobhan shivered visibly.

                “You and Sage are in danger. There’s another. I saw it in one of my wolf-dreams. There’s three of you and you’re all about to risk your lives, for what I’m not sure. I saw… something… But the way those dreams go, I can’t be sure that it was a literal vision of the future or a metaphor for things to come. The only thing that I know is that the dream means something serious is about to happen to you three and it may cost your lives. Please tell me you two haven’t planned on doing something fucking stupid are you?”

                Siobhan looked to Sage, eyes intent, “You said you’re taking care of him, Sage. I hope that means you would talk him out of risking his life for something frivolous?” She poked him hard in the chest,  “I mean it. If you let him get his self killed, and you too, because the dream said that if one fell, all would fall, then I will find a way to come into the afterlife and haunt your asses. The living haunting the dead for the first time in history!”

"We are the sisters of the Moon." - Siobhan's hit single, 'Silver Skans'
Sage laughed. That wasn't the kinda of taking care of Sage could do. He wasn't a god, he wasn't even a fighter. He was a fucking hacker.

"I can't stop Aiden from anything he really wants to do. Only thing I can do is make sure what he does do isn't going to have lasting reprictions. And the man we are going with he's not exactly known for legal activities." Sage grinned, "But then I'm pretty sure between the two of us Aiden will be perfectly safe." And if they could talk Nox into going, not that it was an option then Sage all full confidence they'd be safe, but Aiden was probably already pushing his luck taking him along.

Sage looked at the fallen officer. "You are alright?"

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There they were again! Logic told him that such a thing was rather impossible, and therefore should not be happening. Apparently the message hadn’t quite gotten through to reality. He was tired. That was it: tired. It had been happening for several days now, could he be that tired? He probably could. What with the case studies and bedtime stories and the night shifts at work.

Fine, so Lih was the one who signed up for the midnight shifts at the station so he wouldn’t fall asleep and have nightmares, but who was paying attention… Not Lih!

Lih had genuinely wanted to find out more about this so-called “dream” Siobhan possessed. Dragons was it? Poppycock! Anyway, that had been the intention, almost.

From about the moment when Sage laughed along with Aiden at their “friendship", Lih was paying more attention to the hacker than to the water he was supposed to be sipping. He started to lose his focus the water—I have to wonder where Lih put it—and it became worse.

Sage’s words were far more interesting. It was not what Sage said, no, but how he said it; the tone, the inflection; the way his throat moved as he spoke and the brush of his breath against Aiden’s cheek. These things caused him to falter in his own reply, and he bumbled over the words like a child, flushing with embarrassment the whole time…

“Well… That… Wa… why… am… I… panting…?” Lih felt very weird about the whole thing. Then he became aware of his damp clothes.

There was the slightest of all slightest of chances that Lih really only fell so he could get Sage’s attention, which probably wasn’t the best of motives, but what he could say? Sage was a peach, and so, so, caring and nice and…this really wasn’t the time for that particular tangent. It was enough to say that Lih was slowly turning over the options in his mind as to why his lens-augmented sight was playing tricks on him.

Lih was sitting back on the chair and smiling. It was nice and relaxed where he was, and fun to watch the after effects of whatever it was he was seeing. He selected an option on his wallet just to see. No information about Sage Parker at all. Fascinating!

First Dorian, then Sage. It would be almost a shame if his eyesight was playing tricks on him, maybe he’d fallen too hard and this was one of the repercussions. He’d heard that wearing augmented shades for a long time wasn’t a good thing, was this why he couldn’t see anything at all? It shouldn’t matter—but he could be hopeful. As for Siobhan’s dream…it meant…well, what did that mean, exactly?

Lih grinned stupidly when the faces of Sage and Aiden appeared in his line of vision and peered down at him, probably expecting some hellish fall or another. Not that Lih went in for that sort of thing. No, no, definitely not! Lih sat up, brushed his hands together for no apparent reason other than habit and got to his feet.

“Thanks… Bye,” he said to no one in particular. They were either purposefully ignoring the channeling Aiden did, in which case it was perfectly normal, or they didn’t care Aiden could channel, in which case there was something tragically wrong in Lih’s brain and he needed a very long nap… Maybe he could encourage Sage to come along? He looked warm… and soft...
Viktor Lih
Officer of CCDPD
Office Lih looked like he was having a hard time of things. And upon closer inspection Sage had found an enhancement that was fun to play with. He hadn't noticed the tiny signature at first and after the man had collapsed Sage started paying attention to it a little more.

The lenses were simple yet fully functional much like the land warriors Nox had. Though Sage's lenses were superior and so were the land warriors. Proto tech always was, even if it was a little unstable at times.

The pale man was leaving, but Sage didn't know why he couldn't decipher any of the bio-metrics, or even if it had any. Sage quickly relayed the message across the vision of the departing man. Don't go. I have something for you.

And before Officer Lih could respond Sage leaned over and kissed Aiden. "I'm going to take Officer Lih downstairs and give him a gift." Sage tapped his temple in the hopes that Aiden understood. It was a rush kissing Aiden and he didn't want to leave, but he jumped off the stool he'd been sitting in and grabbed Lih's hand to drag him after him. "I think you'll like these much better."

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When he was a boy, Vitya Lih had been particularly taken with the frescoes on the ceiling of his school chapel. He’d loved all pictures of mythical creatures, and pored over old books and military texts, but the chapel frescoes had been special. The domed ceiling had been a wide, cloudy blue, an imitation sky through which furies of war had flown on golden wings, swords aloft. With them, depicted in that quaint, primitive style of old murals, there had been strike fighters and gods, the hosts of the air, radiant and mighty.

He opened his eyes, and thought for a moment that he was still a boy, still in the old chapel. The roof above him, swollen with clouds, full of furies and … angels.

His hearing returned like a hammer blow. He tried his micro-bead, but there was nothing except sizzling distortion.

Lih looked around. He wondered where to go, what to do.

He realized that this was finally it. This was legendary. He’d yearned for it, trained for it, prepared for it, and worked hard to earn himself a place in the ranks of CCDPD so he could pursue it. This, ridiculously, was what he’d been searching for all his life. This madness, this chaos, this calamity: rougarou; wolves; dragons; gods.

It had no sense or shape, no structure or meaning. It was simply a storm of hurt and damage. It was as if Lih had been let in on some giant, private joke. Officer trained for battle, rehearsed, honed skills, solemnly studied military teachings, as if warfare was something that could be learnt and controlled and conducted, like a formal dance or banquet. But here was the raw truth of it all. All theories of combat perished immediately in the face of real monsters, in the jaws of the beast. Could anything human survive in that horror?

How foolish the senior officers seemed, plotting in their rooms and command stations, dreaming up battle principles and schemes. Against these creatures, they might as well be trying to govern and contain a supernova...

Lih began to laugh. He couldn’t help it. Then sheer insanity of it all had got to him. Behind him, defying comprehension and logic. In front of him, stood Sage, who had a few quiet words with Aiden—the two men kissed away the day, like their garden party had been rained off.

Lih had almost forgotten his wine-stained, gloved hand clutching Sage's, or what it was Sage had told him about a gift. He watched in helpless awe as Sage led him. He realized his cap had come off somewhere, probably when he fell down. He tried to stroke back his disheveled hair, and felt it was caked with sweat.

“Did you…” Lih paused as he fought to get his head around it. “Did you just hack my lenses?” he asked, rubbing his dazed, frightened face.

His voice was hoarse.

He swallowed hard, tried to clear his throat a little and put some authority into his words.

“Who are you?”

Lih, getting his butt into gear and doing what he’s supposed to be doing Smile
Sage wasn't sure what was up with the boy officer. He seemed to be very out of it, though once the message was received he seemed to change. But Sage waited until he was downstairs in Nox's little workout space. They lovingly called it the dojo though short of the rubber covered floor and the weights in the far corner, it was filled with things there were not in your normal dojo. Tennis servers as well as ball throwers all rigid up by Sage to programatically throw things at Nox or the other channelers to practice combat. Nox still called them all gods, but Sage didn't like the term. Nox didn't either but you are what you are and Nox was Atharim.

Sage led the pale man to the back room where he and Aiden stayed. It was Christian's room, but he stayed with Ana so it wasn't like he was using it. Once inside his room he opened a trunk and pulled out a thin box. "Yeah, I hacked your lenses. It's kinda what I do. You automatically hooked into Dorian's system when you got here, and since it's my system now, I have full access to you."

Sage flipped open the box and pulled out a small case. "These are prototypes I procured for Nox and his friends, but he prefers not sticking things in his eyes. I'm not going to disclose the details to you only so as an officer of the law you don't get in trouble. But I have them legally." Sage grinned confidently. "Here." He thrust the pair eagerly at the officer. "They should have everything you have now and then some - biometrics, 100 times zoom, night vision, infrared to name a few." They were military grade pre-production pairs of what the CCD military was in the process of issuing, but Sage had gotten them from a guy who was assigned to white hat them for vulnerabilities. These particular sets had a security vulnerability, but Sage had sewn it up easily. The ones in production didn't have that problem - employed Sage's fix. It wasn't free of charge, the guy had paid him well. They always do. But that had been Phaser, and Phaser was gone. Sage sighed inwardly at the loss of his name....

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With Lih at his heels, pale and frail, Sage crossed the hallway to the dojo and hurried down to the room, presumably his bedroom. Lih lurked behind him, gazing dubiously at the creeping expanse of rubber mats and machinery approaching like doomsday across the dojo. It was smaller, but no less equipped than their training gym back at the station...

“Lih,” his captain said, turning to his junior “your services on this beat are no longer required.”


“Look about you, man. The domovoi need every officer than can get. Go to Dorian, listen to him, obey him. You’ve got rank here, Lih. Use it. Give an example to our men and they will follow you. Dorian’s counting on you.”

“Yes, sir.” Lih said. He was shaken. Understandably. What Costa and Lih found there was vile.

“I know you’re young and this is new to you, Lih, but I have faith. You faced down the rougarou last month and lived to tell the tale.”

“Only because Costa saved my bloody life, sir.” Lih groaned.

“It doesn’t matter. You’ve looked death in the eyes, and survived. That’s more than any of these young men can say. That makes you special, tempered, like any fine piece of steel. It almost makes you a veteran. Strength of character, Detective Lih.”

Lih smiled. A total crap storm had broke over his head, but that also meant he was promoted to detective. Lih had already debated with himself at least a dozen possible excuses or reasons for the transfer, none of them satisfactory. But now this had happened, and everything was academic.

“Go report to Dorian Vega right away… oh, and Lih?”

“Yes, sir?"

“I expect to hear your name in the dispatches soon, you hear me?”

“I’m on it, sir!” Lih replied, saluted his captain and ran up the stairs to where Dorian would be convening with the other domovoi officers...

Sage led Lih over to the drawer. He was pulling new lenses out of a long, thin box when Lih blinked at him, bleary-eyed.

“Sorry,” Lih hesitated. “Sorry, I was far away.” The detective was pale with tension, but also enervated. This flashback didn’t scare him, but it left him with an unsettled sensation that fed uncomfortably into his current troubles.

Sage grinned, urging Lih to try on the new pair. Lih sighed. In light of the current situation, he quickly decided there was no point in even asking Sage how he’d gotten these prototypes. It took Lih very little time to make sense of the markers and functions on display.

Lih stared at Sage.

“Impressive, Sage. Very impressive. Easy to use. I like that. I’ve always admired user friendly designs.” Lih smiled back, shaking his head. “But no, I can’t keep your gift …"

Lih’s face darkened as he read Sage Parker’s files.

“All right, Sage. And don’t think I’m not appreciating you making this effort, but I get the feeling there’s something more to it.” Lih said. He paused and saw the look on Sage’s cheerful face. “There’s more, isn’t there? Why won’t… Nox use these? Why are you just giving this to me?"
Viktor Lih
Officer of CCDPD
Sage just grinned at the man's distance. Nox did it all the time. Lost in thought. He did it all the time too, Nox was the only one who didn't get annoyed at him. So Sage couldn't exactly say much about it just grinned.

But as per usual, the man was also very skeptical about the gift. It came with a few hoops, but nothing officer Lih had to worry about. Sage would handle everything. "You can keep them." Sage pulled out three more pairs exactly like them. "Nox has two more just like em." Sage had his own pair as well though he never used them, he found using his eyes far more useful than having the ability to zoom, he'd learned a long time ago how to augment his vision through coding his own images. Reading the data was easy now.

"Nox doesn't like them cause he has to put his finger in his eye to put them in. He's paranoid they'll get stuck or something. And I think they might interfere with his ability to do his thing." Seeing was apparently something he had to do in order to do his magic. As long as he didn't augment his vision with land warriors he had no problems, it was the zooming and other camera abilities that he couldn't use. Something like that he'd said. Sage had only shrugged at that. "I give things to my friends. And if you are going to work with Dorian, you are my friend." It really was as simple as that.

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