Check out the first of two new series launching the last full week of May. Guardian is book 1 of Diary of a Dark Monster and releases May 23. Preorder your copy here!
The night was dark and forlorn. The wind tugged at Henry’s leather jacket. He leaned forward and forced the Ninja to go faster, a request the vehicle obliged with a high-pitched roar.
The thing was fast, and that almost made him sad. He could barely get it up to speed, and he was already approaching his destination. He would work it out later running with his pack through a nearby forest.
At this time of night, Washington State Road Three was a dark and desolate stretch of asphalt following the edge of Sinclair Inlet. Distant lights sparkled on the water. Their beauty distracted him for a moment, and the speed wobbles kicked in.
Henry forced his attention back to the road, squeezing his knees together and tightening his hands like he was trying to regain control of a bucking bronco. The muscles in his thighs were strong from the years of shifting into a wolf. A bone-crunching metamorphosis. He pushed the thought away.
No way he was going to let himself wreck the Ninja. Not so soon, anyway.
Up ahead, he finally spotted the prey. A truck full of goods about to be stolen.
He was on his way home from a cruise around Port Orchard when the call came in from his old friend, the watchful gnome, Lexus. A gang of smugglers was on their way north. Toward home. Probably trying to get on the nine o’clock ferry to Seattle, where they could offload their hot wares and disappear.
The last boat of the day. Tired security guards. No one paying much attention because they were looking forward to being home. The perfect time to make a run.
Not on Henry’s watch. He slipped easily from business owner by day to not-so-friendly neighborhood vigilante by night. It was his way of making something good come from being kidnapped and forcibly changed into a hairy creature.
He winced at the memory, grinding his teeth. Damn the dark families. He revved the engine, twisting the handle and pushing the bike to go even faster. Anything to drown out the memories. He’d work it out another time. Or not at all.
It was almost scary how fast he caught up to the semi. It was hauling relative ass, going ten over the fifty MPH speed limit. It might as well have been standing still. The Ninja’s tires chewed up the pavement, zooming up on the rear of the semi before the driver could glance in his side mirror.
Henry grinned, hoping they could somehow see his bared teeth through the opaque face shield on his helmet.
Yup. I’m here. Take it in.
Henry was looking forward to seeing these guys flinch, then watching them scramble and do their best to refocus. It won’t be enough.
The man in the passenger seat rolled his window down, stuck his hand out, and waved Henry forward.
“You want me to go around, huh?” He accelerated, lurching forward. “Well, what goes around comes around. Didn’t your mother ever teach you that?”
He maneuvered into the slipstream, the area of broken airflow behind the semi. The truck did the work, pushing against the drag. It was a large vehicle, acting like a windsail as it tore down the road. Back here, in the space immediately behind it, Henry was hit with almost no drag at all. The effect allowed an increase in the Ninja’s top speed. Within a second, he was right behind them, his front tire almost bumping the bottom edge of the trailer.
He saw their next move coming.
These guys aren’t as stupid as I thought they were. “Time for a little fun.”
They figured out pretty fast that he meant trouble. The driver hit the brakes. The semi’s tires screeched. Henry reacted, but he had given himself zero maneuvering space. His front tire slotted neatly under the trailer and his face smacked hard against the back of it. Fuck. He sipped in air, letting the shifter energy pass through him. Enough to keep him upright, but not enough to cross the line and transform.
Henry braked and backed off a little, reaching up to lift the cracked face shield. It didn’t help much. He could still barely see anything. The thin stream of blood down his face wasn’t helping.
He gritted his teeth, an involuntary growl rumbling deep in his chest. Dark fur momentarily crawled across the back of his neck, receding just as quickly.
Now I’m pissed. It wasn’t their first mistake, but it was by far their worst.
Reaching up to the collar of his riding jacket, he stuck a finger inside and felt along his neck until he found the button on the center of his necklace. It was another Lexus invention. One of hundreds over the years.
He pushed hard, the small, round cylinder pressing against his skin. A funny feeling spread over his head, a fuzzy pins-and-needles sensation as the energy discharged, creating an equalizing of pressures. The lines of his face blurred into a grotesque mask, shielding his identity from onlookers.
Lexus claimed it was harmless, but if Henry wound up with a brain tumor ten years from now, he’d know why.
Until then, he’d keep kicking ass.
Case in point, quarter to nine at night on a lonely stretch of road. Just him and the semi-truck. At least two drug-running doofuses. Probably more in the trailer.
Henry reached back, grabbed the curved handle of a black umbrella, and pulled it out.
The passenger in the truck put his head out the window and laughed. “What’s that, your grandma’s umbrella? It’s not even raining, jackass!”
“I know, right?” Henry called. “I hate it when people say it never stops raining in the Pacific Northwest. But you never know when a good umbrella will come in handy.”
He held the handle like a gun and aimed the umbrella’s tip at the truck’s rear tires. A tight squeeze on the handle caused a concussive bang and a strong recoil that kicked the umbrella up into the wind, almost ripping it from his grasp.
The projectile flickered red in the night, splitting in two. Each piece embedded itself in the rubber of the back tires, heating up. The tires quickly deflated, melted into goo, and sloughed off onto the road. The bare rims ground on the pavement, tossing up a shower of sparks that fell around Henry like sideways rain.
He gritted his teeth and narrowed his eyes, ducking his head as he swerved through the fiery shower that pricked at his skin and jacket.
The truck driver fought to keep control as Henry set about making his job harder. He swerved to the left, coming dangerously close to scraping himself along the concrete divider. With the left front tire in his sights, he squeezed off another round.
The projectile found its mark and opened into a fan with sharp, tiny hooks that rotated upon contact. In a few seconds, the tire was completely gone. So was any hope the driver had of getting away.
The truck lost traction and fishtailed, smashing and scraping the divider on one side and kicking out over the train tracks on the other. The back wheels caught and pulled the truck to a stop with the front wheels slowly spinning.
Henry seized the opportunity, stopped, and pushed down the kickstand on his motorcycle. He stepped off and paced up the road toward the floundering semi, pulled an inset toggle switch on the umbrella’s shaft, and aimed again.
He shot the door on the back of the trailer. No fancy bullets this time, only a standard projectile the size of an arrowhead, fired with incredible aim. It hit the latch, causing it to spring open. Several men tumbled out, getting road rash as they flopped and rolled to a stop.
Henry jumped back on the Ninja and raced up toward them, delivering a few swift kicks to fragile jaws before speeding onward toward the truck.
It had stopped with the trailer wedged almost sideways across two lanes. Henry navigated through the other flotsam that had ejected with the men in the back. The shattered remains of a bunch of statues, all depicting various religious figures. There were a lot of Buddha, a few of the more recognizable Hindu gods, and hundreds of good old Jesus. They were all made out of the same dry, crumbly material.
Henry had seen it before. The drug trade was always coming up with genius new ideas to hide and disperse their products. Nowadays they had even more tools at their disposal and the ability to transmute their products into completely new materials. This stuff looked like any other flimsy pottery, but it was pure fentanyl. Dangerous to even be around.
Sneaky. “Not in my town,” he growled, tasting the coppery blood trickling down his cheek.
He parked the bike again and casually strolled up the side of the jackknifed trailer. The passenger was scrambling out, bleeding from a contusion as he clumsily yanked an FN Five-seveN pistol off his belt.
Henry clicked the toggle on his weapon again and delivered a shock blast to the center of the thug’s chest before his opponent could get off a round. The lean, wiry man stiffened and a second later, went completely limp. He folded over like overcooked lasagna, banging his face on the ground.
The driver came around the front of the truck, his AR-15 blazing. Henry dove for cover, rolling beneath the trailer and quickly coming up on the other side. The driver was coming toward the back, but Henry was ready for him. He sent out a shockwave and watched with satisfaction as the driver hit the dirt with the same unceremonious thud.
Henry walked over, staring down at the unconscious idiot.
“Tough luck, asshole.” He wiped his face, staring at the blood on his fingers. “If it makes you feel like any less of a failure, you did manage to make me bleed. You can think about that while you’re rotting in jail for the rest of your life. It’s the small victories, right?”
As he headed back toward the bike, he glanced in the truck’s side mirror to ensure his little run-in hadn’t damaged anything. When he stared at his reflection, he saw everything as it should be. His black leather jacket hugged his broad shoulders. His new matte black helmet was purchased yesterday and already covered with dings and scrapes, not to mention the shattered face shield.
When he looked at the reflection of his face, he saw the false, tortured image. His eyes, nose, and mouth pulled in different directions and blurred. The effect was eerie. For a lot of criminals in the Pacific Northwest, it was something that would give them nightmares for the rest of their miserable lives.
“Still working. One less thing I broke…this time,” Henry muttered.
He kept the techno-magic illusion up as he returned to check on the other thugs. Two of them were out cold from the kicks to the face. The third was crawling along, trying to reach a gun lying in the middle of the road.
Henry took a short run and stepped on the man’s back. “Not so fast, buddy. You’re hurt. You should rest. Get your strength back. No, no, I insist.”
He pushed down, squeezing the guy’s diaphragm against the road. The thug let out a satisfying groan as he kept struggling futilely. Meanwhile, Henry pulled a phone out of his pocket and pushed a red button near the top. Another Lexus add-on that the gnome called a wolf signal.
“I sent an anonymous tip to the local cops that a bunch of morons got themselves into an accident. Don’t worry. They’ll find a nice, cozy room for you to stay in that will be secure from any outsiders. Complete with bars for doors and a bright light that never shuts off. Have fun.”
Shutting the phone off and shoving it into the Faraday pocket Lexus had sewn into his riding jacket, Henry turned on his heel and headed for the Ninja. He whistled as he got on and started the engine, heading up the road. His keen canine hearing picked up a faint sound from the front wheel. “Should hold long enough.” Hard-won experience from too many crashes.
He started over, whistling the song once more.
“Damn, what the hell song is that? Lexus will know.”
There was a soft chiming in his ear. The inside of the helmet face shield lit up with glitchy emojis as the shattered screen tried its best to display caller information. Henry grunted and pulled off to the side of the road, glancing over his shoulder to make sure he was still alone.
He could already see the police lights flashing in the distance. The Ninja had taken him a full mile beyond the stranded semi. Not nearly far enough.
Henry pulled out another phone and saw the name “Reese” pop up on the caller ID. A shady wizard and former Silver Griffin agent. Must be trouble.
Henry answered the call. “Talk to me.”
“Is that really how you answer a call? I knew you were a cliché, Neumann, but fuck me…”
“Fair enough. Does fuck you work for you?”
“Not at all. Why are you calling me? I’m supposed to be the one contacting you when I need help.” Henry looked over his shoulder again. The lights were still in the distance. There was no way they would be able to catch up to him anyway. Not until they got that truck out of the way. “I’m kind of in the middle of something.”
“Actually, I have it on good authority that you finished your most recent business transaction.” There was a noise in the background, a soft whimpering.
“Tell me that’s a horror movie playing in the background, Reese.”
“Of course, Neumann.”
Henry started to say something, but Reese barged ahead. “Tell me they were magicals. I can be there in fifteen, maybe ten. I’ll have them in Trevilsom Prison and off your hands before anyone knows anything.”
Henry sighed in annoyance, wiping dried blood off the bridge of his nose. “Sorry, Peanut Butter Cup. No magicals this time. Just your garden-variety drug smugglers.”
“You know, these cartel types are dumb motherfuckers. A few magicals would make this more of a fair fight.”
“Magicals don’t get into the drug trade unless there’s another angle besides money. You know that, Reese.”
“I do indeed. One of these days though, that angle is going to appear. Keep an eye out. You take care, Neumann. And if you think calling me the name of a delicious snack is an insult, think again.”
Henry looked out over the dark waters of Sinclair Inlet. The only lights he saw now were a few dim ones on the far side. The security lights at Kitsap Marina. “I never mean it as an insult. You’re just so sweet, is all. And you come in a monster two-pack. A wizard and a Kilomea. How is your bigger, uglier half doing, by the way?”
“I thought you were in the middle of something.” Reese laughed. “Red is doing well. Now go. The night isn’t going to police itself.”
Henry hung up without saying another word and raced into the darkness.
Preorder your copy here! It releases May 23!