Rob Thurman Nevermore (Cal Leandros)

ISBN 13: 9780451473400

Nevermore (Cal Leandros)

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9780451473400: Nevermore (Cal Leandros)
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People die.
 
Everyone knows that. I knew it intimately as everyone in my life died thanks to my one seemingly harmless mistake. I'd brought down Heaven, lifted up Hell, and set the world on fire, all due to one slip of the memory.
 
I forgot the pizzas...

 
Caliban is a dead man. The Vigil, a group devoted to concealing the paranormal from humanity, has decided Cal has stepped out of the shadows once too often, and death is the only sentence. They plan to send a supernatural assassin into the past to take down the younger, less lethal Cal.
 
But things change when The Vigil makes one last attempt on Caliban's life in the present—and end up destroying everyone and everything he cares about.
 
Now, Cal has to save himself, warn those closest to him, and kill every Vigil bastard who stole his world. But if he fails, he and everyone in his life will be history...

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About the Author:

Rob Thurman is the New York Times bestselling author of the of the Cal Leandros novels, including Slashback and Doubletake, the Trickster novels, including The Grimrose Path and Trick of the Light, the Korsak Brothers novels, including Basilisk and Chimera, and several stories in various anthologies.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Praise

Books by Rob Thurman

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Epigraph

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

About the Author

Prologue

People die.

All the time. Everyone knows that, right? The world is dangerous. Existence is precarious, the footing beneath you shaky. Your first breath isn’t a guarantee and if you get that, your next breath is the same. Touch and go. Life doesn’t come with a warranty. It’s something to be snatched, clawed for, and held in the tightest of grips. Life cuts you no slack, doesn’t care if you’re around or not, but death . . . death can’t wait to drag you to his party. And once he does . . . you know that old song is as true as they come, “It’s hard to leave if you can’t find the door.”

People die . . . but they usually don’t die over something so meaningless. Me? I was the exception to that. I was the trigger. At least thirty people died all thanks to my one seemingly harmless mistake, one trivial, overlooked chore.

I forgot the pizzas.

Insane, right? That the world should end because I forgot several boxes of cheese, pepperoni, and grease. They weren’t even the best pizzas in town. But that didn’t matter. I’d brought down Heaven, lifted up Hell, and set the world on fire, all thanks to one slip of the memory.

How’s that for the worst fuckup of all time?

One casual everyday event like forgetting my phone and running back a block to our place for it. That meant a five-minute shift in my routine, just enough to sidetrack my brain to revert to my normal schedule. I unconsciously skipped over the irregular task of the pizza pickup I’d been stuck with at the last minute, and that was it . . . the world ended. Not with a whimper or a thousand radioactive mushroom clouds. No, it ended because I was an idiot.

It ended because I’d forgotten I’d lost a coin toss.

The only reason I didn’t end with it as well was just dumb luck. I’d remembered at the last second fifteen feet inside the bar, cursed, and left, annoyed and impatient enough to use the “emergency door” to get them. I should’ve been there when it all ended, but, again, dumb luck.

No. Not true.

It wasn’t dumb luck. It was bad luck. Worse luck. The darkest of goddamn fucking fortune.

Hell, wasn’t that the story of my life?

There was a certain grungy bar, cramped, but popular among a certain crowd, that I’d been standing in less than three seconds ago when I remembered the pizzas. The name of the bar didn’t matter. That I worked there most nights didn’t make a difference either. What did matter was that the building where it squatted on the first floor slinging alcohol right and left was hit by an eye searing blast of light. It was as bright as it was incomprehensible. It was barely dusk. What could be that bright? I’d seen the flash from the corner of my eye as I stood at the pizza truck parked at the other end of the block. I turned to see what it was, not where it was. I should’ve known the where was what mattered, but I didn’t have a flicker of suspicion that it was the bar, my bar. The one full of people, my people. It was one of those things you can’t think. You can’t know, as once you do you can’t unknow it. That part of your brain shuts down. If it didn’t all of your brain would stop . . . stop thinking, stop feeling, stop everything, and chances were good it’d never start again.

It was too late for all that now. I had turned. When I did, I wished I’d been smart enough to not turn, and when I had, then to not look, to live in blissful ignorance a few seconds more. But I wasn’t that smart, never had been. I didn’t register that it was an explosion, one that temporarily deafened me. In that silence I had turned. I had seen. I had seen it all.

It was as if the sun had plunged from where it hung bloodred and low to crash down on top of the city.

It was all it could be. The sun had fallen from the sky, I thought numbly as the money drifted from one hand as the pizzas slipped off the balancing palm of the other to tumble through superheated air to the street. The sun had fallen and we were all on fire—not the city alone, but everything. It was early evening with thin stripes of twilight purple clouds, and we should’ve stood in shadows, but we didn’t. It was bright as day on the street and we were on fire.

The entire world was on fire.

I fucking prayed the way atheists like me do when the sky falls and their world is ripped away. I prayed that it was a lie. But I got what prayers gave you when you need their help the most. A kick in the gut and a spiteful laugh in your face as it was granted.

Because the world wasn’t on fire.

It would’ve been better if it were.

No, the world didn’t burn, I knew, only a small piece of it.

That I’d had the thought at all—the whole world burning to a cinder—had been shock and despair tearing my brain to shreds—not for thinking that it was true, but because I knew it wasn’t. The world gone with a fiery snap of some child-eating pagan god’s fingers, all of us . . . to the very last of us, dying with the earth, I could take that. I could take it with a, yes, sir, may I have another. But being left behind, a survivor who had no fucking desire to survive? That was the true nightmare. That I couldn’t take.

I stared at the inferno that raged; it already had consumed the first floor front of the building. Gobbled up where I’d worked and drunk for years and had just stood heartbeats ago. I hoped with everything in my tarnished soul that its appetite would spread to at least the city if not to everything flammable on the planet. I hoped that it would roll over me like a wildfire and take me along with the rest of what it had already stolen.

It didn’t happen. What you want the most hardly ever does. What you need the most never does.

Instead, it concentrated on my handful of the world, small as it was, with more inescapable flame than could remotely be needed for one small bar. The fire had grown before I could take a single breath. It was a breath I didn’t want to take, knowing that the Auphe in me, compared to the human, would sharpen every scent a hundred times over. I didn’t care if I took another breath again, for that reason and a thousand others, but your body overrides your wishes, no matter how desperate. Lungs rebelling, I gasped, pulling in that unwanted breath. I smelled ammonia, nitrate, other chemicals I didn’t bother with. . . .

And flesh. They smelled different, the roasting scent of several Wolves from the lesser number of peri, and both distinct from the crowd of vampires. Every group similar but not the same as the other, but soon to end as identical charred fumes. Above them all, I caught the smell of two others. Not a group—just two. The two that mattered most.

Until now one had smelled of grass, fallen leaves, loamy earth, and musk. The other of sweat and weapon oil for cleaning every type of blade at the end of sparring, of goat milk soap and unbleached cotton from the shower that followed, of the clean bite of a chill wind only truly found on the top of a mountain where the air grew thin.

One puck.

One human.

Neither would give off their born scent again, the way they once had. Not in reality, and not in my memories that would be as blackened as the mound of rubble that would act as the tomb that covered them when the fire eventually died.

Not that I would be around to see their makeshift grave in the aftermath and not that I would have memories of any kind.

The smallest sliver of a second later there came a second explosion, a massive fireball ten, twelve stories high erupted, though the building itself was only four stories tall. It came close to incinerating anything left of the brick and metal of the bar and the bodies inside. The backwash of incredible heat and a concussive wave threw me flat, knocking the air from my lungs before I was able to vomit at the stench that had crawled inside me to stay.

An infinity of fire: Hell couldn’t have claimed it all.

I sat up slowly and painfully to the sight of what the second one had birthed, a Jacob’s ladder of fire that stretched up to touch the sky, maybe Heaven itself. It made the first look like an amateur attempt at a Boy Scout campfire. It burned with the rage, flame, and heat of a hundred phoenixes. Yet when it finally would burn down, hours maybe days—ashes to ashes—no new phoenix would rise from it. Nothing would. The reaper owned this place now and everyone who’d been in it. One swipe of a scythe hotter than the sun had taken it all.

Now I am become Death.

Something that had been said in history a time or two.

Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.

I didn’t think about who had done it—who was Death.

I already knew the answer to that.

I didn’t think about how it had been done.

I didn’t think why. I knew the why was a who. And I was still here as the fuckers had missed.

I didn’t think anything but the bottom line of it all.

I didn’t care.

Who, why, how, none of that mattered now.

My own personal Armageddon had arrived.

As the heat seared my skin, I sprawled on the asphalt with—unbelievably enough as forcefully as I’d been thrown back—the pizza boxes that had landed with me, one beside me, the other against my leg, almost in my fucking lap. A mocking jeer from the powers that be. “Your life is over, but dinner’s on us!” My eyes were half-blinded by the fire, not that I cared to better see details of the apocalypse meant for me personally . . . but had missed.

It hadn’t been able to steal my life, but as a trade, it had taken and destroyed my reason for living it.

As much as I hated to give them the satisfaction, they’d won. I didn’t have to be at their ground zero in a failed aim at wiping me from existence. One block away was close enough to know that your heart could beat and your lungs could fill with oxygen, but it didn’t make you less dead.

Wasn’t that a trick?

I slid my hand inside my jacket. I touched the only comfort left: the leather holster that cradled my way out. The metal of the trigger, the hard plastic of the grip, and the grimly comfortable weight of my escape.

Sliding my Desert Eagle out, I placed the muzzle under my chin. My finger captured the trigger tight without any thought from me.

It didn’t need any. It was automatic. I didn’t have to think as I’d already thought about this too many times before. The end had come, no surprise. I’d been waiting on it for a good part of my life. But I hadn’t thought it would be like this, unbearable as the lone survivor on a burnt and bloody battlefield. Dying was easy. Being alone, the last standing, having seen the others fall, it snatched away the relief and turned a mercy killing into a grim surrender.

Fuck it, surrender, retreat, despite being coward enough to not only think I’d go first, but to hope for it, I’d been prepared for years, waiting for the feel of the metal, the resistance on the pull of seven pounds of trigger pressure.

Seven pounds was my ticket out of this hell.

And it was hell, more of one than I’d ever end up in.

All because I forgot the goddamn pizzas.

But I’d forgotten something else too. The pizza guy. And he had something to say.

First, he said my name. I barely heard it with what small amount of hearing had returned. Whether what came next would have my finger sliding off the trigger, I didn’t know. I doubted it.

Then he said a second name.

One that made me question, finger still on the trigger, yeah, but . . .

It made me . . . not hope. Hope was too hard, too distant. It didn’t do that. Yet . . .

It did make me think. It made me consider the metal muzzle under my jaw as a sealed letter dropped into my lap, smelling of anchovies. With that second name said aloud and with me climbing out of the muffling quicksand of borderline catatonia, another form of escape that I hadn’t bothered to fight, things changed. I began truly thinking instead of letting the smothering shock pull me deeper. I stopped my body and mind from reacting mechanically as both had from the first moment of the explosion. I did it solely because I could guess what that letter might say considering who had written it.

Tricks and truths . . .

It wasn’t over until it was over and in this one unique case, maybe . . . maybe not necessarily then either.

Once, three or four years ago, I’d said something profound as hell—also wrong as shit—but it had sounded good and I thought it true at the time. I had said that what had been made couldn’t be unmade.

What had been done couldn’t be undone.

I’d been wrong.

I was going to do all that and more now. Undo this all. If I had to unravel reality itself at its seams, as a result, that’s what I would do.

Why the hell not?

If there were consequences, if there was a cost? So what?

I’d already fucking paid it.

1

I believe the future is the past again, entered only through another gate.

—Arthur Wing Pinero, 1894

History.

They say that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

They also say history teaches by example. History is written by the victors. God himself can’t change the past, but historians can. And a thousand more sayings about it. But the last one was the one I was holding on to with both hands. God can’t change it, but historians could. They could write, erase, delete, and write a brand-new version.

They say a lot—hell, yeah, they do. But who cared?

History was, for the most part, boring.

Not like fire. Fire was anything but boring. The starkly chemical tainted smoke, now more of a taste than a smell, still coated my tongue and throat thickly enough to make me want to puke. The stink of burnt blood, sizzled to nothing in seconds. The heat of the flames had been intense enough that I’d been dully surprised my face wasn’t seared to a blackened mask, despite feeling normal when I rubbed a hand roughly over it.

Then there was the image of it all locked inside my brain and tattooed behind my eyelids whenever I blinked, an afterimage of every...

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