) when not spending time with his wife and Maine Coon cat, Hermes, who talks so much he must be a speaker for the gods.
This first excerpt is straight from the prologue.
For the first few seconds of consciousness, Daniel Robertson sat on the edge of his bed, staring at a ghastly image in the full-length mirror. A child stared back through eyeless sockets, its skin seared to a charred remnant of its former self. Even in his waking moments, he saw the same nightmarish memory. It was as though sleep hadn’t found him.
His digital clock glowed red, 5:04 a.m. The nightmares never let him sleep through the night. He groped for the most recent bottle he’d haphazardly tossed aside the night before, but gave up when he spotted it on the floor.
His eyes returned to the wooden stand, but the phantom child was nowhere to be seen. Instead, his own depressed reflection peered back through eyes that spoke of more pain than his age should have allowed. Years spent serving in the Middle East had dried him out, so deep his bones even felt parched. A large X marred his cheek, long-ago healed, but it was a reminder of his inescapable past. Sweat swelled from nowhere and grudgingly streamed down his forty-three-year-old, leathered face. At each wrinkle there was a split-second hesitation.
Fragments of his past flickered through his mind in a jumbled mess. Piecing them together while semi-conscious was like constructing a jigsaw puzzle, but suddenly the sequence of horrific events snapped into place like snapshots from someone else’s travels. Glimpses of unwanted memories returned that even alcohol couldn’t drive away.
“As though I could ever forget,” he muttered, thinking back to the horrifying visage.
The dim glow of a streetlamp streamed through the window and cast tall shadows across the room. His yellow complexion melded with the aged bedsheets like a sickly chameleon. Even in El Paso, a heat wave like this was unusual.
A slight breeze startled the curtains to life, and newspaper clippings fluttered on the wall before resigning to the push pins’ insistence. The sound drew his attention, and he flicked on the nearest table lamp. It did little to illuminate the room, but was enough to see by. The victims stared out at him, their lives amounting to a small blurb. Above their heads, the articles announced, ‘Man Found Dead in Car Explosion,’ and ‘Woman Killed in Foiled Carjacking,’ among others.
He knew them by heart. Each represented a failed attempt to save his ex-employer’s targets. They were all that remained of his recent pursuit for salvation. He sniffed at the stale tobacco odor that permeated the apartment. It was as though the small space could never get clean—a feeling he was quite familiar with.
Lifting himself from the bed, Daniel straightened and listened to the crack of his joints. He stretched his arms and crept over to the open window, his skin masking the muscular build beneath. With each footstep, the floor announced to his neighbors that he was awake. It was a reminder of the innocent lives he put in jeopardy by staying here for two months. Black Force was after him, and they were just as well trained as he. His old mercenary friends wouldn’t take hostages, and they had no qualms with eliminating witnesses.
He needed to move on before he was found, but it was difficult to give up such an ideal location. One reason he chose this dilapidated part of the city was the unfriendliness of the people. His weathered complexion helped him to blend in, and the fact that he spoke not a word of Spanish afforded him his solitude.
Daniel smiled as another faint breeze drifted through the window. Seeing an oncoming car, he stepped out of the moonlight and alongside the curtains. There was no need to broadcast his presence. Watching the sidewalk below, his attention was drawn to an interesting individual.
The man was different from other street inhabitants headed to work. He casually strode under the streetlamps holding an AK-47, but no one took notice. It was like the armed man was invisible. He passed the taco vendor Daniel frequented, and even Marco failed to greet him. The old food salesman hailed everyone while grilling his morning breakfast burritos, but somehow overlooked this man.
The oddity was barely visible at this distance, but the early risers on the streets should have spotted the gun. His clothes made him stand out like a leopard at a zebra party. Through the sporadic flow of traffic, Daniel watched the man’s russet coat and fedora bob behind passing cars. His checkered golf pants shone under the streetlamps, and he walked with a slight spring in his step. He was like an armed ostrich bobbing down the city street, ready to go hunting.
Could he be with Black Force?
He doubted it, but what if his old employer had hired someone new? It was odd for a mercenary group to hire out to a competitor, but Daniel might have eluded them too many times. Either way he needed answers to his questions, and this guy might be his key. They were questions that had plagued him for years, like, What could he do to stop Black Force or at least get them off his back? He just wanted a chance at redemption before he died. The pain he had caused was unforgettable, especially in his dreams.
His hand unconsciously went to the three scars crisscrossing his large bicep. He ran calloused fingers along the smooth skin. It wasn’t until the last few years that he came to care about others. Up to then, he did what he wanted and what he was told without question. The scars were just a reminder of one of his father’s early lessons on obedience—something his old boss and good-old dad had in common. They didn’t take “no” for an answer.
Losing sight of the man behind a group of chatting women, Daniel was startled into action. He needed answers, and this guy was his best chance. He searched the sidewalk for the bounding pedestrian. Seconds later, the man appeared without having lost a step. Anticipating another disappearance, Daniel gave the street a cursory glance.
Satisfied, he threw a blue button-up over his sweat-stained undershirt. It trailed behind him like a cape as he crossed the room. His hand automatically grabbed his 9 mm off the end table and tucked it into his pants before bringing the door to a close.
Taking the stairs two at a time, he swept through the first-floor foyer and onto the sidewalk. He searched the opposing walkway for the brown fedora. The hat materialized over a taxicab, and the yellow lamplight overhead illuminated its creases like the golden eyes of an animal peering through the shadows.
Daniel bolted across the busy road and narrowly avoided a rusted-out farm truck. The only warning of its approach was a deep, male voice crooning through its open windows “Oh, mi amor,” while a salsa melody plucked along in the background.
At least I won’t be the latest obituary in the Sun Herald, he thought as the guitar melody faded.
He leapt over the last car length of asphalt and rushed up the sidewalk. Sidestepping the barrage of pedestrians, he weaved through more oncoming groups and attempted to gain on the odd man. Daniel pumped his muscled legs harder. He threaded his way through the sporadic traffic while keeping the man in sight. It still surprised him how many people walked to work on this side of town. He felt like a running back for the local Panthers football team, dodging moving targets. Unfortunately, he couldn’t remember a game they had won, and his progress was worthy of the same praise. Somehow, the bobbing fedora was still drifting further away. Daniel broke into a run. Passing men and women gave him sidelong glances. A few locals cursed as he shoved them aside, attempting to close the gap with his prey.
The loud shouts didn’t bother the man in the fedora. He never turned or glanced back. He just continued down the packed street, his dark hat bobbing overtop the crowd. As Daniel closed the distance, the unusual man walked directly into a father and daughter walking hand in hand. The stranger faded into a misty existence and phased through them. Without anyone realizing, the anomaly solidified on the other side and continued as though nothing had happened.
Daniel halted mid-step as his heart skipped a beat. “Whoa, this guy can’t be Black Force,” he muttered. “He’s like their hopped-up, crooked cousin.”
The possibilities tumbled through his mind. Either way, this guy’s looking for trouble.
He was tired of waiting for them to find him. He had to act. “There’s no such thing as coincidence,” he whispered with renewed confidence.
The retired mercenary redoubled his pace and began gaining on the fedora. The old courthouse was around the next bend, and the sidewalk grew more congested. His broad shoulders cowed some people, but others he cast aside like scattered chess pieces. Faces whizzed by in a blur, man… man… woman… man … child, but his attention remained on the armed stranger.
Daniel made his way to the corner, but was unable to reach his prey before the man entered the busy street. Stepping out of the packed sidewalk, the ex-mercenary stopped at the curb edge to watch the man cross. The armed apparition passed through cars undetected, heading for the municipal building. The muzzle of his rapid-fire gun came up as he approached the building front, but still no one reacted.
The veteran’s gaze followed the apparition across as the sun peeked over the mountainous horizon, but his eyes stopped abruptly when the courthouse came into view. Around it was a dimly outlined building, much larger than the courthouse of his reality. It stood overtop the historic building like a spectral shadow. He tilted his head, attempting to find the pinnacle, but its towering peak disappeared into the dawn sky. The building was enormous, like those in larger cities. It was a phantom skyscraper attempting to exist in an already occupied space. Its edges stood out against the stone structure of the courthouse, glistening blue like the threads of shimmering spiderwebs.
He stood motionless, in awe of the sight. Much like the man he had followed, it gave no one else reason for pause. He looked around, but even the fedora in the distance didn’t break its casual stride. A moment later, the man disappeared into the miasmic building.
“How could such a thing exist?”
At the base of one luminescent thread appeared a woman dressed in an outlandish, white-belted kimono. She finished thumbing the wall before turning around. Daniel peered at the block wall, searching for what she had been holding, but nothing was there. He could have sworn something had moved under her hand, but it was gone. Unlike the man in the fedora and the spectral building, her presence didn’t go unnoticed. She stood out in her tattered, oriental gown. The shredded kimono swirled about her with every intention of hiding her graceful curves, but failed utterly.
Her auburn hair shone in the sun’s morning rays, framing a pale face and wild eyes. Over the years, Daniel had come to know the look of fear in others. Judging by her face and the way people avoided her, she was in full flight. His brain went into overdrive as he remembered that people were looking for him. He had made a huge display and left disgruntled pedestrians in his wake. They would have no problem identifying him now.
“Dammit!” he spat. He had to do something… He had to move. And right now, this woman needed his help.
Entering the road, Daniel allowed morality to guide his search for redemption.
This next excerpt is from chapter fifteen when Daniel and Madelin are trapped atop his apartment building by the trained PASTOR agent sent after Madelin. Like her, he’s a product of the agency’s training program, essentially the epitome of what they wanted her to become. Now Daniel and Madelin must escape, die, or submit to the government agency’s desires.
A Show of Loyalty
Daniel ducked further into the aged chimney’s shadow. Reaching behind him, he reassured himself that Madelin still remained hidden.
“If I can take care of these two, we might have a chance. When I say so, make a break for the roof over there,” Daniel whispered, nodded to the building across from them.
The details of his plan became clear when Madelin looked at the five-foot gap between buildings. Her cool composure fractured at the thought of leaping from one rooftop to the next. The demise of her one tie to a family she no longer remembered flashed before her eyes. Echoes of her godfather’s hate-filled screams ricocheted through her mind. She quivered at the thought. Fear took hold, and her new shoes shuffled backward as though capable of depositing her into the very pores of the bricked chimney. Daniel seized her wrist, and she froze in place. Teetering at the edge of the shadow, his solid hold helped to subdue her panic.
“It’s okay. I’ll help you,” he said, but her reaction made the futility of the plan quite clear. Her head shook back and forth while her eyes remained locked on the small chasm. For a moment Daniel contemplated throwing her across himself, but dismissed the idea after considering the consequence of a simple mistake. His plan crumbled at the thought.
If she isn’t willing, I’ll have to find another way. There has to be something I can do—God, I need a drink.
Driving the thought away, he focused on the problem and searched the rooftop for an answer. Another gunshot reminded him of the immediate threat encroaching on their position. With nothing coming to mind, he shifted his back to the edge of the brick wall. Holding his Glock 19 poised, he chanced a look around the corner. The light-haired agent unloaded another shot at his exposed face, sending flakes of brick and mortar into his eyes. Daniel ducked back behind the brick wall and shook away the remnants, clearing his vision. The sounds of their approaching boots squishing through the tar and the clatter of more on the metal fire escape prompted him to action.
“Well if you want me, then you got me,” Daniel muttered under his breath. Keeping the jutting chimney between him and the two men, he sidestepped a few more inches, still holding Madelin away from the visible sides. “They’re trying to surround us, and more are coming up the stairs. It’ll be checkmate if we don’t act now,” he told Madelin. After a slight pause and a deep, calming breath, he continued. “You stay here.” All of his emotions fled with his decision to act, leaving his voice stern and vacant.
Before the last words left his lips, Daniel released the magazine into his hand, checked the bullets, and hammered it back in with his palm. The clip clicked metallically, signaling the weapon’s thirst for blood. Madelin looked back at him in astonishment as his plan dawned on her.
Daniel ignored the look. Resting his forehead on the cold, metal barrel, he took a few measured breaths then strode around the shattered brick corner. His gun’s muzzle sighted the two men on instinct.
The beast Marlin feared emerged from the shadows with eyes of stone. Rays of sunlight glinted off the barrel. The gun spat once… twice… three times at Shanahan. The agent spun under the gunfire. As a bullet caught his shoulder, he was tossed off the rooftop. Daniel continued his march toward Marlin, shifting targets, leveling the Glock on the commander as his pistol hungered for more. A bullet tore across his shoulder, and Daniel smiled as Marlin grimaced, his foot lodged in the tar. Must have thrown his aim off.
Daniel pulled the trigger, but was blindsided by an agent surging across the rooftop. The impact knocked him off-balance, and the shot went wide.
The man tried to grapple him to the ground. Daniel resisted the onslaught and twisted out of the man’s fingers, forcing his arm behind him. Daniel’s shirt trailed in the wind as he landed on one knee. His metallic friend settled on the older agent’s midsection, ready for another chance at blood.
Marlin’s unwavering black pistol held another death stare from a few yards away. “Let ’im go.”
A calm serenity settled on Daniel’s shoulders, and he pulled the hair trigger before rolling out of reach.
The split-second response of Marlin’s firearm missed Daniel, instead eating through his shirt as it trailed after him. The pistol swept over the rooftop, carrying out the commander’s wishes. The bullets dove into the apartment building, inches away from Daniel’s tumbling figure. Flipping back onto a knee, Daniel’s finger tensed to unleash another lethal shot when a fourth man leapt over the parapet and bulldozed him from behind. The collision hurled him face-first into the tarred roof. Marlin seized the chance, kicked the gun away, and stomped on Daniel’s hand with a boot heel.
Madelin’s sole protector fought back with an elbow to his new assailant’s chin. Breaking loose from the man’s iron grip, Daniel surged into Marlin. The commander’s black pistol quenched its blood thirst, licking at the veteran’s side. Unaware of the pain, his momentum carried him upward. His clenched fist smashed into the commander’s chin with the force of a charging bull. Marlin flew backward, and his knees buckled. Daniel turned to confront the two new aggressors as they regained their footing on the windy rooftop.
His adrenaline soared through the clouds, and he neglected the blood lapping at his soaked undershirt and shoulder. His loose button-up billowed around him as though straining to reach the other men.
Standing unarmed, Daniel tensed and braced for the charge. The soles of his combat boots sank into the inch-thick tar beneath him. He shifted his weight and dug the ball of his foot into the ground as he prepared to pounce. The air was charged as the three men glared at one another. Each waited for a signal, an opportunity to gain the upper hand.
“You ready to die?” asked Daniel viciously.
“You’re the one’s gonna die today,” shouted the larger of the two agents. “Ready to meet your maker?”
“I’ve been ready,” Daniel growled back. “Here’s to spilled blood.”
* * * *
Madelin’s fear flared back to life. Curbing the growing uneasiness in her stomach, she braced herself against the wall. Gunfire buffeted her ears, but it was over before she could summon the courage to emerge from her hiding spot. Fearing the worst, she edged over to the corner and peered out at the isolated rooftop.
The chaos that had erupted milliseconds before slowed to a crawl. The agent that followed them was on the ground, almost attempting to mold itself to the torrid rooftop. Three men stood stock still, perched at the edge of tumultuous air currents.
The calm before the storm ended as swiftly as it began. Daniel bolted toward one man, flecks of tar flying from his shoes. He lowered his head and tore over the rooftop faster than she thought possible in the circumstances. The two PASTOR agents appeared out of their element. One reached for his gun, but wasn’t quick enough. Surprise blossomed on his face as Daniel bounded toward him. The other operative attempted his own charge, but was slow to leave the gate. Each step was delayed by the tar’s insufferable grip. Seeing his error, he reached for his gun as an afterthought.
Daniel’s target was a trim operative without an ounce of fat on him. He had no sooner caressed the handle of his pistol before Daniel tackled him low, pinning the man’s arms to his side. Rising up, Daniel lifted the sandy haired man from the roof. The wounded veteran’s arms slipped lower, encircling the agent’s knees like a wrestler. He grinned at what was to come.
The agent struck at Daniel’s face with a freed hand, but the veteran’s grin was immovable. Shifting his weight, he spun in place like a top. Gravity pulled the agent’s torso away, and his knees bent under the centrifugal pressure, lowering him into the wind like an airplane propeller.
As Madelin watched in anticipation, the hulking man standing between them leveled his gun on Daniel’s head. Without thinking, she launched herself out of the shadows. After crossing half the distance, she leapt into the air, and her feet slammed into the man’s back just as he pulled the trigger. The impact hurled him forward, arms flailing and face exposed as the shot flew wide.
Seeing his chance, Daniel sent his captive into horizontal flight, propelling him into the unsteady operative like a trebuchet hurling a boulder. The momentum of the collision powered both agents over the ledge. A series of metallic crashes echoed from the alleyway as the more fortunate of the two landed on the shaky stairwell. The sudden shock forced the top flights to collapse and trap him in place. The one unlucky enough to have missed the jutting stairwell screamed in horror, flailing his arms as though he might find salvation. Seconds later, a heavy thump granted him eternal silence.
Daniel flipped back around, ready for more, but found Marlin still lying unconscious. Seeing no further threat, the throbbing pulse of adrenaline drained from his ears. Madelin stood up from the scorching, black tar and wiped her hands free of clinging globs. Daniel turned to her with an air of compassion, thankful that she had come away unharmed.
“Thank you, Daniel.” Her voice was sincere, and she spoke with a kindness he had never known.
He was about to reply when a shooting pain rippled through his stomach. Daniel fell to his knees and clutched his side. A wet substance oozed through his fingers. Memory of the viper bite from the commander’s gun flashed through his mind. His hand came away coated in red. A dull ache in his shoulder also pained him, but it wasn’t his primary concern.
There’s too much blood, thought the veteran. He placed his hand back over the wound. How much time do I have?
Madelin watched in dismay, helpless as a baby lamb. A whispered, “My God!” escaped her lips as she knelt next to him. She placed a hand over his in an attempt to stall the bleeding. “We’ll get help. I promise.”
Her words were like a soothing balm, but the peace was short lived. Voices echoed across the rooftop from the main stairwell. Pounding blows rang out as they discovered the locked door. Summoning his courage, Daniel pushed aside the pain and rose to his feet. He waved Madelin away and prepared himself for another onslaught.
I can’t believe I made it through that last meeting, he thought. But it ain’t over. There’s more to do and still time enough to salvage something of my life.
“It’s okay… I’ll be okay.” Daniel lied, taking a few ragged breaths. “Hurry. We’ve gotta get out of here.”
Glancing down the fire escape, they watched the PASTOR agent attempting to extricate himself from the crumpled mass of metal. His efforts looked futile. The other agent lay sprawled at the bottom of the alleyway, unmoving.
Daniel ran through a list of escape plans, counting each one with a finger as circumstances ruled them out one after another. Within seconds, each finger on his free hand was extended, and he could think of nothing else. Accepting the final verdict and the sentence that had been passed, he pointed a blood-soaked hand at the shadowed chimney.
“Get over there. I’ll take care of this.” His voice was firm and distant.
She obeyed without complaint, which Daniel appreciated, but he couldn’t shut out the worry welling up in her eyes. He knew the disappointment and fear she would feel after this was over.
I wish I could stop it, keep her from feeling abandoned. It isn’t her fault. She didn’t choose for this to happen. Those bastards just keep coming, and they ain’t after me. I know Black Force ops when I see them. What the hell is with these guys? he wondered. Why do they want her so bad?
Silence answered his questions.
I hope I can last long enough to take some of them with me, he thought, grinding his teeth. Maybe she’ll have a chance if I whittle down their numbers.
He could feel his blood draining onto his shirt. He applied more pressure and felt the flow diminish. His mind whirled with fatigue… but something plagued him. I shouldn’t even be standin’. Thank God for small miracles. I wasn’t able to do as much as I’d hoped, but maybe this’ll be enough.
As the world around him changed, the memory forced him back into one of many nighttime horrors. The doorway to a small mud hut was blockaded with clothes and wood scavenged by mercenaries.
Did I help pile those against the door? The answer that echoed through his mind shamed him further.
He tried to stop his hand from pushing the torch into the thatch roof, but the past couldn’t be altered. He shoved the flaming branch deeper, and it illuminated the children within. They stared at him from the dancing shadows, the whites of their eyes pleading for him to stop. The smell of dust and sewage interwove itself with the burning stench of the house, flooding his nostrils as the flames grew. The voices of children, mothers, the elderly, and all that were left in the village, cried out in terror. Their sounds mingled with the now roaring flames.
How many did they stuff into that small cottage?
He had no idea. He hadn’t counted at the time, but with each memory it seemed that more eyes stared out at him. He felt as though all the innocents of the world were burning for the sins of those like him. The nauseating odor of cooking flesh swept through Daniel, cutting off his air and threatening to strangle him.
Opening his eyes, the rooftop reeled around Daniel’s waterlogged gaze. The sights and sounds of the PASTOR agents breaking down the door reminded him of the job he had to do. Taking a few deep breaths, Daniel urged his legs to work and forced himself over to the unconscious commander. Once there, his knees thudded to the ground. Daniel leaned down and picked up his metallic 9 mm, the closest thing he ever had to a friend, and stashed it under his belt. He ignored the warmth from the smoking barrel that seeped through his clothes. Sliding closer to the grey-haired operative he’d knocked unconscious, he pried the black pistol from his hand and contemplated ending the man’s tyranny that very moment. The gun wavered, its barrel mere inches from the man’s tar-splotched hair.
I can’t do that. He’s defenseless. If anything would condemn me this late in the game, it’s outright murder. He’ll be out long enough for Madelin to get away anyhow, he reassured himself. Conscience urged him to store the gun next to his own. His hand grudgingly followed its orders.
He pushed himself up off his knees. A wave of nausea and dizziness attempted to submerge his consciousness. Fighting the onslaught, the soldier attained his balance just in time. The door across the rooftop buckled as Daniel steadied himself, assuming the calm and composed focus of battle.
* * * *
Madelin paced over to the chimney once again. Watching Daniel waver in the wind like a fragile antenna while the other operatives battered down the door was heartrending. There had to be something she could do, but only one thing came to mind. It was something she had very little control over.
What if I can’t do it again? The self-doubt ate at her as she watched Daniel prepare to confront the devils. I have to try. If I don’t, he’ll die.
Madelin stepped up to the brick chimney and summoned the memory of her lost friend. Altran’s words echoed through the distortion once again. “Focus… Concentrate and you’ll see it. You can do what most can’t.” His words whispered through her thoughts, so real that Madelin had to remind herself that he was gone. A tear welled up at the thought of him before streaking down her tar-stained face.
Madelin did as he instructed as she stared at the darkened wall, whispering the words time and again as she searched for the dark rosebud. Each crack called to her, but she sought a place far from here. Rough edges appeared as she scanned the rows of bricks.
Eventually, a fine line emerged, curving up into the dagger-like tip of a petal. Centering her attention, the mysterious blossom took shape and began to peel itself from the wall. As it rose from the silent bricks, a tainted life infused it with glossy blackness. The few rays of light pouring around the smokestack reflected off the delicate petals.
Madelin concentrated harder, and other petals took shape, the bud opening itself to her. She was entranced by its dark beauty. As the lustrous, black stem stretched out from the brick partition, needle-sharp thorns surfaced. Looking closer, she noticed that the stem was composed of numerous fine lines. Each stripe glistened wetly in its own separate color, but was overshadowed by the dark nature of the rose. Madelin followed individual lines up the stem, intrigued and horrified by the visible pulse within each one. They were like veins, and the worlds held within their boundaries were the life’s blood of the rose.
Madelin’s desire spoke from within, and one vein began pulsing more than the others. Its crimson essence oozed from one petal’s tip. The vein throbbed faster, matching the rhythm of her heart, and the thick droplets fell to mix with the black tar below.
Madelin grasped the delicate petal and peeled it away from the flower. The blossom didn’t resist, but separated from the stem like ripping paper. The tear continued beyond the stem, slicing the bricks apart like a knife through butter. Once the opening was large enough, she let go of the rose petal. It fluttered to the ground and disappeared. The blossom glinted once more in the shadowed light before dying and falling to the floor itself. It too disappeared.
Madelin’s gaze shifted back to the rift as a slight breeze caught the edge. It rippled in the wind, and through the movement, she saw a murky, red film separating the two worlds. Beyond that, a dwindling sun highlighted the treetops of a large forest.
Then the rooftop door burst open, bringing this world back into startling focus. A barrage of gunfire lit up her world from the other side of the brick wall. Madelin leaped around the chimney in time to see bullets whiz past her protector, some thudding into the roof at his feet. Spurts of tar flew around him as he returned fire. It was as though his guardian angel had chosen this time to step into the fray. He stood tall in the dimming light, unmoving.
This won’t last, she thought as he drew the other weapon and unleashed the fury of both hand cannons. At least the size of the doorway is holding some at bay.
His legs were planted for support, but she knew his time was limited. The stain on his shirt grew to encompass his pant leg, and his head drooped with the exertion.
“Daniel,” she called out to him, but was drowned out by the roar of gunfire. “Daniel!” she screamed. Her voice cracked with the strain.
Daniel turned his head and spied Madelin waving him over. He continued the rapid fire, but forced his legs into motion. With each footfall, excruciating pain broke through his isolated calm. With the final step, two more pistols boomed in tandem. The first dug into Daniel’s muscled calf, and he stumbled into Madelin’s arms. The second missed his forehead by a hair.
Madelin caught the brute of a man as he stumbled into her. His tense, muscled body landed in her hands, and his feet tried to hold himself up out of stubborn futility. He clutched his guns in a death grip, and his fingers continued working the triggers, firing the last shots into the rooftop below. The click of hammers finding empty chambers accompanied her words as he gave in and slumped into her arms.
“I’ve got you, Daniel. I’ve got you,” she whispered.
The petite woman folded her arms around her protector and hefted him to the portal. His shallow breaths caressed her neck.
Thank goodness for small favors, she thought.
Clutching Daniel to her, she lifted him awkwardly over the rift’s threshold and through the crimson haze.