Stricken – The War Scrolls #1

It took only four months to bring the angels to their knees…

With a virus ravaging the fallen angels on earth, mankind’s symbol of love and hope is at risk of extinction.

Centuries ago, a group of angelic warriors known as The Fallen risked everything to save themselves and carve a future for their kind. Hope slips away as The Fallen and their kin are cut down by an ancient menace, La Morte Nera—and no one saw it coming.

Only one immortal can save them, and only one mortal can stand in his way…

When Nephilim warrior Killian St. James sets out on a quest to find a cure, he and his blade-brothers discover nineteen-year-old Aubrey Carter—a human with a past as dark as it is mysterious—cowering in an abandoned house in the heart of Memphis, Tennessee.

The corrupted races are chasing her, and Killian is determined to find out why…

But neither he nor Aubrey are prepared for their attraction to one another, or for the frightening truths lurking in the shadows. The painful childhood memories Aubrey has buried hold precious answers. Answers that threaten to tear Killian’s world apart.

With her life hanging in the balance, Killian must choose between the future of The Fallen, and the human girl he’s pledged to protect.

Demons are rising, and this time they plan to win the war for dominion once and for all.

Genre: New Adult Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance

Now available on Amazon.

Chapter One Excerpt

Memphis, 2014 –

“Where are you trying to go, boy?” Killian St. James asked, inching toward the Elioud shapeshifter in front of him.

The wolf responded by curling his upper lip in a soundless snarl. Saliva dripped from his fangs, causing flecks of foam to form all along his muzzle. Gray fur stood on end along his back. The white, matted fur of his chest seemed to shine in the darkness. His claws clicked against the rotted wood of the floor as he backed away from Killian, moving his head side to side in search of an escape route.

There wasn’t one, of course.

Killian had made sure of that, backing the shifter toward the corner of the room with every warrior-skill he’d learned over the last two centuries. His blade-brothers, Abriel and Dahmiel, flanked him, spread out into a loose spear-point to ensure the Elioud went nowhere.

He didn’t seem to appreciate their efforts.

Fury rolled from him in waves, stinging at Killian until his eyes and nose burned with the sharp, acrid scent of the diseased blood running through the infected man’s veins. Killian wanted to gag at the rancid smell, but refused to give in to the churning of his stomach. He was stronger than that. He was a Warrior of Light, one of the last left to guard the world against the hordes of Hell. And Fallen warriors didn’t lose their shit in the middle of a hunt.

Besides, if Killian lost his focus now, things were going to get nasty, and quick.

As if realizing this, the shifter glanced between Killian and Abriel, his gaze flickering rapidly from one to the other. Killian watched as the shifter hesitated over the empty space between him and his brother, and then on the gaping doorway beyond.

Killian was ready when the thing made a last-ditch decision to run for it.

Before the shifter even shifted its stance, Killian spun the flare in his hands, sending the thin tube whirling like a dancer’s baton. Blue sparks shot from both ends, piercing the darkness with an inky-blue light. Smoke curled upward, the sulfuric stench wavering in time to the pop and sizzle of the bright embers shooting from the ends.

“Not today, buddy,” he told the shifter.

The beast raced across the rotted floor with his head low to the ground. He weaved away from the flashing sparks, aiming like an arrow down the very center of the room. Killian stepped to his left to cut him off, hoping the shower of sparks raining down from the rigged flare in his hands would slow the creature down.

The shifter howled as embers stung him like bees.

Chills raced up Killian’s spine at the pained sound. The smoke billowing from his flare burned his eyes, but he didn’t blink as he hoisted the flare higher, directly over the Elioud’s head.

The shifter darted away from the sparks now falling upon him. The sharp scent of singed fur wafted toward Killian, joining the disgusting cacophony already clogging his nose. His stomach threatened to roil in rebellion again.

Why couldn’t he shut out the odor?

The smell of death and disease hung in the air around them like rotting flesh on a week old battlefield, but in the last four months, he’d learned to focus on other things. The corrosive smell of gasoline and the thick taste of tar wrapped like tentacles around human cities had been a good distraction from the walking, raving dead in the beginning, but not anymore.

The sickly stench clung to Killian’s skin. It seeped from his pores until all he smelled anymore was death, disease, and the damning scent of defeat lurking on the horizon.

The Fallen were losing.

La Morte Nera could not be stopped.

The realization stung worse than the blue embers falling upon his hands.

“Watch him!” Abriel shouted as the flare began to fizzle in a plume of dark smoke.

The crazed shifter twisted its massive frame in mid-air, more frantic to escape now. The smoke billowed around him, confusing him as it had countless others before him. The infected didn’t like the sulfuric smoke any more than they liked dying.

Too damned bad for them.

Killian spun to cut the shifter off again, but in wolf form he was fast, far faster than Killian had anticipated. It raced past him, tail swinging wildly, half a second before he reached position.

The shifter curled in upon himself for an instant, getting ready to leap through the door.

Son of a bitch!

Killian tossed the flare aside and lurched forward, reaching for the pair of throwing knives hidden in their sheaths up his sleeves. He doubted he’d get the knives out before the shifter completed his desperate dive, but Killian ripped them from the leather and threw anyway.

Dahmiel loomed up in front of the doorway with a roar, his sword still strapped to his back and his tattooed arms outstretched. The Elioud caught sight of him and howled again, trying to turn himself in midair.

Killian shouted a wordless warning to his blade-brother, watching in silent frustration as the shifter managed to twist its massive body to the side. The knives didn’t even touch the creature as they whistled by.

Dahmiel didn’t flinch as first one and then the other silver blade sank into his arm, cutting deep from the force of Killian’s throw. In fact, Dom paid the knives no attention at all, instead grabbing the rabid shifter by the scruff of the neck and slamming him to the floor as if the knives had never touched him.

The momentum of his body slam splintered the rotting wood at his feet.

Entire floorboards caved inward, dragging him down.

“Dammit!” Dom yelled, the impact of his fall ripping through the decaying building like a rocket blast.

Killian staggered and fell, landing hard on his knees. A second flare slipped from his belt, then bounced once before clattering harmlessly through one of the larger cracks in the floor. It landed in the basement below with a distant thump.

The shifter roared.

Killian ignored the defiant, far-too-human screams and dragged himself to his knees just in time to see the creature buck against the caving floor, his fangs snapping at the air.

Dom cursed and fell backward, still holding tightly to the scruff of the shifter’s neck.

His grip dragged the snarling shifter half on top of him.

“Dammit,” Killian swore, bounding to his feet to help before the situation got out of hand.

The shifter’s blood would burn his brother worse than the silver blade, and hurt like nothing else. And that was before the disease killing the man consumed Dom entirely. There’d be no saving his brother when that happened.

The shifter kicked his hind legs, fighting to tear himself from Dom’s grip. One giant paw smacked into Killian’s knee. The other crunched beneath his boot.

“Son of a…!” With a curse, Killian went sprawling across the floor, his own legs tangled in the mess of flailing warrior and animal limbs and splintered wood.

He kicked himself free and leaped to his feet to drag the shifter off Dom. The shifter thrashed its head back and forth like the possessed thing it was, fangs bared and snapping. Drops of foam flew, wetting Killian, Dahmiel, and the surrounding floor.

“Enough,” Killian growled and jerked the animal’s head back further, pinning it in place against the rotting floorboards.

Abriel strode forward from his place near the door and swung his leg. His booted foot connected with the animal’s side.

Bone crunched.

The shifter stopped thrashing and started howling, one pained cry after another.

Dom rolled to his feet and tore the sword out of the scabbard across his back. His face was set in stony lines, his blue eyes narrowed. In one fluid move, he hefted the sword high over his head, and drove it into the poor beast’s neck. The silver blade thrummed as it bit through the floorboard beneath, sending chunks of rotted wood bouncing into the room below. The shifter’s head separated almost completely from his body.

Dom jerked the sword out, the knives still embedded in his left arm.

Blood spurted from the gaping hole in the animal’s neck, narrowly missing Killian. He scrambled away from the growing puddle, cringing.

No matter how many times they did this, or what race their blades fell upon, watching their kin die never became any easier to stomach. He gagged as the smell of fresh, diseased blood added to the stench already permeating the room.

Jesus, what he wouldn’t give for a human sense of smell!

He held his breath and eyed the shifter, knowing his desire was useless. Human blood might have run through his veins, true enough, but he’d lived among the Fallen his entire life. He knew nothing of being human.

The shifter didn’t either. Not anymore.

The beast’s legs jerked as if he didn’t realize he was dead. And who knew? Maybe he didn’t know. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time Killian had helped kill something that didn’t die easy. Probably wouldn’t be the last time either. The killing-virus infecting the shifter had spread far already, savagely decimating the populations. Elioud, Nephilim, the Fallen, and their demonic offspring… not a single race with angel blood had been spared the rapid spread of the disease, and nothing short of a miracle would stop the destruction now.

Unfortunately, miracles were in short supply.

La Morte Nera continued its deadly march forward, unopposed and damn near invincible. Death was coming for the Fallen as much as for their offspring. And it was coming fast.

The shifter gurgled a final time, and then lay still.

Within moments, he’d reclaimed his bloody, battered human form.

Silence hummed through the old building, broken only by Dom’s harsh pants and the ticking of the watch secured on Abriel’s wrist. Killian kept his eyes on the dead man at their feet for long moments, waiting to be sure he didn’t decide to get up and fight again.

He didn’t, thank God.

Killian relaxed the stiff set of his shoulders.

Dahmiel breathed a deep sigh, drawing Killian’s attention. He winced when he caught sight of his knives again, lying in the puddle of blood spreading across the floor. His earlier fury simmered again.

How had one infected Elioud shifter almost overcome three fully trained warriors?

“Fricking shifters,” Dom muttered, easing himself out of the middle of the destruction beside the doorway. He braced himself against the termite-infested wall, his upper lip pulled back in a rictus of pain. His sword clattered when he dropped it to the floor beside him.

Killian hauled himself to his feet again, ripping clean strips from his shirt to help bandage his brother’s wounds. “Did his saliva hit you?”

Dom shook his head. “Nah, I think the wounds are clean.”

Killian sent up a silent prayer of thanks before dropping to his knees beside his brother, makeshift bandages in hand. “How the hell did that happen?”

Abriel nudged the dead shifter with his foot. “I’ve never seen one of them fight like that to get free.” Curiosity shone in his Fallen-bright eyes. “Why did he?”

“Good question,” Dom said, and then he groaned. “Half a million people in this city and we’re the only ones fool enough to wrestle infected shifters in a house ready to collapse. Do neither of you find that just the least bit insane?”

“Someone’s gotta do it,” Abriel said, as unperturbed as ever.

“Lucky us.” Dom snorted, his nose twitching. His gaze flickered toward the window and the city beyond. “Think they even have a clue what’s really happening?”

“No.” Killian wrapped his makeshift bandages around his brother’s wounds. Humans were ignorant of the demons in their midst, and of the fallen angels who defended against them. So far as they were concerned, Killian’s kind didn’t exist. And if they’d come across any of the infected, they weren’t asking questions. Fallen warriors were pouring into cities in droves to make sure that didn’t change. And quite frankly, Killian preferred to keep it that way. Humans had a tendency to complicate things, and the Fallen had complications enough already.

“Not a clue,” Abriel agreed.

“Yeah, well – ah, dammit!” Dom held his grime-covered shirt away from his body, looking more pained than he had when Killian’s knives found his flesh. “I liked this shirt.”

“I’ll buy you a new one,” Killian muttered.

“Hell yes, you will.” Dahmiel’s teeth flashed in the dark. “You’re the one who stabbed me.”

Abriel prodded the shifter with a booted toe again. “It’s been weeks since the last Elioud family left Memphis. Where did these last three come from?”

“No clue,” Dom grunted. “Makes you wonder what’s up though, doesn’t it?”

Killian could feel Abriel’s eyes on him. “I don’t know,” he answered without looking up. “The virus affects the Elioud differently. They’re -”

“Genetic freaks, as different from the demons as we are from them,” Dom cut in. “Big difference. Not the same. Yadda, yadda, yadda.”

Killian pulled the bandage tighter than necessary.

Dom glared at him. “I’m just saying we get it. They’re not demon or angel. They’re X-Men, without the badass lair. But still, knowing what they’re doing here would be nice.” He pointed to the window with his good arm, serious for a change. “He was determined to get out of here. And the other two didn’t want to stick around to fight either. Usually they attack anything stupid enough to get too close. These didn’t seem all that interested in killing us. As you pointed out, that’s not normal infected behavior.”

“No kidding.” Abriel jerked a black tarp from his pack before slinging it to the floor. He reached inside again. “What are they after out there?” A length of thick rope joined the tarp.

Now that was a good question.

As far as Killian knew, the nearest Elioud line still capable of producing a shifter was in hiding two states away. Where had these three come from? And how many more of them were out there?

One, at least.

Killian felt the diseased shifter as if he had a direct connection to the creature.

“I say we find out what they’re after, don’t you?” Killian glanced between Dom and Abriel.

“Oh, hell yes.” Dom grinned, his white teeth flashing in the darkness again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *