She pulled a map out of her pocket, running her ragged, worn thumb over the old parchment. “It should be around here,” she muttered to herself as she ticked her head up and stared along the side of the building.
It was an old Freemason temple on the outskirts of town. Earmarked for destruction the following day, this was the only chance Veronique was going to get to explore its secrets. And hopefully, purge them.
She shoved the map back in her pocket, half closing her eyes for several seconds as she tried to remember all of the coordinates sprawled over it in scattered, almost frightened writing.
She’d picked up this map from the official state museum – though borrowed was perhaps a better term. Stolen was more accurate. She would take it back. Eventually.
Running her hand down her sturdy cargo pants, Veronique paused, one hand locked on the edge of the guttering before her. She was up on the roof of the opposite building. Fortunately the height and pitch of its roof were similar to that of the Freemason temple. It wouldn’t be more than a hop, skip, and a jump over to her destination.
That didn’t mean this would be a short night.
She sighed to herself. “Oh well. Here we go.” She pushed up. There were 10 meters separating her from the broken gutter of the Freemason building. She didn’t pause. She threw herself forward without even a grunt. As her cheap sandshoes pushed off the edge of the roof, she focused all of her attention – and energy – on making the leap.
Within her blood, she felt her force.
An ancient power, Veronique had carried it since the day she was born – though reborn was a better descriptor.
During the day, Veronique looked like any other normal inhabitant of this modern city. She worked in a stationery store, she lived in a shady apartment, and on the outside, her prospects were exactly zilch. You would take one look at her normal figure, non-standout features, and cropped mousy brown hair, and you would think she would never amount to anything.
That was okay by Veronique. She didn’t want to do anything special. If she could live an ordinary life where her skills were not called on, she would rejoice.
That was unlikely to happen.
Veronique was human on the outside, but something else on the inside.
Born from a long line of refugees, her people had once held back the tide of destruction that always threatened to swallow the Earth.
There was one word and one word alone that could describe that wave of death.
Foolish humans thought that Atlantis was nothing more than a myth. Worse than that, that myth cast Atlantis in a glorified light. They saw it as the greatest civilization that had ever existed. A secret, mysterious, powerful race that had ruled in ancient times only for its lands to be swallowed by the sea.
Only one part of that version of events was correct. Atlantis had been swallowed. But not by the sea. By Veronique’s original form. General Uria, head of the Lemurian army.
Veronique didn’t have full memories of her past. What she could recall was nothing more than fleeting flashes of a world that had once been and a fight that had almost consumed all.
She didn’t need to recall every exact detail. All she needed was the knowledge of why she had been born and what she had to do.
“Time to go to work,” Veronique said as she reached the roof on the Freemason building, rolled, pushed to her feet, stayed low, and closed her eyes. She flattened her hand on the cracked concrete beneath her. Tilting her head to the side and partially opening her lips, she took in a deep breath. It wasn’t the metal-tinged air from the refinery a block away that Veronique was trying to get a lungful of. She settled her senses as she tuned into the energy flows of the building below. And there, she could feel what she’d come for.
Her eyes opened wide. Slowly, she got to her feet. Her knees creaked, matching the squeak of her sandshoes as she turned and headed for the door that would lead down from the roof. She settled a hand on it, squeezed, and let a few blue flecks of light crawl from her fingertips and sink into the lock.
It snapped like a dry twig underfoot as she wrenched the door open.
She walked in.
One thing she could be thankful for was that this building would be destroyed tomorrow. The wrecking ball was already parked in the yard beyond. They wouldn’t even bother doing a final tour of the building before they set the ball up and let it swing.
It meant that for once in Veronique’s life, she didn’t need to be discreet. She pumped her hands into fists, pushed them together, and arched her neck from side to side.
She reached a door that would lead out onto some landing. She kicked it open.
It swung, smashing into the wall beside it. It gouged a hole out of the plaster, and it tumbled down around her feet. She kicked it out of the way as she strode in.
The smell of urine, mold, and something else met her nostrils. She’d quickly checked this building in the Council registry this morning, and it had been abandoned for the past five years. Squatters and drug addicts had moved in. So had mildew and rats. Casting her gaze up, she could see a massive crack across the plaster ceiling. It looked as if it let in water every time it rained. And considering the city was as gloomy as Antarctica, that was most days.
Pushing a hand out, she ran it along a cracked banister as she reached a set of stairs.
She took them slowly. Tilting her head to the side, she listened. And she felt.
Back in high school, Veronique had had a reputation. She’d had one in primary school, too. She had one at the stationery store. Wherever she went, people formed opinions about her. She could see things. She could make things happen. And sometimes, people plain disappeared around Veronique Mavers.
If only her wary, suspicious schoolmates could see her now.
Veronique rapidly grew tired of walking down the creaking stairs. Despite the fact they swept around the side of the room and it was a good 20-meter drop to the water damaged floor below, she still secured a hand on the banister and jumped.
Air whistled past her, plastering her short brown hair around the side of her face as she landed. Instantly, her heavy form broke the floorboards, and she sunk right down through the snapped wood. The shards impacted her skin. They didn’t cut her. They tore chunks off her sneakers, but these were already an old pair. She would swing past the thrift shop on her way to work tomorrow and grab another set.
With two earsplitting cracks, she yanked her feet out of the floor.
She strode forward. In front of her was the half-open door that would lead into the primary chamber.
Just from underneath it, she could pick up the sound of something moving.
“Here we go,” she mouthed.
Veronique had no weapons. Technically. Not in this form. If she transformed into General Uria, she had access to the full power of her reborn form, but Veronique had never done that. She knew it was possible, but she didn’t have enough experience.
She’d never had to before, either.
Rather than walk in quietly, grab that half-open door, and ease it to, she brought her leg up and kicked. The cracked sole of her sand shoe smashed against the wood, and the door blasted open. It struck the wall beside it with such force, it pulled away from its hinges. With a creak that split the air, it fell. It smashed into the floor, and a cloud of dust and cobwebs erupted everywhere.
She strode through it. As she did, she opened her hands then curled her fingers in one by one.
Within, she called to her power.
Veronique had been orphaned at the age of 8. Since that day, she’d never been able to reconnect with the rest of her people – even if they were still out there.
Everything she knew about her power and her purpose came from before that time.
As she’d grown up in foster homes, no one ever keeping her for more than a few weeks, every night when she’d gone to bed, crying herself to sleep, she had repeated her purpose.
Within Veronique was the light of the Lemurians. She didn’t know what it was and where it came from – just what it could do. And just what she had to do with it.
Veronique, as the last of the Lemurians, had to hold back the tide.
That tide was Atlantis. Whenever it threatened to rise, whoever remained of the Lemurians had to push it back down and sink it once more. They did that with the light in their veins.
Veronique squeezed her hands into such tight fists, she could have popped her knuckles out. They erupted with light. It blasted around her fingers, twirling through her nails as it snaked up, ran around her wrists, and sailed up her shoulders.
She would’ve looked as if she had just opened her arms up to lightning.
She hadn’t heard a thing since she’d walked into the room – apart from the door smashing into the floor, of course. Now, just at the edge of her hearing, she heard a scattering of quick, muffled footfall.
“Here we go,” she muttered. She pushed off into a run. The floor was covered in plastic, and out of the corner of her eye, she could see a heap of old mattresses, pillows, and blankets. They were so badly stained, they looked as if someone had thrown them into a mudslide. And as for the smell – yeah, it didn’t bear thinking about.
Either the construction workers who were going to destroy this place had put the plastic down so they didn’t have to walk through the gunk, or it was here for another reason. It reflected her light as she ran across its smooth surface. It also revealed droplets of blood.
Red and fresh, they sure as hell weren’t hers.
Veronique’s eyes widened as she realized she wasn’t alone.
Atlantis husks didn’t count as company.
She heard a strangled gasp.
She threw herself forward, rolled, got some unsavory brown stain down the back of her leather jacket, and pushed to her feet just in time.
Something sliced forward. It blasted past her neck.
Before it could cut her flesh, she shoved her hand up and caught the blade.
It was a man holding a one-foot hunting knife with blood dripping off the end.
Sorry, not a man. A husk. One look at his completely jet-black eyes, and no one would confuse this idiot for a live Homo Sapiens.
Veronique grabbed the knife, not by the hilt, but by the tip. As the husk let out an eerie cry and tried to slice the knife through her hand, she simply let more of her light blast over her skin. It protected her, allowing her to rise slowly. Her knees creaked and her shoes squeaked as she took a quick step into the husk. Pivoting with her hip, she threw him to the side and wrenched the knife out of his hand.
She wasted no time. Not a second. She twisted the knife around in her grip and plunged it down into the husk’s chest.
Once upon a time this man would have been alive. You could see that in the wrinkles around his mouth from smiling too much, in the cracked expensive watch he wore on his left wrist, and in the scuffed wedding ring that was falling off his right hand.
Husks were some unfortunate soul who’d come too close to Atlantean energy. The energy consumed the only parts of them that mattered, leaving their empty bodies behind. Though to the Atlanteans, they didn’t call it consumption; they called it progress.
“Fuck progress,” Veronique said as, down on one knee, she plunged that knife even further down through the man’s chest until it cracked right through his ribs and his back.
Not a single droplet of blood spilled against the knife or the floor.
Black energy did. It curled through his injury, erupted several inches into the air, then fell back.
Veronique watched it disappear through the floorboards as she got to her feet.
She heard another gasp from behind her. She turned, the knife still in her hand, a few last wisps of black smoke playing around it. There, tied up in the corner, a bloodied rag around his face and cable ties over his wrists and ankles, was a guy in a hi-vis jacket.
It was so dark in here, all she could see were his wide-open eyes as he stared at her and the dead husk in terror.
She threw the knife up and caught it. She started to walk over to him, every floorboard creaking under her weight.
She reached the guy. He jolted back from her so hard, his skull impacted the wall behind him. A large chunk of plaster sloughed off, smashed onto his shoulder, and scattered over his safety jacket, damping out that bright yellow-orange with moldy white.
“Relax, I’m not here to kill you. That guy was.” She shrugged over at the dead husk.
Twisting the knife expertly in her hand, in one smooth, trained move, she cut the ties around his ankles. Immediately, he tried to push to his feet to run away. She wouldn’t let him. Securing a hand on his shoulder, she twisted him around in a solid move even a man twice his size wouldn’t be able to resist and cut through his wrist ties.
“Jesus, Jesus,” he spat. He jerked backward, fell hard on his ass, and started to scuttle away from her. His shaking fingers scraped through the blood he’d dribbled over the floor. A few slicks covered the plastic here and there.
Glancing down, she realized it came from a wound in his shoulder. Presumably the husk had dragged him here with no care for his physical health.
Veronique cared. Not that the guy would let her. She reached out a hand to him, but he screamed, turned on his knees, blasted up to his feet, and started to run.
She scratched her neck. “No one is going to believe you,” she called after him. “It would be best for you to check into the hospital and forget this. Trust me,” she said, her voice dropping for her own benefit as she stared over at the husk. “The less you know about this world, the better.”
Throwing the knife up one more time, she caught it one last time. She dropped down to her knee in front of the corpse. She plunged the knife into the floor for safe keeping. Then she opened one hand wide. Light blasted into it. It sailed through her body, moving with all the speed and power of a tidal wave. As it blasted through her bloodstream, Veronique saw it again. The same thing she always saw when she called on the height of her powers.
Her home. Long ago, far away. Nothing more than a fleeting memory she would never be able to hold onto for more than several seconds.
But she held onto it now.
She smashed her electrified fist into the husk. As her unique energy blasted through it, it burnt away the remainder of the husk’s body. Those smile lines, that broken watch – that scuffed ring. All of it disappeared in a blast of light. An afterglow remained as Veronique pushed to her feet and walked away to pry further into this building’s secrets. She grabbed the knife, slung it over her shoulder, and didn’t look back once. There was no point. She knew what she was and what she had to do. Why linger in the tragedy of her life? She had to be this person. Because the day she stopped, more people would die.
The rest of Magic War Episode One is available from most ebook retailers.