Infernal Games – Book Four of the Templar Chronicles
The war with the Chiang Shih is over but the Templars have paid a high price for victory. Even the Echo Team has not escaped unscathed, its commander returned a changed man with his thirst for vengeance quenched, but his spirit broken. It is the moment Simon Logan, the Necromancer has been waiting for. A daring prison break allows him to escape Templar control and vanish into the night. Newly promoted Captain Riley and the reformed Echo Team are given the job of tracking him down. But rather than waiting for Echo to coming looking for him, the Necromancer takes the battle to them instead; luring former Commander Williams away from his home and stealing the physical form of his wife, Gabrielle, a woman caught somewhere between life and death. It is perhaps the one act that could rouse Cade from the grey haze his life has become. As he ruthlessly tracks the Necromancer through this world and the next, Cade can't help but ask himself what Logan might want with a half-dead woman and the man who had literally traveled to hell and back to rescue her.
The Templar Chronicles series was originally planned as a trilogy, but fan input over the popularity of the series caused me to bring it back just about a year ago. Infernal Games is the fourth book in the series (though it can be read as a stand-alone) and featured Knight Commander Cade Williams, the men of the Echo Team, and the modern Templar Order that works in the shadows to protect mankind from supernatural threats and enemies. – Joseph Nassise
"First-rate, stylish work from Mr. Nassise, with a steady escalation of the story's speed that makes it almost literally breath-taking."– Clive Barker
"A breakneck-paced thriller that delivers on the thrills and tosses in more than a few more chills."– Kelley Armstrong
"Hellraiser meets Delta Force by way of George Romero."– The Trades Entertainment Magazine
Simon Logan lay on the cot in the corner of his cell, listening to the voices of the dead whisper to him from out of the darkness.
Their voices helped him, sustained him. They lifted him out of the depth of his despair and gave him the courage he needed to face each day as if it were not identical to the one before it and the one before that and so on back through an endless succession of such periods, the sterility of prison life blurring into one long, endless repetition of the same activities that were designed to break his will and turn him into an obedient little prisoner.
The voices were his sanity and his salvation.
And while he listened, the dead told him things.
Things he couldn't have known otherwise.
The dead were his friends, you see, the whisper of their voices like the caress of a lover in the depths of the night. They told him of the world outside these walls, of the events that transpired there while he was locked away in that meager eight-by–eight foot space, and in turn he gave them tasks to perform, orders to carry out, providing a purpose and direction for their existence that they thought had been lost lost forever.
It was the perfect symbiotic relationship.
The wards, bindings, and other enchantments built into the walls of his cell kept him from doing anything more than speaking with the dead, but speaking with them was enough for now. Logan lay on his bunk in the darkness, conserving his energy, knowing he was going to need it if the voices were right, if today was, indeed, his day of salvation.
It was still early afternoon when the voices told him that the guards were headed in his direction. His cell had no clock and this far underground there wasn't a window to let him judge the passage of the sun across the sky, but he knew what time it was just the same. He'd always been able to sense the coming of darkness for decades and right now his senses were telling him that darkness was still many hours away.
That was fine; he was patient. He could wait.
He thanked the dead for their service and then sent them on their way with the messages he had prepared for just this eventuality. The time had come; he could feel it in his bones.
The footsteps stopped and the lights flashed on suddenly, harsh and blinding: the move designed to disorient, perhaps even to cause physical pain. He was abruptly thrust from the utter darkness of long days spent in solitary confinement, but he'd been forewarned and so was not caught by their petty game, sitting on his bunk with his eyes held gently shut when the flare of brilliance chased away the darkness. By the time that the guards arrived at the door of his individual cell, his eyes had adjusted to the light enough to be able to see without difficulty.
There were nine of them; an auspicious number.
The duty captain stepped up to the outer cell door and said, "Assume the position."
The man was nervous; Logan could smell his fear from five feet away. It made him want to smile, but he made sure to keep the grin off his face and his expression carefully neutral. Anything else would simply earn him a beating.
He got up from his bunk and crossed to the door of his cell. Turning around, he slid his hands through the waist–high slot and then winced as the duty captain on the other side slipped a zip tie around his wrists and cinched it tighter than necessary.
"Okay, you know the drill. Back off."
He followed the duty captain's orders, pulling his hands back out of the slot and stepping away from the door, giving the guards room to open the door and enter the cell.
They formed up around him, with the duty captain to his left, holding his arm, and the others arrayed in groups of four before and behind him. When the duty captain gave the signal, they led him down the hall and then up the three flights of stairs to the general population level. The raucous noise that usually filled the cavernous space quieted as they realized who was being brought up. Soon all of the other inmates were standing at the fronts of their cells, staring in silence at the procession as it made its way slowly past.
Even in here, amidst the worst of the Order's enemies, the man once known only as the Necromancer commanded respect and fear.
It had been just over two months since Logan had requested an audience with Knight Commander Cade Williams and given him information that had eventually led to the confrontation with the Chiang Shih and the deaths of dozens of Templar soldiers. For his part in the process he'd been transferred to solitary confinement and left to rot alone in the darkness with barely enough food to survive. Rather than break him, however, the change in circumstances had proved to be a boon. No longer haunted by the ghost of Cade's dead wife, Gabrielle, the Necromancer had slowly begun to recover and was now in better physical condition than he had been since arriving at the prison.
The guards took him through general population and then up five more levels, passing through a checkpoint each time, until they reached the ground floor. There they went through a successive series of checkpoints until, nearly a half an hour after they started, the group stood before the massive double doors leading to the main entrance and the transport yard just beyond.
The duty captain stepped forward, a rubber ball gag, the kind favored by S&M enthusiasts with straps that allowed the gag to be pulled tight and secured around the back of the head, in one hand. He held it up for the prisoner to see.
"Open up," he said.
For a second, Logan hesitated. It was more a result of being startled by something so out of the ordinary than any real objection to the request, but that second was enough. The duty captain had been waiting for an excuse to cause his prisoner some misery and that was all he needed. He looked over Logan's shoulder and nodded to the guard behind him. Logan didn't even have time to brace for the impact before what felt like a sledgehammer drove itself into his kidney full bore. For a moment everything went white as his body tried to process the massive shock it had just received.
When he came back to himself again, he found he was down on his knees with a guard holding tightly to each arm as the duty captain shoved the gag into his mouth and pulled it tight. Logan didn't fight back; it would only escalate into a beating and he didn't want to take the chance of being injured right now.
Patience. Their time will come.
The gag and handcuffs were redundant inside the prison, as the wards built into the very foundations of the building kept him from accessing his power in any significant way, so the use of the restraints now indicated that they were taking him outside the gates, most likely as part of a transfer to a new facility. After spending the last six months locked away beneath the ground in solitary confinement, the idea of walking out those doors was almost daunting.
The duty captain stopped at the checkpoint and the Necromancer listened in to what was being said.
"What have you got, Charlie?" asked the officer on the other side of the bullet–proof glass of the control booth with a bored tone.
"Transfer to Longfort post–trial. There to remain until the end of time."
The other officer's laugh was muffled by the glass. "We can only hope, right?"
That's interesting, the Necromancer thought as he ignored the joke. Apparently he'd been tried and found guilty in absentia; he certainly hadn't attended any proceedings of that type in the last two months. He thought of the promise Knight Commander Williams had made to him several months before. A view of the sunlight, before the end of his trial. That had been the deal.
Better late than never, he guessed.
Papers were passed over, signed, and passed back again. When all was in order the group was allowed to proceed through the checkpoint to the final barrier, a thick set of double doors made of reinforced concrete. The duty captain took a tighter hold on Logan's arm and with a loud clang the doors began to slide slowly apart.
A lobby like one found in most modern business buildings was just beyond the doors, part of the cover the Order had set up around the facility. Security guards stationed behind the "information booth" eyed him curiously as he was marched past, but they knew better than to speak to him.
Logan barely gave them a passing glance, as his attention was fixed firmly on his destination.
A transport bus was waiting outside.
The guards didn't hesitate, just hustled him out the doors into the cold, February snow and over to the waiting vehicle. The driver opened the doors as they approached so the group didn't even have to slow down as they led him up the stairs and down the aisle to the back of the bus where a specially prepared enclosure awaited.
It wasn't much to look at, just a chair welded to the floor inside a box of bullet–proof glass, but the moment that he was shoved into the seat he felt the bindings that were etched into the walls around him, bindings designed to keep him from using his powers against those on the other side of the glass. He was like a newborn babe, naked and unprotected from those who might wish him harm.
Or so they thought.
Two guards stepped inside the box with him and quickly wrapped him in several sets of thick iron chains which the duty captain then secured with a special set of blessed padlocks. Their job finished, the guards stepped out of the enclosure and closed the door of the box behind them, securing that with a lock as well. Satisfied that all was as it should be, the guards moved several seats forward and sat down facing the front of the bus, their weapons by their sides.
The Necromancer wanted to laugh at the theatrics. He missed his old nemesis; had Williams been in charge he would have been drugged into unconsciousness, bound with silver, and sealed inside a protective circle before they would have even thought about taking him from his cell. This lot was making things far too easy.
He glanced out the window at the place where he had just spent the last six months of his life. The innocuous little building known to the Order as the Bennington Containment Facility looked more like a public high school than a maximum security prison for offenders of some of the world's worst evils, but that was hardly a surprise. The Templars had had centuries to perfect the art of hiding in the open and even he had to admit that they did it quite well.
"Let's roll," the duty captain called forward and the driver raised a hand in reply. There was a moment spent as the driver started the vehicle's oversized engine and threw her into gear and then, with a sudden jerk, the bus got underway.
The first three hours passed without incident. Logan had long ago learned the art of sitting patiently and he practiced that now as he waited for the right time. At first the guards were tense, constantly looking over their shoulders in his direction as if he might pull a Harry Houdini and escape from his bonds right before their very eyes, but as time passed and he remained securely bound, they began to relax. Relaxation eventually turned to boredom and boredom to complacency.
Logan felt them long before seeing them, their presence like a beacon in the night to one with his powers. He prepared himself for what was to come, knowing there would be a moment of vulnerability when the guards might think of opening his "cell" and shooting him in the head rather than taking the chance that he might escape into the world once more. He didn't expect them to have enough presence of mind to think of it, but better safe than sorry. He focused inward, centering himself and gathering what power he could just in case he would need it.
The bus rolled onward.
Several moments later the headlights picked up the first wispy strands of a low–lying fog creeping along the road, but the driver barely noticed. The suddenly changing temperatures at this time of year often caused a bit of ground fog and he gave it no mind as he continued forward, unaware that in doing so he'd just committed everyone aboard to the events which were to follow.
A hundred yards down the road the fog had risen to cover the wheels of the bus and the driver was starting to grow a little concerned. It had grown thicker as well as higher, limiting the driver's ability to see any obstacles that might be in the road ahead of him, and he naturally slowed the vehicle down as a result.
It never occurred to him to wonder where fog like this had come from on such a cold night.
Noting the change in speed, the duty captain came forward and crouched down beside the driver. "What's the delay?" he asked, none to happy to be slowing down given the particular cargo they were carrying.
The driver waved at the windshield ahead of them. "Can't see shit. If I hit something at this speed we'll be in serious trouble. Better to slow down now than pay for it later."
As much as he disliked the idea of slowing down, the duty captain knew the driver was right. "All right," he said, clapping the other man on the shoulder. "It's your bus; you know what's best. Just get us there."
"I'll do my…"
The driver never finished his sentence, distracted as he was by the way the engine of the bus coughed once and then died.
The loss of power meant the steering and brakes reverted to manual control and the driver suddenly found himself trying to steer a twelve ton behemoth rolling forward at just over twenty–five miles per hour. To their right was a forest of thick pine, to their left the yawning mouth of a narrow ravine; the driver did not want a closer look at either. The muscles on his arms stood out as he strained to hold the vehicle on course. He pumped the brakes frantically with both feet in an effort to get the bus to slow down and come to a stop, thanking God as he did for his foresight in slowing the bus just moments before. If they had still been travelling at the higher rate of speed they wouldn't have had a chance.
"Give me a hand!" he yelled and the duty captain jumped to his aid, grabbing the wheel with both hands and adding his strength to the driver's. Between the two of them they were able to keep the bus on the road and pointed in the right direction until it slowly ground to a halt several long and tense minutes later.
That's when they noticed the fog.
No longer content to lie clinging to the ground in slowly drifting pools and eddies, this fog seemed to have a life of its own. It had sprung up like a wall all about them, leaving a clear patch of ground roughly ten feet on all sides of the bus, so that they seemed to be sitting in a special little clearing of their own. The fog twisted and turned, churning about, and both men would have sworn that they saw faces in its depths; grey, distorted shapes with black, bottom–less holes for eyes and mouths opened wide in silent screams…
Movement of a different sort within the depths of the fog became clearer as an individual in a long black robe stepped out in front of the bus, his face hidden in the depths of his hood.
"What the hell…?" said the duty captain.
As if in response, the newcomer reached up, grasped the edges of his hood, and pulled it back, revealing his face to the men on the bus. The coarse black thread that had been used to sew his lips and eyes shut, precautions used to keep him from seeing or speaking in the afterlife, stood out in stark contrast to the light grey coloration of his dead flesh while the glint of metal in his ears marked where molten silver had been poured into place to keep him from hearing.
The living watched as the dead man lifted an arm and pointed at the bus.
The duty captain turned his head just in time to see something monstrous emerge from the fog on the right side of the bus. As his mind was still trying to make sense of what it was seeing, the creature slammed into the side of the bus with all the force of a runaway train. Tires popped as the bus slid sideways for several yards, stopping just inches away from the edge of the embankment.
Men were screaming, guns were firing, but the duty captain didn't notice. His gaze was locked on that of the prisoner in the back of the bus, the prisoner who couldn't speak around the gag placed in his mouth but whose laughter was somehow ringing loudly in the duty captain's ears as the thing outside slammed into the bus for a second time, sending it careening over the edge of the embankment and tumbling, down, down, toward the ravine floor below…