Sequel to Back to the Dream
War came to the Dreamlands when Kyushu was invaded by the Egyptians and Inuzaka Keno’s old nemesis, the Trust. As the lords of Nippon maneuver on and off the field to recover their lands, the peaceful life Keno enjoyed with his lover, Samojirou Aboshi, comes to a violent end. Loyalty to their rulers and the need to drive the enemies from Kyushu tears them apart and forces them to question everything they thought they believed.
Trust refugee Mason Kairns, an ally of Keno and Aboshi’s liege lord, struggles to carve a place in a society as hostile as the Northlands he fled. Amidst the chaos and political scheming, the protection of the Hakkenshi may be all that stands between them and disaster.
With the fight for Kyushu intensifying, Keno reminds Aboshi more and more of his ancestor: a cursed warrior who spent his life covered in blood. Though Keno has vowed to never take a life, desperation pushes him closer to the madness that devoured his predecessor, and giving in could cost him everything—including Aboshi and the love they share.
THE LOWER levels of Boylston Street were a charnel house. The blast doors to the secure underground section of the building had reopened on their own after slamming shut when something down there had set off the alarm a couple of hours ago. A truly freaky experience, if you asked me, even in my line of work. No one asked.
I went down there with my partner, Wolf Dieter, and a couple of the other Global International Trouble Consultant strike teams, along with Jim Murphy, our fearless leader. Murphy looked like he should be an Irish cop in Victorian Boston, and he had all the prejudices they had, too, from what I’ve found out over the years. It was part of the reason he didn’t like me—because I was one of the “colored” people. The other part was because I had been in prison. Asshole.
We were all armed to the teeth, so I wasn’t too worried about monsters. I was more worried about the blast doors slamming down again and not reopening this time. They were made to hold in shit that I didn’t want to think about. I was also worried about our pet hacker, Keno Inuzaka, who had been on the wrong side of the doors. I wasn’t surprised when Wolf joined me in heading for Keno’s room.
Wolf was my partner on a lot of my Global International assignments. He was in his midtwenties, a German national who was in Boston because of trouble back home. I didn’t ask him about it, and he didn’t tell me. He was a good guy, for an ex-cop. The cop still showed in his buzzed blond hair and his formal manner. He made a good impression when we met clients. I never did, being an ex-con. For some reason the scars and tats put people off, along with my lack of tact.
Global International was a mercenary organization that was actually a cover for a quasi-governmental agency—called the “Trust,” of all things—that hunted monsters: those things that went bump in the night or whenever they fucking felt like it. Not just the monsters you saw out of Hollywood, like vampires and werewolves, but creatures that made those things look like gentle lambs.
We didn’t always play by the rules, because the monsters didn’t. Keno was one of the people we’d broken the rules for.
Keno had been with us for a little more than four years, since we’d caught him with his hand in the cookie jar, figuratively speaking. We’d been told to waste him if he caused trouble, but he was just a kid. We ended up dragging back a fifteen-year-old Japanese college student who’d thought our database was part of a game site and hacked it on a whim. It wasn’t that our security sucked that much—it was that he was that good. He’d gone through our security like it hadn’t been there. I found out later that Keno was some sort of brilliant computer genius who’d gotten a free ride at MIT because he was so smart.
After the first year, I was of the opinion that shooting him would have been better for him. Keno was a prisoner who never saw the sun and was never treated with anything even vaguely resembling dignity. Since he’d been there, assholes had been dragging him out of his room during his off hours for whatever they wanted, mostly computer help or lab machine repairs. Keno had been turned into after-hours support a few weeks after we brought him in. Not that Keno complained, once he figured out what was going on. He just got quieter.
Lately it had been kind of weird, the few times I had stumbled across him with anyone. Almost as soon as he got here, Keno figured out that protesting his treatment wouldn’t do any good. Wolf had complained recently and it had backfired, getting Keno into even more trouble. Wolf and I had been sent to check out a lot of the Trust’s American offices after that one, to cool us off.
We’d just gotten back to this mess after being out of the city for three months. Nice fucking coming home party.
“I’m worried,” Wolf said.
Murphy looked at the two of us. He was pissed because he thought we should be worrying about James Heiseg, the head of research, and the other people who had been caught down here. People, in his opinion, who were the ones who counted, not a gook programmer who should be thankful he was alive—Murphy’s words. I stopped Wolf from slugging him, even though I wanted to as well. Murphy looked shocked. I guess he didn’t realize what Keno meant to Wolf and me. I felt responsible for the kid because I had gotten him into this mess, and Wolf was about the only friend the kid had. Not too good for the head of security not to figure either of those things out.
We got down to C Level and Keno’s quarters without too much trouble. There were enough blood, guts, and body parts splattered around that level to make three horror movies, and we didn’t see anyone left alive. A faint trail of gore led to Keno’s room from the common area, stuff that got tracked there, rather than someone getting killed there. I wasn’t surprised to see Keno’s place broken up when we got to it. Not from a fight, but from someone’s temper tantrum, it looked like. It was mostly his books tossed around and the models he had built broken.
“By the numbers,” I told Wolf, trying to calm him down. “No body parts here.”
What happened here hadn’t been caused by monsters. A human one, probably, because Heiseg was one of the guys who had been after Keno’s unprotected ass, and for more than Excel help. But no one would believe me when I said that, not even Wolf.
Wolf knew Heiseg was a bastard, but he was a straight bastard. I wasn’t going to be the one to tell him that rape was more about power than sex, because I didn’t want the damned Boy Scout to know he couldn’t protect Keno. I knew Keno was doing all right, because I’d had someone keeping tabs on him for me while I was gone, but I also knew it was only a matter of time before Keno wasn’t going to be okay. My putting the word out about him being under my protection had kept the worst of the predators off him, but there was only so much I could do if I wasn’t around.
“No blood,” Wolf said, relief coloring his voice. “He’s probably someplace else, safe.”
I checked the bathroom on the off chance Keno was hiding in there, and then we went to explore. The monsters—Hákarl—were dead, torn apart by something else. Hákarl were fucking walking stomachs, really, never stopped eating and weren’t too picky about what was on the menu, even if it was each other, but I didn’t think that was what happened here. All that was here was the mess they’d left behind, mostly gnawed-on bodies of techs and a couple of survivors. Not that they were of any use to us, because they babbled wildly until the medics hit them with some happy juice. That shut them up, but I was sure we weren’t going to be getting anything useful about what had happened out of them when they woke up again. Those bits of Hákarl scattered about—I had no idea what had taken them out. I didn’t like that.
And still no Keno, which was beginning to worry me. We found that asshole Heiseg, though. He was very dead, and I was kind of happy about that, because I had never liked the man for a lot of reasons besides what he was doing to Keno. He was half-dressed, his pants falling off his hips and his shirt unbuttoned. Didn’t look good. He also looked softer and more puddingish than usual, with blood trickling from his eyes, mouth, ears, and nose.
“Check to see if he was doing something odd,” I muttered to Goose, one of the medics. Goose had been here longer than me and Wolf. He had an air about him like he had seen it all, and nothing surprised him anymore. But my request did.
“Huh?” he asked.
Wolf looked at Heiseg and nodded. “See if he was attacked.”
I shook my head. “See if the bastard raped anyone, was what I was thinking.”
Murphy was glaring at us for still worrying about Keno, and I saw a couple of sessions with the company’s head-shrinking psych in our future. Wolf scowled back at Murphy, and we headed down to the computer server level, taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Keno might be hiding down there—it had been his favorite hiding place before we’d been sent off-site—but I was losing hope of finding him. Keno wasn’t among the dead, so where was he?
“Where’s the Junge?” Wolf muttered, echoing my thoughts.
I glanced around D Level. No bodies or parts. No blood pools, not like it was on the upper floors. It was all splatter, like a dog had shaken itself down here. Or several big dogs, looking at the mess on the walls. “He escaped?”
Wolf glared, knowing that was impossible. “I wish,” he finally admitted. He was the one who noticed there might have been more than a couple of monsters down here recently: someone who was wearing sandals and another someone who was barefoot. Both could have been Keno, from the size of the prints. But who was the second person? An intruder? Another survivor? It wasn’t like we could get an accurate count on people, with all the body parts scattered around upstairs.
We got into the server room, which was where all the tracks stopped, right at the door. It was eerie. I half expected to see a horde of the whatevers that killed the Hákarl, but there was nothing, just all those machines humming along happily like they had been working all evening. The fucking things would have been off for hours during the lockdown and must have turned themselves back on when the blast doors opened. I didn’t know much about computers, but I knew they weren’t supposed to do that. Wolf and I stared at each other in confusion.
“I don’t think Keno is here,” Wolf finally said after a few moments of silence.
I thought about the last few years of the kid’s life. Then I thought about my time in prison. “And I think it’s a good thing.”
I was aware of the cameras probably recording every damning thing I was going to say, and I still didn’t care. “The kid hardly ever saw the sun, for the most part, or got treated right for as long as we’d had him. There were times I thought it would have been better if we’d kacked him.”
“I know,” Wolf said quietly.
Wolf had spent a lot of time with Keno, watching movies and trying to be a friend to him because he spoke Japanese. I knew about three words in it, and none of them polite. I’d have done it even with the language issue, but Keno was scared of me. He’d probably seen my prison record—double homicide and twenty years in a maximum-security prison before I was “cleared” by the Trust in exchange for doing their dirty work—so I didn’t blame him for being wary around me. Let me just tell you that it wasn’t killing humans that got me in trouble. The “people” I supposedly killed had been monsters that just looked human, and those were the ones the authorities had been able to charge me with killing. I had been a suspect in a couple more killings, too, but there hadn’t been enough evidence to charge me with those. All those killings had been monsters, passing as humans.
“We just got to think about where he might be,” I said. “Because he sure as hell isn’t here, and he didn’t walk past us on the way out. So where the fuck did Keno and those other monsters disappear to?”
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Felicitas Ivey is the pen name of a very frazzled helpdesk drone at a Boston-area university. She’s an eternal student even with a BA in anthropology and history, since free classes are part of the benefits. She’s taken courses on gothic architecture, premodern Japanese literature, and witchcraft, just because they sounded like fun. She has traveled to Japan and Europe and hopes to return to both in the future.
She knits and cross-stitches avidly, much to the disgust of her cat, Smaugu, who wants her undivided attention. He’s also peeved that she spends so much time writing instead of petting him. She writes urban fantasy and horror of a Lovecraftian nature, monsters beyond space and time that think that humans are the tastiest things in the multiverse.
Felicitas lives in Boston with her beloved husband, known to all as The Husband, and the aforementioned cat, whom the husband swears is a demon, even though it’s his fault that they have the cat. The husband also is worried about Felicitas’s anime habit, her love for J-Pop music, and her extensive collection of Yaoi manga and Gundam Wing doujinshi, which has turned her library into a Very Scary Place for him.