Riftborn Book: Blessed Odds – Chapter 1
With Blessed Odds coming out in only a few weeks (21st Feb) , I figured people might like to have a read of the first chapter.
WARNING: If you haven’t read The Last Raven yet, there are spoilers in chapter 1 for the end of that book.
London in the summertime is that awful combination of torrential rain, stifling heat, and unbearable humidity. Usually one right after the other, occasionally all three at the same time. Either way, you spend half of the time feeling like you’re walking through treacle.
The sun shone through the windows of the cab as the driver weaved through early-morning traffic, and I tried my best not to be concerned about other people using the road. London roads were more Mad Max–inspired than most other parts of the country, and I’d long since given up driving in the city if I could get away with it.
“Lucas, King’s Cross station, now,” Ji-hyun had said before hanging up.
I’d called the concierge to get me a taxi, and had been dressed and out of the hotel door a few minutes later. The car had been waiting for me as I stepped outside of my hotel near St Paul’s Cathedral. Ji-hyun Han, Nadia (no last name), and I had all been staying in the same hotel, although Ji-hyun and Nadia had left earlier to meet the human detective who was helping us while we were in London.
I got into the black cab and told the driver the destination. Thankfully, there was no conversation, and it meant I could sit back and continue to wake up. I’d been mid-breakfast when the phone call had stopped me from finishing a second cup of coffee.
The possibilities of why Ji-hyun had sounded so urgent rattled through my brain. She wasn’t hurt; I was sure of that. She and Nadia were more than able to take care of themselves. It was probably to do with why we were in London, still searching for those blasted vials of the super serum that Callie Mitchell had sent to buyers several months earlier. Dozens of vials of lethal gene-mutating serum sent all around the world. We’d only found nine. The odds weren’t exactly in our favour that we’d find the rest before any more of them were used to transform whoever took them into a monster.
Six months earlier, I’d killed Mason—a spoilt, rich brat with delusions of grandeur—and Callie had gone to ground; half a dozen people had used the vial they’d received. They’d all been criminals of various levels and had all been about as pleasant to deal with as having sandpaper rubbed over your genitals. They’d also all died horribly, either because their body hadn’t taken well to the drug they’d taken, and they’d essentially melted, or because some rift-fused were there to put them down. But either way, they hadn’t been stopped before they’d killed people. Callie had innocent blood on her hands, and she was going to eventually pay for that. But first things first: find the rest of the damn poison.
Ji-hyun had been asked to take over the investigation on behalf of the Rift-Crime Unit, primarily because most of the New York branch where Callie had been were either dead, working for the bad guys, or both. I got the feeling that Ji-hyun accepted more out of a need to punch Callie—and anyone working with her—in the face than anything else.
Our investigations had revealed that a man calling himself the Croupier—for reasons I’m sure he thought were incredibly clever—had arranged the meeting between Callie and her buyers. Callie had escaped while I’d killed her underling and was … who knew where. That left one thread to tug on.
A cyclist took their life into their own hands and cut up the cab, prompting the taxi driver to throw some good old British curse words at the offending rider, who stopped and stuck his middle finger up before continuing on.
“Fuckin’ cyclists,” the taxi driver said in an east London accent. He was white with a bald head and a few days’ worth of stubble. On the back of his left forearm was a tattooed badge of a military unit, although I couldn’t have said which one.
I gave a noncommittal grunt; I was just glad no one got hurt. Cyclists in London are part daredevil and part insane-asylum escapee, the degrees of each part dependent on the day and weather conditions. The hotter it got, the less inclined anyone was to be nice to one another.
“You from London?” the driver asked.
“No,” I said, steeling myself for the inevitable conversation. “Was born up north, but I spent a lot of time in the city. At some point, my accent sort of merged into one that doesn’t sound like I’m from anywhere.”
“You’re from Yorkshire?” the driver asked with no hostility or mocking in his tone, just a genuine level of curiosity.
“Not exactly,” I said, not wanting to get into the whole thing about being born when Yorkshire was just a collection of tribes. The world knew about riftborn and revenants, about how they were created, about our exceptionally long lives, but that didn’t mean they were always welcome. Their knowledge of us as a species was relatively new, and fear was still a big part of their reaction to us.
“It’s a bit of an everywhere accent, isn’t it?” he said.
I nodded. “It’s what happens when you move around a lot,” I told him. “You from around here, then?”
“Hackney,” he said. “Hence the Hammers badge. You a supporter?”
“No,” I admitted. “Moved around so much that I never really settled on a team. Always enjoyed going to watch a game, though. Well, most of the time.”
“Yeah, not every game can be a blinder,” he said with a chuckle. “I take my nippers to them, though. Good time to spend with the kids, and it gives the wife some time off.” He laughed at that one.
“She not a fan?”
“She’s a fuckin’ Man City fan,” he said with slight disgust in his voice.
“Must be fun in the house when they play each other,” I said with a smile.
“It’s hell, mate,” he said. “They battered us last time and she didn’t let me forget it for weeks. She made me fish and chips that night and spelt out 4–0 on the plate.”
I laughed at that.
“It were fuckin’ quality, if I’m honest,” he said with a laugh of his own. “Hopefully, one day I can repay the favour.”
The cab stopped, and I paid, leaving the driver a nice tip for his morning trouble. “Best of luck at the next game,” I said.
“Thanks, have a good day, mate,” he said, driving off.
I turned around to find Ji-hyun staring at me. Judging by the expression on her face, it was not going to be a good day.
Ji-hyun Han was little over five and a half feet tall, with long brown hair that was, as usual, scooped back into a high ponytail. She wore black boots, jeans, a red T-shirt with a Starfleet badge from Star Trek on the left breast. Unlike most redshirts, there was a hundred percent chance that she’d make it back from an away mission.
“What happened?” I ask, looking around for Nadia and feeling concern in my gut.
“Nadia is fine,” Ji-hyun said, as if sensing my thoughts. “She’s gone with Ravi.”
“Okay, so, what was the urgency in getting me here?” I asked. “What’s going on?”
“You remember our inside man who has been feeding us information?” she asked.
“Simon Wallace?” I asked. Ex-paratrooper, current criminal, and all round semi-bad guy. He drew the line at innocent people dying because someone turned into a monster and went on a rampage. I actually liked the guy: he was completely honest about what he was and why he did it, and that was always better than people who made excuses because they couldn’t outright deal with their life choices.
“That’s the one,” Ji-hyun said as I followed her across the wide-open space in front of King’s Cross train station. “Well, Simon just called and informed us that the Croupier and his people are boarding a train from King’s Cross to Edinburgh in an hour and ten minutes.”
“That’s going to be a very busy train,” I said, thinking with concern at what might happen on a speeding train that was packed with commuters, if the Croupier found themselves threatened.
“It’s going to be empty,” Ji-hyun said with a smile as she stopped and turned to me. “Mostly empty.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because it’s not a normal commuter train; it’s a rich-person train.”
“Is that really a thing?” I asked as she turned and began walking again.
“Sort of,” Ji-hyun said. “We’ll go see Ravi and he’ll explain.”
I wordlessly followed Ji-hyun up a nearby street, where she indicated two unmarked police cars. Looks like Ravi had bought backup.
We arrived at the hotel, the name of which I didn’t catch or care about, and stepped through a set of automatic double doors into a large, spacious lobby. A rock feature sat in the centre of the large room, in front of three elevators. Lights shone from the base of the feature, illuminating the lower half of the fifty-foot-tall sculpture in a slowly shifting rainbow of colours.
The right of the foyer lead to a restaurant that proudly declared itself to have the best steak in town, which I doubted. The restaurant was empty. The right side of the foyer was the check-in, and there were currently half a dozen people queued there.
“You got the medallion on?” Ji-hyun asked.
I fished my Guild badge—a copper-coloured buckler shield made out of hardened stone with silver sword and hammer crossing over it, and a small black raven atop it as if holding the shield—out from under my dark blue plain T-shirt so it was visible to everyone. The badge of the Raven Guild. I was the only member left after everyone else had been murdered, but it still afforded me the same privileges as when the Guild had been full. Every law enforcement agency in the world knew what a Guild badge meant: give me access and keep your mouth shut. Not every member of law enforcement was happy about it.
Two plain-clothed officers, obvious to anyone who’d worked with their type before, stood in front of the elevator: a man and woman, just talking to each other as if they weren’t there for any particular reason. Both looked over at me and stepped aside when they saw us, passing me a key card.
“For the room,” the female officer said.
I thanked them as Ji-hyun pushed the button for the elevator, and the four of us waited in uncomfortable silence. Law enforcement might know what the medallion meant, but that didn’t mean they had to like it. There had been members of Guilds in the past who had used that power in unethical ways, and stories grew about how Guilds were a law unto themselves. How we didn’t care about human laws. Half the time, we were so busy trying to ensure that either humans didn’t kill revenants or vice versa that human laws just became a bureaucratic over-complication.
The elevator eventually arrived, and Ji-hyun and I stepped inside, giving me a moment of relief.
“Police aren’t happy we’re here?” I asked.
“Don’t care,” Ji-hyun said with a shrug. “Their boss is okay with it and that’s all I care about.”
“You left Nadia with Ravi?” I asked.
“She likes him,” Ji-hyun said with a sigh, as the elevator door opened, and we both stepped out into a small, windowed foyer with glass and dark-wood doors on either side. I spotted a card reader on the door leading to the rooms. You had to be a guest—or at least have a working card—to get through it.
I scanned the card over the door, and Ji-hyun pulled it open before I could, holding it for me as I stepped through.
“Ta very much,” I said with a smile.
“Don’t get used to it,” Ji-hyun said with a smile of her own.
I followed her the short distance to a hotel room, where she knocked twice and the door opened, revealing Agent Ravi Gill.
Ravi was just over six feet tall with brown skin and a slight Cockney accent. He wore a dark grey suit that I wasn’t convinced was standard issue. He’d been our point of call when we’d arrived in London to investigate the missing vials. He worked for the RCU, but due to underfunding and how a lot of people still didn’t trust those who had died and returned, the RCU in the UK was only recently given its own autonomy. Before then, it had been merged with an MI5 unit, meaning some of the RCU members were human. It also meant you had to be really good at your job. Humans tended to be a bit squishy, especially when it came to having a revenant or fiend barrelling toward you.
Public opinion was still divided on rift-fused—those humans or animals who had died and then been powered by the rift and returned as something more. Some hailed revenants and riftborn as miracles, but others called us demons, devils, and much worse. Certain politicians play on that fear of the unknown, and the politicians in the UK were no different from those anywhere else. Find a scapegoat and make everything their fault.
Thankfully, Ravi been helpful and considerate, and had wanted to catch Callie Mitchell and anyone who had helped her a lot more than he wanted to play political bullshit with us. I liked him. But more importantly, I trusted him to do his job well.
I stepped inside the hotel room, following Ji-hyun as I took in the layout of the room: One king-sized bed, lit by small lamps on either side of it. The bed was messy, the pillows on the floor beside it, the white cotton duvet cover strewn in the corner. The end of the bed had a metal footboard that Nadia was perched on. She was, as always, barefoot, and her chains were wrapped around her, like a comfort blanket.
Apart from the bed, the room had a wooden desk with coffee machine and phone on it. The curtains were open, and light flooded into the room. The room’s key card was inserted into the card reader next to the door. The bathroom door was ajar, light spilling out over the dark purple carpet. There were pieces of artwork on the walls of the room and a small HDTV up on the wall opposite the bed.
“Been productive?” I asked Nadia.
Nadia was five feet tall, with short dark hair and olive skin. She wore faded blue jeans and a bright yellow T-shirt. She allowed herself to fall back onto the bed and lay there like she was making a snow-angel in the bed covers.
“She okay?” Ravi asked.
“Define okay,” Ji-hyun replied.
Nadia let out a slight giggle.
“She’s fine,” I said. “Nadia, are you fine?”
“Dandy,” she said, giving a thumbs-up.
“She’s probably seeing a new timeline,” I said. “Chained revenants can see multiple threads of their own future. Sometimes, those threads are … strange and cause momentary lapses of …” I gestured to Nadia, who was now bouncing gently on the bed. ‘Well … this …” I said.
Ravi looked over at Nadia and smiled. “Fair enough,” he said, looking back at me. “Sorry to get you up early.”
“No bother,” I told him. “Ji-hyun said you have a rich person’s train and a target.”
“Every morning at exactly ten a.m., a train leaves King’s Cross and doesn’t stop until it reaches Edinburgh,” Ravi explained. “It then comes back. Every. Single. Day. It’s used by a very select group of people, who I believe are involved with the Croupier. It’s where deals are done.”
“And who arranged this exclusive train?” I asked.
“I’m looking into that right now,” Ravi said. “It went through a committee with the government, but so does a lot of stuff.”
“So, some MPs might be involved?” Ji-hyun asked.
“I can neither confirm nor deny that we are currently looking into several sitting members of Parliament,” Ravi said as if reading it off a teleprompter.
“You’ve said that before,” I said.
“It could just be a coincidence,” Ravi said.
“I don’t like coincidences,” Ji-hyun said.
“I don’t like beetroot,” Nadia said, from where she lay on the bed. “You forget you’ve eaten it, and then you go pee, and bam, you see pink pee and freak out.”
Everyone turned to stare at Nadia before pretending like that part of the conversation hadn’t happened.
“So, are we sure that this Croupier is on board the train?” Ji-hyun asked.
“No, but Simon says his allies will be,” Ravi said. “They could be a source of great information.”
“So, why not just stop the train in King’s Cross before it leaves?” I asked.
“Because if they don’t go quietly, we’ve got a rift-fused battle in the middle of one of London’s busiest train stations. Innocent people would be hurt. I don’t think any of us want that.”
“So, we need to get on the train and stop it once it’s some distance from a populated area,” I said.
“That’s the plan,” Ravi agreed.
“Okay, so, how do we get on?” I asked.
“I assume you’ll figure a way,” Ravi said.
“How do you guys get on?” Ji-hyun asked.
“You’ll have to stop the train, and we’ll be there when it’s done,” Ravi said.
“Let me get this right,” I said, leaning up against the edge of the bed. “You want us to board a train with potentially dangerous people on board, stop them, stop the train, and somehow do this safely?”
“Can I fight on the roof?” Nadia asked sitting up. “I’ve never fought on the roof of a train before.”
“You do realise that fighting on the roof of a train would be near impossible,” Ji-hyun asked.
Nadia waved her arms. “I died. I was reborn. I have chains coming out of me. I can see multiple futures. Which part of fighting on a train is harder than all of those?”
“Everyone has a dream,” Ravi said.
“Yes,” Nadia almost shouted. “See, Ravi believes in me.”
“I’m not sure I’d go that far,” Ravi started.
“No need to backtrack,” Nadia said, getting to her feet and hugging a clearly confused Ravi. “You believe in me, and that’s all that matters.”
“Yes, Ravi,” I said with a smile. “All Nadia needs is the belief that she can fight on a train roof. Physics be damned.”
Nadia clapped. “I’m going to mentally prepare myself.” She left the room a moment later, and everyone exchanged a bemused look.
“Are all chained revenants like her?” Ravi asked.
“No,” Ji-hyun said. “Some are completely insane.”
“Or murderous,” I added.
“Or just psychotic,” Ji-hyun continued.
“Or all three,” I said.
“Those are the fun ones,” Ji-hyun said, pointing at me as if I’d said something perfect.
“Can you do this?” Ravi asked, his voice now serious.
“Of course,” Ji-hyun said. “I’ll go find Nadia and make sure she’s not trying to learn how to fly or something.”
“No bravado,” Ravi said when we were alone. “Our informant got us this information.”
“Is Simon still safe?” I asked.
“He’s being monitored for now,” Ravi said. “There’s nothing linking him to anything we’re about to do, but we’re keeping an eye on him and his family, just in case. So, can you do this?”
“Ravi, we can do this,” I said. “I’m not convinced Nadia will be able to have a fight on the train roof, but the rest of it, sure. What’s the target’s name?”
“Eve Dior,” Ravi said. “We know that’s not her real name. She’s Caucasian, about five-three, maybe nine stone, we have no photos of her. No one has photos of her. Simon wouldn’t risk taking any. She terrifies him. He’s an ex-paratrooper.”
“Scary lady on a train,” I said. “We’ll deal with her. Bring her in, get you to question her, and hopefully we’ll get intel on where the rest of the blasted vials are.”
“If we can get her and get intel, we might be able to stop this before more people die,” Ravi said.
“Let’s hope so,” I told him, and left the hotel room, feeling like neither Ravi nor myself believed that.
Posted on February 7, 2023, in Riftborn, Writing. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.
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