by Tiger Lilly and the Night Writer
The budding young author Mariah Grey (aka Tiger Lilly), and her proud father (me) are pleased to announce that her first novel, Shadow of the Reapers, is now available as a web-book, right here on this blog!
The book will be serialized here at the rate of about one chapter per week, or you can receive a free PDF of the entire book by dropping us an email at writer be mine at gmail.com (squeeze that together into one “word”). You can get more information about the book and follow the progress of the story at the Shadow of the Reapers tab at the top of this page.
To start things off, here is the Prelude and Chapter One:
Let me set something straight: If you are my enemy, I am the dark that fills your room at night and waits for you to fall asleep. If you are my ally, then I will do what I can to protect you.
I am Shadow.
And I am Sylis.
One name is a measure of my skill.
The other is who I am.
One name attends college like any other normal 23-year-old.
The other hunts vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghouls, and ghasts.
So, you know, “Grr,” and stuff.
My name is Grace.
I was raised in the Iris Academy. The Iris Academy is a full-time school for Reapers. I have been there for eleven years, ever since my parents died. Since I finally became of age, I have been allowed to go on a mission.
There is a branch of the Reapers that does not stop with killing Anathema. It is called Branch Hizak. They will kill anything in the way, and if another Reaper happens to be in the way, so be it. They are heartless, evil freaks. But they are also extremely well-trained and disciplined fighters.
My mission: find Shadow.
Chapter One: Five Months Ago, the First Fight
Did somebody call me? “What?”
“Were you sleeping?”
“No.” No one could sleep in these uncomfortable chairs.
“Whatever. We have a mission for you.”
Morhall, Minnesota. 7:33 pm
The bright red Jeep sped towards me, horn blaring, bearing down at at least 45 miles an hour in a 30 mile per hour zone. I jumped back and out of the way. As the car passed by, the driver flipped me off as if it was all my fault.
“Dipstick,” I muttered. “The street light was red, and the ‘Walk’ light was on. Pay attention next time, hm?” Someone passing by me on the sidewalk gave me a weird look for talking to myself. I smiled cheerfully at her. She walked away hurriedly, looking back a couple times.
My name is Sylis Quick, and I have that effect on a lot of people.
It was about 7:30 pm. Class was over for the day, and I was heading home across campus. Well, I was, until my pager beeped and foiled that little plan. This wasn’t just any pager.
It was the device that warns me of Anathema attacks within a five mile radius of me. I got it from my sister, Paige. She and my parents (and the government, who pays me) and a few other Reapers are the only ones who know about my Anathema fighting. Paige is like my guardian angel and makes clever things for me to use in the fights. She’s completely awesome that way.
I like to move fast so let me see if I can give you the big picture here: Anathema is the government’s term for undead. We Reapers usually refer to them as ‘Naths for short. We also break them into two main groups: Riven and Bale. Riven refers to any Anathema that has a body, and Bale refers to any Anathema that is a spirit. There are three types of Riven (hold on, this won’t get too complicated, I promise) and two types of Bale. Riven includes vampires, werewolves, and zombies. Ghouls and ghasts are Bales. Bales are evil, pure and simple.
Riven are so called because their souls have been ‘riven’ from their bodies, usually as a result of an attack by another Riven. You’d think they’d have empathy for other humans as a result, but because their souls have been rived there is nothing left but anger and hate and a hungry emptiness. They attack humans in efforts to fill the void left by their soul, but no Anathema has ever “come back”, so they are doomed forever to search and never to find an antidote to their wretched existence. An existence I’m quite happy to end for them, since all they can do is make more Riven. What happened to them is tragic, but it can’t be undone. I can only try to keep it from happening to anyone else. Despite the best efforts of myself and hundreds, maybe thousands, of other Reapers, there seems to be more Anathema than ever. Maybe it’s the times.
Anathemas were created when scientific experiments went too far. Government scientists had been trying to see if it was possible to bring someone back from the dead. I think it had to do with the War and not wanting to send so many dead bodies home. They had a lot of different ideas, and had been experimenting for years. After a while, they began to get what they thought were positive results. The bodies they experimented on began to show small signs of living again. It seemed to be going well, but somewhere along the line they took a wrong turn or two. The subjects started to demonstrate cannibalistic tendencies, and they still rotted, despite attempted preservation. It also turned out, darn the luck, that there really was such a thing as a soul and the scientists couldn’t put one back into a body, even if the flesh was reanimated. Thus, the first zombies were born.
The scientists were encouraged by the discovery, if not the result. They continued to experiment, both on the first zombie, and also on fresh material. Somewhere along the line they got the bright idea that while they couldn’t bring people back to life in any cuddly form (the original intent), there might be military uses if they could force certain mutations. They tried hundreds of things, but the more they experimented the more types of Anathema were created. They created a lot of them, but managed to put most of them down. Six types escaped, however, at different times, and created more of their kind. Now we have zombies, ghouls, ghasts, vampires, werewolves, and at one time, wights. Wights aren’t around anymore; by all accounts the last one was eliminated a few years ago.
Bale ‘Naths were created when the scientists tried to create a supernatural strain that could track and hunt Riven. Of course, they screwed that up too, getting a little too into what some people would call ‘the other side of the veil’. When scientists reached that point, the government had finally had enough and cut off the funding and told the scientists to stop experimenting. They called the whole fiasco Operation: Rift, but to Reapers it’s simply known as the Rift. The Reaper branch of the military was created shortly after the Rift to fight the ‘Nath, and kept secret, ‘for community morale’. Oh, here’s another adorable detail about ‘Nath: most humans cannot see them. Therefore it was decided that Reapers shouldn’t be seen while reaping either, so the scientists developed cloaking devices that essentially make us invisible when we activate them. Look, I never said the scientists weren’t clever, just stupid. Anyway, we attached invisibility marks to our equipment, and we Reaped.
This all happened, what, 25 years ago? Yeah, the Rift was 25 years ago. ‘Naths are a serious problem, and it takes special skills and extensive, intensive training to be a Reaper. First, you have to be born with the ability to see ‘Naths. I can, so it was only natural that I would be a Reaper. I’m a freelance Reaper, meaning I didn’t go and join any military corps before Reaping, mainly because I don’t do well with that whole chain of command thing. Instead I just trained using different means and got a contract with the government. I guess you could call me a mercenary, but it’s all just a bunch of different names for the same thing.
Reapers have a system. In order to keep things covered up, we have our own versions of necessary things. Injured badly in a fight? Call the first emergency number on the back of the Reaper ID card (issued to you when you begin your Reaping) for a specially-trained and informed medic to show up at your location. Need weapons? Head to the Armory and show them your ID card. Anathema broke into your house? Call the second emergency number on the back of your ID card. We know what we’re doing.
Enough of the history lesson. Oh, and the War? It goes on.
Where was I? Oh yeah, my awesome Pager of Doom was going off. The attack was about two miles away, code yellow (there are four codes: green, yellow, orange, and red. They’re used according to level of risk and danger, green being least dangerous; red, high risk and danger). Wondering what poor innocent bystander invoked the ‘Nath wrath this time, I ran to my car. I keep my equipment in the trunk of my car when I’m out, for convenience’s sake. From the looks of the pa(i)ger, it was a fairly good-sized attack. At least nine Riven zombie Crawlers were grouped up together.
“Sylis! Where are you going?”
Curses. It’s Ms. Berlin, one of the professors. The reason I don’t call her Prof. Berlin is because she tries to be laid back and all that, so she told my class to call her Ms. Berlin.
“I feel sick, Ms. B. I’ve got some medication at my house I need to get. And my arm is acting up again,” I said casually. Not long before, I’d gotten into a fight with a particularly nasty werewolf. Near the end of the fight, he dug one of his claws down into my right arm, and nearly ripped it off. I almost lost it. I have an angry red scar that comes out from under my sleeves, and an arm-guard that keeps most of the pain away. My body naturally resists the toxin, but the wound still hurts at times. ‘Nath wounds aren’t like normal wounds, I suppose.
“Alright, I’ll see you in class tomorrow.”
“Of course.” Why does she even care? Classes were over. I was free to go.
Anyway, I grabbed my stuff out of the trunk and started my car. It’s a pretty nice Saturn, green as a bug. I got it from my dad. A quick look around to make sure no one was watching, and I slipped my trench coat on. You may be wondering why I should be so surreptitious about putting on a trench coat, but let me explain. The mark (or lack thereof) of a Reaper is having an item that grants you invisibility to common passers-by. Other Reapers would be able to see me (the invisibility marks recognize each other. It’s a really advanced piece of technology). My invisibility mark is my trench coat. I should start keeping my equipment in my locker in school. If I put my trench coat over my fighting stuff in the locker, no one will be able to see it. I am so clever.
My assignment had been to find Shadow and learn what I could about her life and habits. I decided to go to Shadow’s house, to see what info I could get about her. One of the Masters told me where it was. If she was out somewhere I could search it for information. When I arrived, I quickly looked around for some way to get in. The front door was obviously locked, but maybe a window… yes. Her bedroom window was open, and it was even in the back of the house. Perfect. Her house was a one-story, so I made sure no one was watching, and easily slid the screen up and crawled through. I felt a weird sort of tingle as I crawled through the window, but shrugged it off. No knives came flying at me and no sirens started blatting so it didn’t matter.
Taking care to make sure how everything was before moving it, I found her laptop and opened it. After five minutes, the screen finally loaded and the e-mail screen popped up, with Shadow already logged in. That took forever. She really needs a new model of laptop.
Apparently, Shadow didn’t fear anyone coming in and going through her stuff. I read a few e-mails (they also took an uncountable amount of time to load), but didn’t find out much. What I did learn is that the few e-mails that she gets are either from her college, or her work. It looked like she worked at a bakery, and they sent her a couple recipes every month. And her college just sent her reminders of upcoming tests. Her first name was Sylis. I wondered how you pronounced that; Sylis as in “Silly” or Sylis as in “Stylus”? I went back to the first page, and closed the laptop. I set it back on her table. I went into the kitchen and opened a few drawers. Nothing much, just a scissors and some cooking utensils. Then I found a postcard, apparently from Shadow’s mother.
Dearest Sylis, it read (‘dearest’? Gag),
Your father and I are having a wonderful time here in Belize. It’s very warm, but I suppose that should only be expected. Today we are going to go sailing with someone we met a few days ago. We’ll be back home on Wednesday. Try not to get into too much trouble. I know how you are with your Reaping.
Hm. So her parents knew about her Anathema slaying. I wondered who else she had trusted with this secret. I replaced the postcard and went back to her room. I jumped out the window (there was that feeling again!) and left the premises. Now I need to go to her college and see what I can find.
As soon as I reached the college, I headed straight for the dean’s office. But I paused in the hallway after I heard Shadow’s civilian name. “Ah, so that’s how it’s pronounced,” I thought.
“So your boyfriend is going to buy you a car?” one girl was saying to another.
“Yes. He’s going to buy me a Saturn, like the one Sylis has. They’re so cute!” said the second girl.
“Have you asked Sylis about that car? It might be nice to get some advice from someone who owns a Saturn,” said the first girl.
“No, I don’t really want to. She can be so dark sometimes. I heard that her attitude scares away boys, that’s why she doesn’t have a boyfriend,” said the second girl. I raised my eyebrows. No boyfriend, dark attitude, has a Saturn.
“Do you think she’s a Goth?” asked the first girl.
“She wears enough black, that’s for sure, and while she’s not exactly ‘Sylis the Stylish’, she doesn’t really seem like the type of person to be a Goth,” said the second, then proceeded to talk about other things. I decided that this conversation was headed to something I wasn’t interested in hearing, so I continued to the Dean’s office to see what he could tell me.
I walked into my house after dismembering the Anathema on call and tapped the control box on the wall.
“Hello, Solomon. Anything terribly interesting happen while I was gone?” I said. Solomon is my automated security system (brought to you by, whom else, Paige! Yay!). When it was installed, Paige told me that it would have control of my doors, windows (somehow, the install people wired it to the entries), and anything plugged into the wall. It’s pretty much my Alfred. You know, Alfred? From Batman? Never mind. And, in case you’re wondering: No, the name Solomon doesn’t stand for anything. I just decided to name the security system Solomon.
“Actually, yes, surprisingly enough, Miss Sylis,” it said in a mid-toned male voice. Deciding that today I was in the mood for something different, I twitched the voice dial down a bit. Its voice popped and deepened. “We had a slight break-in.”
“Oh? Is the intruder now a pile of ashes?”
“No. I carefully monitored her movements, and deduced that the intent was not robbery or anything terribly devious. I kept my systems on line for a deep frying in case things took a turn for the worse.”
“Her? What did she do?” I asked, going to the fridge and getting out some grapes.
“Merely looked at your laptop, which I slowed down considerably so that it took at least five minutes to load any page, went through a couple drawers and cupboards, and, finding nothing of use there, she left nothing behind, and installed no viruses on your laptop.”
“And, for some reason, you didn’t think this was devious?”
“The things that she looked at were of no consequence.”
“To your artificial intelligence, maybe,” I muttered. “Was she short, tall, young, old, fat, Canadian?”
“Never mind. Well?”
“Standing at about five feet, four inches, darkly tanned skin, and long dark brown hair. And I heard your comment about ‘artificial intelligence’.”
“Thank you, Solomon,” I said, putting the grapes back. Then my pager beeped again.
The bureaucratic troll in the dean’s office had been spectacularly unhelpful. “Personal, private information” and all that, as if I didn’t have a legitimate need to know. Of course, I couldn’t tell her why I was asking, but still. I hate administrative zombies, which meant I was in a perfect mood when I came across a wandering group of the real thing.
Riven Zombie Crawlers, in the softball fields. Psh. I knew how to handle those chumps, though I wondered where they all came from. There were so many, and usually if they turn up in large groups they inevitably start fighting each other. Vampires are smart, capable of strategy and plotting of great subtlety — if they’re not too hungry, that is. Werewolves aren’t as smart but can be very cunning, especially tactically and in groups. Zombies are just flat out stupid. They’re also not overly strong and they don’t move fast. What they are, however, is persistent. Vamps and ‘wolves can tell when they’re beaten, maybe even feel some kind of fear, and can be chased off.
Zombies never have a thought, they just want to feed and they just keep coming. And keep coming. And keep coming. They can be a real problem if there’s enough of them … and if they’re not fighting among themselves. These weren’t doing that, which would have made it easier, but I still wasn’t concerned. I had my poisoned throwing daggers and a sword, as always. No matter how many I killed, though, they just kept … well, I already told you! They are so annoying.
There are two types of Riven zombies, by the way: Crawlers and Spitters. Crawlers are normal zombies, but Spitters have a very deadly, noxious ‘spit’ that accumulates over time. When the ‘spit’ gets to be too much, the Spitters spit (hence, the name) with deadly aim. The ‘spit’ corrodes and poisons anything it touches.
Suddenly a dark tornado of death-dealing showed up, laying the smite down on the zombies. Really, did the Iris Academy think that I was too inexperienced to take out all these zombies and find Shadow by myself? Those ultracrepidarian varlets, I didn’t need a chaperon! I didn’t recognize the newcomer, though, who had short red hair tucked under a fedora and was wearing a trench coat, with some type of cup on her hip.. I could see the ends of crossbow bolts sticking out of the top of the cup.
She quickly killed maybe ten, but then stopped to clean her weapons? Okay, points for being fastidious, but there were still 500 billion left! Let’s get with the program, chica! Then I noticed there was no Iris insignia on her coat. I had a sneaking suspicion who it was.
I had quickly finished off a quite a few, but every ten zombies or so I needed to clean off my crossbow. When it gets gory it clogs and it makes a mess of things. Otherwise, I love this bow. It deals out a lot of damage when used correctly, and it’s also black. I like black.
There’s a certain code concerning weapons that Reapers follow. No guns. You have to know what’s behind your target at all times, in case you miss or the bullet is too powerful. The chance of hitting a civilian is too great, so we use blades and crossbows (or anything that can shoot projectiles at less than 650 feet per second).
The wrath-invokeress looked capable of handling the zombies for a few seconds while I finished. She was pretty good; the zombies were rapidly disintegrating into ash (that’s another fun fact about Riven. They disintegrate. Bales have the tendency to fade into mist that eventually dissipates). She’s obviously another Reaper. That was good; we can always use more Reapers, especially in this town.
Then I saw…I don’t know what I saw. I suppose It looked like a zombie, but it was way too big. Maybe ten feet tall, and it stunk! I mean, zombies stink under normal circumstances anyway (they are animated dead bodies, after all), but phew! It was at least 30 feet away from me, but I could smell it like it’s a millimeter behind me.
I took up my crossbow and shot it. It growled and charged. I rolled to the side and shot it again. The other Reaper finished off the last of the lesser zombies. She had darker skin, like she was Hispanic or something, and she had a pretty cool sword. It extended at certain points with a chain, so it was like a bladed whip. It takes an immense amount of skill to wield something like that.
Definitely a Reaper (I mean, what sane civilian carries around a huge, incredibly awesome weapon like that? Seriously?). She flung the blade at Zombie-zilla, and it wrapped around the giant’s leg. That had to hurt. The giant tripped, and I jumped on its head, shooting off a number of bolts in to its slimy skull, while the other Reaper flung in a few daggers. They looked poisoned.
Finally. The thing is dead… again. Seriously, I expected more of a challenge. I didn’t even break a sweat. I tipped my hat to Miss Whip-Sword and turned to leave.
Cold steel at my neck… oh, for the love of… ! What did I ever do to her?
”Who are you?” I asked. She was maybe three or four inches taller than me, which made it kind of awkward to hold my dagger at her throat.
”Why should I answer you? You’re holding a dagger at my throat.”
I didn’t follow her logic. It’s because I’m holding a dagger at her throat that she should answer me. I said as much. She scoffed at me.
“If you killed me, you wouldn’t get the answer, would you?”
“I can live without knowing.”
“That’s why you threatened me in the first place, right?”
“Who are you? It seems you are pretty good at fighting, if what you just went through was anything to judge by,” she said.
“I’m looking for someone. Perhaps you can help me,” I said, disregarding her last question.
Right. Miss Dagger-happy threatens me (on my own territory, I might add), then wants my help. Like that would ever happen. Instead I quickly leaned back and gave her an elbow to her stomach, broke her grasp, and took her dagger. She gasped, and I just stood there smiling at her. She must still have been in training. No Reaper who was fully grown into all his or her talents would have let me do that. She looked at me with fury in her eyes, as if she would like nothing better than to charge me down. The look threw me off a little, but it’s not like I’d never seen a look like that before.
Once she caught her breath, I handed her dagger back to her and said, “So, who do you need my help finding?”
“I’m looking for someone who goes by the name Shadow.”
My eyes widened a little, but other than that, I kept myself under control. Of all the things I could have heard her say, this could have been the worst. What do they want with me this time?
”What would you want with Shadow once you found him or her?” I asked, trying to keep from snorting. It’s strange to refer to myself as ‘him or her’!
“I need to talk to him or her,” Miss Dagger-happy said.
“May I know your name?”
“If I may know yours.”
“How do I know that soon as I give you my name, you won’t run off?”
“We could say our names at the same time, if that would make you feel better.”
“On three. One, two, three!”
Neither of us said anything.
“Well, this is going nowhere fast,” I said.
“I guess we’ll just have to trust each other.”
Wow. She was abrupt.
“What do you know? I’m Shadow. Nice to meet you,” I said, deciding to take a chance. What’s life without a few risks, anyway? (Relatively painless.) “Now, see, if you had killed me a minute ago, you wouldn’t have gotten to talk to me like you wanted.”
Grace looked at me, as if she had known who I was the whole time. It was a very annoying, superior sort of look.
“You’re Shadow. Of course you’re Shadow. Where’re your scars?” she said. I pulled the sleeve of my trench coat up so she could examine my arm.
“And I assume you were the person poking around in my house earlier today.”
She gasped. “How could you…”
Who’s superior now? “I have my mysterious ways. Now then, I believe you needed to talk to me?”
“Yes. I have a question.” She paused.
“Well?” I said, after a minute.
“I have a mission from the Iris Academy.”
“Hm. I know them. Your first one?”
“Yeah. How could you tell?
I raised my eyebrows and decided to stay silent.
“Whatever. My question is: Can I team up with you?”
Team up with me? Who did this girl think she was? First she threatens me, then expects my help, then wants to team up. Crazy, huh? But, seriously, I considered it. Although I’ve had a lot of offers of partnership, I’ve turned them all down. People usually just get in my way. But she did pretty well, and that whip-sword has got to be hard to use. But if she ever lost control of it, which is a very logical thing to happen… I thought her Iris Academy had played a trick on her.
I couldn’t help it. I burst out laughing.
Let’s see, breaking and entering, trying to get someone to do your will at knife point…while the Iris Academy seemed to do a good job in teaching fighting, they left a lot to be desired in social skills. That was something that I was to learn all too well at a later date, much to my regret.