My name is Eddie Drood, aka Shaman Bond, the very secret agent. And I am a dead man walking.
I’ve been poisoned by Dr. DOA. There is no cure, no treatment, no chance of a last-minute miracle. So all that is left to me and my love, Molly Metcalf, is to track down my killer and stop him before he can murder anyone else.
So whether that means fighting a secret army on another world; or searching for a forgotten weapon in the Museum of Unattached Oddities; or facing off against Grendel Rex, the Unforgiven God, in the hidden heart of the Moon, for the terrible secret that is Moonbreaker...I will do whatever it takes, while I still can. Because the game isn’t over till I say it’s over—and I still have one last card to play.
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When Your Back's against the Wall, When Everything Looks Lost, Find Someone to Take It Out On
It wasn't my family's Armoury, but it looked enough like the one I knew to send a chill down my spine. The same long series of stone cellars, with colour-coded wiring tacked haphazardly to the walls. But here the workstations were abandoned, the firing ranges were empty, and wreckage and rubble lay everywhere. The Armourer and his white-coated lab assistants, who should have been running wild with out-of-control experiments and weapons that endangered the lives of everyone around them, were gone-long gone. Slaughtered by the Droods' many enemies, after my other self shut down the Hall's protections and sabotaged its defences. The Armoury was still and silent now, its many wonders trashed or looted. Like some ancient burial chamber despoiled by grave-robbers who could never hope to appreciate the treasures they carried away or left trampled underfoot.
The only sounds disturbing the graveyard quiet came from Molly. Her language started out bad and quickly escalated, as she swept her hands back and forth through the empty space where the dimensional gateway had been just a few moments before. She was trying to find some trace of it with her magics, so she could call it back and force it open, but she wasn't getting anywhere.
"Molly," I said thoughtfully.
"What? I'm busy!"
"Look what's back."
She turned around, and there was Alpha Red Alpha, towering over us. The great dimensional engine itself. Molly glared at it.
"That wasn't there a moment ago."
"So what was it doing? Hiding from us?"
I shrugged. "That's Alpha Red Alpha for you."
I looked carefully at the massive and never fully understood mechanism, designed to be the Droods' last line of defence. So that if the Hall ever found itself faced with a threat that couldn't be stopped, the engine would translate the whole building into another dimension, another earth, where it could safely remain until the threat was over and the Hall could be brought back again.
Either the family here never got a chance to use it, or Edmund did something to it.
Alpha Red Alpha: a gigantic hour-glass shape immersed inside a frozen waterfall of gleaming crystal, shot through with sprawling circuits, like ragged veins. It was hard to make sense of, hard even to look at, as though it existed in more than three dimensions . . . And if there were any controls, I couldn't make them out. Only my uncle Jack, when he was Armourer, really understood Alpha Red Alpha.
"Can your magics get us home, Molly?" I said. I was pretty sure I already knew the answer, but I needed to hear her say it.
"Not a hope in hell!" Molly scowled at Alpha Red Alpha as though she was seriously considering giving it a good kicking, just on general principle. "I don't even know where home is from here! You can't navigate all the different Earths and all their different histories without being really sure of the exact Space/Time coordinates involved."
"And there's no trace left of the dimensional Door we came through?"
"No." Molly's shoulders slumped, and she suddenly looked tired and worn-down. We'd put a lot of effort into chasing Edmund, and it was catching up with both of us. "Edmund must have locked the Door from his side, using the other Alpha Red Alpha." She looked at me sharply. "If he's smart enough to operate it, why can't you?"
"Because he's spent ages learning how to work it," I said.
"If he could figure it out . . ."
"I don't have enough time," I said.
Molly nodded reluctantly. "Does this machine look the same to you as the one in our world?"
"Hard to tell," I said. "Just looking at the damn thing hurts my eyes. It's . . . different, but I couldn't tell you how. I am sure it wasn't standing here the last time we visited this Armoury."
"Edmund must have moved it," said Molly. "So he could set his trap."
"How?" I said. "Look at the size of it! You couldn't shift something this big with a power loader and a stick of dynamite!"
"I don't know," said Molly. "And don't you snap at me, Eddie Drood! Edmund's just another version of you, which means really this is all your fault!"
"Somehow I knew it would be," I said.
We shared a quick smile, and went back to studying the dimensional engine. It stared silently back at us, giving away nothing.
"Edmund must have been coming and going between the two Earths for some time," I said. "But how could he have used my Hall's Alpha Red Alpha without the Armourer or his staff noticing?"
"That still leaves the Merlin Glass," said Molly.
"Without my noticing?" I said. Molly started to bristle again, and I realised we were dangerously close to another argument we couldn't afford, so I changed the subject. "We have to get back to our world, Molly. My whole family is in danger from Edmund as long as he's running around our Hall, unsuspected."
Molly leaned in suddenly and kissed me.
"What was that for?" I said.
"Because that is just so typical of you, Eddie-thinking of others, instead of yourself. We have to get back because you're running out of time."
"Trust me," I said. "I hadn't forgotten."
"Any chance there might be a manual for Alpha Red Alpha in the Library?" said Molly.
"Unlikely," I said. "My uncle Jack was the only one who ever had any control over the machine. Max and Victoria like to say they do, now they're Armourer, but that always sounded like whistling in the dark to me. They're probably still trying to make sense of whatever notes Jack left behind. And he only ever partly understood how the damn thing operates, anyway."
Molly looked at me sharply. "How can your people not understand how it works, when you invented it?"
"Alpha Red Alpha was reverse-engineered from alien tech," I said patiently. "Like most Drood weapons and devices. That's why we're always a step ahead of everyone else."
"I thought it was because you had the best scientific brains!"
"We do," I said. "That's how we're able to reverse-engineer alien tech so successfully. We have come up with some amazing things on our own; science and the supernatural are our playthings. But we are all of us standing on the shoulders of giants. Sometimes alien giants."
"Hold it," said Molly. "I thought Black Heir was in charge of clearing up after alien incursions and salvaging all the tech that gets left behind?"
"It is," I said. "But Black Heir answers to my family. It makes sure we always get the good stuff. And, in return, we keep everyone else off its back."
"How does any of this help us now?" said Molly.
"It doesn't," I said. "But it has given me an idea . . ." I armoured up my right hand and extended it towards the dimensional engine. "You know how I use my armour to hack computers and make them do what I want? I'm hoping I might be able to do the same with Alpha Red Alpha. Enough to get us back home, at least."
"Go for it," said Molly. "I stand ready to applaud, jump up and down, and whoop with joy."
Golden tendrils eased out from my fingertips, only to stop well short of the machine's crystalline surface. They wavered uncertainly on the air and then snapped back into my glove. I looked at my hand, and even shook it a few times, as though that might persuade the armour to cooperate, but nothing happened. I let the golden strange matter disappear back into the torc around my throat.
"Okay," said Molly. "What just happened there?"
"Apparently, Alpha Red Alpha is so . . . different, my armour couldn't make any sense of it," I said slowly. "In fact, if I didn't know better-and I'm not sure that I do-I'd say my armour was afraid of it."
"Your torc has picked one hell of a time to have performance issues," said Molly. "So, there's nothing we can do? We're trapped here?"
"Lost and alone, in a world without Droods," I said.
She sniffed. "You say that like it's a bad thing."
We each managed a small smile.
"I refuse to give up," said Molly. "It's not in my nature. What else can we do?"
"First," I said, "we go exploring. Take a walk through the Hall and get a good look at where we are and what we've got to work with. There might be something we can use to get us home."
"Hark!" said Molly, cupping one hand to her ear. "Is that the sound of whistling in the dark I just heard? Eddie, we need to get the hell out of here, and make our way to the Nightside! You can get anywhere from the Nightside."
"That's assuming this world has one," I said.
"Every world has a Nightside," said Molly.
"Now, there's a horrifying thought," I said. "But even so, it could be very different from the one we know."
"The whole point of the long night is that you can find anything there," Molly said briskly. "Particularly if it's something the rest of the world doesn't approve of." She paused and looked at me seriously. "How are you feeling, Eddie?"
I knew what she was really asking: How much time did I think I had left? And how much longer would I still be able to fight my corner?
"I'm angry enough to keep going," I said steadily. "Edmund screwed up. He should have killed me immediately. In fact, I have to wonder why he didn't."
"Because he couldn't," said Molly. "You're a better fighter than him, and he's always known it. That's why he poisoned you and ran away."
"I will get us home," I said. "And I will find him and make him pay. Whatever it takes."
"That's more like it," said Molly. "That's my Eddie."
She hugged me hard, and I let her do it. Because it was important for one of us to have faith in me.
After a while, we moved off through the unfamiliar Armoury. It didn't take long to confirm what I'd already suspected-the whole place had been picked clean. Not a weapon or useful device to be found anywhere. Everything was covered in thick layers of dust, from the smashed and abandoned computer stations to the deserted weapons galleries. Tangled wiring hung down from the walls in thick clumps, as though someone had tried to tear it down. Walking through the silent Armoury was like moving through a tomb: a place of the dead, abandoned to Time. Where only the past had any meaning.
"There's really nothing left," I said finally. "My family is just history here."
"Hold it together, Eddie," said Molly. "There's still work to be done."
Everything looked much as I remembered it from my last visit. There were gaps everywhere from where things had been taken, but no signs of actual fighting. The war had been lost up above, in the Hall, where the Droods made their final stand and were slaughtered, to the last man, woman, and child . . . Afterwards, the triumphant killers went storming through the Hall, looking for loot, and finally ended up down here. I hoped the Armourer was dead before that happened. He would have hated to see what the barbarians had done.
"Could there be . . . hidden caches somewhere?" Molly said hopefully. "Weapons or other things that only the Armourer would know about?"
"Just the Armageddon Codex," I said. "And according to the recorded message I triggered the last time I was here, the Armourer found time to seal the Forbidden Weapons inside the Lion's Jaws, so the enemy couldn't get to them."
And then I stopped, and thought for a moment. This family's Armourer had been my uncle James, not Uncle Jack. Here, Jack had been the famous field agent, while James had stayed home to be Armourer.
"You're scowling," Molly said accusingly. "Which is rarely a good sign. What are you worrying about now? Is this some new problem, and if so is it something I can hit?"
"This family's Armourer left a message for me in the Lion's Jaws," I said. "Remember?"
"I was here with you," said Molly. "There is nothing wrong with my memory."
"I was just wondering if there might be another message," I said.
"Worth a try, I suppose," said Molly. "Where are the Jaws?"
"I'm surprised you don't remember," I said.
"Don't push your luck, Drood."
The Lion's Jaws were in the exact same place as in my Hall: right at the back of the Armoury. A massive carving of a lionÕs snarling head, complete with mane, perfect in every detail. It had been fashioned out of rough, dark stone, and wasn't stylised in any way. It looked like the real thing, only twenty feet tall and almost as wide. I stood before it, looking steadily into the Lion's angry gaze. Molly stuck close beside me, scowling unhappily and just a bit warily into its eyes. Which was a perfectly normal reaction for any sane person. The Lion's Jaws don't just look dangerous.
"I have to wonder," I said, "whether this might have been carved from life. Very big life."
"Maybe we should look around for a really big wardrobe," said Molly.
"Don't even go there," I said.
The eyes gleamed, and the snarling jaws seemed only a moment away from lunging forward to snap my face off. The Lion's Jaws were created to give access to the pocket dimension where my family stored their most powerful and dangerous weapons, the kind you use when you need to destroy a whole army of monstrous invaders from another dimension. The Forbidden Weapons, for when reality itself is under threat. To open the gateway, you had to place your hand between the stone teeth. And if you weren't a Drood in good standing, and your heart wasn't pure, the Jaws would bite your hand right off. (The pure-at-heart bit was supposed to be just a legend, to scare away people with no good reason to be troubling the Jaws, but with my family you never knew.) The last time I'd been here, just my touch had been enough to trigger a recorded message from the Armourer James. A warning-and a last plea for revenge on those who'd destroyed the Droods.
I took a deep breath, and laid my hand flat on the great stone mane. Nothing happened. The old message was gone. Which meant the only thing left to try was putting my hand inside the Jaws. Even in my Hall, in my Armoury, I would have hesitated, but here . . . I wasn't even sure these Jaws would recognise me as a Drood. Armouring up wouldn't help, because these Jaws wouldn't be expecting Ethel's strange-matter armour. So I flexed my fingers a few times, breathed steadily until I was as calm as I was going to be, and then thrust my bare hand into the snarling mouth. My heart hammered as I fought to hold my hand steady, but the Jaws didn't move . . . and there was no second message. I snatched my hand out and stepped back.