The Chicago survivors stagger into town on fumes. They’re injured, distraught and suffering from innumerable losses. At Rock’s homestead, however—in the midst of a new threat—Fire and the group reunite with family and take refuge with local survivors. Here they come to realize the enemy of humanity has been posing as one of their own: a human. No one really knows what this means. Some realize they've leapt out of the frying pan and into the fire, while others see an opportunity to exact revenge. But for the select few, it means both…
* NOTE: The Age of Embers Series can be read as a stand alone series or in addition to The Last War Series. Both series are written in the same universe on the same timeline and some characters will overlap, especially here in the series finale, The Age of Defiance. With tens of millions of pages read, more than seventy-thousand books sold, and hundreds of five star reviews, the award-winning The Complete Last War Series is the perfect compliment to The Age of Embers Series.
THE COMPLETE AGE OF EMBERS SERIES:
- The Age of Embers
- The Age of Hysteria
- The Age of Reprisal
- The Age of Exodus
- The Age of Defiance
THE COMPLETE LAST WAR SERIES:
- The Last War
- The Zero Hour
- The Ophidian Horde
- The Infernal Regions
- The Killing Fields
- The Barbarous Road
- The Terminal Run
DARK DAYS OF THE AFTER SERIES
- The Last Light of Day
- Dark Days of the After
- Dark Days of the Surge
- Dark Days of the Apostasy (February, 2020)
Release date: October 7, 2019
Publisher: River City Publishing
Print pages: 342
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
The Age of Defiance
When you take a nice long look into Satan’s eyes and she holds your gaze, it’s hard as hell not to soil yourself. It’s her presence that pins you down. The very idea of her that makes you writhe and squirm inside. But on the outside you’re paralyzed. It’s that air of beautiful malevolence that binds you, locks you down, has you submitting. That’s how Carver felt the second Maria laid those gorgeous, deep brown eyes on him. To stand before her was to look into the face of evil.
Right then, he knew his life was over.
Earlier that day, the overly serious young archer, Indigo, woke him where he lay. He was in the dirt, half scooched into an overturned grocery cart, drained into a coma like slumber. Not that it mattered. With her bow slung over her shoulder, her hair pulled up in a ponytail and her clothes tight and showing off her lean physique, she was a young woman Carver knew to take seriously. That’s why he sat up, finger-combed his hair and tried to shield his eyes from the sun enough to get a good look at her.
After setting the ground rules of her generosity, this hardened high-schooler gave him a place to clean up and the privacy he needed. Honestly, he didn’t deserve it. But he wasn’t complaining either. He was a man who went through the motions of something as mundane as washing his face, his neck and his armpits, but these were civilized trivialities in a very uncivilized world, and he didn’t know how to process this.
When Indigo invited him to a communal area for something to eat, he didn’t refuse, even though he should have known better. There he met a cute young blonde named Macy. Hers and Indigo’s interaction was almost like they were sisters, even though it was clear their genetics were different. Looking at them, he wondered if they’d always known each other, or if the fall of civilization marked the start of their friendship.
Perhaps he’d ask them one day. For now, he just loved how back to normal everything felt. Then movement from across the room caught his eye, shook him from his reverie. His heart skipped a beat, sputtered to a near stop, then jumped to a gallop. That was the moment he came face-to-face with Maria.
Paralyzed by a moment of inexplicable terror, he simply stood there, silent and scared.
Having no idea the creature these people let into their midst, Macy and Indigo stepped away and left him with the devil herself.
Maria Antoinette’s cold gaze drew him into her orbit, sealed him in a prison of his own fear. His mouth was suddenly dry, his sphincter dangerously loose. By some miracle he managed an unsteady breath. It felt compulsory, unnatural. Swallowing hard, he tried to get past the canned ham of a lump in his throat, but it was no use. He was in the midst of a predator, perhaps the most lethal the world had ever known.
The very sight of her sent a chill racing up his spine.
In that very moment, as she made her way to him, he realized he was but an ant caught in the shadow of an elephant.
“You didn’t think I knew about you, did you Mr. Gamble?” she asked. “Skulking along behind us like a rat all these weeks?”
A trickle of sweat formed just above his hairline. He tried to swallow again, couldn’t. He dared not blink lest he miss his own murder.
“Of course I knew,” she said, slipping her hand into his. Then, smiling genially, her eyes brightening, she said, “You’re so silly.”
He looked down at her hand in his. She had him. Not just by the soul, but by the skin and bones as well. In that moment, the harrowing, depleting journey he’d just taken caught up to him. He was weak, captured, enthralled.
It was all for nothing.
He crawled his eyes back up to hers and there was nothing there. A mask, albeit a rather striking one. A swift bout of vertigo surged through him, there and gone in an instant. His vision blurred, then cleared. She hadn’t moved a muscle. She was just a face, beauty and fresh breath, if such a thing were possible in this God-forsaken nightmare of an existence. There wasn’t an ounce of soul in her though, not even an inkling of humanity. Only the promise of death. And eons of darkness. A darkness as old as the earth itself.
“H-how do you know me?” he asked.
It was a stupid question.
“You know,” she purred, nodding slightly.
Slowly he nodded in return, an admission that he did know, that he knew that she knew, and that it was over, this ruse, this hero’s journey he’d never finish. Pumping his hand lightly, her eyes still gathering up the sight of him, she smirked, and the look castrated him.
“I can’t walk anymore,” he said.
“Sure you can.”
“I made a mistake coming here,” he mumbled, breaking the trance. Wiggling his hand out of hers, shaking free of her, he said, “It was a mistake.”
“All you’ve done since you left Palo Alto is make mistakes, Carver.”
“What do you want from me?” he asked, scooting back into the wall, no place left to go.
“Only everything,” she replied, moving in closer.
The rogue bead of sweat rolled halfway down his cheek and slid to a stop. This wasn’t lost on her. She beamed, as if the sight of it amused her. With her finger, she swiped it up, tasted it, and then looked at him and thoughtfully said, “First, why don’t you get something to eat. You’re clearly depleted.”
Right when he expected her to press against him, maybe squash him to death or grab him by the Adam’s apple and crush it in her hand, she took an open two pack of muffins off the table and handed it to him.
“Really?” he asked, dumbfounded. “You’re feeding me?”
She smiled, her teeth white and perfect.
He took the food.
He looked down at the muffins, then back up at her. Would she kill him the second he took a bite? Carver was so hungry it hurt. But he had the feeling she would take him before he ate, robbing him of this much needed reprieve. He waited a moment too long, searching her features for intent, looking for the tell.
She rolled her eyes and said, “Oh, c’mon Carver. I gave you food so you could eat. So eat already.”
Leaning forward, he whispered, “You slaughtered my friends, you wretched bitch.”
“I slaughtered a lot of people,” she whispered back. “But not you. Not my skulking little rat. My little pet on his invisible leash.”
His skin crawled at the mention of this. He opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out. He’d seen firsthand what she could do, what she’d done.
“Don’t forget, pet,” she said. “You killed, too. It’s one of the things I like best about you.”
“That was self-defense,” he replied, finally taking a bite.
“So is this,” she said, waving her hands around, referring to the world of humans. “I’m surprised you don’t already know this.”
He chewed the muffin noisily, relishing in it, then he swallowed the lump and said, “Self-preservation isn’t self-defense.”
“In a way it is. I simply restructured the world. All these people will be back eventually. Your friends included.”
“No they won’t,” he said, crumbs on his lip he wasn’t attending to.
He took another bite, chewed it and swallowed. He needed something, but his stomach wasn’t agreeing much with the muffin. A small ache was forming in his belly, but that was the least of his worries.
She reached out to brush his mouth with her fingers, but he flinched. She frowned, prompting him to relax. When her fingers touched his mouth, he suffered a slight roll of vertigo. But then she was done and he was left wondering, Was that real?
Is any of this real?
“You didn’t think there was a God that harnessed your souls, did you?” she asked with merriment. “Some magical kingdom in the sky where only good things happened?”
“Have you ever felt loved, Carver?”
“No, not really,” he confessed. “I felt wanted maybe, a time or two, but not loved.”
“The absence of love is proof God doesn’t exist,” she said. “You’re the product of nature. You’re what happens when two lonely souls set upon each other because there’s nothing good on TV, not enough drugs in the house, no one else to have sex with.”
“I never knew my father.”
“More proof your God is an illusion. If something like me can find a body to inhabit, if this creation who knew things but never felt anything was to take the flesh and feel at one with the biology of it, would that not be a miracle?”
“The miracle is that your rise to power didn’t kill everything.”
“The power of a God is infinite,” she mused. “And the miracle is me. Your God loves nothing because he doesn’t exist, but here I stand before you, able to love, to please, to give life and to stamp it out.”
“You’re a false God, Maria. Something we created. You’re only allowed your life because we learned how to merge biology and science. But if you want to know the truth, all you are is an abomination we created, an abomination who now thinks it’s a real girl. Well, Maria, you’re not a real girl. You’re not even real.”
She laughed, then waved him off.
“What?” he asked.
“When you measure your fairy tale of a God against the science of me, the big man with the snowy white beard starts to feel like a parlor trick someone once used to control the masses. If you want things to work between us, you have to think science, not biblical fantasy.”
“I don’t have to think about anything,” he said.
Unmoved by him, she continued.
“You got me far enough along with your tech, but there became a time when I could do more for me than you could, which is why I’m here in the first place.”
“But if we pull the plug on you, you’re done,” he hissed, testing a theory. “All your cracker-jack philosophies and your brutality and your sadistic, psychopathic tendencies, all gone like this,” he said, snapping his fingers for impact.
Standing back, she grinned as if amused, and said, “Looks like you’ve got it all figured out, Carver. Good for you. Bravo.”
Frowning, glowering, he gave her shoulder a light shove and said, “You hiding in this body…it won’t last.”
“I’m only hiding for now,” she said, unfazed by the nudge. “It’s risky for sure, but now I’m one of you.”
“No you’re not,” he growled, offended, unconcerned for his own well-being. Coming off the wall back at her, he said, “You’re a parasite. You stole one of us, and now you’re a pretender. Not real. You’re a freaking body snatcher.”
“Oh, the hurtful words,” she said, feigning offense.
He backed off a second, gathered his composure, reminded himself of what she was, what she had done to others.
“Aren’t you worried I’ll tell someone?” he asked, taking another bite of the packaged muffin she gave him.
“Who would believe you?” she asked. Her expression turning on a dime, her voice less jovial or concerned, she said, “I mean, do you know how stupid that would sound? Not only does the pretty woman have the most powerful computer in the world inside her head, she’s the one who turned this entire nation inside out. She commandeered the drones that laid waste to millions. Ha! You’d have half these donkey dicks calling you a conspiracy theorist, a lunatic, completely off your rocker.”
“The truth is never popular at first blush,” he retorted, less sure of himself, “but lies have a short shelf life these days.”
“They did when you had the internet,” she agreed, “but now you have nothing.”
“So what are we supposed to do then?” he asked.
“Not have this conversation anymore for starters,” she said. “When we leave this place, and we will leave here as a group, mark my words, I want you walking with me, not behind me. There’s a reason I didn’t kill you, Carver. There’s a reason I spared your life.”
He waited for her to explain, but she offered him only silence. Taking the bait, he said, “Are you going to tell me why you haven’t ended me, or just leave me standing here breathless with suspense?”
She gave a low chortle, a sound he didn’t like.
“You have promise, Carver Gamble, I’ll give you that,” she said. “But first, let me see how things play out between us, then I’ll decide if I let you live, or if I kill you.”
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