Wander - A Night Warden novel 1
When a new strain of the deadly drug, Redrum creates UV resistant vampires, the streets of New York City are flooded with the mindless creatures searching for blood—human blood. The NYTF and Dark Council refuse to deal with menace and contact the Night Wardens expecting results. What they get is a dark mage with nothing to lose.
Now Grey Stryder-a dying dark mage and rogue Night Warden must join Koda, a short tempered, trigger-happy assassin to clean the streets of New York, find the source of Redrum, and keep humanity off the menu, before it’s too late.
Together they will be become the heroes the city needs-but no one wants.
Release date: January 8, 2018
Publisher: Bitten Peaches Publishing
Print pages: 297
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Wander - A Night Warden novel 1
Orlando A. Sanchez
I heard the scream first.
Frankly I was prepared to keep walking. Out here this late, in this neighborhood, you reap what you sow. The night culls the weak and the foolish. Then she begged for her life. It was a small voice, desperate, and clinging to a false hope. She was looking for mercy where none existed.
Cruel laughter was the answer to her pleas.
“Shit,” I said as I turned towards the dead-end street. A bitterness filled my mouth as I shook my head. Ambient magic caused my taste buds to fire one of the side effects of my condition.
An ogre, the source of the foul taste, closed in on the woman. It was a large man-shaped creature. Scars covered its muscular body and their faces were not recommended viewing before any meal.
I saw her then. She was dressed in a simple dress and looked to be some kind of server on her way home from her shift. She had to be mid-twenties. Too young to know better, too old to admit it. Next to the ogre, I saw the rummer—a pseudo vamp, user of Redrum. At the opening of the street stood a man, watching. He wore a black uniform, which was a cross between combat armor and formal wear. The two creatures would drain her dry, right after the ogre ripped off an arm or two.
“As I live and breathe, Grey Stryder, washed up, partner killer coming to grace me with his presence,” the man said when he saw me. “You need to leave, old man, while you still can.”
“Always a pleasure to see you, Alex, like smashing my hand in a car door, goddamn unforgettable and excruciating.”
“What the hell is this look? Homeless senior citizen?”
I ran a hand through my buzz cut. There was a time I’d be wearing the same uniform. On the streets freshly shaven and ready for patrol. Those days were long gone.
“What brings you to my neighborhood?”
“Back the hell off, ” Alex said and I saw his fingers start to move. “This is Night Warden business and I don’t need a retired Warden dinosaur interfering.”
“Night Warden business?” I asked, opening my duster and glancing down the street. “Since when does Night Warden business include whatever this is?”
“Since you just put the dead in dead-end, and turned down the wrong street.”
He gestured, black energy covering his hands. I drew my gun, Fatebringer and fired. He died on the way to the ground.
“I never retired, you piece of sh—”
Another scream. I turned into the street.
“Nice night,” I whispered, knowing they could hear me. “She seems small for the two of you. Not much meat on her. Maybe leave her to the ogre? The woman’s red-rimmed eyes opened wider at my words. She was cowering next to a dumpster. She tried to make herself smaller as the large creature lumbered in her direction.
I had trouble determining which was worse—the odor from the dumpster or the odor from the ogre. As I closed in, the aroma from the ogre wrapped itself around me, squeezed my lungs and brought tears to my eyes. Old garbage would be refreshing after that.
The ogre ignored me, focused on the meal in front of it. The rummer snapped his neck around, hissing in my direction. Redrum destroys most of the brain, turning the rummers into little more than ravenous animals incapable of speech. It didn’t mean they were harmless. They were faster, stronger, and more resilient than normals.
The drug gave them heightened senses, night vision, enhanced hearing, and an insane sense of smell. A mindless, deadly package. Another drawback—a few minutes of UV radiation led to an explosive messy end.
I dodged the first swipe. Razor-sharp claws raked the air where my head had been a moment earlier. I kicked out and sent the rummer flying—right into the ogre.
The ogre turned and faced me.
“I’m going to kill you, little wizard,” it said, as it lumbered in my direction, forgetting the woman.
Some mages get touchy about the whole mage-wizard thing. Me? I couldn’t care less. My casting days were long behind me, even if my body still gave off a runic signature.
I fired Fatebringer, which I loaded with LIT rounds. Light Irradiated Tungsten—vampire killers—were perfect rummer erasers, but they were useless against the mountain of hate coming my way. I fired anyway. I made sure to put some distance between the woman and us. I hoped she would take the hint and bolt. One glance her way told me she had entered designated victim mode, crouching farther into a corner.
The rummer flanked me and lunged. I rolled, landing on my back, and fired twice. The rummer looked down at the wound and growled at me. It should have exploded into little rummer bits. It didn’t. It crawled along the floor and leaped. I put two more rounds in it mid-leap. It kept coming. Those claws were looking sharp as it closed the distance. I dodged to the side and avoided another rake. It hissed at me and crouched for another attack.
Two seconds later, the rummer exploded all over my coat. I wiped the ichor from my eyes just in time to see the ogre shuffle forward, bury a fist in my side, and send me skidding across the ground. I rolled to my feet, took a deep breath, and switched magazines.
Entropy rounds were considered illegal and banned munitions. I considered them essential. The first round barely slowed the ogre down. I slid to the side and fired twice more. The ogre introduced me to a backhand that nearly broke my jaw and sent me tumbling backwards. Pinpoints of light flashed in my vision.
I shook my head and fired again. The ogre was getting annoyed as he leaped at me. I barely dodged the life-ending stomp but not the pile-driver fist. I managed two more shots as the ogre kicked me, smashing my side and launching me down the street. Only my duster saved me from being broken in several places.
“Your weapon is useless against me, wizard,” the ogre said as he closed in on me again.
“I was just thinking the same thing,” I said with a grunt. “It could be someone sold me bad ammo… or sometimes they just need a jumpstart.” I gestured, traced a rune in the air, and nearly passed out from the pain. A black rune slammed into the ogre.
“You’re a dark mage?” it said with a howl as it began clawing at the bullet wounds.
“As dark as they come,” I said, wiping the blood from my lips. The entropy rounds exploded inside the ogre, disintegrating large sections of its body. Seconds later, nothing was left of the ogre except a pile of dust.
With the imminent threat gone, the woman snapped out of her shock. She shuffled to me slowly, clutching her bag in two hands, and keeping it to close to her body.
“Are you okay?” She inspected me from a safe distance, and I didn’t blame her. “You don’t look so good.”
“Thanks.” I leaned against the wall to stop the spinning. “What the hell are you doing out here in the first place?”
“Milk…I needed milk for my—”
“No.” I held up a hand and winced as a lance of fresh agony shot up my side and stole my breath. “Don’t want to know and don’t care. Get off the street before more rummers show up and ghost you.”
“Thank you,” she mumbled. “You saved my life.”
I looked at her then. “I’m not the hero you wanted—I’m the monster you needed,” I said. “You want to thank me? Get your ass home and stay home.”
“I still need the milk.”
“Your funeral.” I limped out of the dead-end and turned the corner as she ran in the other direction. I hung back a few seconds and shadowed her until she got home, and locked the door behind her. As I stumbled into The Dive, I made a mental note to have a conversation with Tessa about the delay on the entropy rounds as I stumbled into The Dive.
* * *
The Dive attracted a specific kind of clientele, mostly mages and other magic-users who didn’t want to be bothered by the Dark Council. On occasion, we would get one of the other supernaturals. The building was located in what was once called Alphabet City, on 4th Street between Avenue C and D.
I was pretty sure I took two steps before my face met the floor. The manager, Cole, who looked more like a bouncer, rushed over.
“What mess did you stumble into this time, Grey?” Cole muttered under his breath as he slowly flipped me over onto my back with a grunt.
I owned The Dive. I used it as my informal base of operations. Mostly it served as a supernatural bar. Think Cheers but where nobody wants to know your name.
The Dive always tasted like bitter honey to me, the ambient magic a mix of minor traps and lethal failsafes. It was the official unofficial neutral zone in this part of the city. I had a small apartment upstairs and enough runes to fry any magic-user thinking of casting inside its walls. It also had a state-of-the-art security system. There was only one rule in The Dive: Drink in peace or leave in pieces. Frank made sure the rule was enforced.
“I need a drink,” I said through the pain that nearly blinded me. “Something strong like battery acid.”
“Grey, you look like something I would vomit,” Frank said from the bar. “Check that. You look like old vomit.”
“Good to see you too, Frank,” I said with a grunt. “I would step on you, but why ruin a good boot?”
The eight-inch thorny dragon hissed at me from the top of the bar. Frank was—according to the rumors—the result of a transmutation spell gone wrong. No one knew for sure, and Frank had a different story every time someone asked. At this point, I don’t think even he remembered. Being trapped in the body of a thorny dragon would make me irritable and cranky all the time too.
“Stryder, you need a hospital,” Cole said, pulling out a phone. “I’m calling Roxanne.”
“She’s going to be pissed.” I closed my eyes. “Do me a favor and just shoot me now.”
“Hope she fries your ass for casting,” Frank said with a laugh and stalked off. “You do realize your expiration date is coming up? I can read the stone now: Grey Stryder-death at the hands of one pissed off sorcereress. He never saw it coming.”
I gave Frank my one-fingered answer.
“You cast?” Cole hissed, “She’s going to be more than pissed—and it’s your own damn fault.”
That’s when I passed out.
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