Debut fantasy author T. M. White presents
a dark fantasy spy epic
A disgraced pilot saved by elemental magic. A jaded spy haunted by his past. Occult forces threatening to ruin them both.
The Man in the High Castle meets Avatar: The Last Airbender in this dark journey of espionage, elemental magic, and self-discovery.
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Two months previously…
The shadow agent found him with a Kesh prostitute at a rundown hotel off the coast of Tahili, tossing back a bottle of ninety-eight-proof whiskey while she flaunted her brassy skin at the foot of the bed. They’d been at it for a good half hour, but there were rules: he couldn’t touch her, and she could only tease. He figured if he could resist a perfectly desirable woman under the influence—his psychic impressions also blending with the blurred, aura-pulsing reality induced by the alcohol—then he wouldn’t have any more problems with women when he was sober and back on home soil.
Of course, he’d already sensed the shadow agent searching for him months ago. Didn’t even flinch when the door burst open and the Kesh girl screamed.
“Tricky, catching on to your signature,” said the shadow agent. “Saints, you’re lookin’ pale for a Kesh mongrel.” The intruder was older, maybe in his forties. He wore a black suit and fedora—standard for agents sent by the League Alliance. He held a semi-automatic pistol in his hand. “They warned me you were good.”
“Yeah? Too bad you couldn’t take a hint.”
“Clean yourself up, Callahan.” The older man grabbed a towel off a dresser and threw it at his half-naked target. The girl scrambled to get dressed before bursting from the room. The shadow agent walked up to the bed. “You’ve got two months to pull yourself back together. Pity party’s over, lover boy. Duty calls.”
Twenty months; that’s how long Agent Callahan had managed to disappear from under the League’s righteous noses. He was sure they’d only allowed it because he’d survived his two-faced ex-girlfriend.
Wouldn’t make a mistake like her again.
One sea crossing and two trains later, Agent Callahan found himself back at the desk of S. D. Harrison, director of the Apexian Intelligence Agency. The man looked up from his typewriter, pulled open a drawer in his desk, then slapped a file onto the surface. “Welcome back to reality, kid. Got a new assignment for you: recruit, train, deploy, assess. Two preliminary targets are in consideration; both are emelesiacs.”
Emelesiacs: undeveloped psychics with untapped potential. Unwitting wards of a flawed system they couldn’t even begin to fathom. “Why me?” asked Agent Callahan.
“Because I’ve got the League Intelligence Council breathing down my neck and a high-profile agent calling the shots. There could be a sensitive situation developing on the Borellian-Darmoilen border that may affect League relations with Darmoil before our alliance is finalized. Another League agent was attacked while negotiating the terms of release for a Darmoilen prisoner in exchange for information. She survived with new intel on a lead to a potential clandestine operation. Could be Haran. Could be radical adepts involved.”
More psychics, thought Callahan. Others like him.
“We’re sending an elementalist to investigate a town in the Fambrachs with a tracker keeping tabs on the outside, just in case. Agent Quicksilver wants the best, and you’re it.”
Callahan sighed. The last thing he felt like doing was dragging another helpless soul into the system, let alone deal with a bunch of zealous psychic terrorists. “And there’s not a single elemental adept already trained to handle this situation?”
“Not for this one, Callahan. It’s aerial reconnaissance.”
Great. Finding a pilot who was suitable for development both as an elementalist and a field agent would be tricky, given their time constraints; Darmoil’s induction into the League was only five months away. It would take a couple of months just to study his targets and figure out his approach. Most likely, it would need to be cold. He wasn’t in the mood to make new friends anyway.
“Why don’t you give this assignment to that relic you sent after me?” asked Callahan. "Only took him a few months to find what he was looking for.”
Harrison chuckled. “Who do you think you’re foolin’, huh? You let your guard down because you wanted to be found.” The man gave him a stern look. “What made you decide to drop cover?”
Agent Callahan thought about it, his jaw firmly set. “The same reasons you let me, I’m guessing.” The agency knew he’d get away with it anyway. Better to let him cool off. Darmoil was a tough place for adepts to navigate without drawing attention from the Imperial Bounty Ministry; of course he’d come back on his own.
What other choice did he have?
Director Harrison grunted. “Well, it’s about time you got back in the game. Politics have been tense with Darmoil planning to join our alliance with Borellia and Windsor again. Haran supporters aren’t too happy about it, either. Still rallying for their secession, or ‘liberation,’ as they put it.”
Honestly, a little liberation doesn’t sound half bad right about now… Agent Callahan was quiet for a long time. “You ever wonder what life would be like if you didn’t have any urche to shoot through our veins, Harrison?” Urche: the great equalizer. Mother Nature’s insurance policy. The one reason world governments could tip the balance of power away from the ‘freaks.’
“Every damn day,” said Harrison, “and quite frankly, it scares the hell out of me.” He leaned forward and scowled. “This program exists—you’ve been granted immunity from the asylum—to make sure this shit doesn’t happen again: genocide, world wars, entire kingdoms getting swallowed by the sea. People don’t know history like we do; we intend to keep it that way. Consider this assignment your slap on the wrist.” Harrison folded his hands on the desk. “You want a simple life? I can get you a nice gig someplace quiet. Just say the word.”
A trap. For someone like Callahan, an adept with an unofficial license to exercise his abilities under limited circumstances, his profession and ‘gigs’ were subject to government approval. An adept’s life was constantly monitored to make sure he wouldn’t abuse his privilege, and an asshole like Harrison could make sure that any life Callahan sought for himself outside of the agency was a lowlier, dirtier, shittier one. And if someone in high places had beef with you… well, you just wanted to stay on the government’s good side.
Because that’s what a psychic’s life outside the walls of a mental asylum was to Harrison and his kind: a privilege.
Agent Callahan considered the offer then shook his head. “I think I’m good.”
“Atta boy.” Harrison handed him the file that had been sitting on the desk. “Assess the situation in the Fambrachs before the end of the year. The politicians will take care of the rest.”
You mean non-emelesiacs, Callahan thought grimly, narrowing his eyes.
“Review the brief then return it to Processing before you hit the road. Understood?”
Callahan just stared at him.
Harrison huffed then rose from his desk anyway, gesturing offhandedly to the door. “Get the hell out of my office, and go find me a damn pilot.”