60

ALEX HELD HIS HAND OUT. “I need the knife.”

Radell Cain’s eyes narrowed. “Why?”

“To open the gateway.”

“And how is the knife going to do that?”

“Opening the gateway requires the person named by the Law of Nines. Right?”

Cain studied his face for a moment. “Go on.”

Alex spread his hands. “So how the hell is the gateway supposed to know it’s me, know I’m the one named by the Law of Nines? Do you think that because it’s me I can simply say ‘Open sesame’ and the gateway will recognize me as the one and open? There is no magic in this world, so how is the gateway to know that I’m the one that is able to open it?”

“I give up, how?” Cain asked with clear distaste for the game Alex was playing.

“Blood.”

“Blood?”

“Yes. It needs my blood to recognize that I’m the one who is able to open it.”

“Well,” Cain said, “now you have my interest.”

He handed the silver knife kept by the Daggett Society for a thousand years back to Alex, the one named by the Law of Nines as the only person who could open the gateway.

Alex drew the weapon across his forearm. As dull as it was, he was still able to cut himself enough to bleed liberally. In the back of his mind, Alex realized that the cut on his left forearm was very much the same place, direction, and length as the cut on Jax’s forearm from when the man who had infiltrated the Daggett Trust had attacked her.

Alex wiped the blade in the blood running down his arm. The cut stung, but he was already lost in his own world, in what he had to do. He turned the blade and wiped the other side until both sides of the steel were red and blood dripped from the tip.

Radell Cain seemed to be quite caught up in the ritual to open the gateway.

Alex went to the rock that had the flat spot with the petroglyph. He held the knife over the rock, slanting it down just a little. He let a few drops of blood drip off the tip into the slot.

With a thud to the air all around, a faint glow of light ignited over the sand.

Men watching oohed at the strange, charged feeling to the air and the light from nowhere shining before them. It was beautiful, entrancing, inviting.

“All right, I need some people to send through the gateway.”

“What for?” Cain asked with an angry frown.

“It doesn’t just open,” Alex insisted. “You can’t load cargo on the sand in the center and transport it. It needs people to work. It’s people that are the core of its function, so the gateway needs people to open.

The more people the better it works — the wider the gateway opens to accommodate them. In that way, the more things — the more supplies and cargo — the gateway will support going through it.”

Radell Cain thought it over. He seemed to understand that it made sense.

Everyone else stood staring in amazement at the slowly twisting shaft of light hovering over the sand before them.

“Well?” Alex asked. “You wanted the gateway opened. It’s opened. But to make it actually work, we need to send people through it.”

Radell Cain, finally grinning in triumph, gestured some of his men forward. “Come on, then. Let’s have some of you go tell them that we’ve succeeded.”

Half a dozen men rushed forward. Alex was surprised that they seemed so eager. He guessed that in their world they were used to such things and accepted them.

The men gathered out on the area of sand. They held their hands out as if showering in the light. By their reaction it appeared to tingle pleasantly. They all looked up into the sky as if looking up into the source of the warm light. Like kids about to go on an amusement-park ride, they all wore big grins.

Radell Cain stepped forward to the edge of the granite before the sand, fascinated by the light show and the way it began to sparkle with the presence of the men. Sedrick Vendis as well stepped up to get a closer look.

“All right,” Cain said to Alex, gesturing with an arm as if urging him to levitate the men, “go on, open it fully. Do it.”

Alex held the knife in his fist above the slot. “Ready?” he asked the men in the light.

They were all grins and nods.

Alex shoved the blade charged with his blood into the slot.

In an instant, the men were drawn upward without their feet leaving the sand, elongating them into columns of flesh ripping apart into an explosion of blood and gore that shot skyward. They never had time to scream, but the sound of their bone and muscle coming apart was horrific enough.

All the men watching stood frozen in shock.

In that instant in time when none of them moved, Alex and Jax did.

Jax spun. The pocketknife in her fist scythed diagonally across Yuri’s face, laying it open. As he bent back from the slicing blow, she kicked him in the groin. As he doubled over forward, she pulled her knife from his belt, reached under, and cut his throat open.

Alex yanked the knife out of the stone and went for Cain.

The men all descended out of the sides where they had been watching to defend against the sudden attack. Cain backed a few steps as he pulled out his own knife.

Jax was a whirlwind. Her blade cut into the men as they charged in. Several died before they had even drawn their own knives.

Alex dove to the side when he saw Sedrick Vendis draw the gun that he had in his waistband. Vendis started shooting. By the way he handled the gun, Alex could tell that he didn’t have any experience. But if he got hit, Alex knew that wouldn’t be any consolation. Bullets ricocheted off rock and splattered against the far wall. Even Cain had to dodge to keep from being accidentally shot.

Vendis turned the gun on Jax, firing wildly in a panic. Jax dodged and ducked past men, using them as shields. Several of the men were hit, but the bullets missed Jax.

Alex dove in past Cain’s own knife, coming up and ripping his leg open. Cain fell back with a cry of surprise, pain, and rage. Vendis turned the gun on Alex to protect Cain. He fired wildly, and again Alex had to dive away to keep from getting hit.

When the gun went empty the slide locked back. When pulling the trigger no longer did any good, Vendis looked at the gun briefly and then tried pulling the trigger again. When the empty gun still wouldn’t fire, he growled in anger and threw it at Alex.

Alex caught the weapon as it flew at him. With his thumb he pressed the release behind the trigger and dropped the empty magazine. He shoved a loaded magazine home. When the slide slammed forward it stripped the top round off the magazine and chambered the round, loading the gun.

Vendis was coming for him with a knife. Alex fired two rounds into the man’s chest and then put one in his head.

Alex looked up and saw that Jax had just caught Cain before he could get his balance. Men were racing in from every direction to protect Radell Cain. Alex started firing, taking them out as fast as he could before they could get to Jax.

He could see out of the corner of his eye that she wasn’t paying any attention to the men trying to get to her. She was lost in a rage of her own, hacking away at Radell Cain. The two of them were covered in blood.

One of the men charged at Alex just as his gun ran out of ammo. As the man lifted his knife to stab at Alex, Alex slammed his foot into the center of the man’s chest. The man fell back. Alex pressed the release, dropping the empty magazine, and rammed a full one home.

He fired a round into the man as he was scrambling to his feet, then swiveled and fired once at a man to his left. He immediately turned and fired at two men going for Jax. The first one dropped, the second spun around once but kept going. Alex, his heart hammering, planted the sights on the man and pressed the trigger. It ended the charge.

He looked around but saw no more men coming for them. He stood panting in a state of wide-eyed shock. It had seemed like it had lasted an hour, but he knew that it had probably been little more than seconds.

Jax was still slamming her knife wildly into Cain’s bloody corpse. Tears ran down her face as she furiously stabbed the dead man.

“Jax. Jax. It’s over.”

She lifted her arm again but stopped with it raised, her silver-handled knife held tightly in her fist, her teeth gritted with determination, blood splattered across her face and through her hair, tears running down as she gasped in fury.

“Jax. . it’s over.”

She stared at him a moment, almost as if she didn’t recognize him; then her face softened as she fell sobbing into his arms.

“We did it,” she cried. “We killed the bastard. I can’t believe that after all this time, after everything he’s done, after all the people who have died, after how long we have worked, we finally killed the bastard.”

“You killed him,” Alex corrected softly.

“I killed him,” she wept. “I killed the monster. I did it.”

She finally pushed back to look at him as her sobs turned to tears of joy.

“You’re a bloody mess,” she said, half laughing.

“You should see yourself in a mirror,” he said with a smile.

Jax hugged him as if she feared he would float away.

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