Authors: James Hunter
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Horror, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Hard-Boiled, #Supernatural, #Werewolves & Shifters, #Witches & Wizards, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Metaphysical & Visionary, #Superhero, #s Adventure Fiction, #Fantasy Action and Adventure, #Dark Fantasy, #Paranormal and Urban Fantasy, #Thrillers and Suspense Supernatural Witches and Wizards, #Mystery Supernatural Witches and Wizards, #mage, #Warlock, #Shapshifter, #Golem, #Jewish, #Mudman, #Atlantis, #Technomancy, #Yancy Lazarus, #Men&apos
Levi Adams is a soft spoken, middle-aged Mennonite man—at least he tries to be when he’s not murdering people.
Levi’s a golem, a Mudman, crafted from the muck, mire, and corpses of a World War II concentration camp—killing is just a part of his DNA. He doesn’t like it, but unfortunately he’s been saddled with a divine commission to dole out judgment on those who shed innocent blood. After seventy years as a cold-blooded murder machine, however, Levi’s trying to change his grisly nature. And the AA meetings and church services are helping. A little. But when he runs across a wounded girl, Sally Ryder, during one of his “hunting expeditions,” he realizes self-help may have to go on the back burner.
Someone is attempting to revive a pre-Babylonian murder god, and the road to rebirth is paved with dead bodies. Lots and lots of them.
Now, Levi must protect Ryder—the key to an unspeakable resurrection—and defeat a Nazi mage from Levi’s murky past. But the shadowy mage holds a terrible secret about the Mudman’s unorthodox birth, one offering insight into Levi’s morbid compulsion for bloodshed. It’s a secret Levi would pay anything to uncover: maybe even Ryder’s life. If Levi isn’t careful, he may end up turning into the monster he always imagined himself to be.
He blinked his eyes open for the first time: a newborn stealing his first look at the world, which, in a way, is exactly what he was. Except no squealing, rosy-cheeked infant had ever been so big, so ugly, or so filled with blood-boiling rage. Never had a child been so appalling. He squinted at first, letting in only the merest trickle of light because even the wan illumination from the moon, which loitered over the world like a fat thumbnail, was harsh to his virgin eyes.
Smells came next: the scent of musky earth, the harsh tang of powdery slaked lime—used to mask the reek of decay—and buried beneath that, the sour stink of rotten flesh and burnt hair.
The sky spit down a misty drizzle, fine droplets of cool water that turned his gray skin slick. After a few moments more his eyes adjusted fully, allowing him, at last, to survey his surroundings. Mud and muck, deep brown and goopy, lined everything. It squished beneath his shoulder blades, clung to his arms and legs, and liberally coated the corpses crudely piled to his right. Despite the mud, the bodies appeared almost white, like angry specters waiting for him, welcoming him to this new hell with silent screams and vacant eyes.
How he knew
was beyond him, since this was the first day of his life, the day—or rather night—of his unnatural birth. Surely, no baby pushed and fought its way into the world with dark and grisly thoughts of murder and death lingering in its mind, with knowledge of mass graves, heinous experimentation, and hasty executions. But he
such things. Fragments of memories floated and swirled inside his skull, dancing a slow funeral dirge, parading incoherent snatches of imagery through his head.
Wehrmacht march through the streets in their black spit-shined boots and high-collared, gray wool uniforms. Smart and dashing, those uniforms, dressing up the face of murder in civility and pageantry …
The Luftwaffe soars overhead. The buzz of the single-prop Focke-Wulf and the thunderous roar of the colossal Messerschmitt transport planes fill the air with their racket …
He clutches a small boy to his chest, his body trembling as he hides, holding his breath for fear of being heard. Terror and panic wriggle in his guts as the black-garbed Schutzstaffel—the SS—make their way from door to door, fists rapping on wood, rifle buttstocks smashing out windows, booted feet kicking their way inside …
Then, train cars, loaded to capacity, roll through his thoughts. Bodies press up against one another so tightly he can’t breathe—except he isn’t a he, but a she. And she is searching for her sister. They’d been separated in all the chaos …
So many images, circling around, each screaming more loudly than the last, each demanding he lend them an ear or an eye or a hand. He clutched at either side of his head. Broad, fleshy palms pressed in as though he could simply pulverize the images and send them back to whatever nightmare they’d come from. But they kept coming, and as they came—faster and faster, like a hail of automatic machine gunfire—his chest began to itch and burn. It felt like someone had taken a cherry-red fire iron and jabbed it into the meat covering his breastbone.
A huge hand flew to the pain, his fingers finding crude markings etched directly into the skin, cut deep into the muscle below. As he touched the mark, the jagged wound, the voices and visions coalesced into a single demand. A demand for retribution. The anger came next, flowing from the brand like gasoline pumping through his veins, scorching his insides and propelling him to action. He lumbered to his feet, the muck squishing around his thick toes, and made for the muddy wall of his earthen womb. In reality, an open grave. He dug his digits in and used his flabby, though powerfully built, arms to pull himself upward and free.
He lay on the edge of the pit for a long beat, charting the lay of the land, eyes scanning the dark, which covered everything like a velvety blanket. In the distance, not so far off, he saw a squat building. Some sort of bunker, outlined by the faint glow of light bulbs. He wasn’t sure
he was. Or
he’d gotten there. But, as the brand burned in his chest, he was
certain of one thing: someone—or, perhaps, lots of someones—had quite the butcher’s bill to account for, and he was ready to collect.
The Deep Downs
Levi crouched low on his haunches, fat fingers pressed against the dusty rock beneath his bare, oversized feet. The vibration of fleeing Kobocks trickled up through the stone, each distant footfall like an electric blip on his internal radar. So many feet, so many Kobocks, all scampering in different directions: some searching for him, desperate to end his murderous assault, others just as frantic to escape. To escape his crushing fists. To escape his bone-breaking kicks. To escape the fate he’d already dealt out to ten or more of their filthy ilk.
He smiled, a thin twitch of the lips more closely resembling a grimace. For Levi, that
a smile. A rare thing, reserved for his hunting expeditions.
He peered into the darkness of the subterranean cave, even as his fingers quested over the ground, tracing lines in the gritty sand coating the surface, absently sketching out a crude map. The rough tunnel stretched out in either direction for a hundred feet before disappearing into murk, while a stream of black, brackish water trickled by on his right. Levi’s gaze drifted to the stream for the hundredth time, lingering only for a moment. He subconsciously scooted away, edging closer to the wall on his left.
Then he resumed his scan, eyes roving ceaselessly, plump digits once more picking their way across the dirt. The rocky passageway was dark, though sporadic patches of bioluminescent fungi—so common beneath the Hub—ran along the coarse walls and clung to the ceiling, casting pale-green foxfire into the air. The light was marginally useful, but Levi didn’t really need it, not with so much stone around him. The bedrock of this world was foreign to him, different from the rich earth of Inworld, but the golden ichor flowing in his veins resonated all the same.
Stone called to stone. Stone guided him onward.
There: a trio of the bolting creatures—these running only with escape in mind—approached from a southerly tunnel, drawing unwittingly nearer, even as they tried to leave Levi in the dust. Travelling at a fair clip. Moving together as a pack, thinking their numbers would make them safe. The smile broadened a touch. A pack of ten or fifteen of the glimmering, blue-skinned creatures
dissuade the Mudman. But three? He shook his meaty head, mostly devoid of a neck, at the ridiculous notion.
Levi stood, back hunched, hands flexing in anticipation of the kill to come, and continued his trek further into the heart of the Deep Downs—the cavernous subterranean network running beneath the Hub. A warren of earthen caves and passageways, home to the Kobock Nation and a thousand other horrors. He was surrounded on all sides by darkness and death, and he couldn’t have been happier. This was what he was made for. This was his purpose.
He moved forward with a gimpy stride, his right leg dragging along, working only at half strength. A tremendous puncture wound, the size of a two-by-four, shot clean through his thigh. A gaping hole wide enough for a man to reach through, though the Mudman could already sense the network of thread-thin strands of golden tissue knitting his leg back together, restoring Levi with every passing second. His ichor at work.
A stupid mistake, that injury. The Deep Downs were dangerous, even for Levi. The haphazard passages were rigged with countless traps to snare the unwary. False floors filled with columns of rocky spikes. Bottomless chasms, eager to swallow the careless interloper. Rudimentary pressure plates which might trigger a gout of magma-hot molten rock or a javelin of poison-coated granite. And
. Levi once more glanced at the underground creek carving its way through the deep rock, flowing alongside him.
Water was the worst of the lot.
Yes, the Deep Downs were a regular death house for nonnatives. Of course, Levi could
the earth. Here, he was as sure-footed as even the most well-travelled Kobo. But he’d been careless—his blood lust had gotten the better of him. He could see it in his mind:
A pair of Kobocks scampered away, loping along on all fours, distorted and disproportionate limbs carrying them into a crude alcove. A dead end with no possible means of escape. The duo turned, twisted lips pulled back in scowls, revealing gnarled, rot-black teeth. Their milky eyes grew wide in fear at his lumbering approach. They hissed—a pair of dirty tomcats backed into a dead-end alley—and held up filthy hands with spidery-fingers, each tipped with blackened, dirt-caked claws.
He’d been so hungry for the kill, so eager to pulverize their frail forms, to feel the hot, putrid blood brush up against his clay-flesh, that he’d lumbered in without even half a mind for the traps so common in this place. Stupid.
A pressure plate.
One wrong step.
A javelin of razor-sharp stone—coated in gobs of slick green Kobo poison—burst from the wall, slicing through gray skin and lumpy muscle, pinning him in place. Careless. The Kobos howled in victory and scampered away while he was left to smash his way free from the stone spear.
To a mortal, the wound would’ve been a death sentence. For Levi, it was a mild inconvenience. Painful, true, but far from life threatening. Had he been up on the surface, back in Inworld with the great expanse of Earth stretching beneath his feet, he would’ve healed the injury long since. Hunting in this dark and unnatural place, so far away from the muddy womb which had birthed him, was always a dangerous game. But then dangerous games were also the most exhilarating. The most satisfying.
Onward Levi trudged, slow but steady, listening for the sounds of the approaching trio he’d sensed. After a handful of seconds, the faint scuffle of bare feet on stone and the labored pulls of deep breathing drifted to Levi’s ears. Good, good, good.