Soul Meaning (A Seventeen Series Novel: An Action Adventure Thriller Book 1)

Table of Contents

 

Soul Meaning: Seventeen Book One

Copyright © AD Starrling 2012. All right reserved. Registered with the UK Copyright Service.

 

Third Kindle Edition: January 2015

 

Editor: Invisible Ink Editing (
www.invisibleinkediting.com
)

Cover and Formatting: Streetlight Graphics (
www.streetlightgraphics.com
)

 

For address information, please contact the author at
[email protected]

 

The right of AD Starrling to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

 

All rights reserved. No parts of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without the prior written consent of the author, excepting for brief quotes used in reviews. Your respect of the author’s rights and hard work is appreciated.

 

This book is a work of fiction. References to real people (living or dead), events, establishments, organizations, or locations are intended only to provide a sense of authenticity, and are used factitiously. All other characters, and all other incidents and dialogue, are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.

 

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Dedication

To my family.

 

Part One: Death

 

Prologue

M
y name is Lucas Soul.

Today, I died again.

This is my fifteenth death in the last four hundred and fifty years.

 

Chapter One

I
 woke up in a dark
alley behind a building.

Autumn rain plummeted from an angry sky, washing the narrow, walled corridor I lay in with shades of gray. It dripped from the metal rungs of the fire escape above my head and slithered down dirty, barren walls, forming puddles under the garbage dumpsters by my feet. It gurgled in gutters and rushed in storm drains off the main avenue behind me.

It also cleansed away the blood beneath my body.

For once, I was grateful for the downpour; I did not want any evidence left of my recent demise.

I blinked at the drops that struck my face and slowly climbed to my feet. Unbidden, my fingers rose to trace the cut in my chest; the blade had missed the birthmark on my skin by less than an inch.

I turned and studied the tower behind me. I was not sure what I was expecting to see. A face peering over the edge of the glass and brick structure. An avenging figure drifting down in the rainfall, a bloodied sword in its hands and a crazy smile in its eyes. A flock of silent crows come to take my unearthly body to its final resting place.

Bar the heavenly deluge, the skyline was fortunately empty.

I pulled my cell phone out of my jeans and stared at it. It was smashed to pieces. I sighed. I could hardly blame the makers of the device. They had probably never tested it from the rooftop of a twelve-storey building. As for me, the bruises would start to fade by tomorrow.

It would take another day for the wound in my chest to heal completely.

I glanced at the sky again before walking out of the alley. An empty phone booth stood at the intersection to my right. I strolled toward it and closed the rickety door behind me. A shiver wracked my body while I dialed a number. Steam soon fogged up the glass wall before me.

There was a soft click after the fifth ring.

‘Yo,’ said a tired voice.

‘Yo yourself,’ I said.

A yawn traveled down the line. ‘What’s up?’

‘I need a ride. And a new phone.’

There was a short silence. ‘It’s four o’clock in the morning.’ The voice had gone blank.

‘I know,’ I said in the same tone.

The sigh at the other end was audible above the pounding of the rain on the metal roof of the booth. ‘Where are you?’

‘Corner of Cambridge and Staniford.’

Fifteen minutes later, a battered, tan Chevrolet Monte Carlo pulled up next to the phone box. The passenger door opened.

‘Get in,’ said the figure behind the wheel.

I crossed the sidewalk and climbed in the seat. Water dripped onto the leather cover and formed a puddle by my feet. There was a disgruntled mutter from my left. I looked at the man beside me.

Reid Hasley was my business partner and friend. Together, we co-owned the Hasley and Soul Agency. We were private investigators, of sorts. Reid certainly qualified as one, being a former Marine and cop. I, on the other hand, had been neither.

‘You look like hell,’ said Reid as he maneuvered the car into almost nonexistent traffic. He took something from his raincoat and tossed it across to me. It was a new cell.

I raised my eyebrows. ‘That was fast.’

He grunted indistinct words and lit a cigarette. ‘What happened?’ An orange glow flared into life as he inhaled, casting shadows under his brow and across his nose.

I transferred the data card from the broken phone into the new one and frowned at the bands of smoke drifting toward me. ‘That’s going to kill you one day.’

‘Just answer the question,’ he retorted.

I looked away from his intense gaze and contemplated the dark tower at the end of the avenue. ‘I met up with our new client.’

‘And?’ said Reid.

‘He wasn’t happy to see me.’

Something in my voice made him stiffen. ‘How unhappy are we talking here?’

I sighed. ‘Well, he stuck a sword through my heart and pushed me off the top of the Cramer building. I’d say he was pretty pissed.’

Silence followed my words. ‘That’s not good,’ said Reid finally.

‘No.’

‘It means we’re not gonna get the money,’ he added.

‘I’m fine by the way. Thanks for asking,’ I said.

He shot a hard glance at me. ‘We need the cash.’

Unpalatable as the statement was, it was also regrettably true. Small PI firms like ours had just about managed before the recession. Nowadays, people had more to worry about than what their cheating spouses were up to. Although embezzlement cases were up by a third, the victims of such scams were usually too hard up to afford the services of a good detective agency. As a result, the rent on our office space was overdue by a month.

Mrs. Trelawney, our landlady, was not pleased about this; at five-foot two and weighing just over two hundred pounds, the woman had the ability to make us quake in our boots. This had less to do with her size than the fact that she made the best angel cakes in the city. She gave them out to her tenants when they paid the rent on time. A month without angel cakes was making us twitchy.

‘I think we might still get the cakes if you flash your eyes at her,’ mused my partner.

I stared at him. ‘Are you pimping me out?’

‘No. You’d be a tough sell,’ he retorted as the car splashed along the empty streets of the city. He glanced at me. ‘This makes it what, your fourteenth death?’

‘Fifteenth.’

His eyebrows rose. ‘Huh. So, two more to go.’

I nodded mutely. In many ways, I was glad Hasley had entered my unnatural life, despite the fact that it happened in such a dramatic fashion. It was ten years ago this summer.

Hasley was a detective in the Boston PD Homicide Unit at the time. One hot Friday afternoon in August, he and his partner of three years found themselves on the trail of a murder suspect, a Latino man by the name of Burt Suarez. Suarez worked the toll bridge northeast of the city and had no priors. Described by his neighbors and friends as a gentle giant who cherished his wife, was kind to children and animals, and even attended Sunday service, the guy did not have so much as a speeding ticket to his name. That day, the giant snapped and went on a killing spree after walking in on his wife and his brother in the marital bed. He shot Hasley’s partner, two uniformed cops, and the neighbor’s dog, before fleeing toward the river.

Unfortunately, I got in his way.

In my defense, I had not been myself for most of that month, having recently lost someone who had been a friend for more than a hundred years. In short, I was drunk.

On that scorching summer’s day, Burt Suarez achieved something no other human, or non-human for that matter, had managed before or since.

He shot me in the head.

Sadly, he did not get to savor this feat, as he died minutes after he fired a round through my skull. Hasley still swore to this day that Suarez’s death had more to do with seeing me rise to my feet Lazarus-like again than the gunshot wound he himself inflicted on the man with his Glock 19.

That had been my fourteenth death. Shortly after witnessing my unholy resurrection, Hasley quit his job as a detective and became my business partner.

Over the decade that followed, we trailed unfaithful spouses, found missing persons, performed employee checks for high profile investment banks, took on surveillance work for attorneys and insurance companies, served process to disgruntled defendants, and even rescued the odd kidnapped pet. Hasley knew more about me than anyone else in the city.

He still carried the Glock.

‘Why did he kill you?’ said Reid presently. He braked at a set of red lights. ‘Did you do something to piss him off?’ There was a trace of suspicion in his tone. The lights turned green.

‘Well, broadly speaking, he seemed opposed to my existence.’ The rhythmic swishing of the windscreen wipers and the dull hiss of rubber rolling across wet asphalt were the only sounds that broke the ensuing lull. ‘He called me an ancient abomination that should be sent straight to Hell and beyond.’ I grimaced. ‘Frankly, I thought that was a bit ironic coming from someone who’s probably not that much older than me.’

Reid crushed the cigarette butt in the ashtray and narrowed his eyes. ‘You mean, he’s one of you?’

I hesitated before nodding once. ‘Yes.’

Over the years, as I came to know and trust him, I told Reid a little bit about my origins.

I was born in Europe in the middle of the sixteenth century, when the Renaissance was at its peak. My father came from a line of beings known as the Crovirs, while my mother was a descendant of a group called the Bastians. They are the only races of immortals on Earth.

Throughout most of the history of man, the Crovirs and the Bastians have waged a bitter and brutal war against one another. Although enough blood has been shed over the millennia to fill a respectable portion of the Caspian Sea, this unholy battle between immortals has, for the most, remained a well-kept secret from the eyes of ordinary humans, despite the fact that they have been used as pawns in some of its most epic chapters.

The conflict suffered a severe and unprecedented setback in the fourteenth century, when the numbers of both races dwindled rapidly and dramatically; while the Black Death scourged Europe and Asia, killing millions of humans, the lesser-known Red Death shortened the lives of countless immortals. It was several decades before the full extent of the devastation was realized, for the plague had brought with it an unexpected and horrifying complication.

The greater part of those who survived became infertile.

This struck another blow to both sides and, henceforth, an uneasy truce was established. Although the odd incident still happened between embittered members of each race, the fragile peace has, surprisingly, lasted to this day. From that time on, the arrival of an immortal child into the world became an event that was celebrated at the highest levels of each society.

My birth was a notable exception. The union between a Crovir and a Bastian was considered an unforgivable sin and strictly forbidden by both races; ancient and immutable, it was a fact enshrined into the very doctrines and origins of our species. Any offspring of such a coupling was thus deemed an abomination unto all and sentenced to death from the very moment they were conceived. I was not the first half-breed, both races having secretly mated with each other in the past. However, the two immortal societies wanted me to be the last. Fearing for my existence, my parents fled and took me into hiding.

For a while, our life was good. We were far from rich and dwelled in a remote cabin deep in the forest, where we lived off the land, hunting, fishing, and even growing our own food. Twice a year, my father ventured down the mountain to the nearest village, where he traded fur for oil and other rare goods. We were happy and I never wanted for anything.

It was another decade before the Hunters finally tracked us down. That was when I learned one of the most important lessons about immortals.

We can only survive up to sixteen deaths.

Having perished seven times before, my father died after ten deaths at the hands of the Hunters. He fought until the very last breath left his body. I watched them kill my mother seventeen times.

I should have died that day. I did, in fact, suffer my very first death. Moments after the act, I awoke on the snow-covered ground, tears cooling on my face and my blood staining the whiteness around me. Fingers clenching convulsively around the wooden practice sword my father had given me, I waited helplessly for a blade to sink into my heart once more. Minutes passed before I realized I was alone in that crimson-colored clearing, high up in the Carpathian Mountains.

The crows came next, silent flocks that descended from the gray winter skies and covered the bloodied bodies next to me. When the birds left, the remains of my parents had disappeared as well. All that was left was ash.

It was much later that another immortal imparted to me the theory behind the seventeen deaths. Each one apparently took away a piece of our soul. Unlike our bodies, our souls could not regenerate after a death. Thus, Death as an ultimate end was unavoidable. And then the crows come for most of us.

No one was really clear as to where the birds took our earthly remains.

‘What if you lived alone, on a desert island or something, and never met anyone? You could presumably never die,’ Reid had argued with his customary logic when I told him this.

‘True. However, death by boredom is greatly underestimated,’ I replied. ‘Besides, someone like you is bound to kill himself after a day without a smoke.’

‘So the meeting was a trap?’ said Reid.

His voice jolted me back to the present. The car had pulled up in front of my apartment block. The road ahead was deserted.

‘Yes.’ Rain drummed the roof of the Monte Carlo. The sound reminded me of the ricochets of machine guns. Unpleasant memories rose to the surface of my mind. I suppressed them firmly.

‘Will he try to kill you again?’ said Reid. I remained silent. He stared at me. ‘What are you gonna do?’

I shifted on the leather seat and reached for the door handle. ‘Well, seeing as you’re likely to drag me back from Hell if I leave you high and dry, I should probably kill him first.’

I exited the car, crossed the sidewalk, and entered the lobby of the building. I turned to watch the taillights of the Chevrolet disappear in the downpour before getting in the lift. Under normal circumstances, I would have taken the stairs to the tenth floor. Dying, I felt, was a justifiable reason to take things easy for the rest of the night.

My apartment was blessedly cool and devoid of immortals hell-bent on carving another hole in my heart. I took a shower, dressed the wound on my chest, and went to bed.

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