Seal Team 666 eliminates evil in its darkest forms around the world, from violent cults to dangerous demons, and in Reign of Evil, the third novel in the Seal Team 666 series due out on October 14th from Bram Stoker Award-winning author Weston Ochse, King Arthur comes back from the dead with a vengeance. We've been provided with the prologue and first two chapters of Reign of Evil that you can read now:
"Legend holds that when Britain is in its darkest hour, King Arthur will return to save the country, if not the world. That legend is dead wrong. When a Grove of Druids sacrifice the lives of a group of innocents, including the fiancée of a member of SEAL Team 666, the ancient king is brought back from the dead and sets his sight on subjugating humanity and cleansing his land of all who are not true Britons. Because of political sensitivities, Triple 6 is ordered to stand down, but that order is ignored by one of them seeking his own vengeance. Now, the members of America's elite supernatural-hunting team must decide what is more important: their orders or their loyalty to their own team member."
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This was about the coldest holiday Jen had been subjected to in a long time. While she appreciated her old college friend Missy Brautigan taking her to visit Stonehenge, they could have done it when the weather was warmer, or at least during the day. Alas, Missy, who’d always been interested in other religions, hence her Religious Studies degree at Bard College, wanted Jen to witness the Winter Solstice ceremony and the killing of the Oak King by the Holly King.
“It’s all pageantry and showmanship, I know,” Missy had said during the drive up. “But it’s really something special, something you should see in person. I’ll make it up to you afterward by fill- ing you with hot toddies and some Yule cookies.”
And that was why Jen was standing in the middle of Stone- henge with twelve other strangers while the chants of men in scarlet robes filled the night. The night was frigid cold. She wore one of Missy’s wool coats and a pair of gloves, but Jen’s face and nose felt as if they might fall off at any moment. Her breath came out in heavy clouds. She brought her gloved hands to her face to warm her skin and wished she were back in San Diego with the love of her life, Jack Walker.
Missy elbowed her. The cold had done absolutely nothing to quench her excitement. “I’ve never seen them put so much effort into it. You really have come on a special night.”
The group of lucky invitees stood in a clutch inside Stone- henge’s circle. They’d been asked not to touch anything, not that Jen wanted to touch anything as cold as those monolithic stones had to be. Yet, despite the misery of the cold, she couldn’t help but be impressed. Generator-powered lights lit up the exterior and interior of the monument like high noon, casting shadows here and there that were as deep as any darkness. She could almost imagine ancient Britons skulking within them, afraid to taste the modern lights. Scarlet-robed men stood in the center and at places around the circle. They were druids or priests of the wood . . . Missy had been speaking so fast and dumping so much information, Jen couldn’t exactly remember. All she knew was that the Oak King, who ruled over the warm months, from the Summer Solstice to the Winter Solstice, was about to be slain by the Holly King.
“Previous years, they’ve had mock battles. Once they even had a duel and you could tell they knew how to hold swords. It was almost realistic. They keep trying new things. I think that’s what I appreciate so much—their inventiveness and creativity and willingness to try anything.”
“What are they trying to do?” Jen had asked.
“I think they’re just trying to get the ceremony right.”
“But why? What does it matter?”
Then Missy had given Jen a shocked look. “For historical accuracy. It’s important that they get it right, Jen.”
Which was the point at which Jen had stopped asking questions and was just determined to get through it all.
Suddenly a man wearing a green cloak could be seen walking across the frost-tipped grass toward them. The cloak flowed behind him. Where he walked, the snow melted.
“That’s the Oak King, or Green Man, as some call him.”
He was taller than everyone else in their ensemble. He walked with stately strides, his gaze past them to the center of Stone- henge. Heat radiated from him and she felt herself begin to sweat beneath her heavy jacket as he passed. Then she noticed his skin, which was also green, like a British Isles Caliban. He strode past them and into the center of the circle. The lights speared him, accentuating his green color. Then he dropped his robe. He stood in the frigid air, wearing nothing at all. A twig of something covered his parts, but the rest of him was a muscular, god-like green.
Missy covered her mouth with a hand and whispered, “Now this is something very new.”
The snow around him continued to melt. Jen couldn’t help but appreciate the special effects. Part of her wanted to know how they did it, but another part of her was transfixed by the figure. Though he was about six and a half feet tall and all green, it was his chiseled features that drew her attention. Dating a U.S. Navy SEAL, she was familiar with good bodies, but this man’s contoured muscles were beyond anything she’d ever seen. It was like looking at a statue sculpted by a master.
As her eyes drifted past the twig and down his legs, she saw the ground around him change. Once snow, it was now brown grass. But even as she watched it the dead blades began to change and lift and turn green as if they were really coming alive.
The nature and tone of the scarlet-robed druids’ chanting changed. The words came faster and the tones became deeper. One of the druids separated himself from the others and strode toward the Green Man. The druid’s face was in shadow, but his hand was visible and holding an ancient stone knife. It didn’t seem to have an edge and the tip was rounded, but it was still recognizably a knife. He approached the Green Man and held it up.
The chanting stopped.
Everything was silent except for the whip of wind through the standing stones.
Someone laughed nervously.
The moment drew on long enough that Jen was about to say something when the druid pulled back the knife and then thrust it into the Green Man’s chest. The stone knife penetrated and stuck. The Green Man fell to his knees as the druid returned to the circle.
The chanting resumed once again, this time with a higher tone and an even faster beat. Whatever they were saying, it seemed in earnest. Jen felt energy in the air, something like electricity. One of the lights blew, causing everyone to jump. Jen and Missy screamed, then covered their mouths, exchanging embarrassed glances.
The ground around the Green Man was no longer green. It was no longer brown. The snow and frost began to creep beneath him until all evidence of the momentary spring was removed. Then he fell forward. Even as they watched, his skin turned from green to gray to black, mottling through the spectrums.
Jen found that her hand was still covering her mouth. What she was watching was extraordinary. She’d been to plays both indoors and out-, but this was something beyond what she’d ever seen before. She glanced at Missy and saw fear in her eyes.
What is it?” Jen whispered.
“This has never happened.”
“You said they change it every time.”
“Yes, but not like this.” She gestured with her right hand.
“This is so far above what I saw in the past. It’s gone from quaint to—”
She fell silent as everyone in the gathered ensemble gasped. The once Green Man made his way slowly back to his feet. When he stood, he had the same features and the same chiseled body, but where he’d been green he was now black. Wind swirled around him and began to peel the blackened skin away. Where it was removed, healthy pink human skin was underneath. Soon pieces of skin were swirling like ash until all the black had been removed.
He shook himself like a great beast might after a kill. Then he leveled his gaze on the gathered ensemble. He spoke in a language Jen couldn’t understand. She glanced at Missy for a possible translation but saw her friend’s fear had now been replaced by abject terror. She shook and trembled.
The chanting had stopped again.
A druid came and gave the man a crown made of simple iron. He placed it on his head, and as he did, fire began to burn in his eyes.
“Arthur? Do you mean like King—”
A hand grasped Jen’s throat from behind just as the hands of the other druids grasped the throats of the rest of the gathered ensemble and Missy beside her. Jen felt a cold breeze pass across her throat, then warmth. She’d been watching Missy the entire time and saw the druid’s knife slash deep into her throat and the blood begin to well. It was a moment before Jen realized the same thing had just been done to her.
From somewhere far away she heard a dog howl.
The hand held her erect, but she wanted to fall. She grasped at it, but the druid behind her was stronger than she ever was. She brought her hand to her neck and wiped at it. Her hand came away sticky with blood. She stared at the redness, so much like the color of the druid’s robes.
She heard a baying from nearby, then the low call of a hunting horn.
The hand finally released her and she dropped to her knees. She fell to her side.
She watched as furious shadow beasts much like giant hounds cavorted around the feet of the Holly King.
Oh, Jack, where are you?
He’d know what to do.
She felt a tug at something deep inside her, then felt a transformation.
She turned to see her body on the snow, dead and staring eyes above a jugular-red smile. Then the essence of what had been her became something else, something furious and savage and mean, and she bayed like the rest of them, glorying in the return of the hunt.
22,000 FEET ABOVE MARANA AIRFIELD. NIGHT.
JUMPING OUT OF AIRPLANES INDICATES A SEVERE LACK OF BOREDOM was scrawled on the inside cabin of the plane in per- manent ink. Jack Walker loved night jumps. In fact, it was his favorite part of being a SEAL. Sure, the free travel, the govern- ment rations, the shooting, the fun of getting your ass kicked by supernatural creatures you didn’t even know existed held their own special places in his heart, but those were nothing like the feeling of leaping out into the blackness of the night sky and be- coming one with the universe.
He stared down the hull to the open door. Red and green lights rested above it. Both were off. Outside was total black.
Sam Holmes, his commanding officer, was with him because it was time to recertify Jack for High-Altitude High-Opening jumps. Not that there was any doubt that he could do them—SEAL Team 666 had sure done their share of them lately—but with all free government food and travel came the necessity of paperwork.
Triple Six had experienced a much-needed rest over the last five weeks and Holmes wanted to make certain everyone was current in their certifications, so this week had been filled with glorious physical fitness tests, rifle and pistol range qualifications, medical exams, SCUBA re-quals, and HALO, HAHO, free-fall, and static-line jumps. Where regular military units made sure their equipment was battle ready, whether it be a tank or a ship or a plane, in the SEALs the men were the equipment.
Laws, YaYa, and Yank had been certified the previous evening. Jack would have joined them, but he’d had to appear in traffic court in Los Angeles to try to contest a speeding ticket on the 405. Not that he wasn’t speeding; he was just hoping that appear- ing in his shiny dress uniform might earn some leniency from the hopefully patriotic judge. It had been a waste of time. Jack had been ordered to pay the full fee and received points on his license and wasted a day.
So much for patriotism.
Most important for Jack, once he recertified in HAHO he could go on some much-anticipated leave. Jen had gone to En- gland a week early to spend time with an old college roommate from Bard. She planned on spending time with her friend now so that she and Jack could see the country together once he arrived. They still hadn’t set a date for the wedding, but they were think- ing about spending their honeymoon in England. This trip would serve as a reconnaissance to see if there was any place with which they might fall particularly in love. As Jen said, only a SEAL would recon his own honeymoon.
But that had to wait. Jack was already a senior parachutist and had almost enough jumps for master parachutist wings. Still, the U.S. Navy in all her wisdom wanted a checkmark on a list in a file. There was no other thing to do but comply.
Normally he’d conduct the jump with the other SEALs of Tri- ple Six. HAHO in and of itself wasn’t difficult once you learned and practiced, except for the sheer bulk of equipment, oxygen tank and mask. What was difficult was for all the SEALs to stay together so that they could hit the target simultaneously. With nearly forty thousand feet of room to drift apart, the chances of screwing it up were astronomical. But this was just a certification jump. He and the others would practice another time.
Jack and Holmes were the only two passengers in the rear of the DCH-6 de Havilland Twin Otter. The seats had been removed and replaced by a single bench along the port side. Jack sat with his equipment hanging to the floor. He carried a one-hundred- pound pack in front. His HK416 was attached to the front. The oxygen tank rested on top. A hose ran from the tank to the mask he wore. He’d been pre-breathing 100 percent oxygen to purge the nitrogen from his blood for ten minutes so he wouldn’t expe- rience hypoxia or the bends. A helmet and goggles rested on his head. He stared at the altimeter gauge on his left wrist and watched it creep past 24,000 feet. His MC-6 parachute served as a seat cushion, which he leaned back against.
Holmes sat beside him. He wore a chute, helmet, and mask but wasn’t carrying a simulated combat load.
“I know you’re aching to get this over with, SEAL,” Holmes said through their intra-mask com system, “but slow is smooth and smooth is fast. We’re not going to rush anything.”
“I’m okay. Last thing I wanted was to spend a week with two chatty Cathies. Talk about feeling like a third wheel.”
“Just so. Slow is smooth and—”
“And smooth is fast, I know.”
Holmes held up a hand. “Hold. Getting a call from Laws.”
Walker watched Holmes. Through his mask, he could only make out the SEAL team leader’s eyes. But several times they flicked in his direction. Walker felt worry creep into his system. He’d had a finely honed sense of trouble ever since he was orphaned and left on the streets of the Philippines as a child.
Holmes spoke for perhaps two minutes, then turned to face Walker.
“What’s the news?” Walker asked.
Holmes shook his head. “It’s bad. We’re going to cancel training.”
Butterflies with switchblades kamikazied in his stomach. “How bad?”
Walker went through the list of all the worst things that could happen. He was stunned at how few there really were. He glanced
at Holmes and then he knew. The emptiness was so complete it was as if his insides had been torn out, leaving the vacuum of space.
He couldn’t keep his voice from cracking as he said, “Jen?”
Holmes closed his eyes and nodded.
Walker gulped for air. He felt like he was falling. How ironic he wore a suit made for it and it wasn’t helping. “How?”
“They don’t know. She and her friend and a group of others were all murdered visiting Stonehenge.”
Suddenly he had something to grab on to. “Did you say ‘murdered’?”
“Do they have the—”
“They have no idea.”
“By ‘they’ you mean MI5?”
“What about our intel? Do we have any?”
“If we did I know it’s well above our pay grades.”
“To hell with pay grades. She was my fiancée . . . and I want to know. I need to know.”
“We may never know.”
“Regardless, this exercise is over. Team leader to pilot.”
“No!” Walker felt a sense of panic. He had to have something normal. He needed something planned. He had to jump. He glanced at the open door, then back at Holmes. “Let me do this.”
The voice came from the cockpit and through their com systems. “Team lead, this is pilot. What’s your command?”
Holmes gave him a steady gaze.
“What? You think I’m going to kill myself?” Walker felt his lip curl. “You think I’m going to swan-dive so I can be with Jen in a better place? As romantic as that sounds in movies, it’s bullshit. Someone has to be alive to pick up the pieces. Someone has to be the one to get revenge.” He paused and couldn’t keep from one last desperate whisper. “Is she really dead?”
“Yes, son. She’s really dead.”
“Let me jump. Just let me fucking jump.”
“Team lead, this is pilot; I say again, what’s your command?” “Pilot, this is team lead; continue mission.”
When they reached altitude, the light above the door blinked red.
Walker made to stand and move, but Holmes gripped his arm. They both wore masks, but Jack could feel the intensity in his commander’s eyes.
“We’ll get through this, Jack. We’re your family. We’ll help you any way we can.” Holmes held on for a moment, then let Walker go.
They both stood and crouch-walked to the door. When the light turned green, Walker stepped out and let the wash carry him back and down. He knew Holmes was right behind him, but there was no way to see him. Not through the darkness. Not through Walker’s tears.
Fifteen seconds later he deployed his chute and felt it jerk him free of his fatal fall. He stared at his altimeter and watched as it indicated his descent. Sobs overtook him at 25,000 feet. At 21,000 feet he thought about pulling the release on the chute. Maybe there was a heaven. Maybe there was an afterlife. God knows he’d discovered that there was so much more to this world since he’d joined Triple Six. If there were demons and shape changers why couldn’t there be a heaven?
Holmes’s voice brought him back. “Walker, you’re off course.”
Walker checked the GPS compass on his other wrist. He was way off course.
Holmes’s voice was filled with urgency. “Walker, what are you doing? We talked about this.”
He guided his MC-6 in the proper direction. “Course corrected,” he said, then nothing more.
If there was a heaven then he had time to get there. Time prob- ably moved a lot differently in such a place. It might only be a mo- ment for Jen. Then a voice reminded him that it could also be an eternity, but he ignored it. What had initially seemed a comparison of love and revenge and a question of which was stronger had been reconciled. Love was revenge’s fuel and by god he’d loved Jen like no one else. He pictured her waiting for him by the famous San Diego statue of a sailor kissing a nurse. The way Jen’s red hair had lain against the white nurse’s uniform she’d rented from a costume store. The way she and Jack had kissed, mimicking the statue. That had been a hell of a day.
By the time he hit 10,000 feet he knew what had to be done. By hook or by crook he was going to find out who killed his fiancée and when he did he’d do the same to them and everyone else involved.
He’d do it or die trying.
BROMLEY, ENGLAND. MORNING.
Member of Parliament Gordon Miller felt like his head had been stoved in and his brains replaced with porridge. He and that sweet little waitress from Lions Head had drunk enough G&Ts to fill a water tank last night. Now, waking up to the frigid morning and an even more frigid realization that he’d failed to respond to not one but twenty-seven texts from his dear wife, especially the last one, which said: You might as well go fuck yourself because you’re never going to fuck me again, made his morning complete.
She’d said the same thing twice before and it had proven expensive to get back in her good graces. Real fucking expensive. He’d have to test his mettle and see if her golden triangle was worth it this time.
The bathroom door opened and Veronica stepped out naked, her raven hair still dripping. She held a towel to it as she regarded him, already in his suit, chewing breath mints and guzzling water.
“You gonna run out on me, governor?”
He shook his head. She had the dark skin of a Gypsy and the night moves of an alley cat. He wanted nothing more than to have another go at it, except for the fact he was fresh out of little blue pills. What’s a fifty-five-year-old overweight MP to do? Plus, he needed to get home and not with the smell of strange on him.
“Sorry, luv. Mother called and wants me home.”
She gave him a smile much like the one she’d offered him in the pub. It promised absolutely everything. “We going to do this again soon?”
Gordon couldn’t help but smile. “I hope so. Just need to figure it out.”
“Don’t leave me hanging, governor. A girl loves to be treated like a woman by a rich man. Especially a rich man who’s on tele- vision as much as you.”
So she knew. So much for his pretense of being a simple busi- nessman. And the damn girl was smiling again. “I’ll take care of you.”
“I’m sure you will.”
She turned and went back into the bathroom. He couldn’t help but watch. Even if his body wouldn’t cooperate, his mind was creative enough to fill in the blanks.
His cell phone buzzed. He checked it. Wifey.
Your shit is on the back porch.
His fingers hovered over the phone as he prepared to answer her. But then it buzzed again. His secretary had sent the schedule for the morning, including an updated time for his confer- ence with the Muslim League about increased funding for their defense account. What another pain in the ass. Not that he didn’t mind their considerable support to his campaigns, but they insisted on taking an incredible amount of his time. Still, if he wanted to remain in office this was something that had his full support, which also meant he couldn’t afford to miss the appointment.
He texted his secretary to confirm. He also asked that she text his wife and tell her that he’d worked late and stayed at the office. Roxy was a good secretary and would do it with no questions asked. Of course, she’d expect a significant holiday bonus.
Damn but this was proving to be one of his more expensive days. It was barely dawn and he already owed three women. He couldn’t help but chuckle. Of course he could have it the other way. No job. No women. No sex.
He took one more gulp of water, then stood. He straightened his tie in the mirror by the door, then grabbed the keys from his overcoat pocket. He left the room and entered the cold Bromley morning. The wind whipped the fog in the parking lot, making it move as if great objects were passing through. A ship’s horn broke the early morning. So did the barking of a dog.
He had to search for his Mercedes. He’d been in such a rush to get into Veronica’s knickers he hadn’t paid much attention to anything else. He chuckled. Yet another reason he was proud to not be American. Them and their damned paparazzi. If he’d been in the American Congress he’d never have a chance at these dalliances. The first time he’d try he’d be on Facebook and Twitter and Twatter.
There. He spotted his car three rows up.
Dogs began to bark incessantly. As if in answer, a baying came from deep within the fog. The dogs barked madly. He turned in a full circle. What was going on with the dogs? One thing he hated was strays. Not a time to be bit if he could help it.
The baying came again, this time followed by a horn. It didn’t sound like a ship’s, though. Was there a foxhunt nearby? Why would someone do it in this weather? Never mind that the hunts had been made illegal.
He became aware of figures moving within the fog. He only caught fragmented glimpses of them, but they seemed to be carrying weapons. The fog billowed and covered the cars.
The baying came closer, now with the sound of claws scraping against the pavement as the hidden creatures bore down on him. He had a moment to think, then turned and ran right into the side of a car. The impact drove the air from him. He fell but clawed his way to his feet.
Someone yelled behind him, then sounded a horn. The baying was now all around him.
He held his hands up in front of him.
“Okay. Okay. Enough of this.” An animal brushed his leg. “Do you know who I am?”
The fog parted for a moment and he beheld a man dressed all in green, like a hunter. He wore holly-patterned clothes and an iron crown on his head. But what drew the MP’s eyes was the great rack of horns on the white stag the man rode. Even as the MP stared, the man brought a hunting horn to his lips and blew. The stag’s eyes blazed red, then the beast lowered his antlers and charged.
The MP screamed and turned. He managed four steps before the tips of the antlers pierced his back. The pain caused him to stagger, but he was unable even to fall. The stag lifted him and picked up speed. Soon they were careening through the fog, bay- ing beasts running all around them. He wanted to scream for them to stop. He wanted to beg them to let him go. But amidst the clatter of hooves and the blowing of the rider’s horn, he felt his spirit ripped from his body. By the time the stag shook his great head and dislodged Miller’s body many miles later, he could barely remember who or what he’d been. All he knew was that there was a hunt, he was part of it, and it gave him so much joy that he bayed.