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MERCILESS (Dominion Trilogy   #3) Cover Art

Books by
Robin Parrish


OFFWORLD

MERCILESS
Dominion Trilogy #3



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MERCILESS
Dominion Trilogy #3

Robin Parrish
Bethany House
Suspense
ISBN: 9780764201790

About the Book

Chapter 1

Beneath the Taurus Mountains, Turkey

Hand over hand, Oblivion climbed.

The total absence of light surrounding him did nothing to slow his progress, his fingernails digging like talons into the black rock below the Hollow, ensuring a steady hold.

This was a mechanical process for him, nothing more than a necessary step of his birth. He did not tire, he did not feel fatigue or shortness of breath. There was moisture of some kind upon his face, but it was not sweat. He did not sweat. A drop reached his tongue and tasted of iron and salt.

Blood. It was the blood of the sacrifice. Of course.

Hand over hand, he climbed. Ever upward.

Oblivion knew everything that had brought him to this moment. He knew who he was and how he had come into being. He knew his purpose, knew the steadiness of his actions with detached confidence. He knew who awaited him above and what their purpose was. He knew a great deal more than he suspected they knew about what he had been brought forth to do. He knew what had happened to the world with his passage into mortal existence, and what was happening even now, to every surface he touched.

He knew the name of this container he existed within. Knew what this Grant Borrows had done since becoming the Bringer ... and now Oblivion. His great destiny, fulfilled at last.

Hand over hand.

The rock grew thicker now, but still Oblivion's fingers dug deep. The blood of the sacrifice flowed down from the rim of the Hollow, which he was drawing nearer to. It was the very blood that had allowed this process to commence. He felt no remorse for the loss of Grant's sister; he never felt remorse. He was not capable of such things.

It was all part of the process after all. Everything, from the notorious day this mortal container named Grant Borrows had first realized he was no longer the man he had once been --- it was all part of the process. Every step he had taken, every path he had walked, every choice he had made. It was preordained --- all of it --- from a time before time began. It was the ultimate fail-safe, the final insurance. And now, after millennia of planning and preparation, it was happening.

A few initial semblances of light streamed flickering down, touching his gray skin for the first time, and he looked up to meet it with blazing red eyes. He noted the red mark on the back of his left hand, a fresh scar from Grant's encounter with a severed hand only days ago.

A chorus of voices reached his ears over the shaking of the earth. They were singing --- no, chanting --- in unison.

One voice rose above the others as Oblivion neared the top of the rim. One voice roaring with terrible conviction ...

Hand over hand, Oblivion climbed, until he was born into a brave new world.

* * *

"WE HAVE FOLLOWED THE ANCIENT COMMANDS!!" Devlin bellowed, standing five feet from the rim of the Hollow. His heart hammered as he thought he saw a trace of movement in the darkness at his feet.

"Pario Atrum Universitas! ..." the Secretum continued to chant behind him.

Devlin glanced down momentarily at the pallid, lifeless body of Julie Saunders, the Bringer's sibling, lying on the ground at the mouth of the Hollow.

Had it worked? Did her blood activate it, as intended?

Of course it had. This was the appointed day, the appointed hour, the appointed place. There was no question. Everything was unfolding precisely as the Secretum had known it would, for thousands of years.

"WE HAVE DRAINED THE BLOOD OF THE INNOCENT!" he thundered in ritualistic tones, a renewed conviction thundering through his voice so completely that his hand quaked. "SO THAT A WAY MIGHT BE MADE!!"

"Pario Atrum Universitas! ... Pario Atrum Universitas! ..."

"THE BRINGER HAS PASSED THROUGH THE VEIL! THE PROPHECIES ARE FULFILLED! LET OBLIVION COME FORTH!!"

"Pario Atrum Universitas! ..." the Secretum chanted.

"PARIO ATRUM UNIVERSITAS: BRING FORTH THE DARKWORLD!!" roared Devlin.

With the suddenness of a candle being snuffed, the great Hollow instantly plunged into foreboding silence as the chanting and Devlin's shouting stopped. At the same moment, the monumental shaking of the ground beneath and above them came to an abrupt halt. His skin tingled with anticipation at the eerie stillness as he watched and waited.

And right on cue, the slate-colored hand of Oblivion appeared, climbing up from the gaping pit, followed by his body, and soon he was standing before them all. Calmly, with an indifferent, almost alien-like quality, he examined them without curiosity as he stood in their presence.

"The prophecy," Devlin declared in a reverent whisper, "is made flesh. Thousands of years we have waited and prepared for the fulfillment of this promise. Countless generations of our people have made endless sacrifices, but it was not in vain. Oh no, our faith has borne fruit --- "

He broke off the speech he'd prepared years ago as Oblivion turned without warning and moved slowly toward the vast room's exit.

Momentarily thrown, Devlin stood frozen in place. Whatever he had been expecting of Oblivion's grand entrance, this wasn't quite it.

Another senior member of the Secretum of Six --- a woman named Angela, who had been standing very near to Devlin, and whom Devlin had never particularly cared for --- rushed forward, confusion tormenting her features. "Great one! Oblivion! Are you not here to begin your great work?" She reached out and touched the brown leather jacket he wore, pressed it until she felt the hard flesh beneath the folds of fabric ...

She collapsed. Devlin and a few of the others rushed forward, bending over her. She'd gone cold instantly. Her eyes were rolled up, her jaw slackened.

She was dead. Oblivion's touch killed her.

If Oblivion noticed her, he made no consideration of it. He turned mechanically to face Devlin. His eyes blazed, and his gaze was wilting. "The DarkWorld is begun," he spoke for the first time, and Devlin fought the urge to place his hands over his ears at the sound. "It was set in motion the moment I entered this flesh. This place, this Hollow, is an unworthy relic of a different age."

Devlin's mind raced. Unworthy? What did that mean? Unworthy of what?

There was something odd about Oblivion's physiology when he spoke, and it took Devlin ample consideration to put his finger on it: Oblivion's chest was not rising or falling. Where a normal person's chest rises before they are about to speak, to take in breath, Oblivion merely opened his mouth and the sound issued forth.

"The DarkWorld cannot be appreciated from below," Oblivion explained with unnerving calm.

Once again, he began to walk, and Devlin and the others followed close.


Chapter 2

The earth shook from its foundations, and many were those who feared it might shake itself apart.

Then, as suddenly as it'd started, the shaking stopped.

Alex struggled to get her bearings, looking around through the bright haze in her eyes. Ethan's bulky silhouette still stood before her, and a dozen or so inhabitants of this underground city were also within her field of vision. All of them, everyone --- including herself --- still cowered, disoriented and frightened. They'd expected the cavern to come crumbling down. She was surprised it was still in one piece.

The city had been a din of pandemonium, thanks to her team's efforts, but now everyone and everything had just stopped. Everything had drawn to a complete pause, with people looking around in confusion, when Alex realized she felt different.

In fact, the whole world felt different.

Very different.

She had no idea what was happening, but she knew something fundamental about existence had just changed. She couldn't explain why or how she knew. It was an internal instinct, as pure as knowing how to breathe without ever having to choose to.

It was a terrifying feeling that left her sick to her stomach, as if something too big for her had just taken place, and she felt infinitesimal next to it, like standing in the path of an F5 tornado and being too terrified to move. In the handful of times in her life when she had stared down her own mortal coil and very nearly shaken it off, in those moments when her life was about to end and her past flashed before her eyes, when she expected to feel calm but instead felt so panic-stricken she couldn't catch her breath ... this moment felt exactly the same.

She still couldn't see well because of the glowing of the Rings of Dominion throughout the cavernous city. She wore one of the rings on her right middle finger and it glowed brighter than she'd ever seen before --- even brighter than that incident months back that Grant called The Forging. Then suddenly they'd flashed out, like a candle that had been violently blown by a gust of wind. But the concussive effects lingered on her retinas, and she put out an arm, bracing herself on a nearby wall as she waited for the blinding to clear.

Shapes around her soon began to come into focus, and in another moment she saw Ethan's face. He still stood only inches from her, dressed in his black jumpsuit and balaclava that had been peeled back over the top of his head. He held a pistol at his side, pointed down at the ground. His bleary eyes met hers, and there was no masking the fact that he too was utterly horrified by whatever was happening.

"I'm too late! It's already begun!" he whispered so no one else could hear. "HE'S COMING!!"

As Ethan spoke, Alex noticed a strange tingle that seemed to be spreading across her entire body, from her hair down to her toenails. It was the oddest sensation she'd ever experienced, like a mixture of a mild electrical current and a cold trickle of water. She didn't like it at all.

Ethan turned away from her and looked out at the city, where the glow from the Rings had flashed out, shrouding the cavern in foreboding shadows once more. "I'm sorry," Ethan was saying, and Alex had no idea what he was talking about. "I got here too late. Maybe we could have prevented it if ..."

Alex's mind swam with strange new sensations, her limbs suddenly heavy and slow. And it wasn't just her. Everyone and everything was moving the same way. It was like trying to swim through syrup. Her senses also seemed to have sharpened considerably. She could see the tiniest grains of dirt in the ground beneath her feet with perfect clarity; she could hear the trickling of water running into pipes that lined the small lake on the other side of the city, as if she were standing right next to the sound.

All around her a new sound grew and built, rising throughout the city. Panic and alarm and terror rang from voices everywhere. She wasn't the only one noticing these weird new sensations, and soon a cacophony rose --- a terrible combination of fear and excitement.

"I don't understand!" Alex shouted over the increasing commotion, her own voice painfully loud in her ears. "What's going on? What's happening?"

Ethan's face fell ashen as he looked up and scanned around, taking in their surroundings and the people who lived here. It was the first time she could recall ever seeing him afraid. Alex could tell from Ethan's expression that he felt what was happening to them every bit as much as she did.

"We'd better find Grant!" she shouted.

"He's gone," Ethan replied, his expression grave and sorrowful. It was the same expression the doctors wore whenever they passed on news to her mother before Alex's Shift.

With only the slightest hesitation, he turned and began to run.

"What are you doing?" she shouted.

He flung a glance back her way but never stopped running. "I'm sorry, it's too late now!" he cried, but then stopped and faced her. "There's nothing I can do! For all our sakes, I have to get out of here --- "

"What's going on?" she demanded. He obviously knew more than he was saying, and there wasn't time to keep secrets. "What's happening?"

"I'll come back for you. For all of you. I'll save you if I can. I promise. I'm sorry ..."

With eyes filled with deepest regret, he turned from her one last time and vanished into the darkness.


Chapter 3

London, England

Lisa knew her heart was going to stop beating.

Daniel had killed himself and all she could feel was a desire to be with him.

Squeak, squeak.

His feet dangled and swayed. Dangled and swayed.

Lisa's mind kicked into overdrive. He couldn't have done this to himself; he couldn't have committed suicide. There was no way for him to string himself up there; he had nothing to climb on. She looked about her cell, thoughts grasping for something, anything ---

There!

In Daniel's adjacent cell, she spotted his walking cane, leaning against the corner between their cells. He'd nearly worn the thing out in Jerusalem; the MI-5 agents were good enough to allow him to keep it for moving about inside his cell. It was made of a lightweight aluminum, so it would do him little good as a weapon, they'd reasoned. But Lisa thought it might just be strong enough to ...

She strained her arms inside, reaching, reaching ... It was too far, just outside of her grasp.

"GUARD! HELP ME! SOMEBODY, PLEASE!!"

Lisa untied one tennis shoe, shoved it between the bars separating her cell from Daniel's, and flung it one-handed against the corner space where the cane stood.

Please...!

The shoe knocked the bottom of the cane, toppling it with a clang against the metal bars, the handle somehow falling inside her grasp.

She pulled the cane through the bars, stood, and extended it again. The end of it touched Daniel's noose, but she couldn't quite manipulate it ...

Lisa pulled the cane back in, flipped it around so she held the bottom, and stuck it back through the bars. Carefully, she hooked the rubber grip handle down through the coiled fabric around Daniel's throat and tugged on it with all her might.

With a surge of strength that had to be pure adrenaline, she broke the light fixture above Daniel free from its attachment to the ceiling, and Daniel and the entire apparatus crashed to the ground. The racket was so loud that if the guards hadn't heard her screams, they would surely have heard this. Anyone passing by on the street outside was likely to have heard this.

But she didn't wait for them. She was just able to curl her fingertips around Daniel's lower pant leg, and she strained, sweating, until she'd pulled enough on it to bring him closer.

It was an awkward maneuver, but she finally managed to reach through the bars and untangle the noose until she could slip it off of his now-purple neck. Kneeling on the floor next to the bars, she flipped him over on his back and began pumping his chest up and down with both hands. The bars were too narrow to allow her head to squeeze through so she could breathe air into his lungs, so she kept pumping away. It was all she could do.

Please, please, please ...

Daniel coughed, his eyes opening wide.

Lisa scooped him up as best she could and sobbed openly, wrapping her arms around him through the bars, as he continued to gag and gasp for air. His back was to her, so she couldn't see his face, but she didn't care.

He was alive. She clung to him as tightly as she could.

After several minutes, he pulled himself free of her grasp, and she noted with relief the purplish pallor retreating from his cheeks.

"What ... what happened?" he choked, using one hand to massage the raw ring around his neck.

"I don't know!" Lisa cried. "There was an earthquake and I woke up and found you hanging by your neck!"

With tremendous effort, Daniel visibly swallowed, and the motion caused him great pain. He shook his head, eyes still huge.

"So, um ..." Lisa sniffled. "I mean ... you really didn't --- ?"

Daniel was shocked. "Of course not! I fell asleep and the next thing I know I'm strung up by the neck!"

"Then someone tried to kill you ..." Lisa said.

" ... again," Daniel finished, and then he passed out.

Lisa clutched him tightly in her arms, swaying back and forth, powerless. Waiting for whoever had failed to return and finish them for good.

Excerpted from MERCILESS © Copyright 2017 by Robin Parrish. Reprinted with permission by Bethany House. All rights reserved.

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