Home > Rogue (Talon #2)

Rogue (Talon #2)
Author: Julie Kagawa

PART I

Countdown

Garret

I stood before a silent, watchful table, six pairs of eyes on me, keen gazes ranging from suspicious to appraising as we waited for the charges to be declared. Men in uniforms of black and gray, with the emblem of the Order—a red cross on a white shield—displayed proudly on their jackets. Their harsh, lined faces reflected a lifetime of war and struggle. Some I knew only by reputation. Others I had trained under, fought for, followed commands from without a second thought. Lieutenant Gabriel Martin sat at one end of the table, his black eyes and blank expression giving nothing away. I’d known him nearly my whole life; he had molded me into what I was today. The Perfect Soldier, as my squad mates had taken to calling me. A nickname I’d picked up during the relatively short time I’d been fighting. Prodigy was another word that had been tossed around over the years, and lucky son of a bitch, if they were feeling less generous. I owed most of my success to Lieutenant Martin, for recognizing something in a quiet, somber orphan and pushing him to try harder, to do more. To rise above everyone else. So I had. I’d killed more enemies of the Order than anyone else my age, and the number would’ve been much higher had the unexpected not occurred this summer. Regardless of my situation, I had been one of the best, and I had Martin to thank for that.

But the man sitting across the table was a stranger, an impassive judge. He, along with the rest of the men seated there in a row, would decide my fate tonight.

The room in which I stood was small but Spartan, with tile floors, harsh overhead lights, low ceilings and walls with no windows. Normally it was used for debriefings or the occasional meeting, and the long table usually sat in the center surrounded by chairs. Except for the main headquarters in London, Order chapterhouses did not have designated courtrooms. While disorderly conduct among soldiers was expected from time to time, and desertion sometimes reared its ugly head, full-blown treason was unheard of. Loyalty to the cause was something every soldier of St. George understood. To betray the Order was to betray everything.

The man in the very center of the row straightened, eyeing me over the polished wood. His name was John Fischer, and he was a respected captain of the Order and a hero in the field. The left side of his face was a mass of burn scars and puckered flesh, and he wore them like a medal of honor. His steely expression didn’t change as he folded his equally scarred hands in front of him and raised his voice.

“Garret Xavier Sebastian.” He barked my full name, and the room instantly fell silent. The trial was officially under way. “For disobeying a direct order,” Fischer continued, “attacking a squad mate, fraternizing with the enemy and allowing three known hostiles to escape, you are accused of high treason against the Order of St. George.” His sharp blue eyes fixed on me, hard and unyielding. “Do you understand the charges brought against you?”

“I do.”

“Very well.” He looked at the men sitting in chairs along the far wall behind me, and nodded. “Then we will commence. Tristan St. Anthony, step forward.”

There was a squeak as a body rose from a chair, then quiet footsteps clicked across the floor as my former partner came to stand a few feet from my side.

I didn’t look at him. I stared straight ahead, hands behind my back, as he did the same. But I could see him in my peripheral vision, a tall, lean soldier several years older than me, his dark hair cropped close. His perpetual smirk had been replaced with a grim line, and his blue eyes were solemn as he faced the table.

“Please inform the court, to the best of your ability, of the events that led up to the night of the raid, and what conspired after.”

Tristan hesitated. I wondered what was going through his head in the split second before he would give his testimony. If he had any regrets that it had come to this.

“This summer,” Tristan began, his voice matter-of-fact, “Sebastian and I were sent undercover to Crescent Beach, a small town on the California coast. Our orders were specific—we were to infiltrate the town, find a sleeper planted among the population and terminate it.”

The man in the center raised a hand. “So, to be clear, Talon had planted one of their operatives in Crescent Beach, and you were sent to find it.”

“Yes, sir.” Tristan gave a short nod. “We were there to kill a dragon.”

A murmur went through the room. From the very first day the Order had been founded, soldiers of St. George had known what we fought for, what we protected, what was at stake. Our war, our holy mission, hadn’t changed in hundreds of years. The Order had evolved with the times—

firearms and technology had replaced swords and lances—but our purpose was still the same. We had one goal, and every soldier dedicated his entire life to that cause.

The complete annihilation of our eternal enemies, the dragons.

The general public knew nothing of our ancient war. The existence of dragons was a jealously guarded secret, on both sides. There were no real dragons in the world today, unless you counted a couple mundane lizard species that were pale shadows of their infamous namesakes. True dragons—the massive, winged, fire-breathing creatures that haunted the mythology of every culture around the world, from the treasure-loving monsters of Europe to the benevolent rain-bringers of the Orient—existed only in legend and story.

And that was exactly what they wanted you to believe.

Just as the Order of St. George had evolved through the years, so had our enemies. According to St. George doctrine, when dragons were on the verge of extinction, they’d made a pact with the devil to preserve their race, gaining the ability to Shift into human form. Whether or not the story was true, the part where they could change their form to appear human was no myth. Dragons were flawless mimics; they looked human, acted human, sounded human, to the point where it was nearly impossible to tell a dragon from a regular, everyday mortal, even if you knew what to search for. How many dragons existed in the world today was anyone’s guess; they had woven seamlessly into human society, masquerading as us, hiding in plain sight. Hidden and cloaked, they strove to enslave humanity, to make humans the lesser species. It was our job to find and kill as many of the monsters as we could, in the hopes that one day, we could push their numbers over the brink and firmly into extinction where they belonged.

That was what I’d once believed. Until I met her.

“I’ve read your report, St. Anthony,” Fischer continued. “It says you and Sebastian made contact with the suspect and began your investigation.”

 

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