Endgame: The Calling
The end of the world is coming. Play now. Or we all lose.
After centuries waiting in secret, twelve unbroken bloodlines, armed with hidden knowledge and lethal training, are called to take humanity’s fate into their hands…
It’s weird, isn’t it?” She cracks another peanut. “What?” “I’m from Omaha, you’re from near Lake Titicaca, and we’re on a train to Xi’an. The meteors hit in each place.” “Yes, that is weird.” “What’s your name?” “Feo.” He pops a peanut in his mouth. “Nice to meet you, Feo. I’m Sarah.” She pops a peanut in her mouth. “Tell me – you going to Xi’an to see the crater?”
“Me? No. Just touring. I can’t imagine the Chinese government is going to be letting anyone get too close to it anyway.” “Can I ask you another question, Feo?” “Sure.” “You like to play games?” She’s outed herself. He’s not sure this is wise. His response will go a long way to determine whether or not he will be outed too. “Not really,” he answers quickly. “I like puzzles, though.” She leans back. Her tone changes, the flirtatious lilt melting away.
“Not me. I like knowing things for sure one way or the other. I hate uncertainty. I tend to eliminate it as quickly as I can, get it out of my life.” “Probably a good policy, if you can actually do it.” She smiles, and though he should be tense and ready to kill her, her smile disarms him. “So— Feo. That mean something?” “It means ‘ ugly’.” “Your parents name you that?” “My real name is Jago; everyone just calls me Feo.” “You’re not, though, even though you’re trying to be.” “Thank you,” he replies, unable to stop himself from smiling, the diamonds in his teeth flashing. He decides to throw her a crumb. If she takes it, they will both know. He’s not sure that it’s a smart play, but he knows one must take risks to win Endgame. Enemies are a given. Friends are not. Why not take advantage of an early chance encounter and find out which this beautiful American will be?
“So, Sarah from Omaha who is here on vacation, while you’re in Xi’an do you want to visit the Big Wild Goose Pagoda with me?”
Before she can answer, a white flash comes from outside. The train lurches and brakes. The lights flicker and go out. A loud sound like a vibrating string comes from the other side of the dining car. Jago’s eyes are momentarily drawn to the faint blip- blip of a red light from under a table. He looks back to the window when the light outside intensifies. He and Sarah both stand and move toward it. In the distance, a bright streak runs across the sky, going east to west. It looks like a shooting star, but it’s too low, and its trajectory is as straight as a razor’s edge. Jago and Sarah both stare, transfixed, as the streak speeds against the darkness of the Chinese night. At the last minute, before it passes from view, the streak suddenly changes direction and moves in an 88- degree angle north to south, disappearing over the horizon. They pull back from the window and the lights come back and the train starts to accelerate. The other people in the dining car are talking urgently, but none seem to have noticed the thing outside. Jago stands. “Come with me.” “Where?” “Come with me if you want to live.” “What are you talking about?” He holds out his hand. “Now.” She stands and follows him but makes a point of not taking his hand.
As they walk he says, “If I told you I’m the Player of the 21st line, would that mean anything to you?” “I would tell you I’m the Player of the 233rd.” “Truce, at least for now?” “Yes, for now.” They reach the table where Jago saw the blinking red light. The Chinese couple is sitting at it. They stop talking and look at the two foreigners quizzically. Jago and Sarah ignore the couple, and Jago kneels and Sarah bends to look over his shoulder. Bolted to the wall under the table is a black metal box with a small, faintly blinking red LED in the middle. Above the LED is the character 驚. In the corner of the black box is a digital display. It reads AA: AA: AQ. A second later AA: AA: AP. Another
second, AA: AA: AO. “Is that what I think it is?” Sarah asks, taking a step back. “I’m not willing to wait around to find out,” Jago says. “Me neither.” “Let’s get your bag.” They head back to the table and Jago grabs the backpack. They move to the rear of the car and open the door, step into the space between cars. If the letters are seconds, they have 11 left. Sarah pulls the emergency brake. It doesn’t work. The moving landscape is there. Waiting for them. “Go,” Jago says, stepping aside. Eight seconds. She doesn’t hesitate, jumps. Seven seconds. He hugs the backpack, hoping it will soften his landing, jumps. It hurts when he lands, but he’s been trained to ignore pain. He rolls down a gravel embankment and into the dirt, takes a mouthful of grass, scratches his face and hands. He can’t be sure, but he thinks he’s dislocated his right shoulder. Three seconds. He stops rolling. Two seconds. She’s a few yards away, already standing, as if she somehow landed unhurt. “You all right?” she asks. One second. The train is past them. “Yes,” he says, wondering if she can tell he’s lying. Zero seconds. She crouches next to him, waiting for the train to explode. Nothing happens. The stars are out. They stare. Wait. Jago looks in the sky above the train and sees Leo and Cancer above the western horizon.
“Maybe we overreacted–” Sarah starts to say, just as the dining car lights up and the windows blow out. The entire car is lifted 50 feet or more into the air amidst a cloud of orange fire. The force ripples through the train. The aft cars crumple, momentum piling them into a screeching and jumbled pile. The forward cars are obscured by the blast and the darkness, but Jago can make out the lights of the engine as it’s twisted off the rails. The sound of grating metal tears through the night, and another, smaller, explosion goes off toward the front of the train. There is a brief moment of silence, just before the screaming starts. “Mierda,” Jago says breathlessly. “I guess we’re going to have to get used to things like that, aren’t we?” “Yes.” Jago winces. “What is it?” “My shoulder.” “Let me see.” Jago turns to Sarah. His right arm is hanging low in his shirt. “Can you move your fingers?” He can. “Your wrist?” He can. “Good.” She gingerly takes his arm with both hands and lifts it a little. The pain shoots over his shoulder and down his back, but he doesn’t say anything. He has been through far worse. “Dislocated. I don’t think it’s too bad,” she says. “You don’t think, or you don’t know?” “I don’t think. I’ve only set one of these before. For my brother,” she says quietly. “Can you put it back?” “Of course, Feo. I’m a Player,” she says, trying not to sound like she’s convincing herself. “I can do all sorts of wonderful things.” She lifts it again. “It’s gonna hurt, though.” “I don’t care.” Sarah pulls, twists, and pushes the arm, and it pops into place. Jago breathes deeply through his teeth, testing out his arm. It works. “Thank you, Sarah.” The screaming is louder. “You’d have done the same for me.” Jago smiles. For some reason, he thinks of the people who came to see his parents after the meteor struck Juliaca. There are some debts that must be honored. “No, I wouldn’t have,” he says. “But I will now.” Sarah stands, looks toward the wreckage. “We need to get out of here. Before the government gets here, before they start asking questions.” “You think it was meant for one of us?” Jago asks. “It had to be. This is Endgame,” she says, reaching out her hand, offering it. “My name is Sarah Alopay. I’m the Cahokian.”
He takes her hand, and it lights him up, feels as if it belongs in his, as if it’s something he’s been waiting for. It also scares him, because he knows these feelings can be dangerous, can make him vulnerable, especially with someone who has the skills he suspects she has. For now, though, he’ll allow himself to feel it, to love it.
“I’m Jago Tlaloc. The Olmec.”
To find out what happens next – and to start solving the puzzle that could win you $ 500,000 in gold coins – pick up Endgame: The Calling, out now from HarperCollins.
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