The sample chapters I’m posting are rough drafts. Typos and other errors are likely. Please feel free to point any out if you see any–or to make any comments you want. I’m always happy to get feedback, good or bad.

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Go to Chapter 7.
Go to Chapter 8.

Chapter 1: The Whistleblower Conference

I usually ride a motorcycle so traffic is hardly ever a problem. Today it was a pain in the ass. The sidewalks for blocks around my destination, Rare Change and Medallions, were jam-packed with nutjobs dressed like space aliens. Rubberneckers gawking at costumed idiots created a massive traffic jam.

I’m one of Jehovah’s paladins. We all have mounts. Mine looks like a pristinely restored 1969 Harley Davidson Sportster. I say ‘looks like’ because Harley isn’t just a motorcycle; she’s a literal gift from God.

It looked like walking was going to be faster than trying to get through traffic, so when I got within a quarter mile of work, I parked her illegally. I knew that when no one was looking she would disappear. Harley comes when I need her and disappears into the aether when I don’t.

Like an old time western sheriff, my job is to keep the peace. When it’s peaceful, my time is my own. When it’s not, I’m on the clock twenty-four/seven. Over the last three days, I’d not gotten more than a couple hours of rest at a time and I was NOT in a good mood. In eight hours, most of these knuckleheads would be gone. I was looking forward to uninterrupted sleep.

A week ago, I had a conversation with my guardian angel. I’d been in my office at Rare Change and Medallions updating my paladin’s log when I felt a puff of displaced air. I looked up and there was B. As usual, he wore clothes fit for European Royalty. The drape of his dark wool suit on his tall, slender, athletic frame was supernaturally perfect.

Every time I saw him, I was struck by the discrepancy between his clothing and his personality. He looked and dressed like an aristocrat—talked and acted like a slob. I knew he’d prefer shaven head, tats, piercings, and leather, but heaven forced him to wear a uniform.

He smirked. “How’s it going, Chuckles?”

“What do you want now?”

“Me? Not a thing. You, however, may want to catch up on your sleep.

“Why?”

His grin expanded. He enjoyed giving me bad news. “In three days the Whistleblower Conference will start up at the Grand America Hotel, just a few city blocks from here. There’ll be close to ten thousand UFO believers in town absolutely dying to be abducted, examined, and anally probed. Ten percent of them will have angel genes. Get a thousand people with magic potential summoning aliens, the chances are good that some aliens are gonna show up.”

“Real aliens? Like ET?”

“If you’re talking about kindly, peace loving, sock-puppet looking aliens with retractable necks who play nice with kids—not so much. If you’re talking about skinny, ugly, bug-eyed, gray-skinned poachers who abduct El Supremo’s sheep and then rip out their souls—yeah.”

I’ve been a paladin for over a year now. To keep the peace in Salt Lake City, I’ve been killing an average of one inter-dimensional invader a week. In the old days inter-dimensional invaders were called demons. Now they’re called minions. “So what do I need to know about them? How are they armed?”

B shrugged, “They aren’t part of the Great Game, but if they can kill you and steal your goodies, they will. They’ve got actual flying saucers, and they’re pretty handy with sleep, paralysis, and mind control spells. And you’re gonna love this – they’ve got directed energy weapons.”

This was interesting. I’ve never encountered minions that used technology before. “They’ve got starships, lasers AND magic?”

B flashed his brilliant white teeth and gave a mocking laugh. “Vic, I thought you’d know by now that Earth is the only dimension that’s advanced beyond Iron Age technology. There’s no need to make the long detour into chemistry and the physical sciences when all you have to do is decide what you want, focus your mind on your objective, burn a little soul energy, and—HEY, Presto! There’s whatever it is you want.

“It doesn’t make sense to for a culture to pursue technology when magic’s so easy. You need a god like Jehovah who actively suppresses magical knowledge for technology to be worth the bother, and in all the Multiverse there’s only one god like The Big Cheese. So no, our little gray buddies don’t have lasers; they’ve got a magic powered heat ray.”

“What about their starships?”

B lost his grin, sighed and rolled his eyes. “Not starships; think of ‘em as flying delivery trucks. They’ll operate in all kinds of toxic environments, and they do just fine in vacuum, but they aren’t specifically designed for space travel. Why bother when the only dimension in all the multiverse that has ‘space’ is this one?”

Every one of B’s answers raised more questions. I was just about to ask another one when he yawned and pointedly looked at his watch. “It’s been fun, Chuckles but I’ve got other really important archangel stuff to do.” He made a V with his middle and ring fingers, said “Live long and prosper, Dude” and was gone.

I went looking for Tim. He was more than happy to explain why our dimension was the only one in all the multiverse that had ‘space’.

Turns out, in all the other dimensions the world is flat. Our world wasn’t because of a lucky navigator who mistakenly thought the world was round. When Columbus sailed the ocean blue, a continent he didn’t know existed prevented him from falling off the edge of a flat Earth. The torrent of wealth that came from the new world convinced every European of his day that Columbus had to be right. Belief molds reality. The Earth became a sphere.

It’s one thing to make the Earth round; it’s another to change the Cosmos so Earth revolves around the sun rather than vice versa. Human beings alone didn’t have the magical juice; Heaven had to help. Galileo was wrong; the sun circled the earth, but his error helped spark the scientific method, which in turn advanced technology and the physical sciences. Heaven liked the results of his errors and encouraged him and others like him to make more.

Whenever a scientist postulated a theory that helped technology advance, the heavenly bureaucracy modified the night sky to match the theory. By the early nineteen hundreds, rocket technology developed to the point where it was only a matter of time before mankind got out of the atmosphere to take a look around. A fake solar system was no longer tenable.

In 1917 the heavenly bureaucracy made an upgrade. They built a solar system that went all the way out to Jupiter. They couldn’t come up with a completely seamless way to transition from an earth-centric to a solar-centric planetary system, so on May 13th, 1917 they sent the Virgin Mary down to Portugal for a series of miraculous distractions.

On October 13th, 1917 approximately seventy thousand people witnessed the Sun dance, change colors, and rotate like a wheel. The miracle of Our Lady of Fatima was a coverup for our solar system hardware upgrade. It was a surprisingly clever move. If the Sun’s dance had been a confirmed solar observation, scientists would have studied it, and the masquerade wouldn’t have held up. Since the Age of Reason, scientists have been remarkably reluctant to investigate religious miracles—even one that had seventy thousand witnesses.

My faith in the heavenly bureaucracy’s incompetence was shaken until I learned how human scientists discovered dark matter and energy. Our solar system ends a hundred million miles out from Jupiter’s orbit. All the stars and other planets further out are just magically generated lights—heaven’s special effects.

The angels who designed the lights were artists, not mathematicians. Their main focus was to make the lights pretty. They totally screwed up the math for a fake Newtonian Universe. Their pretty lights revealed a universe that was mostly made up of mass and energy that couldn’t be measured. The heavenly bureaucracy’s attempt to hide the existence of aether—the magical energy that permeates our universe—ultimately convinced scientists that it existed.

Aidan and Tim programmed my smart phone to give me an alarm and GPS location whenever some collection of alien loving whack-jobs started to unwittingly cast summoning spells. The alarms came almost continuously during the night. They slowed down during the day but they still came every few hours.

I shadowed one group that climbed the highest peak in the Salt Lake City area, Mount Olympus. They hiked up before sundown and spent the whole frigging night chanting. Apparently, humanity was doing a crappy job of running our world, and they wanted the benevolent elders who’d raised us up from the animals to come back and take over or something.

If this had just been just a one day conference I’d have disrupted their summoning spell just to be sure that no aliens actually showed up, but disrupting a spell takes energy. After three days straight of not a lot of sleep, I just didn’t have it in me.

Summoning minions is a lot like fishing, but dropping a baited hook in the water doesn’t guarantee you a fish. I listened to the alien lovers chant, knowing that we were all most likely wasting our time. Near the end of the night I was so tired and frustrated, I was half hoping that an alien would show up so I could kill something.

At sunup the idiots stopped chanting. It took two hours for them to walk back down to the trailhead. The morons would not shut up about aliens all the way down to the parking area. If I had run, it would have taken maybe twenty minutes; instead I had to walk at their pace.

Just like your kindergarten teacher, Jehovah gives you grades for effort. He ‘cares’ about your intentions. A paladin is bound to obey God’s rules. I have rules of engagement that don’t allow me to kill well-intentioned humans, even the stupid, annoying ones. If I didn’t have compulsions that forced me to do God’s will, the morons who had been torturing me would have been tortured right back.

As I got off the trail, I headed back to my office to take a nap until the next bunch of dipshits started up with another summoning spell. If my alarm went off and I didn’t wake up, Tim or Aidan would be there to get me up.

Up until Jesus’ crucifixion, magic was commonplace. Pharaoh’s magicians engaged in a magic duel with Moses; Simon Magnus had magic powers; he just wasn’t as powerful as Jesus.

When Jesus made his self-sacrifice, he changed our universe. Anyone who performed magic beyond a certain level got caught by the Hero’s Oath and was forced to become an Oath Brother. A paladin is an unusually powerful Oath Brother who’s tasked with protecting a city from the minions of darkness. Most Oath Brothers aren’t volunteers; the Oath catches them when they finally cast one spell too many. That’s how I was caught.

It’s generally different for paladins. The job is usually a family business and most paladins start training for their jobs from infancy.

Until the Hero’s Oath—okay, let’s be accurate here—until the Hero’s Curse got me by the short hairs last year, I had no idea that magic even existed. I’d been exactly like the idiots I’d been shadowing all night; I’d been unknowingly casting spells too. The fact that I’d been as just as ignorant as them just pissed me off more.

Two years ago, there were more than a hundred Oath Brothers in Salt Lake City. Counting me, we now had three. A major benefit of being an Oath Brother is that we don’t get sick or get old. A much bigger downside is that we stand an excellent chance of dying in the line of duty—and there are countless minions who want to help us achieve that.

I staggered into Rare Change and Medallions and waved at Janet, one of the ordinary mortals we’d hired to work the counter. She smiled and said “Hey there Mr. P.” Janet knows her coins and precious metals, but has no idea our shop is a front for the headquarters of the Salt Lake City Oath Brotherhood. The conference was good for business; the shop was crowded. I went to a door marked ‘EMPLOYEES ONLY’, felt it magically unlock under my hand, stumbled downstairs to my office, and threw myself onto a cot I’d set up in the corner.

I closed my eyes and my alarm went off. Shit! There was a collection of eighteen would-be summoners at Saltair. If I had a choice, I would have ignored the alarm. I’d been chasing false alarms for the last three days. But I didn’t have a choice. I could have resisted for a short while, but the Oath’s compulsion would get stronger and my ability to make my own choices and decisions would grow weaker until I was forced to do something catastrophically, fatally stupid.

From time to time, there’ll be a news story about some hero who saves a number of lives in an extremely dangerous situation, but loses his own in the process. That’s usually an Oath Brother who tried to resist his God-driven compulsions for too long. Atheists often ask why an all-powerful God lets bad things happen to good people. The answer is easy; Jehovah isn’t all-powerful and He loves martyrs.

When I die, I know with absolutely certainty that I’ll become an angel and trade my current involuntary servitude for out-and-out slavery. Angels have even less free will than paladins. And if that wasn’t enticing enough, angels have NO genitalia. Scalpels aren’t involved but the effect is the same.

One of the things that helps keep B within the bare limits of my tolerance is the knowledge that he truly is a dickless wonder.

Although the Oath keeps me from taking full advantage of all my dangly bits—I’m not allowed premarital sex or even the occasional recreational onanism—I have a literal and figurative attachment to them.

I called out, “Azam-shay. Harley” and I was instantly in my holy armor, a complete set of black motocross leathers with concealed enhanced mithril strikeplates throughout, an invulnerable back-and-breast plate incorporated into the jacket, invulnerable magic wall-climbing boots and a full face helmet. My helmet has hands-free, voice actuated cellphone, voice actuated police scanner, and a heads-up display with GPS, laser range finder, and holographic targeting reticle.

Aidan Cahill, my leprechaun armorer, started late but has taken to modern firearms technology in a big way. Sanguinis, my magically suppressed Military Police Systems AA-12 Assault Combat Shotgun has a modified EOTech 553 on a Picatinny rail. The EOTech makes target acquisition orders of magnitude faster than the iron sights. The dot and circle lit reticle displays on the inside of my visor, and it always shows where the business end of my shotgun is pointing.

My mount was waiting for me on the street.

Traffic was even worse than it had been before. If I hadn’t been able to weave through traffic, I wouldn’t have been able to move. Once I’d traveled a few blocks west, the traffic cleared and I was able to get on the highway without a problem.

Normally I’m not allowed west of the Salt Lake City Airport. The heavenly bureaucracy is like every other group of pencil pushing geeks with too much power. For no other reason than a petty need to keep in control they restrict Jehovah’s servants to our own areas of operation. According to them, my proper place is inside Salt Lake City’s boundaries, but I’m allowed to travel out of my territory if I’m actively pursuing minions. I went ten miles past the Airport, took exit 104 and pulled up to an airport hanger that had been remodeled to look like white Islamic-themed castle with four golden minarets.

It’s used mostly for concerts, and it’s also a tourist destination of sorts. I went in and found an empty men’s room, entered a stall, and sub-vocalized “Azam-shay”. My helmet and leathers disappeared, and were replaced by a ball cap, yellow-framed Ray-Bans, a t-shirt that had ‘My parents were abducted and probed at MARFA, TEXAS and all I got was this stupid T-shirt!’ in fluorescent orange lettering, cut-off shorts, and high-tops.

I walked through the building to the shore of the Great Salt Lake. It was July, so the brine flies were swarming and the lake stank of rotting fish. No one else was out there except me and the Whistleblowers.

This group ranged in age from teenagers to a couple in their late sixties. They looked like Comic Con goers who’d had the misfortune to have signed up for the ‘Brine Fly Swarming Tour’ by mistake. There was an Original Series Star Trek uniform, a ‘Tom Baker’ Dr. Who, and a Babylon 5 Centauran, in addition to the usual badly-dressed schlubs. My outfit blended right in. They were all waving and slapping at the biting flies. I had to give them credit for persistence though; no-one made a move to leave.

An overweight, middle-aged guy in a Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts, and horn-rimmed glasses was one of the few in the group who didn’t have any angel genes. He started telling his story. “Exactly three years ago today at exactly this time, and at this precise location, I was taken by grays. I remember a tractor beam pulling me into the ship. Twenty-four hours later, I found myself back here. I have no memory of what happened during that time.” I listened to his heartbeat as he spoke. It didn’t change. He believed he was telling the truth.

Angelic genes are necessary to perform magic. Before Christ, angels frequently interbred with humans, and these cross-breeds were called nephilim. On a power rating scale of zero to one hundred, a normal human is zero; a nephilim is fifty, and an angel is one hundred. Christ’s sacrifice redeemed humanity and neutered all the angels. There hasn’t been a new nephilim since. Over time, angel genes have become more widespread throughout the gene pool, and consequently more diluted. About ten percent of humanity has angel genes; most of them have power ratings of one or two.

An Oath Brother has to have a power rating of at least three; the tipping point for paladins is a rating of twenty-five. In this group, fifteen out of the eighteen had angel genes. All of them desperately wanted a close encounter. Magic is cumulative; the fifteen of them combined had a power rating of thirty-one. This was the most powerful gathering I’d observed since the conference started; I could feel the power of their summons. If anybody could summon up a bunch of minions, it’d be this group.

I wasn’t surprised to see a shimmer in the sky about three hundred feet up. Almost all inter-dimensional portals are at ground level or below because the minions just walk through. These guys fly, so a mid-air portal made sense. When a portal opens and closes, it leaves a residual energy signature that can take days to dissipate. If you know what you’re looking for, they’re fairly easy to locate.

Since Salt Lake City was founded, the previous paladins and Oath Brothers had located and marked thirty-seven portals. In the year I’ve been on the job, Tim and I have located twenty-two more; I guess it’s because we go out and look for them. I’ve got custom-made Thorgrin Specialty Products anti-minion claymore mines set up in front of every portal I know about and can get to. This portal wasn’t booby trapped because Aidan, Tim and I can’t normally get here and it’s hard to set up a claymore mine three hundred feet in the air. I made a mental note to talk to the Thorgrins soonest about some sort of minion-seeking surface to air missile.

I knew the shimmer was the portal disrupting the time-space continuum interface. Then there was a flash as the portal opened, and the flying saucer was suddenly just there. It looked exactly like how I’d imagine a starship dropping out of warp inside a planetary atmosphere would look. If I hadn’t known about inter-dimensional portals, I would have sworn it was a computer generated special effect. I’d seen this occur before on our surveillance videos, but it was the first time I’d personally watched a minion enter our dimension. It was impressive and worth seeing.

None of the summoners seemed worried. A couple of them had tears of joy running down their faces. They no longer waved at the biting flies. No-one paid any attention to me as I moved to the far left side of their group.

The flying saucer was a grey metallic disc about fifty feet across. It floated down to us without a sound or visible means of propulsion. All the while, the guy with the horn-rimmed glasses kept repeating. “This is exactly like what happened before! This is exactly like what happened before! Wait for the beam, guys! Wait for the beam!”

He gasped and shut up when the saucer stopped eight feet off the ground. A wedge shaped opening appeared on the top of the saucer, and a metallic gangplank extruded from the opening down to the ground. A five foot tall, slender grey alien with a head shaped like an upside down pear moved slowly into sight and stopped at the edge of the gangplank. It raised its left hand like it was about to offer a blessing.

I mouthed, “Azam-shay, Sanguinis” and instantly, I was fully geared with my weapon in hand. I felt the alien cast a mind control spell and instinctively shrugged its effects. I placed the lit targeting reticule on the alien’s center of mass and double-tapped it in the chest and place a third round between its eyes My thirty-two round drum magazine was loaded with tungsten penetrator core, copper-beryllium fin stabilized slugs, and the hydrostatic shock from the triple impact made the alien splash like a watermelon hit by a sledge hammer.

Every paladin has to keep a daily journal. It’s one of God’s commands. Our daily entries are magically uploaded into a heavenly database. Every year, heavenly bureaucracy sends out new leather bound textbooks filled with useful information gleaned from these journals. The heavenly bureaucracy was too stuck in its ways to use digital, easily searchable files. Tim told me to be happy with what we got. When he became an Oath Brother, they were still sending scrolls!

After my conversation with B, I did some research on the grays and their vehicles. I was surprised to find out Roswell was just an urban myth; it had no basis in fact. Most of the information about the grays came from alien incursions that occurred in Great Britain in 1926 and on the East Coast in 1938. Orson Well’s radio broadcast of ‘War of the Worlds’ was a coverup of a real alien invasion.

A saucer uses a basic flying carpet spell. Like most flying machines, weight matters. The outer shell was made out three to seven mm thick, low carbon steel; it was braced on the inside with hollow struts made of bamboo-like material.

Paladins have the right of conquest. With rare exceptions, once we kill a minion, we get to keep its stuff. If I was willing to put the money, materials, and time into it, I could have made had Aidan, my armorer, or hired the Thorgrins to make one for me. Even if we had the money or the materials, we were way too busy to waste time making a flying vehicle we really didn’t need. And there was no way, I’d ever be allowed to make or buy my own interdimensional travel device.

I lusted for a flying saucer. My god-driven compulsions limited my horizontal movements not vertical and I’ve always wanted to go into space. More importantly, I was Jehovah’s unwilling servant. Jehovah had complete dominion in our universe; he had no power in others. There were rules that prevented me from entering an interdimensional portal or casting my own spell to go to another dimension. But the best I could tell, there were no rules against me owning or using a flying saucer. If I escaped to another dimension, I’d be free.

I had twenty-nine penetrator rounds remaining in the drum, and I spaced them to get maximum coverage of the saucer’s internal volume. According to the textbooks, the aliens controlled their saucer mentally. The gray I was aiming for could have been anywhere inside. My slugs zipped through the saucer’s shell like it was pop can thin. I visualized them striking the not-bamboo struts inside causing fragments and splinters to fly everywhere. If it worked like I’d hoped, I’d kill or disable the pilot.

The bolt locked back when the last round went on its way, and by the time I dropped the empty mag and seated a new one, the saucer was up and away, heading straight for the portal. Dammit! I had a could-of, should-of thought. If I’d had grenades, I could have tossed a couple in through the entranceway; THAT would have grounded it for sure.

I let the bolt go forward and covered the summoners. They stood frozen in shocked, open-mouthed disbelief. If I’d skinned and eaten their kid’s puppy, they couldn’t have been more horrified.

Then Mr. Hawaiian Shirt put out both hands in a ‘stop’ gesture and screamed “GORT! KLAATU BARADA NICTO! KLAATU BARADA NICTO! I sighed, shook my head, lowered my weapon, flipped up my visor and cast the spell of forgetfulness over the group.

Normally when I cast a spell, I use up part of my soul. If I use it all, I’ll die the final death, and without a soul I can’t become an angel. Angels, and even gods who are souls made manifest can also die this way. Skilled magic practitioners are extremely protective of their souls.

The spell of forgetfulness is one of the rare spells I can cast where the power comes directly from God rather than from me. It makes whoever’s the object of the spell forget what they’ve seen and experienced. If they have angel genes, it permanently binds their magic so they can only perform healing spells. They lose the ability to do anything else with their magic. Only paladins can cast this spell—ordinary Oath Brothers can’t—and it only works on humans who unintentionally use their magic to do something potentially dangerous to themselves or others.

The aliens, or grays—both names work—come from a culture that uses souls of intelligent beings to power their civilization. The souls they steal come almost exclusively from Earth. In every other dimension, gods walk among mortals and feed on them; ordinary mortals are trained from birth to fear the powerful and the unknown. Because Jehovah subsists on faith rather than actual souls, a ridiculously high percentage of humans in this dimension trust in the kindness of strangers. All minions find easy prey on Earth.

The reference texts state that based on post-abduction interviews and hypnotic regression sessions, returned abductees all agree that the grays treat them relatively well—the anal probe is apparently standard, and is either the gray’s version of a friendly handshake, or some wiseguy’s idea of a joke. I like the joke theory—I could see how it started.

“Hey, before we let this one go, why don’t we stick something long and shiny and cold that buzzes and vibrates up his ass?”

“Oh, that’s GREAT! That’s TOO FUNNY! That’ll give him something to brag about to his friends.”

“Sweet! I’ll go get the sonic screwdriver.”

I’m astounded by how many of the Whistleblower Conference attendees actually look forward to the anal probe. It’s fascinating that so many nominally heterosexual people see it as a badge of honor.

The reference texts also state that the aliens only return humans WITHOUT angel genes. When they capture humans with angel genes, they rip the souls out of them for the power they provide. Consciousness comes from the soul; when a soul is involuntarily burned, it’s impossible not to be aware of it. It’s been described as excruciatingly painful physic rape. The aliens use up souls until the final death.

The spell of forgetfulness worked just like it always does. This bunch of summoners might vaguely be aware of three minutes they couldn’t account for, but all they’d remember was standing on the shore of the Great Salt Lake and nothing happening other than getting the shit bitten out of them by the Brine Flies.

I was in a much better much better mood on the way back. Killing something is the best anti-depressant.

I got to back to my office and went to sleep knowing that there’d be another alarm in a few hours. I woke up rested. There was no alarm. My office doesn’t have a window so I couldn’t tell how long I’d been asleep. I pulled out my phone; it was 9:16 PM. I’d slept for almost ten hours. I checked to make sure I hadn’t slept through any alarms; I hadn’t.

Paladins are stronger and faster than normal humans. I also have super hearing. I heard Aidan Cahill, my armorer puttering in his work shop. Tim Hardy, his apprentice wasn’t in the building. There’s a cost to my super strength and speed. I have a super fast metabolism and I hadn’t eaten for half a day. I went to the kitchen down the hall and had seven microwave burritos, three avocados, a quart of coleslaw, a two liter bottle of cream soda, a fresh pineapple, and a half-gallon of rocky road ice cream.

I then walked into my armorer’s workshop. Aidan looked up as I walked in. “Victor my lad, you look rested. How’d you sleep?”

I was still in a good mood from earlier this morning but I’ve learned to be cautious when things seem to be going too well. “I slept for ten hours. The conference is still going on—I shouldn’t have been able to sleep for more than an hour or two. What’s up with that?”

Aidan isn’t human. He’s a leprechaun who defected from the Sidhe universe more than six hundred years ago. He looks and sounds like a five foot tall Santa Claus. “Ah lad, it takes a cold, hard soul to be so suspicious of good fortune.” His belly shook as he guffawed, “I’ll hazard a guess at the reason. This morning, Tim was dancing with excitement. All he could talk about was that this evening the Whistleblower Conference is hosting a sneak preview of a movie he’s been anticipating for quite some time. I can’t remember its name, but I know it has Chinese speaking Space Cowboys. Tim was not only looking forward to the film, but to the question and answer session with the director and actors scheduled afterwards. There’s an end-of-conference ball going on right now. Tim claimed there was a rumor that the actors in the film were going to the festivities too. If the other conference goers are half as giddy as Tim about the prospect of meeting, greeting, and perhaps dancing with one of the actors or actresses, it would explain why none of them could be bothered with summoning spells.”

Now that Aidan had mentioned it, I remembered seeing posters of a slim brunette with an oddly attractive, concave face all around the conference. As an Oath Brother, Tim was bound to the same restrictions as me. He can only kiss someone he loves, and have sex only within marriage. Within the limits of his Curse, he’s the biggest man-whore he can be. He has a constantly evolving series of intense crushes on women AND men. The actress, Summer Something—the last name didn’t stick—is exactly his type. He’s attracted to intelligence, and if I remembered correctly, she almost always plays roles where she’s a troubled genius.

I hoped Summer liked men with thinning hair, constantly clammy hands, and potbellies who stutter when they got excited. If I knew Tim, she’d need bodyguards to keep him at a socially acceptable distance. Tim is over a hundred and twenty-two years old, looks like he’s in his mid twenties, and has the emotional maturity of a thirteen-year-old. In the past, I’ve been an object of his affections. It’s much funnier when he focuses on someone else. My armorer must have been thinking the same thing. His grin was identical to mine.

It isn’t a coincidence that Tim is over a hundred years old and that Aidan is close to seven hundred. The average life expectancy of a new Oath Brother is shorter than a newbie combat replacement’s. The ones that are clever and lucky enough to survive at least ten years tend to live a very long time. The most powerful Oath Brotherhood leaders are centuries old, and not surprisingly they tend to be extremely conservative. And they never try to fix something, they don’t think is broke.

When I first got press-ganged into being a paladin, Aidan tried to arm me with a magic sword and shield. If I’d been indoctrinated to use obsolete weapons from birth, they’re probably what I’d be using now. In some ways I was fortunate not to have any paladin training. Against Aidan’s advice, I chose a select-fire assault shotgun instead of a sword, and I haven’t regretted it.

I don’t like depending on others. Before I became a paladin, I spent decades working happily on my own. The last three days showed me that lone-wolfing is just fine and dandy sometimes; other times, you’ve just got to have help. Most paladins have a hundred or more Oath Brothers for back-up, support, and assistance. It’s not just a matter of convenience; I need more boots on the ground.

“Aidan, I’ve noticed that none of reference texts ever mention paladins recruiting new Oath Brothers. Why is that? Is it against the rules?”

The leprechaun paused, “That’s an interesting question, to be sure—to be sure.” He looked up to the ceiling and absent mindedly ran his fingers through his hair. “There are orders in the Catholic Church—the Jesuits and Dominicans come to mind—who have been recruiting for the Oath Brotherhood for centuries. Tibetan and Shaolin monks have done the same. I’ve never heard of anyone else doing it, and even the ones that do only recruit within their small group.” He met my eyes. “I don’t think it’s against the rules. Are you thinking about recruiting at the dance?”

“Yeah.”

“In that case my boy, I’ll be joining you. It’s been a long while since I’ve been to any festivities.”

Go to Chapter 2.