The Mephisto Covenant – Excerpt

The Mephisto Covenant: The Redemption of AjaxMephisto Covenant Paperback


“I am part of the part that once was everything,
Part of the darkness which gave birth to light . . .”
—Mephistopheles, from Goethe’s Faust

Chapter 1

“Your father’s ring is gone! That slime, Alex, took it—I know he did.”

Sasha stood in the doorway to her mother’s bedroom, watching her tear through shoe boxes and dresser drawers, debating whether to tell her that Alex didn’t take Dad’s ring. Inside her jeans pocket, her hand curled around the now familiar circle she’d been carrying for over a week, ever since she’d taken it to a psychic in Haight-Ashbury who said she could read the souls of people in the objects they wore every day.

Another dead end. She’d been so sure Mercy Jones would be able to tell her who had killed her father, but Mercy only blathered on about Sasha’s aura, that it was pure and beautiful, with the light of divinity—the most perfect she’d ever seen. Mercy said she was destined for an extraordinary life. What she didn’t say was what had happened to Dad. She couldn’t get a read on the ring because it had been too long since Dad had worn it, too long since he’d died.

A hundred bucks later, Sasha walked out with the cloying scent of incense stuck all over her, the ring in her pocket, the assurance she was real special, and still no clue about Dad.

Mom was swearing in Russian, off-the-charts upset, now tossing panties and boxers and T-shirts out of the drawers. “I should never have shown it to him. Thank God I put the painting in a safe place after he saw it. Had he taken that . . .”

“What painting?”

Her mom paused for a moment, as if she had to think about how to answer, then continued digging through Dad’s bottom drawer, the one where he had kept his socks. “I found it in an old house in Vladivostok, years ago.”

As much as anything, Sasha loved art. She loved museums and studying Old Masters. Mom knew that. If she had on old painting, why had she never mentioned it? “Can I see it?”

“Not right now.” Her mom stopped suddenly and stood straight, dark eyes narrowed while she looked toward Sasha. “You never liked Alex, said all along he was bad. How did you know?”

“It was just a feeling. He gave me the creeps.” Way worse than that. Every time he came over, she got violently, horribly sick. Alex Kasamov was something evil.

Turning the ring between her fingers, she walked to the bed, to Mom’s nightstand. Opening the drawer, she moved the contents around as if she was looking for the ring, then straightened, turned, and held it out to her mother. “You must have left it in here and forgot.”

With huge relief on her face, Mom snatched it from her and inspected it closely.

Sasha turned to leave, almost hoping Mom would ask where she was going. A year ago, before Dad died, her mom would have put her through the third degree before telling her no, she couldn’t leave to attend a midnight meeting. Now, it didn’t seem to matter where Sasha went or what she did. All Mom cared about was her job at the State Department. And Dad’s ring.

Skipping the dicey elevator, Sasha took the stairs, five flights down to the lobby of their building. Outside, light fog had rolled into Oakland, and the air was damp and chilly. Shivering with cold and anxiety, she walked to the end of the block, toward a blue Toyota SUV.

Trying out a psychic was weird and desperate, but no one knew, so no one could give her a hard time. Tonight was a whole different thing, and everyone would know. Going to a Raven meeting was social suicide. Whether she joined or not, she was making a statement by accepting the invitation, and after tonight, she was either a Raven or she was nobody. Tomorrow, she’d lose friends, people would whisper behind her back, she’d be uninvited to Smith Hardwick’s party on Friday, and whatever chance she had with Tyler Hudson would be toast.

The Ravens were supersecretive and tried to make it seem like a huge deal to be invited, but after Smith Hardwick said it was lame, everyone except the geeks lost interest. Nobody but the hopeless wanted to join the Ravens.

“Just so you know,” she said to Missy after she was inside the car, “I’ll be way pissed if you lied about all this.”

Missy turned toward the Bay Bridge. “It’s no lie, I swear. You won’t be sorry you came.”

“You’ve been pretty vague about it, so tell me exactly what I have to do for Eric to tell me what I want to know.”

“Not Eric. Eryx. And it’s simple—really no big deal. Say you agree to follow him and help him find other people to join, and he’ll give you what you want. If you don’t believe it’s true, just look at me. I used to be fat, remember?”

Sasha didn’t say yes, even though she totally remembered. Missy had been ginormous—had been ever since she came to St. Michael’s in fourth grade. But when their senior year began in August, she looked like a different person. She was instantly everybody’s favorite Ugly Duckling turned Beautiful Swan, invited to every party, asked out by some seriously hot guys, even Smith Hardwick. Then it got around that she’d joined the Ravens, and she’d been smacked back to the swamp.

“I lost all the weight because of Eryx. He changed my life.” She glanced at Sasha before she turned onto a side street that led to the Embarcadero. “He can find out who killed your dad. All you have to do is join.”


“You say an oath, then—”

“I meant, how can he find out?”

Missy turned to look over her shoulder while she parallel parked. “I’m not exactly sure, but if he can tell you what you want to know, does it matter? You’ve got to have faith.”

Since she was little, Mom had taken her to the Russian Orthodox church once a week. Her faith was reserved for God, not some strange guy named Eryx, but she didn’t say so because Missy clearly wouldn’t appreciate it, might even take Sasha home and renege on the invite. The Ravens weren’t about God. Some said they worshipped Satan, but from what Missy said, Sasha didn’t think that was quite right. She wasn’t sure what they were about, but she was going to find out. If Eryx, whoever he was, had some special power that he could use to find out about Dad, she was more than willing to say some stupid oath.

It was only words, and she figured God would give her a pass, under the circumstances.

In truth, it all sounded like BS, but she had to try because she had to know who shot Dad. She imagined him in his hotel room in Moscow, looking up when someone busted in, aimed, and shot. He must have been scared and, in that split second before he died, had to know he was leaving them alone.

He’d have hated that. Dad was hard-nosed and blunt on the outside—a total marshmallow on the inside. When she had friends sleep over, he’d yell across the house, “Girls, simmer down and get to sleep!” Then he’d wake them up the next morning, grinning, waving a spatula. “Chow line starts in five, chicas.”

He had come back to the United States in a metal box, and Mom had had him buried in Minnesota, outside of Mankato, where he grew up. There was a flag draped over his coffin, because he had been in the army for a while. He ‘d served in Afghanistan before he left the service and got a regular job with an insurance company.

Who shot an insurance man? It made no sense. The Russian cops called it a robbery gone bad, but the only thing stolen was Dad’s cell phone. Otherwise, nothing had been taken except her father’s life.

In the beginning, Sasha expected the murderer to be caught and brought to justice, but that didn’t happen. Her mother said it was different in Russia, that some crimes were left unsolved because the cops got paid off by the Mafia. Mom wrote a lot of letters to people in Washington, demanding they force the Russian government to investigate, but nothing ever happened.

No one knew who killed Mike Annenkov, and worse, no one appeared to care.

Out of the car, she and Missy walked toward the waterfront and down the street toward Pier 26. Missy led her through a maze of buildings, the narrow space between them dimly lit by vapor lights at the corners, until she stopped at a metal door with a sign that said NO ENTRANCE. Immediately after her knock, the door opened.

Sasha hesitated, but David Hollister was there, grasping her arm and tugging her through the doorway. “Glad you came,” he said, shoving his glasses up his thick nose with his free hand. “Did Missy tell you about the Code of Silence?”

Like she’d willingly tell anybody she bought into something this goofy? “Yeah, David, she told me.”

He dropped her arm when the door closed behind them and turned away, switching on a flashlight. “Follow me,” he said importantly.

Squelching the urge to turn and leave, she did as he said, listening while he told her that he’d been appointed acting leader of the Ravens, that he was tapped to become one of Eryx’s assistants. “It’s unusual for anyone to make it this high in such a short time. I only joined a month ago. But I have real leadership abilities, and I’m a master of persuasion.” For a guy who got pantsed on a regular basis, David was sure full of himself.

Sasha glanced at Missy, who had no expression at all, staring down at the beam of David’s flashlight.

They came to another door. David sucked spit through his teeth and made a big deal out of knocking. “It’s a special code, so they know it’s a Raven on the other side.”

Good grief. It would be pathetic if it wasn’t so stupid. Sasha wondered how much more goofiness she’d have to endure before she got to meet the mysterious Eryx and ask him what he could do for her.

When the door opened, she saw a small room with no furniture, no boxes—nothing at all but several bare candles placed in the center of the concrete floor, illuminating spray-painted figures: 66X. The sign of the devil was 666. Did they replace one of the sixes with an X for Eryx? She wasn’t sure if that was silly, or seriously disturbing. Standing in a semicircle were twelve St. Michael’s seniors, silent and solemn, all of them staring at her. Missy’s hands were at her back, pushing her forward so that she stumbled out of the shadows and into the candlelight.

Feeling their hostile glares, she realized with a jolt of surprise that she was in enemy territory. Her courage faltered, and she had to fight herself to keep from turning back toward the door, away from this creepy group of people. She’d known most of them since kindergarten, but they stared at her as if at a stranger, with no hint of warmth or welcome.

Was this part of their initiation? It had to be, because why would they hate her? She was just a regular girl who was nice to people, especially the ones who got picked on a lot. Like David Hollister.

“So you want to be a Raven,” Amy Lee said. “What makes you think we’d want you?”

Before she could think of an answer, Casey Mills said, “She doesn’t want to be a Raven. Missy said she’s only here to find out who killed her father.”

“You’re a phony,” someone else said.

“A user,” said another.

“Eryx doesn’t want you unless you’re all in, unless you give up God.”

Then they were all talking at once, closing their circle until she was trapped in the middle, standing on the X. She could feel the heat of the candles against her jeans.

Having insults hurled at her while standing on an altered satanic symbol in a deserted warehouse office was surreal. Had Missy really asked her to tonight’s meeting to see if she was interested in joining? Confused and hurt, she looked at Missy and asked, “Why?”

Her turncoat friend stepped closer and said in a dull voice, “Because of what you are.”

“What am I?” She didn’t get it. And last she checked, she wasn’t a moron.

Missy’s eyes narrowed while the others scoffed. “You’re still trying to fake us out. Do you really think we’re too stupid to know?”

“Know what?”

“You’re Anabo,” came a voice from behind her, a familiar voice with a heavy Russian accent.

Turning quickly, Sasha stared as Alex Kasamov stepped out of the shadows, then steeled herself against an instant wave of nausea. She guessed he was in his forties, and older ladies probably thought he was hot, including her mom, but Sasha thought he was smarmy, with slicked-back dark hair and evil eyes. “What are you doing here?”

“I sponsor the Ravens.”

“How? Why?”

“The day Katya asked me to take you to summer volleyball practice at your school, I met Casey. He was on his way to try out for football, and I could see he needed a little help. I made certain he made the team, and he agreed to find others to follow Eryx. That’s why I said I’d sponsor them. Everything I do is for Eryx.”

“Including going out with my mom?”

“Yes, but Katya wouldn’t cooperate, couldn’t see that what I have to offer is the only way.”

Had he tried to get Mom to pledge to Eryx? That’d be funny, if it wasn’t so twisted. Mom was all about God.

Alex came closer and stopped just in front of her. She took a step back, but Missy’s hands were there again, holding her still. “In Greek,” he said, “Anabo means light. Before Eve fell from grace, before original sin, she had a daughter, Aurora. You’re one of her descendants, called Anabo because your spirit is all light, without darkness.”

Her heart beat so fast, she wondered if they could hear it. “I’ve never heard of Anabo, or Aurora. I’m not anybody. You’re way wrong.”

He shook his head. “I learned all I need to know about you from your mother and the kids here tonight. People are drawn to you, they like you, even before they really know you. You stand up for the losers. You’re there for those who get into trouble, without judging.”

“All that makes me is nice.”

“The Anabo never give in to temptation because they’re never tempted to begin with. You don’t understand hate, rage, lust, greed, or jealousy. All of humanity has to resist the pull of the dark side, but you don’t because it’s not there. You have no concept of evil except in the abstract. From the moment you were born, you were destined for Heaven.”

“We’re all destined for Heaven.”

The Ravens began shouting at her, but Alex silenced them with a raised hand and a shake of his head. “Those who don’t succumb make it to Heaven, but it’s a lifelong fight for everyone except the Anabo.” Superfast, he jerked her sweater up at the same time Missy wrenched her arms behind her. “There’s no doubt what you are. You have the sign of the Anabo—your birthmark.” He turned her toward the group, displaying the tiny A on her torso for all to see.

The Ravens went wild, screaming, shouting, calling her filthy names. Casey Mills spit at her.

Turning her head, she glared at Alex. “How did you know about my birthmark?”

“I saw it while you were sleeping.”

The little A, surrounded by sunbeams, was below her right breast, which meant he must have gone into her room while she was asleep, lifted her T-shirt, and looked at her. How? Why hadn’t she woken up? Why had Mom let that happen?

“I had to know. Had to be sure.” He let go of her sweater, and Missy released her arms. “I suspected, because you were so afraid of me. Unnaturally afraid. It’s instinctive in the Anabo to be terrified of Eryx’s chosen ones.”

“What I feel about you isn’t fear, Alex.” More like revulsion and loathing.

His eyes narrowed. “Call it what you will, I knew you couldn’t stand being in the same room with me, and it had nothing to do with me dating your mother.” He glanced around at the others before he moved still closer. “The Anabo are very rare, and of great interest to Eryx. As soon as the Ravens have had their fun, I’m taking you to see him.”

No way was she sticking around, and for sure she wasn’t going anywhere with Alex Kasamov.

Turning, she darted between Missy and David and booked it for the door, but she’d barely gotten through and made it a few steps into the warehouse before Alex caught her, clamped one arm around her neck and the other around her waist, squeezing until she could barely breathe. He dragged her backward, into the smaller room, into a chorus of insults from the others.

While Alex held her, Missy tied her hands behind her back and hobbled her ankles.

The Ravens stepped back, widening their circle, and that’s when she saw the rocks. A pile of them in the corner. Single file, the Ravens went past and gathered up two or three rocks each, then returned to the circle. David sucked spit through his teeth and grinned. “Ready for some fun, Sasha? Maybe you’ll enjoy this as much as I liked getting pantsed every goddamn day of my life!

She stared at him and said nothing. He knew. He remembered. She was the one who stuck up for him.

His grin faded. “Yeah, you think I wanted that? You think I liked you acting like Joan of Fucking Arc, cutting off my balls in front of the whole damn football team?” He hurled a rock, and it hit her in the face, glancing off of her cheek.

She couldn’t protect herself, and the next stone hit her nose, a third hit her breast, square on the nipple. With a shriek of pain, she fell to her knees, but one of the boys hauled her to her feet again. “Get up, angel.”

They pelted her with the rocks, coming at her from every direction, bruising and cutting. Nothing had ever hurt this bad. One eye began to swell, but she could see Alex through the other, standing just behind Missy, laughing.

“Where’s the God Squad now, Sasha?” Amy Lee shouted.

It was maybe the hardest thing she’d ever done, but she wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of crying, or begging for mercy. She didn’t say a word. Somewhere in the midst of awful pain and blind fear, her mind checked out and she thought of Dad, remembered his laugh; his smiley eyes; his big hands that fixed the plumbing, cooked pancakes, and petted her hair when he came to say good night.

She began to pray, desperately pleading to God. If he’d get her out of this alive, she’d be a better person. She’d work at the soup kitchen. Build houses for Habitat. Become a nun.

Please, God, help me!

Suddenly, as if someone hit a pause button, the shouts and laughter stopped. Dead quiet. Everyone in the room was frozen, some with an arm raised in midthrow, some with eyes half closed in midblink. They were each still as a statue.

Everyone except Alex. He looked as if he’d seen a ghost, his eyes wide with fright as he looked past her. Seconds later, he shifted his focus back to her. “I should have killed you the night I discovered you’re Anabo.”

It was like a nightmare where she had a chance to save herself, but couldn’t because of her inability to move. Tied up, bleeding, with one eye almost swollen shut, she had no prayer of escaping Alex when he wove around the frozen Ravens, rushed toward her, picked her up, and threw her over his shoulder. With her head hanging down, all she could see was the back of Alex’s pants as he ran for the door into the warehouse. Her whole body hurt, and bouncing on his shoulder was agony. She saw blood drip to the concrete and realized it was hers.

Jarring her, he skidded to a stop. “Get out of my way!”

Who was he talking to? All the Ravens were frozen.

“There’s no way out,” a deep voice said. “Give up and give me the girl.”

Who was it? How did he get here? The door hadn’t opened.

She felt hands around her waist, felt the tug and pull between Alex and the one with the deep voice. “Let go. Now.”

“Back off. I’m taking her to Eryx.”

“No,” the voice said calmly, “you’re going to Hell on Earth, and I’m keeping the girl.”

Who belonged to the voice? Where was Hell on Earth? Was it a joke? A metaphor?

Just after the hands at her waist went away, a pair of black boots and long legs in black leather pants came into her line of vision, along with a large hand holding a lethal-looking switchblade. She cringed when it plunged into Alex’s back, heard him grunt, felt his hold loosen and her body slip from his shoulder.

She landed in confident arms, cradled against a very warm and broad chest. Alex crumpled to the floor. “Is he dead?”

“No, just out of commission. I’d love to kill him, slowly and painfully, but I can’t. Be still and quiet now, and I’ll fix you.”

“Who are you?” She tried to see his face, but the way he was holding her, with her head pressed against his shoulder, she couldn’t really get a good look. It didn’t help that her right eye was swollen almost shut.

“My name is Jax. Hush now, and close your eyes.”

She did as he said and tried to be calm, but it was no use. He was a stranger, and after what just happened, her fear factor was way over the top, making her stiff with anxiety. “The others . . . if they wake up . . .”

“They won’t.”

“Did you . . . was it you who froze them like that?”

“Yes. Just stay calm.”

While she fought shock, a slow invading warmth spread through her, starting at her feet and moving upward, all the way to her face. She didn’t need to look to know the bruises disappeared and the cuts healed. The binding rope fell away, and within a matter of moments she felt no pain at all.

“Better?” he asked.

She nodded. “Thank you. How did you do that?”

“I’m not sure. It’s just something I can do.” He pressed her closer to his body for an instant, then slowly set her on her feet and stepped back, allowing her to get a look at him.

Her mouth went dry. “Holy….”

He was young, maybe eighteen or nineteen, dressed in black from head to toe—black leather trench coat swirling around his black boots. His face was hard, square, shadowed with the beginnings of a beard; his cheeks were high, his chin firm, his hair black as midnight, messy and too long. She met his eyes—ebony, fathomless eyes—and she knew, without a doubt, that he was not of this world. Inhuman. A specter of Hell. No wonder he hadn’t come through the door.