Basilisk (The Korsak Brothers #2)

Written By: Rob Thurman

Basilisk (The Korsak Brothers #2) by Rob Thurman




To my characters—I am so damn sorry for the things

I do to you.



But what the hell? I do have to pay the bills.



Acknowledgments


To my mom, who suggested why not give my old dream of writing a go. Who knew she harbored such inner rage toward her own child? To Shannon, best friend and sister with a black belt in tough love; to my patient editor, Anne Sowards; to the infallible Kat Sherbo; to Brian McKay, ninja of the dark craft of copy writing; to Agent Jeff Thurman of the FBI for the usual weapons advice; to talented artist Aleta Rafton; to Lucienne Diver, who astounds me in the best possible way at every turn; and to great and lasting friends Michael and Sara, as well as Linda and Richard (who give new meaning to “Been there, done that, then went to China and did it again during a total eclipse of the sun”).





“Fantasy abandoned by reason creates impossible monsters. . . .”

—Francisco Goya, 1799





“Genius might be described as a supreme capacity for getting its possessors into trouble of all kinds.”

—Samuel Butler, 1835–1902





Prologue


On the day a nine-year-old boy killed Stefan, he didn’t see his life flash before his eyes.

It’s what they say you’ll see, but not him. Clichés, who needed them?

That this was the second time in his life he’d thought the same exact thing would’ve been worth mentioning . . . if it hadn’t been for the actual process of dying. That tended to be distracting from pithy observations. He was aware that he was lacking in the last-thoughts, much less last-words, department. He knew . . . but what could a guy do?

Life is like that. Sooner or later, it boils down to “What the hell can you do?”

His brother, Michael, once told him that when he had no hope, he dreamed of sun, wind, and horses. They were a part of his past—in a way, the best part. Every night he had dreamed of them—sun, wind, and horses. When Stefan had no hope, because dying doesn’t leave a person much, he saw the same.

Sun, wind, and horses.

Stefan felt his heart stutter and skip. He wouldn’t have thought that one or two missed beats would hurt that much, but they did. Invisible fingers of agony fastened around that beating hunk of muscle and squeezed once, twice, as his lungs staggered in sync. Then red, as scarlet as a field of poppies, bloomed behind his eyes, and he was on the beach. There were pounding waves, pale sand, and a sky so blue it couldn’t be real. It was a child’s painting, carefully covering every bit of the paper; it was blue and dense enough that you could probably scrape a thick peeling of color away with a thumbnail. He could smell the salt that stung his nose, feel the water that soaked his legs, and the warmth of the horse beneath him, the coarse mane he hung on to as he galloped through the surf. The wind in his face made him feel that he could fly. It was one of those moments no one forgets; the exhilaration, the sensation of wind, water, and sun branded forever in the mind of the fourteen-year-old kid.

He couldn’t see his brother, but he could hear him laughing in the way only a seven-year-old can laugh—with all his being. He was on his own horse behind Stefan, sharing the adventure. It was a great memory, there, then—before the blood. Before the red coated the rock and sand, it was better than great—it was the perfect memory. Time spent with the strippers in his old Mafiya haunts didn’t beat that. Even the first time he fell in love didn’t conquer that. Didn’t come close.

The next flash was when he’d saved his brother ten years after his abduction on that same beach. Stefan didn’t see him through his own eyes this time. He wasn’t Stefan anymore. He was his brother. He saw himself from his brother’s point of view—a stranger all in black standing in the doorway of his prison, then pulling him out of a place of horror. He felt his confusion, his lack of trust, but years of brainwashed obedience had him allowing the grip on his arm and the tug and the run to freedom. The gravel and glass under his bare feet, the pain of the cuts, the ear-ripping explosions of firing guns, and the stars; Stefan felt and saw it all. Pain, blood, and flying bullets; he’d thought that would be what would stick with the kid—Michael—but it was the stars he remembered the most. The students—the prisoners—of the facility weren’t allowed to wander the grounds at night, and they didn’t have windows in the small cell-like rooms. Death behind him, and, for all he knew, death in front of him, but it was the stars that he saw. Far from any city, deep in the Everglades, the sky might be the color of the Grim Reaper’s cloak, but Death’s robe did make the ideal background for a hundred stars.

Brilliant light that shone down on you and could almost make you believe in miracles.

A light that could almost make you believe escape could be real and life was more than being trained to kill, turned into a weapon with no will of your own.

A light that was worth dying to see.

Only Michael had it in him to think that, which was unbelievable too. A wonder. He was a good kid. A damn good kid. The best. Even while dying, Stefan knew that as well as he knew anything in the goddamn world.

Michael left the bullets and the stars behind. The next was a string of emotions: fear, confusion, exasperation, more confusion, bewilderment, denial, annoyance, finally a reluctant acceptance, contentment, and a sense of belonging. All those emotions had been caused by Stefan, and while he wished the ones at the beginning could’ve been avoided, he was damn proud of the ones he felt . . . that his brother felt at the end.