I would like to present the first three chapters of The Azrael Initiative. I hope you enjoy reading them.
Dodging to her right, Kayla sidestepped the fist aimed at her head as it passed close enough to feel the air move. Her auburn ponytail swinging as she danced around her opponent, Kayla watched with bright green eyes and waited for any opening, any weakness to exploit. She did not waste her energy on extra movements or attacks, preferring to let her adversary tire herself and present an opportunity.
Her opponent had a fierce look in her blue eyes as she came at Kayla with a strike of her left hand. Kayla stopped the blow. The hand latched onto her shoulder and dug into the flesh above her collarbone. Kayla staggered back at the pain. The hand released, then both combatants regained their balance.
As another blow came toward Kayla, she sensed that her foe had placed too much weight on her front foot. With a swift movement, Kayla slid to the side, grabbed the incoming arm, and sent her attacker tumbling to the blue padded floor.
“Enough!” said Olivia, with her arms up and palms facing Kayla.
“Next time, don’t let yourself get caught off balance,” said Kayla, as she extended her hand to help Olivia to her feet.
“Off balance? Naw, I just hadn’t done a somersault in forever,” grinned Olivia, her sapphire eyes twinkling. “Besides, I felt like taking a nap on this comfy mat.”
“Maybe next time I’ll give you that nap.” Kayla joked.
“Just make sure you tuck me in first,” responded Olivia as she brushed herself off.
“I believe that I’m two out of three this week. Hope you’re not losing your edge,” teased Kayla.
“Of course not. After kicking your ass all of last week, I thought you could use a couple of wins,” Olivia smirked.
Catching her breath, Kayla glanced around the gym where they held their morning training sessions. She saw other pairs finishing their own bouts and heading to the locker room. Training here required hard work, but Kayla always left feeling reinvigorated and confident about facing the challenges of being an engineering student. Besides, she always enjoyed throwing Olivia around a bit.
As the two of them walked toward the locker room, Kayla wiped the sweat from her forehead and Olivia shook her long blonde hair free of her headband.
“I’d better get ready so that I can head to the workshop to work on my senior design project,” Kayla said.
“Yeah, I need to head out, too. Class is in half an hour. See you for dinner?”
“Sure, we’ll just meet at the Union around 5:30, if that works.”
“Sounds good to me!” smiled Olivia.
As Kayla undressed and stepped into the shower stall to rinse off the sweat from her workout, she ran through a mental checklist of everything that she needed to do that day. Despite not having class on Thursdays, she had a lab report to finish and at least two hours of engineering homework to do. She also needed to spend a significant amount of time in the workshop working on her senior design project, a new design for a small, efficient wind turbine. She would certainly have a long day, but another day closer to graduation in just two months.
As she stepped out of the shower, Kayla dried her hair, pulled it back into a neat ponytail, and put on her jeans, a modest purple tank top, and black cardigan. She stuffed her workout clothes into her duffel bag and hauled it to her shoulder as she hurried out of the locker room.
As she left the Wellness Center and stepped out into the spring air of the South Dakota State University campus, Kayla Falk lifted her hand to shield her eyes from the crimson sun rising on the horizon, before she turned west toward the rest of campus. The closest building was the Student Union, a large building that was in a constant state of expansion. After countless meals and endless hours of studying within those walls over the course of nearly four years, it had become practically another home for her.
Kayla took a deep breath of the spring air. The grassy smell and cool atmosphere were refreshing changes from the heat and sweaty odor of the gym. In the distance, the bells of the campanile rang through the atmosphere. While she looked forward to seeing what the next chapter of her life brought, she would always treasure lovely mornings walking across campus.
As she strode toward the workshop on the other side of the SDSU campus, she slipped one of her backpack straps off of her right shoulder and pulled the bag around to her front to access its contents. Unzipping the small pouch, she pulled out an energy bar and an apple for her post-workout breakfast. The sight of the food made her stomach growl and her mouth watered as she bit into the peanut flavored bar.
While she chewed, she thought about how it was basically a candy bar for breakfast. It did, however, contain some protein, so it didn’t entirely lack nutritional value. At least she also had her apple for something a bit healthier.
As she approached the shop, she tossed her wrapper and apple core in the trash bin just outside. Opening the door, the sound of power tools greeted her, as other engineering students worked on their own projects. The oily smell in the air always reminded her of the time she had spent helping her father, a mechanic, in his garage. When she had been younger, he had her do simple tasks like changing oil or putting new tires on a car. By the time she had become a senior in high school, she could dismantle and reassemble an engine almost as well as her dad.
She walked over to the work area that her team had reserved for their project and set her bag under the workbench. Today, she had set the goal to assemble the system of gears that transferred energy from the turbine blades to the generator. Having worked with automobile differentials in her father’s shop, she had volunteered to design and assemble this piece of the project while other members of her group handled other aspects.
Kayla opened her project binder and flipped through the pages until she arrived at the diagram depicting her design. For several minutes, she reviewed the schematic and contemplated the steps she needed to take to assemble the collection of parts correctly. Her design was a planetary gearing system. She would attach the generator shaft to a sun gear, at the center of the arrangement, with blades attached to interlocking gears flanking it. By using such a system of gears, the generator shaft would rotate in the correct range of speeds when the blades rotated.
Satisfied that she had refreshed the design in her head, Kayla hauled the crate of parts to the top of the workbench. She pulled out each gear and piece needed for the assembly and arranged them in the order in which she needed them. For the next several hours, she fixed each gear in its proper place.
When she finished, she checked her phone and saw that it was already one o’clock. As the task at hand required all of her focus, she didn’t realize until then just how much she craved lunch. Kayla’s stomach growled as she gave the gear assembly a test spin. Satisfied that it operated smoothly, she set it in the crate before putting away all of her tools and equipment. After stashing her design binder in her backpack, she threw it over her shoulders and walked out of the workshop to find something to eat.
Reaching the Union, she went to Weary Wil’s Sports Grill to grab a burger to go. When it was ready, she put it into her backpack so she could head to the engineering building and find a quiet corner to grind through some homework. After she reached the building, she walked into the mostly empty study area, which was surrounded by rows of windows.
On a sunny afternoon such as this, it made for a cheerful and energizing work environment. Settling into a comfortable seat, she pulled out her lunch and munched on it as she started working through her Turbomachinery homework. Her work kept her busy until the time arrived to meet Olivia for supper.
At a quarter after five, Kayla packed up her notebooks, calculator, and pencils so that she could meet her friend. After sitting down for three and a half hours, she groaned as she stood up, her muscles stiff and sore after the morning’s workout. Gathering her bag, she left the engineering building to head back to the Union. As she approached her destination, she spotted Olivia Bellamy walking on another sidewalk.
“Hey Liv,” Kayla called.
Olivia jumped a bit as the shout startled her. She looked around for a second before spotting Kayla. “Oh, hi! Good timing.”
“Have a good day?”
“Yeah, classes weren’t too bad today and clinicals at the hospital were pretty interesting. You?”
“Definitely. Got a lot done on our project and made some good progress on my homework for the night. For now, I’m ready to grab some food and relax, at least for a bit.”
“Same here. Let’s head in and get a bite to eat.”
Kayla walked next to Olivia as they entered Union and looked around for a place to sit. On the left, they passed one of the dining areas, with several fast food alternatives. In front of them stretched “Main Street,” which was lined with offices and the bookstore on the left side and the large open Market area on the right, filled with tables and chairs for dining or studying. A large staircase extended up to the second floor of the Union, where students sat at tables overlooking the Market. Kayla spotted an open table next to a fireplace on the far end of the Market, next to Main Street.
“How does that look?” she said as she pointed in that direction.
“Ooh, that looks like a nice, comfy spot to chill for the evening!” piped up Olivia.
Kayla led them toward the open seats. “Let’s set our bags down, then we can take turns getting food. If you want to go first, I’ll watch our stuff.”
After they set their backpacks down, Kayla settled into a chair with the fireplace to her left. As Olivia walked into the Market to pick up her supper, Kayla looked around the expansive space of the room. She saw the usual bustle of students eating, studying, and wasting time on their laptops and phones. Kayla’s own phone buzzed in her pocket. As she pulled it out, she saw that she had received a text from Logan, her nine-year-old brother.
It read, “Hey Kayla! I just got an early birthday present from mom and dad. They got me a Wii! I can’t wait to play it with you the next time you come home.”
Kayla texted back, “That’s exciting, Logan! I look forward to it. I’ll see you when I come home for your birthday. Love you!”
As she slid her phone back into her pocket, Olivia returned with a plate covered in a quesadilla, a small salad, and some fruit. “Alrighty, it’s your turn. Don’t take too long, or I might start selling your stuff.”
Kayla laughed as she stood up and strode over to pick out her dinner. After the kind of mental workout she had just had, pasta sounded delicious. When she got to the front of the line, she ordered a bowl of penne noodles and chicken covered in alfredo sauce, with some basil pesto and garlic. For good measure, she had the cook throw some veggies into the mix. After Kayla got her bowl of pasta, she returned to find Olivia halfway through her own dinner.
Kayla sat down and took a bite, savoring the flavor in her mouth. As always, it proved the perfect meal for recovering from an already long day of work, as well as preparing for yet another late evening of homework.
“So,” Olivia glanced up at Kayla and asked, “are you still thinking you’ll work for my dad after we graduate?”
Keeping her eyes on her food, Kayla hesitated, “I think so.”
“Don’t sound so excited about it.”
Kayla looked up to meet her friend’s gaze. “It’s just that after all of these years and working on my senior design project, I’m not sure if engineering is the right fit for me anymore.”
“Of course it’s the right fit,” Olivia encouraged, leaning forward. “Thanks to your dad, you know your way around a shop like it’s the back of your hand. And you’ve always killed it in school. Plus, you know my dad loves you. The kind of work that they do there is right up your alley. From what my dad says, they’re really making advances in renewable energy. If you show him what you’re working on for your senior design project, I know he’ll completely nerd out.”
“I know that, and of course I don’t have anything against your dad. I think I just expected to be on a more exciting path.” Kayla shrugged. “Don’t worry about me. I’m sure it’s just pre-graduation jitters. You’re lucky that you’ve known for years that you wanted to be a nurse.”
“Well, ever since my mom died ten years ago, so I’m not sure how lucky that is,” Olivia frowned as she looked down for a second. She looked back up and continued, “I remember how kind the nurses were and how hard they tried to help her. I want to be that light for someone.”
Kayla shifted in her seat. “Sorry, lucky was the wrong word.”
Olivia gave a grim smile. “I know what you meant.”
“I just wish I had a definite calling, to know what I’m supposed to do.”
“If I were you, I’d just give it a shot with my dad’s company. You only have to show up to the interview to get the job. If you don’t like it, fine, you can always figure something else out.”
Kayla nodded as she finished her pasta. “I’m going to head to the restroom. Once I get back, we can start our little homework party.”
As Kayla washed her hands, she reflected on the conversation she had just had with Olivia. Her friend was right. Working with Olivia’s dad would at least provide a secure job, and he would certainly be a pleasant boss. Once she had established herself there, she could volunteer for some more exciting projects and take charge of her career.
Kayla jolted from her thoughts as she heard the crack of gunshots from outside the restroom.
Kayla froze in place. Screams tore through the air. What the hell is happening out there? Leaving her bag behind, she crept to the door of the bathroom. She peeked out and surveyed the violent, surreal scene playing out in the Union.
At the opposite end of the Union, to Kayla’s right, a man in a ski mask pointed an AK-47 toward the ceiling and shouted, “Everyone get down and stay still! If you do as we say, you’ll all leave here alive.”
Across from the restroom and near where Kayla and Olivia had sat, another assailant pointed his gun at a group of students, two of whom lay on the ground, a boy bleeding from a wound on his side and a girl from a gunshot to her leg. The boy turned pale from blood loss and shock. Other students cowered on the ground, behind tables, counters, or any other cover available. All except for Olivia, who kept her head down as she moved toward the wounded students with her bag.
“Stay where you are!” commanded the nearest terrorist.
“Please,” begged Olivia, “let me take care of them. Nobody else will bother you, I just need to stop their bleeding.”
“Fine. You can waste your time keeping him alive until we kill all of you. If you try to go anywhere else, you won’t get another warning.”
Kayla watched as her friend opened her bag of nursing supplies and pulled out some gauze for the wounded students. As she watched Olivia get to work, she caught movement on the second floor of the Union. A third terrorist stood up there and peered over the railing to keep an eye on the proceedings from above.
Shit. I can’t just sit here. I have to do something.
Sliding back into the bathroom to think about how to help her friend and the other students, Kayla took off her cardigan and stuffed it into her backpack. As she scanned the room, she spotted a closet on the far wall. Hoping that it contained something helpful, she tried the handle but found it locked. She knelt on the ground and pulled a bobby pin from her hair, letting the strands fall to her shoulders.
Years of helping her father in his shop had taught Kayla many skills, including how to pick a lock. She wiggled the hair pin into the lock, feeling for the key pins. One by one, she felt them click into place. It felt like it was taking forever, as she thought about the students in danger just outside the bathroom door. The shouting and screaming from outside the restroom distracted her. Adrenaline coursed through her veins, causing her hands to shake as she manipulated the pin.
Finally, she popped the last pin into place and tried the handle once again. It gave way and revealed a closet full of cleaning supplies, likely locked to prevent troublesome students from stealing Windex.
Her searching green eyes looked over the shelves, looking for anything that she could use as a distraction or a weapon. At first glance, Kayla grabbed a mop and unscrewed the handle to use as a staff. Behind the mop, she saw shelves stocked with bleach, vinegar, and baking soda. Looking through the trash, she found several pop bottles. She used these to divide the chemicals into smaller portions.
Placing the rest of the soda bottles of cleaning supplies into her backpack, Kayla grabbed one small bottle of vinegar and poured some baking soda into it. As the mixture started bubbling, she sealed the container with a twist and tossed it into the restroom’s entrance corridor. Dashing across the room, she pressed herself against the wall so that she remained out of sight to anyone entering the restroom.
Kayla grasped the mop handle as she waited for the chemical reaction to take effect and burst the bottle. She felt her heart pounding in her chest with anticipation and fear of the fight to come. Sparring with Olivia had taught her the moves she needed, but fighting an enemy who wanted to kill her would be very different from a contest with her best friend. She closed her eyes and covered her ears as she waited.
The vinegar and baking soda bomb harmed nothing, but made a terrible racket, sure to catch the attention of the gunmen occupying the building.
The attackers began shouting.
“Go see what made that noise!” ordered the voice of whoever must be in charge.
Kayla heard footsteps dashing toward the restroom. She held her breath as the sound reached the entrance. From her position hiding around the corner from the corridor, she remained out of sight and relied completely on her sense of hearing. As the sound of running feet reached her corner, Kayla stuck the mop handle across the bottom of the doorway. The staff caught the terrorist’s legs and sent him crashing to the floor. His rifle skittered across the room.
Kayla rushed toward him to keep the initiative in her favor. However, he recovered quickly as he hopped onto his feet and pulled out a long combat knife from his belt.
He stabbed at her with a quick thrust, and Kayla knocked his hand aside with a sweep of her staff.
As he twisted to slash at her, she jumped to the side. However, her foot slipped on a puddle on the tile floor. She managed to keep her balance, but the terrorist used this disruption to catch her off guard. He kicked her with a strong blow to the abdomen.
With the wind knocked out of her, Kayla fell to her knees and dropped the staff. Her attacker fell on her with the knife, sending them both to the ground. Kayla, with her back pressed against the hard floor, barely managed to catch his wrist before the knife could plunge into her chest.
There was a brief stalemate as the two combatants strained against each other, neither gaining an advantage. As the terrorist shifted on top of Kayla, she saw a brief opening and seized it, kicking him hard in the groin. He grunted in pain and the distraction caused him to loosen his grip ever so slightly.
In the blink of an eye, Kayla turned the knife away from herself. Before she realized it, she had plunged it deep into the terrorist’s eye socket. He shrieked in agony, then collapsed on top of her and stayed still.
Kayla shoved the now lifeless body off of her. As she took in the scene of the corpse and the rapidly expanding pool of blood beneath it, a wave of nausea swept over her. She rushed into the closest stall and vomited into the toilet.
Despite the life and death nature of the struggle, Kayla could not believe she had just killed another human being. She had never considered that she might need to do something like this. Still feeling queasy, she jolted from her thoughts at the crackle of a radio. Another terrorist was checking in with the one she had just killed.
Acting before someone else came to investigate, she removed the bloody mask of the terrorist, hoping that the dark material hid the gory stains, and paused to look at the face of the man she had just killed. Laying on the bathroom floor, he looked eerily peaceful, his one remaining blue eye gazing up at the ceiling. Around his neck, he wore a pendant featuring a five-pointed star with arcs extending clockwise from each point.
Fighting against another wave of nausea, she grabbed the man’s mask, along with the rest of his clothing, and disguised herself as one of them. Kayla stood taller than average, and she thought the guise might just fool them long enough to get into a position to handle them. Grabbing the terrorist’s gun and the bag of chemicals, she walked out of the bathroom and gave the lead terrorist a wave to signal that everything was fine. He seemed satisfied and turned away.
Kayla next needed to deal with the attacker on the second floor. Unless she took him out, he would see any attack against the one on the ground level. Making her way over to the nearest stairwell, Kayla passed Olivia as she kept helping the wounded students.
Glancing to make sure that none of the terrorists looked in her direction, she knelt and whispered into Olivia’s ear, “Liv, it’s me. I’m going to see what I can do.”
Olivia turned her head to look at Kayla, her eyes widened in terror. “No, keep your head down. They’ll kill you,” she gasped.
“I have to take my chances. Keep up the good work here.”
Climbing the stairs to the next level, she overheard the other two terrorists talking on the radio.
“Looks like the police are starting to surround the building,” said the first voice.
“Good,” replied the second. “Keep an eye out for the news trucks. Once there are enough cameras, we start killing these students.”
“These windows will give them a great view of the action.”
Kayla slinked her way around the second floor of the Union, looking for a good angle on the terrorist perched up there. She found a nook between a coffee table and a plush green armchair where she had a view of him, as well as the remaining attacker on the ground floor. Since they could both see and hear each other, she needed to distract them both and occupy the one on the main level long enough to deal with the enemy on the second floor.
Looking into her backpack, she found a small bottle that contained vinegar and another that held bleach. Pouring the vinegar into the container with the bleach, she twisted the top until it felt just tight enough to stay affixed. Taking aim near the terrorist on the ground, she chucked the bottle over the railing.
As expected, the bottle smacking the floor startled the assailant on the ground level. He kicked the foaming bottle and looked around for the source. Before he had a chance to spot Kayla, he began to choke on the invisible chlorine gas leaking from the bottle. Such a small amount would not kill him but would keep his eyes and lungs burning long enough to occupy him.
This diversion also attracted the attention of the gunman on the second floor. He looked increasingly concerned by his comrade’s coughing and wheezing. Kayla thought about shooting him but didn’t trust her own ability to hit him.
She seized the moment and sprinted toward him. Tackling him from behind, she heard his ribs crunch from the impact with the railing. Without allowing him time to react, she smashed the butt of her gun against the back of his head and shoved his shoulders over the ledge. His body tumbled down and crashed onto a table below, where he remained motionless.
Looking across the Union as she caught her breath, Kayla saw that the sound of the man falling to the floor had jolted the remaining terrorist on the ground out of his coughing fit. He glanced up and spotted Kayla. As she ducked behind the wall, he let off a burst of fire from his rifle. She heard footsteps as he dashed toward the stairwell. As she started to move to a better position to ambush the terrorist, the footsteps stopped abruptly with a pained grunt.
Peering back over the edge, she saw the gunman sprawled face down on the floor, while Olivia dashed toward him. Kayla concluded that she must have tripped the terrorist as he ran past her position where she had been helping the wounded students.
Olivia dove on top of him, landing with her weight on her left knee, driving it into his back. Gritting his teeth through the pain, the terrorist pushed himself up, throwing Olivia to the side.
She lay on her side as the terrorist stood up. With surgical precision, the nursing student drove her foot into his knee. The joint popped backward with the impact and the man collapsed to the ground. As he writhed on the ground, Olivia stood up, and with one swift kick to the head, knocked him unconscious.
With all of the terrorists neutralized, a strange stillness set over the Union. Kayla pulled off the ski mask she had taken from the first attacker. Olivia and Kayla looked into each other’s eyes from across the room and, at the same time, each saw a best friend and a stranger looking back.
Kayla made her way down the stairs and, without a word, embraced her friend. They stayed silent for a long moment. Despite the victory, they both felt like they had lost something.
Finally, Olivia broke the silence. “Let me look at your shoulder. A bullet or knife must have caught you.”
Kayla looked at her left shoulder and saw a two-inch gash bleeding into her confiscated jacket. She guessed that the cut had happened during her fight in the restroom. “Wow, I didn’t even feel it until you said something.”
Olivia reached into her bag and grabbed a bottle of antiseptic. “I don’t really believe what just happened, or what we did.”
“I know,” winced Kayla as the liquid stung her wound. “I…I killed one of them, in the bathroom. Now that this is over, that’s all that I can think about. Every time I close my eyes, I see his face in my mind. Oh shit, I feel like I’m going to vomit again.” She just managed to hold back the bile rising in her throat.
Olivia looked into her friend’s eyes, searching for comforting words. However, before she found any, the sound of smashing glass broke her concentration.
A SWAT team had forced entry to the building and dashed across the floor to secure the area. Two of the officers surprised Kayla when they rushed up and forced her to the ground. As they handcuffed her and stripped her of all of her weapons, she realized that she remained dressed like one of the terrorists.
“Wait, I’m not with them! I was just trying to help!” she pleaded.
“That’s not for me to decide. You’re coming with us,” one of the officers ordered in a gruff voice.
Her head spinning from the events of the evening, Kayla felt like she was floating as the officers forced her out of the Union and threw her into a van. She shuddered they slammed the doors shut. Then, overwhelmed with confusion and emotion, she began to weep.
Thank you for reading these sample chapters from The Azrael Initiative! If you enjoyed reading them, you can order the book here. Please consider sharing this page with any of your friends and family who you think would like to read this.