The Mortality Principle

BOOK: The Mortality Principle
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When legend becomes deadly reality…

In Prague researching the legend of the Golem, a fantastical “living” creature made of clay, archaeologist Annja Creed is faced with an even bigger mystery on her hands when someone begins murdering the homeless. And every day there's a fresh corpse.

As the suspicion that Golem is behind the deaths circulates quietly on the streets of the city, Annja cannot resist unraveling the thread that binds science to superstition. According to Czech history, these aren't new attacks. They're part of a greater pattern of murders that have gone unacknowledged over centuries. And now Annja is the next target. Unless she can find the real monster behind the myth…before it finds her.

Annja held out her sword in one hand.

Holding her phone in the other hand, as if its glow were a shield, she stared at that strange, incomplete face as he raised his hands to shield his eyes from the bright glare. At least, she thought it was a he….

There was so much of the thing in front of her that she couldn't see around it, but she knew it was there by the blast of its foul breath, a waft of stale sweat.

Then it staggered forward, striking out at Annja, its great clubbing fists slashing at the light, the creature seemingly ignorant of the threat her sword presented. She pushed the blade as hard as she could, feeling it slide through its heavy coat and into the flesh beneath.

A vibration ran the length of her blade all the way into her fingertips.

There was no pain in its childlike sketch of a face, no change in the thing's expression despite her sword plunging through its body.

Annja pulled the hilt to free the sword, but as she did the thing swung a fist at her. The impact of the blow sent her sprawling.

Before she hit the ground the world faded to black.

Titles in this series:

Destiny

Solomon's Jar

The Spider Stone

The Chosen

Forbidden City

The Lost Scrolls

God of Thunder

Secret of the Slaves

Warrior Spirit

Serpent's Kiss

Provenance

The Soul Stealer

Gabriel's Horn

The Golden Elephant

Swordsman's Legacy

Polar Quest

Eternal Journey

Sacrifice

Seeker's Curse

Footprints

Paradox

The Spirit Banner

Sacred Ground

The Bone Conjurer

Tribal Ways

The Dragon's Mark

Phantom Prospect

Restless Soul

False Horizon

The Other Crowd

Tear of the Gods

The Oracle's Message

Cradle of Solitude

Labyrinth

Fury's Goddess

Magic Lantern

Library of Gold

The Matador's Crown

City of Swords

The Third Caliph

Staff of Judea

The Vanishing Tribe

Clockwork Doomsday

Blood Cursed

Sunken Pyramid

Treasure of Lima

River of Nightmares

Grendel's Curse

The Devil's Chord

Celtic Fire

The Pretender's Gambit

Death Mask

Bathed in Blood

Day of Atonement

Beneath Still Waters

The Mortality Principle

The Mortality Principle

T
HE
LEGEND

...
THE ENGLISH COMMANDER TOOK
.
JOAN
'
S SWORD AND RAISED IT HIGH
.

The broadsword, plain and unadorned,
gleamed in the firelight. He put the tip against
the ground and his foot at the center of the blade.
The broadsword shattered, fragments falling
into the mud. The crowd surged forward,
peasant and soldier, and snatched the shards
from the trampled mud. The commander tossed
the hilt deep into the crowd.

Smoke almost obscured Joan, but she continued
praying till the end, until finally the flames climbed
her body and she sagged against the restraints.

Joan of Arc died that fateful day in France,
but her legend and sword are reborn...

Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Epilogue

1

The peace was broken by the clatter of a trash can being overturned, which was followed by a burst of laughter.

Annja Creed glanced out of the window into the road below. Illuminated by the streetlights, a gaggle of young men jostled one another. She couldn't tell if the shoving was playful or if there was a simmering undercurrent of real violence to it. One thing was for sure, the young men were more than a little the worse for wear from the night's drinking. Her first thought was that it was the same in cities and towns the world over, but that wasn't true. This kind of rowdiness, playful or not, wouldn't happen in a Muslim state, or in places where poverty placed survival above pleasure.

She wasn't even sure it would have happened here in Prague thirty years ago. The world had changed just like the regime, and after the first flush of greedy capitalism, Prague settled down to become one of
those
cities. It promised excitement and just enough culture to satisfy the tourists, whether they came to cast off some imagined loss of freedom that marriage was about to bring, or simply to soak up another way of living.

For Annja it was simply a case of another city and another hotel room. They all began to bleed together
in her mind these days. She couldn't remember the last time she had slept in her own bed. No, that was a lie; she could remember the last time she'd crawled into it, but she hadn't actually slept. It had been the night of the big network meeting. Doug Morrell had called her into the office with an ominous message of “Big changes are on the horizon. We need you here, pronto.”

She'd crossed town to the office, carded her way through security and ridden the express elevator up to the boardroom on the top floor of the skyscraper, every step of the way imagining a worst-case scenario that was just a little bit worse than the last one she'd just imagined.

She opened the boardroom door to see the army of assembled faces looking up at her, Doug halfway down the line. He looked like someone had stolen his toys from his stroller. “Miss Creed, good of you to join us. First, let me just say what a huge admirer I am,” one of the nameless suits said, indicating the only empty chair at the table. Annja took her seat, waiting for someone to explain what was going on. “We were just in the middle of discussing corporate restructuring,” the suit went on. “We've got some exciting plans for the network.”

Annja's mind raced, trying to play catch-up. She really didn't understand what was happening. Restructuring? Exciting plans?

“Obviously
Chasing History's Monsters
is a bit of a niche program,” another suit spoke up. His thick-knuckled hand was wrapped around a network mug, warming himself. “It's got a loyal audience, but over the past eighteen months it's struggled to bring in new viewers, which means it's struggled to bring in more advertising revenue and basically isn't paying its way.”

“In short,” the first suit picked up, “we're not here to
educate the world, we're here to entertain it, and if we're not entertaining it, we're not doing our job properly.”

The man stared daggers at Doug when he delivered this last line. Annja sensed a serious undercurrent of dislike between the two. It wasn't simmering so much as threatening to boil over. Somehow Doug managed to keep his mouth shut while the suits took potshots at the program he produced and, by inference, at him.

“We've got a duty to the shareholders,” another voice chimed in. This one was female. Annja turned to look at the woman, realizing that with the exception of Doug, Annja didn't have a single ally in the room.

The first suit took that as his cue to drive home the obvious. “Meaning we can't keep on throwing good money after bad.
Chasing History's Monsters
is expensive for what it is. We could just as easily screen episodes we've got in the can in the same time slot, given there are almost one hundred now, or alternate them with stuff we can buy in from other networks that come with an established audience.”

“Are you canceling the show?” Annja asked, sensing where this was going.

“Not yet,” the suit said, dangling the threat of cancellation like the Sword of Damocles over her head. “But I guess you could say we're putting you on notice. Things have to change.”

“Okay, so why am I here? What do you expect me to do?”

“We want you to justify the money the network is investing in you, Miss Creed,” the fourth and final suit said, speaking up for the first time.

He was the youngest of the four, Annja observed, no doubt fresh out of some Ivy League school with a point
to prove—that point being to tear down everything that had been created and rebuild it from scratch, reinventing the proverbial wheel.

“We want you to prove to us you're worth the long-term investment,” he went on, “meaning we want you to go out there and interact, hit the social networks, build up followers on Twitter, post compelling little Vine video hints about what's coming up to lure people in, use hashtags to get people involved in your investigations, turn the viewers into your army of citizen archaeologists. Make them feel like they are part of the show.”

“How's that supposed to work?”

“Well, one idea we've had is live broadcasts,” the woman said, leaning forward. “So they can tweet you with what they want to see happen when it comes to the hunt. Say you're going after the Amber Room and there are three possible sites you've identified. They can vote which one you check out. Or maybe they can Tweet questions at you during live interviews, that kind of thing.”

BOOK: The Mortality Principle
9.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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