Authors: Alex Archer
When legend becomes deadly realityâ¦
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 mythâ¦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 heâ¦.
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:
The Spider Stone
The Lost Scrolls
God of Thunder
Secret of the Slaves
The Soul Stealer
The Golden Elephant
The Spirit Banner
The Bone Conjurer
The Dragon's Mark
The Other Crowd
Tear of the Gods
The Oracle's Message
Cradle of Solitude
Library of Gold
The Matador's Crown
City of Swords
The Third Caliph
Staff of Judea
The Vanishing Tribe
Treasure of Lima
River of Nightmares
The Devil's Chord
The Pretender's Gambit
Bathed in Blood
Day of Atonement
Beneath Still Waters
The Mortality Principle
The Mortality Principle
THE ENGLISH COMMANDER TOOK
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...
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
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?
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 proveâthat 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.”