A Jubal Van Zandt Novel
Genre: Fantasy â Cyberpunk / Dystopian / Post-Apocalyptic
Publisher: Shadow Alley Press Inc
Date of Publication: June 9, 2017
Number of pages: 167
Word Count: 52,000
Cover Artist: Katherine Kalymniou
The best thief in the history of the Revived Earth is back, and this time it's personal.
A deadly plague is ravaging the world's population and threatening to kill the only person Jubal Van Zandt cares aboutâhimself. If he doesn't find a cure soon, he's dead.
The most promising lead is buried in the ruins of an ancient sunken city stalked by savage predators, cunning parasites, and the twisted souls of long-dead mages. It would take an army to get Jubal inside ... or just one of the most renowned knights in Guild history. The one Jubal betrayed and left for dead eighteen months ago.
First Jubal has to convince her not to kill him. Then he has to convince her to help save him.
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER ONE
I motored the Mangshan between a pair of thorny locust trees that served as the end posts for the fence marking the southern boundary of the Xiao familyâs ancestral holdings.
Carina thought she could avoid me by ignoring my messages and staying holed up out here in the middle of nowhere. Pretty ridiculous considering how well she knew me.
At the end of the driveway, the trees pulled back to reveal a traditional wet-country houseâlong and low, enclosed by a weathered wooden porch complete with steel sliding-panel storm walls. Today the storm walls had been thrown open wide, letting the meager sunlight shine onto the houseâs creamy parchglass and wood exterior walls.
I parked the âShan at the end of an ancient stone walkway that had been buckled by the unpredictable water table, and hooked my helmet and ventilator over the handlebars. It had taken me almost an hour to get way the hell out here from Taernâ and that was running the âShan wide open, without any traffic.
Why Carina would want to live so far out in the soggies that she could smell the fishshit, I couldnât fathom.
Fire threw open blast doors all through my body. Heat, the most perfect heat, swirled in my veins, warming me inside out. There was even a taste, sweet and spicy and a little ashy, like ember dust mixed with wrackrath smoke.
My eyes flew open and I sucked in a damp lungful of country air, trying to catch up on the oxygen Iâd missed while I was out. I checked my wristpiece. The attack had only lasted a few seconds. Less than a minute, definitely. The PCM fits were getting more frequent, but they werenât getting longer. Yet. If Carina had been watching me out one of her windows or via a security feed, she would think Iâd just been taking in the scenery.
I headed up the walk, careful not to trip over the uneven stones, and stepped onto the porch. One very handsome devil with sculpted stubble, perfect skin, and dark, piercing eyes looked back at me from the reflection in the houseâs parchglass walls. I admired his striking features as I knocked.
Not that I needed to knock with the number of early warning systems Carina probably had set up around her house. But Iâm nothing if not polite. Especially when I want something.
From inside came the unmistakable sound of someone kicking something heavy across the room.
âYou better pray to God I never make it to this door, Van Zandt,â Carina yelled from inside.
Paperinas flitted around my stomach, and a crazy grin stretched across my face. I hadnât felt much of anything but the PCM attacks in such a long time that the excitement was making me giddy.
âAre you seriously still mad?â Iâm not always great with time, but it felt like centuries had passed since Iâd last seen Carina. I took a guess. âSoam was likeâ¦a year ago?â
There was another crash inside. Then the houseâs door roared open on its track and I was staring down the business end of Carinaâs well-worn knuckgun. She grabbed me by the jacket collar and slammed me against one of the porchâs thick wooden columns, then jammed the knuckgun up under my jaw.
âEighteen months,â she said. A muscle in her mahogany- colored cheek ticked. If the symmetrical muscle under her other cheek hadnât been trapped in all that shiny pink scar tissue, it probably wouldâve tocked.
Our time apart had not been good to Carina. Since the last time Iâd seen her, crowâs feet had etched themselves into the dark skin at the outside corners of her green eyes. Sheâd been athletic and sleek before, a very successful feline predator.
Now shadows stood out below her high cheekbones. Where her long sleeves rode up, I could see the veins in her wrists and thin straps of muscle in her forearms. The past eighteen months had whittled her curves and soft places down to hard angles and razorblades. She looked sharp. Painfully so.
Apparently, in spite of Soamâs nationwide obesity epidemic, good eats were not a part of their prison system.
âIt took you eighteen months to break out of a prison pit?â I squinted at her in disbelief. âIn Soam?â
âMy femur was shattered,â she said. âTwo of my vertebra had to be replaced.â
âPretty convenient excuses,â I said.
Carina thumbed the knuckgunâs switch from SAFETY to BURST, effectively changing its purpose from SCARE JUBAL to TURN JUBALâS SKULL INTO A BRAIN GEYSER.
I tried to jerk away from the deadly weaponâI love myself and I donât fucking like anything that has the potential to kill that selfâbut Carinaâs grip on my collar just tightened. She had me pinned to the column.
I grunted. âYouâre awfully strong for a stick figure.â âIt was a miracle I wasnât killed on impact.â
âExactly, so what are you yelling at me for?â I said. âItâs not like you didnât know what you were getting into ahead of time, hiring me. Youâre just mad that I saw through your manipulation in time to save my own skin.â
Carinaâs dark eyebrows twitched together, and her head cocked a fraction of a fraction. âManipulation?â
âDonât play dumb with me, Bloodslinger, it looks terrible on you.â I tried again to squirm away from the knuckgun. âWill you put that piece away already? We both know youâre not going to use it on me. Itâs served its purposeâIâm very intimidated and a little bit aroused.â
Carina made a disgusted sound in her throat and shoved away from me, lowering the knuckgun to her side. âWhat are you doing here, Van Zandt?â
âWhat kind of stupid question is that?â I straightened my jacket. âYou know why Iâm here. Youâve opened every message I sent you since you got back to Emden.â
âYou hacked my wristpiece?!â
I am invincible. I am a mutant. I have 3 hearts and was born with no eyes. I had eyes implanted later. I didn't have hands, either, just stumps. When my eyes were implanted they asked if I would like hands as well and I said, "Yes, I'll take those," and pointed with my stump. But sometimes I'm a hellbender peeking out from under a rock. When it rains, I live in a music box.
But I'm also a tattoo-addict, coffee-junkie, drummer, and aspiring skateboarder. Jesus actually is my homeboy.
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