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Authors: Kim McMahon,Neil McMahon

Adam of Albion

BOOK: Adam of Albion
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ADAM OF ALBION

 

 

Book One Of The Series

 

A HEAD OF TIME

 

 

Kim and Neil McMahon

 

 

 

Quinotaur Press

 

Missoula, Montana

 

 

ADAM OF ALBION. Copyright © 2012 by Kim and Neil
McMahon. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in
any form without permission, except for brief quotations in critical articles
or reviews.

 

Cover design by Jason Neal

 

ISBN 978-0-9847750-3-3

  

Certain images and/or photos in this work are the
copyrighted property of 123RF Limited, its Contributors or Licensed Partners
and are being used with permission under license. These images and/or photos
may not be copied or downloaded without permission from 123RF Limited.

PROLOGUE

A
dagger!

Jason
Apostle stared, frozen with horror, at the shadowy figure sneaking up behind
Simon Lodestone—with the long thin blade raised high, poised to ram into
Simon's back!

Jason
tried to yell a warning, but his voice stuck paralyzed in his throat.

No
one else seemed to notice, although there was a huge crowd around. The night
was dark and the place was way out in the English countryside, a meadow with a
ring of giant ancient stones called the Watching Druids that jutted up eerily
out of the earth.

But
mostly, no one noticed because they were all watching the stage set up near the
stone ring—where the world’s greatest heavy metal band, Dearth
,
was
about to start a concert guaranteed to split every eardrum in the crowd.

The
guy with the dagger looked like all the other grungy young Dearth-heads here
tonight, dressed in torn jeans and T-shirts, heavy boots, with multiple tattoos
and piercings—thousands of them from every country who spent their summers
roaming the globe, camping and hitchhiking to follow their idols.

But
he must have known the true, hidden purpose of this concert that Simon
Lodestone had arranged: Simon, the great rock promoter, master musician,
mathematical genius—

And
keeper of the world’s greatest secret.

The
Head.

It
was the most precious object ever created. Mountains of gold and jewels were
worth nothing by comparison. Since the mists of time, legends had sprung up
around it. Cults had worshipped it, kingdoms had warred for it, secret
societies had pursued it through the centuries.

Now
it belonged to The Calculus—a super-covert, super-elite group made up of Simon,
Jason, and a very few others. All of them were trained to a razor edge both
mentally and physically—martial arts and survival skills, math and computer
programming, ancient languages and secret history that wasn’t found in
textbooks. All of them were sworn to live and die for the Head.

That
had
to be what the assassin was out to get—which meant he knew it was
here tonight.

And
that meant someone in The Calculus was a traitor.

Jason
was almost sure he knew who it was.

But
now,
right this second,
it meant that Simon was only a heartbeat away
from death!

As
the knife started its plunge toward Simon’s back, Jason managed to burst the
dam that was blocking his voice.


Simon!
Behind you!” he yelled.

Simon
whirled around, his arm slashing upward in a karate block.

But
the blade drove home.

Jason
was too far away to see exactly what happened. He heard Simon growl in rage and
pain. But then, even badly wounded, Simon fought like a wildcat, smashing a
kick to the attacker’s knee and then a chop across his throat.

Jason
started running toward him to help, but Simon stopped him with a shout:

“No!
Follow the plan!”

Jason
obeyed. It was the hardest thing he’d ever done, turning his back on the man
who had raised him, taught him, loved him like a son. But Simon had drilled it
into The Calculus again and again: the Head came first, before anyone or
anything else. It had to be protected, kept safe and out of the wrong hands, at
all costs.

And
it was
Jason,
not Simon, who had the Head in his backpack.

As
he took off in an all-out run, it slammed against his spine like a rock with
every step. He leaped over the edge of a steep hillside and stumbled down it,
skidding and half-rolling through the brush. His eyes filled with sweat even
though the air was cool.

Suddenly,
the quiet was blasted by the wild, clashing music of Dearth
,
the high
priests of aural pain. The sound was so startling it made Jason trip and fall
headfirst, but his highly trained reflexes took over and he twisted the
backpack up in his arms, cushioning it as he fell.

He
tumbled a good thirty feet before he was able to stop. Panting, bruised, he
swung around to look back up at the concert. Simon’s attacker might be coming
after
him
now—there was no way he could pick the guy out of the army of
Dearth-heads, thousands of them like a dark moving blanket, spilling out across
the surrounding hills and perching on rock crags like crows.

But
Jason had to take the chance. The music was racing toward the instant that
Simon had spent his whole life working for. The Watching Druids concert was
really only a cover, a means to strike the tremendous, crashing, supreme chord
that would awaken the sleeping Head.

Or
not.

All-important
success or failure hung in the next few seconds. Without Simon here, Jason
would have to witness it alone.

His
shaking hands lifted the Head out of his daypack. It was a little bigger than a
tennis ball and crusted over with mortar to disguise it as an ordinary rock.
But two small indentations showed the eyes—which had been dark and blank since
the time of Sir Isaac Newton.

The
last seconds ticked off. The music stopped suddenly, hung in a breathless pause
for one more excruciating beat—

Then
the great chord tore through the night as if a giant axe had split open the sky
itself: thousands of  decibels of mega-amplified guitar, bass, drum,
organ, synthesizers, all perfectly calibrated.

Teeth
clenched, heart hammering, Jason stared into the small dark orbs in the rock.

And
far, far back in their depths, he thought he saw a tiny flicker, like a
lightning flash on a distant horizon.

He
almost screamed with joy. But his training took over again. He had to move, get
the Head to the safe hiding place that Simon had picked out, an old ruined
church at the bottom of the hill.

Especially
because his sweeping gaze spotted a car pulling away from the concert—a sleek
black Jaguar, picking up speed and coming in his direction.

 He
jumped to his feet and started running again, concentrating on his stumbling
feet and shooting down the hillside in long soaring leaps. Man, he was flying!
If he could just keep from getting his own head bashed in. It was almost pitch
dark, and as his eyes strained to see the steeple that marked the church, a
stone slid out from under him and he fell again, skidding like a wild toboggan
with the sharp rocks pounding and jabbing him.

When
he stopped this time, he was so beat up and panicked that the sweat in his eyes
was mixed with tears. He’d never imagined that he could feel so totally
desperate. Noble, kindly Simon was probably dead. The killer was speeding this
way to murder Jason, too.

But
worse, far worse, the great mission would end pathetically in some forlorn
English field—and Jason would be the one who had failed.

No!
He could handle this, he’d trained long and hard, and there was too much at
stake. He dragged himself to his feet again, but he’d lost his bearings. He
stared up to find stars in the cloudy night, the celestial map that Simon had
taught them to use like the ancients had. There was Orion, followed by Sirius,
the Dog Star. There was Ursa Major, the Big Dipper. There, Merak and Dubhe, the
two stars that pointed at Polaris, the North Star. And that was where the
church was, to the north.

He
lowered his gaze, straining to pierce the night. There it was!—the dark mass of
a crumbling old steeple, barely visible a quarter mile away.

But
coming down the winding dirt road from the concert, closing the distance fast,
was the menacing low shape of the Jaguar.

Jason
clenched his hands around the backpack’s straps and
ran.

ONE

For
about the zillionth time in the past few weeks, Adam Keane wanted to wring his
cousin Barry’s neck.

Adam
got up off the ground, brushed dirt from his jeans, and stared glumly down at
the moped that the two boys had just crashed—lying on its side with the engine
dead. The headlight was still on, but all he could see in the gloomy night was
that they were out in the middle of nowhere.

Oh,
man, they were in
trouble.

It
was all because Barry had insisted on going to a stupid rock concert to see his
favorite band, Dearth. The plan, if you could even call it that, hadn’t seemed
like a good one from the start, and now Adam could see that it was outright
crazy—although he had to admit that he’d gone along with it, letting Barry rope
him in, as usual.

For
openers, Barry’s parents—who the boys were on vacation with, here in
England—had strictly forbidden the concert. But they were going out for the
evening, so Barry had come up with a scheme. He arranged to borrow the moped
from Reg, the gardener at Blackthorn Manor, where they were staying. They’d
sneak away after the grownups left and get back in time.

But
now they were miles from the Manor and the bike was down. They were either
going to have to walk home, which would take hours, or call for a ride. Either
way, they were busted.

They
were going to be grounded for the rest of their lives.

Barry
came limping over and kicked a tire.

“Damn
this thing!” he muttered.

Yeah,
like it’s the bike’s fault, Adam thought. The truth was that Barry had been
driving too fast, and texting on his iPhone at the same time. This little dirt
road was full of ruts and potholes, and they’d plowed right into one. They’d
probably have to pay for getting the moped fixed, on top of everything else.
Reg was a mean guy who smelled of liquor and didn’t like the boys.

In
fact, now that Adam thought about it, why
had
Reg loaned Barry the
moped? But then, Barry was good at cajoling things out of people.

Adam
took another look at it, thinking that maybe, just maybe, he could get it
running again. The basics you needed for a simple engine like this were spark,
compression, and fuel, and it should still have all of those. In fact, the
smell of gasoline was strong, so it was probably flooded and that should settle
down after a few minutes. He’d helped his father work on pickup trucks and
equipment, back on their family ranch in Albion, Montana, practically since he
was old enough to walk. He could drive pretty well, too, and he knew how
important it was to be careful—if he’d been running the moped, he thought
bitterly, they’d be fine—but Barry had claimed the right because he was older.

Adam
switched off the headlight to save the battery, plunging them into darkness
that at first seemed like the inside of a cave. But his eyes adjusted quickly,
helped by patches of moonlight through the shifting clouds. He started looking
around for anything that might help.

What
he saw didn’t make him feel any better. This place was creepy—a falling down
old church and graveyard that looked like they belonged in a Dracula movie. He
didn’t spot any bats, but he’d have bet there were some around.

Then
he noticed the really strange thing—they’d almost made it to the Dearth
concert. He could see it on a hilltop less than a mile away, with pulsing
lights shooting skyward and the crowd of Dearth-heads swarming around.
Contrasted to the gloomy quiet in this churchyard, it was like another world, a
camp of wild barbarians in some movie like
Road Warriors.
That didn’t
make him feel any better, either, especially because the place was called the
Watching Druids.

Barry
saw it, too, and he clenched his fists angrily against his thighs.

“This
sucks!” he said. “We’re so close.” He spun away, looking like he was about to
kick the moped again, which pretty well summed up his way of dealing with
problems.

“Chill,
okay?” Adam said. “I’m going to try to start it in a minute, and beating up on
it won’t help.”

“Oh,
sure, baby cousin,” Barry said scornfully. “Why don’t you go find a farm and
get a cow to ride? You could probably handle
that.

Adam
was very close to losing his cool entirely, but he knew from experience that
there was no point in arguing. Barry was okay and Adam liked him most of the
time. But when he did something stupid, which was often, he’d never admit it.
Instead, he’d find something or somebody else to take it out on—like Adam.
They’d end up in a scuffle, and while Adam was fairly tall for fourteen and had
a wiry strength, Barry was a year older, twenty pounds heavier, and good at
fighting dirty. It was a lose-lose all around.

Then,
right at that second, Dearth started up with a blast of heavy metal music that
Adam could feel in his teeth even from all that distance.

Barry
stared up at the hilltop, entranced. Adam decided it was a good time to take a
break—to give the flooded engine another couple of minutes to settle down, and
to chill, himself. He shouldered his daypack and started walking along the old
road.

Well,
he was only getting what he deserved, he thought gloomily. He’d broken the
rules. He’d been dishonest with Barry’s parents, his Aunt Isabelle and Uncle
Giles, who had always treated him kindly. They’d even paid for him to make this
trip to England—his own father couldn’t have afforded it in a million years.
They were going to be steaming mad, and worse, disappointed in him.

All
of a sudden, he was really homesick. He liked England in a lot of ways. They’d
spent several days in London, which was very cool, and now they were in
Cornwall, not far from the Atlantic Ocean. It was pretty here, and a little
like Montana—a lot more than London, for sure—with open countryside and farms.
But it was like Montana in miniature. It had a kind of storybook feel, with
everything carefully tended and the whole thing as tame as a lapdog. There were
hills here instead of the Rocky Mountains that edged his family’s ranch in
Albion, where his great-great grandfather had built their rough log house, where
wilderness started right at the boundaries of their property, and the wind
carried the scent of the pine forests down from the high alpine slopes.

Most
important of all, he was the real Adam there, not some stupid American
tourist—and the nerdy younger cousin that Barry was forced to hang out with.

He
hadn’t really been paying attention to where he was walking, but now he
realized that he’d come to the old ruined church. He remembered from one of
Aunt Isabelle’s guidebooks—she was always pushing them at the boys to improve
their culture, and Adam had actually looked through a couple—that these kinds
of churches were built by fierce Norman invaders, a thousand years ago or even
earlier. It was small and falling apart—the roof was caved in, the walls were
crumbling, and the arched windows were just empty black slits in the stone. But
most of the spire was still standing, and there was something, well, elegant
about it. It must have been a really impressive sight, back when it was all
there. And it was pretty incredible that people could have carved those huge
stones and raised them by hand, without electricity or a crane or any other
kind of engine to help them.

He
walked timidly on into the graveyard, which gave him the delicious scary
feeling of actually being in a vampire movie. It was easy to imagine the earth
starting to stir over the graves, with shadowy, pale-faced figures rising up.
The tombstones were falling down and overgrown with weeds, and the
cloud-filtered moonlight made their eerie shapes seem to shift.

A
lot of the graves were marked with crosses, which was no surprise. But then
Adam noticed something
really
creepy that he’d never seen anything like
before. Several of the crosses were studded with small, carved stone human
heads, about the size of a baseball. They didn’t resemble saints or angels or
anything like that—they looked grim, like gargoyles. Some were bowed down with
closed eyes like they were dead, and others were twisted around or leaning at
weird angles with tortured expressions. Adam had the feeling that whoever had
carved them had a lot of bad dreams.

Suddenly,
he realized that Barry was coming toward him, pushing the moped at a clumsy
run.

“Hey,
come help me with this thing!” Barry called out—half-yelling, but keeping his
voice low like he was scared.

“I’m
looking for a cow, like you told me to,” Adam shot back coolly.

“Shut
up! Somebody’s coming!” Barry pointed toward the hilltop concert.

Adam
looked up there. He could just see the low, dark shape of a car moving toward
them, with its headlights out.

“So
what?” he said. “We’re not doing anything wrong.” It was true that they’d snuck
out, but nobody else knew that.

Although
there
was
something odd about the car. Why was it coming so fast, and
all in the dark, down that steep windy road?

“I’m
talking about Reg, doofus!” Barry panted, still plodding along in a run. “We’ve
got to hide his scooter. If he finds out we took it, we’re screwed!”

Adam’s
eyes and mouth both opened wide as he realized what Barry was getting at.

“If
he finds
out?
” Adam sputtered. “You said you borrowed it!”

“Yeah,
well, he wasn’t around to ask and I figured we’d have it back before he knew.”

“In
other words, you stole it! And then crashed it.”


We
stole it and crashed it. Don’t you forget that—you’re in this as much as me.
Now hurry up! We’ve got to stash it and get out of this godforsaken hellhole.”

Adam
felt sick. He didn’t even bother to point out—as he usually would have, his
vocabulary being one of the things he had over Barry—that “godforsaken
hellhole” was redundant.

This
wasn’t just fibbing to the grownups—they’d committed an outright crime!

Adam
made up his mind. This had gone far enough.

“Barry,
no,” he declared. “Let’s just get home however we can, tell the truth, and take
what’s coming to us.”

“And
make the rest of this stupid summer even stupider? Not me, lame-o. Don’t worry,
I’ll think up a story to cover us. And you better go along with it. If you say
one word to rat me out—” Then Barry let out a yelp of panic. “Holy crap,
they’re almost here!”

He
dropped the moped and took off before it even hit the ground, bolting like a
spooked deer into the dark fields beyond the church.

Adam
spun around to look at the car. It was only about a quarter of a mile away
now—and all of a sudden, Adam’s gut was knotting up. The feeling was the same
kind he got back home in Montana when he walked through an area where he knew
there were rattlesnakes, or he saw the fresh track of a mountain lion.

This
time, it told him that Barry just might be right, although it didn’t have
anything to do with Reg.

The
boys didn’t want whoever was in that car to see them.

He
yanked the bike upright and ran with it across the rough ground to the closest
hiding place he could see, a space between one of the crumbling walls and a
pile of fallen stone blocks. He shoved the moped inside and crouched,
frog-walking forward a few feet so he could peer out through the stones.

Stay
calm, silent and hidden,
he thought,
trying to calm his pounding heart by remembering the woodsman’s skills his
father had taught him. Watch. Listen. Don’t give yourself away until you’re
sure of what’s happening.

Then,
a few seconds later, came another jolt.

Adam
glimpsed somebody
else
—a young man with shoulder-length hair—running
toward the graveyard in an all-out sprint. He looked scared but determined, and
he was clutching a daypack to his chest, cradling it like it was as precious as
a baby.

He
ran straight to one of the crosses that were studded with the weird stone
heads, dropping to his knees and skidding the last couple of feet. He moved his
hands quickly over the heads as if his fingers were searching for something—but
his frightened face kept turning to look back over his shoulder.

Adam’s
skin prickled as he realized that the guy was watching the approaching car—
that
was what he was running from!

It
was close now, only about a hundred yards away. Suddenly, it swerved sideways
with a spray of dirt and gravel and the passenger door flew open, with the
shadowy figure of a man jumping out. Adam could just see that he was carrying
something long and slender, like a baseball bat.

Or a
rifle.

The
man hunched forward over the car hood, bracing himself—aiming.

No!
Adam started to yell.

But
a muffled
crack!
snapped through the night before the word could leave
his mouth—the sound of a rifle with a silencer.

The
young, longhaired guy was slammed to the ground like a giant invisible boot had
kicked him in the back. But he rolled as he hit and came up in a staggering
run.

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