Authors: Jeremy Robinson,Sean Ellis
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Men's Adventure, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Thriller & Suspense, #War & Military, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Suspense, #Thriller, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Genetic Engineering, #Action & Adventure
A Cerberus Group Novel
By Jeremy Robinson
and Sean Ellis
THE SECRET MUST BE KEPT...
For three thousand years, the Herculean Society has preserved the legacy of the ancient hero, Hercules, protecting history’s fragile relics from humanity, and humanity from the dangerous truths behind the legends. Now, the Society’s new leader, archaeologist George Pierce, faces his first test: the Cerberus Group, a shadowy organization with two goals: the collection and distribution of black market relics, tech and secrets, and the purge of those deemed unfit for survival.
Pierce and his niece, Fiona—the last guardian of the ‘mother tongue,’ the forgotten language of creation—discover a secret entrance to the legendary Labyrinth, and at its heart, a hidden trove of relics that point the way to Hercules’s greatest discovery: a mutagen that can rewrite the very code of life. When a surprise attack leaves Pierce and Fiona trapped in the deadly maze, fighting for their lives, the race to stop the Cerberus Group begins.
To defeat this new enemy, Pierce must assemble a team of experts including Felice Carter, a geneticist with a dangerous secret, Augustina Gallo, a mythology professor, Cintia Dourado, a high tech hacker, and Lazarus, a dead soldier returned to life.
Guided by their knowledge of science, history and mythology, Pierce’s team sets out on an epic journey, following in the footsteps of Hercules, to stop Cerberus from controlling the power that rises from the Well of Monsters.
...OR THE WORLD WILL BE CLEANSED.
Jeremy Robinson and Sean Ellis, the international bestselling team behind the Jack Sigler thrillers, including
, return with a new series that rewrites the way we see history. Rivaling the best of Matthew Reilly and James Rollins,
combines a blistering pace with fringe science and myths reborn.
and Sean Ellis
Older E-reader device?
Click here for e-book store
to Ray Harryhausen,
who made myths come to life.
to Nancy Osterlund.
A distant land, long ago...
, he thought.
The end of my journey is in sight
While that was not entirely true, the location on the map was indeed close at hand. But reaching that destination would not mean the end of his quest. Finding the Source—Echidna, the Well of Monsters—would merely be the halfway point. He would also have to make it back home, to the other side of the world.
To come this far, he had endured stormy seas and worse, entire oceans, where there was no wind at all. He had crossed deserts where no rain ever fell and climbed mountains so cold that his breath froze into snowflakes. He had ventured into the eternal darkness of the Earth’s bowels, where only monsters dwelt. To return whence he came, he would have to tread those paths again, face the same perils one more time.
The return trip would not be as difficult though. The path was already traveled, the unknown stripped of its mystery. He knew the way now, knew which roads led to danger and which winds would blow him to safe harbor. He had the map to guide him.
And he was not the same man that had set forth on this desperate quest.
He was stronger now. Almost as indestructible as the lion whose impervious skin he now wore as a cloak. His trials had refined him, melted away the base impurities of his being, left him stronger, purer…god-like.
He had been worshipped once or twice along the way. At first, the adoration had pleased him, but the novelty of the experience did not last. Yet, there was nothing the simple folk could give him that he could not just as easily take for himself. Their adulation was empty, rooted in fear more than anything else. Worse, their sacrificial offerings were always accompanied by endless supplications for divine assistance. Destroy our enemies. Bless our harvest. Restore my virility. Marry my daughter.
No wonder it had taken him so long to make it this far. The return journey would go more swiftly. Of that, he was certain.
But first, this one last labor. A journey into Erebus, the primal darkness. The Underworld, realm of the dead.
More superstitions for the simple-minded
But not even he could deny that this was a cursed place. A few days previously, he had stridden through a sea of golden grass, pasture for the great horned beasts that roamed in herds, stretching from one edge of the horizon to the other. But here the ground was scorched and lifeless. He could feel the heat rising up from the earth, burning the skin of his feet even through the leather soles of his sandals. Fumaroles belched out a poisonous fog. The rivers boiled. If there was a place where the wicked dead wandered in misery for all eternity, then this surely was its doorstep.
But the Underworld was
inhabited by the forsaken spirits of the dead.
It was a source of life.
He paused, and consulted the map again. The scale was too broad to show him the way now, but he knew he was close. He turned in a slow circle, his sharp eyes searching the landscape until, at last, he saw the path marker.
He moved in the indicated direction, maintaining a straight line to the extent the treacherous terrain permitted. There was no trail. It had been a long time since anyone had walked this ground. The living rarely had business in such a blighted place. There were, however, a few signs of more ancient travelers. Footprints, stamped in soft mud long ago, baked by the sun and the terrible heat of the Earth itself, until the mud was as hard as stone.
Had Typhon walked here once? He did not know the answer to that question. Perhaps the man who styled himself both a sorcerer and a god had procured the source of his power in some other way, not daring to brave the terrors of the Underworld. That would be so like him. He was a coward, who used others to accomplish his ends. There were braver men in the world, men willing to face such danger for the right amount of gold.
Some of the prints did not belong to a man, or even, judging by their size, an ordinary beast of the Earth. Those prints, if he read the signs correctly, led
from the entrance to the Underworld.
He found a second marker, then another, and then, as if drawn like iron to a lodestone, he entered a hollow depression in the scorched earth, where more ancient symbols indicated that he had arrived, warning him to proceed no further. It was a warning that he had no intention of heeding.
He consulted the map once more to find the words. They were strange, like nothing he had ever uttered before, and yet when he spoke them, the earth…changed. He was a learned man, far more knowledgeable than anyone who walked the world—even Typhon, the ‘divine intellect,’ was a mere child in such matters—yet he did not understand how it was possible for mere words to change the fabric of the physical realm.
When this task was complete, he would make a study of the matter, but for the moment, he could spare no mental energy investigating.
He spoke the words.
The rough stone wall shimmered like a waterfall.
He set his club on the ground by his feet and took a bundle of tightly wrapped dry grass from the leather sack that held his provisions. He coaxed an ember to life, and then touched it to the end of the torch. The resulting flame was paltry in comparison to the mid-afternoon sun’s glare, but it would be more than enough to light his way.
He dared not linger now. He had four more torches in his sack, but they would burn quickly, and he had no desire to face the darkness beyond the gate without a light source. If he could not accomplish his task before a second torch burned out, he would have to turn back.
After retrieving his club and hefting it onto one shoulder, he started forward, stepping into the shimmering wall of rock as easily as one might walk through a heavy fog. The darkness closed upon him. Not even the torch could light his way as he passed through.
A moment later, he saw the flickering light again, and he knew he was now in what some believed was the realm of Hades.
He paused there, holding the torch aloft to orient himself.
The cavern had formed from molten stone, which had cooled and left a hollow lobe-shaped cavity at the center. The perfectly round tunnel led deeper into the interior. If he had any doubts about the volcanic origin of the cave system, the stifling heat and vile sulfurous atmosphere wiped them away.
One more reason not to tarry
He had taken only a few steps into the tunnel when he heard a low rumble. A growl perhaps. Or the Earth clearing its throat in preparation to vomit a mass of superheated steam and liquefied rock.
He eased the club off his shoulder and raised it high, ready to meet whatever the Underworld decided to throw at him.
He glimpsed movement ahead. With a thunderous war cry, he charged and swung the club one-handed, driving down into the enormous, shadowy mass. There was a loud
as wood connected with…something solid. The impact rang through the iron-hard wood of his bludgeon, and buzzed through his forearm. Had he merely struck a large rock? Had the movement been an illusion, caused by the flickering light of his torch?
He jabbed the torch forward at the shape, even as he hauled back the club for another swing.
His first thought was that he had been right to attack, for the shape was most definitely not a rock. His second thought was that he had been foolish to attack, for the beast in front of him was immense beyond comprehension. As big as the elephants that roamed the African plains. No...bigger even than that, and covered in black fur that devoured the light of his guttering torch.
The beast did not move.
His blow had struck true, caving in the thing’s skull, striking with such force that one of its eyes had popped out of its orbit, dangling alongside a canine snout. It would have been a killing blow, even for a creature of such prodigious size, but for two things.
First, the skull he had cracked open like an almond was only one of three the beast possessed. Three heads—each vaguely resembling one of King Eurystheus’s
hounds, albeit on a monumental scale—sprouted from a broad-shouldered torso. His club had smitten only the one on the monster’s left. The other two were completely intact. Yet, before he could swing again, he realized the second thing.
The hellhound was already dead.
Or so it appeared.
Because of its enormous size, he had not realized that it was sprawled out on the tunnel floor. Had it been standing, he probably would have been able to walk beneath its belly. He studied the thing, wondering if he should smite the other heads anyway, just to be sure. There seemed to be the faintest flutter of movement at one of its remaining nostrils, but this too might have been a trick of the light. He lowered the club, then jabbed the torch at the beast’s open but unmoving eyes.
The appearance of the hellhound was not completely unexpected. He had fought creatures such as this before, twisted things, Typhon’s creations. Chimeras. This beast was different only because it was not the product of Typhon’s warped imagination, but rather a natural occurrence—if such an animal could be considered natural—spawned from the Well of Monsters, the very thing he sought.
A closer look revealed the truth. The blow from his club was only the latest in a series of grievous injuries the creature had sustained. There were numerous scars on its two remaining heads, burns and gashes that had healed, leaving ugly masses of scar tissue. Some looked recent, only a few days old and barely begun to heal. They told a tale of life in the lightless depths of the Earth, a story of constant struggle with no respite.
He wondered what manner of creature would have dared challenge a behemoth such as this, and then he wondered if that other monster had survived the encounter. Was it still here, somewhere close? Were there others like it?
He edged around the stricken beast, still not certain that it was dead. If his earlier battles with chimera had taught him anything, it was that such creatures were extraordinarily hard to kill. As he passed along its immense flanks, he reached out and laid a cautious hand on its belly.
. Though given the stifling environment, that counted for little. If it was dead—and surely it must be—then it had expired recently, a day or two at most, but possibly only a few hours.
The low growling noise repeated, and he felt a faint vibration against his palm. He drew back as if scalded and raised his club again, but the creature remained completely still. After recovering from being startled, he ventured closer once more. It was dead. Of that he felt sure. And yet the noise
come from the beast.
Curiosity replaced both his sense of caution and urgency. He leaned his club against the tunnel wall, knelt down and tried lifting one of the massive front paws. It was stiff and heavy, but he managed to raise it as high as his own waist.
The growl came again, and this time he realized that the sound was not
the beast, but from beneath it. He pushed against the forelimb, straining with all his might. The carcass rolled onto its side, revealing a second, much smaller hellhound, with all three of its jaws clamped tight on the exposed breast of the first.
A mother and its pup.
He stared at the thing for several seconds, wondering if it would attack. The noise repeated, much louder now that it was no longer muffled by the bulk of the dead mother, but the little creature had no intention of letting go. Nor did it appear capable of doing much harm. Despite its size—it was as large as a year-old ox—it was wasting away. Any milk the mother might have produced was long since gone.
He felt a pang of sympathy for the strange-looking pup, and then frowned it away. Sentimentality was a weakness, and in a place such as this, a fatal one. Better to crush the creature’s skulls, spare it the misery of a slow death by starvation.
Yet, as he started to reach for his club, intent on delivering a killing blow, something stayed his hand.
Not compassion. He felt none for the hellhound, but something else.
There was an opportunity here.
This creature was a scion of the Well of Monsters. It was a living vessel in which the essence of the Well might be transported back to his home on the far side of the world. A self-sustaining supply of blood and tissue that he might study and experiment with at his leisure, to develop a weapon against Typhon and his creations. Perhaps he would make even greater discoveries.
It was the very thing for which he had come.
He reached out slowly with his free hand. The pup growled again but did not unclench its jaws to snap at him. He stroked the side of its rightmost head, scratching gently beneath the ear.
A low, steady, terrified rumble issued from its throat, and he could feel the creature’s rapid breathing, its heart fiercely pounding. But after a few long minutes, long enough for the torch to burn nearly down to a stub, the growling ceased.
“Well, that’s progress,” he murmured softly. “But what am I going to feed you?”
It occurred to him that the journey home might not be so easy after all.