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Authors: Angie West

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Return to the Shadows

BOOK: Return to the Shadows
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RETURN TO THE SHADOWS

 

By

 

Angie West

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or
are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any
resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons,
living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

Copyright© 2016 Angie West

Published at Smashwords

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may
be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written
permission.

The Shadows Trilogy

 

Shadow Cave

Return to the Shadows

Shadow Borne

 

Also by Angie West

 

Spirit of the Wolf

Incubus

The Fifth Hour

Jaxson's Song

The Game

Dedication

 

To Mary Lou...kindred spirit, confidant, best
friend, Mother.

Chapter One

Quiet Places

 


A flame to light the path; gateway to all
things past. A door from which there is no going back.

Born in truth; forged in lies. Never betray
the secret...forever shielded from human eyes.”

 

It had been a hell of a year. A year chock
full of firsts and new and a blessed normalcy that was both
comforting and strangely terrifying; one would think that a return
to a normal pace would be a welcome change. But it wasn’t, at least
not for me. Trouble was, I wasn’t sure I knew what “normal” was
anymore.

I was back in my home, surrounded by my
family, working at the same job with the same people I had worked
amongst for several years. Yet nothing was familiar. It took a
while to realize the unsettling truth; they hadn’t changed. I had.
But then, I was in good company...Terlain had changed a lot of
people. I closed my eyes, letting the memories wash over me.

I grew up in the heart of Washington, in a
town called Edmonds, the middle child of what could only be termed
“an artistic power couple.” Mom worked as a high profile wedding
planner for over twenty years, and Dad had been an architect for as
long as any of us kids could remember. So, like I said, three of us
kids grew up there. My brother Mike was the baby of the family, and
my junior by a couple of years.

The two of us had always been close; he
shared my love of science, my coloring, and obviously we were close
in age. But that was where the similarities ended. Where I was
casual, he was Type A. Where I was calm, he was tense. It had
always been that way. Our family used to joke that even though he
was the younger brother, he never got the memo. He was part
watchdog to Megan and myself, part baby brother.

When he was not harassing all of us about
safety, or in the field, he could be found in his home away from
home—hard at work at the historical museum of archaeology.

As for myself, I was a botanist. I graduated
from college a few years ago and had worked in pharmaceuticals ever
since. I was employed by a company called The LanTech Corporation.
Like my brother, I got most of my looks from my father. There used
to be a time when I wished for my mother’s dark hair and green
eyes, and later, for true blonde hair. Basically, anything other
than my own shade of not-quite-blonde-not-quite-brown.

My sister Megan was the oldest, and the
prettiest, of the bunch. She took after our mother that way. If she
hadn’t been such a great sister and all around good person, I
probably would have envied her classic beauty and natural charm.
But that was always the thing with Megan; beauty and grace just
came naturally to her. Simply put, she couldn’t help it. As a young
child, her interests had centered on music and art; as she’d grown
older, boys had begun to take center stage in her life. She married
young and divorced after only a few years. Praise the Lord. We had
all hated her husband, especially me. But then, why wouldn’t I?

After all, he had tried to kill me.

It all started six years ago, on a typically
hot and dusty afternoon in Zaire, Africa. My brother had been in
the country on assignment—a dig in a location that went undisclosed
to the general public. He’d been part of a team tasked with
excavating the remains of a newly discovered African tribe. That’s
when he found the key.

An ancient relic and the cornerstone of a
centuries old legend, we were unaware of how the item he unearthed
would forever change our lives. For reasons only Mike could fully
explain, he did something completely and totally out of character;
rather than turn the key over to the African government, he kept it
for himself.

Mike spent the five years that followed
researching the Legend of Terlain. As the story goes, a band of
ancient high priests forged the disc-like key using stone from
their holy land during a ritualistic ceremony. The elder priest, a
man whose name remains unknown even to this day, saw visions of the
“other” world, to which the key belonged. Four men entered the Cave
of Shadows to find the portal to Terlain; three men came out. The
remaining three priests documented their findings using a
combination of written and oral transcript. They told tales of
warlocks and demons, strange creatures, and even stranger
surroundings.

Most bizarre of all, they told the tale of
ordinary people, ordinary people fighting a losing battle against a
force so powerful it threatened all that it touched. No mention was
ever made regarding the fate of the fourth priest. Still, in the
end, the remaining three made a conscious decision to destroy the
key to the land they called Terlain. They felt it posed such a
threat to humanity that it must never be found.

Yet found it was. The elder priest entrusted
with the task of destroying the key fell victim to the most basic
weakness of man; he found himself unable to fulfill his obligation
and, rather than destroy the key to Terlain, he buried it deep in
the earth, where it remained for centuries.

Five years after my brother found and
subsequently took possession of the key, he was ready to make his
move. He was undoubtedly anxious to prove, or disprove, the legend
that had captured his attention and fascinated him since childhood.
It was this fascination that severely clouded his judgment…if you
ask me.

What he possessed in ambition, he lacked in
financial backing. It was LanTech he approached with his request.
More specifically, he asked John Hanlen, our sister Megan’s dear
ex-husband, for the money to fund his one-man project. Mike was
eager to bag the find of a lifetime. As strange a choice as it may
seem, Mike had precious few options for scraping together funding
and sponsorship for such an expedition. Even with his careful
documentation, he would have been laughed out the door of the
foundations and museums that normally put up the capital for
archaeological expeditions.

John Hanlen must have seemed like the perfect
last-ditch option. He was familiar with Mike and his work, and he
had access to a large supply of cash. Unfortunately, he was also
greedy and a cold-hearted bastard. John had a different agenda. He
meant to plunder and pillage Terlain to his heart’s content. His
plan was to eliminate my brother once he was able to prove that
Terlain existed and ultimately lead the way to the portal.

Mike was set to return home in six months’
time; he never made it. Unknown to John at that time, Mike had been
captured in Terlain by the guardsmen of Kahn, a dark warlock
determined to rule Terlain with an iron fist.

When my brother failed to return in the
allotted six-month period, John, fearing he’d been swindled, did a
little research of his own. That is, if you can call breaking and
entering “research.” He stole several boxes containing Mike’s
notes, and was attempting to find a way to track him when a golden
opportunity presented itself. Me.

Written in the back cover of one of Mike’s
notebooks was a personal message to me. I was summoned to John’s
personal office and conference room early one morning, where I was
briefed on the situation, shown Mike’s coded notebooks, and “asked”
to aid in finding my missing brother. I was shocked to say the
least; first to learn of Mike’s involvement with John, and then to
hear a wild story about a priest and a warlock.

In the end, what was a girl to do? I set out
on a six-week long quest to find Mike and the fabled land known as
Terlain. I wouldn’t say that John made it an easy feat, because he
didn’t. I’d never forget the hours I spent painstakingly decoding
Mike’s notes and trying to retrace his steps. Believe me, I
encountered more than my fair share of stumbling blocks along the
way.

The first came just after I received my big
break in the case. Arriving late one evening to Mike’s apartment, I
learned that it had already been scoured and searched from top to
bottom. But John and his men had overlooked one very important
detail…Mike’s computer. For all they’d probably tried, they had
been unable to crack the password that would have granted them
access to his most private files. Let’s just say I had better luck.
I guessed the coveted password in a matter of minutes and, lo and
behold, found a file with my name on it.

Too bad I hadn’t counted on the apartment
being wire tapped. John and his minions heard enough to realize I
had found what they had been unable to get. I was officially
expendable. Even worse, I had become a liability…just another
unfortunate soul who knew too much. In short, as far as John Hanlen
was concerned, I was better off dead, and he did his level best to
make that happen.

They were waiting for me that night when I
returned home, three of them. Men who lurked in the shadows. Men
who waited for me with a sinister plan. They had been sent to carry
out my execution, but as luck would have it, at least one of the
men wasn’t too bright. Had they not waited for me in complete
darkness, the night probably would have had a very different
ending.

That first night, I had driven as far as the
end of my street when I noticed two very important things, the
first being that I was certain I’d left the living room light on
before I had taken off for my brother’s apartment. I stopped for a
moment, and would have shrugged it off and chalked it up to stress
causing me to be forgetful, but a split second later, the living
room curtains moved a fraction of an inch. Even better, the man
behind the curtain hadn’t bothered to lower his flashlight before
shutting the drapes. He was probably wondering why his quarry was
idling in the middle of the street and trying to get a better look
at my car. Yet, in doing so, he had alerted me to his presence.

I sped off into the night, finding a hotel to
hole up in for a day or so while I read through the file and
figured out just what I was going to do next. Initially, I felt an
overwhelming sense of relief on managing to evade a direct
confrontation with the men who had taken up residence in my house.
That relief turned out to be woefully short-lived.

Mike’s notes to me were specific, explaining
his motives, warning me what I was up against in both Terlain and
Seattle, and instructing me on what I had to do next in order to
survive. Oh, and apologizing profusely for dragging me into a
situation that had a high potential to get me killed within a
week’s time.

His instructions were explicit. My orders
were simple; find the key and destroy it if he had not returned
within six months. Not for so much as a second did I actually
consider following his orders. I’d like to think he would have done
the same for me had our situations been reversed.

When he’d left to find Terlain, he had taken
only half of the key. The other half was hidden in a warehouse, and
I would need to retrieve it before I could continue my quest. The
key was meant to be used in pairs, so to speak. It was a fail-safe
carefully designed by the old tribal priests, who believed that no
one man should wield such a power, or enter Terlain alone. Once I
was in possession of the other half of the key, I could retrace
Mike’s step and find the portal.

That, or find Mike himself. For all I knew,
he may not have ever made it to the Cave of Shadows that housed the
portal. The African wilderness was rough terrain to travel, even
for someone with Mike’s level of experience. He had been gone
longer than six months. It was more than enough time for him to
have succumbed to any number of natural or man-made threats, Heaven
forbid. I’d had to consider the possibility that he had never made
it to the cave, that he could have been lying dead somewhere along
the trail.

“Mom?”

The soft voice broke through my dismal
reminiscing, causing me to blink momentarily while I tried to
regain my bearings.

“Ashley, what are you doing out of bed,
little love? Come here.” I enveloped the warm six-year-old in a
tight embrace, inhaling the scent of baby powder and strawberry
shampoo, a heady scent that was exclusively Ashley…my daughter.

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