The Shroud of A'Ranka (Brimstone Network Trilogy)

BOOK: The Shroud of A'Ranka (Brimstone Network Trilogy)
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How can Bram stop a vampire who can’t be killed?

Bram wrestled with the monster. The vampire was stronger than he expected.

Willing his hand ghostly, Bram plunged his limb through the armor and into the vampire’s chest. He gasped, feeling a cold the likes of which he’d never experienced before as he searched for his prize.

“Looking for something, ghost child?” Vladek snarled, driving his forehead into the startled boy’s very solid chin.

Tossed backward, Bram’s head spun and he struggled to keep himself conscious. The vampire was on him in a flash, his clawed hand gripping his hair and yanking his head back.

“If there was time, I would turn you,” Vladek warned. “Then I would lock you away … inside a box of stone … and make you starve forever.”

And then he was gone. Through his swirling vision Bram saw the vampire and his human servants racing toward the magickal doorway.

THE BRIMSTONE NETWORK

The Brimstone Network Book 1:

The Brimstone Network

Coming soon:

The Brimstone Network Book 3:

Specter Rising

THE BRIMSTONE NETWORK

THE SHROUD OF A’RANKA

Tom Sniegoski

If you purchased this book without a cover, you should
be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as
“unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor
the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people,
or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents
are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual
events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

ALADDIN PAPERBACKS

An imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division

1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
www.SimonandSchuster.com

Text copyright © 2008 by Tom Sniegoski

All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction

in whole or in part in any form.

ALADDIN PAPERBACKS and related logo are registered

trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Designed by Mike Rosamilia and Karin Paprocki

The text of this book was set in Minister.

Manufactured in the United States of America

First Aladdin Paperbacks edition October 2008

2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1

Library of Congress Control Number 2008920171

ISBN-13: 978-1-4169-5105-6

ISBN-10: 1-4169-5105-9

eISBN-13: 978-1-4391-5338-3

For Brian Kozicki and the Nine Panel Nerds at Buried Under Comics

Acknowledgments

Much thanks to LeeAnne and Mulder for their continuous love and support.

Many thanks to Liesa Abrams for being the world’s bestest editor, and so much more.

Thanks also to Zach Howard for another fabulous cover, Christopher Golden, Dave “King Nerd” Kraus, Eric Powell, John & Jana, Harry & Hugo, James “The Power of Love” Mignogna, Don Kramer, Greg Skopis, Mom & Dad Sniegoski, Mom & Dad Fogg, David Carroll, Ken Curtis, Lisa Clancy, Pete Donaldson, Kim & Abby, Jon & Flo, Pat & Bob, Sheila Walker, Mike Mignola, Christine Mignola, Katie Mignola, Timothy Cole, and the Hordes of Death down at Cole’s Comics.

PROLOGUE

THE WORLD WAS A MUCH MORE
dangerous place now.

A few weeks ago, a searing white light lit up the skies across the planet. Some saw it as yet another sign that the world was coming to an end; others knew exactly what it was—a paranormal event that signaled humanity’s next phase in its relationship with the supernatural.

The strange explosion of light had weakened the ancient magickal barriers between the countless other dimensions and realities that existed beyond the world of man.

For most, this was reason for panic.

But for some, it was cause for celebration.

Lewis Tyker stood before the cave opening, his beady eyes scanning the nearly impenetrable darkness. “Is this it?” he asked his two companions.

“I believe it is,” Mason Atkins answered, removing
the pack from his back and placing it on the cold ground before the cave. He unzipped the bag and fished inside. “But let’s check to be sure.”

Carefully he removed a small cube from the bottom of the bag and held it in his palm. With his other hand he undid the latch and opened the lid. A horrible stench wafted out from inside.

“If my stomach wasn’t already empty, I’d be barfing right now,” Prentiss Rollins said as he pulled a red bandanna from inside his pocket and placed it over his nose.

“I don’t think it smells so bad,” Mason said. “I guess you get used to it after a while.” He knelt down and set the wooden box on the ground. “Let’s see what our little friend has to say.”

Lewis felt his patience beginning to wane. This was his job. People paid him to find things. Legal or otherwise, it was all the same to him. But they had already been in the Ural Mountains for days now, searching for a Brimstone Network magickal artifact storage dump without any luck.

The little box began to quiver and a toadlike creature, its skin a pale, sickly gray, climbed over the edge of the box.

“So what do you think, Chauncey?” Mason asked the strange animal. “Anything to eat here?”

“Chauncey?” Prentiss asked with a snarl.

“That’s his name,” Mason said, staring at the toad-thing and smiling.

Prentiss muttered something unflattering under his breath and lumbered toward the darkness of the cave.

“Careful,” Lewis warned, yanking him back by the jacket. “Don’t want to trip any alarms.”

Prentiss scowled, taking three steps back. “Didn’t think they’d still be active,” he growled.

“Can’t be too careful,” Lewis said, already turning his attention back to the pale-skinned toad.

The Enochian Toad had turned toward the cave entrance, its dark eyes staring straight ahead. Awkwardly, it crawled closer, its flesh changing from a sickly pale color to a rich and vibrant green as it absorbed remnants of magickal energy leaking from the cave.

“This must be the place,” Prentiss said, the smile on his grizzled features looking oddly out of place.

Mason caught up with Chauncey and picked it up. He gave its head a loving pat, then placed the Enochian back into its box.

“Magickal defenses,” Lewis said to Mason.

Mason approached the entrance and extended his hand, wiggling his long, thin fingers in the air. “A slight, lingering trace,” he said. “But it’s been shorted out—the defenses are down.”

The three of them removed battery-powered lanterns from their packs and entered the cave. At first glance, it appeared to be a naturally occurring environment, but as they moved farther inside, Lewis could see that it had been dug deeper into the earth by man-made means. And it was cold.

Prentiss was ahead and had just turned a sharp bend in the rock-hewn passage, when Lewis heard him cry out, “We’re here.”

Lewis and Mason sped up, rounding the curve to find Prentiss already at work. He was kneeling before a large metal door in the solid rock, his lock-picking instruments laid out before him on a piece of cloth.

There was a sharp clicking sound, then Prentiss reached out, took hold of the brass ring above the keyhole, and gave it a twist to the right. At first it would not turn, but he put all his strength into it, and finally it gave, the door slowly swinging open with a high-pitched whine.

A smell wafted out from inside the room—an odor that made the Enochian Toad smell like a fresh spring bouquet. They all began to cough, covering their mouths and noses.

“What is that?” Prentiss gasped. “Smells like something … a hundred somethings died in there.” But the horrid stench didn’t stop him from charging into the room holding his lantern high.

Lewis entered more cautiously with Mason behind him.

“There were powerful magickal defenses in here,” the thin man said, slowly lifting his lantern.

“But they’re gone now,” Lewis stated, staring at the man. “Correct?”

Mason nodded.

“Over here,” Prentiss called out from somewhere in the chamber.

“Set up the lights,” Lewis told Mason, before going to find Prentiss.

Holding his lantern out before him, the yellow light cut through the darkness of the chamber like a surgical blade. Wooden crates and chests made of metal and stone lay stacked around the room, their surfaces covered with dust
inches thick. Lewis felt a tingle of excitement, wondering what untold valuables awaited him.

The chamber was suddenly brightly illuminated, and Lewis caught sight of Prentiss’s shadow in a section of the chamber where even the new light could barely reach.

“What’ve you got?” Lewis asked, approaching to find Prentiss busily moving things from atop a large, stone box.

“Not sure,” he grumbled.

Lewis moved his lantern over the items on the floor.
Odd
, he thought, noticing that almost all of the objects appeared to have religious significance: prayer beads, metal crosses, Stars of David, a large crucifix—its figure of Jesus Christ carved from solid gold.

“These all came from the top of this box?” Lewis asked as Prentiss finished moving the last of the objects.

“Yeah,” he said, tossing aside a wooden drawer filled with ancient-looking scrolls.

The section of the chamber was suddenly awash with light, and Lewis turned to see Mason angling the shade of a work light toward the great stone box.

“This should help,” the thin man said.

“Excellent,” Prentiss said, running his hands over the surface of the stone lid.

In the light Lewis could see the residue of magickal sigils drawn upon the lid of the box. Something suddenly didn’t feel right.

“Wait,” he said weakly, just as his partner pulled a crowbar from his pack.

Prentiss stopped and turned, glaring at him. “What now?”

“Perhaps we should wait….”

“Are you out of your mind?” Prentiss snarled. “Do you think we’re the only thieves searching for this stuff?”

“I know … it’s just that …”

“My gut tells me there’s something valuable in this box,” Prentiss said. “And I always trust my gut.”

With an almost frantic excitement, he jammed the end of the crowbar between the cover and the case, and with a grunt pried the lid up. A high-pitched hissing sound, like a thousand angry cobras, filled the chamber as the seal was broken and the air of the cavern rushed to fill the vacuum that had once existed inside the box.

“Give me a hand with this,” Prentiss ordered, and Lewis and Mason grabbed hold of the heavy stone lid, sliding it askew.

Prentiss dropped the crowbar to the rock floor with
a clatter, snatched up his lantern, and leaned into the box. Suddenly something reached up from the darkness, grabbed Prentiss by the neck, and yanked him down inside. He screamed, bent over the edge of the box, struggling to pull himself away from whatever it was that held him.

Mason and Lewis immediately jumped back, their sudden movement causing the stone lid to fall heavily to the cavern floor, where it shattered on impact. And then the chamber was filled with a new sound, a horrible sucking sound—the sound of something feeding.

BOOK: The Shroud of A'Ranka (Brimstone Network Trilogy)
12.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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