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$2.99 eBook Sale: September 2022

IT’S ALMOST FALLLLLLLL, and while all the leaves are starting to drop, so are all of our AMAZING EBOOK DEALS!!! Check out what ebooks you can snag for only $2.99 here 😎


The Future of Another TimelineThe Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz by Annalee Newitz

1992: After a confrontation at a riot grrl concert, seventeen-year-old Beth finds herself in a car with her friend’s abusive boyfriend dead in the backseat, agreeing to help her friends hide the body. This murder sets Beth and her friends on a path of escalating violence and vengeance as they realize many other young women in the world need protecting too. 2022: Determined to use time travel to create a safer future, Tess has dedicated her life to visiting key moments in history and fighting for change. But rewriting the timeline isn’t as simple as editing one person or event. And just when Tess believes she’s found a way to make an edit that actually sticks, she encounters a group of dangerous travelers bent on stopping her at any cost.

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The Relentless MoonThe Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal by Mary Robinette Kowal

The Earth is coming to the boiling point as the climate disaster of the Meteor strike becomes more and more clear, but the political situation is already overheated. Riots and sabotage plague the space program. The IAC’s goal of getting as many people as possible off Earth before it becomes uninhabitable is being threatened. Elma York is on her way to Mars, but the Moon colony is still being established. Her friend and fellow Lady Astronaut Nicole Wargin is thrilled to be one of those pioneer settlers, using her considerable flight and political skills to keep the program on track. But she is less happy that her husband, the Governor of Kansas, is considering a run for President.

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MysticMystic by Jason Denzel by Jason Denzel

For hundreds of years, high-born nobles have competed for the chance to learn of the Myst. Powerful, revered, and often reclusive, Mystics have the unique ability to summon and manipulate the Myst: the underlying energy that lives at the heart of the universe. Once in a very great while, they take an apprentice, always from the most privileged sects of society. Such has always been the tradition-until a new High Mystic takes her seat and chooses Pomella AnDone, a restless, low-born teenager, as a candidate. Pomella knows that she will have more to contend with than the competition for the apprenticeship.

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Mystic DragonMystic Dragon by Jason Denzel by Jason Denzel

Seven years have passed since lowborn Pomella AnDone became an unlikely Mystic’s apprentice. Though she has achieved much in a short time, as a rare celestial event approaches, Pomella feels the burden of being a Mystic more than ever. The Mystical realm of Fayün is threatening to overtake the mortal world, and as the two worlds slowly blend together, the land is thrown into chaos. People begin to vanish or are killed outright, and Mystics from across the world gather to protect them. Among them is Shevia, a haunted and brilliant prodigy whose mastery of the Myst is unlike anything Pomella has ever seen.

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People of the WolfPeople of the Wolf by W. Michael Gear & Kathleen O'Neal Gear by W. Michael Gear & Kathleen O’Neal Gear

In the dawn of history, a valiant people forged a pathway from an old world into a new one. Led by a dreamer who followed the spirit of the wolf, a handful of courageous men and women dared to cross the frozen wastes to find an untouched, unspoiled continent. Set in what is now Alaska, this is the magnificent saga of the vision-filled man who led his people to an awesome destiny, and the courageous woman whose love and bravery drove them on in pursuit of that dream.

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$2.99 December 2020 eBook Deals

Right in time for the holidays, we have five great ebooks on sale for $2.99 the whole month of December! From historical thrillers to captivating nonfiction, you’re sure to find something you’ll love.


Father of Lions by Louise Callaghan

Image Placeholder of - 79Father of Lions is the powerful true story of the evacuation of the Mosul Zoo, featuring Abu Laith the zookeeper, Simba the lion cub, Lula the bear, and countless others, faithfully depicted by acclaimed, award-winning journalist Louise Callaghan in her trade publishing debut.

Combining a true-to-life narrative of humanity in the wake of war with the heartstring-tugging account of rescued animals, Father of Lions will appeal to audiences of bestsellers like The Zookeeper’s Wife and The Bookseller of Kabul as well as fans of true animal stories such as A Streetcat Named BobMarley and Me, and Finding Atticus.

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Remembrance by Rita Woods

Image Place holder  of - 94Remembrance…It’s a rumor, a whisper passed in the fields and veiled behind sheets of laundry. A hidden stop on the underground road to freedom, a safe haven protected by more than secrecy…if you can make it there.

Ohio, present day
. An elderly woman who is more than she seems warns against rising racism as a young nurse grapples with her life.

Haiti, 1791, on the brink of revolution. When the slave Abigail is forced from her children to take her mistress to safety, she discovers New Orleans has its own powers.

1857 New Orleansa city of unrest: Following tragedy, house girl Margot is sold just before her promised freedom. Desperate, she escapes and chases a whisper…. Remembrance.

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People of the Canyons by Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear

Poster Placeholder of - 80In a magnificent war-torn world cut by soaring red canyons, an evil ruler launches a search for a mystical artifact that he hopes will bring him ultimate power—an ancient witch’s pot that reputedly contains the trapped soul of the most powerful witch ever to have lived.

The aged healer Tocho has to stop him, but to do it he must ally himself with the bitter and broken witch hunter, Maicoh, whose only goal is achieving one last great kill.

Caught in the middle is Tocho’s adopted granddaughter, Tsilu. Her journey will be the most difficult of all for she is about to discover terrifying truths about her dead parents.

Truths that will set the ancient American Southwest afire and bring down a civilization.

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The Stolen Gold Affair by Bill Pronzini

Placeholder of  -72In response to a string of gold thefts in a Mother Lode mine, Quincannon goes undercover as a newly-hired miner to identify and capture the men responsible.

Meanwhile, Sabina finds herself not only making plans for her and Quincannon’s wedding, but also investigating both an audacious real estate scam and an abusive young man’s villainous secret.

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Blame the Dead by Ed Ruggero

Place holder  of - 17Sicily, 1943. Eddie Harkins, former Philadelphia beat cop turned Military Police lieutenant, reluctantly finds himself first at the scene of a murder at the US Army’s 11th Field Hospital. There the nurses contend with heat, dirt, short-handed staffs, the threat of German counterattack, an ever-present flood of horribly wounded GIs, and the threat of assault by one of their own—at least until someone shoots Dr. Myers Stephenson in the head.

With help from nurse Kathleen Donnelly, once a childhood friend and now perhaps something more, it soon becomes clear to Harkins that the unit is rotten to its core. As the battle lines push forward, Harkins is running out of time to find one killer before he can strike again.

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These sales end 12/31/2020 at 11:59 pm.

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$2.99 eBook Sale: May 2020

$2.99 eBook Sale: May 2020

Welcome, May! We’re celebrating the warmer weather with some new, month long ebook deals. Check out what Tor eBooks you can grab for $2.99 throughout the entire month below:

Place holder  of - 8People of the Songtrail by Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear

On the shores of what is now northeastern Canada, a small group of intrepid settlers have landed, seeking freedom to worship and prosper far from the religious strife and political upheaval that plague a war-ridden Europe…500 years before Columbus set sail. While it has long been known that Viking ships explored the American coast, recent archaeological evidence suggests a far more vast and permanent settlement. It is from this evidence that archaeologists and early American history experts Kathy and Michael Gear weave their extraordinary tale.

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Poster Placeholder of - 45The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

The traitor Baru Cormorant is now the cryptarch Agonist—a secret lord of the empire she’s vowed to destroy. Hunted by a mutinous admiral, haunted by the wound which has split her mind in two, Baru leads her dearest foes on an expedition for the secret of immortality. But Baru’s heart is broken, and she fears she can no longer tell justice from revenge…or her own desires from the will of the man who remade her.

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Image Place holder  of - 95Bowl of Heaven by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven

The limits of wonder are redrawn as a human expedition to another star system is jeopardized by an encounter with an astonishingly immense artifact in interstellar space: a bowl-shaped structure half-englobing a star, with a habitable area equivalent to many millions of Earths…and it’s on a direct path heading for the same system as the human ship.

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Placeholder of  -79The Impossible Contract by K. A. Doore

An assassin’s reputation can mean life or death. This holds especially true for Thana Basbowen, daughter of the legendary Serpent, who rules over Ghadid’s secret clan of assassins. When a top-tier contract drops in her lap — death orders against foreign ambassador Heru Sametket — Thana seizes the opportunity. Yet she may be in over her head. Heru wields blasphemous powers against his enemies, and Thana isn’t the only person after his life: even the undead pursue him, leaving behind a trail of horror.

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Image Placeholder of - 5Knight of the Silver Circle by Duncan M. Hamilton

As the lines between enemy and ally blur, Guillot dal Villerauvais is drawn farther into the life and service he had left far behind. Solène attempts to come to terms with the great magical talent she fears is as much a curse as a blessing, while the Prince Bishop’s quest for power twists and turns, and takes on a life of its own. With dragons to slay, and an enemy whose grip on the kingdom grows ever tighter, Gill and his comrades must fight to remain true to themselves, while standing at the precipice of a kingdom in peril.

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Excerpt: People of the Canyons by Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear

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In People of the Canyonsaward-winning archaeologists and New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear bring us a tale of trapped magic, a tyrant who wants to wield its power…and a young girl who could be the key to save a people.

In a magnificent war-torn world cut by soaring red canyons, an evil ruler launches a search for a mystical artifact that he hopes will bring him ultimate power—an ancient witch’s pot that reputedly contains the trapped soul of the most powerful witch ever to have lived.

The aged healer Tocho has to stop him, but to do it he must ally himself with the bitter and broken witch hunter, Maicoh, whose only goal is achieving one last great kill.

Caught in the middle is Tocho’s adopted granddaughter, Tsilu. Her journey will be the most difficult of all for she is about to discover terrifying truths about her dead parents.

Truths that will set the ancient American Southwest afire and bring down a civilization.

People of the Canyons will be available on June 23, 2020. Please enjoy the following excerpt.


One

Maicoh

When the gods close their eyes, the instant is unmistakable.

My heart suddenly thunders.

I cross my arms over my chest and sag against the towering canyon wall, struggling to stay upright.

The night sky is blacker than black, scattered with the blazing footprints of the dead.

Magnificent red sandstone cliffs border this valley. Two-thousand hand-lengths tall, they loom high above me. In my blurring vision, the gigantic rock pillars on the rim appear to sway back and forth, moving like a parade of monstrously deformed animals and people left from the Beginning Time.

I can’t stop it. The cascade in my souls begins …

The firelit village suddenly breathes, exhaling scents of food and sweating bodies, carrying the shrill music of drums and bone whistles that drifts from the crowded village plaza this autumn evening.

I force myself to focus on the chocolate-brown curve of the river that slithers snakelike through the scraggly cornfields and around the thirty pithouses that comprise OwlClaw Village. Partially subterranean and covered with a thick layer of earth, the pithouses are low humps, like giant anthills, scattered across the river terrace. Tonight, people lean against the sloping roofs to talk while they watch the festivities of the harvest ceremony. Ladders protrude from the centers of the roofs, allowing people to enter or exit the dwellings and smoke from the fires inside to escape.

Dogs run by.

Each moment is urgent now. I’m falling …

A woman laughs, and I see her step off a ladder onto a pithouse roof. Wreathed in firelight, she stands for a moment and looks around the village. She wears a gorgeous red cape made from the finest scarlet macaw feathers and carries a sprig of evergreen. Evergreens do not die in the winter, and every shaman predicts this will be a hard one. As she walks away, she holds one hand on her belly, and I think maybe she’s pregnant. Hard to tell with her cape. The wavering light of torches, carried by the dancers, flashes through her black hair. I stare for just an instant. Even less. But it’s too long.

The canyon wall tilts. The path heaves. The gods shove my soul into thin air.

Gasping, my body eats air as if it can’t get enough. So, in the beginning, there’s no fear. Just the light-headed sensation of tumbling through a vast abyss inside my own body.

My mind tries to make sense of it. One thought keeps repeating: My heart. What’s wrong with my heart?

All my life, my heartbeat has been the one friend that’s never left me. It’s always there, reminding me that I’m alive and can keep going through the masquerade of my daily routine. But now it has stopped. While I’m waiting to hit bottom, I’m not alive. Blood no longer pulses in my veins, which means the night is getting really cold, and the rigidity seeping through my flesh seems to be accelerated. As the seconds fly by, my stringy old muscles gradually turn to stone. When the paralysis is complete, even my eyes will be fixed in their sockets.

I stare at the children standing around the edges of the plaza. Their mouths hang open. The Deer Chief—beautifully dressed in white buckskin, with branching antlers mounted on his head—dances his way past them, as he retreats back to the underworld from which he came. His sacred gyrations have lent strength to Father Sun, so he may survive his long journey through the cold winter to come. Behind the Deer Chief, the six Horn priests dance, stamping their feet to shake the rattles on their legs. They move in single file, forming stunning, magical procession of phantasmal figures pounding their way along the cosmic path that leads into the deepest past of our People.

Such a dark, dark night. The feeble gleam cast by the slowly dying ritual fires can’t hold it back.

Why am I still here? Curiosity fills me. When I look down I can see my tall emaciated body—worn down to the bones by the ravages of time and truth—that resembles a painter’s sketch drawn on my buckskin clothing, shades of gray, a little hazy around the edges, arms locked across the chest. One of my legs is straight, the other bent slightly at the knee. The Falling hasn’t erased me yet. But it will. Makes no difference that my body stubbornly insists it’s still here in this world. I feel it seeping outside through the cracks in the light, trailing along the laughter and whistles of panpipes, sailing away on a red cape.

It always takes so long. The moments stretch. Be still. Let it happen.

When the bottom rises up, there will be a jolt, a bizarre aftershock, and my heartbeat will start again. But for now, my lungs are struggling. As though I’m underwater, my vision goes opaque. I must inhabit my death or this will never be over.

What surprises me is the power of my disbelief. I died the first time when I was twelve, but part of my brain still refuses to accept the truth. Not again, it says. I’m stronger than this. But as the protection of my body grows increasingly unreliable, my hold on humanity becomes as tenuous as a ghost’s.

Then it appears.

There, at the corner of my eye, the blaze flickers to life, and I faintly hear her deep voice. It’s tiny now, barely a whisper of flames. She is on a holy crusade. A fight to the death against horrific evil.

Don’t reach for it.

For the past week, her voice has been growing louder, so I’ve felt this coming, but arrival is always a luminous moment of revelation. I tuck my fists into my armpits and hug myself hard, trying not to listen to the faint words slipping from the blazing soul pot I carry in the sacred bundle tied to my belt.

With one hand against the canyon wall, I stagger down the dirt path that parallels the rugged sandstone cliff. I’m riding the lightning bolt now, zigzagging my way into the heart of the big explosion on the mountaintop. Much depends on what I see in the next few moments, or days. There is no telling how long this will take. Maybe I’ll be all right, and no one will die. At any point, the hunt could be sabotaged. Perhaps a man steps out of a pithouse at the wrong time or a child suddenly looks up at me, and I must walk by.

Except for her ghostly whisper and the erratic shuffles of my footsteps on the dirt, there is no sound. This is how it goes: She calls my name. My feet walk, and the world outside perishes in the onslaught of transformation. Dark shapes flash by in utter silence. I see them, but they do not seem to see me. Perhaps I’ve become invisible. I’ve often wondered.

As the instants pass, I force myself to go through the motions of the awakening that will come. Feel for a hold on the wall, clutch a crevice, and hang on tight. Maybe tonight I will simply walk away. But the flame of her voice … As it grows brighter, the world turns teeth-chatteringly cold. Finally, I can’t stop myself. I must reach out for her faint words. When I find them, they are shouts, and light explodes inside me, streaming up to shatter against the roof of my skull, then trickle down inside my head in brilliant rivulets, bathing my thoughts in frosty inhuman splendor.

My body slides down the canyon wall to sit on the ground, and I topple to my side, jerking like a clubbed rabbit.

A strange tranquility comes over me, smoothing out the edges, softening the horror. Is that what I really want? Just to die? To have this over with once and for all? No more struggling to decide if what she tells me is right or wrong. Besides … I deserve to die. My inadequacies, my crimes, are legion. The gods should not have let me live this long.

My body jolts, and my heart slams against my ribs. The hazy village goes quiet and still. People freeze in midstride, arms akimbo, heads tilted slightly to the left or right, mouths open. Their firelit faces seem carved of pale amber ice.

I try to stand up, to flee, but my legs are too weak to hold me up. I’m afraid. Always terribly afraid. Settle into the cradle and let it rock you until you fly apart. Don’t want to. Still quivering, the yawning blackness rushes toward me, and the dark night of the soul descends.

I hear quick steps approach. His cotton kirtle rustles. The long pole he holds before him is an elegant artifact, the legacy of his most ancient ancestors. It’s been polished with sunflower oil and shines like a sliver of firelight. A ceremonial fox skin and a bunch of hummingbird feathers dangle from the top of the pole: the crest of a dead war god who long ago marched upon villages far to the south.

Shaken, I manage to say, “I—I saw BoneDust. D—Did you?”

At this point, he is a dispassionate presence, unobtrusive and totally uninterested in the outcome of this struggle. I’m fighting for my life, and he stands by as a silent witness, fulfilling an ancient duty to gods I no longer believe in.

“Yes, I saw her. She’s finally alone, walking down the river trail. Slide your arm across my shoulders. We have to go find her now. Hurry!”

 

Two

Blue Dove 

The next evening …

As the sun sinks below the horizon, dusk settles across the canyon like a mantle of blue smoke, casting the thirty pithouses of OwlClaw Village into shadow. Halos of yellow firelight have just begun to seep up around the entry ladders. But it’s the stunning canyon that mesmerizes me. The towering red cliffs bend inward, hanging over this puny village as though yearning to tumble down and crush it to dust. When I tilt my head back far enough to see the rim, a heady mixture of awe and fear expands my chest. The growing darkness is progressively draining the life from the canyon, turning the sheer walls the deep crimson shade of old blood. It’s eerie. The cliffs whisper and whistle in the night breeze, discussing the world in a language unintelligible to humans. Perhaps they’re speaking to the last crickets singing in sheltered places down along the river?

People run across the plaza, heading for the trash heap where someone found a dead body. A woman in a red-feathered cape.

The stupid fool.

One moon ago, she conspired against the king of Straight Path nation, the Blessed Sun. Surely, she suspected that he’d sent her on this mission to get her out of Flowing Waters Town, so he could have her killed quietly? If he’d done it in town, there would have been questions. People would have been upset and desperate to find the murderer. Taking care of the problem out here, in the hinterlands of the Canyon People, neatly avoided all that.

Near the trash heap, a woman sobs.

I take a moment to arrange the turquoise hair combs that pin my black hair into a bun atop my head. At the age of twenty-six summers, I’m quite a beauty and use it to my advantage at every opportunity. Tonight, my cheeks are painted with parallel lines of white triangles. Blue circles ring my eyes. My small nose is entirely painted black. The magnificent beaded dress I wear beneath my rabbit-fur shawl marks me as a high-status woman from the Straight Path nation to the south, a nation currently embroiled in a brutal religious war: The old gods against the wicked half-human thlatsinas. For this critical night, I’ve taken great pains to look like a Sky Spirit come to earth.

A man shouts, “It’s BoneDust! Dear gods.”

Around the corpse, people gather to mutter and shriek. I keep walking with my head down.

These primitive people will assume it was revenge against the Blessed Sun, or maybe a simple clan vendetta. Maybe even a gambling debt gone wrong.

After all, ritual celebrations draw all manner of men, and crowds are perfect hunting grounds for the soul-sick. For the past few days, hundreds of unknown people have camped around the village enjoying the harvest festivities. They wander through the plaza and between the pithouses at all times of the day and night. Sometimes old scores get settled.

As more people run across the village toward the trash heap, I take the trail that leads to where the trading blankets are spread out at the edge of the rectangular plaza. With twilight upon them, the owners are in the process of closing for the day, repacking their goods in baskets they will carry back to their camps for the night. Only a few colorful blankets are still out. I pass crude pottery beakers from the south, tanned bighorn sheep hides, buffalo jerky from the north, heaping baskets of ricegrass seeds, tobacco leaves, squash, beans, and freshly picked corn, as well as a vast array of beautifully crafted stone beads. Men in bright headbands hurry by me.

I dally, wasting time, picking things up and putting them down. No point in rushing. His habits are as familiar to me as my own. Maicoh will not dare emerge from his cave until full dark.

At the bead maker’s blanket, I admire tiny shale beads from the Green Mesa Villages. Simply exquisite. The tiny hole in the center must have been drilled using cactus spines and fine sand as an abrasive. In the rear, lying near the seated maker, a necklace at least fifty hand-lengths long lies coiled. Made of blue and red stone beads, alternating with dried juniper berries, it’s actually quite ordinary. Any other day I wouldn’t look twice at it, but today the necklace sparkles as though crusted with frost.

“Will you trade that necklace—” I point—“for this bracelet?”

Removing the simple jet band with the turquoise centerpiece, I hand it to the woman. The bracelet is worth twenty times what the necklace is, but I’ve tired of it. I have so many bracelets; it has become hard to choose which to wear.

The bead maker’s eyes widen as she turns it over in her hands. She’s seen at least forty summers. Deep lines carve her tanned forehead. A red-and-black sash serves as her belt. “Happy to.”

The woman takes my bracelet and gives me the juniper berry necklace, which I drape around my neck.

“What’s happening over there?” The woman tips her chin toward the commotion.

“Man found a dead body. One of the Blessed Sun’s priestesses, I heard. Guess she traveled here on the king’s orders to ask the village council if she could build a kiva. You know, one of the subterranean ceremonial chambers down south where they worship the Flute Player, Thunderbird, and the Blue God?”

“Just now? They just found her?”

“Little while ago. Apparently, the killer shoved her body in the trash heap and covered it up. Somebody smelled it and started digging.”

Swallowing hard, the bead maker asks, “Do they know who did it?”

“No, but a man from Sage Village was roughing up some of the Bitter Water clan women last night. They’re searching for him.”

The bead maker looks frightened. “Soon as the king hears, there’ll be a war party headed in this direction. Someone’s going pay for this.”

“They certainly will.”

The woman whispers, “Do you think the news has already been received in Flowing Waters Town?”

Instinctively, I lift my gaze to the high point on the canyon rim where the signal station stands. Made of stacked red sandstone, it is a small fortress, two stories tall. During the day, messengers use polished pyrite mirrors to flash the news to other high signal stations across the canyon country. At night, they send fire signals. It takes less than one hundred heartbeats for messages to reach from here to Flowing Waters Town—and I dispatched the fire signal myself at midnight.

“I’m sure it has.” I smile, and the woman shrinks back like a packrat suddenly glimpsing a bobcat hidden in the brush.

Must be my eyes. On cool autumn evenings like this, my heightened senses are difficult to control. Colors are too brilliant, tastes too intense. Each new scent on the wind feels like a physical blow. Even the touch of the breeze on my skin is almost unbearably pleasurable. I know that my brown eyes have a bizarre feral glitter to them now.

A crowd of men in drab turkey-feather cloaks nod as they pass. One man turns all the way around to smile at me.

I walk away.

Three hundred and four paces. I count each one and halt.

There, like a solitary red eye in the canyon wall, stands the door to his cave, the cave he’s rented for the harvest festivities. People here rent out anything—their houses, caves, rockshelters, or old storage rooms, for which they charge exorbitant fees. The door is made of juniper poles knotted together with cotton cordage and painted the color of old blood. A small window, draped with tan-and-white packrat hide, has been cut in the door at eye level.

I hear the faint tinkling of shell bells, but all my attention is focused on the red door. Is Maicoh in there? Or out about town wearing a disguise? It’s dark enough now. He may be gone. He takes no chances when it comes to his identity. Fewer than a handful of people know anything about his past or what he looks like. But I have spies everywhere. I’ve made a study of the legendary witch hunter. He’s tall, slender to the point of being frail, in his late forties, with black eyes that can burn a hole straight through you. The more interesting tales claim that a blue cocoon of Spirit Power surrounds and protects him. Even more intriguing, he’s often seen in two or three places at once, as though he can simply cease to exist in one place and be reborn in another in an instant.

Turning onto the narrow dirt path that leads to his door, I fight to calm myself.

Wait. Wait.

Dead flowers, like frosty sticks, create a spiked hedgerow to either side of the door.

Breathing deeply, I mount the stone steps cut into the rock and tap lightly on the wood. The hide curtain in the small window sways. My spies tell me he has a weakness for women in distress, so that is the role I will play to gain entry.

Soft sounds inside. Hide boots scuff a stone floor. A male voice asks a question. Another man answers.

The door stays closed.

I shiver and watch my breath frost in the night air.

Down in the village, halos of firelight play on pithouse roofs, giving the darkening town a soft yellow glow.

I tap at the door again.

Still no answer.

Frustrated, I pound on the door and keep up the constant annoying racket for several hundred heartbeats.

By the time the hide curtain is pulled aside from the small window, I’m so excited I’m having trouble breathing.

“Go away.” He has a deep resonant voice.

“Please, it is urgent that I speak with you.”

The curtain slit grows wider, and I see one side of his face. Yes, forties with silver temples and a smooth pale face. His sunken eyes are puffy from lack of sleep. Bone rings grace the fingers that hold the curtain aside. He is, perhaps, the most feared man on earth. Certainly the most sought after.

“Who are you?”

“My name is Blue Dove. I apologize for not sending a messenger to tell you I was coming. But I must speak with you.”

His one eye scans my clothing. “You’re from the Straight Path nation.”

“Yes.”

“Why are you here?”

“I came to find you.”

His black eyes are obsidian-hard. I catch a glimpse of a hooded man a few paces behind him. He quickly steps out of view. His son? The rest of his family was murdered long ago.

“Have we met before?” He squints as though searching his memory.

“No, but I—”

“Then I’m sorry, but I’m leaving for the evening. Perhaps tomorrow—”

“I’m ashamed to say that I’ve had spies follow you several times, in many different villages. Forgive me for that.”

The dark eyes hold mine. “For what purpose?”

“I could not come to you when you last visited Straight Path Canyon. My husband would kill me if he knew I was speaking with you.” I have no husband. Not any longer. I took care of that unpleasant problem within two moons.

“I’ve never been to Straight Path Canyon, and I don’t know why you think I can help you, but—”

“Maicoh, please don’t force me to scream your name. You don’t need the attention, not in this village where no one knows who you truly are.” I pause. “Especially not with a murdered priestess on your hands.”

With sudden ferocity, he says, “You have mistaken me for another man. My name is Crane. I’m just a simple Healer. If you need a love potion or a charm, any of the village Heal—”

“I beg you to give me just a few moments.” My voice quavers as I spin around to search the darkness. “Please. My husband is occupied gambling down by the river, but if you do not help me, I’ll be dead by tomorrow.”

He lets the curtain fall closed and says something soft, presumably to the hidden man. Finally, the curtain pulls aside again. “Very well. I’ll see you for a moment. I apologize for being rude. Please, come in.”

“You are very kind.”

He pushes open the red door.

Stepping across the threshold is like entering a god’s bedchamber. A thrill surges through me. The cave smells of cottonwood smoke and leather. Only a few items are visible, a woven grass pot-rest where he places hot pots to cool, a neat line of children’s moccasins arranged along the far wall, a lovely human skull that has been polished to a high luster, the eye sockets stuffed with sacred sage. An elegant staff leans beside the moccasins, as though watching over them. A fox skin and a bunch of hummingbird feathers dangle from the top of the staff. Looks old, old as the world itself.

Somewhere to my left, a door has been opened, because a breeze blows through the cave. Of course, there’s another exit. He is rightly worried about being trapped.

“Let’s talk in the adjacent chamber,” he says. “We’ll be more comfortable by my fire.”

It’s barely noticeable, the way he lengthens the o in more and the stress on the second syllable in comfortable, rather than the first. He speaks the Canyon People’s language fluently, as I do, but traces of his true heritage linger. Maicoh is one of the Straight Path People. Or his parents, who taught him the language, were born there.

“I thank you.”

He leads the way into a smaller cave with a crack in the roof where the smoke from his fire escapes. Bighorn sheep hides cushion the floor around the fire, and a beautiful black pot, decorated with white diamonds, rests in the coals at the edge of the flames, keeping its contents warm. The pungent fragrance of juniper berry tea fills the air. When the flames flicker, a surreal gleam dances over the niches cut into the walls. Each niche holds a special offering: macaw feathers, nodules of turquoise, chunks of jet, bundles of Spirit plants, bowls filled with spiky datura seedpods.

He politely extends a hand to one of the sheep hides. “Please, sit. May I dip you a cup of tea?”

“No, thank you.”

Artfully, I remove my rabbit-fur shawl and preen before him, turning so that the firelight shimmers across my heavily beaded dress, before I sit down.

He looks so common—just a man in a drab antelope-hide cloak, not particularly special or dangerous. He’s thin, almost emaciated, little more than a walking skeleton. His cheekbones put out, and his black eyes sink into their sockets like those of a dead man. Oddly, his shoulder-length black hair and silver temples are his only attractive feature.

I’m disappointed. After all, I know him in a way no one else does. I’ve memorized his disguises and the seedy villages where he hides, the men and women he routinely calls upon, every piece of jewelry he owns, and the minutest details of his two good cloaks. In my mind’s eye, I watch him use his ancient painted staff like a sword, thrusting it forward, playfully swinging it around his head. On such occasions, he has long white hair, stands one hand-length taller, and marches like a warrior in his spider mask and gray deerhide cape.

That particular routine never varies. Staff. Spider mask. Gray deerhide cape. At other times, he appears as an elderly gray-haired beggar, a full hand-length shorter, wandering villages while mumbling to himself. He’s a genius at disguise. His work, after all, is delicate and dangerous.

“How may I help you?”

He sits down across the fire and dips himself a cup of tea. Left-handed. Thick scars on the wrist. At some time in the past, he must have tried to kill himself. Or perhaps he was captured and tortured by the barbarians to the north? I’ve heard that they bleed people to death. Slowly.

“I’ll be brief. I don’t wish to interfere with your evening plans. Will it be the slaves’ gathering at Ground Stone Creek tonight? Or are you meeting Elder Boll at Ten Bears ridge?”

He doesn’t blink. Just stares fixedly at me. “Do you follow your husband as well? No wonder he wants to kill you.”

“My husband doesn’t interest me. You’re the only man who interests me.”

There’s no expression on his face, only an eerie confidence centuries deep. “I assumed you needed a Healer for some injuries caused by your husband. If that is not true, then please leave. I have other duties—”

“I know who you are and what you do, Maicoh, orphaned son of the legendary villains Spots and Cactus Flower.”

His black eyes might be polished jet beads. He sits so still they catch the firelight and hold it like mirrors. “Were you paid to find Maicoh? If so, I can’t help you. I know nothing about him, except what everyone knows. He kills witches, which is why he is so feared, especially by those who are witches.”

“I wasn’t paid.”

“Just a curiosity seeker, then?”

“Of course not. I’m a messenger.”

Offhandedly, as though completely indifferent, he asks, “And what message do you carry for Maicoh?”

My gaze drifts around the cave, taking in the details, before I say, “Your father was the last person to see the Mountain Witch alive. That was thirty summers ago, wasn’t it?”

“I’ve told you, I am not—”

“Stop the charade. I have a proposition for you.”

“Not interested.” He starts to rise.

“You haven’t heard the proposition.”

“Won’t make any difference, so you can leave now. I really am in a hurry.”

When I make no move to rise and obey, he gets to his feet, grabs my arm in a rough grip, and drags me toward the door, where he shoves me out into the cold.

 

Copyright © Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear

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New Releases: 9/25/18

Vengeful by V.E. Schwab

Image Placeholder of - 14 Magneto and Professor X. Superman and Lex Luthor. Victor Vale and Eli Ever. Sydney and Serena Clarke. Great partnerships, now soured on the vine.

But Marcella Riggins needs no one. Flush from her brush with death, she’s finally gained the control she’s always sought—and will use her new-found power to bring the city of Merit to its knees. She’ll do whatever it takes, collecting her own sidekicks, and leveraging the two most infamous EOs, Victor Vale and Eli Ever, against each other once more.

NEW IN PAPERBACK

Children of the Fleet by Orson Scott Card

The Mongrel Mage by L.E. Modesitt Jr.

Moon Hunt by Kathleen O’Neal Gear & W. Michael Gear

Severed by Kate Watterson

NEW IN MANGA

12 Beast Vol. 6 Story and Art by OKAYADO

A Centaur’s Life Vol. 15 Story and art by Kei Murayama

The Ancient Magus’ Bride Supplement I Based on the manga by Kore Yamazaki

Devilman Grimoire Vol. 4 Story by Go Nagai; Art by Rui Takatou

Dragon Half Omnibus 2 Story and art by Ryusuke Mita

Generation Witch Vol. 3 Story and art by Isaki Uta

The Girl From The Other Side: Siúil A Rún Vol. 5 Story & art by Nagabe

Hatsune Miku Presents: Hachune Miku’s Everyday Vocaloid Paradise Vol. 4 Story and art by Ontama

Hour of the Zombie Vol. 7 Story and art by Tsukasa Saimura

Magical Girl Site Vol. 7 Story and art by Kentaro Sato

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Vol. 4 Story by Makoto Fukami; Art by Seigo Tokiya

Monster Musume Vol. 14 Story and art by OKAYADO

New Game! Vol. 3 Story and art on Shoutarou Tokunou

Not Lives Vol. 10 Story and art by Wataru Karasuma

Precarious Woman Executive Miss Black General Vol. 2 Story and art by Jin

Soul Liquid Chambers Vol. 2 Story and art by Nozomu Tamaki

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Maze Master and Ancient Hominid Hanky Panky

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Place holder  of - 58 Written by Kathleen O’Neal Gear

A reporter once told me that our library could pass for a crime lab.  Skulls detailing the history of humanity line the shelves and perch on pedestals, beginning with a diminutive acrylic cast of Australopithecus afarensis, running through a variety of Homo erectus examples, then on to the impressive skulls of Neandertals, who had larger brains than modern humans, and finally through a selection of prehistoric human skulls from cultures around the world. The neatly defined sections of books beneath the skulls are devoted to the chronology of human evolution.  As anthropologists, my husband Michael and I are fascinated by who we are how we came to be.

The Genomics Age has significantly changed the way we explore that question.

Probably one of the most surprising revelations of the full mapping of the human genome, in 2003, was that the human body is filled with shards of ancient retroviruses.   In fact, about 8 to 9% of our DNA is composed of viral fragments, and several were passed down to us by our archaic ancestors.

When modern humans left Africa and traveled to Europe and Asia around 100,000 years ago, they met and interbred with at least three archaic species, Neandertals, Denisovans, and an third unknown species.  The result is that modern non-African populations possess genes from these three species.   And, like passing on a gene for eye color, those ancient ancestors gave us a recently active retrovirus: Human Endogenous Retrovirus K.  50,000 years ago, HERV-K’s infectious power was impressive, but over thousands of generations these molecular fossils in our DNA have changed so much that when first discovered it was believed they were just interesting curiosities in our genome.  Extinct.  Broken.  Unable to replicate.

However, on April 23, 2015, Dr. Joanna Wysocka of Stanford University told the New York Times that it seemed HERV-K guided the development of the human embryo.  In the article, “Ancient Viruses, Once Foes, May Now Serve as Friends,” she pointed out that, for a few days, embryonic cells furiously make HERV-K.  They stop making HERV-K the instant the embryo implants in the uterus.  Why?  Has our genome tamed an ancient enemy and turned it into a helpful friend?  Or is HERV-K just a “very successful parasite”?  For example, Wysocka tried infecting embryonic cells with influenza, and those producing HERV-K were better able to resist the flu infection.

On the other hand, Dr. John Coffin who studies HERV-K at Tufts University School of Medicine has documented high levels of HERV-K in several cancers, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, and possibly neurodegenerative illnesses like Lou Gehrig’s disease.

So, is HERV-K a helpful friend guiding our evolutionary course through time, or the Loch Ness Monster of the human genome?

Finally, in 2016, Coffin, et al reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they had found the first intact virus in the human genome.  Coffin said, “This one looks like it is capable of making infectious virus, which would be very exciting if true, as it would allow us to study a viral epidemic that took place long ago.”

Since genetic mutation is the toolbox of evolution, having a window into long past viral infections will also give us clues as to how HERV-K has mutated over time, and how those mutations have progressively altered the blueprint of our species.  Perhaps it will even allow us to project HERV-K’s next likely mutation.

That possibility was the inspiration for my upcoming novel Maze Master.  In the story, Dr. James Hakari is obsessed with documenting the molecular history of HERV-K and determining the next logical mutation. Will it be adaptive, helping us on the human journey or a Trojan horse that turns out to be the instrument of our extinction?  When a devastating new pandemic breaks out, Hakari disappears, and governments around the world wonder if he created the virus or just predicted it.  Can he stop it?  They call on his former student, Anna Asher, to find him and bring him in.  But Hakari is a genius, a magician of viral geometry, finding him with the world collapsing around her is not going to be easy…

I hope you enjoy this anthropological thriller.

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Excerpt: Maze Master by Kathleen O’Neal Gear

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Image Place holder  of - 72 LucentB is a retrovirus that’s inevitable, unstoppable, and utterly catastrophic for humanity. The US government believes the only person who can find the cure is the geneticist who tried to warn them about it and then disappeared: James Hakari. They assign the task of finding him to his former student Anna Asher, who in turn recruits paleographer and religious studies scholar Dr. Martin Nadai.

The brilliant but insane geneticist is leaving clues for Anna and Martin to follow, showing he’s truly earned his students’ nickname for him: the Maze Master. The search takes Anna and Martin around the world and into a warzone they never imagined.

Maze Master’s LucentB is based off of the real retrovirus HERV-K, which has caused several plagues over the past 75,000 years, almost wiping out Neandertals 50,000 years ago, and maybe 30,000 years ago. Modern geneticists consider HERV-K not to be extinct, but rather to be waiting for some trigger to come alive again.

Please enjoy this excerpt of Maze Masteravailable now from your favorite bookseller.

1

THE F1RST DAY OF … OF MAY? IT MUST BE MAY.

“… Two, three, four, turn.”

I think I hear rain shishing against the walls of my prison. I halt to listen to it tapping on a roof I know does not exist. I remember walking down three flights of stone stairs to get to this chamber. I’m far below ground. I can’t be hearing rain. Nonetheless, the rain has been coming down hard all night, driving itself between the massive stones before trickling onto the floor. Already puddles fill the low spots. If the storm doesn’t ease soon, by dawn I will be wading barefoot in a moat, as I have so many times.

I pull my filthy air force jacket more tightly about my shoulders, and continue my journey. Four paces. The length of each wall is exactly four paces. The limestone blocks are pewter and dove, streaked with old blood. Unconsciously, I touch the stains as I pass.

“Who were you? Why did they hurt you?”

How many helpless men and women have lain upon this floor and watched their lives drain away into the cracks?

A flash of lightning penetrates the windowless chamber and throws faint shadows across the walls. I study them too intently for a sane person.

“Th-there’s nothing there. No lightning. No storm. I’m underground. Just keep walking. Don’t think about it. That’s what they want. Turn. One, two…”

I fight to suppress the cry that tightens my throat. My Russian captors keep telling me I am mad. “Wouldn’t any woman be mad if she’d seen what I have seen?”

I rub my eyes, but the images continue to afflict me … the glitter of lightless mazes that spiral down forever, brilliance so vast and dark it swallows the soul. Always, always, the maze echoes with what sounds like the last breath of a dying scream. “D-doesn’t matter. Three, four. Start again.”

As I cross the stones, I avoid the sharper edges that, after months of walking over them, I know with the intimacy of a lover’s body. The dark stone always bruises my heel; the gray one slashes my bare toes.

“Turn. One, two…”

A gust of freezing wind penetrates the chamber. Not possible, of course, but still there. When it fades, a strange dusty radiance surrounds me, and hope bursts in my chest.

“I’m here!” I cry. “I’m here, Hakari. Right here!”

I wave my arms at nothing, and soft sounds rise, bewitching sounds of a world outside: the rhythms of someone chopping firewood, the far-off whinny of a horse. Are they real? My ears strain for more, praying to hear a voice calling my name. Once, a long time ago, I was blinded by a voice.

They tell me Hakari is dead. I don’t believe it. He was too brilliant. Too mad. They just don’t understand. He’s leaving clues around the world like a serial murderer, shouting, Catch me if you can. On the opposite side of the chamber, something hisses, and the shadows twist and convulse. My heart jams sickeningly until hundreds of half-transparent faces coalesce. Silver hoods frame their pale features like halos, and faint cries seep from their mouths, “Liar, liar…”

“I did not lie! How could I know where it is? He would never have told me!”

The serpentine voices whisper, “But you were one of his chosen. One of The Ten.

The hovering faces roam the prison like vapors.

“I tell you I know nothing. Go away!”

I clamp my hands hard over my ears and concentrate on memories of the small Wyoming town where I was born. A trembling smile comes to my lips when I hear buffalo calling to each other across the distances. Birdsong fills the warm summer air. Somewhere close by a woman sings a lullaby to a crying baby, and the lilting strains are almost too beautiful to endure.

With the softness of evaporating fog, the hideous cries of “Liar!” dissolve, and I lower my hands and clench them at my sides.

“Start again. Do it!”

One, two, carefully sidestep the dark stone, three. Plod toward the door. Moonlight briefly breaks through a gap in the clouds; the door appears gilded with pewter.

… Stop it. There’s no moonlight. No clouds.

When I reach the door, I cannot help myself. For the thousandth time, I throw myself upon it, clawing at the hinges, screaming, “Let me go home! I want to go home! Please, please, I’m telling the truth. I don’t know where it is.”

I lean my forehead against the icy metal and stare at the tiny pools of water that glisten across the floor like disembodied eyes.

Not water. Something else.

Voices murmur outside.

Are they real?

I leap away from the door as the hinges shriek, and it begins to open.

Twelve soldiers stand in the hall, including General Garusovsky and his personal aide, Lieutenant Borodino. Their protective clothing is always the first thing I notice. The tight-fitting garments resemble shiny second skins. Protective silver hoods obscure their faces, but I see their hard eyes glaring at me. I instinctively count their weapons: ten AK-74s, twelve holstered sidearms. General Vladimir Garusovsky is a national hero, an extreme Russian nationalist who fancies himself the new Stalin, the savior of the Motherland. If he could, he would march across the face of the world killing everything in his path to expand the new Russian Empire.

Borodino’s expression is pained as he looks at me, and maybe slightly panicked. Beads of sweat glisten across his forehead. Why? Is this my last day? I try not to look at him.

General Garusovsky stands in the very rear, almost invisible, his elderly face frozen in a hateful visage. Around fifty, he has seen many great battles. The most awful moments sculpt the deep lines across his forehead and around his wide mouth.

“H-have you found Hakari?” I beg. “He’s the only one who knows.”

“General,” Borodino says in Russian. “This is useless. We’ve tried everything, and she will tell us nothing about the Marham-i-Isa.”

Garusovsky lifts his chin to stare at me with ice-blue eyes. In accented English, he replies, “You’re wrong, Borodino. She will. Won’t you, Anna?”

I’m shaking to pieces, but no one but me can see it.

I face Garusovsky with as much dignity as I can. “General, why would he have told me? I was just a student, and that was years ago.”

“You were more than his student, Anna. You were his lover and the person he hoped would continue his work.”

“That was before Hakari went mad! I’ve had no contact with him since he escaped the psychiatric prison.”

“You’re a liar. We’ve been tracking your movements for months. We knew you were trying to find the Marham-i-Isa. And you did, didn’t you?”

I swallow hard before I weakly say, “You … you’ve been tracking me?”

Garusovsky’s lips purse as though the entire discussion is beneath contempt. “We both know that Hakari was a mad genius, a wizard with computers who believed the End of the World was at hand. What is the Marham-i-Isa, Anna?”

“I don’t know. I don’t! At the end, he was completely insane. That’s why he tried to break into the nuclear bunker at Foxtrot-01 in Nebraska. He was just running wild spouting nonsense! He’d lost all sense of reality!”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, of course I am!”

A few of his soldiers instinctively lower their hands to their holstered sidearms, as though just the mention of a nuclear bunker sets them on edge.

“Bring her.” Garusovsky walks away.

Borodino casts a glance back at me before he follows Garusovsky. He’s trying to tell me something that I do not understand. What?

Soldiers file in and take my arms in the hard grips of strangers.

It’s pointless to resist. I allow them to drag me silently down the long hallway toward the torture chamber. I’ve been drowned over one hundred times, not allowed to sleep for days, had my flesh punctured with needles so often that my body looks diseased.

… Seven, eight, nine.

Keep count. Order the chaos.

Twelve, thirteen.

Down a flight of stairs. Twenty, twenty-one. Don’t stop. Hit bottom at eighty-nine.

The deeper we go, the more alien it seems. This is new construction, very modern. We pass wind vents and pipes. Tiny camera eyes in the ceiling and along the floors watch our every step. Massive polished doors appear and disappear. There are no people. No windows. No sounds. How deep are we now? The ceilings continue to flicker, illuminating the stairway.

My mind sharpens. I’ve never seen this corridor. What is this place?

As Garusovsky approaches each closed door, he places his hand over the small squares on the wall. The doors slip open with barely a hiss, and we continue on. When the last door opens, an astringent smell washes over me. The unknown corridor took fifty-five steps. Fifty-five. I must remember.

“Go in,” he orders.

I walk through the door. Garusovsky and Borodino enter behind me. The soldiers remain outside. Apparently, only Garusovsky and Borodino are allowed to hear the conversation that is about to take place.

As the door slips closed, I tip my head back to gaze upward, stunned by the gigantic monster that lives here. The ceiling rises forty feet over my head and is sheathed in dim blue light that breathes. Its lungs blow air upon me. Strange blinking eyes flash in boxes that are stacked to the ceiling. It speaks in shishes and taps … the rainstorm I’ve been hearing? How many computer rooms like this are there in Russia? Am I in Russia? I was blindfolded when they brought me here.

My captors listen quietly to the monster’s tittering instructions. Occasionally, the creature pings as it correlates the metadata of metadata of metadata.

General Garusovsky taps a keyboard, and one of computer screens flares to life. “Just tap out the sequence, Anna,” he says. “And you can go.”

“How many times do I have to tell you, General? Hakari told me nothing!”

“Is it numeric or alphabetic, Anna?”

“I can’t answer that,” I say helplessly.

“Listen to me. Listen carefully. Give it to me, and I will personally put you on a jet and send you home to Wyoming. I’ll save your entire family and even your friends.”

Dear God, the longing to go home is so overpowering … my fist resolutely closes on air. “I don’t know it!” I shout. “I never have!”

He pauses before he softly says, “It’s already started. Has anyone told you? The first victim was discovered in France last week. Thank God our leaders believed Hakari. Unlike you foolish Americans, we knew the disease was coming. Gave us time to prepare.”

My breathless sobs make it difficult to form a sentence. “Disease?”

Borodino quietly speaks to Garusovsky in Russian: “You know as well as I that, despite their caution, the Americans are expecting the worst. Our sources on the inside say that their contingency plan is called Operation Mount of Olives. If we don’t find the Marham-i-Isa first, they will authorize it.”

“And if we find the Marham-i-Isa, Russia controls the future of the world.”

“Yes, General.”

Garusovsky glares at the blinking computer. He stands so still that his eyes catch the pulses of light and reflect them like mirrors. Angrily, he says, “Very well. It seems we have no choice. Proceed. But if the U.S. ever discovers that we subjected one of its officers—”

“There will be no evidence, General.”

“Good, then I’m off to supervise the opening of the new gulag in Belgorod.” Garusovsky pivots and marches from the room.

When we are alone, Borodino grabs my arm, and whispers in English, “Anna, do everything I say.” His sleeve pulls up, and I see the ornately carved Egyptian bracelet he wears. A bracelet I know very well. It coils around his wrist twice. I keep mine in a locked vault.

“Was Garusovsky telling the truth? Has it started?”

“Yes.”

After an agonizing ten heartbeats, he leads me toward the door. Outside, the silver-suited soldiers take their time falling into formation ahead and behind me.

When Garusovsky and his guards disappear around a corner ahead of us, Borodino leans very close to me to whisper, “If we both live through this day, Anna, you must find the Marham-i-Isa. He’s terrified and in hiding, but he wants one of us to find it.”

“Do you know where Hakari is?” I twist to look up at him.

“No.”

He tips his head to one of the guards. The man nods and speaks softly to the soldier next to him. They seem to be readying themselves …

Borodino orders, “Now!”

 

Copyright © 2018 by Kathleen O’Neal Gear

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New Releases: 11/21/17

Placeholder of  -75 Moon Hunt by Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear

Moon Hunt is the third epic tale in the Morning Star series by New York Times bestselling authors W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear. Against the intricate majesty that was America’s greatest pre-Columbian city, the Gears have once again woven the latest archaeological data into a painstakingly accurate reconstruction of Cahokia and provide a rare look into the mystical underpinnings of Native American culture.

What happens when your god goes missing?

NEW IN MANGA:

Plum Crazy! Tales of a Tiger-Striped Cat Vol. 3 Story and art by Hoshino Natsumi

Slumbering Beauty Vol. 1 Story and art by Yumi Unita

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7 Books by Writing Duos

Sometimes two really is better than one. Writing can be a lonely pursuit, but not for these dynamite duos – with their powers combined they can create stories that are twice as amazing. From the historical mysteries by Rosemarie and Vince Keenan (known as Renee Patrick) to the quarter-century partnership between Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, here’s a selection of titles that show what happens when writers partner up.

American Drifter by Heather Graham and Chad Michael Murray

Image Placeholder of - 14New York Times bestselling author Heather Graham has teamed up with celebrated actor Chad Michael Murray. The two met through Graham’s daughter, and after discussing Murray’s idea for a book, they decided it was a match made in heaven! The result is a novel of passion and danger in the captivating thriller, American Drifter, the story of young army veteran River Roulet and the enchanting Natal, the journalist he falls in love with.

Dangerous To Know by Renee Patrick

Renee Patrick is the pseudonym for married authors Rosemarie and Vince Keenan. The two teamed up to write the Edith Head and Lillian Frost mystery series, bringing to life glitz and glamour of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Dangerous to Know is the second installment in this series, starring aspiring actress Lillian Frost as well as well known historical Hollywood figures Edith Head, Jack Benny, George Burns, Marlene Dietrich, and more.

City of Endless Night by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Placeholder of  -22Doug Preston and Lincoln Child have been writing novels together for more than twenty-five years. Over that time, their process has changed, but the result hasn’t—Agent Pendergast has been hailed as a “ruthless descendant of Holmes” by Publishers Weekly, and has become one of crime fiction’s most enduring characters. How do they do it? Lincoln Child says it’s easy, so long as you respect your partner and are willing to accept criticism and learn from them. Here’s to many more years of collaboration, and many more Pendergast novels!

Moon Hunt by Kathleen O’Neal Gear & W. Michael Gear

Place holder  of - 70 In addition to being married, New York Times bestselling authors Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear have written more than thirty novels together across genres. Their first collaborations were written in a tiny Colorado cabin with no running water and only wood stoves for heat. Their latest, Moon Hunt, is the third epic tale in the Morning Star series about Cahokia, America’s greatest pre-Columbian city.

Without Mercy by Col. David Hunt & R.J. Pineiro

Poster Placeholder of - 5Some writing partnerships are all about what you can bring to the table. In the case of Col. David Hunt and R.J. Pineiro, one brought the real-world knowledge and the other the writing chops of an acclaimed writer. The result is Without Mercy, a terrifying and topical thriller that feels like it could happen at any minute. When ISIS detonates nuclear weapons in two key American strongholds, the United States plunges into chaos and the CIA scrambles to prevent a third tragedy.

Never Never by James Patterson & Candice Fox

Image Place holder  of - 54James Patterson is famous for collaborating with a huge variety of authors. He’s worked with Maxine Paetro, Michael Ledwidge, Mark T. Sullivan, and many, many, many others. He’s got a tried-and-true process: Patterson provides a detailed outline, sometimes as long as 80 pages, and then his co-author starts writing chapters. Weekly phone calls between the collaborators contain honest feedback and discussion of the project, resulting in consistently amazing commercial fiction. We particularly like his collaborations with Candice Fox. The Detective Harriet Blue series is hard-boiled crime with an Australian background and a likeable main character.

The Dangerous Ladies Affair by Marcia Muller & Bill Pronzini

The Dangerous Ladies Affair by Marcia Muller and Bill PronziniMarcia Muller and Bill Pronzini are, so far as we know, the only living couple to share the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America. They also share books, partnering up to write the charming historical mystery series Carpenter and Quincannon. Muller writes Carpenter’s viewpoint and Pronzini writes Quincannon’s in a brilliant collaboration from a longtime couple and writing team. The Dangerous Ladies Affair is the most recent novel featuring the firm of Carpenter and Quincannon, Professional Detective Services.

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Getting Lost on the Sacred Journey

Place holder  of - 54 Written by W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear

Anthropologists have a fascination with myth that traces its origins back to the late nineteenth century. Then in 1949 Joseph Campbell published his classic The Hero With A Thousand Faces, in which he codified the origins and framework for the classic hero’s tale in Western literature. Film producer George Lucas popularized Campbell’s work when he acknowledged that he’d relied heavily on Hero With a Thousand Faces in the writing of Star Wars. This wasn’t the first time the study of mythology provided the roots for a modern classic. J.R.R. Tolkien relied on ancient Norse religion—sprinkled with some Celtic overtones—as the basis for his Ring trilogy.

We envy Lucas, Tolkien, and the authors of modern fantasy, all of whom draw upon the trove of Western myths and tropes. Whether it be from the Icelandic Sagas, Beowulf, Homer, or the Bible, they have a written body of lore from which to draw. Thus we all know that special powers can be imparted to blades, to be careful of what you wish for amongst the standing stones, and that one must beware when a serpent offers you an apple while you’re lounging in the garden. You can always trace the origins of the story to its roots. In the case of Gilgamesh, you can even go back to the original cuneiform.

In our Morning Star series the interpretation of the myth gets a little more dicey. The books are set in ancient Cahokia, a place for which we have no written records. The thousand-year-old metroplex straddled the Mississippi River where St. Louis stands. At its height, Cahokia was larger than contemporary London, Paris, and Rome combined. It also had a much higher standard of living. The houses were warmer, the food was better, and people didn’t empty their chamber pots into the streets for their neighbors to wade through.

European cultural traditions go back to the Middle East, Sumer, Egypt, and Greece; in North America the cradle of civilization lies in the lower Mississippi Valley where people began building earthen pyramids 6,000 years ago. The culture spread up the rivers, eventually creating the Poverty Point culture 3.500 years ago, the Hopewellian interaction @ 2000 years ago, and finally what we call the Mississippian culture which reached its fluorescence at the great city of Cahokia. Think of Cahokia’s influence on North America as you think of Rome’s impact on Europe. For three hundred years, it was the big dog, and after it fell, the kingdoms that followed existed as its cultural heirs until the arrival of de Soto in 1539.

Because Cahokians built with wood and thatch in a wet and acidic woodland, it’s tough to piece together their physical culture. Except for a few freak examples of preservation, we don’t have their remarkable fabrics, exquisite wooden furniture, carvings, monumental statuary, or paintings. But the most vulnerable part of their culture is the one we’re interested in: the mythology.

How can we write the story of a vanished people without their myths, legends, and tales?

It’s an incredible challenge, an intricate, puzzling, mystery. And the miracle is that through dedicated scholarship, we can recreate the bare bones. Starting in the 1800s ethnographers scrambled to record Native American stories before they vanished. Hidden away in the musty old Bureau of American Ethnography volumes are recorded tales of the Chickasaw, Creek, Yuchi, Shawnee, Osage, and so many others.

The stories and myths differ across the various cultures and regions of eastern North America. But through painstaking comparison, there are similarities that hint of antiquity. For example, the story of the hero twins is universal.

The next clues come from archaeology—the actual excavation of artifacts. Sometimes we get entire statues, or maybe it is only a shell carving, or a copper relief that depicts a mythological figure. Additionally, we have pictographs preserved in caves: images we can tie back to the stories.  Date the artifact or drawing, and we can date the age of the story.

So, what have we been able to reconstruct? First, the Cahokians had a three-tiered universe of Sky World, Middle World, and Underworld. The sky was inhabited by remarkable creatures like the two-headed eagle Hunga Auito. Then came the Thunderers, who cast lightning bolts at their nemeses in the Underworld. Four great ivory-billed woodpeckers stood at each of the cardinal directions and powered the winds with their wings. The sun and moon were Powers in their own right, and their movements across the sky—along with the constellations—underlay the entire society.

The Middle World was the surface of the earth with its own Powers, typified by animals and plants, as well as “little People”, witches, and magical beings like Stone Man. Plants were particularly important. Think not only food, but medicinal and spiritual—like sacred datura that plays such an important role in the books.

The Underworld had its own magical creatures like the Underwater Panther, Horned Serpent, Snapping Turtle, and the Tie Snakes who lived under rivers and in deep springs.

It was considered calamitous to mix the Powers from the different worlds—and not only the priesthood, but special societies with secret initiations studied and dedicated themselves to the understanding and propitiation of the different spiritual forces.

This is the heart of the third Morning Star book, Moon Hunt. From both the historical stories of the Muskogean peoples and the images in art recovered from archaeological sites in Georgia and Alabama, we know that the sphinx moth was special. Not only was it a creature of darkness, but it subsisted on Powerful spirit plants like datura, tobacco, and nightshade. An iconic image depicts Morning Star in battle with a sphinx moth. In his right hand, he holds the moth by its proboscis, in his left is a sacrificial knife. (See the Moon Hunt cover.)

As Moon Hunt opens, a disgraced young noble woman, Whispering Dawn, is being transported to Cahokia against her will. Her father is sending her to wed the Morning Star. Not only is she married to a rebel people’s young lord, but she’s an initiate of the Sacred Moth society. No sooner is she promised to Morning Star, than she is coerced into assassinating him. Infusing his drink with datura nectar, she unwittingly sends his soul to the Underworld.

Remember when we said mixing Powers was very bad? Morning Star is a Sky World being. So, when Sacred Moth carries his soul to the Underworld, all chaos is unleashed on the Cahokian world.

In the Morning Star novels we delight in bringing back colorful and enchanting creatures like Piasa, Horned Serpent, Sacred Moth, the Morning Star himself, and the rich and wonderful creatures that made up the Cahokian world. As you read Moon Hunt, we hope you find this lost America as fascinating as we do.

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