DEATH MARKED (121 reviews on Amazon.com! Now in Audio)
Acting on instinct again, Rohan charged the man before he could pull the trigger. He thrust his shoulder into the guard’s abdomen, and the guard dropped the gun as he fell screaming over the edge of the parapet. The scream ended abruptly with a crack.
Rohan couldn’t bring himself to look down. When he finally did, he saw the man’s body lying broken on the rocks.
Rohan’s gut clenched and a sharp pain shot through his head—he’d made his first kill.
Or had he? A movement below gave him hope. Then, slowly, the man moved against the rocks with a low groan.
Rohan sighed with relief and looked at the knife in his hand, shaking his head. Thank God the man was alive.
A whistle cut through the air, drawing his attention to the temple again. Lev and Altemus were waiting. Just past them was what appeared to be a large courtyard with a sanctuary in the center. It had several spires and was made of red brick, scattered with square windows lit by candlelight.
Lev motioned to some nearby rocks that were just tall enough for them to reach the roof. “Better than the front door.”
Rohan cringed and imagined himself plummeting to his death. “That’s debatable.”
They made their way up, Lev in the lead, Rohan behind, and Altemus following at the rear. Lev quickly reached the top of the rocks, and climbed onto the shingled roof of the sanctuary. He leaned down, and Rohan took Lev’s hand so the Russian could pull him up as well.
“Not so bad after all, eh?” Lev asked.
Rohan grimaced. He turned to lend Altemus a hand, then paused as a low chant drifted through the night.
They moved to a skylight cut into the roof, which was propped open and gave them a view into the sanctuary.
Below, more men dressed in robes were gathered in a line leading up to a pulpit. The walls flickered with the dark yellow glow of a thousand candles. The air tasted of incense, growing thicker as the chanting grew louder.
In the pulpit, a bearded man in a purple robe knelt before a goat. With a quick motion, he slashed the animal’s throat. Blood poured freely, and the man ran his hands through it. He wiped his face with blood, and then the other men’s faces as he sang an eerie chant. When everyone had been marked, he bent over and disemboweled the goat. The chanting continued, growing louder as the man ripped the animal apart. At last, they all lowered their heads and prayed in Russian.
Lev climbed through the skylight and landed delicately on a rafter. “This way,” he whispered.
Rohan followed, balancing himself on the rafter. He tried not to look down. One wrong step and he’d be dead—no way he’d survive the fall. Even if he did, the men below would disembowel him like they did the goat.
Continuing along the rafters, they crossed out of the sanctuary and into the next room, a sacristy dimly lit with candles. The centuries-old keys, scrolls, chalices, and bones lay neatly arranged on wooden shelves, each marked with a tag with Cyrillic scribbles.
In the middle of the room, a skull sat on a raised metal casing. Some of its teeth were missing, and it had a dull gray sheen. Thick patterns were drawn along the plate lines, dividing the skull into squares that aligned with the plates. In each square was a written character like a hieroglyph. Rohan had never seen any of these characters before—they didn’t look Russian, and that unsettled him.
The group attached ropes to the rafters and swung down to the floor, careful not to make the floorboards creak. Altemus approached the skull. He lifted it up with a ravenous expression, and then placed it in a velvet bag hanging at his side. As soon as he closed the bag, a shrill wail ripped through the sanctuary, so loud that Rohan put his hands over his ears—an alarm.
Lev punched him on the shoulder and screamed, “Come on!”
The trio scrambled for the ropes to climb back up to the ceiling. The cold night air bit at Rohan’s exposed skin as they sprinted across the rafters.
“Stop!” a heavy Russian accent commanded. Shouting followed, and when Rohan looked down, he saw several men on the ground aiming guns up at them.
“Faster!” Rohan said.
As soon as the words left his mouth, the rafter splintered with gunfire. First Altemus and Lev disappeared over the edge of the roof, and then Rohan leapt, the air swooshing around him as he fell. Then, with a soft plunk, the snow caught him.
Altemus had already dug himself out of the snow and unslung his rifle. With two cracks, a pair of guards fell into the snow nearby, dead.
“Keep moving!” Altemus said, tossing the velvet bag to Lev. “Get it to safety.”
Lev nodded and ran. Rohan followed close behind as Altemus took out another guard. Rohan didn’t bother to look back—he assumed Altemus could hold his own. He and Lev made their way back to the parapets and climbed down onto the rocky footpath leading into the snow.
Out of nowhere, an old man jumped in front of Rohan, shouting in Russian. He had darker skin than the Russians Rohan had met so far, a bushy gray beard, and his robe flowed like a dress.
Lev replied in Russian and aimed his pistol at the old man, but the man held up his empty hands and gave a pleading look to Rohan.
“You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into,” the old man said in broken English. “You must not do this.”
The old man grabbed Rohan’s arm. With his free hand, Rohan reached for his blade. But he didn’t have to use it—Lev cracked the man over the head with his pistol. The man collapsed, unconscious.
“You Americans,” Lev said. “You always hesitate when action’s needed.”
Rohan’s stomach churned at the sight of the old man lying at his feet, a trickle of dark blood from the man’s head coloring the snow.
A moment later, Altemus caught up. He snatched the velvet bag from Lev’s hands and opened it in mid-stride, taking a quick glance inside.
“We gotta go before we get shot,” he said. With a grin, he turned to Rohan. “It’s time to reunite you with your fiancée.”
FROM JUSTIN >>> There we go. The altruistic Altemus, ready to reunite Rohan with his lost love. Get the feel for what kind of story this is yet? Fast paced, perhaps? We like to say it’s Tomb Raider or Indiana Jones meets Shadow of Mordor, with a hint of Patrick Swayze’s movie Ghost. Yeah, haha.
But I’ve heard from a lot of people who expected it to just be dark, and were surprised by the more Ghost aspects there – and by that I mean the emotions and character. I hope you’ll feel the same!
If you’ve already read book 1 and 2, don’t miss out on book 3, available for preorder now!