Shadow Born (Outlanders)

James Axler

Published by Gold Eagle, 2014
ISBN 10: 0373638833 / ISBN 13: 9780373638833
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Synopsis: DOMINION PLAGUE 

Earth remains the tortured battleground of near-immortal aliens. But these god kings never anticipated unified resistance from a group of humans possessing the tenacity and spirit to reclaim their planet. In the ongoing war for independence, the Cerberus fighters forge an epic showdown, as evil shape-shifts and unfurls its grand design.... 

UNSTOPPABLE JUGGERNAUT 

The madness surrounding entombed secrets of an ancient race puts Kane and his allies on a death chase across the African subcontinent. Facing relentless attack from winged hell beasts and marauding militia, the rebels are forced into an unholy alliance with a deadly foe. Only the dark goddess spawned of humanity's most brutal overlord can challenge a superhuman interloper and navigate an ancient ziggurat that guards a nightmare. The price for miscalculation will be paid in blood—with the eternal damnation of the human race.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.: Kane made certain that there was nothing left down below in the necropolis. For the past two days, his friends had been prisoners down there, captives of the two beings he searched for traces of. An apocalyptic battle with one of them had ensued after her erstwhile companion seemed to turn on her, warning Kane about his plan about destroying their alliance and the avatar of their ally.

The her was Neekra, a bodiless entity who had taken possession of a militia warlord by the name of Gamal. Neekra's power was such that she was able to turn a tall, muscular, powerful man into a crimson-skinned goddess full of voluptuous curves and able to give "birth" to amorphous spawn. Those things she created had been the basis for vampire mythology, semiliquid entities that inserted themselves into corpses, wearing their carcasses like suits of meat. Neekra, or her issue, had been around the world, creating a universe of mythologies surrounding the walking dead, but here, in Africa, was where she "lived." When Kane came to Africa, summoned by an artifact that had been ancient in the time of Atlantis and was attributed to King Solomon of the Bible, Neekra sought him out and psychically attacked him and the one Kane learned later was her ally.

Neekra's psychic imprisonment of Kane was a testing of the waters. Kane shuddered at the thought that instead of the warlord Gamal, it could have been him, his physique telekinetically sculpted, organs reattributed and external appearance mutilated until he became the same rust-red feminine goddess who sought domination of the necropolis.

Neekra's host was nearly invulnerable, ignoring grenade blasts and bursts of full-automatic gunfire directly into her face. Yet she wanted Kane and others to hunt for her prison, the place where she'd been interred for dozens of centuries, mind and flesh amputated from each other.

Gamal's body had only been destroyed by the combination of the venom that was innate to a race of pan-terrestrial humanoids called the Nagah and the burning energies within the staff once wielded by Solomon and Moses. Neekra's host was reduced to ash, tar-like blood turning the collapsed mound into what Kane's dear friend Grant called "a greasy smear."

Kane poked and prodded at that smear. Although no sign of animation was left within the ugly concoction, Kane felt no relief. He had encountered another goddess who had survived the destruction of her body, taking root to reincarnate in the bodies of three young women. Neekra's thousands of years of existence had influenced stories of night terror around the globe, so the death of one body wouldn't stop her. They'd put her down, but still someone else was looking for that body, that tomb she sought.

That someone else, the same man who wanted out of the alliance, was Prince Durga, exiled regent of the underground Nagah city-state of Garuda in India. Durga, like all Nagah, was a humanoid, an upgrade of humanity created by an ancient alien entity named Enki, a member of a race called the Annunaki, who had been involved with another superhuman species, the Tu'atha de Danaan, in manipulating humanity and its rise to power on Earth.

The Nagah had been human, with additions of cobra DNA, skillfully crafted by the benevolent Annunaki, to create a benign, hidden race.

The Nagah survived skydark in their underground city of Garuda, but not without some losses. The small nation-state finally, after centuries, made its presence known to Kane and the other explorers of Cerberus. What could have become a wonderful alliance turned to tragic ashes as Durga chose that moment to make his bid for sole leadership of the pan-terrestrial society. Allying with gods and men, Durga launched a civil war, and had not Durga greedily varied from his plan and sought out superhuman power for its own sake, he might have succeeded. As it was, Kane and his allies ended that war, but not without loss of innocent life in addition to the destruction of human and Nagah co-conspirators.

Kane had thought that Durga was dead, killed in a fuel-air explosion, but the same technology that made the prince into a living force of nature spared him, just barely. As he plotted revenge against his former bride, now the matron queen of the Nagah, he traveled across the Indian Ocean to Africa, seeking a cure for his crippled condition, as well as means to renewed power. Part of that power was discovered in an army of cloned beasts, with physical might to rival a bull-gorilla, bat-like wings and a taste for human flesh. Those hybrid mutants were known as the Kongamato, but Durga's control of the animals was usurped by a warlord of the dreaded Panthers of Mashona, an outlaw militia who ruled the lands to the west of Harare and Zambia, the same Gamal who "donated" his body to the she-devil Neekra.

Durga hadn't only relied upon the Kongamato, apparently. When Kane assailed the necropolis, he encountered a cadre of cloned Nagah, their physiques further upgraded with Igigi/Nephilim DNA to turn them into his shock troopers. Durga possessed a dozen of those clones, at least when he was alongside Neekra.

A lone figure stepped onto the dirt next to Kane.

"Grant said it was time to go. The place is wired and ready to blow," the young man said.

The six-foot, perfectly muscled Nagah clones that Durga utilized weren't the only creations the prince made. Physically, the young man, Thurpa, looked to be eighteen or nineteen, at least as far as Kane could see through his cobra-like features. Chronologically, though, Thurpa must have been less than a year old.

The Cerberus adventurers and their companions had discovered Thurpa's clone nature. He looked absolutely normal, but during Durga's struggle against Neekra, Thurpa suffered the same pain from physical injuries and psychic trauma. When the young man gripped Nehushtan, the ancient walking staff of kings and prophets, its healing power transmitted through him to Durga.

Even now, Kane could see the numb shock on the young man's features, realizing that any memories since before the day he met Kane and the others had been a lie, a fabrication implanted by a renegade prince whose rampage slew even his mother, the old matron of Garuda. Thurpa had thought that he could return home, but he'd never set his own eyes upon it. Rather, they had been echoes of another's mind; most likely, it was Durga's.

"How are you feeling?" Kane asked him.

"Like I should stay down here when you press the detonator," Thurpa replied.

Kane shook his head. "No. We won't do that."

"I'd been worried that I was maybe hypnotized or brainwashed," Thurpa said. "Now, I find that I'm his clone. Worse, I'm the son he always wanted."

"We don't judge our friends on the sins of their fathers," Kane told him. He rested his hand on the young man's shoulder. "You've done so much good alongside us."

Thurpa's amber eyes glistened in the backwash of light from his torch. The boy was in tears. "I've killed pretty well."

"Killed to protect, killed to liberate," Kane corrected. "And you risked yourself jumping on the back of a super-humanly strong creature to stop her."

Thurpa frowned. "I attacked her because I realized, I'm not real. I'd be no..."

Kane gave him a light tap on the shoulder. "You feel real enough to me. And you would be a loss. Nathan would feel alone, and Lyta looks interested in you."

"A freak in a land he was not born to," Thurpa replied.

"Her first look at her rescuers," Kane said. "If anything can make you feel good and real."

Thurpa shook himself free from Kane's comforting grip.

"And spread his seed?" Thurpa asked, glaring at Kane in disbelief.

"It's not genetic structure that makes you good or bad," Kane returned.

Thurpa's glare dimmed in fire, his anger draining. Kane had seen emotional defeat on faces before. This was a crushing blow to him, and such despondence could easily lead the young man to reckless risks or an act of desperation, if not direct suicide.

Thurpa had easily earned Kane's respect for courage and tenacity. He'd also shown himself in other ways. As a Magistrate, Kane had developed a quick sense not only for danger, but also for the content of a person's character. All this time he'd spent with the young Nagah had informed him that this cobra-hooded stranger was someone he could trust, someone with compassion, despite the origin of his chromosomes.

"Come on, there's nothing down here except for corpses," Kane told him. "We'll go some place you'll feel better."

"I thought we had been chasing my father and Neekra to her tomb," Thurpa asked.

"It's got to be better than this. And spending time in the sun and the air will do wonders for your spirit," Kane told him.

Thurpa nodded.

The two men walked up the corkscrew ramp, returning to the surface, where the others waited.

The first sign that their detonation worked was a slight rumble that actually tickled the soles of Lyta's feet. The ground throbbed as a shock wave grew, and she found herself backing away from the epicenter. Ripples in the dirt rose, and then it seemed to telescope inward, rocks crashing downward. She knew that she was dozens of yards from ground zero of the blast and that the caverns below would absorb most of the concussive force of the detonation, but even so, the earth surged and heaved.

Jets of rancid air and dust blew out from cracks burst between solid rock by the shattering explosion. Clouds rose into the midmorning sky, thick and roiling, turning a sunny day to darkness. The roar of crushing rock from below fooled her, for an instant, into believing that the mother of all thunderstorms slashed down on the six people.

"Grant doesn't fool around when it comes time to blow shit up," Lyta said softly.

Nathan shook his head. "Considering what they did to the Kongamato, I'm not surprised."

Lyta glanced to one side. Thurpa stood alone, looking down into the dirt. His interest had been momentarily snagged by the explosion, but now he withdrew back into himself and stared at the ground.

The cobra-like young man, who had shown her such care and concern a few days before, no longer let himself feel like one of the group. She walked over to him.

"Thurpa?"

Amber eyes opened, turned toward her.

"Come on, let's get going before we're wearing an inch of cemetery dust," she said, leaning toward him, bumping her shoulder against his.

Thurpa turned up one corner of his mouth. "I'll join you guys in the truck."

Lyta reached up, lacing her fingers with his. She could feel the hardness of the scales on the inner pads of his fingers and across his palm. At first, he seemed reluctant to give her a squeeze, but she pressed harder. The scale pads had been stiffer than normal skin but not sharp edged; they obviously were worn down by day-to-day operation, or maybe it was just a case of natural evolution. Pointy, jagged edges on a palm got in the way of everyday life. With too tough a set of skin on the bits that needed tactile feedback, they'd be effectively crippled, not as if it had been the scales on the soles of his feet.

He was warm, and his scales were soft and smooth. When he squeezed her fingers, managing a little bit of a smile, he was gentle. "Kane mentioned that you might be interested in me..."

"That man may be jumping the gun. I just lost my fiancé," she whispered.

Lyta quickly stood on her tiptoes, bringing her full lips close to his ear hole. "But he ain't barking up the wrong tree."

Thurpa leaned away, looking her over. "I wish that I could..."

Lyta cut him off and elbowed him in the ribs, pointing to the sky. "Looks like we're gonna get..."

"Come on!" Brigid Baptiste shouted from their pickup truck, untouched for days since the Cerberus group hid it to the side in order to ambush the militia group who had her in a slave queue.

The two ran for the truck. Nathan was in the bed, holding up a tarp. Thurpa lifted Lyta up and under the canvas, then bowed his head as dust, sand and tiny pebbles came raining down. Lyta reached out and took his forearm, pulling with all the strength of her legs to bring him up and into the truck bed. Kane also was under the canvas, helping Nathan hold up the protective tarp, while Grant and Brigid settled into the cab.

The sound of tiny objects rattled off the roof of the cap, snapping and popping on the canvas that Nathan and Kane used as an improvised umbrella.

Grant fired up the engine once most of the debris settled around them, turning on headlights and windshield wipers to see through the remaining cloud of airborne particles and to scrape layers of dirt from the glass. He looked through the back sliding window into the cab as Kane pushed the tarp back, letting the gravel spill out through the netting and the lowered tailgate. As the pickup gained speed, the gravel and dust poured as a trail behind them, kicking up a swirling cloud.

The four people in the bed of the truck immediately got to work making certain the dust was swept out. The last thing they needed was an easy way for someone to track them. Without the dust fully expunged, there'd always be something kicking off the truck, leaving a smoky trail showing recent passage and making them much more visible from the air.

So far, except for the Kongamato, Durga and Neekra hadn't shown means of aerial surveillance, but then, Durga himself had kept an Annunaki skimmer in his employ back in Garuda. If the Nagah prince had the wherewithal to find cloning facilities, a means of pumping out mutant soldiers like the not-so-bright "brothers" of Thurpa or the aforementioned Kongamato, aerial surveillance wasn't out of the question at all.

Lyta had been lucky enough not to have seen the beasts and their wing-arms with musculature and power akin to a bull-gorilla's. Blobs reanimating corpses, making them like legendary vampires in strength and agility, were bad enough. The Kongamato themselves, with their bat-wings, had been a pure nightmare.

A nightmare that she, and her three companions in the bed of the truck, kept an eye out for by scanning the skies. While Grant set up the explosives in the underground cavern, Lyta and Nathan went to work gathering ammunition and extra firearms and loading them into storage lockers on the truck. It was hard work, but preparation was necessary. They had been going up against the tomb that Neekra sought and didn't have an idea of what they could expect there.

They had picked up rocket launchers among the arsenal, though Lyta had been present when the others opened fire on Neekra's latest avatar and wasn't convinced that rockets would be enough. That feminine body, composed of no more than human flesh, ignored entire magazines of automatic gunfire and close-range blasts of hand grenades. Maybe an antitank rocket could have done some damage to that incarnation of her.

What were they going to find at Neekra's home?

What else could Durga call upon?

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Shadow Born (Outlanders)
Publisher: Gold Eagle
Publication Date: 2014
Binding: Mass Market Paperback
Book Condition: Good
Edition: 1st Printing.

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