Marcus Barber is a two-thousand-year old immortal, a former Roman Centurion who now works as a bounty hunter for supernatural creatures from the ancient world. When he's not pounding the pavement as a private investigator for mortal clients, Marcus chases down missing mythological creatures for the Ancients.
Now, in the heat of San Antonio, Marcus must search for Nemesis's missing Griffin while trying to rescue a melting Ice Pixie from an eccentric collector. His adventures put him on the trail of a cult that has kidnapped a Daughter of Frejya. All in a day's work.
While roaming the sprawling metroplex, Marcus is tasked with obtaining Chaac's lightning axe from the grasp of Tawhaki. Working under a tight deadline from the Ancients (who treat him as a pawn in their games), Marcus enlists a friend's help, but he has to hide the strange events and creatures. On top of the Ancients' demands, Marcus is also hired by an assistant district attorney who wants him to track down a missing mistress…a woman with whom Marcus has his own turbulent past.
By leveraging his stubbornness and his specialized skills, Marcus has to accomplish everything within 24 hours … or else the Ancients will have his immortal soul.
J.T. Evans is a local Colorado Springs resident, and I first met him at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. He has been very helpful to other writers while busily working on a writing career of his own. His Griffin's Feather is the start of a wonderful, fantastical urban fantasy series. – Kevin J. Anderson
"A fine debut novel in the style of Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid Chronicles, but with a gritty noir feel that punched me right in the gut. Xerxes is now on my list as favorite sidekicks."– Amazon Review
I stared at the Rorschach patterns of the piss stains on the wall of my motel room in an effort to ignore the busted springs that could only be generously called a mattress. I turned my head side-to-side trying to find some semblance of art or pattern in the yellow-on-smoke-stained-white. I'd slept in more comfortable ditches during my time as a Roman Centurion almost two thousand years ago. I'd also squatted over better smelling holes while in the field than the emanations coming from the mattress when I shifted my weight.
Accepting the discomfort without complaint like a good soldier always does, I turned to the television. The twenty-four-hour news crackled from the flickering screen. I hated the modern news, but I couldn't find any other channels on the damn thing. The newscaster shifted her tone from fake sorrow about some natural disaster to even more false happiness as she moved on to an "on the lighter side of the news" story.
Her lips moved, and the words fell from her face. "As you can see in this home video, someone glued feathers to this lion's head and set it loose during the Strawberry Festival in Poteet, Texas. The animal doesn't seem to be in any distress, but local authorities have asked citizens to call animal control if the festooned feline is spotted."
The news puppet chirped her words, and a blurry video captured a few seconds of a large lion bearing feathers leaping a fence and vanishing from sight.
A griffin ran free in southern Texas.
The mythological creature walked on the feet of an eagle but had the body of a lion. In addition to the eagle claws, a griffin also sported the head and wings of the majestic bird.
Mortals had a strange way of lying to themselves when it came to supernatural happenings. It was as if their fragile minds couldn't handle proof there was something greater and more powerful than them sharing this world. Those who saw and talked about the truth of things were labeled as "crazies" or "kooks" or "religious fanatics." I usually kept my mouth shut and my eyes open to avoid the stigma of someone bereft of their senses. This was true even around those I considered close friends.
I shook my head and put away one of my father's journals I had been reading. His neat handwriting, precise words, and terse phrasing let me know the events of his life, but without much in the way of how they impacted him emotionally. His written words always brought back memories of my childhood with him. He wasn't especially cold or distant, but he'd had a hard time getting close to me and my mother. Was he immortal back then? Did he know it? Is that why he vanished when he did?
I've never known why, but my gut told me finding my father was the path to figuring out who I really was. He'd obviously been gifted, or cursed, with the same immortality I'd grown accustomed to. I thought he had the key to unlock the answers I've always sought. Even if he didn't, it would be nice to see his face again. To hear his voice. Is he proud of me? Have I done well in his eyes?
I looked around the ratty motel room surrounding me. What would he think of me now?
Shaking my head to clear it of sentimentality, I prepared for an Ancient to appear. Some Ancient was going to have me fetch the griffin. I just knew it. When something strange happened in my neighborhood, they always showed up. I was the bounty hunter for the Ancients, after all. The only lingering question I had concerned which Ancient would appear and claim ownership of the griffin. Four possibilities popped into my head.
Iskur, the Sumerian Ancient of weather, loved to breed griffins for the sole purpose of tormenting shepherds. I didn't expect His Ugliness to show up since most ranching was several hundred miles away. I doubted that Apollo, a personal favorite of mine, had lost another griffin since we did a pretty good job of tethering his beasts to his ride last time one got loose. By eliminating both of the men, I was left with Nemesis and Artemis. These two Greek ladies remained largely unknown to me. Based on what I knew of them, I would choose Artemis over Nemesis, but the choice was never mine to make.
The talking head continued to read from her teleprompter. She blathered on about a missing little girl from southeastern San Antonio. I read the paper every day, and a dozen children go missing each year from this area. I could only summon forth one reason why this girl received national attention, and it disgusted me. The child was white and lived in a Mexican neighborhood.
I started inspecting my gear, but before I finished the final check of my bulletproof vest, biker leathers, and weapons, modern and archaic, a slight change in the room's air pressure alerted me to a presence popping into the room behind me. I had expected company and played it cool. I didn't spin around with my Glock in my hand.
"Are you ready to do my bidding, Marcus Domitus Barbopharus?"
Even though I'd mentally prepared for the presence of an Ancient in the nasty motel room, I still flinched at the sound of the woman's voice behind me. I should be used to dramatic entrances by now, but the Ancients always demanded to be noticed when they arrived. Some were worse than others. At least I still had my eyebrows this time. I turned to face the unknown Ancient and slid from the edge of the bed before dropping to one knee. I kept my eyes focused on the floor. I had a strong desire to correct her with my modern name of "Marcus Barber," but I intoned the ritual response instead. "I am ready to perform any task you require."
From above me, she said, "Quit groveling. I get quite enough of that from those I impose my retribution upon."
Great. Nemesis. Why couldn't it be Artemis or, even better, Aphrodite?
As I stood, I slid my gaze up her body to look steadily on her high forehead. I had learned long ago to avoid looking directly into the eyes of an Ancient. In those orbs live knowledge, wisdom, hatred, and love in such volumes madness was guaranteed, even to an immortal like me.
Standing at my full, five-foot-nine height, I had to crane my neck to look up at her. Her head fell just shy of the seven-foot-high ceilings, and I strained to look at her hairline. I let my gaze slip to her shoulders. Her angelic, white wings rested gently across her back while her arms were folded across her bare chest to cover her breasts.
"If you are done gawking, I would like to get down to business."
I swallowed hard and managed a slight nod. Even after two millennia of dealing with the Ancients, their direct attention still made me uncomfortable.
Frowning, she said to no one in particular, "Why do I always get the moronic servants?" With the tapping of a sandaled foot, she waited for me to recover.
I managed to mumble, "Oh. I … What task do you have for me this day?"
Nemesis rolled her eyes. "Finally. One of my prized chariot team has escaped. Xerxes is his name. Something came over him, and he broke his tether several hours ago. He's done this twice before. The first time was to find a mate. The second was to rescue a poor damsel in distress. I've no idea what motivates him this time."
I nodded along and murmured, "Uh huh" at the right spots until she finished. Oddly enough, I picked up the sense she was truly distraught over the loss of hergriffin.
"Maybe he's interested in the Poteet Strawberry Festival? I've heard that griffins tend to like sweet fruits," I offered weakly.
Nemesis scoffed. "He's well fed and well taken care of. I see no reason the fruits mortals grow would entice him from his harness and duties. The nectar and meats of Elysium should suffice for him."
Keeping my focus on the tips of her wings over her shoulders, I asked, "How long do I have to find and return Xerxes?"
Nemesis said, "I want him returned in two days. I have a race against Apollo's crew the day after that. Xerxes must be well rested from his adventures before the race. If you fail to recover him within that time, you shall suffer my wrath."
I was over my earlier lack of composure and responded in a reasonable time frame this time. "What is my boon for success?"
"What do you ask?" The Ancient of retribution let her arms uncross. She placed her hands on her hips.
"My father's current location. Given directly, not in a riddle, mystery, journal, or obfuscation." I was tired of reading journals that ranged in age from a few centuries old to a few years old. I tired of the chase and wanted it over with. While my father's past exploits fascinated me, I wanted to find him sooner rather thanlater.
Nemesis didn't move or twitch, but her presence loomed over me. In a low growl, she said, "You know I can't do that."
I swallowed and focused my inner courage. In a hard whisper, I asked, "Whynot?"
"Pray you never find out." The force of anger emanating from Nemesis cowedme.
I bowed my head and dropped to one knee. "Forgive me. I tire of the chase."
The force the Ancient exuded into the room faded and withdrew at my subservience. "I wish I could say more, but you should know by now that I can't. Now, stand. We have business to conclude, and I do not deal with cowards."
I stood up and shifted my focus to her leather skirt to avoid staring at her exposed breasts. I managed to blurt out, "Apollo paid me with three of my father's journals and a handful of gold for the very same task. I understand if you cannot afford to match his generosity."
She hissed at the implied insult. By comparing her to her Roman antithesis and declaring her abilities lesser, I had demeaned her as if I had raised a hand against her. She nearly spat on me in anger. "I will deliver five of your precious tomes and supply you with a jewel-encrusted gladius worth more than Apollo's paltrycoins."
"The barter is struck." I jumped on her offer so fast she didn't have time to second guess her words.
Nemesis held out a hand. "Not so fast, Marcus. What do you offer to me if youfail?"
I sighed. "What is it you require of me if I fail to return Xerxes? I can't very well take his place."
With a snort, Nemesis said, "No, but you can muck out my griffin stables for the next five years. What is five years to one gifted with immortality?"
Five years of servitude to Nemesis? Certain that a single missed griffin turd would have me face the full-blown horror of her retribution, I had to think of a different punishment she could dole out on me. I couldn't risk falling five years behind in my search for my father.
She started tapping her foot at me again.
Unable to think of a proper counter, I suggested, "Three years servitude if I fail. No more."
Nemesis said, "Agreed."
Despite facing one of the most violent women in all mythological stories, I had managed to strike a great bargain for my services. A tight deadline and very little information became my foremost problems, not to mention the possible enslavement to a strict taskmistress.
After a moment's pause, she turned her back on me and walked to the door. She called over her well-muscled shoulder. "I will see you within two days with, or without, my Xerxes." She walked through the door without opening it.
I let out the breath I had been holding in and plopped onto the edge of the stained mattress. I always hated dealing with the Ancients. They used all the tricks of their powers to make a man like me, even an immortal like me, feel uncomfortable. I've often wanted to just tell them that I quit, but I couldn't quite put my desires to words. Besides, I wasn't sure they'd even listen to me. I didn't know if an Ancient like Nemesis played to the beck and call of some greater power than herself. I'd yet to find the Head Ancient in order to confront him, her, or it. As much as I hated being the lap dog to the Ancients, I had to bide my time and wait for the biggest, baddest, most potent Ancient to show its face. Then, maybe, I'd find the answers I'd been searching for all along.
After spending a few moments gathering my wits, I thought about my reward. I knew this placed the chariot in front of the horse, but I needed those journals to find my father. I could only hope to receive more modern writings. How the Ancients came across the journals, I had no idea. I was just grateful for his words.
Like my father, I kept a journal. I didn't think I had any offspring, but after walking this world for as long as I had, there was bound to be at least one progeny of mine following in my footsteps. If I'd vanished on him or her, I wished the Ancients would help my child find me. They'd been only marginally helpful in the clues they'd left in my quest to find my own father, so there's not much hope on that front.
I'd closed in on my father a few times, but I'd never managed to make contact. If he'd only written down an address or email or phone number in his journals. Instead, he talked about what he'd done, Ancients he had met, strange events that had happened around him, and things along those lines. Then again, I guess it's the same thing I put down in my own journals, so I can't blame him too much without labeling myself as a hypocrite.
I pushed up from the bed, and, while I mechanically checked my gear, my thoughts wandered through the various times I had "died." I've suffered mortal wounds nineteen times so far. Each time, I awoke from my death slumber after three days weaker than a newborn, hungry enough to join Thor at an Asgard feast, and always confused about what happened. It took me another three days to regain my strength, sate my angry stomach, and gather my wits.
With a two-day deadline from Nemesis, I couldn't afford a twentieth death, so I'd have to be careful and stay clear of Xerxes's claws and razor-sharp beak until I talked him into coming home.
I finished packing my gear and hefted my sea bag over my shoulder. A frigid wind passed through the room. The rattling air conditioning unit only sighed out lukewarm air. The cold didn't come from the thirty-year-old machinery.
Another Ancient had arrived on the scene.