Marcus Barber is a two-thousand-year-old immortal who works as a bounty hunter for powerful entities of the ancient world. When not pounding the pavement as a private investigator for mortal clients, Marcus chases down missing mythological creatures for the Ancients.
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 of Ereshkigal who have kidnapped a Daughter of Frejya. While roaming the sprawling metroplex, Marcus gets tasked with obtaining Chaac's lightning axe from the grasp of Tawhaki.
Given tight deadlines by all of the Ancients who treat Marcus as a pawn in their games, he enlists a friend's help but must hide the strange events and creatures from his mortal friend's awareness. On top of the Ancients' requirements, Marcus gets a call from an assistant district attorney who wants him to track down a missing mistress… who Marcus has his own, very distant past with. By leveraging his stubbornness and honed skills, Marcus must accomplish everything in twenty-four hours to keep his immortal soul away from the Ancients.
"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
"This book was really good! I pretty much instantly liked Marcus. I hope Mr. Evans will consider a follow-up book...I want more Marcus! And Eddie!"– Amazon Review
"In tone, it's very like the Dresden Files."– 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 the 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 comes to supernatural happenings. It was as if their fragile minds couldn't handle proof there is 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 opened 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 it impacted him emotionally. His written words always brought back memories of my childhood with him. He wasn't especially cold or distant, but he 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 them 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 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 are worse than others. At least I still have 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 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 directed 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 her griffin.
"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 than later.
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, "Why not?"
"Pray you never find out." The force of anger emanating from Nemesis cowed me.
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 demeaned her as if I 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 paltry coins."
"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 you fail?"
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.