Alex Caine is a martial artist fighting in illegal cage matches. His powerful secret weapon is an unnatural vision that allows him to see his opponents' moves before they know their intentions themselves. When enigmatic Englishman, Patrick Welby, shows Alex how to unleash a breathtaking realm of magic and power, Alex is drawn into a mind-bending adventure beyond his control.
A cursed grimoire binds Alex to Uthentia, a chaotic Fey godling, who leads him towards chaos and murder, an urge Alex finds harder and harder to resist. Befriended by Silhouette, a monstrous Kin beauty, Alex sets out to recover the only things that will free him-the shards of the Darak. But that powerful stone also has the potential to unleash a catastrophe which could mean the end of the world as we know it.
Bound is dark urban fantasy at its best!
PRAISE FOR ALAN BAXTER AND THE ALEX CAINE SERIES
"If Stephen King and Jim Butcher ever had a love child then it would be Alan Baxter." -Smash Dragons
"I was completely blown away when I read this. The world he's built rivals anything by Jim Butcher.... I'm reminded of Benedict Jacka and Kevin Hearne..." -Kylie Chan, author of The Dark Heavens, Journey to Wudang, and Celestial Battle trilogies
"Kick ASS!" -Sean Williams, New York Times #1 bestselling author
"I had a lot of fun reading Alan Baxter's Bound...It's a teeth-gnashing, shadow-chasing, magesign-riddled sexy beast of a thing!" -Margo Lanagan, award-winning author of Sea Hearts and Tender Morsels
"A genuine page-turner from a major new writer." -The West Australian
"...an escalating adventure that mixes epic dark urban fantasy with thriller pacing... I'd compare this series to Jim Butcher's work in terms of Urban Fantasy, though whereas Butcher riffs off hard boiled tropes, Baxter most definitely riffs off the thriller genre." -Sean Wright, Adventures of a Bookonaut
"I highly recommend Bound to anyone who likes a good supernatural action thriller." -Traci Harding, bestselling author of The Ancient Future and The Timekeepers
"...a relentless whirlwind of magic, sex, and violence. Bound is a rollercoaster of gritty magic, evocative settings, and brutal action: a solid intro to a new urban fantasy series." -Billy Burmester, Aurealis Magazine
"Alan Baxter delivers a heady mix of magic, monsters and bloody fights to the death. Nobody does kick-ass brutality like Baxter." -Greig Beck, bestselling author of Beneath the Dark Ice and Dark Rising (Alex Hunter series)
"It kept me hanging in there, eagerly flipping pages to find out who was going to be the next brutalized victim or what twisted deed would be performed next. This story packs a punch!" ML Spencer, Grimdark Magazine
About the Author
Alan Baxter is a writer, a Kung-Fu instructor, and a video game dialogue creator. He is the author of the dark urban fantasy duology, RealmShift and MageSign, as well as the Alex Cain series. He co-authored the short horror novel, Dark Rite, and his short fiction has been published throughout Australia, the US, the UK, and France and has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily Science Fiction, Postscripts, and Midnight Echo, among many others. His work has appeared more than twenty anthologies, including the Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror three times.
Read an Excerpt
Alex Caine #1
By Alan Baxter
Ragnarok PublicationsCopyright © 2016 Alan Baxter
All rights reserved.
A distant roar rose and fell, rose again. Dark gray concrete underfoot, bloodstained, hard. Alex circled to the left. He peripherally registered each panel of chain-link, each steel upright, never taking his eyes from the figure in front of him. The man known as Bull Finley.
Below a heavy brow Bull stared back, cautious. But not scared. He exuded feral, predatory strength, a calm resolve. His hands, raised before his face, were calloused and rough, like Alex's. Bull's energy pulsed. Alex watched the man's shades, the aura of his intentions, shifting around him, saw purpose swell, muscles bunch. One of Bull's meaty hands swept within an inch of Alex's nose, breath grunting out between clenched teeth, forward momentum carrying him through. Alex let him go by, twisted, gathered and whipped out a leg in a turning kick to the ribs.
Bull's exhalation finished its escape in a rush, his face registering shock more than pain. Alex pressed the advantage, following in, hands a blur of strikes and counterstrikes. Bull blocked well, but not well enough, his upper lip and nose flowered scarlet.
His intent changed, a slight desperation entering his mind. Alex saw the shades move, felt the man's desire to grapple, take the fight down to the hard stone floor. He disengaged, slipped out of reach even as his opponent made the conscious decision to grab. That surprised expression again. Confidence to surprise, surprise to concern, concern to fear, fear to defeat. A journey Alex had seen play out time and again. His opponent's eyes widened slightly, the corners of his mouth twitching downwards. Surprise to concern. Alex smiled inside. So it begins.
For several seconds they circled, the roar rising, falling, rising, falling. Bull's bulky frame heaved with his breath. Alex, leaner, more athletic, waited. He was calm. Bull looked for an opening, a gap that wasn't there. Alex feinted in and out, his opponent flinching, lips tight. Concern to fear.
The tension grew. Alex drew his breath in deep, sank his energy low, gathered himself. A deliberate drawing away, taunting his opponent to follow him in, to attack. Fear brought with it a lack of focus, lack of patience, a desperate desire to take back control. That desire pulsed off Bull like a wave. Alex moved in and to one side exactly as Bull made his assault. A clumsy move, all physical strength, no breath, no finesse. The man closed the gap to where Alex had been, launching fast punches. Alex exhaled, struck back across Bull's arms, drove a knee up hard and sharp. The big man's nose and ribs cracked almost simultaneously, pain escaping in red and black waves. As his opponent stumbled, Alex whipped in one last punch and a kick to finish him. Broken and unconscious, Bull collapsed against the chain-link fencing as though his skeleton had been removed.
Alex turned away as the dull roar boomed into his ears. He honored his opponent by not relishing the defeat as he let the rest of the world back in. The stench of steel and concrete, blood, sweat and popcorn. The glare of overhead halogens, the stamping of hundreds of feet on wooden stands, hundreds of throats screaming approval, baying for blood. A loud, brash voice burst over loudspeakers and Alex walked past the man with the microphone, as he always did. A gate swung open and he let the darkness of the tunnel to the change rooms swallow him away from the spectacle.
* * *
Alex pulled a T-shirt over his sweat-slick chest, ran a hand over his close-cropped dark hair. He stretched as event officials jostled around him in the tiny room. A clipboard was thrust under his nose, accompanied by a chewed biro. He signed without reading, knowing the agreement by heart.
"Way to go, Alex. Man, how are you so fast?" He ignored the question, kept his head down, resumed his stretching. "Ha! You're a legend, man, a fucking legend!"
The man with the clipboard scurried away. A doctor tipped his head back, shone a tiny light in each eye. "Anything?" Alex shook his head. The doctor nodded once and left, scribbling on a clipboard of his own.
Alex rubbed his face and hair with a towel and concentrated on his breathing and stretching as the activity around him faded. He heard movement in the hallway, a voice raised in concern. Another voice, angry, and a man walked into the dressing room. The man was big and ugly, a product of mean streets and bad attitudes. An obsequious little rat scurried in behind. Alex sighed. "Go away, Eugene," he said. "You too, Karl."
Eugene sneered. "You gotta fight for us, Alex Caine. The boss won't have it any other way."
"Your boss can kiss my arse."
"You can't talk like that about King Scarlet," Karl said, his voice piping.
Alex laughed. "Really? Still calling himself King Scarlet? It's like a bad Saturday morning cartoon. Fuck off, the pair of you."
Eugene took a step forward, meant to be threatening. Alex watched his shades, saw the nerves and concern drifting off him like a bad smell. He stood quickly, took one fast step forward. Eugene staggered back, sudden concern clear on his face. He bumped into his insubstantial friend, sent Karl bouncing off the doorframe.
"Fuck off," Alex said again.
Eugene waved one finger. "You do what King Scarlet wants, Caine. Or else."
Alex raised his chin. "You threatening me, Eugene?" He made the man's name sound like a disease.
Eugene shoved Karl ahead of him out the door. "This isn't over."
Alex ignored them, let them leave. Finally everything was silent and still.
A moment later, a quiet presence moved just outside the door. Alex sighed. No peace at all tonight. "Can I help you?" he asked, not looking up.
"I know your secret." The voice was soft and friendly, with an impeccable upper-class English accent.
The man in the doorway was elderly, though vibrant looking, well dressed in an old-fashioned suit and waistcoat, impeccably polished shoes. "My secret?" Alex asked.
The old man gestured back over one shoulder. "Problems?"
"Nothing I can't handle."
"You know, you really are very good."
"I've done it for a long time."
The man considered Alex for several seconds. Alex let him, wondering what this man could want. People always wanted something. He read the man's shades and saw nothing but calm curiosity.
"Why here?" the Englishman asked eventually. "Aren't there more organised events held all over the world? Big promotion, massive prize money, fame and glory? Better rules and protective equipment? Legal?"
"You've just listed all the reasons I'm not interested."
The old man's eyebrows raised. "Even the money?"
There was a cough and movement in the corridor. "'Scuse me." A small, gruff-looking man with a shiny bald head pushed into the room. "Shit, Alex, one of these days you're gonna at least get hit, aren't ya?"
Alex smiled. "I get hit pretty often, Gary. Just not tonight."
Gary let out a strangely high laugh. "Thanks for stepping in at such short notice."
"No problem. Your other fighter going to be okay?"
"Yeah, just a training injury. He'll be fine."
"Glad I could help. Thanks for the chance."
"Any time. Dunno what I'd do without ya." He handed over an envelope and slapped Alex heavily on the shoulder.
"You still want me in next week?" Alex asked.
"Ah, give it two weeks."
"Sure. But I'm going to fight in London next month. Might stop in LA on the way back."
"Don't be out of Sydney too long." Gary turned, nodded at the old man before slipping back out the door, yelling to someone down the hallway. Alex held up the envelope with a half-smile.
"Is it as good as the mainstream prizes?" the old man asked.
"I get by."
"Which brings us back to my original point."
Alex leaned back against the wall, annoyed. "Which is?"
"I know your secret."
"Right. So what secret is that?"
"I see what you see. Not nearly so well, I think, but I see it."
"What do you mean?"
"Patrick Welby, by the way." The Englishman extended a hand.
"Alex Caine." He shook the man's hand, noticed manicured nails and very soft skin. He did his best to be polite, but wondered why he was bothering.
"I know. It took me a while to find you. These dos are bit hard to track down."
Alex ran out of patience. "That's kinda the idea. Listen, I don't have time for chitchat." He gestured at the door.
Welby's shades became urgent. "You fight for money, away from the limelight, you live quietly in the country and have very little interaction with anyone."
"So?" Alex said, hiding his concern at the extent of the stranger's knowledge.
"Am I right?"
"I trained to fight and never really had much interest in anything else. I don't play well with others." He gestured at the door again. "Now, out."
The old man held up both hands. "Please. I've been seeking someone like you for a long time."
Alex pushed down his anger, but let it burn gently below the surface. This old man bothered him. "Someone like me?"
Welby took a long breath. "I know that when you fight you see what people intend to do before they do it."
Alex raised one eyebrow, spooked. "Is that right?"
He had never really been able to explain his abilities, even to himself. He sensed a change in the shade of the air around a person, a sensation most similar to vision, but not something he actually saw. Sometimes that sense would blossom into waves of color at particularly powerful moments. He could read it and know what people intended to do. In the scenario of a fight it became particularly clear, less so in other aspects of life. "I've been told I was born for fighting," Alex said. The old pang of grief cut through as he remembered his Sifu's words.
Welby's face was sympathetic. "Is that why you don't play well with others?"
Alex shrugged. "The more you get to know someone the easier they are to read. Sometimes it's better not to know." He cleared his throat. "You need to leave, now. I've got nothing for you."
Welby's shades became agitated again. "You can't go on making a living like this forever."
Alex moved to the door. "My house is paid for and I don't get hit often. You have no idea what I can or can't do."
"But I can show you so much more, help you understand yourself."
"What's in it for you?" Alex asked.
Welby smiled broadly. "Good lad! Always the most important question. Well, I think that you'll be able to read a book that I can't, and I really want to know what this book says."
"This particular book requires something special. I can pay you with knowledge you wouldn't find anywhere else, or money if you'd prefer. Or both."
Alex stared long and hard at Patrick Welby. Something was certainly being held back, but it was unclear. "No, man, sorry."
Welby frowned. "I can show you wonders. There are things you should know."
"I don't need any complications." He held the door open.
The old man reluctantly stepped out. "You like to stay in control, don't you?"
"Who doesn't? I just make sure of it."
"You'll lose that control."
Alex hardened his expression. "That a threat?"
"No. Just knowledge." Welby's shades fluctuated between defeat and hope. And something else fluttered like a dark moth, unreadable. "If you change your mind ..."
"I won't." Alex closed the door, alone at last.CHAPTER 2
Alex walked along a dim alley, heading for the main street and a taxi to his hotel. He always treated himself to a fancy suite after a fight, a good room service feed and a big bed. The two-hour drive home in the morning was easier that way. Two silhouettes stepped into his path, one large, one small. They held long heavy weapons, bats or bars of some kind. Alex sighed. This is getting old.
"Piss off, you monkeys," he shouted. "I don't work for anyone."
"The King thinks differently," Eugene called back. "You cost him a lot of money tonight."
They faced each other, thirty meters apart. Alex read their shades, recognised the shifts and colors as nervous, especially the little one, Karl. But they both intended to do their boss's bidding. There would be a fight here. Alex shrugged his sports bag off his shoulder, put it down out of the way. "Come on then," he said. "Bring it!"
The shades throbbed and swam around the men as they raised their weapons and rushed him. Baseball bats, he noted. These guys were gorillas, street thugs using intimidation and numbers to win fights. They were no threat at all, even with bats. As the gap closed Alex danced between them, striking out as the bats whistled past. Two strikes each and it was over, the men squirming on the bitumen, groaning in pain.
A third man, not ten meters away, pointed a revolver. Alex cursed. Stupid, stupid, stupid!
"You're costing the King money, Caine. We can't have that."
Alex frowned. "Your king should start betting on me instead."
"Doesn't work like that. He controls. You'll work for him. Or you'll die."
Alex vaguely registered a car slowing at the mouth of the alley. "I don't work for anyone."
The man gestured with his gun. "You are in no position to negotiate. Come with us now or I kill you right here."
Alex tried to figure the best angle to move. The man knew what he was doing, positioned close enough that he would be unlikely to miss, far enough away that he would be hard to reach without getting a shot off. Alex centerd his breath, about to launch forward, and a bright orange glow erupted over the man's shoulder. He yelped as flames licked the side of his face. He frantically tried to beat at his back, Alex and the gun forgotten. Alex rushed, wondering if more guns were trained on him from the car parked at the end of the alley. How the hell did he catch alight?
The man dropped and rolled, trying to smother the flames, and Alex leapt over him. He skidded to a halt when he saw Patrick Welby's face smiling through the window of the car. "Need a ride?" the old man called out as he pushed the passenger door open.
Alex jumped in and Welby peeled away as the man with the gun staggered, smoking, to his feet. A concussive crack followed them as he squeezed off a shot.
"What was that?" Alex said angrily.
"Looked like you were about to be shot." Welby's hands were steady on the wheel, a slight smile played about his lips.
Alex scowled. "I don't fucking need your help."
Welby said nothing and they drove in silence. Alex thought over the events. Why was nothing ever simple? Always someone trying to get a bite of your pie. The image of the flames bursting across the gunman's back returned. Welby slowed for a red light. "How did you do it?" Alex asked.
"You know fucking well what." He caught his breath, catching his anger with it. "Did you throw a petrol bomb at him or something?"
"Never so ham-fisted."
"I simply threw fire at him."
"Can I buy you a drink?" Welby asked. "I'd really like to talk with you some more."
Alex felt his world spinning, his control slipping away. He refused to let other people dictate his life. "No, you can't. Just take me to my hotel. I'm at the Four Seasons."
Welby lifted a hand from the wheel, wagging one index finger at Alex. "How many people have you told about your ... ability? The things you can see?"
"My life has nothing to do with you, Welby." Alex's anger burned. "Stop the fucking car, I'm done here."
"I can help you!" Welby said, desperation in his tone. "You don't owe me anything, but at least talk to me until I get you to your hotel. Please? How many people have you told?"
Alex ground his teeth. There was no point in denying the obvious. "None really."
He saw where the old man was heading with this. "Because in the first instance it's very hard to explain and in the second, it's unlikely anyone would believe me."
"And why wouldn't they believe you?"
"Because it's a hard thing to prove."
Welby grinned. "Exactly. But who has the better understanding of reality? You? Or them?"
Alex chose not to answer. Rhetorical question. Let him blather on, he didn't really care. He wanted to be in his hotel room, alone.
Patrick Welby said nothing for a few blocks. Then, "Your talent could be far better. If you can see as you do that means you have the ability to do all kinds of other things most people would consider supernatural. Magical. You just need to know how."
Alex smirked. "Magical? I'm an open-minded guy, I know most people wouldn't believe me about what I can see, but it's not magic."
"Mine is just a well-developed natural aptitude," he said. "empathy."
"Why do you resist the truth?"
Welby pulled the car over to the kerb. They were nowhere near the hotel. "What are you doing?" Alex asked.
Welby took a bottle of water from the back seat. "I want to show you something."
Excerpted from Bound by Alan Baxter. Copyright © 2016 Alan Baxter. Excerpted by permission of Ragnarok Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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