The Exodus Questby Will Adams
THE EXODUS QUEST
On the trail of the lost Dead Sea Scrolls, archaeologist Daniel Knox stumbles upon a theft in progress at an ancient temple near Alexandria. Then a senior Egyptian archaeologist is violently/i>
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Facts collide with fiction in the pulse-pounding sequel to the highly praised The Alexander Cipher, featuring archaeologist Daniel Knox.
THE EXODUS QUEST
On the trail of the lost Dead Sea Scrolls, archaeologist Daniel Knox stumbles upon a theft in progress at an ancient temple near Alexandria. Then a senior Egyptian archaeologist is violently killed, and the finger of suspicion points at Knox himself. To add to his mounting worries, his partner Gaille Bonnard is kidnapped while showing a television crew around the ruins of Amarna. She manages to smuggle out a message, pleading with Knox to rescue her, but he's locked in a police cell on suspicion of murder hundreds of miles away. His only hope of clearing his name and saving Gaille is to crack one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the ancient world...before it's too late.
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The Exodus Quest
By Adams, Will
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2010 Adams, Will
All right reserved.
The southern shore of Lake Mariut, AD 415
THE PLASTER HAD DRIED AT LAST. Marcus scooped up handfuls of dirt and sand from the floor, then smeared them across the fresh white surface until it was dulled and dark and virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the wall. He held his oil lamp close to examine it, adding more dirt where needed until satisfied, though in truth it needed the eyes of a younger man. A last walk through the old, familiar passages and chambers, bidding farewell to his comrades and ancestors in the catacombs, to a lifetime of memories, then up the steps and out.
Late afternoon already. No time to waste.
He closed the wooden hatch, shoveled sand and stone down on it. The crash and scatter as it landed, the swish of robes, the crunch of his iron-shod spade. He began to hear in these noises the distant chanting of a mob. It grew so strong, so convincing, he paused to listen. But now there was only silence, save for his heavy breathing, the hammer of his heart, the trickle of settling sand.
Nothing but the fears of a solitary old man.
The sun was low in the west, tinting orange. They usually came by night, as evildoers will, though they were growing bolder all the time. He’d seen strange faces along the harbor that morning. Onetime friends muttering among themselves. People whose diseases he’d treated without thought for his own safety looking at him like contagion.
He began to shovel again, faster and faster, to quell the panic before it could overwhelm him.
He’d thought they’d be able to ride it out. Their community had survived many previous pogroms and wars, after all. He’d imagined, foolishly, that their ideas would prevail in the end because they were so much stronger and more rational than the pious cruel nonsense of the so-called right-thinking. But he’d been wrong. It was human nature, when fears were stirred, that reason lost all power.
Poor Hypatia! That beautiful, wise, and gentle woman. They said her lynching had been ordered by Pope Cyril himself. Epiphanes had witnessed the whole thing. A mere boy; too young for such a sight. The mob led by that sanctimonious monster Peter the Reader. No surprise there. They’d torn her from her chariot, stripped her naked, dragged her to their church, cut her flesh from her bones with oyster shells, then burned her remains.
Men of God they called themselves. How was it possible they couldn’t see what they truly were?
The sun had set and the night began to cool. His pace slowed. He was far from the prime of youth. But he didn’t stop altogether. The quicker he finished, the quicker he could set off, catch up with his family and fellows in their quest for sanctuary near Hermopolis or perhaps even Chenoboskion, depending on how far this madness had spread. He’d sent them on ahead with all the scrolls and other treasured possessions they’d been able to carry, the accumulated wisdom of centuries. But he himself had stayed behind. They’d grown lax these past few years. It was no secret they had an underground complex here, he knew; not least because absurd rumors about their wealth and hidden treasures had found their way back to him. If the villains looked hard and long enough, they had every chance of finding these steps, however well he buried them. That was why he’d plastered up the entrance to the baptism chamber: so that some small fraction of their knowledge might survive even if the underground complex itself was discovered. And maybe one day sanity would return, and they could, too. If not himself, then his children or grandchildren. And if not them, then perhaps the people of a future age. A more rational, enlightened age. Maybe they’d appreciate the wisdom on these walls, not hate and vilify it.
He finished filling in the shaft, trod it down until it was hard to see. Time to go. The prospect dismayed him. He was too old for such adventures, too old to start again. All he’d ever sought in life was the peace in which to study his texts, learn the nature of the world. But that was now denied him by these swaggering cruel bullies who’d made it a sin even to think. You could see it in their eyes, the pleasure they took in the wanton exercise of their power. They wallowed in their villainy. They raised their hands up high as though the blood on them shone like virtue.
He was traveling light, just his robes, a small sack of provisions, a few coins in his purse. But he hadn’t walked ten minutes before he saw a glow over the ridge ahead. It meant nothing to him at first, lost as he was in private thoughts. But then he realized. Torches. Approaching from the harbor. The direction of the breeze changed, and he heard them. Men and women shouting, singing, jubilant in the anticipation of another lynching.
He hurried back the way he’d come, his heart pounding. Their settlement was on a gentle hill overlooking the lake. He reached the crown and saw the glow on every side, like a pyre just lit, flames licking up the tinder. A cry to his right. A rooftop began to blaze. A second and then a third.
Their homes! Their lives! The clamor grew louder, closer. That hateful baying! How these people loved their work. He turned this way and that, seeking a path, but everywhere he went torches forced him back, penning him into an ever-smaller space.
The cry went up at last. He’d been seen. He turned and fled, but his old legs weren’t up to it, even though he knew what would happen to him if he was caught. And then they were all around him, their faces enflamed with bloodlust, and there was nothing more he could do save go with dignity and courage, try to shame them into compassion. Failing that, perhaps when they woke in the morning they’d look back on their work this night with such horror and revulsion that others might be spared.
That would be something.
He fell to his knees on the rocky ground, his body trembling uncontrollably. Tears streamed down his cheeks. He began to pray.
Bab Sedra Street, Alexandria
DANIEL KNOX WAS WALKING NORTH ALONG Sharia Bab Sedra when he saw the earthenware bowl on the street trader’s flapped-out tablecloth. Filled with matchbooks and packets of white napkins, it was propping up one end of a line of battered Arabic schoolbooks. His heart gave a little flutter; he suffered a moment’s déjà vu. He’d seen one like it before, he was sure of it. Somewhere interesting, too. For a few seconds he almost had the answer, but then it eluded him. The feeling slowly faded, leaving him merely uneasy, unsure whether his mind was playing tricks.
He paused, crouched, picked up a garish plastic vase with wilting artificial yellow flowers, then a ragged geography textbook with all its pages falling out, so that out-of-date maps of Egypt’s topography and demographics fanned out over the tablecloth like a deck of cards swept by a magician’s hand.
“Salaam alekum,” nodded the trader. He couldn’t have been more than fifteen years old, made to look even younger by hand-me-down clothes at least two sizes too big.
“Wa alekum es salaam,” replied Knox.
“You like this book, mister? You want to buy?”
Knox shrugged and put it back, then glanced around as though uninterested in anything he saw. But the young hawker only gave a crooked-toothed smile. He wasn’t a fool. Knox grinned self-deprecatingly and touched the earthenware bowl with his finger. “What’s this?” he asked.
“Sir has a fine eye,” he said. “A wonderful antique from Alexandria’s rich history. The fruit bowl of Alexander the Great himself! Yes! Alexander the Great! No word of a lie.”
“Alexander the Great?” said Knox. “Surely not.”
“No word of a lie,” insisted the young man. “They find his body, you know. They find this in his tomb! Yes! The man who find Alexander, he is a man called Daniel Knox, he is my very good friend, he give this to me himself!”
Knox laughed. Since that particular adventure, he’d been everyone’s very good friend. “And you’re selling it out here on the street?” he teased. “Surely if it belonged to Alexander, it’s worthy of the Cairo Museum itself!” He picked it up, again felt that reprise of déjà vu, a curious tingling in his chest, a dryness at the back of his mouth, a slight pressure at the base of his cranium.
He turned the bowl around in his hands, enjoying the sensation of touch. He was no expert on ceramics, but all field archaeologists had a certain knowledge, not least because about nine out of every ten artifacts on any given site were some kind of pottery—a fragment from a plate, cup, or jar, a shard from an oil lamp or perfume flask, perhaps even an ostracon, if it was your lucky day.
But this wasn’t broken. It was some seven inches in diameter and three inches deep, with a flat base and curved sides and no rim to speak of, so that you could hold it in both hands and drink directly from it. From the smooth texture, the clay had evidently been well sieved for grit and pebbles before it had been hard-fired. It was pinkish gray, though coated with a paler wash that gave it a swirling texture, like cream just stirred into coffee. Maybe local provenance; maybe not. He’d need an expert to determine that. He had little more success with the dating. Fine ware like oil lamps and expensive crockery had changed constantly with prevailing fashions, if only to show off the wealth of the owners, but coarse ware like this had tended to keep its form, sometimes for centuries. Circa AD 50 at a guess, plus or minus a couple of hundred years. Or a couple of thousand. He put it back down, intending to walk away, but it just wouldn’t let him go. He squatted there, staring at it, rubbing his jaw, trying to read its message, work out how it had put its hook in him.
Knox knew how rare it was to find valuable artifacts in a street market. The hawkers were too shrewd to sell high-quality pieces that way, the antiquities police too observant. And there were artisans in the back streets of Alexandria and Cairo who could knock out convincing replicas in a heartbeat if they thought they could fool a gullible tourist into parting with his cash. But this particular bowl seemed too dowdy to be worth the effort. “How much?” he asked finally.
“One thousand US,” replied the young man without blinking.
Knox laughed again. Egyptians priced the buyer, not the piece, and clearly he was looking unusually wealthy today. Wealthy and stupid. Again he made to walk away; again something stopped him. He touched it with his fingertip, reluctant to be drawn into a haggle. Once you started, it was rude not to finish, and Knox wasn’t at all sure he wanted this piece, even if he could get it cheap. If it was a genuine antiquity, after all, then buying it was illegal. If it was fake, then he’d feel annoyed with himself for days at being taken in, especially if his friends and colleagues ever got to hear about it. He shook his head decisively, and this time he did stand up.
“Five hundred,” said the young hawker hurriedly, sensing his fat fish slipping through his fingers. “I see you before. You a good man. I make you special price. Very special price.”
Knox shook his head. “Where did you get it?” he asked.
“It is from the tomb of Alexander the Great, I assure you! My friend give it to me because he is a very good—”
“The truth,” said Knox. “Or I walk away now.”
The boy’s eyes narrowed shrewdly. “Why I tell you this?” he asked. “So you call the police?”
Knox fished in his back pocket for some cash, letting him see the bank-notes. “How can I be confident it’s genuine unless you tell me where you got it?” he asked.
The trader pulled a face, looked around to make sure he couldn’t be overheard. “A friend of my cousin works on an excavation,” he murmured.
“Which excavation?” Knox frowned. “Who runs it?”
“What kind of foreigners?”
He shrugged indifferently. “Foreigners.”
“South,” he waved vaguely. “South of Mariut.”
Knox nodded. It made sense. Lake Mariut had been hemmed around by farms and settlements in ancient times, before the inflows from the Nile had silted up and the lake had started to shrink. He counted his money slowly. If this bowl had indeed come from an archaeological site, he had a duty to return it, or at least to let someone there know that they had a security problem. Thirty-five Egyptian pounds. He folded them between his thumb and forefinger. “South of the lake, you say?” he said with a frown. “Where, exactly? I’ll need to know precisely if I’m going to buy.”
The young man’s eyes refocused reluctantly from the money to Knox. A bitter expression soured his face, as though he realized he’d said too much already. He muttered an obscenity, gathered the four corners of his tablecloth, hoisted it up so that all his wares clattered together, and hurried away. Knox made to follow, but a colossus of a man appeared from nowhere and stepped across his path. Knox tried to go around, but the man simply moved sideways to block him, arms folded across his chest, a dry smile on his lips, inviting Knox to try something. And then it was too late anyway, the youngster swallowed up by crowds, taking his earthenware bowl with him.
Knox shrugged and let it go. It was almost certainly nothing.
Yes. Almost certainly.
The Eastern Desert, Middle Egypt
POLICE INSPECTOR NAGUIB HUSSEIN watched the hospital pathologist pull back a flap of the blue tarpaulin to reveal the desiccated body of the girl within. At least Naguib assumed it was a girl, judging by her diminutive size, long hair, cheap jewelry and clothes, but in truth he couldn’t be sure. She’d been dead too long, buried out here in the baking-hot sands of the Eastern Desert, mummified as she’d putrified, the back of her head broken open and stuck fast by congealed gore to the tarpaulin.
“Who found her?” asked the pathologist.
“One of the guides,” said Naguib. “Apparently some tourists wanted a taste of the real desert.” He gave an amused grunt. They’d gotten that, all right.
“And she was just lying here?”
“They saw the tarpaulin first. Then her foot. The rest of her was still hidden.”
“Last night’s windstorm must have uncovered her.”
“And covered any tracks, too,” agreed Naguib. He watched with folded arms as the pathologist continued his preliminary assessment, examining her scalp, her eyes, her cheeks, and her ears, manipulating her lower jaw back and forth to open her mouth, probing a spatula deep inside, scraping froth and grit and sand from the dried-out membrane of her tongue, cheeks, and throat. He closed her mouth again, studied her neck, her collarbones, the bulging, dislocated right shoulder, and her arms, folded awkwardly, almost coyly, down by her sides.
“How old is she?” asked Naguib.
“Wait for my report.”
“Please. I need something to work on.”
The pathologist sighed. “Thirteen, fourteen. Something like that. And her right shoulder shows signs of postmortem dislocation.”
“Yes,” agreed Naguib. Out of professional vanity, he wanted the pathologist to know he’d spotted this himself, so he said: “I thought perhaps that rigor set in before she could be buried. Perhaps it set in with her arm thrown up above her head. Perhaps whoever buried her dislocated it when they were trying to wrap her up in the tarpaulin.”
“Perhaps,” the pathologist replied. Evidently not a man for uninformed speculation.
“What time would that give us after death?”
“That depends,” said the pathologist. “The hotter it is, the quicker rigor sets in, but the quicker it passes, too. And if she’d been running, say, or fighting, then it would be quicker still.”
Naguib breathed in deep to quell any hint of impatience. “Approximately.”
“Shoulders are typically the last muscle groups to develop rigor. Onset takes at least three hours, often six or seven. After that…” He shook his head. “It can last for anything from another six hours to two days.”
“But a minimum of three hours, yes?”
“Usually. Though there are cases.”
“There are always cases,” said Naguib.
“Yes.” With his finger, the pathologist tickled out the fragile links of a chain around her neck, a silver charm hanging from it. A Coptic cross. He glanced around at Naguib, the two men no doubt sharing a single thought. Another dead Copt girl. That was all this region needed right now.
“It’s a nice enough piece,” muttered the pathologist.
“Yes,” agreed Naguib. Which argued against robbery. The pathologist lifted the girl’s skirts, but her underclothes, while ragged, were intact. No sign of sexual assault. No sign of any assault, indeed; except, of course, that the back of her skull had been smashed in. “Any indication how long she’s been here?” he asked.
The pathologist shrugged. “I’d be guessing. I’ll need to get her back to base.”
Naguib nodded. That was fair enough. Desert corpses were notoriously tough. A month, a year, a decade: Out here they all looked the same. “And the cause of death? The blow to her head, yes?”
“Too early to say.”
Naguib pulled a face. “Come on. I won’t hold you to it.”
“Everyone tells me that. And then they hold me to it.”
“Okay. If not the blow to her head, maybe her neck was broken?”
The pathologist tapped his thumb against his knee, debating with himself whether to say anything or keep quiet. “You really want my best guess?” he asked finally.
“You won’t like it.”
The pathologist stood up. Hands on his hips, he looked around at the arid yellow sands of the Eastern Desert stretching away as far as the eye could see, shimmering with heat, broken only by the rugged Amarna cliffs. “Very well, then.” He smiled, as though aware opportunities like this wouldn’t come his way too often. “I rather suspect she drowned.”
KNOX FOUND OMAR TAWFIQ kneeling on his office floor, the casing and innards of a computer spread out in front of him, a screwdriver in his hand, a smudge of grease on his cheek. “Don’t you already have enough to do?” he asked.
“Our computer people won’t come out until tomorrow.”
“So hire new ones.”
“New ones will charge more.”
“Yes. Because they’ll come out when you need them.”
Omar shrugged, as if to accept the truth of this, though Knox doubted he’d act upon it. A young man who looked even younger, he’d recently been promoted interim head of the Supreme Council for Antiquities in Alexandria; but everyone knew that he’d gotten the job because Yusuf Abbas, the Cairo-based secretary general, wanted someone pliable and disposable he could bully while he maneuvered one of his own trusted lieutenants into the permanent role. Even Omar knew this, but he was too diffident to resent it. Instead, he spent his time hiding from his bemused staff in his old office, filling his time with comfort-zone tasks like these. He stood, wiped his hands. “So what can I do for you, my friend?”
Knox hesitated. “I saw an old bowl in the market. Hard-fired. Well levigated. Pinkish gray with a white slip. Maybe seven inches in diameter.”
“That could be anything.”
“Yes. But it gave me that feeling, you know?”
Omar nodded seriously, as though he had respect for Knox’s feelings. “You’re here to check our database?”
“If that’s possible.”
“Of course.” Omar was proud of his database. Building it had been his main responsibility before his unexpected promotion. “Use Maha’s office. She’s away today.”
They walked through together. Omar sat at her desk. “Give me a minute,” he said.
Knox nodded and walked to the window, looked down at his Jeep. It had cost him a fortune to have it repaired after the Alexander business, but it had been good to him over the years, and he was glad of his decision.
“Any word from Gaille?” asked Omar.
“Do you know when she’s coming back?”
“When she’s finished, I imagine.”
Omar’s cheeks reddened. “All set,” he said.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap.”
“It’s just, everyone keeps asking, you know?”
“That’s because we like her so much. Because we like you both.”
“Thanks,” said Knox. He began working his way through the database, color and black-and-white photos of cups, plates, figurines, funerary lamps. Mostly he flipped past them without a second glance, the old computer groaning and sighing as it strained to keep up. Every so often an image would catch his eye, yet nothing quite matched. Ancient artifacts were like this. The closer you looked, the more potential points of difference you found.
Omar came back in with a jug of water and two glasses on a tray. “Any luck?”
“Not yet.” He finished the database. “Is that it?”
“Of local provenance, yes.”
Omar sighed. “I wrote to a number of museums and universities when I was setting this up. I didn’t get much of a response at the time. Since my recent appointment, however…”
Knox laughed. “What a surprise.”
“But we haven’t entered the data yet. All we have are CDs and paperwork.”
“May I see?”
Omar opened the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet, pulled out a cardboard box of CDs. “They’re not in any order,” he warned.
“That’s okay,” said Knox. He slid one into the computer. The chuntering grew louder. A page of thumbnails appeared. Fragments of papyrus and linen cloth. He clicked to the next page, and then the third. The ceramics, when he found them, were colorful and patterned, nothing like what he was looking for.
“I’ll leave you to it, then,” said Omar.
“Thanks.” The second CD was of Roman-era statuary, the third of jewelry, the fourth corrupt. Knox’s mind began to wander, triggered perhaps by Omar’s earlier question. A sudden memory of Gaille, taking breakfast one morning on the Nile Corniche in Minya: the way she licked her upper lip free of the slight glaze from her pastry, her dark hair spilled forward, her smile as she caught him watching.
The eighth CD was an anatomy lecture demonstrating how to distinguish manual laborers from the idle rich by bone thickness and spine curvature.
Gaille’s cell phone had rung that morning in Minya. She’d checked the number, shifted in her seat, turning herself away from him to hold a stilted conversation that she’d quickly ended by promising to call back later.
“Who was that?” he’d asked.
“You want to complain to your service provider, if you keep getting calls from people who don’t exist.”
A reluctant sigh. “Fatima.”
“Fatima?” An unexpected stab of jealousy. Fatima was his friend. He’d introduced the two of them barely a week before. “What did she want?”
“I guess she’d heard about Siwa being postponed.”
“Fine. She’d heard about it.”
“And she rang to commiserate, did she?”
“You remember how interested she was in my image software?”
The eleventh CD was of Islamic artifacts. The twelfth was of silver and golden coins.
“She wants you to go and work for her?”
“Siwa’s not exactly about to happen, is it?” Gaille had said. “And I hate doing nothing, especially on a salary. I hate being a drain.”
“You’re not a drain,” he’d said bleakly. “How could you think yourself a drain?”
“It’s how I feel.”
The thirteenth CD was of pre-dynastic tomb paintings. He started checking the fourteenth on autopilot. He’d gotten halfway through when he sensed he’d missed something. He paged back to the previous screen, then the one before. And there it was, top right, the twin of the bowl he’d seen, only upside down, resting on its rim. Same shape, same color, same texture, same patterning. But there was no description of it, only reference numbers.
He fetched Omar, who pulled a ring binder from the filing cabinet. Knox read out the reference numbers while he flipped through the pages, ran his finger down the entries, came to the right one, frowned in puzzlement. “But that can’t be right,” he said. “It’s not even a bowl.”
“What is it, then?”
“A lid. A storage-jar lid.”
Knox grunted. Obvious, now that Omar pointed it out. Not that it helped much. Egypt had been the breadbasket of the ancient world. Huge quantities of produce had passed through Alexandria’s multiple harbors. Making jars to store and transport it had been a vast industry. “My mistake,” he agreed.
“But it’s not from anywhere near here,” said Omar. “It’s not even from Egypt.”
He squinted at Knox, as though he suspected himself the victim of a bad joke. “Qumran,” he said flatly. “It’s what the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in.”
Excerpted from The Exodus Quest by Adams, Will Copyright © 2010 by Adams, Will. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Meet the Author
Will Adams, a full-time writer, is the author of The Lost Labyrinth. He previously worked for a communications agency in London and for a firm of business history consultants based in Washington, D.C.
David Colacci has been an actor and a director for over thirty years, and has worked as a narrator for over fifteen years. He has won AudioFile Earphones Awards, earned Audie nominations, and been included in Best of the Year lists by such publications as Publishers Weekly, AudioFile magazine, and Library Journal.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I listened to the book & it wasn't until the last 2 discs that the story was even interesting. Tired plot, although could have been interesting had it been better written. You know more about the secondary characters then you do about the main character. If I were Egyptian I would be offended by this book.
In Alexandria, Egypt Archeologist Daniel Knox walks in a local market place when he notices what appears to be an ancient earthenware bowl. The teenage vendor insists the artifact was given to him by his friend Daniel Knox and once belonged to Alexander the Great. He is amused by the hawker as everyone claims to be his buddy since The Alexander Cipher case. The lad sets prices based on pure supply and demand of how much he perceives the customer can afford, but refuses to reveal where it was found. Knox visits his friend Omar Tawfiq who lets him browse through his database. He finds a picture of it, but Omar explains it is not a bowl from Ancient Egypt; instead it is a storage jar lid from Qumran, home of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Soon that lead takes the excited Knox to a dig led by Reverend Ernest Peterson and his team of theological students who seek a portrait of Christ that Peterson plans to keep. As a murder of a native archeologist occurs, corrupt cops blame Knox while the beleaguered Egyptologist learns in horror from his cell that his partner Gaille Bonnard was abducted near the ruins of Amarna, several hundred miles away. With a strong ancient historical base, the latest Knox antiquities thriller is a fast-paced over the top of the Sphinx entertaining tale. Readers will enjoy the hero's hyperactive adventures in which he is a guest of the state, but needs to be in three other places at the same time. First he must rescue himself by proving his innocence, which is difficult to do when you're in a cell; so that he can second rescue Gaille; and third rescue the artifacts being devastated unmercifully by the Reverend. No caffeine for Knox. Harriet Klausner
The Exodus Quest is the only Will Adams book I have read. Let's just say I hope his others are much better. I found the plot extremely confusing, jumping around from one location to another, and there were so many different characters I lost track of who was who (in the end I didn't really care!). The author had obviously done his research but presented it to the reader in long, boring dialogues. The final few chapters couldn't come soon enough.
Not the best, but i had to finnish