Jack West, Jr. and his family are living contentedly on their remote farm when their lives are abruptly shattered. Jack is brutally kidnapped and he awakens in an underground cell to find a masked attacker with a knife charging at him. It seems he has been chosen—along with a dozen other elite soldiers—to compete in a series of deadly challenges designed to fulfill an ancient ritual. With the fate of the Earth at stake, he will have to traverse diabolical mazes, fight cruel assassins, and face unimaginable horrors that will test him like he has never been tested before. In the process, he will discover the mysterious and powerful group of individuals behind it all: the four legendary kingdoms. He might also discover that he is not the only hero in this place....
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The Four Legendary Kingdoms
Jack West woke with a lurch, startled and gasping for air.
He was alone and in darkness.
He didn’t know where he was, how he’d got here or how long he’d been here.
The air was cool and moist, like in a deep cave. The floor was dusty. The wall against his back was solid stone.
He was wearing jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt, but no shoes.
His head was sore. He touched it . . . only to pull his hand away in shock.
His hair had been shaved off—
With a piercing shriek, the rusty iron door of his cell swung open and light flooded in.
A horrifying silhouette filled the doorway.
The outline of a bull-headed man.
Or at least a man wearing a bull-shaped helmet.
He was well muscled, with knotty biceps and a stocky chest. While his upper body—save for the bull mask—was bare, on his lower half he wore modern black army-issue cargo pants and black combat boots.
I must be dreaming, Jack thought.
He didn’t have time for a second thought because right then, with a roar, the “minotaur” charged at him.
A serrated hunting knife appeared in the masked man’s right hand and it came slashing down at Jack.
Instinct kicked in.
Half rising, Jack grabbed the minotaur’s knife-hand, twisted it and threw the man to the side, springing to his own feet as he did so.
The minotaur tackled him, and they rolled, struggling, wrestling, ending up on the ground with the masked man on top, straddling Jack and pressing down with the knife.
Clenching his teeth and using all his strength, Jack gripped the hilt of the knife, keeping its blade at bay, two inches from his own throat.
The blade edged closer to his Adam’s apple, and in a faraway corner of his brain, Jack recalled that if you died in a dream, you woke up. He wondered if that would happen here.
Only what if it’s not a dream, Jack . . .?
His opponent pushed harder and from behind the black bull mask, Jack heard the man inside grunting with exertion.
It’s just a man! his mind screamed. It’s just a man!
And every man can be beaten.
Energized, Jack shifted his weight and reverse-rolled, sending the minotaur smashing headfirst into the stone wall.
It was a sickening blow. A dull crack echoed out—the sound of the minotaur’s neck breaking—and the masked man slumped to the dusty floor and lay still.
Jack heaved for breath.
What a way to wake up.
Regaining his composure a little, he took in his cell for the first time.
The door was still open a little, letting in light. The cell looked exceedingly old: the walls were made of sandstone; the heavy rusted door sat on ancient iron hinges. As for what lay beyond the open doorway, God only knew.
On one wall of Jack’s cell were two images carved deep into the stone:
The first one Jack knew: it was the ancient Egyptian hieroglyph ankh, meaning “life.”
As for the second symbol, it looked like a swirling four-armed octopus. It was a variant of a rare and ancient symbol found in Hindu, Buddhist, and Neolithic cultures called a tetragammadion.
As he looked at it, Jack had the distinct feeling he had seen this symbol only recently, but he couldn’t recall where.
He blinked, trying to remember. But it was no use. His mind was still too groggy.
Instead he tried to recall the last place he had been before he had lost consciousness and woken up here.
Pine Gap, he thought.
The top-secret base deep in the Australian desert.
He’d gone there to attend a meeting, a high-level meeting.
Something about the SKA Array . . .
* * *
He remembered arriving at the base outside the remote town of Alice Springs with Lily, Alby, and the dogs, and being allowed inside by the armed gate-guards.
And he recalled being met outside the observatory lab at Pine Gap by the tall, bespectacled figure of General Eric Abrahamson, the genial yet whip-smart man who had replaced Jack’s longtime boss and friend, General Peter Cosgrove, after Cosgrove had been promoted to higher office.
They’d shaken hands and Abrahamson had introduced Jack to his soon-to-be replacement, a stern-faced general named Conor Beard. With his angular features and neatly trimmed red beard, Beard’s operational call sign had been a slam dunk: since his early days in the military, he’d been known as Redbeard.
“Glad you dressed up for the occasion, Jack,” Abrahamson had said wryly.
Jack had been dressed casually, wearing jeans, sneakers, and a blue shirt over an old white T-shirt. He wore a brown suede glove over his titanium left hand and a simple Casio G-Shock watch on his right wrist.
He’d smiled back at Abrahamson in the desert sun. “I don’t work for you anymore, so I get to dress any way I like.”
After exchanging greetings with Lily and Alby, Abrahamson bent down to pet the dogs. “Haven’t seen these two since they were pups.”
Jack said, “They own me now. Everyone owns me now. Zoe. Lily. The dogs. I was once the fifth greatest warrior, you know.”
Abrahamson laughed. “What about Horus? What does she think of the dogs?”
Jack whistled sharply and a moment later, his loyal peregrine falcon, Horus, previously soaring overhead, had landed lightly on his shoulder. Looped around her neck was a leather collar from which hung a GoPro camera. She glared at Abrahamson and Beard, as if peering into their souls.
“She tolerates them,” Jack said as Horus took to the air again.
“Come inside.” Abrahamson guided them through the doors of the lab. “I have something important to show you.”
And then nothing . . .
. . . nothing till he woke up here with a man dressed as a bull trying to kill him.