Authors: Adam J. Whitlatch
Tags: #Science Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #sci-fi
Book I of the Temujin Saga
by Adam J. Whitlatch
Birthright - Book I of the Temujin Saga
Published by Latchkey Press
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
This work, including all characters, names, and places:
Copyright 2015 Adam J. Whitlatch
All rights reserved.
Original cover artwork by Puppeteer Lee, Copyright 2014 Adam J. Whitlatch
Font work and cover layout Copyright 2014 Jerrod Balzer
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the author.
This book wouldn’t have been possible without the love and support of my parents, who read an enormous number of drafts. So many times I wanted to give up, but they always insisted I try just one more time. Special thanks to my dad for inspiring what I feel is the best line of dialogue in the entire book.
My undying gratitude to Joe Pearson for uniting me with my brilliant cover artist, Puppeteer Lee.
Thanks to Dennis Green for helping me place those final pieces to the puzzle.
My deepest thanks to Jerrod Balzer, Shannon Ryan, and S.D. Hintz for whipping this manuscript into shape. Without Jerrod,
would probably still be sitting in a drawer.
My hat’s off to Jerrod and my dear friend Blurry, who both put their heart and soul into the cover. I can’t possibly thank them enough.
Thanks to my closest friend, Gabriel Hamilton, for being the first to say, “You should write that down!”
And of course, thanks to my beautiful wife, Jessica, for tolerating me… and the voices in my head.
The Onon River, Mongolia
::‘All warfare is based on deception,’:: said the alien creature at Li’s side. ::Do you know these words, Mr. Li?::
“They’re the writings of Sun Tzu,” Li answered stiffly.
::Indeed,:: replied the alien without emotion. ::You are well-versed in the cultures of your past.::
Li cleared his throat and checked his watch for the third time in as many minutes. “How much longer?”
The alien consulted the machine in its hands. ::We are very close.::
Li rubbed his temples. The combined noise of the earthmoving equipment and the infernal buzzing inside his skull created by the alien’s telepathic communications were giving him a terrible migraine. They’d been working since midmorning, and Li was almost at the end of his rope. Soon it would be nightfall, and, being so close to the Russian border, he wished to avoid any unwanted attention from the authorities on either side.
Of course they were not without protection. Li glanced nervously over his shoulder at the squad of men behind him.
Mercenaries. Thugs with guns.
All but one of them held an AK-47, evenly matched with the Russians in that regard. The leader, a young man with a shaved head named Chuluun, was armed not with a rifle, but a Chinese
strapped to his hip. Li looked down at it and thought how strange it was to see a grown man carrying a sword in this day and age. When the Captain’s dark eyes met his gaze, Li turned away.
Li pulled a handkerchief from his breast pocket and swiped it across his brow. It was unseasonably hot for this region, yet another reason to get things over with as quickly as possible.
The creature standing next to him, however, showed no outward signs of discomfort. Apparently its home planet was much hotter than Earth, due to having two suns or something like that. Whatever the reason, Li found its presence unnerving but necessary to reach their goal.
On the opposite bank, a group of local workers stood leaning on their shovels, pointing and gawking at Li and the alien as they chattered amongst themselves. Li huffed and dabbed at his forehead with his handkerchief again. Their stares were almost as oppressive as the sun.
“What are you men looking at?” he bellowed over the engines.
The workers stopped talking, but their inquisitive eyes never left Li and his diminutive companion. Chuluun stepped forward, drew his sword, and thrust it at the men, cursing at them in Mongolian. The men scattered and busied themselves with meaningless tasks, chancing occasional glances over their shoulders. Chuluun sheathed his weapon and rejoined his men.
Of course, Li could hardly blame them for staring; he’d stared, too. The Seignso had approached him and his colleagues two years before, promising advanced technology in exchange for knowledge. They described themselves as “interstellar anthropologists” and wished to immerse themselves in Earth culture — specifically war. They explained that the people of their planet lived in perpetual peace, so they were fascinated by humanity’s long and colorful history of warfare. The visitors had insisted they begin their research with the greatest military commander to ever walk the Earth.
So the search had begun.
When asked why the visitors did not make their presence known to the entire world, they answered that humanity was still “too young” to embrace their wisdom, so they preferred to keep their interaction with humans strictly on an academic level. Li could understand that. Governments served only to gum up the works; they made things more difficult and expensive than necessary.
Li stepped away from his extraterrestrial companion and toward the earthmovers. Finding the right place to dig had been easy; the alien had taken care of that pesky detail. Diverting the Onon River away from the dig site had been the hard part. Now they were slowly skimming layer after layer of sand away.
The alien appeared at his side once more, and Li offered the briefest of glances. The very sight of these creatures offended him. Their smooth gray skin, bulbous heads, and large, soulless black eyes sent chills down his spine. Li tried to focus his thoughts somewhere other than his disgust; he wasn’t sure of how keenly these creatures could perceive his thoughts.
But the alien spared him the effort. It raised a spindly finger and pointed to a spot in the muddy riverbed between two earthmovers. Then that terrible sensation filled Li’s head with the alien’s words, ::It is there.::
Li waved to the operator of one of the dozers and pointed to the spot in the silt. The operator nodded and repositioned the machine, skimming the surface with the blade. After three passes, a grinding sound penetrated the mechanical roar, and Li’s eyes fell on a patch of flat, gray stone. He called out to the operator and waved his arms. The dozer backed away, and Li signaled to the workers waiting on the bank.
Excited shouts in various dialects of Chinese and Mongolian filled the air as the men frantically heaved shovels full of wet sand and mud aside, slowly exposing a massive stone slab. They labored until a rectangular shape appeared in the rock.
A cover stone!
Li pointed and shouted orders, spurring the workers into immediate action with shovels and crowbars. Chaotically at first, but slowly finding their rhythm, they lifted the stone a fraction of an inch at a time. Li wiped his palms on his trousers as his eyes followed the rise and fall of the slab, finally getting a glimpse of the darkness beneath.
“Heave!” he bellowed.
The alien’s lips curled into an almost imperceptible smirk.
The workers complained impatiently as they held the slab aloft long enough for two small men to loop two heavy chains beneath its corners. Li’s impatience reached a crescendo as the men argued about the best way to wrap the chains around the earthmover’s blade.
Soon the machine roared and dug deep furrows into the soil as it took up the chains’ slack. As the chains pulled taut, Li feared they might snap under the strain, but finally the slab surrendered to the machine and slid away, leaving deep gouges in its wake. Cheers erupted from the workers and Li joined in their revelry.
The workers rushed the hole, clamoring for a look at the treasures that surely awaited them. Li pushed through the mob, but was swept up in the swarm of bodies. Captain Chuluun barked a command in Mongolian, and the workers immediately dispersed to allow him and the alien passage.
As Li gazed at the entrance to the tomb, he suddenly realized he wasn’t breathing and sucked in a deep, rattling breath. He grinned at the alien, unable to contain his excitement.
The alien gestured to the hole at their feet. ::After you, Mr. Li.::
“Bring a ladder!” Li shouted.
Li’s feet finally touched solid stone, but he still clung to the unstable wooden ladder as he surveyed the vast underground chamber. In the dim light filtering in from the surface, Li could make out the vague shapes of chests and barrels. Skeletal human remains lined the nearest wall, most of them reduced to dusty piles on the floor, but a few were still propped upright in their furs and armor, loyal even in death.
A boot struck Li’s shoulder, and Captain Chuluun grunted impatiently. Li stepped clear of the ladder and pulled a flashlight from his pocket, passing the thin beam over the treasures stockpiled around him. Li counted more than thirty skulls among the dead and the remains of at least as many horses.
“My god,” Li whispered. “It’s—”
::Everything you ever imagined?:: the alien asked, appearing at Li’s side.
“Everything and more.”
The flashlight beam caught a metallic glint deep within the gloom and Li froze. He rushed toward the object, tripping over a spear on the floor and barely managing to keep his balance. “It’s here!”
On the east wall, raised on a stone dais, rested a colossal silver sarcophagus. Li touched the cold surface of the casket reverently, assuring himself that what he was seeing was real. He’d found it. After all these years he’d
found it — the silver coffin of Temujin.
He turned to the alien. “Is he in there?”
The alien placed a small device with red and blue lights against the coffin, and Li watched anxiously as the lights flickered, alternating until finally it beeped softly and the blue light burned steadily.
::Congratulations, Mr. Li,:: said the alien. ::The remains
inside the sarcophagus. Our search is over.::
Li breathed a sigh of relief. He had been plagued by rumors that the coffin had been buried empty and that the body had been taken to one of the palaces for interment. His fingers reverently traced along the intricate carvings of horses and warriors decorating the magnificent coffin.
::‘With Heaven’s aid, I have conquered for you a large empire. But my life was too short to achieve the conquest of the world,’:: the alien intoned. ::‘That task is left for you.’::
Li was genuinely impressed. The occupant of this sarcophagus had uttered those words on his deathbed over seven hundred years before. The alien had obviously done its homework.
“It’s ours,” Li whispered.
The alien’s thin lips curled into an unsettling smile. ::I’m afraid you don’t understand, Mr. Li.:: It turned and nodded to Captain Chuluun.
Chuluun stepped forward and drew the
from his belt. Li threw up his arms in a futile attempt to defend himself as the Captain drove the sword into his gut all the way to the hilt. Li gasped and reached behind his back, feeling the blade protruding from him, slick with his own blood. The alien, still smirking, stepped back into Li’s view.
::You see,:: it said, ::the Seignso have our own plans for the remains of Genghis Khan.::
Li opened his mouth to speak, but the pain in his gut was unbearable. He gasped. It did not matter; the alien could read his thoughts.
::‘All warfare is based on deception,’:: said the alien. ::Remember?::
Chuluun twisted the blade and wrenched it from Li’s stomach, sending the man sprawling to the floor.