Black Scorpion: The Tyrant Reborn by Jon Land picks up five years after Michael Tiranno saved Las Vegas, and now he's tasked with bringing down a international human trafficking organization (available April 7, 2015).
Five years have passed since Michael Tiranno saved the city of Las Vegas from a terrorist attack. And now a new enemy has surfaced in Eastern Europe in the form of an all-powerful organization called Black Scorpion. Once a victim of human trafficking himself, the shadowy group's crazed leader, Vladimir Dracu, has become the mastermind behind the scourge's infestation on a global scale. And now he's set his sights on Michael Tiranno for reasons birthed in a painful secret past that have scarred both men.
Already facing a myriad of problems, Michael once more must rise to the challenge of confronting an all-powerful enemy who is exploiting and ravaging innocents all across the globe and has set nothing less than all of America as its new victim. Black Scorpion has also taken the woman Michael loves hostage: Scarlett Swan, a beautiful archaeologist who was following the dangerous trail of the origins of the ancient relic that both defines and empowers Michael, a discovery that could change history and the perception of mankind's very origins.
With the deck and the odds stacked against him, Michael must come to learn and embrace his true destiny in becoming the Tyrant reborn as a dark knight to triumph over ultimate evil and stop the sting of Black Scorpion from undermining all of the United States and plunging Las Vegas into chaos and anarchy.
Northern Israel, 950 BC
“They come, oh great King.”
Solomon, weary and weak from going so long without rest, leaned heavily on the shoulder of his son as he emerged from inside his goat-hair tent. Already he and his private guard had fought off two ambushes. Bandits appeared to be to blame, but Solomon suspected otherwise given their weaponry, skill, and the fact that they hadn’t fled when confronted.
Now his heart pounded with anticipation, but also with fear, in the night’s heat. He was so close now, so close to fulfilling the destiny shaped by his father, the great King David. And that reality filled him with the awesome scope of the responsibility before him, along with the price of failure.
He could not fail. The fate of his kingdom was at stake.
Solomon cast his gaze down the road to see a single wagon kicking up a dust cloud in its wake. Traveling under cover of darkness greatly lessened the threat of a raid by bandits and, in any event, at first sight the wagon seemed to be carrying nothing more than a farmer’s crops being taken to the open market in Jerusalem.
Solomon peeled back his beggar’s hood to reveal long locks of shiny brown hair and finely etched features that looked chiseled onto his face. He’d just nodded off, dreaming of Jerusalem, imagining the lanterns lighting the city twinkling in the night, when the captain of his private guard alerted him to the wagon’s coming.
Solomon eased his hand from the shoulder of his fifteen-year-old son Rehoboam as the wagon drew closer, so the boy wouldn’t feel him stiffen. “Keep a keen eye, my son, for our enemies are everywhere.”
“Father?” the boy said, sliding a hand to the knife Solomon had presented him on the occasion of his bar mitzvah. He was small for his age and a bit frail. But, as heir to the kingdom of Israel, he needed to be part of such a vital mission, no matter how perilous.
“They would seek to destroy this symbol of our people and the foundation of our future. With our temple complete, we have safe refuge for it at last.”
The Temple of Solomon had taken nearly eight years to build, requiring men and materials the likes of which had never been seen before in the known world. A staggering two hundred thousand workers had ultimately played a part in its construction, milled from vast quantities of local stone and imported cedar wood. It was a sprawling, palatial structure, perhaps the greatest ever erected—and with good reason, since it would be housing the vast stores of priceless treasures amassed by the Jewish people through time. What Solomon had kept secret from all but his most trusted cadre was the construction of a special chamber within the temple called Kodesh Hakodashim, or Holy of Holies. This would house the ark of the covenant, containing the remains of the stone tablets that held the actual Ten Commandments, along with the contents carried in the rear of the simple farmer’s wagon approaching now.
It drew close enough to reveal the snorting of the horses and pounding of their hooves atop the roadbed that was dry and cracking from the long drought Solomon took for God’s impatience. And, as if to reinforce that belief, he felt the first trickle of raindrops and took this as a good omen, until thunder rumbled in the distance and it became something much different.
“Benaiah!” he called to his most trusted advisor, the wagon slowing to a halt before his party now. “Deploy the—”
Too late! Solomon realized, as arrows split the night, taking down two of his guards. The cloaked figures, dark everywhere with scarves pulled over their faces, rushed them from both sides of the road at once, shrieking and bellowing with swords drawn. More arrows split the air, scattering Solomon’s outnumbered forces.
Until two dozen riders broke from the cover of darkness and surged onto the scene. The attacking forces hesitated just long enough for Solomon, Benaiah, and the members of the king’s private guard to whip out their swords, seizing the offensive.
“The tent!” he ordered Rehoboam, shoving the boy that way.
Rehoboam stiffened, hand straying to the hilt of his sheathed knife. “But, Father, I want to fi—”
The boy scampered away through the rain that had begun to tumble from the sky in waves, swiftly turning the ground to mud. Solomon sloshed through it, sweeping his sword toward any enemy target it could reach. He fought to keep his breath as he split one man’s thorax with a thrust and cut another’s throat with a whistling slice through the air. He saw a few of the enemy, enough, break through the lines and rush the wagon through his troops, lost in the intensity of battle further complicated by the night and the sudden storm.
With only a quartet of his men left to defend the wagon, Solomon slipped through the carnage of flying limbs and blood mixing with the rain, sword whirling like a wheel to clear his path. He caught two of the enemy rushing the wagon and cut them down from behind when they neared the horses. A third turned to confront him and Solomon unleashed a vicious strike from the side that lopped off his head. By then, though, six more of the enemy had reached the wagon, too many for his guards there to put down.
Solomon rushed to save his destiny, his people’s destiny, a desperate cry freezing him in his tracks.
He swung to see Rehoboam in the grasp of one of the enemy soldiers, struggling as the man drew him from the tent with one hand, ready to use his sword with the other. If he moved now, he might be able to save the boy. But the wagon was closer, its desperately vital contents in jeopardy as well.
Solomon turned from his son and his cries and, letting out a scream that pierced the night, surged on. Unleashing a fury when he reached the wagon that reddened the rain and soaked the rags he wore for disguise in both blood and entrails. The smell of it remained thick in the air, the guards who’d stayed with the wagon and those who sought to steal its contents all dead by the time Solomon sank to his knees in the mud, feeling Benaiah jerk him back to his feet.
“It’s over, my King. We killed most, chased the others off.”
“Rehoboam,” Solomon remembered, turning toward the tent breathless.
The boy was kneeling over the body of his attacker, as the rain washed the last of the blood off the blade of his knife. Solomon rushed back to the heir to his crown and took the boy in his arms.
“We live, my son,” he said over the boy’s sobs. “Now, come with me so you may see what nearly cost us our lives.”
He wrapped an arm around his son’s trembling shoulders and led him toward the wagon. Rehoboam’s shaking had stilled a bit by the time they reached it, Solomon easing back the animal skin covering the rear.
“Behold the most divine symbol of our people.”
The boy’s eyes widened, his face glistening in the glow emanating from the contents. The horses neighed, kicking at the ground as if suddenly agitated and unsettled.
“Father, is it…”
“A gift from God Himself, providing we prove ourselves worthy of it.”
Rehoboam stretched a hand out into the glow, but the king covered the wagon again before he could get any closer. He eased his son away, surveying the carnage left behind by the battle and laying a hand lightly upon Rehoboam’s head.
“Let the blood spilled this night remind you always of the great responsibility you bear for securing the future of the people of Israel, for you are truly a man now worthy of that,” Solomon resumed, picturing the wagon’s contents once more in his mind. “And whoever holds this treasure in his hand holds the power of God as well.”
Rome, 47 BC
“Hail, Caesar! Hail Caesar! Hail Caesar!”
The chants came from both sides of the streets, Caesar himself acknowledging them with waves from the head of the military procession that seemed to stretch forever, covering the entire length of his vast legions. After a military campaign that lasted nearly ten years in conquering Gaul, he’d then crossed the Rubicon River en route to an even greater triumph in the civil war that propelled him to power.
Now he basked in the glory of that triumph, beloved by his people and destined to achieve even more glory for himself and Rome.
“Hail, Caesar! Hail Caesar! Hail Caesar!”
The streets were a sea of people roaring and cheering, thrusting their own hands into the air to mimic the swords held high overhead by the soldiers who’d delivered an unprecedented string of victories for their leader. Those swords reflected the midday sun in blinding fashion, stretching so far along the streets of Rome that it seemed as if the procession was being smiled upon by the Gods themselves all the way to the Roman senate. The admiration and devotion shown by his people validated the sense of power that filled Caesar and affirmed the destiny he felt was his to achieve, as he squeezed the golden medallion that hung outside his robes. An ancient relic that was more than just a keepsake or talisman.
* * *
“Greetings, my friends.”
Gaius Julius Caesar, his position as dictator recently secured and approaching the height of his power, entered the room through majestic double doors opened by his helmeted centurions. Immediately the dozen men gathered, mostly strangers to each other until that evening, abandoned the wine and fruit they’d been served, and moved to greet the most powerful man in the world with proper reverence.
In an uncharacteristic show of humility, Caesar waved them off and beckoned them back to their seats and refreshments.
“Please,” he said, “partake of my hospitality.”
Taking a seat so they’d be comfortable doing the same, Caesar addressed the men he’d summoned here. They were not soldiers or senators, but scribes and scholars. Men hardly used to a royal audience, much less one before Caesar himself.
“You’ve heard the tales of my victories in battle, in Gaul and beyond,” he began, rotating his guise from man to man. “You’ve heard how I refused to accept submission and chose to subject Rome to civil war in order that the empire might be saved. You’ve seen since I took control how Rome has expanded its power and how its people have never been better served. I’ve called you here tonight to undertake a mission vital to the Republic, so its future may not just be preserved, but enhanced to a level never seen by the Gods.
“For the mission you are to embark on may bring you face-to-face with those Gods themselves,” Caesar finished.
And with that he eased the golden medallion from beneath his robes, displaying it in hand as he moved about the men for all to see.
“I took this relic off Cilician pirates when I was a consul after they kidnapped me a second time. They thought they were saving their lives,” he said, smirking, “but they only bought a quicker death.” The smirk vanished, replaced by an icy stare he rotated about the room. “The same fate that awaits any of you who betray my confidence and my trust. Speak out of turn of what you are to learn tonight and afterward, and you will pay with your lives as well as the lives of your families. Any man among you unable to accept such conditions and unwilling to swear such an oath should leave now.”
Caesar stopped, waiting to see if any the men he’d chosen for this mission rose. They stiffened to a man, but not a single one so much as moved.
“We are honored by your trust in us, sire,” one of the men said, and all the others nodded.
“Very well then,” he told them, satisfied as he let the relic dangle over his robes again. “Let us continue. I fully believe this medallion begot the victories I’ve won and achievements I’ve made, the power I’ve gained and expanded. I bring you here before me to form a secret order of loyalists that will travel under the royal seal of Caesar. You will leave tonight, under cloak of darkness with my royal guard, without returning to your families or the lives you will be leaving behind. Your mission, to be undertaken at all and any costs including your very lives in service to mighty Rome and the Republic, is to uncover the origins of this relic. And you will not return until your purpose is fulfilled, no matter how long that quest takes, lest you risk my wrath by failing in your mission, equal to treason for which you will suffer the pain all enemies of Rome have known and will know. And your mission shall continue until such time as you find the answers that you are not to return to Rome without.”
Caesar stopped and met each and every one of the men’s suddenly apprehensive and fearful gazes before resuming.
“For glory, for Rome. Curate ut valeatis. Di vos incolumes custodiant,” he finished. “Take care that you fare well and may the Gods guard your safety.”
Copyright © 2015 Jon Land.
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Jon Land is the acclaimed author of over thirty novels, including the bestselling series featuring Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong: Strong Enough to Die; Strong Justice; Strong at the Break; Strong Vengeance; and Strong Rain Falling, which won the 2013 USA Best Books Award and 2014 International Book Award. In addition, Land is the coauthor of the nonfiction bestseller Betrayal. Jon Land lives in Providence, Rhode Island.