A lost city. A missing tribe. And treasure beyond imagining…
When archaeologist Annja Creed attends an auction in Botswana featuring personal effects of an infamous explorer, she purchases a small and seemingly unremarkable piece of art. It's not until the explorer's son makes a desperate attempt to steal it that Annja uncovers the secret of the painting…or rather, the secret map behind the painting.
The map points to the Lost City of the San tribe, bushmen who had long ago disappeared off the face of the planet and whose city—so legend has it—was once littered with diamonds. But is the map an epic archaeological discovery or a fantastic work of fiction? Compelled to find out, Annja must face not only the perils of the African bush, but a treacherous son determined to take back his father's greatest legacy…no matter what the cost.
About the author
"Did you hear that?"
Annja glanced across the platform to where her cameraman, Lenny Davis, was seated. In the dim light he was hard to see--his dark skin and hair blended nearly perfectly with the night around them--but she knew where he was because they''d both been sitting in the same place for two weeks. Right now, though, the vibe he was giving off was very different from his usual laid-back attitude. Something clearly had him spooked.
"I didn''t hear anything," she told him, which was the truth, though that was most likely because she''d been daydreaming about getting out of this fetid swamp. After being here for this long, who could blame her?
The two were deep in the Jiundu swamp in northwestern Botswana, following up on a recent rash of bat men sightings and trying to catch some footage of the alleged creature. It was their latest assignment for Chasing History''s Monsters, the cable television show Annja cohosted. The show focused on exactly what its name indicated--historical madmen, psychopaths, serial killers and even legendary monsters--hence the reason they were on a platform ten feet off the ground using low-light cameras to try to catch a glimpse of what their producer, Doug Morrell, was calling the "scoop of the century." Of course, he''d said the same thing about the past three assignments he''d sent them on. Including one where he''d had them trying to film the ghost of a man-eating great white shark off the coast of Indonesia, which was why Annja didn''t place much stock in his assessment. Investigating murderous ghosts was one thing; investigating the ghosts of murderous sharks was something else entirely.
Annja was five feet ten with chestnut hair beneath her favorite Yankees baseball cap. Dressed in a pale blue tank top, khaki shorts and hiking boots, she stretched her legs out in front of her, trying to keep from cramping.
"There it is again!" Lenny climbed to his feet, silhouetted in the dim moonlight. "Listen."
This time, Annja did hear something. It was faint, hard to decipher over the typical night noises coming out of the swamp. Like the sound of...the flapping of large wings?
"I hear it," she told him.
But what the heck was it?
She didn''t think for a moment that it was an actual bat man; she was expecting to find a perfectly natural explanation for the so-called sightings that had occurred over the past several months. An unusually large vulture, perhaps, or maybe some unknown species of bird, driven out of the deeper swamps by the recent rainy season. Either would make far more sense than the mysterious bat people Doug was convinced were hiding here.
She rose to her feet and tried to get a fix on the sound. It was getting louder, and therefore closer, but she couldn''t pin down which direction it was coming from. It seemed to bounce off the trees and water all around them. The quarter moon wasn''t much help, either; what little light it cast added more shadows than it illuminated.
"Behind you!" Lenny cried, and Annja turned just in time to see a dark winged shape swoop down at her from the nearby tree line with stunning speed.
She didn''t stop to think, dropping into a crouch and bringing her arms up over her head to protect herself as the thing flew past. She quickly got back to her feet, but it had already disappeared into the darkness.
"What the hell was that?" Lenny asked in shock.
Annja didn''t have any answers. She''d barely gotten a glance at it. What she had seen left her with the impression of a winged creature about the size of a large child, but that could just as easily have been her imagination filling in the blanks for what she hadn''t seen.
Of course, it could also be the very thing they''d come here to find.
The bat men of Botswana.
"Get those cameras rolling, Lenny," she said as she moved from side to side, trying to catch a glimpse of the creature.
Her suggestion was unnecessary. Lenny was already all over his equipment. "Cameras one, two and three are live," he reported. "Four is giving me some trouble but I should have it online in another moment or two."
"Good. We don''t want to miss this thing a second--"
"Look out!" Lenny yelled, but his warning came too late. Annja was turning when she felt claws rake her left shoulder. Pain flared down her arm. And then the thing was gone again. Quickly taking stock, she could feel blood beginning to seep down her back but didn''t want to lose her night vision by turning on a light to inspect the injury. She''d deal with it later. First things first.
If it came back, which it most likely would, this time she would be prepared to meet it on its own terms. She''d been using a walking stick to help her navigate the uncertain terrain of the swamp for the past few days and she snatched it up now, holding it before her in two hands like a baseball bat.
"Do you see it?" she asked.
Lenny didn''t respond. He was standing with his back to her, fumbling with something in front of him that she couldn''t see and muttering darkly under his breath.
Something wasn''t right.
The strange buzzing sound the creature made whenever it swiped at them. The lack of aerobatics from a creature supposedly born to fly. Her companion''s current distraction.
The answer, when it came to her, seemed so obvious she was surprised it had taken her so long to figure it out.
Lenny straightened and, without turning, said, "It''s coming back, I think!"
This time, Annja was ready for it.
She could hear the swoop of its wings as it approached. Underneath that, though, was the same dull whine she''d noticed before. She had some idea what was causing that sound now and she intended to put her theory to the test.
"Here it comes again!" Lenny yelled, and suddenly the creature was diving at them for the third time that night.
This time, Annja was ready for it. She brought her staff around in a vicious swing, getting the full force of her hips into it, like a baseball batter determined to knock the ball clear out of the park.
"No, Annja!" Lenny shouted, but it was too late.
Her strike was right on the money.
She heard a loud crunch, felt the shock of the blow reverberate all the way up her arms and saw the creature go careering off in an uncontrolled spin. A moment later there was a loud crash ten feet below them.
Not a thud, but a crash.
Annja headed for the ladder.
"What are you doing?" Lenny called.
"Putting an end to this right now," she replied. She descended from the platform and then pulled her flashlight out of her pocket. Flipping it on, she cast about for a few minutes before locating the object she''d struck with her staff. She hurried over and shone her light on the wreckage.
The so-called bat man was in reality nothing more than a medium-size drone with a pair of motorized wings and some special effects added to give the suggestion of something more when glimpsed in the near-dark. Knowing that, it didn''t take a genius to put two and two together. After spending days on end with nothing to show for it, Lenny must have been ordered to use the drone so the trip wouldn''t be a complete waste. After all, footage of some barely seen flying creature was better than no footage at all, right? She knew just the producer who would think that way, too.
She looked up as Lenny finally joined her. Her expression must have reflected a fair bit of what she was feeling, because he winced.
"I think you have some explaining to do," she said through clenched teeth.
He held up his hands in a placating gesture. "Would you believe this was all Doug''s idea?"
She would, she would indeed.
The sun woke Annja just after nine the next morning. She tried to go back to sleep, thinking she deserved a few more hours after the fiasco of the night before, but found she just couldn''t. Bowing to the inevitable, she rose, dressed and ran through her usual routine of morning stretches to awaken her body in preparation for the harder exercise to follow.
After listening to Lenny''s explanation about the drone the night before, Annja had decided she was done with the episode and stalked back to their rented Nissan SUV. Lenny had followed sheepishly in her wake. The ride back to their hotel had passed in silence, and Annja had retired to her room as soon as they arrived. There she finally got a chance to look at the shoulder wound. It turned out to be minor--a deep scrape most likely caused by the outer edge of the drone''s wing as it swept past her. She cleaned it out, bandaged it and fell into bed exhausted.
This morning her arm was a little stiff but she quickly worked out the kinks as she ran through her warm-up exercises. When her muscles were good and limber, she reached into the otherwhere and drew forth her sword. It sprang into being in her hand with the speed of thought, fully formed, the hilt already warm to her touch as if she''d only been holding it seconds before. Who was to say she hadn''t been? For all she knew time ran differently in the otherwhere--the mysterious place where the sword stayed until she pulled it out. Days here might be the merest microseconds there. Only one thing was certain. The sword was always there, waiting for her.
Her life hadn''t been the same since that fateful day when she''d brought the broken, scattered pieces of the sword together for the first time since their original owner, Joan of Arc, had been burned at the stake f
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