Black The Sun
Quentin Black Mystery #9
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“He’s just like his cousin,” the seer grunted. “Sh*t followed him everywhere, too. No matter where he went, there it was.”
Black and Miri go to Thailand, to Black’s private resort on the island of Koh Mangaan. There, they find themselves running a quasi-refugee center for seers fleeing Lucky Lucifer, otherwise known as Miri’s Uncle Charles.
Black also gives Miri an ultimatum––right as Thai Park Rangers ask for Black’s help finding two missing tourists from Bangkok, who vanish in the wild, mountainous national park that takes up half the island.
The rangers worry the other inhabitants of the island might be involved––a group of strange foreigners who’ve lived on the island for decades, feral humans calling themselves the Nachtsonne, or “Night Sun.”
Black sends a team to help, but soon the search team goes missing––and Nick, Angel, Cowboy, Dex and Jem with them.
Worse, a new force seems to have awakened on the island––a force somehow connected to Black himself. When Black and Miri’s friends remain missing, it becomes clear the danger is real, and Black must face the mountain and the Nachtsonne himself.
In the process, he’ll call upon the least-likely person imaginable for help.
BLACK THE SUN is book nine in the QUENTIN BLACK MYSTERY series, a paranormal mystery series starring brilliant but dangerous psychic detective, Quentin Black, and his partner, forensic psychologist Miri Fox. It’s also a spinoff of the BRIDGE & SWORD SERIES.
Prologue: ON HOLIDAY
“HEY, WAIT.” RIKU’S wife frowned. She looked back at him, laying a hand on his chest, stopping him in his tracks on the narrow, sandy trail. “Do you see that, Riku? Right there?”
Riku frowned, squinting into the darkness where she pointed.
At first he saw nothing.
Swatting flies away from his face, he grimaced a little from the sweat running down the back of his neck, soaking his T-shirt and creating a wet spot on the front of his chest.
It felt like they’d been walking forever.
The trail just kept getting steeper, the longer they walked. It also seemed to get more and more overgrown, twisted, choked with vines, and filled with flying insects and spider webs. According to the map they’d gotten at the ranger station, it was supposed to be a three hour hike, round trip, but they hadn’t even found the waterfall yet––and he was pretty sure they’d been hiking over two hours already.
Truthfully, he was beginning to think they were lost.
His wife always wanted to go to these remote, untouched-by-tourist type places. Truthfully, he would have been a lot happier hanging out by a resort pool at Koh Samui, eating grilled seafood, drinking beer, and reading a book.
This wasn’t his idea of a vacation.
Some of it was his job, he knew. He was in need of serious R&R when he got time off. The hours he worked for his Bangkok-based Japanese tech company were ridiculous, even if they weren’t as bad as the hours his counterparts worked in Tokyo. His idea of vacation was doing as little as he possibly could until he had to go back in to the office.
His idea of vacation involved a lot of naps… and alcohol.
His wife was from California.
Everything, even vacation, had to have some kind of “purpose,” even if it was only pointless physical exercise, or being able to say you’d been somewhere none of their social media friends had ever been.
Still, he couldn’t refuse her, even in this.
She turned as he thought it, smiling at him, her dark eyes warm above her smile.
She was gorgeous. Even dusty and sweaty, her almond eyes glassy from the heat, her long, straight black hair matted to her neck and face, her “Fuck the Patriarchy!” T-shirt stuck to her arms and chest.
“Do you see it, Riku?” She smiled wider, still pointing her small hand. “Maybe there really were pirates here, like the ranger said!”
Squinting into the dark where she stared, he frowned.
“I don’t see anything, Sara…” He trailed as he realized what he was looking at. The shapes blended in so well with the roots of the tree, he’d looked right past them. “Wait. Are those skulls? As in human skulls?”
Her voice lowered to a near-whisper, but she still sounded more delighted than grossed out, which was Riku’s gut response.
“I think so,” she said, grinning wider. “They look human, right? What do you suppose they’re doing up here? Pirates? Sea Gypsies, like that ranger said?”
He wasn’t too keen on the idea of wandering around an area known locally for being haunted and causing people to lose their minds and wander around in the jungles like zombies.
That was another difference between his wife and him.
She was Asian on the outside, but she was American through and through. In Asia, they took ghosts pretty seriously, and left them the hell alone. Riku knew why this island was uninhabited; Asians tended to avoid places that were supposed to be cursed.
In America, people loved that supernatural stuff.
Places with reputations for being cursed or haunted were tourist attractions in the United States. They had whole ghost tours in different cities he’d gone to visit in the States. He’d even gone on a few with Sara, in New Orleans and in Portland, Oregon.
Of course, his wife was Japanese like him, ethnically-speaking, but Riku’s mom and aunt called her a banana when she thought Riku couldn’t hear her.
He knew exactly what that particular term meant.
He also knew his mom didn’t mean it as a compliment.
Gritting his teeth a little, Riku slapped his neck when another insect bit it, squishing the winged body into his wet skin.
“We should head back, Sara,” he said. “I don’t want to get stuck out here in the dark. There’s absolutely nothing on this island, remember, apart from those tents by the ranger station. They said that a few times. Maybe you didn’t hear them because they said it in Thai.”
She frowned. “Isn’t there some big resort––”
“No.” Riku shook his head. “He said residence, not resort. Over half the island is privately owned. Pretty much every part that’s not a national park is owned by some eccentric rich guy who sounded more than a little paranoid. And that part of the island is really far from here. On the other side of those mountains.”
He pointed up at the peaks above them, barely visible through the foliage.
The dormant volcano on the top was the highest peak on any island on this side of the gulf. Even now, it towered over them, dark green with palm trees and jungle.
“…Anyway,” Riku added. “For all we know, the owner’s a drug dealer and they’d shoot us if they saw us. The ranger said no one is allowed over there. The owner’s some Thai billionaire or something. Probably keeps tigers as pets or some shit.”
Sara nodded, but he could tell from her eyes she wasn’t really listening to him.
Stepping closer to the rock shelf covered in human skulls, she moved aside some of the hanging vines and branches, revealing more of the dark hole where the skulls were stacked. Green and brown moss coated the cracked, off-white bone, evoking the pirates she’d just been talking about.
That the skulls were obviously old only mildly reassured him.
Many of them had holes in them and jagged cracks, like someone bashed the bone with something heavy. He hoped that happened after––meaning after the people were dead, from animals messing with the skulls, or the skulls being dropped––not while their previous owners were still alive.
He didn’t like the idea that they all could have died the same way.
He especially didn’t like the idea that they all could have died the same violent way.
“Let’s get out of here, Sara,” he muttered, checking his Apple watch.
“One minute, okay? Just let me look.” She glanced over her shoulder at him, grinning again, that spark of fun in her eyes. “Aren’t you curious? I at least need to get a picture of this, so we can ask the ranger about it.”
Riku grimaced, picturing that photo up on Instagram as soon as they got off the island and back to an area with functioning wifi.
He could already imagine all of her California friends ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the idea of them hiking in an area where Thai pirates stacked skulls on rock outcroppings after they’d bashed their victims over the heads with clubs.
Smirking before he could stop himself, he craned his neck, curious as he watched Sara clear away more of the vegetation around the rock shelf. He was in this now; he might as well get in the spirit of adventure with her, despite his desire to return to civilization and watch the sunset with something heavily alcoholic and filled with ice in his hand.
Eventually his wife pulled out a Swiss Army knife she brought with her everywhere, and began cutting some of the bigger vines to make it easier to clear away the rock face. She squealed once, when she disturbed a good-sized golden tree snake––luckily one of the harmless snakes in Asia. They both laughed a little as it slithered away, then she went back to cutting at vines to clear the area around the skulls.
Already he could see there were more carvings in the rock.
He couldn’t make sense of the image as a whole, not at first, but when she finally sawed through one of the bigger vines and revealed the paler stone beneath, he let out a small gasp when he realized what he was looking at.
Sara stepped back when he did.
Hands on her hips, she looked up at the rock wall with him.
The image carved into the stone was that of an enormous face.
It had a strangely reptilian nose, lips and mouth, and bulging eyes. It really didn’t look Thai to him, in terms of the artistic style, and despite the carving’s details, like the spiral, snake-like lines carved into the cheeks and chin, and the lines over its eyes and in its forehead. It looked more like a gargoyle from an old church in Europe, in terms of the style. It had a borderline gothic flair to it, and the face didn’t look Asian at all.
There was something crude about the image.
It also struck Riku as unapologetically violent.
It didn’t help that the mouth of the face was the deep shelf where someone had stacked all those human skulls. It made them look like oddly-shaped and mossy teeth. Red and green lines of what could have been a water stain or algae ran down the carving’s chin, like blood from the mouthful of skulls.
The overall effect was gruesome.
“Yuck,” Riku said, grimacing as he folded his arms. “Can we go now?”
Sara laughed, hooking her arm through his and squeezing.
“Let me take some pictures first!” she mock-scolded. “After all that, it’s the least I should do.” Leaning up to kiss him on the cheek, she added apologetically. “Then we’ll go back to the resort on the mainland and get a huge meal and a massage.”
Looking at her, he smiled in spite of himself.
“Promise?” he said.
She nodded once, forcefully. “Cross my heart and hope to die.”
Normally he would have laughed at the absurd American expression, but standing there in the failing light in front of that lizard man made of stone and his mouthful of skulls and blood-covered chin, something about her words made him uneasy.
“Okay.” He waved towards the horrible face she’d uncovered. “Hurry up, then. I want to get back down the mountain before it starts to get dark. And we’re getting a speedboat back to shore,” he added, sharper. “None of that ferry crap. I want to get back and take a shower… and watch the sunset. With food. And beer. And maybe a margarita. I’m starving.”
She laughed again.
He felt his annoyance fade when she did. He loved her laugh. It was impossible to stay angry with her when she laughed like that.
She really was good to him, despite her quirks. He knew she’d stay with him at the resort a few extra days if he wanted, even if it bored her to tears.
Giving his arm an extra squeeze, she handed him her phone then, and went up to stand next to the stone lizard-man, to pose for a photo. Clicking through to the camera, he frowned a bit as he hit through keys, getting it in the right lighting mode.
Finally getting it set up, he raised the phone dutifully, ready for her first pose…
Only she was gone.
He stared at the lizard-like stone face, frozen.
For a few seconds, he didn’t move, didn’t breathe.
He hadn’t heard anything. He hadn’t heard a single footstep, a gasp, a mutter, or so much as a deeply inhaled breath from his wife. He might have heard bird calls, or wind, or the rustle of leaves, or the buzzing of insects––but none of it had been loud enough or different enough that it registered in his mind at any level.
Listening now, he heard nothing still.
Blinking, sure he must have lost time––or possibly his mind––somewhere in those few seconds he’d looked away from his wife, he stared around the small clearing among the trees, holding his breath as he listened to the silence.
A bird let out a high call above him, answered by another.
Turning around in the sunlit hole between clusters of jungle trees, he looked around wildly, trying to glimpse any sign of movement, any shift of shadows, anything that didn’t belong to those walls of impenetrable green.
All he saw was the stone face of the lizard man with its obscene mouthful of skulls and bloody chin. It seemed to be grinning at him now, its mossy, skull teeth too many for its mouth, its round eyes rolling in its head.
Terror gripped his heart.
It was animal, visceral––unlike anything he’d ever felt.
Unthinking, he plunged into the trees. Immediately, branches whipped at his face, neck, arms, legs. He fought his way through, staring around wildly, unable to comprehend that he didn’t see her, that nothing moved in the dark jungle around him.
“SARA! SARA, ANSWER ME! WHERE ARE YOU?”
He stopped in the heavy darkness of the jungle, breathing hard, covered in sweat, standing in a grove of ferns. It hit him that he had no idea where he was going, what direction she might have gone. It also hit him that if he went much further, he’d lose the trail.
If he got lost, wouldn’t even be able to get help for her.
“Goddamn it.” The terror in his heart worsened as he looked around, trying again to see through the darkness of the dense trees. He fought to calm down, to control his breathing, to think. He was still staring around him when something darted through the undergrowth in front of him, too swiftly for him to identify it.
He ran after it, unthinking.
Pushing his way through more vines and branches, Riku stopped dead with a shocked gasp when a figure emerged from behind a tree.
It didn’t speak, didn’t move.
It just stood there, breathing, blocking the space right in front of him.
Like a ghost, it appeared out of nowhere. Riku could only stare up at the figure at first, panting as he blinked up at it, doubting his eyes.
It wore a metal, plated mask.
The mask was in the shape of a dragon’s head.
Like the stone gargoyle, it wasn’t a Thai dragon. Rather, it reminded Riku of ones he’d seen in old medieval paintings from Europe.
Riku’s jaw fell, but he never took his eyes off the half-naked form. His stare drifted down as the silence stretched, his eyes noting the broad shoulders, the bare chest covered in blond chest hair and black, blue and green tattoos. Riku’s stare continued down to the long legs under a pair of dirty red shorts and leather sandals.
It was definitely a white man’s body––not a Thai man’s.
The guy was tall, over six feet.
Blood-red ink colored parts of his chest, along with yellow along his arms in the shape of thick arrows, pointing to his hands.
Like the man’s body, the mask he wore was painted in shocking, crude colors, mostly red, orange, black, yellow and green. Where the mask’s mouth was, only a black hole lived. Its eyes were black pits in its face, invisible behind the metal plates.
Riku never finished the thought.
Before he could get out the words, the masked, giant form moved.
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