The Mongol's Coffin
Veteran heroes, a secret map, a legendary lost tomb!
Former special ops intelligence officer Grant Casey races to follow a musical map to Genghis Khan's tomb before the Chinese government destroys it forever.
When a grad student discovers a musical map to Genghis Khan's tomb, her scholarly life explodes into arson and gunfire. Grant Casey brings in his team for a race to the tomb—to prevent Chinese authorities from burying it forever.
From Cambridge, Massachusetts to Cambridge, England Grant's team searches for clues—then flies to Inner Mongolia, bringing together a Mongolian singer, a Hong Kong billionaire with a secret past, and Grant's ex-commanding officer, who hates his guts.
Mongolian traditions clash with modern priorities in a high-stakes adventure to save one of the world's greatest lost treasures.
The Bone Guard. . .where adventure and history ignite.
Release date: October 27, 2017
Print pages: 456
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The Mongol's Coffin
E. Chris Ambrose
I hope you enjoy this sample of The Mongol's Coffin, the first Bone Guard adventure
Nr Mazar i-Sharif, Afghanistan
Grant Casey dove behind the nearest statue, a huge sandstone lion with wings and curly hair surrounding a wise human face—at least, until the shots blasted its face into gravel.
Bullets and bits of stone pinged off the display cases and the concrete walls, leaving gouges and sending ricochets that stung his exposed hands and cheeks. Grant scowled into his goggles. He'd seen someone come this way, someone who should have been to-hell-and-gone before the the shooting started, but now he didn't dare to call out.
The latest barrage ended with a settling of dust, and shattered glass from museum cases glittered on the floor. He held back a sneeze. The statue's head wore a mask of pock-marks . A few other, smaller figures lay dismembered and rocking on the ground. If they had stronger fire-power, even the stone lion couldn't protect him
Cautiously, he adjusted his position, settling his back to the solid stone, breathing carefully, listening. This room sat only a corridor and a lattice-trimmed courtyard short of the entrance, where the rest of the team would be wondering what had happened to him, debating, in spite of orders to the contrary, if they should come and get him now that they'd cleared the place of civilians. Only, they hadn't.
He caught a flicker of movement and a flash of a red heat signature in his left-hand lens, furtive, somebody slipping from the bulk of that leafy-looking column to the base of a nearby display of jewelry and tablets. Grant tracked the movement with his rifle.
"Allahu Akhbar!" shouted a gruff voice to his right. The shooter, seeking his compatriots. No answer. So the third party wasn't his, and wasn't Grant's. Civilian.
Grant jumped back to the tail of the lion, caught the flash of red, the shooter's position. He fired three shots and ducked away again as the shooter returned fire.
Glancing over, Grant silently urged the civilian to get the hell out while the shooter was looking for him. Instead, the civ lunged along the display and stuck his hand over the top, snatching a jeweled diadem and pulling back, stuffing the piece into his dark tunic. A looter, in the middle of a firefight.
Boots pounded up the hallway from the heart of the museum, accompanied by shouts of "Allahu Akhbar!" and a hundred other things. Shit. His shooter called out in reply, then the air in the room sucked dry, something boomed, and the lion exploded. Grant dove away, toward the civ. He ran hard, gunfire spitting in pursuit. The civ dodged behind a wooden doorway that wouldn't stand up to automatics, never mind the rocket they just fired. He scooped up the civ with one arm and launched them both into the courtyard, rolling so he landed on top behind some kind of tomb. Ironic, if he bought it right then.
"Stay down!" he barked, first in English, then in Dari, the local dialect.
"Get the fuck off," the civ growled back in accented English, shoving at him. A woman? Yeah, he could tell now, in spite of her genderless tunic and trousers. The wrap slipped back from her face, revealing sharp green eyes, dusky skin, parted lips.
"Get out of here, lady. I'll cover you."
For a moment, their eyes locked, and those lips gave a slight quirk, then she gave a nod, and he rolled aside, taking a knee behind the low tomb, weapon in hand. When he popped up, peppering the stone lattice with shots, she checked her stolen diadem, tossed it aside, and ran: straight back into the chamber.
Grant ducked down again, the shooters taking pot-shots at his head, while the crazy woman flanked them, making for the same case she'd robbed moments before.
Leaning left, aiming upward, Grant fired again and heard a shriek as a bullet struck home, then he pulled back, yanking out the magazine and slamming in another. His last. On the other side of the lattice, the shooters snapped at each other, loud enough to hear, too soft to make out the words. Draw their fire, or make for home? One last civ, and she was nuts.
When the rocket roared, Grant plunged left, rolled, and pounded down the side hall to come up next to their hide-out, already shooting, turning them away from the civ. Three heat signatures, one of them meeting his eye as he fired into the man's chest. The next one brought up his automatic, then he fell forward, blood spilling from his lips.
The crazy woman pivoted out of her stance, the gun still in her hand.
Between them, the last shooter froze, glanced behind him, then shouted a stream of fury at a woman in pants and swung his weapon toward her.
Two shots, chest and head, one from each direction, and the shooter went down.
She shoved the gun into her waistband and swung around the corner of the lattice.
"Hey!" Grant held up his off-hand to stop her.
Too late. She slipped her hands and feet into the diamonds of the lattice surrounding the courtyard and scrambled up, climbing fast to the roof and disappearing, even the patter of her steps fading in a heartbeat.
"Chief! What're you doing?" Nick lead with his gun around the entrance at the far end of the hall.
"Finishing the job." Grant released his gun and stepped back, the tether keeping it handy. Four insurgents lay in the wreckage of the museum, bleeding onto the remnants of what should've been their heritage. Maybe the crazy lady had it right, taking something away, rescuing what she could from the chaos. "I spotted a civilian, but she took off across the rooftop." He gestured up.
"Yowzah." Nick came up beside him, half a head taller, maybe seventy pounds heavier, a running back compared with Grant's track-and-field physique. "They all down?" Nick leaned a little closer.
Grant scanned the insurgents. The first one to fall shifted a little, moaning, his breath hitching. A living insurgent meant a chance to get some intel.
"Trauma kit," Grant ordered as he stepped over the bodies, pausing to roll a body from the wounded man's legs. "Lie still. We can help." The words rang a bit hollow, given he was the guy who'd shot him, but it wasn't personal. Nick held out the trauma kit, edging into the space on the other side.
The wounded man moved again, muttering, his arm underneath him as if he were trying to sit up. Nick's eyes flared, then he shouted, "Chief!" and launched himself over the downed man, knocking Grant aside as the insurgent's hidden explosive went off in a shower of blood and bone. Grant flew backwards from the thrust of Nick's tackle. He tumbled past the bulk of that wise, ruined lion, the stone wings fluttering in a breeze of fire, shielding him from the worst of the blast, and the even worse anointing of Nick's blood.
Minister of Antiquities Jin Wang-lo mopped his brow lightly with a kerchief as he gazed down on the gates to a tomb fit for an emperor. It contained instead, a criminal—one of the greatest ever known, but Jin did not begrudge him this final resting place. Indeed, it was the culmination of Jin's archaeological career.
In the narrow valley below, his Assistant Minister, a pudgy academic by the name of Li labored up the slope as the tomb doors shut behind him. "Minister," he panted, "it is done. I have confirmed the inventory." He stumbled to Jin's side and nearly slipped back again, waving a hand as if he expected the Minister himself to offer aid. Jin helped those who helped themselves. He smiled thinly. Indeed, when the rewards for this project came to fruition, perhaps in a decade or more. It would be Jin who then helped himself and his family.
"Seventy-eight crowns, Minister," Li confirmed, then tried a smile, though he was still panting from his exertions. "They are magnificent. What shall I tell the workers?" He gestured back at the thousand or so men in workmen's garb who labored in the defile with shovels and picks.
"No need, Li. Sub-minister Yang will take care of them." He gave a flick of his hand. Yang stood stiff as a terra cotta warrior in the shade of a cluster of trees, sunglasses shielding his eyes, his square jaw suggesting foreign ancestry. Still, Yang could be trusted utterly. Without glancing toward the Minister, Yang nodded and stepped up to the edge of the ravine. A line of men in loose beige clothing joined him, and another, similar line of men matched them across the other side. The mountains around echoed with a growl of engines as the tanker trucks finally arrived.
Li flicked his eyes over the arriving trucks. "So much water? Is it even necessary to re-supply the camp now that our work here is complete?"
"I do not suggest you drink what those trucks contain." They carried the last ingredient he needed to complete his life's work.
"Now?" Yang asked.
Jin watched the trucks maneuver into place, their pipes ready to dispense their contents into the valley below. "Now." He turned on his heel. "Come, Li, the cars will bring us back to Beijing to deliver our final report."
"Ah, yes." Li's head bobbed, then his glasses slid from his sweat-streaked face and he turned back, bowing to search for the spectacles as Jin walked down the trail. His foot hesitated over the ancient stone pathway. The first twang and whisper of bowshot reached his ears, then the screaming began, echoing in the walls of stone.
"Minister!" Li bleated, staggering toward him, then back toward the edge of the ravine. "What are they doing? Stop! You must—Minister!" He waved his hands, but Yang and his men continued to fire, launching volleys of arrows down into the valley below until there were no more screams.
Li's slippery hands clung to Jin's arm. "Minister." His eyes looked too big and altogether too round, like his flapping mouth. "What have they done? Why?"
"Because none must ever know about this tomb." Jin stared down at him. "You knew that when the project began, that our work, if successful, must be eternally kept secret. Have you suddenly forgotten?"
"No, of course not, but this—" he gave a helpless gasp, his hands translating his tremors down Jin's arm, his sweat marking the Minister's suit.
"Is in keeping with the requirements of the Prime Minister and the Party." Jin gave a twist of his arm to free himself from the other man's grip. "You did sign the pledge, did you not?"
"Yes, of course, Minister." His head swiveled back to the line of men in beige, still holding their bows, more like the terra cotta warriors of the First Emperor than ever. The archers froze, listening and watching below, then Yang approached the Minister's position.
"It is done."
"Tell the trucks they may proceed."
"But they're already dead," Li said. "What good can it do to drown them?"
"They were enemies of the Han people, Li, just like the man in the tomb. Persons without worth or status."
Li's round gaze rose from his view of the ravine, but he looked pale as a dumpling, swimming in sweat, owl-eyed without his glasses. At Li's back, Yang lifted that chin, his shining black lenses reflecting the Minister's face, the high sun, the rough terrain, revealing nothing. Jin tipped his head, and Li's flapping mouth gaped open, then filled with blood as his knees buckled and he bent backward over Yang's knife. Yang stepped aside in a fluid motion, like the finest masters of wu shu, away from the path of the blood.
"I will strip him," Yang said, "and add him to the others."
Liquid flowed from the tankers, splashing down the walls into the ravine and the smell already drifted toward them. Jin pressed his kerchief over his nose once more. "The knife wound may be conspicuous."
Yang held up the blade, its old metal dully. "I took the precaution of arming myself appropriately, Minister."
Jin gave a short bow of acknowledgment. They should recruit sub-ministers from the army more often, if all of them could be as efficient as Sub-Minister Yang. "It appears that I am in need of a new assistant. I should be pleased to recommend your advancement."
Yang placed his hands formally over the hilt of his weapon and bowed more deeply. His blade dripped blood onto the stones. The ravine behind reeked of death, and it sizzled. Minister Jin strode carefully down the slope to his air-conditioned limousine. He had achieved greatness. Now all he need do was wait.
Liz Kirschner yanked the ear buds from her head and tried to catch her breath. Music, just music, like all the other files, disks and records she had listened to. Or not. But this wasn't the kind of thing the music department cared about, not even Ethnomusicology. Mongolian was pretty obscure anyway, the most obscure concentration in a major already mired in obscurity. Asian studies, then. Had to be. The last file uploaded to her I-pod, and Liz pulled the disk out of the machine, leaning back, her mind still racing. She knew nothing about the Asian Studies department, aside from a couple of electives she'd taken as a first-year grad student, grounding herself in the culture before she plunged into the study of the music. The sound still echoed inside of her head, a deep, full-throated voice with the layered buzz unique to khoomei throat singing. It sang of mountains and rivers, the kind of landscape where horses roamed beneath a broad blue sky. The music stirred her—she blamed all those summers in Colorado—but more than that, it could just be the key to the coolest master's project in the history of the department. Maybe even more.
She stuffed the ipod in her pocket, slid her laptop into its case, and returned the precious discs to their archival storage unit before signing herself out of the archive, sharing a nod with the senior at the gate. "Not taking anything out, are you?" he grinned up at her. "I really should search you, just to make sure."
"Yeah, Marko, nothing." She opened up her laptop case to display the machine, keeping it between her and Marko's desk. Her pulse quickened as he took a peek inside, rifling her notes.
He plucked out the ratty paperback and eyed the cover. "Secret History of the Mongols? Seriously? Hey, if you're into horses, my mom keeps a polo string—"
"Sorry, I'm super busy working on my thesis." She flashed a smile, and took back the book. "Did you know the Mongols play a variation of polo using a dead goat? That's probably where the game came from."
Marko winced. "You should come over to the modernists. Phillp Glass is where it's at."
"Didn't he once hold a concert that consisted of sitting still at a piano in Harvard Square for half an hour?"
"No, see, people always misunderstand—"
Big mistake, picking on his project. Liz backed away. "Seriously, thesis. Gotta go." She marched resolutely away from his downcast expression. Outside, the autumn chill blew between the tall brick buildings, tossing her hair as she hustled toward the Liberal Arts admin building. After five already—would anyone still be in their offices? Worth a try. She didn't think she could settle down until she shared her discovery with someone who might actually get it. Liz bounded up the steps inside, clinging to the rail for balance. Breathless, she arrived on the top floor and scanned the faculty directory. There—Professor Chan, head of the Asian Studies department. Head toward Archaeology and it would be on the right. The mutter of voices emerged from Archaeology, then from Asian Studies as well, the broad wooden door framed by posters about wintersession in China, a local dance troupe, and a lecture on the history of the Hong Kong conflict. That event was happening tonight. She wouldn't have much time.
Still, Liz hesitated to interrupt until she noticed the door was slightly open. "Professor Chan?" She tapped, and nudged the door a little further.
"Yes? What is it?" His voice had a twangy quality that put her off. The professor pushed off from the desk where he was perched on an edge, folding his arms. Behind the desk sat a man in a gray suit with the sheen of silk, a purple pocket square drawing her eye. The suit about matched the silver threading his black hair.
"I'm so sorry to bother you. I'm Liz Kirschner, from Ethnomusicology? I took your 201 last year, and the 305 seminar in Spring."
Professor Chan gave a nod, and tipped his head expectantly.
Liz glanced at the other man, the one who had taken the professor's chair. "I should have made an appointment."
"Clearly, circumstances dictated you not wait. I, on the other hand, can afford patience." The man in silver chuckled. "And a good many other things as well." In spite of his Oriental features, he spoke with a trace of a British accent, and lovely ennunciation in a soft tenor. He had taken elocution lessons at least, and she wondered if he had ever been a singer. "I am Huang Li-Wen, tonight's speaker, by the invitation of Professor Chan."
Professor Chan's throat worked, his lips thinning. "How can I help you, Ms. Kirschner?"
"I found something in the archives, some recordings of Mongolian throat-singing. According to the researcher's notes, the songs can be traced back at least to the sixteenth century. I think they're older than that. A lot older." Their eyes on her made her feel foolish, self-conscious, and she took a breath to steady herself.
"Go on," said the man in silver. "I have a great interest in antiquities."
Professor Chan bristled, squaring his shoulders. "Sixteenth century music seems a difficult thing to trace, Ms. Kirschner. Even for the Han culture, which has records inscribed on turtle shells, never mind for the Mongols who remained illiterate until they subjugated China. And yet you think these songs are older? How old?"
"I suspect they date from the thirteenth century." She swallowed. "From the time of Genghis Khan."
"Look, Mr—"the prof tore her stare from Grant's neck long enough to glance down at the card he'd given her—"Casey. We at the University are not in the habit of hiring mercenaries for virtually any purpose whatsoever, much less to serve as, how can I put this delicately, muscle? While we are engaged in the pursuit of our academic goals."
Grant stared straight back at her, hands clasping his folio behind him. "When was the last time you went out on a dig? Or even on a research exchange with an overseas institution? It's a crazy world out there, ma'am, and it's getting crazier all the time. The Bamiyan buddhas, the Mosul museum—that stuff is happening all the time. People are getting hurt and history is getting destroyed, and someone's got to step up and stop it."
"Primarily because you people haven't been doing the job so far." She dropped the card onto the only patch on her desk not covered by papers, journals and bits of pottery. "I do applaud your entrepreneurial spirit, Mr. Casey, and I do, of course, support the concept of veterans finding useful employment, but I do not see how we can make use of your services."
Grant swallowed his irritation. It wasn't the job of the Armed Forces to defend other people's culture—that was exactly why he thought his idea would work. The trouble was, how to get paid for it. The U had money, plenty of it, they just preferred to spend it on wine receptions and big-name commencement speakers. No problem. Boston alone had a half-dozen places he could try. "Thank you for your time, ma'am." He tipped his head toward her, restraining himself from offering a salute. His neck remained stiff, but it wasn't the kind of thing you let bother you.
She pinched the card between her fingers and extended it toward him.
"You keep that, in case something comes up."
She ran her thumb over the logo on the card, a skull over a crossed shovel and rifle. "I do think you might reconsider the name, 'Bone Guard.' It sounds rather lurid."
"I'll take that under advisement." He turned on his heel and let himself out of the office. Six to go. He started here because it was closest to home. Would've been handy, but this was a setback, not a failure. He was still on target with his objective. Grant paused by the faculty directory to see if he should try any other departments. Asian Studies? Middle-eastern Studies? Could be a winner. Grant pivoted and stalked down the hall. The squirrelly woman from Archeology let herself out of her office, dodging his gaze as she locked the door. Maybe he should've covered his ink. Grant smiled and gave a nod. She swallowed hard and hurried away.
Scanning the doors, automatically counting them in the back of his mind, Grant went to the Middle-eastern Studies office and knocked. Waited. Voices across the hall in Asian Studies, two men and a woman, the woman over-eager, the men cautious, then the woman frustrated. Grant knocked again. Still nothing.
Across the hall, the door popped open, and a Chinese gentleman in a rumpled suit ushered a young woman out. "Thank you for stopping by, Ms. Kirschner. It is an interesting line of inquiry, but tenuous at best." He bowed slightly. "Please keep me informed if you are able to find any. . .evidence of these claims."
She tossed back her red-blond hair and leaned in, maybe hoping her feminine charms would persuade where her claims had not. "Professor Chan, if you'd just—"
"We have heard the songs, and your interpretation of them, Ms. Kirschner. At the moment, I have a lecture to prepare for. Perhaps before you continue to pursue such claims, you should partake of a few more of our course offerings. Contemporary Inner Asian History, for example, or Professor Warren's Tribal Influences seminar." He glanced over, noticing Grant and dismissing him in the same moment.
The other guy, by contrast, stood four-square in the door in his snappy suit, a smartphone in his hand, and his dark gaze sweeping Grant from head to toe, as if he were another operator sizing him up.
Balancing her armload of papers and books, the woman glanced at the second guy and paused, as if she didn't know what to say, then simply shrugged and walked away, starting to stuff her things into her bag.
"If you'll excuse me just a moment, I will finish up in my office, then I shall escort you to the lecture hall," the professor said before he disappeared back inside.
For a moment, the rich guy and Grant met eyes, then the rich guy tapped on his phone and turned profile, taking advantage of the better light from the prof's office.
Grant headed back for the stairs. Asian Studies didn't seem up for a pitch. The woman flew back around the corner, looking up at the last minute. Grant side-stepped, but she stepped the same way and crashed into him. He braced, dropping the folio and reaching toward his hip for—nothing. He turned the gesture into a supportive hand on her arm as she stumbled. "Sorry, sorry. Oh, crap, are those your papers?" She freed herself and took a few steps, circumscribing the contents of his folio, now spilled all over the floor: lists of services and proposed costs; photos of himself and some of his buddies in uniform, making the whole thing look professional; resume showing his background and special skills; a pile of Bone Guard business cards.
Grant dropped to a knee and started scooping up his things. She bobbed a little, as if about to join him in the effort, then glanced toward the office she'd left earlier. "Sorry," she said again, and hurried that direction. "Professor—Oh. Excuse me."
"I presume you returned for your device? I was just now attempting to reach you to return it." The rich guy held out a sleek phone in his palm. His teeth gleamed a little too white. How much work had the guy had done?
Grant tucked his papers back into his folio and departed, already calculating where to go next.
Clutching her phone, Liz took a moment to secure her shoulder bag before she headed out again. It gave her the time to recover her composure after realizing she'd left her phone, then running into the stranger. Her shoulder still ached a little from the impact—he didn't look powerful, but he was clearly all muscle under that polo shirt. Definitely not a student, not here. He had an even, low voice, carefully controlled and intriguing, the kind of voice that made you want to listen. Attractive, in a dangerous way, with his dusky skin and chiseled features. She couldn't quite place his ethnicity, but his hair barely hid the tattoo on his neck and she wondered if he were an ex-con. Under a bench in the corridor where she'd run into him a business card remained, white against the scuffed hardwood. Liz paused to pick it up, examining it as Professor Chan and his guest breezed by her.
"Grant Casey, the Bone Guard. Archaeological and Cultural tactical services. Defender of History." Seriously? It included a phone number, a website, and a QR code for direct dial. Liz snapped a photo. She had to share this with her study group. She snickered at the idea of having a tattooed body guard stand at her shoulder in a research library, or maybe rattle an archivist to get her what she wanted.
Professor Chan didn't believe her, though his guest had been politely curious. Whatever. She was onto something, something worthy of a book, not just a thesis; the kind of discovery that launched a career. She would track this down if she had to go to Mongolia to do it. It was about time she paid a visit, and Byambaa would welcome her—not that he'd appreciate her eying the Bone Guard.
Liz trotted down the stairs and pushed outside into the chill evening. Sodium lights buzzed overhead, casting patches of yellow light, and carving leafy shadows beneath the hedges. A few windows in the surrounding buildings showed the faint glow of people working late, but only a handful of other souls hurried along the walkways now, faces lit, as her was about to be, by the familiar blue-white of their tiny screens. She scrolled through a few messages, nothing important: Sara suggested dinner—too late for that; Professor Joyeux wanted to know if she could administer his motets practicum on Thursday. Sure. She tapped a response about the class, then brought up the image of the Bone Guard card to send it to Sara. Did she want to activate the QR code, her app wanted to know. As if. She stumbled over a root protuding into the pathway.
A hot breeze flashed past her and cracked into the tree. Liz spun around. A small round hole marked the trunk, edged with splinters. She turned again, the roots tripping her up. Another soft whistle and a burning sensation as splinters stung her arm.
Someone was shooting at her. Shooting? Liz clutched her bag and broke into a run, glancing around wildly. There! A blue bulb on top of a post marked a campus security box, but did she dare stop? How long would it take for help to arrive? Another bullet pinged the casing of the call box, and Liz dodged away.
Did she want to activate the QR code? Oh, yeah.
"Bone Guard, this is Grant Casey." A masculine voice reverberating in the tiny speaker.
Someone tackled Liz from behind and she screamed.
To learn what happens next, look for The Mongol's Coffin in paperback, ebook or audio, wherever books are sold!
Former special ops intelligence officer Grant Casey races to follow a musical map to Genghis Khan's tomb before the Chinese government destroys it forever.
They used to be part of an elite group known only as the Unit—until the brass decided to ignore their intel, and they followed Lieutenant Grant Casey into a firestorm to save a museum, and the people trapped inside. The aftermath leaves Grant and his wingman in the hospital, and the whole team on the outs with the military. But Grant fuses his interest in history with his specialized training, and the Bone Guard is born.
When Liz Kirschner discovers a musical map to Genghis Khan's tomb, her scholarly life explodes into arson and gunfire. Grant Casey brings in his team for a race to the tomb—to prevent Chinese authorities from burying it forever. This novel speeds from Cambridge, Massachusetts to Cambridge, England in search of clues—then flies to Inner Mongolia, bringing together a Mongolian singer, Grant's ex-commanding officer and a Hong Kong billionaire with a secret past. Mongolian traditions clash with modern priorities in a high-stakes adventure to save one of the world's greatest lost treasures.
The Bone Guard. . .where adventure and history ignite.
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