Burned. Soul Surfer™ Series, Book 2

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About Chip Conley

Usually they were too busy running away from me. I was tempted to rest my head on her other shoulder and sob out my troubles. As soon as we got here, I went dormant for the day. He said he was going into town to pick up some camping supplies. What time is it? I remembered him then, vaguely—the satyr who had sailed with the demigod heroes of the Argo II.

He loves army-surplus stores. His shoulders drooped. His reed pipes dangled listlessly from his neck. Now he was being asked to make another excursion to check on Gleeson Hedge. Still, he mustered a smile. Come on, Apollo. For instance: Never go shopping with a satyr. Finding the store took forever, because Grover kept getting sidetracked. He stopped to chat with a yucca. He gave directions to a family of ground squirrels.

He smelled smoke and led us on a chase across the desert until he found a burning cigarette someone had dropped onto the road. I was reasonably sure rocks and dirt were not flammable, but I never argue with people who eat cigarettes. We continued our search for the army-surplus store. Night fell. The western horizon glowed—not with the usual orange of mortal light pollution, but with the ominous red of a distant inferno. Smoke blotted out the stars. The temperature barely cooled. The air still smelled bitter and wrong. I remembered the wave of flames that had nearly incinerated us in the Labyrinth.

The heat seemed to have had a personality—a resentful malevolence. I could imagine such waves coursing beneath the surface of the desert, washing through the Labyrinth, turning the mortal terrain above into an even more uninhabitable wasteland. I thought about my dream of the woman in molten chains, standing on a platform above a pool of lava. Despite my fuzzy memories, I was sure that woman was the Erythraean Sibyl, the next Oracle we had to free from the emperors.

Something told me she was imprisoned in the very center of I did not relish the idea of finding her. With the fires and the heat, the cacti are the only nature spirits that can still manifest. So far, only a few have come back alive. The rest.. The emperor? The Oracle? It has to be. And the maze is the source of our fire problems. Like it has a fever. Lires have been gathering, strengthening. Sometimes, they mass and spew—There! A quarter mile up the nearest hill, a plume of yellow flame vented skyward like the fiery tip of a welding torch.

Then it was gone, leaving a patch of molten rock. My ankles felt wobbly, as if I were the one with fake feet. Grover nodded. But those flames I understood about losing friends. Grover knelt and cupped his hand around a clump of weeds. The leaves crumbled. Humans had done quite a number on the natural world. No wonder Pan had faded and passed on. I could have told Pan that was a terrible idea. I once went on vacation and entrusted the realm of music to my follower Nelson Riddle. I came back a few decades later and found pop music infected with sappy violins and backup singers, and Lawrence Welk was playing accordion on prime-time television.

Even to me that sounded halfhearted. Grover rose. I just wish we had more help carrying on his work. Even demigods. I had to admit he had a point. Eh, we would think. The longer I was mortal, the more affected I was by even the smallest loss. I hated being mortal. We followed the road as it skirted the walls of a gated community, leading us toward the neon store signs in the distance.

I watched where I put my feet, wondering with each step if a plume of fire might turn me into a Lester flambe. As far as we can tell, he moves around constantly. Meaning New Sun. But it was one of his favorite titles. I decided not to share that information; not here in the dark, with only a jumpy satyr for company. We passed the gates of the neighborhood: desert palms. Had someone really gotten paid to think up that name? We continued to the nearest commercial street, where fast-food joints and gas stations shimmered.

We stopped at a major intersection. The parking lot was empty except for an old yellow Pinto parked near the entrance. I read the store sign again. On second look, I realized the name was not marco. It was macro. And Macro, as in large worldview or computer program or Why did that name unleash another herd of ground squirrels into my nervous system?

With my luck, how could it not be? I wanted to run away. I did not like the way that giant red sign washed the asphalt in bloodstained light. But Grover Underwood had led us through the Labyrinth, and after all his talk about losing friends, I was not about to let him lose another. As it turned out, quite hard. Near the entrance, a giant bin with a neon purple sign promised pith helmets! I glanced at Grover, whose face looked even paler under the harsh fluorescents. The corners of his mouth drifted downward as he scanned a display of rainbow-colored impaling spikes.

The handful of employees ignored us. Another employee stood unmoving and blank-faced at the express register, as if he had achieved boredom-induced nirvana. Each worker wore a yellow vest with the Macro logo on the back: a smiling Roman centurion making the okay sign. An ox of a man sat there, his bald head gleaming, veins bulging on his neck.

His dress shirt and yellow vest could barely contain his bulky arm muscles. His bushy white eyebrows gave him a startled expression. As he watched us walk past, his grin made my skin crawl. He eyed the supervisor. That guy is human. Some of my least favorite people were human. Nevertheless, I followed Grover deeper into the store. As he predicted, Gleeson Hedge was in the firearms section, whistling as he stuffed his shopping cart with rifle scopes and barrel brushes.

I saw why Grover called him Coach. He looked older than Grover, judging from his sun-weathered face, but it was hard to be sure with satyrs. They matured at roughly half the speed of humans. I knew Grover was thirty-ish in people years, for instance, but only sixteen in satyr terms. The coach could have been anywhere between forty and a hundred in human time.

The coach turned and grinned. His cart overflowed with quivers, crates of ammo, and plastic-sealed rows of grenades that promised fun for the whole FAMILY!!! Help me pick some land mines. Kid, you gotta do more core exercises. Stake mines? What do you think? I got a family to protect! At this point, dear reader, you may be wondering Apollo, why would you object? Gleeson Hedge has it right! Why mess around with swords and bows when you can fight monsters with land mines and machine guns?

Alas, when one is fighting ancient forces, modern weapons are unreliable at best. The mechanisms of standard mortal-made guns and bombs tend to jam in supernatural situations. Explosions may or may not get the job done, and regular ammunition only serves to annoy most monsters. Some heroes do indeed use firearms, but their ammo must be crafted from magical metals— Celestial bronze, Imperial gold, Stygian iron, and so on.

Unfortunately, these materials are rare. Magically crafted bullets are finicky. They can be used only once before disintegrating, whereas a sword made from magical metal will last for millennia. Coach Hedge blinked. Ah, hockey pucks. I guess I spent too long in the grenade aisle. Well, fine. The subsequent high-pitched yelp may have come from Grover. Or possibly me, who can be sure? This was quite a trick, since he was almost seven feet tall and must have weighed close to three hundred pounds.

He was flanked by two employees, both staring impassively into space, holding label guns. The manager grinned, his bushy white eyebrows creeping heavenward, his teeth the many colors of tombstone marble. Are you Apollo? I mean I looked at my satyr companions. Gleeson nodded. Grover shook his head vigorously. My name is Macro. Welcome to my store! This is such an honor! The employees hesitated. Up close, I could see how much they looked alike: the same greasy mops of dark hair, the same glazed eyes, the same rigid postures.

They might have been twins, or—a horrible thought seeped into my brain—products of the same assembly line. Macro clasped his meaty hands. I do apologize, Lord Apollo. The emperor has plans for you. He needs you alive! I hated plans. Or Athena. He began rolling up his sleeves as if he expected some hard, dreary satyr-murdering ahead. Alas, the princeps is very particular about his security forces. My troops malfunctioned one too many times, and he shipped us out here.

He replaced us with that horrible assortment of strixes and mercenaries and Big Ears. Can you believe it? Big ears? I examined the two employees, still frozen in place, label guns ready, eyes unfocused, faces expressionless. Once I deliver you, the emperor will surely see that and forgive me. I remembered my dream of the imperial palace, the praetor kneeling before his new emperor. Too late, I remembered the name of that praetor. I simply helped matters along. Neos Helios. It is him.

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The satyrs stopped fighting. Hedge continued chewing on the grenade pack, though even his satyr teeth were having trouble with the thick plastic. Grover backed away, putting the cart between himself and the store employees. No, we found more things MOST satyrs excel at running away. Gleeson Hedge, however, was not most satyrs. He slung me over his shoulder like a sack of soccer balls and scaled the shelves in an epic display of goat-climbing, leaping into the next aisle as crates of ammunition exploded behind us.

We landed in a pile of rolled-up sleeping bags. I scrambled after him, my ears ringing.

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I saw no sign of Grover. When we reached the end of the aisle, a store clerk rounded the corner, his label gun raised. This was a notoriously difficult move. Even Ares sometimes fell and broke his tailbone when practicing it in his dojo witness the Ares-so-lame video that went viral on Mount Olympus last year, and which I absolutely was not responsible for uploading. To my surprise, Coach Hedge executed it perfectly. The body dropped to its knees and fell forward, wires sparking in its neck.

Yet somehow—just my luck—he appeared unharmed. The second store clerk stood behind him, apparently unconcerned that his robotic head was on fire. This is a military -surplus store. I have fifty more just like these in storage. Ordered his arrest— wheeze — execution. Gleeson peeked around the corner for signs of hostiles. Honestly, why did mortal bodies have to sweat so much? Romans have strange ideas about loyalty. The doors did not cooperate.

I slammed into one and bounced right off. The manager stood twenty feet away, under a whitewater raft that was suspended from the ceiling with a sign across its prow: boatloads of savings! I was beginning to appreciate why the emperor had ordered Macro arrested and executed. For such a big man, he was much too good at sneaking up on people. They formed a rough semicircle behind Macro. I drew my bow. The robot barely seemed to notice. Surely he had a portable bazooka in the pocket of his gym shorts. Cornered and desperate was my job. Macro cracked his knuckles. After that, what do I care?

The sorceress can take you into the maze and do her magic. Oh, my mortal sympathies really were getting the best of me! Have a nice day! Ah, well. Military Madness team members, kill the satyr and apprehend the former god! Before I could shout Grover Underwood! No dirt. No natural light. How are we supposed to fight in these conditions? He quickly exchanged his croquet mallet for a pair of nunchaku. You guys want some shurikens or a kusarigama?

You have a family! Look how well that turned out. We sped past a display of inflatable swimming pools How were those military surplus? Grover and Hedge charged ahead, leaving me gasping in their wake. Why did that term send a B major chord of terror vibrating through my bones? I searched my jumbled memories for a clear answer but came up empty.

Perhaps the emperor employed an evil wrestler who wore a black satin cape, shiny spandex shorts, and a horse-head-shaped helmet. My second thought: Why did Macro get to call for backup when I could not? Demigod communications had been magically sabotaged for months. Phones short-circuited. Computers melted. Iris-messages and magical scrolls failed to work.

Yet our enemies seemed to have no trouble texting each other messages like Apollo, my place. Where U? Help me kill him! Fair would have been me getting my immortal powers back and blasting our enemies to tiny pieces. We burst through the employees only doors. She may be the goddess of the family hearth, but the lady has no clue about how to throw a party. Gleeson and Grover ran past the robots and began tugging at the rolling metal garage door that sealed off the loading dock. I peered out the tiny plastic windows of the employee doors. Macro and his minions were barreling in our direction.

I did the Molotov cocktail. Grover dropped the boat. Godly fire, maybe? We could use some godly fire. He tossed me his boat paddle. I jumped to comply. Meanwhile Grover ripped the plastic off the nearest automaton. He rapped his knuckles against its forehead, which made a hollow clang. Stop being difficult! I did not feel so gleeful. I had no idea how Annabeth Chase had figured out that the Daedalus command could be used on any automaton.

Coach Hedge kept trilling Scott Joplin. Macro and his men banged against my makeshift barricade, nearly making me lose my grip on the tetherball pole. Tell them begin Plan Thermopylae! So many brave and attractive Spartans had died in that battle defending Greece from the Persians. But I did as I was told. Macro stumbled to a halt, six minions fanning out on either side. Military Madness team members, apprehend Apollo! Tear the satyrs apart! Stop that infernal whistling! First, Macro had made the mistake of issuing too many orders at once. As any maestro can tell you, a conductor should never simultaneously order the violins to speed up, the timpani to soften, and the brass to crescendo.

You will end up with a symphonic train wreck. Personally, I would have gone after the whistler with extreme prejudice. The other thing that saved us? Rather than listening to Macro, our new temp-worker friends began executing Plan Thermopylae. They shuffled forward, linking their arms and surrounding Macro and his companions, who awkwardly tried to get around their robotic colleagues and bumped into each other in confusion.

The scene was reminding me more of a Hestia housewarming by the second. You keep fighting! The Daedalus dudes encircled their comrades, squeezing them in a massive group hug. Steam rose from the seams of their necks. I backed away, as one does when a group of robots starts to steam. I even tap-danced a little, since that is well-known to speed up musical spells. Finally, the loading- bay door began to budge, creaking in protest as we raised it a few inches off the floor.

The humming and heat reminded me of that moment just before my sun chariot would take off, blasting into the sky in a triumph of solar power. Gods first! No such courtesy. The satyrs shimmied under the door, then held it from the other side while I tried to wriggle through the gap. Alas, I found myself stymied by my own accursed love handles.

In short, I got stuck. And honestly, who would want that job, knowing you could get zapped by lightning the first time you chided your client into doing an extra five push-ups? This time, however, I was glad to be yelled at. Nay-ay-ay-ay-ay OH, villainy! Please explain to me why I always end up falling into dumpsters. I must confess, however, that this dumpster saved my life. Sweating and shivering, barely able to breathe, the two satyrs and I huddled amid trash bags and listened to the pitter-patter of debris raining from the sky—an unexpected downpour of wood, plaster, glass, and sporting equipment.

I could barely see him in the dark, but he shook his head urgently, his eyes wide with alarm. Coach Hedge also looked tense. His nose quivered as if he smelled something even worse than the garbage. Then I heard the clop, clop, clop of hooves against asphalt as they approached our hiding place. For us. I tried not to weep or wet my pants. I succeeded at one of those. The flaps of the dumpster remained closed. Perhaps the garbage and the burning warehouse masked our scent. Ah, nuts. Human police are on the way. Surely the ruins meant our sanctuary, currently housing Mellie, Baby Hedge, and Meg.

Something slammed into the side of our dumpster, right next to my face. Then the hooves galloped away. Several minutes passed before I felt safe enough even to look at the two satyrs. We silently agreed that we had to get out of the dumpster before we died of suffocation, heatstroke, or the smell of my pants. Outside, the alley was littered with smoking chunks of twisted metal and plastic.

The warehouse itself was a blackened shell, flames still swirling within, adding more columns of smoke to the ash-choked night sky. A talking horse. Now that we were out of immediate danger, now that my adrenaline was ebbing, I found myself gripped by a cold, heavy despair. Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus But the master of Naevius Sutorius Macro? Big C? Neos Helios? The only Roman emperor ever to possess a talking horse? That could mean only one person. One terrible person. The flashing lights of emergency vehicles pulsed against the fronds of the nearest palm trees.

Gleeson stared at the wreckage of the surplus store. I just wish I got some camping supplies out of this deal. I was in such a stupor, I barely remember going through the drive-through lane of Enchiladas del Rey and picking up enough combo plates to feed several dozen nature spirits. Back at the hilltop ruins, we convened a council of the cacti. The Cistern was packed with desert-plant dryads: Joshua Tree, Prickly Pear, Aloe Vera, and many more, all dressed in bristly clothes and doing their best not to poke each other. Mellie fussed over Gleeson, one minute showering him with kisses and telling him how brave he was, the next minute punching him and accusing him of wanting her to raise Baby Hedge by herself as a widow.

As for Meg McCaffrey, she had regained consciousness and looked as well as she ever looked—just slightly greasier thanks to the first-aid ministrations of Aloe Vera. Meg sat at the edge of the pool, trailing her bare feet in the water and stealing glances at Joshua Tree, who stood nearby, brooding handsomely in his khakis.

I asked Meg how she was feeling—because I am nothing if not thoughtful —but she waved me off, insisting she was fine. I think she was just embarrassed by my presence as she tried to discreetly ogle Joshua, which made me roll my eyes. Girl, I see you, I felt like saying. You are not subtle, and we really need to have a talk about crushing on dryads. Grover distributed enchilada plates to everyone. He ate nothing himself— a sure sign of how nervous he felt—but paced the circumference of the pool, tapping his fingers against his reed pipes.

Nevertheless, as he spoke, all the other nature spirits gave him their full attention. He recounted our days in the Labyrinth—the pits and poison lakes, the sudden wave of fire, the flock of strixes, and the spiral ramp that had led us up to these ruins. The dryads looked around nervously, as if imagining the Cistern filled with demonic owls. Reba, for short. I think the Labyrinth was helping us, bringing us home. Some bristled, literally. Grover raised his hands for calm. And at least now we have some idea why the emperor set it up the way he did. Tell them, Grover.

Tell your very nice Macro said the maze was a trap for you. Oracle thingie? And he mentioned some kind of a sorceress who wants to I dunno, do some evil magic on Apollo, I guess. You want the fires stopped. I have a quest to free the Erythraean Sibyl.

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Both those things require us to find the heart of the maze. I just—I know it. Hug Prickly Pear? Find a shirt that matches your pants? You will lose your right of withdrawal if the performance of our services has begun before the end of the Cooling Off Period. Please note that if you purchase SimPoints from us, the performance of our services begins immediately after your purchase is confirmed. This Agreement does not confer any rights or remedies upon any person other than the parties to this Agreement. You may also have additional rights under applicable law.

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The planet is undamaged! How can both the Kree and Skrull weapons have had no effect? This was the peril Thanos alerted me to? Attacking vessels that are naught but energy images such as —. Before we discuss anything else, you must agree to honor the Skrull borders. Zarek loses his balance, and starts to fall into space —. Zarek gasps, taking in a pair of deep, needed breaths. As the Surfer sweeps down from the sky. The Surfer hits — hard. Then, still speaking in the Deep Voice, Thanos turns to the Surfer. The Surfer slumps back, exhausted. Thanos glides closer to his victim, holding out his arms.

After you turned Lady Chaos against me and stole my victory over the universe itself…. The only power great enough to release me was my own! NOTE: This should be completely sudden and unexpected — very, very eerie. I have created! I have preserved! I have healed! Figuring it out. He raises his hands toward his face — and suddenly his head whirls again, exposing the evil face, as:.

Falling before an onslaught that only he can see! All his reactions are those of a man being beaten by the strongest of foes. Remember — what you see is not real! You must act now — while you have control of your body —! Fights to his knees. He gets up, moves to Thanos, bending down over him. By turning my power upon myself I have forced the evil from my brain.

Were he not, I would yet be fighting for my life. The board sails to the Surfer, who leaps upon it and starts heading away. All that remains of it is a small section with barely enough room for Zarek and Kiar to stand and cling to each other. And, of course, the Kree would do the same. Your new Prime Minister is —. The Surfer glares — and sees:. His expression softens.

In spite of himself, he shakes his head. Like the Supreme Intelligence, or Zedrao, or —. True peace cannot be imposed, Silver Surfer. It must come from within. You did the right thing by trying to stop the war. My place is beyond! Is there anyone else who could do the job as well? Such is the price the Silver Surfer must pay!

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Surfer, we have a bargain! Silver Surfer…! The Surfer stops, and his face fills with anguish. I say no!!! The Surfer moves in closer as well.

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Or fail the way you failed! Nothing like some petty theft to bring back old times! Did you feel that? A space battle rages — between the Kree and the Skrull! Are you with me? Out of control, it careens helplessly out to space! You are ours! He circles over Zenn-La. The battle is over, but only for now… The Surfer arcs away from the planet, soaring toward the edge of the star system. He starts going faster and faster.

Burned. Soul Surfer™ Series, Book 2 Burned. Soul Surfer™ Series, Book 2
Burned. Soul Surfer™ Series, Book 2 Burned. Soul Surfer™ Series, Book 2
Burned. Soul Surfer™ Series, Book 2 Burned. Soul Surfer™ Series, Book 2
Burned. Soul Surfer™ Series, Book 2 Burned. Soul Surfer™ Series, Book 2
Burned. Soul Surfer™ Series, Book 2 Burned. Soul Surfer™ Series, Book 2
Burned. Soul Surfer™ Series, Book 2 Burned. Soul Surfer™ Series, Book 2
Burned. Soul Surfer™ Series, Book 2 Burned. Soul Surfer™ Series, Book 2

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