Cronin’s Key III: Exclusive Excerpt
Just to tease you here’s an exclusive excerpt from Cronin’s Key III.
History isn’t always what it seems…
Twelve months after his change, Alec MacAidan is still getting used to his many vampire talents. While most vampires would give anything to have more than one supernatural power, Alec craves nothing more than peace and time alone with Cronin. But when Alec meets entities from outside this realm, he’s left powerless in their presence.
Zoan are half-lycan, half-dragon creatures that have slipped through time and reality, seemingly undetected by man and vampire. Or have they? They bear an uncanny resemblance to gargoyles, leaving Alec’s view on all things weird to get a whole lot weirder.
This new quest leads Alec, Cronin, and their band of friends to Paris, Rome, and Moscow, where they learn that gargoyles aren’t simply statues on walls. In the underground pits beneath churches all over the world, Alec discovers the Key’s true destiny. Facing the Zoan might take every talent he has. And he may need help from the dead to get them all out alive.
Cronin was reluctant to return to New York. He knew they must, and he knew they’d been gone too long as it was, but he still would have rather taken Alec to some obscure, secret place where no one could find him.
Though with The Zoan—who, it seemed, tracked Alec in his mind—hiding was futile. It didn’t matter where he was or what he was doing. If they wanted him to see something, they simply did exactly that.
But Alec was keen to get back and start piecing together the puzzle that he’d been once again thrown into.
“Nice of you to join us,” Eiji joked. “Though I’m grateful you left to—” He sniffed Alec and scrunched up his nose. “—do whatever it is you did.”
Alec laughed loudly. “We showered and everything!”
Alec and Eiji had become close friends, and this pleased Cronin greatly. They were, as the saying went, like peas in a pod. They had similar senses of humor and Cronin would often find them together, laughing about something—usually something crude or childish.
“Quit your whining,” Alec said with another laugh. “Or I’ll give you a complete mental replay.”
Eiji paled and his hands dropped to his sides. “Please don’t ever do that.”
Alec clapped him on the shoulder and turned to face everyone in the living room. They each sat with books or a laptop, making notes and cross referencing. There had been great progress, and Jodis had put most of them in chronological order.
“The first, and perhaps the most alarming, is the Epic of Gilgamesh scripts. In approximately 2100 BC, there was a creature known as Humbaba, which is described as a wolf-like man with a body of thorny scales.” Jodis looked at Alec. “It also breathed fire.”
“Oh, crap,” Alec mumbled.
“That’s not all,” Jodis said. “The original stone tablet these scripts were carved upon bore the words Sha naqba īmuru, which, from ancient Mesopotamian times, roughly translates to ‘it begins with he who sees the unknown.’”
“Sees the unknown?” Cronin repeated. “Like Alec sees the Zoan?”
Jodis gave a nod. “I believe so. These scripts were either made by someone who knew of the visions or by someone who saw them firsthand, like Alec sees them.”
Alec leaned against the dining table and folded his arms. He looked at Cronin for a moment, seemingly not sure what to say. He swallowed hard, then turned back to Jodis. “What else?”
“The well-known story of Saint George bears some credence,” she replied. “In the second century BC, it is said he slayed a fire breathing dragon. Whether it is fact or fiction is still debated to this day, but given that the story remains the same in many different cultures and religions, I’d believe it to be closer to truth than not.”
Alec closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. “And?”
“There are recorded Ukrainian histories dated to the sixth century that claim an entire race of people—the Neuri—to be werewolves,” Jodis said. “Though I think we can forgive the term werewolf. Locals of that time would have likened them to wolves, being the most feared wild animal in those areas, not knowing the difference between wolves and lycan.”
“I think we can forgive much of the human histories for this confusion,” Jacques added. “It wasn’t until the sixteenth century that a scientific difference was clarified.”
“There were a lot of witch hunts throughout Europe through medieval times, as we know,” Jodis gave Cronin a dark look. “Though many creatures are listed as werewolves, the true nature of these creatures may not ever be known.”
“The first instance of the word werewolf, be it an actual werewolf or a lycan, was in the eleventh century,” Jacques said. “Though the first lycan story was told in Greek mythology.” He read from an old text. “‘A doctor, Marcellus of Sides, in the second century documented lycanthropy was a form of depression and prescribed bloodletting.’”
“Oh, excellent,” Alec said sarcastically. “That would have ended well for a blood drinking animal.”
Jacques continued. “‘In the seventh century, an Alexandrian physician by the name of Aegineta wrote of humans who became wolves and howled in the cemeteries, killing people. Also prescribed bloodletting.’”
“Then with the introduction of Christianity throughout Europe, these stories of lycans and other shape-shifting creatures were put to an end with witch hunts and religious persecution of demons and Satanists. No one even dared write about them for fear of retribution.” Jodis closed the book in front of her. “Though there was a doctor by the name of Weyers who wrote about demonism, including lycanthropy, in the sixteenth century. Needless to say, he wasn’t very popular.”
Jodis went on to add, “So for a few hundred years, such creatures only survived in folklore and pagan tales spoken around campfires instead of written down. Then we find medical cases from the sixteenth century, most citing madness and clinical lycanthropy.”
“And outside of Europe?” Alec asked.
“Asian dragon myths stem from the beginning of time to this very day,” Eiji said. “In most countries, religions, and art.”
“There’s a dragon in the Old Testament,” Kole said. “A seraph serpent. A fiery reptile. Could it have been a fire-breathing lizard with wings… a dragon… type thing?” He shook his head like he couldn’t believe he was saying such things.
Alec snorted. “Weird, huh?”
Kole looked so much like his son when he smiled. “Just a little.”
“There is an African people,” Eleanor said, “the Nyoro tribes, who believe in ancient times that the first humans were chameleons.”
“A lizard that changes color?” Cronin asked.
“Or shape,” Alec added.
“Could it be that the Zoan present themselves in the form most horrific to the human culture it faces?” Eiji asked rhetorically. It was an interesting notion, and quite possible, Cronin agreed. Eiji went on. “Throughout Europe, the wolf was most feared, so that is what they saw. Throughout Asia, it was the evil dragons.”
“And what do I see?” Alec asked.
“Their truest form. You see under their human façade to the beast underneath,” Jodis said. She looked around at everyone. “We’ve all seen what Alec has seen. Wild teeth, scaly skin. Could it not be a hybrid of lycan and dragon?”
Alec turned to Jacques. “Tell the others what you just thought,” he said to him. “Sorry for hearing that, but it’s a valid point.”
“Oh,” Jacques said, blushing a little. “I don’t know what made me think of it, but getting back to the gargoyles… there was a remarkable case in France in 1450 called the Paris Wolves. A pack of forty or more ‘wolf-men’ reportedly killed a hundred people. The pack was eventually lured and cornered, and they were killed.”
“Tell them where,” Alec pressed.
“At the doors of the Notre Dame Cathedral.”
Cronin knew why Alec thought this was important. He stared at Jacques. “When were the gargoyles added to Notre Dame?”
“There have been many additions to the gargoyles that grace the exterior walls,” Jacques explained.
“When were the first ones added?” Cronin pressed.
Jodis smiled. “It cannot be a coincidence. They are one and the same.”
Cronin nodded. “It would appear so.”
“The original gargoyles were removed and replaced in the nineteenth century,” Jacques said. “There’s a crypt beneath the cathedral. From what we learned in history, statues and such things are kept there.”
Cronin, Alec, Jodis, and Eiji all smiled at one another. Then Alec clapped Eiji on the shoulder again and said, “Looks like we’re going to France.”
Then Cronin watched as Alec froze, for just the blink of an eye, his face neutral, his eyes glazed over. Alec sucked back a gasping breath and stumbled forward. Cronin leapt to catch him, and when he held him and helped him to his feet, he smelled it. The most delectable scent, an essence Cronin would kill for.