Their ultimate fear came true. And then things got worse. Annja Creed jumps at the chance to join a fellow archaeologist on a quest to find a relic. But she's not so thrilled about northern Siberia, where they are hoping to discover something buried in the long-undisturbed soil of Russia's frozen terrain. When they reach the town of Jakutsk, Annja is put off by its gray landscape and highly superstitious inhabitants. They claim they are being hunted. Then one of the villagers goes missing. The locals blame the Khosadam, a ghost of a fallen goddess said to ingest the souls of the departed. But there are no fresh graves. She is now hunting the living. When Annja seeks to destroy the apparition, she discovers an even more horrifying truth--and may have hit a dead end
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May 12, 2008
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Excerpt from The Soul Stealer by Alex Archer
She was being followed.
Annja Creed sighed with an almost nonchalant grin as she felt the familiar feeling wash over her. As many times and as many places as she'd been, she could tell--without even turning around to confirm it--that someone was taking more than a passing interest in her.
Even here, she thought. Even in this remote industrial complex where the concrete was as gray as the cold sky overhead, she hadn't managed to escape the eyes and ears of the locals.
The question, as always, was who was following her? Since arriving in Moscow and then taking the Siberian railroad to the northeast reaches of the former Soviet Union, Annja had kept what she thought was a low profile. She'd paid cash for her transactions. She'd used her new fake passport and booked her travels under a fake name. She'd even tossed her schedule out the window and lingered in several stops for far too long.
But it hadn't worked.
She ran down the list of people in her head who might wish her harm and then frowned. The list was long and growing longer. Every new adventure seemed to add dozens of names to the roster of folks who thought the world would be a better place if perhaps Annja Creed wasn't inhaling any more of its oxygen.
She passed the plate-glass windows of a department store advertising fashions so outdated that Annja wondered if anyone actually came in and requested them. She paused, however, and used the reflecting surface to look behind her.
She kept moving rather than give away the idea that she suspected she was being followed. No sense altering the hunters.
Annja knew that professionals never allowed themselves to be seen when they followed you. So the fact that she hadn't spotted anyone in the shop window might mean she wasn't dealing with amateurs.
On one level, that was good. Amateurs in this part of the world tended to be thugs and rapists who would brutalize you and then sell you off into some sexual-slavery den.
At least the professionals just killed you and got it done with.
She smirked at the thought. How my life has changed, she mused.
She turned a corner and strolled up a narrow street. Ahead of her, she could make out an outdoor market area filled with a smattering of produce, imported electronics goods and bootleg DVDs. Annja knew the mafiya controlled these impromptu bazaars. But she hoped she could use them to lose her tail.
Unless, of course, he worked for the very same gangsters who ran the marketplace. She pondered that for a moment. But she couldn't worry about that for long. Not when she had a pressing appointment to keep with Robert Gulliver, known to his friends as Biker Bob and to the rest of the world as the cycling archaeologist.
Gulliver liked riding across the world on his favorite all-terrain bike. It was how he had scouted so many famous dig sites. Before he went in to any place with loads of equipment, he would casually assess the environment from the comfort of his bicycle. So far, Gulliver had crisscrossed the globe numerous times, although this was his first outing in Siberia.
Gulliver had sent Annja an e-mail from a cybercaf� in a town just outside Minsk, asking if she would join him on a scouting mission. Annja, bored with her self-imposed exile back in Brooklyn, had jumped at the opportunity.
But even she was somewhat disgruntled by the location. So far, the dour city of Magadan had failed to impress her. The entire city was formed of cookie-cutter buildings set into neat rows. The streets were all evenly paved with ancient cars zooming down them at breakneck speeds, unconcerned if they hit pedestrians. In contrast, she occasionally spotted a sleek new Lincoln Town Car that proclaimed its driver as belonging to organized crime. Poverty was rampant, and Annja had already doled out some of her money to several children who looked closer to being scarecrows than human beings.
Gulliver had promised her a spectacular adventure, but Annja couldn't see it. Not in a city so utterly drab and awash in human misery.
Still, the fact that she had someone following her at least meant that there might be a little excitement before the day was done.
She ducked under the low awning and entered the marketplace. Immediately, her ears were accosted by the sounds of techno music infused with Russian street rap. Annja spoke a smattering of Russian, but she knew better than to try to translate the music lyrics that blasted out of the nearby speakers.
And she wasn't there to listen to music, anyway.
Ahead of her, the narrow corridor seemed to twist and turn. Elderly shoppers, their heads wrapped in heavy hats and scarves to ward off the first taste of winter in the air, pushed past her, intent on finding something valuable in the midst of chaos.
One of the vendors called out to her and held up an iPod. Annja smiled but shook her head no. She knew they made the cheap knockoffs in China and shipped them north through Mongolia before they ended up here.