Monday, February 22, 2021

Guardian of the Dead by Pavel Kornev

Guardian of the Dead
An NPC's Path, book 4 by Pavel Kornev


Release - May 20, 2021

Pre-order on Amazon - 




If you want to take a look down into a chasm, just look down the barrel of a gun. No, not when you’re busy cleaning it, in breach of all safety regulations, but when it’s clenched firmly in a stranger’s hand, pointing at your... let’s say, at the bridge of your nose.

This was where it was more or less pointing at me.

Inside it was pure darkness; behind it was the blurred silhouette of a man. My gaze failed to focus on the villain himself, so mortally fixated it was on the wrong end of the silencer. Yes, “mortally” was the right word, I assure you.

My guts tied themselves in a knot. Only when the barrel tipped lower did I manage to overcome my stupor.

I obediently pressed the button to lower the car window. My very own electric car which I’d parked in my very own parking space on the maintenance level of the tower in which I rented my very own office.

With a rustle, the window began gliding down.

My very own, yeah right. If his finger pulled the trigger now, there wouldn’t be anything of mine left. Including myself - because this lifeless body wouldn’t be me anymore. It would be just a pile of flesh and bones, plus some splattered brains.

The window stopped at its lowest point. Its motor seized whirring. Silence fell.

“Kogan says hi,” the blurred face said in a deadpan voice.

I just couldn’t bring myself to look at him.

A flash.

It went off like a grenade – as if it had actually exploded in my head. All the colors were gone, leaving only white; the world had become a white nothing.

Then I was pulled out of the car and dragged into this nothingness.

No, they hadn’t ripped my soul out of my body. It didn’t at all feel like being whisked up to Heaven while still alive. Even though I couldn’t hear anything and could only catch a few glimpses of what was going on, some vague sensations suggested that I’d been grabbed under the armpits and dragged across the concrete floor.

The blurred shadows before my eyes must have been a pair of black combat boots. Aha. It looked like my vision was coming back.

At this point, they must have thrown me into a van or a minibus and – judging by the slight vibration – slammed the sliding side door shut. Or at least that was the impression that I got.

My ears were ringing; white circles swam before my eyes. My tactile sensations were the only thing that seemed to have fully returned, my fingers sensing the roughness of the carpet.

And I was lying on it in my bespoke suit which had cost me an arm and a leg.

No, wait. Screw the suit. Had I just been kidnapped?

And if I had, was it better than getting a bullet in the head – or quite the opposite?

It really depended on the thugs’ intentions. The fact that they’d mentioned Kogan made it quite clear they weren’t after any ransom. And as they weren’t creditors of mine, they wouldn’t be content with the proverbial pound of flesh.

What a bitch! Why had this happened now? After so many years!

You’d think I’d taken care of everything. I’d moved to the other side of the country, changed my line of work, avoided social media and even taken out a new insurance. So what was this now? What did Kogan want from me? Okay, so they’d put him away for eight years mainly thanks to my testimony in court – but so what? He'd already been paroled for good behavior and had left for the proverbial Promised Land! Now why the hell would he start raking up the past? Was he so sure they wouldn’t be able to trace him – or did he think no one would rat on him?

Then again, why would I care? What difference did it make to me? Better for me to have been shot on the spot...

The sound of the door being slid open reached me through the vicious ringing in my ears. This time I more or less managed to make out one of the kidnappers. He was wearing an urban camo suit, a tactical belt, a gun and a helmet with a gas mask and an opaque visor. He didn’t look at all like a regular thug. And somehow I doubted Kogan would have hired a private security firm just to kidnap me. That would have been a bit over the top. I just wasn’t worth it.

That just left the law, then. But that would have been just as crazy!

They took me under the arm, lifted me and seated me in a car seat. Then they lowered the folding table and set up a laptop on it.

“When you’re ready, just lift the lid,” the man in camos said. “Got me?”

He can’t have been happy with my feeble nod because he repeated, “Do you read me?”

Although my ears were still ringing from the stun grenade, I could make out his words quite clearly. “Yes,” I croaked, not wishing to antagonize him any further.

My reply sounded admittedly pathetic. Still, he didn’t hassle me any further. He just climbed out of the windowless van and slid the side door shut.

I wasn’t in a hurry to open the laptop. Instead, I just sat back and squeezed my eyelids several times, trying to get rid of the white spots still flickering before my eyes.

Gradually my vision began to come back. I tentatively ran my fingers along the computer’s rubberized edge. I could tell it had been made to order. After a moment’s hesitation, I plucked up my courage. No good keeping myself in suspense.

I lifted the lid.

I didn’t know what I expected to see – even the grinning mug of my ex-employer – but instead, I was confronted with the in-game logo of The Towers of Power slowly rotating on a black background.

What’s that now for bullshit? For the umpteenth time in the last five minutes, my jaw dropped in amazement.

Then a comm channel kicked in, conjuring up a face. Not a real person’s but that of a cartoon character. Who wasn’t human, either.

The avatar had a sharp face, grayish skin, ashen hair and pointy ears. Its black eyes with vertical pupils were flecked with crimson. Aha. So I’d been graced by a visit from a Dark Elf.

Or an Elfa, rather. Namely, Isabella Ash-Rizt. Or someone who was trying to pass themselves off as her.

All of my dealings with this not-so-pleasant lady had ended already four years ago.

But no, it wasn’t a ruse. She was real.

‘Hi Kitten,” she greeted me in her habitual way. “Long time no see!”

As far as I knew, she worked for an information department of one of the law enforcement institutions. No idea which one.

“Begone!” I blurted out.

The Elfa (like hell she was an Elfa but I had to call her something, didn’t I?) gave a little laugh. “And that’s after we’ve just saved your life?”

By then, my head had cleared enough to suspect a catch here somewhere. “Yeah right,” I said. “You gonna tell me this wasn’t a set up?”

Isabella shook her head. “Denial, anger, bargaining,” she began ticking off on her long black-nailed fingers. “None of these are gonna help you. Ditto for depression. You’d better move straight on to acceptance. Alas, Kitten, your ex-employer turned out to be a vindictive piece of work. You’ve been lucky that the guy he’d hired to find a hitman was too mouthy. We didn’t have the time to set him up with our own man so we had to adlib, if you know what I mean.”

“But what have you got to do with it?” I asked. “That’s not your profile.”

“We’ve got a business proposition for you.”

With my ears ringing like a bell and my head throbbing, I didn’t bother to hold back my emotions. “Oh you have, have you? Have you any idea where I’d like to shove your propositions? Or I could even go one further!”

“How about we put you in the witness protection program? It comes with a new name, new background and even a new face if you so wish. Travel expenses included. I know you don’t seem to be struggling but still there’s no such thing as too much money. What would you say to that?”

This proverbial punchbowl was so big there just had to be at least a couple of turds in it. Still I knew better than to reject it outright. I needed to think it over.

“It’s really easy, Kitten,” Isabella carried on trying to coerce me. “You either walk out, give you evidence in court and live happily ever after until the next attempt on your life—”

“Provided there is one.”

“I’m not the best person to second-guess Mr. Kogan’s tenacity,” she said, waving my remark away. “You know him better than I do. Alternatively, you accept our proposition and officially die here and now. We’ll take care of the technical side.”

That got me thinking. All of my capital was lodged on digital bank accounts, so I’d keep access to them regardless. I hadn’t yet got myself a family over these last years or even been close to anyone at all, subconsciously feeling that something like this would eventually happen. It was true that living in perpetual fear wasn’t that pleasant, I had to admit.

Also, I knew that Kogan wouldn’t just let it be. Once he’d set his mind on destroying me, he wouldn’t let it drop. I didn’t for one second doubt his determination – which was exactly why I’d holed up in this backwater at the other end of the country.

The witness protection program could be a way out. But at what price?

“And what do you want in return?” I asked reluctantly, abandoning my ruminations.

“Two months of your life. Or even less if you manage to finish up earlier. In an ideal world, we need to wind it up in under a month.”

“Wind what up?”

“You’re gonna have to find someone for us—“ she stopped herself short, apparently reading the amazement on my face, and raised a reassuring hand, “I meant online, Kitten! We need to find him online first! Have you ever heard of the Deep Sleep Multi-Platform?”

“That doesn’t make sense,” I muttered, completely thrown by her sudden offer. “Why would you need me to do that?”

“I assure you, kitten, we just can’t do it without you. Now I’d like you to read the agreement and press your thumb to the scanner...”





Darkness. Silence. Bliss.

Then, almost straight away, a sequence of blinding flashes began strobing madly around me, followed by screeching and scraping noises and the prickling of electric shocks.

I would have ripped the helmet off my head had I not by then lost all control of my own body. I couldn’t even scream. Which was for the better, because a few moments later, the flashing subsided and the cacophony of noise died away, submerging my mind into boundless darkness.

“Your attention please,” a genderless voice sounded within my head. “Prepare for equipment calibration. Try to visualize a white square in your mind.”

I did as I was told, then watched in surprise as the said geometric shape began to glow in the pitch blackness, conjured up by my imagination.

As soon as it stabilized, I received a new command,

“Try to transform the square into a circle.”

Once again, this turned out to be very easy. Ditto for my next attempt to change its color to green. After that, I had to transform the circle into a diamond and paint its left side blue and the right side red.

With that, the calibration was complete.


Equipment ready for use


Darkness quivered, its surge erasing the two-colored diamond and replacing it with the developers’ logo. I was spun like a twig in a whirlpool. My mind collapsed down a portal framed with flames.

Still, my freefall promptly turned into gliding as my rabbit hole panned out, turning into boundless space. One after another, stars began to light up in the dark, getting closer and brighter, then transforming into a plethora of portals leading to virtual worlds.


Please select entry point.

You can come back and change it later.


My gaze shifted frenetically, looking for the right window. Finally, I came back to my senses and sent a mental command,


“Boundless Realm.”


And it worked. One of the virtual icons began to grow in size until I dove into it and sped along its tunnel toward the incredibly distant specks of light.

Then I saw a grating which barred the tunnel.


Сheck for locked accounts in progress...


The system message had popped up unexpectedly, forcing me to shrink in anticipation of slamming myself against the grate’s spiky bars smeared in caked blood. I wasn’t exactly sure that this was how the developers had programed it to be; most likely, it was just some cruel trick of my overwrought imagination.

It was scary, whatever it was.


New permanent account locks detected: Towers of Power.


I realized they were about to spew me out back into the real world like a naughty kitten. The thought of me being kicked out of the witness protection program filled me with such horror that the inevitable evil of hitting the rapidly approaching spiky bars had instantly ceased to be scary or unpleasant even.


Deep Sleep Multi-Platform: No global account locks found

Boundless Realm: No account locks found

Access granted!

Release - May 20, 2021

Pre-order on Amazon -

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