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Mandate of Heaven: Ethan Chase Thriller, #1
Mandate of Heaven: Ethan Chase Thriller, #1
Mandate of Heaven: Ethan Chase Thriller, #1
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Mandate of Heaven: Ethan Chase Thriller, #1

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Ethan Chase's past has finally caught up with him, and the entire world's future now stands on a knife's edge.

Ex-Army Ranger Ethan Chase breaks his oath of allegiance to the military when he deserts from the Army while deployed to Afghanistan. Years later, he's captured and sent to military prison, but the director of a shadowy government agency takes him into his direct custody. They offer Ethan his freedom and a blank slate, but only if he can track down and retrieve the lost Heirloom Seal of the Realm, an ancient Chinese artifact believed to grant godly powers to any ruler who possesses it.

With little choice, Ethan takes on this quest, joined by three cohorts: his best friend, the federal agent who arrested him, and a beautiful treasure hunter. Yet they're not the only ones seeking the Heirloom Seal, and some will cross any line, betray any loyalty, for a chance at supreme power.

EVOLVED PUBLISHING PRESENTS the first fast-paced book in the "Ethan Chase Thriller" series of globe-trotting, treasure-hunting adventures. Perfect for fans of Matthew Reilly, Andy McDermott, Scott Mariani, Greig Beck, Clive Cussler, and more. [DRM-Free]

BOOKS BY PETER MARTUNEAC:

  • Ethan Chase Thriller – Book 1: "Mandate of Heaven"
  • Ethan Chase Thriller – Book 2: "Solomon's Fortune"
  • Ethan Chase Thriller – Book 3: "Gold of the Jaguar" [Apr 2023]
  • His Name Was Zach – Book 1: "His Name Was Zach"
  • His Name Was Zach – Book 2: "Her Name Was Abby"
  • His Name Was Zach – Book 3: "Their Names Were Many"

MORE GREAT ADVENTURE THRILLERS FROM EVOLVED PUBLISHING:

  • "The Colonel and the Bee" by Patrick Canning
  • The "Matthew Bishop" Series by Burt Clinchandhill
  • "Banana Republic: Richie's Run" by Glenn A. Bruce
  • "Kubrick's Game" by Derek Taylor Kent

 

LanguageEnglish
Release dateOct 10, 2022
ISBN9781622531837
Mandate of Heaven: Ethan Chase Thriller, #1
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Author

Peter Martuneac

Ever since he read The Lord of the Rings at age 12, Peter Martuneac has had a passion for storytelling. He began writing his own high fantasy story that same year and carried on writing for the rest of his childhood, but could not find a way to finish the story. The incomplete manuscript found a home on the top shelf of a closet, and there it remains (though he hopes to one day return to that world and see it through to the end). At 18, he joined the US Marines, and in the deserts of Afghanistan, he finally started and completed a full-length manuscript. He wrote it entirely by hand, in the sunlight by day and in the dim, red glow of a military flashlight by night. He went on to self-publish this manuscript, a zombie fiction story, followed by two sequels and a short story prequel, and is intensely proud of those works. Peter is now writing for Evolved Publishing, and is excited to be on this new road in his journey as an author. Peter is married, has two amazing children and a loyal dog (who is a very good boy). Besides writing, he enjoys reading biographies, collecting coins, and getting his heart broken year after year by his favorite sports teams.

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    Mandate of Heaven - Peter Martuneac

    Chapter 1 – A Bad Date

    I found it in a pawn shop in Texas, Ethan said, pointing to the gold Napoleonic coin atop the desk in his study. It’s extremely rare in such good condition. Poor guy had no idea what he had, and he parted with it for just a little over the worth of the gold in it.

    Lindsey whistled, her baby blue eyes fixed on the old coin. It’s gotta be worth a small fortune, I’d think.

    To a sufficiently interested and wealthy buyer? Oh yeah.

    But you have no intention of selling it?

    None. This is probably my most valued possession.

    Why? What makes it so special?

    Oh, it was just such a great, unexpected find, Ethan said. And at the price I paid, you could almost say I stole it. Makes for a good story.

    Ah, Lindsey replied, her curiosity seemingly sated. Do you have any other treasures like this one?

    Ethan smiled. You know, usually my dates aren’t so interested in old trinkets.

    My father got me into numismatics, Lindsey said, flicking her long, blonde hair behind her shoulder. So your Napoleon there piqued my interest.

    Then yeah, I’ve got a few more odds and ends laying around. I guess you could call them treasure, said Ethan. He turned around and walked to a large armoire in the corner, where he unlocked and opened the door.

    Lindsey stepped closer. Wow. The armoire contained several ancient gold and silver coins, two silver tiaras, a jeweled, gilded dagger in a sheath, a couple of dusty scrolls and a thick tome. Lindsey tried to touch the book but Ethan swatted her hand away.

    Careful, that’s a Gutenberg, he explained.

    Sorry. I couldn’t help myself.

    No harm, no foul, Ethan said. He closed the armoire and locked it. Now come on, dinner’s gonna get cold.

    They left Ethan’s study. He closed the door, which featured a keypad lock and reinforced hinges. He led the way back to the kitchen and helped Lindsey into her chair at the table before taking his own seat. This was their third date, and Ethan finally felt comfortable bringing Lindsey into his home and cooking for her. He’d prepared a succulent dish of pan-seared plank salmon with grilled asparagus and a dollop of mashed potatoes. A mouthwatering aroma filled the kitchen.

    Lindsey tried her first bite of fish. God, it tastes even better than it smells. Thank you for making this.

    My pleasure, I love to cook. Ethan uncorked a bottle of wine—a red 1973 Burgundy, and poured two glasses. He handed one to Lindsey.

    Even your wine is exquisite, Lindsey noted, after taking a sip. You must travel a lot to acquire all this stuff. I mean, you can’t have found all of it in pawn shops in Virginia.

    Ethan tilted his head left and right, as if he himself was not sure. I’ve done some globetrotting, sure. It’s a big world and I want to experience it.

    Any favorite places you’ve visited?

    That’d probably be Machu Picchu, Ethan said, after another drink from his glass. There’s so much ancient history there.

    Lindsey set her fork down and leaned forward, her wine glass dangling in one hand. What about the Cradle of Civilization? Have you ever found your way out to Mesopotamia?

    Iraq? Ethan smirked. Kinda hard to get into a warzone these days, and I can’t say I’m looking to go get shot or blown up in that idiotic war.

    What, you don’t support the troops?

    Oh, I support the troops all right. I don’t support our military leaders or politicians though. I’ve got friends who’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan. Once they saw what was really going on there, they came home a tad disillusioned.

    Do any of them desert? Lindsey asked. Just, ya know, go home and refuse to show up for a deployment?

    Ethan paused and shifted in his seat. It happens. A friend of mine actually deserted when he was still out there in Afghanistan. I guess he was sick of the crap that he saw from his chain of command.

    Really? Lindsey asked, her eyebrows arching up. Have you heard from him since? Do you know if he’s even alive? I mean, that sounds like a dangerous stunt to pull. Where would one even go?

    Yeah, maybe it wasn’t his best decision, Ethan chuckled after another sip of wine. But no, I haven’t heard from him in years. I assume he’s either dead or hiding somewhere out there.

    Just hiding in Afghanistan?

    I guess so.

    With no support?

    Ethan shrugged as he chewed.

    And did you hide the M-ATV you took?

    I disabled it, Ethan replied. He raised a forkful of salmon to his mouth, but froze as he realized what he’d just said. He looked up and saw a smug grin on Lindsey’s face.

    Well that’s good to hear, ‘Kevin’. Or, should I say, Corporal Ethan Chase. She sat back in her chair. Your court martial will go slightly better for you now that you can’t be charged with aiding and abetting the enemy with stolen equipment.

    You’re a Fed and you set me up, Ethan said. He knew there was something off about her. She was a gorgeous woman and Ethan thought he was starting to like her, but there was always something that made Ethan think twice about their dates, a doubt that he had hoped this date at home would dispel. Serves me right for ignoring my gut.

    I did, yeah. We were 99% sure you were Chase. All we needed was a confession to link you to the truck you stole overseas.

    A loud knock sounded at the front door.

    That’s probably for you. Lindsey ate another piece of salmon and grunted in satisfaction. You know, I’ve been lying a lot today, but this truly is delicious.

    Ethan briefly considered escaping, but he knew that would be futile. Best to accept his fate with dignity, since dignity was all he had left at this point. He huffed, downed his wine in one gulp and rose from his seat. He went to answer the front door, but not before snatching Lindsey’s plate and dumping it into the garbage. "Only real dates get to eat my food."

    I’m pouring myself another glass, Lindsey replied, her face wearing that condescending smile again.

    Ethan shook his head as he trudged down the hallway. Another knock, even louder than before. He opened the door to find two men in Army fatigues on his doorstep.

    I’ll take two boxes of Thin Mints and a box of Tagalongs, sweetie, Ethan said.

    Cute, one man replied. I hope you enjoyed your last smartass remark as a free man, traitor.

    I did. Ethan turned around and placed his hands behind his back, allowing the men to cuff him. Lindsey—if that was even her real name—strode into view then, still holding a full glass of wine.

    How ‘bout a conjugal visit sometime, gorgeous? Ethan said.

    Sounds good. I’m sure the prison guards can spare you a whole thirty seconds.

    Ethan rolled his eyes, as the uniformed men dragged him away. They helped him into the back of a government SUV and slammed the door. Well, I had a good run, Ethan thought. Ten years on the lam, almost to the day. What a day that had been. When the sun rose he was a US Army Ranger, but by sunset, he was a disgraced, ex-soldier in hiding, hoping that a rich Pakistani man would keep his word and help him evade the authorities.

    Chapter 2 – Acquired Treasure

    Ten Years Earlier

    Never in his life had Ethan Chase carried more than fifty bucks in his wallet. Now, at age twenty-one, he carried over $1,000,000.

    Not in his wallet, however—it was in gold, and had come from a cave in western Pakistan. He’d found the treasure exactly where Mohammed Daoud said it would be, easing his fears that he was being set up for an ambush. Being an undocumented American in Pakistan was bad enough. Deserting the United States Army and stealing one of their trucks to illegally cross the Pakistan-Afghanistan border? Even worse.

    One thing at a time, Ethan, he told himself. He still had to get this gold back to Mohammed if he didn’t want the old man to turn him in to the authorities. Then he could worry about what he was going to do with his life.

    The donkey Mohammed had loaned to Ethan brayed impatiently.

    Hold your horses... donkey, Ethan said with a chuckle. He walked to the small wooden cart hitched to the donkey and set the lockbox down as carefully as he could, then rearranged the small bags of tools to cover it. He took a moment to adjust his clothes: a set of loose pants and a long shirt Mohammed had also loaned him, so he might blend in. As much as a tall, clean-shaven white guy could blend in in Pakistan, at least.

    Ethan clicked his tongue and motioned for the donkey to follow him as he headed towards the rising sun. The donkey shook its head and stomped its hoof before obeying, as if to say, ‘I’ll go when I damn well want to, which just happens to be now’.

    Together, man and beast quickly trod the ancient footpath.

    ***

    I see you have not run off with my gold, Mohammed said, smiling. He sat outside his rather large, modern home of smooth white walls and tall windows. Despite living in a rural area west of Quetta, Mohammed fared much better than a common farmer.

    Why do you assume I even found it? Ethan asked.

    The old man grabbed his cane and slowly rose. He sauntered towards Ethan with an air of authority and dominance not usually found in a man nearly killed by an American bomb. Because if you did not find my gold, he whispered, you would have returned to a certain death.

    A moment passed as Mohammed’s dark gaze bored into Ethan’s green-blue eyes. Then, all at once, he laughed. No, my friend. I know you have my gold, because I have complete confidence that I found its true location.

    Ethan nodded and whispered, Yeah, I’ve got your gold.

    Mohammed grinned and gestured towards his house. Bring it in, then.

    Once inside, with curtains drawn and doors shut, Ethan opened the lockbox and emptied its contents onto a large desk: hundreds of American half eagles, Guineas, Spanish doubloons, French coins, and some small bars.

    Just how old is this treasure anyway? Ethan asked, picking up a handful of the gold eagles. No ‘E Pluribus Unum’ or ‘In God We Trust’ on the back of these, so they can’t be newer than 1860-ish.

    That’s a good eye, Mohammed said, stroking his chin. Anything else you can tell me about this gold?

    Okay, uhhh... Ethan plucked two more coins from the pile and held them in his hand. Okay, these are French. See they’ve got Napoleon’s portrait on them? Twenty Franc denomination, 1809 is the year, and... oh my God.

    What?

    Ethan paused as he stared in wonder at the coins in his hand. These have a ‘K’, see? It’s a mint mark that tells you where the coin comes from. The ‘K’ means that these were stamped at the mint in Bordeaux, where they produced a very small quantity that year. Only a handful have survived this long in such pristine condition.

    Mohammed let out a low whistle. So these are extremely rare.

    And this, Ethan continued, snatching another coin. His voice had picked up a cheery tone now, and he spoke faster. A gold sovereign, 1863. See these numbers underneath the year? That signified which stamping die was used. Now, the mint in London only stamped these numbers on their coins for a few years in the 1860s, but no one even knows why they started, or why they stopped.

    I would not have even noticed that, Mohammed said.

    Ethan folded his arms across his chest. All in all, I’d guess this gold was probably acquired in the 1860’s or 70s. A collector who had an eye for rare coins, but with all these half eagles, this may have also been a ‘rainy day’ savings account.

    Acquired. Mohammed smirked. Yes, that’s a good word. We’ll go with that. My great-great-grandfather ‘acquired’ this treasure in London in 1864.

    Is that so? Ethan asked, returning the man’s mischievous look.

    A kettle somewhere in the house began to whistle. Be a good lad and bring us some tea, Mohammed said with a gesture towards the kitchen.

    I brought your gold, Ethan said, with a playful grin, don’t you think I’m done being your errand boy?

    Mohammed picked up one of the gold Napoleons Ethan had appraised and tossed it to him. Here, payment for delivery of gold and tea.

    Ethan caught the rare specie and looked at it once more before thrusting it into his pocket. Tea, coming right up.

    He returned a few minutes later with a small and dainty tray, balancing a porcelain teapot, two cups, and some kind of cracker Mohammed had yelled for from the desk.

    "Ah, now this is excellent," Mohammed said, between sips of tea.

    You were going to tell me the story behind this treasure, I believe, said Ethan.

    I suppose I was, Mohammed replied. Well, in 1864 my great-great-grandfather ‘acquired’ all this gold while living in London for a short time. He worked at a currency and bullion exchanger as an overnight security guard. Turns out the very sight of a tall, dark-skinned foreigner in London in 1864 scared off would-be thieves. Anyway, one night in December, he abruptly retired and decided to move home to Pakistan before dawn the next day. I can only guess that this lockbox was a parting gift from his employer as he left.

    Ethan chuckled. Yeah, people can get real generous around Christmas time.

    Mohammed winked. Now, obviously, a newly arrived young man spending a lot of money would be considered by some to be suspicious, and so he hid the...Christmas gift where no one would find it. He told nobody his secret. He barely trusted himself, leaving only clues to its location in his journal, and these clues were hidden in a cipher.

    So why did he never go back for it? Ethan asked.

    Well, that’s the unfortunate part, Mohammed replied. When he returned home, he decided to wait three years before recovering his treasure. He thought that would be sufficient time to begin accumulating wealth without suspicion. In this time he married and had a son, my great-grandfather. He planned to reveal the treasure to his wife as an anniversary surprise, but he died suddenly one day. He fell off a horse and was trampled to death, and the secret of his hoard went to the grave with him.

    Until you decoded his journal.

    Correct. It took a few years, but I was finally able to figure out its hiding place. Mohammed patted his bum leg. I would have retrieved it myself, but that would have been difficult, if not impossible, thanks to your government’s drones.

    Yeah, sorry ‘bout that, Ethan said, sheepishly running a hand through his sandy brown hair. In the military, Mohammed would have been labeled ‘collateral damage’, but such a sterilized term felt wildly inappropriate now as he sat across from the hobbled old man.

    Mohammed narrowed his eyes. You’re not a drone pilot, are you?

    "No, I’m a Ranger... was a Ranger."

    Mohammed shrugged. "Now I think it’s your turn to tell a tale. He took a long sip of tea. You’re obviously a deserter from your American army, but why? And if you’re the kind of man who deserts, what drove you to the military in the first place? And when did you become so knowledgeable about old coins?"

    Well, that’s kind of a long story, Ethan said.

    Then it’s a good thing we have plenty of tea, Mohammed said, as he refilled his cup.

    Ethan chuckled. All right, you asked for it. As for coins, numismatics is a hobby of mine ever since I read a book about coin collecting when I was a kid.

    That was your choice of book as a child?

    I spent hours at the library every day, reading everything. Anything. My home life wasn’t exactly great, you see. I needed an escape and books made that possible. I realized that with these books I could travel to any place and time in the world that I wanted. I could learn anything I wanted. The library became a time machine, the ultimate escape.

    I’ve never heard of a person reading so many books. So the library was your safe haven?

    Ethan nodded. I was just trying to stay out of trouble, for all the good that did me.

    Ah. Did trouble come to you, or did you go looking for it?

    How ‘bout I just keep telling my story?

    Mohammed nodded and took a sip of tea. Please continue.

    Chapter 3 – Need to Know Basis

    Present

    Well, look who it is, said the tall, muscle-bound prisoner, flanked by two other men. The deserter.

    Hi Hank, Ethan replied, without looking up from his tray of food. He hadn’t thought it possible, but the food served in military prison was even worse than the MREs they used to eat in Afghanistan.

    You know you’re not gonna get out of here in one piece, said Hank. We all did some bad stuff to get here, but at least we didn’t desert our units in the middle of a war.

    They oughta bring back the firing squad for your kind, added one of the other men.

    So I guess we have to do what the officers don’t have the balls to do, as usual, Hank said.

    Can it wait until after Taco Tuesday? Ethan replied.

    With an angry roar, Hank seized Ethan by the lapels and yanked him up from his seat, but Ethan managed to jab his plastic spoon handle-first into Hank’s throat, just below the Adam’s Apple, before smacking one of the other men in the face with his steel food tray. The third man lunged for him but Ethan dodged and shoved the man aside.

    By now, the rest of the prisoners in the dining hall were circling the combatants, cheering them on. Recovering from the blow to his throat, Hank came at Ethan with a haymaker that would have knocked a steer unconscious. Ethan leaned back at the waist, just avoiding Hank’s fist, and kicked his leg up, striking Hank between the legs. A cheap shot perhaps, but as one of Ethan’s drill sergeants used to say, If you ever find yourself fighting fair, your tactics suck.

    The other two men came at Ethan again, this time with shivs. Ethan knocked the first thrust aside with his arm and kicked straight into the man’s knee. The roar of the spectators masked the sound of breaking bones and the man’s pained cries as he crumpled to the ground, holding what remained of his right kneecap.

    Hank was back again, his face red with pain and anger. Ethan didn’t see him in time to dodge and took a heavy punch to the head that sent him reeling back. The man came at him again and kicked him in the stomach, sending Ethan into the crowd of prisoners behind him. They shoved him back into the fight, but Ethan used this momentum to his advantage, rolling forward to avoid another of Hank’s right hooks.

    The other prisoner with a shiv tried to stab Ethan, but he blocked the thrust, grabbed the man’s arm with both his hands, and turned around. Still holding the man’s arm at the wrist, Ethan yanked the arm up over his shoulder then straight down, shattering his elbow. The shiv fell to the ground alongside the prisoner, the crowd once again voicing their bloodthirsty approval.

    But there was still Hank, who threw a flurry of punches. Ethan snatched up another steel tray to use as a shield. Hank knocked it aside, grabbed Ethan’s shirt and headbutted him. Ethan fell backwards and landed on one of the tables behind him. Hank grabbed him again and smiled as he pulled his fist back.

    Ethan threw his hand to the side and grabbed another nearby plastic spoon. Just as Hank threw a heavy punch down at his head, he thrust the handle of the spoon up towards his face. Hank’s downward motion, Ethan’s good aim, and a stroke of luck sent the thin piece of plastic straight into Hank’s right eye.

    Hank fell backwards and shrieked in pain, his hands covering his face. Whistles blew as the doors to the cafeteria slammed open and dozens of prison guards dressed in riot gear stormed the room. Everyone laid themselves down on the floor just as they were supposed to—all except for Ethan. He stood up and took a deep breath, preparing a witty parting shot for Hank which he never got to say as a guard struck him in the back with a baton, and Ethan collapsed.

    His hands and feet were cuffed, and someone pulled a black bag down over his head, enshrouding him in darkness. Strong arms lifted him up and dragged him from the cafeteria. He could hear the guards shouting instructions to the inmates, while someone called for a gurney to take Hank to the sick bay.

    Ethan heard a door open, then shut again behind him. He was out in the hallway, presumably headed towards solitary. But then the men carrying him turned a corner, and stopped.

    Tranq him, one of the guards said.

    Wait, what? Ethan said. The sleeve of his prisoner’s outfit was yanked up and someone stuck a needle into his arm. Oh, that is... His words were already slurred and he felt dizzy. You... fellas are the... the... just worst.

    ***

    Rise and shine, little guy, said an unfamiliar voice.

    Ethan’s head swam as he slowly regained consciousness. It was still dark, but someone behind him ripped the bag off his head. He squinted in the sudden flash of fluorescent light.

    Are you uncomfortable? Can I get you anything? the voice said.

    Uhh... I’ll take a rum. Not as sarcastic as he would have preferred, but his brain was still groggy. His eyes began to adjust to the light now, and what he saw made him even more confused.

    He was sitting in a plush leather chair in what appeared to be an expensive office, like the study of an old-fashioned history professor. Bookshelves, stuffed to the point of overflowing, lined the walls to Ethan’s left and right.

    Pop! The uncorking of a bottle. An older man with brown, grey-flecked hair and a goatee sat on the other side of the desk before him. The man poured two glasses of a liquid the same color as the mahogany desk.

    This rum is over forty years old, the man said. Comes from Britain, from the Royal Navy to be precise. Back when they still issued rum to their sailors.

    The man closed up the bottle and returned it to a liquor cabinet behind him, then slid one of the glasses over to Ethan.

    Ethan turned around and glanced behind him, noting two armed guards standing by a door. He raised his glass to them as a mocking ‘cheers,’ then lifted the glass to his nose and sniffed. The rum smelled amazing, notes of dark chocolate and fruit. He took a sip. Wow, he muttered.

    Good, isn’t it? the other man asked, a knowing smirk on his face.

    Ethan took another drink of the rum. He wanted to down the whole thing. But rum this old had to be enjoyed slowly.

    Where am I? Ethan finally asked.

    Getting right down to business, I see, the man replied. I can respect that. But you will never know where you are right now. That’s on a ‘need-to-know’ basis.

    Okay. How about telling me who you are then?

    My name is Victor. Victor Magnussen.

    Ethan chuckled. Gotta say, that’s exactly the kind of name I’d expect from someone with an office like this.

    And Ethan Chase is exactly the kind of name I’d expect from a two-bit crook who made a living off glorified spelunking.

    Fair enough, Ethan replied, and he took another sip of rum. So what’s the deal here? Are you guys CIA? DHS? How’d I get out of Leavenworth?

    The department to which I belong is, yet again, on a ‘need-to-know’ basis, said Victor. I will tell you that it is not a group you’ve ever heard of before. Everyone who knows it is either in the group or dead. And as for how we got you out of Leavenworth, I walked into the office of the Secretary of Defense and told him that I would be taking you away.

    That’s all it took?

    Victor

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