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Duel of the Damned: Shadow King Series Book 1

Duel of the Damned: Shadow King Series Book 1

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Shane Ryan’s ultimate battle is about to begin…

In back alleys and hellholes across the world, ravaged souls and scarred warriors whisper of the Iron Tournament. A savage game of death, pitting living fighters against caged spirits, all for the amusement of a mysterious audience.

But a new challenger is about to enter the ring—ghost hunter and retired Marine Shane Ryan. He’s never backed down from a fight. And he’s not about to start now.

When a mysterious invitation arrives on his doorstep, Shane finds himself swept into a world of underground death matches, supernatural gladiators, and tortured souls. And in this sadistic arena, there is only one rule: Winners live, and losers die…

But Shane quickly discovers a sinister presence behind these dark, bloody battles… A ravenous force that feeds on death and suffering.

Can he defeat this supernatural enemy in mortal combat before it unleashes unthinkable carnage upon the world?

Or will Shane have to back down from a fight for the very first time?

197 pages

Chapter 2: Dead Ends

The street on which James kept his shop was as unassuming as possible. Shane couldn’t help smirking a little as he drove up. The entire neighborhood had that quaint New England village feel to it. It was a tourist trap area where every shop was as darling as the next. There was a fish and chips place a block over and a clothing store right across the street. Moran and Moran, the antique shop, fitted right in, Shane supposed. Moran and Moran, dealers of haunted items, did not. But that was part of the charm of it all.

Shane pulled his car to a stop out front and looked at the building. Planters overflowing with ferns and other greens bracketed the door. The ghost of a young man leaned against the wall like he was tired from a day of working. They made eye contact, and Shane gave him a quick wink and a smile. The ghost’s eyes widened, and Shane chuckled. He shook his head and walked inside. The brass bells over the door tinkled.

Moran and Moran’s storefront was that of a genuine, if somewhat niche, antique shop. Items of rare and unusual provenance lined the shelves, appealing to those of discerning and eclectic tastes. They were all haunted, which was a bonus for those in the know. Not all were dangerous, but they were definitely unique.

Those who might want the more dangerous and rare stock typically did their business privately. Shane had no doubt the man had a much bigger inventory that the general public would never see compared to what he kept out on display.

“How can I help you?” the old man asked from behind the counter without looking up. His nose was buried in a book with a blank cover and a gold trim.

“Brought you something,” Shane replied, prompting the older man to finally lift his head.

“Shane! Wasn’t expecting you so soon,” James said.

He was older than Shane by at least twenty years, but probably more. It was hard to put a finger on his precise age, and Shane had never been moved to ask. The lines on his face suggested he’d had more than a few trips around the block.

“No time like the present, right?”

Shane set the box on the counter before shaking the older man’s hand.

James placed a bookmark carefully in his book and then set it aside, turning his attention to the box on the counter.

“What can you tell me about it?” he asked.

“Not much. Showed up wrapped in butcher paper and tied with twine. My name was handwritten on it.”

“No return address, of course,” James said, not really asking a question.

Shane shook his head anyway.

“Nothing else. Found this inside, though,” he added, sliding the note the box came with across the counter.

James didn’t touch it but read it over.

“Do you know what is at this address?” he asked, referencing the note.

Shane shook his head once more.

“No idea. It’s my next stop.”

“Ahh, you came to me first. How flattering.”

Shane smiled. It hadn't necessarily been meant as a compliment, though he wasn’t positive if James was being sarcastic or not.

“Figured you’d be most likely to know where it came from if anyone did.”

“Well then, let’s have a look, hmm?” James adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses and gave the box a good visual inspection. “The box is made of poplar, not pine.”

Shane shrugged. He hadn’t been all that concerned about the wood.

“The hinges are cheap. Dollar store stuff, from the looks of it. I imagine this box was made to order. Doubt it’s more than a week old.”

“I think it was just a means to an end,” Shane told the older man.

James nodded.

“Yes, built for utility. No pride in workmanship. People used to be craftsmen, you know? They cared about things like this.”

“Things like what?”

James indicated the box between them with flair.

“If I were sending someone a ghost, I’d certainly use a receptacle with a little more panache.”

“I’ll keep that in mind if I ever get a decorative music box with a killer pirate inside again,” Shane replied.

The other man looked up over the rim of his glasses.

“It’s a pirate?” he asked.

“I think so. He didn’t have much to say, but he dressed the part and was bloated.”

“Interesting. Guess we should get a look at the old boy.”

“I wouldn’t. He’s feisty,” Shane warned.

James smiled and gestured to a door behind the counter.

“Come in back with me. I have something to show you that I think you’ll enjoy. Bring the box.”

James made his way to the door while Shane retrieved the box and walked around the counter. The older man used an ornate key chain from his pocket to unlock the door and then headed inside without waiting. Shane picked up the pace to get to the door before it closed, catching the knob in his free hand and then heading through to what waited beyond.

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