Warren Murphy: Failing Marks

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Warren Murphy Failing Marks
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    Failing Marks
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Failing Marks: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Golden Mirage The losers or World War II and their descendants have carved out their own little slice of heaven in the mountains of Argentina. In this staging area to the Fourth Reich, the promise of the dream reborn dawned as bright as a new German mark. But when the Destroyer's brain was downloaded onto disks, he took the whole matter very personally. That put an end to the whole affair - almost. Adolf Kluge, the head of the secret organization known as IV, has an eleventh-hour plan that may just refinance the whole sweet dream. He's come into some money: a centuries-old treasure belonging to the venerable house of Sinanju. But then, he isn't aware just how sensitive the Master of Sinanju is regarding this precious metal.... At first the idea of a trilogy turned me off.  But then I thought about what I'm doing now - reading all the Friend books , then all the Nuihc books, then the Mr.Gordons, and so on. Basically taking the super-baddies and reading them in series. The downside is the years that pass, the upside is the continuity in the character.  With this mini-series, it should be all upside!

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Destroyer 114: Failing Marks

By Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

PROLOGUE

At the precise moment his killer was sharpening the sword that would sever his head from his body, Durthang of Saxony was carefully applying the finishing touches to what he considered his finest creation.

Gnarled craftsman's hands lovingly buffed the surface of the wood carving. Weary eyes peered intently at the deliberately uneven surface, searching for any flaws.

There were none. He had carved the wood to perfection.

Nonetheless, Durthang took from a nearby stone table a long, curved, flat implement forged for him by Gull the Blacksmith. The hook at the end was gradual, the iron end pitted with thousands of tiny indentations. Each dent had been gently tapped into the surface by Durthang's own hand.

He picked up the wood block that was, unbeknownst to him, the reason for his impending murder. He placed the block carefully between his knees, clamping them tightly together. Taking the curved tool in one hand, he drew it down to one of the interlocking furrows in the center of the block.

Durthang drew the iron implement back and forth gently across the wooden block. The delicate pitting of the tool's surface acted as sandpaper.

After a short time, Durthang blew gently on the wood. A puff of dust escaped down the deep furrow and out into the cool air of his forest workshop.

He repositioned the block between his knees and repeated the procedure, this time on a second line. Together, both lines formed a cross in the center of the block. The four separated areas outside the indentations were part of a larger map.

Durthang knew the precise spot that the entire map indicated. Of course he would; he had carved the map to the exact specifications of his noble employer. And he was no stranger to this area that would one day be part of modern Germany, having lived in the region for more than sixty years.

Until that morning, however, the white-haired carver didn't know the significance of the location. This knowledge was the reason for his impending death.

In each of the four corners, above the elaborate fleur-de-lis pattern in which were hidden the hissing heads of three sinister serpents, Durthang had been instructed to carve a single runic mark. It was the symbol for gold.

He couldn't entirely believe that this simple block carving he had been hired to create truly represented what he suspected it did. He was too insignificant a person to be involved even peripherally in something so great.

But still. The thought was there.

Durthang blew the last of the dust free of the block. Placing his sanding tool down with his other implements, he lifted the piece of wood from between his knees and held it upright to examine the lines of the map.

He knew where the place was. It was close by. And the symbols at the four corners. Gold.

It could not be.

Durthang jumped as he heard footfalls behind him on the stone floor of his cramped work area. So engrossed in his handiwork was he that he had not heard the old wooden door creak open. He quickly lowered the carving, turning to the intruder.

A lazy burst of early-evening air sent a twirl of sawdust spinning before the glowing hearth fire. His fat ruddy face relaxed when he saw who had entered. Durthang rose, bowing deep reverence. "Forgive me, noble sir. Your servant did not know the lateness of the hour."

The visitor stood before Durthang, resplendent in his silver chain-mail tunic. A skintight chain headdress rose up around his neck, enclosing his entire head with the exception of his face. A shining silver iron battle helmet sat atop his head, nestling down over his ears.

Perched at the peak of his armor helmet was a metal-hewed falcon, its wings spread back and frozen in perpetual flight. The bird stood as high as the ceiling, its beak open in a still-life menacing cry. The regal intruder stood a few feet inside the open doorway, his hooded black eyes staring intently at the simple peasant carver.

Although Durthang had met his lord on several occasions now, the man's presence was still awe-inspiring to the carver. And why not? For this was a god among men. His exploits were legendary. Siegfried, son of Siegmund, husband of Brunhild. Slayer of Fafner, the dragon. King of the Nibelungs. Possessor of the Nibelungen Hoard.

Siegfried regarded the dusty interior of the tiny peasant hut with regal disdain. He looked from hearth, to kitchen table, to cot, to work area with equal contempt. At last his eyes alighted on the nervous Durthang.

"It is complete?" Siegfried intoned.

Durthang nodded anxiously. "'Tis surely so, sire."

Siegfried didn't say another word. He stretched out an open palm to the carver. The hand was encased in an expertly crafted chain-mail glove. The gauntlets stretched halfway up his forearms and were attached around the back with elaborate metal fasteners.

Durthang obediently placed the block of wood in the hand of the Nibelungen king.

The wooden piece was heavy and flat. Though Siegfried's hand was large, the wood was larger.

With his fingers splayed, his hand was only as big as one of the four equal-sized sections. He nodded his approval as he scanned the details of the map.

"You have done well," Siegfried said with satisfaction.

Durthang the Carver sighed in great relief. When he had accepted this special appointment, his worst fear was that his work would dissatisfy his lordship, and that Siegfried would condemn him as an inferior craftsman. His business among the nearby villagers-meager as it was-would surely suffer from such a condemnation.

"I thank you, my lord," Durthang said, again with a polite bow.

While his eyes were downcast, the carver heard a sliding sound. It was that of metal against metal. When he glanced up, he found that Siegfried had placed the heavy wood carving on a chair. The sound Durthang had heard was that of Siegfried's famous sword. The king had drawn it from the chain belt that was slung below his hip.

Legend had it that the king had forged the weapon himself from the fragments of his father's own sword. It was the blade he had used to slay the mighty Fafner. This terrifying implement of death was aimed now at the simple peasant wood carver.

Durthang looked in fright at the sharpened tip of the huge gleaming sword. It was half a hand from his face. So powerful was Siegfried that the weapon did not quiver, though it weighed more than forty pounds. Orange firelight danced along the length of the broadsword.

Eyes locked on the tip of the sword, the carver threw himself to his knees. "My liege, I beg you!" he pleaded. "Spare my life!"

Siegfried shook his head. "You have done well, carver. Would that I might do as you request."

"Please, Lord. I will forget that which I have seen."

"How can you forget?" Siegfried stated, a note of sadness in his voice. He raised his sword in two hands as if to slaughter the peasant.

"Please!" Durthang cried. "Blind me, that I cannot see to find the spot. Cleave out my tongue, that I cannot speak of what I know. Remove one hand, that I will be unable to duplicate in memory that which I have crafted for you. But please, O Lord, I beg of you. Let me live."

Siegfried seemed for a time to consider the impassioned words of the simple carver. After a moment, his deliberations ended. He nodded ever so slightly. As he did so, the falcon on his helmet tapped softly against the great crossbeam at the center of Durthang's small hut.

The carver fell to the floor in relief and homage. He prostrated himself at the feet of the great, beneficent king.

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