Cullen’s day started in a spider-guarded prison on the wrong side of the universe, and only got worse from there.
Everything changed with a strange message written in the air, “Welcome to the Cipher. Do you accept your quest?”

The Cipher was a real-life game system that ruled the universe and gave supernatural powers to its best players. Then it disappeared.

Cullen’s people have been on the losing side of a galactic war ever since. Now the Cipher has awaken to choose Cullen, the exiled son of their Star General. If he succeeds in its quest, the Cipher will once again empower his people and give them a chance to win their war.

First, he’ll have to prison break a mother-son duo unaware the Cipher has turned them into telepaths. Together they must level up, learn new skills, and uncover prophetic clues in a jungle ruled by berserkers and EMP hurling tigers. On the other side is hope. In between, the challenge of a lifetime. If they survive, this quest will only be the beginning.

Cipher’s Quest is a LitRPG Sci-fi Fantasy mashup akin to a Stargate team traversing a galaxy where the rules and powers of Final Fantasy and Age of Empires apply.

As a new reader to the LitRPG genre, I must say that Cipher’s Quest made an addictive and entertaining read.

Amazon reviewer, A. Lynnette

Scroll down to get a sneak peek at Chapter One

It all begins here…

Chapter One

An eye emerged from the black metal door, red and tiny, then followed by more. Eve spiders. Messengers of the Osuna empire. If Cullen failed the test of entry, a greater threat would soon follow.

A shiver tickled down his back. He’d seen eve spiders devour prey; their process… was quick.

Beady red eyes and a mass of hairy black bodies quickly covered the door before him, close enough to jump. One, larger than the rest, climbed out from the bulging surface, venom dripping from its fangs.

Cullen breathed. It’s not real.

The spider froze, then a blue light shone out from its eyes, scanning Cullen’s retinas for the bounty hunter ID that allowed him to be here. The one his sidekick, Torek had forged.
The light faded, but the spots in his vision did not. He tightened his stomach to keep his posture, just like his father had taught him.

Playing into what was natural helped them on many of their undercover missions. On this one, they used licenses showing them both as Paladins of Morunth. Only half of that was a lie. The one Cullen hid could send him straight to the emperor to hang from a hook; or perhaps something less lethal… like the caves.

“Access granted.” The voice drifted up through the floor, hoarse as a poisoned, dying wind. “Proceed with the prisoner to Gate D, Cell 47. Yours is ready to exchange.”
Holotext formed a blue box of light before him as the door slid over stone to open.

Welcome to the Cipher. Do you accept your quest?

Cullen stopped cold, his attention locked on the words as though they had just broken the laws of existence and he wasn’t privy to why. Their italicized style was unique from the block letters the Osuna used to translate Space Tongue. As he studied them, a different nervousness replaced his concern of being outed; the words before him felt strangely alive, like when he’d seen his first flying electric eel.

“Cul,” Torek whispered.

Their prisoner grunted through her leather gag. The chains jangled and pulled tight as Torek yanked on the choker to keep their captive docile.

“It’s open,” Torek whispered. His dark eyes presented a second test of Cullen’s sanity.

“I know.” Cullen redirected his attention to the doorway, pushing away concerns that he’d hallucinated a strange message about a quest, and snapped his fingers. “Let’s go.”

Inside the artificially lit corridors of the Osuna warrior prison, the prizes behind the locked doors remained as quiet as the hallways that kept them. Cullen had seen the insects and other small, elusive creatures the Osuna used to keep their people subservient. Had the chambers that housed the prisoners not included dormant generation pods to ensure their health restoration between matches, he doubted any would make a peep to try and escape. The Osuna were plenty bored without needing an excuse to test a new pet creature on a disobedient slave.

“What was with you back there?” Torek whispered as they passed under a sign pointing to Gate D.

Cullen shook him off. Not only did Cullen not want to explain what he may or may not have seen, but he also had the strangest sense that he couldn’t. Even if every prisoner and battle-engineered creature were set loose on them, he knew he could not speak the words Cipher or Quest. The very thought of speaking them twisted his insides like a threat spun by the finger of God.

“Let’s just…” Cullen gestured forward and picked up his pace.

Torek let it go. They didn’t have time, nor did they want to draw any more attention to the cameras than Cullen might have already by delaying his entry at the open gate.

They reached the cell with “47” carved in black metal over a single spider with more eyes than he dared count. He steeled his nerves to accept the scan, trying to behave as though nothing were wrong. They had been paid modestly for their prisoner, taking a reduction to accommodate requesting the one they wanted in return. That prisoner, Jolnes, recently promoted from the prison they planned to visit next, held far more value than his skill with melee weapons. His memory of the caves under Setuk’s prison was the key they needed to pullspace in and retrieve their next bounty—the one Torek said they’d be paid handsomely for.

With the exchange complete, Cullen’s heart beat heavily as they escorted the gagged, drugged Jolnes back down the corridor toward the exit. The groggy flow to the late teen’s walk concerned Cullen. How effectively would they be able to pullspace using his memories? If his mind wasn’t fresh by the time the Mericure Bubble formed, the pullspace could warp them into an unexpected grave. Cullen pulled a tiny pin out of his wristcom and stuck it into Jolnes’s neck. The metal dissolved under the skin, sealing the red speck.

Jolnes’s green eyes woke with life. He glanced at Cullen and Torek with the fear of being woken from a night terror, then clarity fell over him and his shoulders eased.

Cullen turned and stood before the scanner. Three seconds later, he led them out and toward their ship.

The Talis sat in a space-sealed dock large enough to fit three battleships, but housing only four other small merchant vessels like his own. A black viewer shield wrapped the bow of the pullspace ship’s cabin like glasses on a sitting bird. The short vessel had its wings docked flat and wheels stowed to rest belly to beach.

Torek helped Jolnes out of his gag-to-gurney harness as they strode out of the prison and toward the stern entry into the Talis.

Inside the cargo bay at the center of the ship, Cullen helped Jolnes get seated in the neuronet chair installed into the aft bulkhead beside the companionway leading up to the cockpit. He picked up the long tube that housed the cable and n-jack, and raised it toward the base plate hidden behind Jolnes’s right ear.

“It’s an honor to be here,” Jolnes said as Cullen looked for the flap of skin hiding the tiny base plate.

Cullen pealed the artificial skin back with his thumbnail, exposing the docking slit. He slid the n-jack in with a click and side-stepped to the controls on the wall to trigger the eye sensor.

Jolnes stared at him. Cullen wondered if he was supposed to respond. He felt as though something greater were happening than one more bounty to help pay for fixing his ship.

Torek’s boots clacked on the rails of the companionway as he climbed up to the cockpit.

Cullen tapped the activation button. A cylindrical arm slid out of the wall and opened into a T before the former prisoner’s eyes.

“I know who you are,” Jolnes said, his gaze locked on Cullen. Not accusing. Not threatening. His were the eyes of an ally.

“Do you?” Cullen lifted his wristcom and slid a sensor on the faceplate to wake the pullspace generator. He imagined the hum of his precious engine warming in a compartment in the stern.

“Don’t worry,” Jolnes added, sure in his words. “I would die for your secret.”

Cullen finished entering his password into his wristcom to unlock the memory retrieval system, then looked the young man in the eye. He knew bold promises well, and though Jolnes appeared sincere, his was as bold a promise as there was. Pictures of eve spiders crawling over the young man’s face, the torture the Osuna would use to break him, flashed into his thoughts. “Are you feeling okay?” he asked, choosing to refocus the conversation to pullspacing onto Setuk safely.

Jolnes smiled. Still cocky. “Like I said, Captain Re, it’s an honor.”

Captain Re. Since his exile, Cullen hadn’t told anyone but Torek his real last name. Capturing the son of the Star General would be almost as valuable as the memories he kept of their homeworld. A fire of anger breathed into his lungs, promising relief only in the suffering of his co-pilot for sharing his secret.

“It’s okay. You’ll see. I’m good.” Jolnes dared to wink at him before pressing his smile to the face cradle.

“Ready up here!” Torek shouted. “Let’s go.”

“What exactly am I going to see?” Cullen asked.

“Your memories of home have waited long enough.” Jolnes twisted a stare into Cullen’s eyes that threatened to expose his greatest fear. “Today, you’ll use them.”

Jolnes looked into the T sensor and the purple light indicating ready status. “Torek’ll explain. I need to get started.” He tapped the T sensor. “Now, please.”

Cullen exhaled. His lungs pumped fear and anger. Agitation and lack of being prepared. And concern at what the Cipher hallucination had been, and maybe what it wasn’t. If it weren’t some lack-of-sleep, too-many-stimulants mind blaze, then what was it? Jolnes’s words rattled along the same unnerving frequency.

Jolnes gave a short nod at the T sensor, and gently repeated his request.

Cullen tapped his wristcom, and purple beams lit into Jolnes’s eyes, reflecting new colors in the green and orange of his irises.

In the cockpit, Cullen sat in the pilot’s chair while Torek played his fingers through the strands of yellow hololights tied to the dash controls as though they were strings on an instrument. Not wanting to interrupt the execution of their preflight control system, Cullen waited until Torek had spiraled the last thread command into the program and patted the newly squared block of yellow light into the heart of the dash. A beacon on his wristcom signaled the pullspace generator was ready for flight.

Cullen lifted an inspecting glare at his only remaining friend in the universe.

Torek’s smile broke with the levity of a spoiled joke. He shook his head. “Stupid. Jolnes wasn’t supposed to tell you yet.”

“Tell me what?” Cullen asked, feeling the burn of the engine and knowing they had to ignite soon or shut it down. The heat sensor on the dash was halfway into orange. “Why does he know my last name, or about my memories?”

Torek checked the dash and the sensors, and buckled in. “You know, I was hoping to surprise you… but you’re going home today.”

Home. Vijil. His mind returned to the moment he saw his dad after the pre-exile procedure was supposed to remove his memories. “How is…?”

Torek smiled and held out a hand to stall his questions. “I’ll show you.” His gaze fell to Cullen’s wristcom. “All you have to do is tap that button. Our bounty awaits, with further clues to the mystery of Cullen Re’s return.”

Pixels on the dash’s engine heat reading filled the far end of the bar in red, indicating seconds before having to shut it down and wasting precious fuel.

Do you accept your quest?

The block of glowing words appeared again, this time in the air between his eyes and the dash. They followed as he shifted his head to look Torek in the eye. This wasn’t holotext.
What quest? he asked the alien program.

The Cipher.

Its interaction with his thoughts sent a chill down his spine. He recalled the term from Rucien scriptures, referring to a mythical power lost for so long many doubted it ever existed. They said the same about pullspace, but we rediscovered that.

Torek’s face scrunched in concern. “Cul, we gotta go.”

Home. He didn’t know if he wanted to go. But he couldn’t pass up whatever was happening. He took the first breath of hope in the ten years since his exile.

Yes, he thought, and tapped his wristcom to activate pullspace. He put his mouthguard in as a countdown on the dash screen started at twenty.

Welcome to the path of light, Cullen, Level 1 Bounty Hunter. XP 0/110.
*Quest to unlock the Cipher – Activated.*
*Mission to rescue the ultras – Activated.*
*Task to pullspace to Setuk – Activated.*

Cullen buckled into his seat as the sizzle of pullspace seized his cheeks and surged through every nerve, pressing him into his chair.

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