Thursday, 31 March 2011

Scorpia Rising - First Chapter Sneak Peek!

Now this is a rare treat for you all! Not so long back I posted a preview of the cover for Scorpia Rising, the final novel in the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz. Now I'm pleased to present a sneak peek of the first chapter of Scorpia Rising!

You can find out all the details you need about the Alex Rider series at the website.

SCORPIA RISING is out now, published by Walker Books, £6.99 (PB).

Without any further delay, here is the good stuff *grin*. Enjoy!


The man in the black cashmere coat climbed
down the steps of his private six-seater Learjet 40
and stood for a moment, his breath frosting in the
chill morning air. He glanced across the tarmac as
a refuelling truck rumbled past. In the distance
two men in fluorescent jackets were standing talking
in front of a hangar. Otherwise, he seemed to
be alone. Ahead of him a sign read WELCOME TO
LONDON CITY AIRPORT, and beneath it an open
door beckoned, leading to immigration. He headed
for it, unaware that he was being watched every
step of the way.

The man was in his fifties, bald and expressionless.
Inside the terminal he gave his passport to
the official and watched with blank eyes as it was
examined and handed back, then continued on
his way. He had no luggage. There was a black
limousine waiting for him outside with a greysuited
chauffeur behind the wheel. The man
offered no greeting as he got in, nor did he speak
as they set off, following the curve of the River
Thames up towards Canning Town and on towards
the centre of London itself.

His name was Zeljan Kurst and he was wanted
by the police in seventeen different countries.
He was the chief executive of the international
criminal organization known as Scorpia and, as far
as it was known, he had never been seen on the
streets of London. However, MI6 had been tipped
off that he was coming, and they had been waiting
for him to land. The passport official was one of
their secret agents. They were following him now.

“Heading west on the A13 Commercial Road
towards Whitechapel. Car three take over at the
next intersection.”

“Car three moving into position…”

“OK. Dropping back…”

The disembodied voices bounced across the airwaves
on a channel so secret that anyone trying
to tune in without the necessary filters would hear
only the hiss of static. It would have been easier to
arrest Kurst at the airport. He could have been made
to disappear in five seconds, bundled out in a crate
and never seen again. But it had been decided, at
the very highest level, to follow him and see where
he went. For the head of Scorpia to be in England at
all was remarkable. For him to be on his own, and
on his way to a meeting, was beyond belief.

Zeljan Kurst was not aware that he was surrounded.
He had no idea that his flight plan had
been leaked by one of his own people in return for
a complete change of identity and a new life in
Panama. But even so, he was uneasy. Everything
had told him that he shouldn’t be here. When the
invitation had first arrived on his desk, delivered
by a series of middlemen and travelling halfway
round the world and back again, he had thought
about refusing. He was not an errand boy. He
couldn’t be summoned like a waiter in a restaurant.
But then he had reconsidered.

When the fourth richest man in the world asks
you to meet him, and pays you one million euros
just to turn up, it might be as well to hear what he
has to say.

“We’re on High Holborn. Car four moving to

“Wait a minute. Wait a minute. He’s turning off…”

The limousine had crossed the main road and
entered a narrow street full of old-fashioned
shops and caf├ęs. The move had taken the MI6
men by surprise, and for a moment, there was
panic as they struggled to catch up. Two of their
cars swerved across the traffic – to a blast of
horns – and plunged in after it. They were just in
time to see the limousine stop and Zeljan Kurst
get out.

“Car four. Where are you?” The voice was
suddenly urgent. “Where is the target?”

A pause. Then: “He’s entering the British

It was true. Kurst had passed through the gates
and was crossing the open area in front of the
famous building which rose up ahead of him, its
huge pillars stretching from one side to the other.
He was carrying an ebony walking stick that measured
out his progress, rapping against the concrete.
The MI6 men were already piling out of their own
cars but they were too late. Even as they watched
from the other side of the gates, Kurst disappeared
into the building and they knew that if they didn’t
act swiftly, they would lose him for good. There
was more than one way out. It was unlikely that
the Scorpia man would have travelled all the way to
England just to look at an exhibit. He might have
gone inside deliberately to shake them off.

“He’s inside the museum. Cars one, two and
three, surround the building. Watch all possible
exits. We need immediate backup.”

Someone had taken charge. But whoever it was,
his voice sounded high-pitched and uncertain. It
was eleven o’clock on a bright February morning.
The museum would be crowded with tourists and
schoolchildren. If there was going to be any action,
if they were going to arrest Zeljan Kurst, this was
the last place they would want to do it.

In fact, Kurst was still unaware of his pursuers
as he crossed the Great Court, a gleaming white
space with a spectacular glass roof sweeping in
a huge curve overhead. He skirted round the gift
shops and information booths, making for the
first galleries. As he went he noticed a Japanese
couple, tiny and almost identical, taking photographs
of each other against a twisting staircase.
A bearded student with a backpack was looking at
the postcards, pulling them out one at a time and
studying them as if trying to find hidden codes.
Tap, tap, tap. The end of the walking stick beat
out its rhythm as Kurst continued on his way. He
knew exactly where he was going and would arrive
at the precise minute that had been agreed.

Zeljan Kurst was a large man with heavy, broad
shoulders that formed a straight line on either side
of an unnaturally thick neck. He was bald by choice.
His head had been shaved and there was a dark
grey shadow beneath the skin. His eyes, a muddy
brown, showed little intelligence and he had the
thick lips and small, squashed nose of a wrestler,
or perhaps a bouncer at a shady nightclub. Many
people had underestimated him and occasionally
Kurst had found it necessary to correct them. This
usually involved killing them.

He walked past the statue of a crouching naked
goddess. An elderly woman in a deerstalker hat,
sitting on a stool with brushes and oil paints, was
making a bad copy of it on a large white canvas.
Ahead of him were two stone animals – strangely
shaped lions – and to one side an entire temple,
more than two thousand years old, brought from
south-west Turkey and reconstructed piece by
piece. He barely glanced at them. He didn’t like
museums, although his house was furnished with
rare objects that had been stolen from several of
them. But that was the point. Why should something
that might be worth hundreds of thousands
of pounds be left to moulder in a dark room,
stared at by idiot members of the general public
who had little or no idea of its true value? Kurst
had a simple rule in life. To enjoy something fully
you had to own it. And if you couldn’t buy it,
then you would have to steal it.

Ahead of him two glass doors led into a final
gallery. He watched as a tall, well-built black man
carrying a notebook and pen walked through, then
went in himself. The gallery was huge, stretching
out in both directions like an airport runway.
Although more than a hundred people were there,
it wasn’t even half full. Everything was grey: the
walls, the floor, the very air. But spotlights, shining
down from a ceiling five times higher than
the visitors who stood beneath it, picked out the
treasures that the room contained, and these
shone, soft and gold.

They ran along both walls, from one end to
the other, a series of marble tablets with a crowd
of figures that had been brought together to
form a single line. They were men and women,
ancient Greeks, some sitting, others standing,
some talking, some riding on horseback. Some
carried musical instruments, others bundles of
linen or plates and glasses for a feast. Many were
incomplete. Two and a half millennia had worn
away their faces, broken off arms and legs. But
there was something remarkable about the details
that remained. It was easy to see that these had
been real people who had once lived ordinary lives
until they had been frozen in this waking dream,
an entire world captured in stone.

Zeljan Kurst barely glanced at them. The gallery
had two raised platforms, one at each end,
reached by a short flight of steps with a disabled
lift – which must have been used by the man he
had come to see. There he was in a wheelchair, on
the far right, sitting alone, with a blanket over his
knees. Kurst walked over to him.

“Mr Kurst?” The voice was dry and strangled. It
came from a lizard neck.

Kurst nodded. He was a careful man and made it
a rule never to speak unless there was a particular

“I am Ariston.”

“I know who you are.”

“Thank you for coming.”

Yannis Ariston Xenopolos was said to be worth
about thirty-five billion dollars – nearly twenty-five
billion pounds. He had made this fortune from
a huge shipping empire which he controlled from
his offices in Athens. To this he had added an airline,
Ariston Air, and a chain of hotels. And now
he was dying. Kurst would have known it even
without reading the stories in the newspapers.
It was obvious from the sunken cheeks, the dreadful
white of the man’s skin, the way he sat like a
hunched-up Egyptian mummy, his body disappearing
into itself. But most of all it was in his eyes.
Kurst had once been the head of the Yugoslavian
police force and he had always been interested
in the way the prisoners had looked at him just
before he executed them. He could see the same
thing right here. The Greek had accepted death.
All hope had gone.

“I took a considerable risk coming here.” Kurst
spoke with a heavy mid-European accent which
some how dragged his words down. “What is it you

“I would have thought the answer would be
obvious to you.”

“The Elgin Marbles.”

“Exactly. I wanted you to come here so that you
would understand.”

Ariston reached out with a hand that was more
like a claw, gripping a lever on one wheel of his
chair. The whole thing was battery-operated and,
with a soft whirr, it spun him round so that he
faced the room.

“This is one of the greatest pieces of art that
the world has ever produced,” he began. “Take a
look at the figures, Mr Kurst. They are so beautiful
that it is almost impossible to find the words
to describe them. They once decorated a temple in
the heart of Athens – the Parthenon, dedicated to
Athena, the goddess of wisdom. The frieze which
you are examining depicts the summer festival that
took place every year in honour of the goddess…”

Again the claw pressed down, turning him
so that he faced a group of statues which stood
behind him. First there was a horse rising as if out
of water, with only its head showing. Then came a
naked man, lying on his back. Then three women,
all missing their heads. From the way they were
arranged, it was clear that these figures had once
stood in one of the pediments at each end of the

“The horse belonged to Helios, the sun god,”
Ariston explained. “Next comes Dionysus, the god
of wine. The figures to his left are the goddess
Demeter and her daughter—”

“I am familiar with the Elgin Marbles,” Kurst
interrupted. It didn’t matter how much he had
been paid. He hadn’t come here for a lecture.

“Then you will also be aware that they were
plundered. Stolen! Two hundred years ago, a
British aristocrat called Lord Elgin came to Athens.
He tore them off the temple and transported them
back to London. Since then my country has asked
many times for them to be returned. We have even
built a new museum in Athens to house them. They
are the glory of Greece, Mr Kurst. They are part of
our heritage. They should come home.”

The old man fumbled in the folds of his blanket
and produced an oxygen mask, which he pressed
against his face. There was the hiss of compressed
air and he sucked greedily. At last he continued.

“But the British government have refused. They
insist on keeping this stolen property. They will
not listen to the voice of the Greek people. And
so I have decided that although it will be the last
thing I do in my life, I will make them listen. That
is why I have contacted you and your organization.
I want you to steal the sculptures and return
them to Greece.”

In the street outside, four more cars had pulled
up next to the British Museum, spilling out fifteen
more agents. With the ones who had followed
Kurst from City Airport, that brought the total to
twenty-three. They were fairly confident that their
man was still inside the building, but with seventy-six
galleries covering a floor space of a fifth of a
square mile, it was going to be almost impossible
to find him. And already the order had gone out.
“Do not, under any circumstances, approach him
while he is in a public area. This man is extremely
dangerous. If he feels trapped, there’s no saying
what he will do. The result could be a bloodbath.”

Zeljan Kurst was quite unaware of the approaching
MI6 men as he considered what the Greek
billionaire had just said.

“Stealing the Elgin Marbles won’t help you,” he
said. “The British government will simply demand
them back. It would be better to threaten them.
Blackmail them, perhaps.”

“Do whatever it takes. I don’t care. You can kill
half the population of this loathsome country if it
will achieve what I want…” Ariston broke into a
fit of coughing. Pearls of white saliva appeared at
the corners of his mouth.

Kurst waited for him to recover. Then he nodded
slowly. “It can be done,” he said. “But it will take
time. And it will be expensive.”

Ariston nodded. “This work will be my legacy
to the Greek people. If you agree to do it for me,
I will pay you five million euros immediately, and
a further fifteen million when you succeed.”

“It’s not enough,” Kurst said.

Ariston looked at him slyly. “There was a time
when you might have said that and I would have
been forced to agree. But Scorpia is not what it
was. There have been two failures in the space of
a single year. The operation called Invisible Sword
and, more recently, the business in north-west
Australia.” He smiled, showing grey teeth. “The
very fact that you are here today shows how weak
you have become.”

“Scorpia has regrouped,” Kurst retorted. “We
have taken on new recruits. I would say we are
stronger than ever. We can choose our clients, Mr
Xenopolos, and we do not negotiate.”

“Name your price.”

“Forty million.”

Ariston’s eyes barely flickered. “Agreed.”

“Half in advance.”

“As you wish.”

Kurst turned and walked away without saying
another word, his cane beating the same rhythm
on the floor. As he made his way back towards
the entrance, his mind was already focused on the
task that lay ahead. Although he would never have
dreamed of saying as much, he was glad he had
come here today. It was very much his desire to
take on the British government once again. The
failures Ariston had mentioned had both involved
the British secret service.

It was fortunate that the old man hadn’t heard
the full story. Would he have still approached
Scorpia if he had known the almost incredible
truth? That both failures had involved the same
fourteen-year-old boy?

In the end it was just bad luck – bad timing
– that Kurst left the gallery when he did. He was
about to reach the Great Court when one of the
MI6 agents crossed in front of him and suddenly
the two of them were face to face, only inches
apart. The agent – his name was Parker – was new
and inexperienced. He was unable to keep the
shock out of his eyes and at that moment Kurst
knew he had been recognized.

Parker had no choice. He had been given his
orders, but he knew that if he obeyed them he
would die. He fumbled in his jacket and pulled out
his pistol, a 9mm Browning, long a favourite of the
SAS. At the same time, he shouted, louder than he
needed to, “Stay where you are! If you move, I’ll
fire.” It was exactly how he had been trained. He
was both exerting his authority over his target and
alerting any nearby agents that his cover had been

In the silence of the museum and with the ceiling
so high overhead, his words echoed out. A few
tourists turned to see what was happening and
caught sight of the gun. The first seeds of panic
were planted and instantly began to grow.

Kurst raised his hands, one of them still holding
the ebony walking stick, and moved very slightly
to one side. Parker followed him with his eyes and
didn’t see something flash through the air over
Kurst’s shoulder, didn’t even notice it until it had
buried itself in his throat.

The old woman who had been painting a copy of
the kneeling goddess had followed Kurst to the door.
Underneath the make-up she wasn’t old at all, and
her brushes might have had tufts at one end but the
handles were precision-made steel and razor sharp.
Parker fell to his knees. In the last second of his
life his trigger finger tightened and the gun went
off, the explosion amplified by the stone walls all
around. That was when the panic began for real.

The tourists screamed and scattered, some of
them diving into the shops or behind the information
desks. A group of primary school children
who had been visiting the Egyptian mummies
crouched down beside the stairs, cowering together.
An American woman standing next to them began
to scream. The British Museum guards, many of
them old and long retired from their real careers,
remained frozen to the spot, completely unprepared
for an event like this. Kurst stepped over the
dead man and continued to move slowly towards
the main door.

Of course he hadn’t come to the museum alone.
Scorpia would not have risked the life of its chief
executive, even for a million euros, and its agents
surrounded him on all sides. As the MI6 men
closed in from every direction, still unsure what
had happened but knowing that all the rules had
changed, they were met by a hail of machine-gun
fire. The bearded student who had been examining
the postcards had reached into his backpack
and drawn out a miniature machine gun with
folding shoulder stock and was spraying the court
with bullets. An MI6 man, halfway down the West
Stairs, threw his arms back in surprise, then jerked
forward and tumbled down. The American woman
was still screaming. The primary school children
were crying in terror. All the alarms in the building
had gone off. People were running in every

The Japanese man who had been photo graphing
his wife threw his camera on the floor and it
exploded with a soft woomph, releasing thick, dark
green fumes into the air. In seconds Kurst had disappeared.
The Great Court had become a battle zone.

Two MI6 agents slid to a halt, trying to peer through
the smoke. There was a loud crack, then another,
and they fell to the ground. They had been shot in
the legs by the Japanese woman, who had produced
a pearl-handled Nambu pistol from her handbag.
Meanwhile, holding a handkerchief across his
face, Kurst had reached the main doors. There had
been little security when he came in; there was
none as he left. Out of the corner of his eye he saw
an MI6 agent try to rush him, then fall back as he
was grabbed by his personal bodyguard, the black
man with the notebook whom he had registered
on his way to the Elgin Marbles. The human neck
makes an unmistakable sound when it is snapped,
and he heard it now. The agent slumped to the
ground. Kurst walked out into the fresh air.
There were people running between the pillars,
tumbling down the steps and hurling themselves
across the open area in front of the museum.
Already the police were on their way, their sirens
growing in volume as they came together from
different parts of the city. Kurst’s limousine was
waiting for him at the gates. But there were
two men moving purposefully towards him, both
dressed in charcoal grey suits and sunglasses.
He briefly wondered why people who worked in
espionage had to make themselves look so obvious.
They had become aware of the chaos inside the
British Museum and were racing in. Perhaps they
hadn’t expected him to emerge so quickly.

Kurst lifted his walking stick. It was in fact a
hollowed-out tube with a single gas-fired bullet
and an electric trigger concealed just beneath the
handle. The bullet had been specially modified. It
wouldn’t just kill a man. It would tear him in half.
He fired. The man on the left was blown off his
feet, landing in a spinning, bloody ball. The second
man froze for just one second. It was much too
long. Moving surprisingly fast for someone of his
age, Kurst swung the walking stick through the air,
using it like a sword. The metal casing slammed
into the agent’s throat and he crumpled. Kurst ran
for the car. The back door was already open and he
threw himself in, slamming it behind him. There
was a series of gunshots. But the car windows were
bulletproof and the bodywork was armour-plated.
With a screech of tyres, the limousine swung
out. Another man stood in the way, his gun held
commando-style, in both hands. The chauffeur
accelerated. There was a thud as the man hit the
bumper and he was hurled out of the way.

Two hours later, a man in a blond wig, wearing
sunglasses and holding a huge bunch of flowers,
boarded the Eurostar train to Paris.

Zeljan Kurst hated these disguises, but it was something else
he had learned in his long career. If you’re trying
not to be seen, it often helps to make yourself as
prominent as possible. The flowers and the wig
were ridiculous, but although the police and MI6
were looking for him all over London, they certainly
wouldn’t associate them with him.

As he settled into his pre-booked seat in first
class and sipped his complimentary glass of champagne,
Kurst’s mind was focused on the problem he
had been given. The shoot-out at the museum was
already forgotten. The question was – who would
be the best person to handle this quite interesting
business of the Elgin Marbles? There were now
twelve members of Scorpia, including him, and he
mentally went over them one by one.

Levi Kroll, the former Israeli agent who, in a
moment of carelessness, had shot out his own eye?
Mikato, the Japanese policeman turned yakuza
gangster? Dr Three? Or perhaps this might be an
opportunity for their newest recruit? He had the
sort of mind that would enjoy working out a problem
of this complexity, along with the ruthlessness
to see it through to the end.

There was a blast of a whistle and the train
moved off. Kurst took out his mobile phone –
encrypted, of course – and dialled a number. The
train slid down the platform and picked up speed,
and as they left St Pancras International, Kurst
permitted himself the rare luxury of a smile. Yes.
Razim was perfect. He would bring his unique talents
to this new assignment. Kurst was sure of it.
He had chosen exactly the right man.

Sounds tremendous, non?

Anthony Horowitz is also appearing at the following bookstores for signing events:

Thursday 31st March, 5pm
WHSmith, The Mall, Cribbs Causeway, Bristol

Saturday 2nd April, 1pm
Waterstone's Oxford, William Baker House, Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3AF

Saturday 9th April
11am, Muswell Hill Children’s Bookshop, 29 Fortis Green Road , Muswell Hill, London, N10 3HP
3pm, Lion and Unicorn Bookshop, 9 King Street, Richmond, Surrey TW9 1ND

This is one of the most exciting publishing events of the year for young adult fiction. If you're already a fan, no doubt you're salivating at the idea of finding out about the last adventure of Alex Rider. If you're new to the series, what better time to pick up the first novel Stormrider now that the series is complete?


  1. amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. post more chapters please...