Horsemen’s War is out now.
So far, it’s been in the top 50 books in the UK and Australia, and top 20 Audible Science Fiction and Fantasy in the USA and UK. Basically, it’s doing very well and thank you to everyone who has picked up a copy.
Also, Sorcery Reborn and Death Unleashed are only 99p each in the UK on kindle, so if you haven’t had chance to catch up with Nate and co yet, now’s as good a time as any.
If you haven’t picked it up yet, and you want to, here are some links to help you
Thank you to those who decide to pick up a copy, and I hope you enjoy it.
It’s almost time for the launch of Horsemen’s War (Dec 3rd 2020 Kindle/Audible/ and Paperback, and available to pre-order right now), and I know that 2020 has been a long year for a lot of people, so I thought that I’d post the prologue now for people to read.
I hope you enjoy it.
Virginia, United States, Earth Realm
The interior of the barn was covered in blood. None of it was mine.
The two dozen inhabitants had arrived here believing they were meeting with me as an envoy from Avalon. I was meant to discuss future business deals, bring them more prosperity, and they, in return, would keep Avalon’s influence alive in the newly free country of America. Things had changed.
There was a gargle in one of the four empty stalls. The horses that had been kept there were long gone.
I walked over, stepping around the top half of a torso and a severed head, and found the still-living man inside the stall. The smell of blood and shit was overpowering, but I pushed it aside. I didn’t plan on staying long.
His tunic was bathed in blood, and more blood covered his face. There was a deep cut along his chest, and it continued to bleed heavily.
“Why?” he asked, a look of betrayal in his eyes.
I followed his gaze to the body of his nearest companion.
“You are murderers, thieves, slavers. Scum who relish and traffic in human misery,” I said, my voice completely calm. “Why should so many innocent people die while people like you continue to make wealth off their pain?”
“But we work for Avalon,” he said, his face waxy. He did not have long. “You work for Avalon.”
I nodded. “I was sent here by Merlin to ensure that Avalon’s reach continued into this new world. But I decided that it was also an excellent time to remove the rotten parts of the system.”
“We work for Avalon,” he said again.
I didn’t remember his name. It didn’t really matter. He was one of hundreds I’d killed since arriving in America in 1784. All of them had deserved it. Their deaths had made the world a better place.
“I don’t care,” I told him.
“Merlin will find you,” he said with a gasp. “He will punish you.”
I smiled at him. “And you’ll still be dead.” I drove a blade of fire into his chest, ending him properly.
I stood and removed the long black coat I’d been wearing. It was covered in blood, as were my dark trousers and black boots. I tossed the coat onto the floor. There was a second one on my horse, outside the barn.
I pushed open the partially stuck wooden door and stepped outside into the cold. I ignited my fire magic, keeping myself warm as I stared at the familiar face of the man who stood fifteen feet away. He was taller than me, with long dark hair tied back with a blue bow. He was clean shaven, and his hurt expression was clear. He wore a long black coat, similar to the one I’d dropped in the barn, and like me, he carried no weapons. He didn’t really need them. I’d once seen him tear a man in half with his bare hands.
“Tommy,” I said, feeling like the word would get stuck in my throat.
“Nate,” he replied, taking a step toward me. His voice was calm, almost sad.
“They deserved to die,” I said, my tone harder now as I let my anger fuel my voice.
“Probably,” Tommy said with a slight shrug. “Not for us to say.”
“Why?” I shouted. “Why not for us to say? We have the power.”
“Because that’s not what we do,” he countered immediately. “We’re not here as judge, jury, and executioner to people we deem to be bad. Humanity is meant to police its own.”
“Why should innocent people die and bastards like this continue to live?” I snapped, marching toward Tommy until I was only a foot away.
“Because we’re better than them,” Tommy said. “Because we can’t rule humanity—especially through fear. That’s not our place. They are ignorant of our existence for a reason. Their safety—and ours! Your actions are putting us all in danger.”
“They. Are. Monsters.” Each word was said louder, the last a bellow.
“You killed bad people,” Tommy said, his voice never rising. “But what about all the innocents who also died because of that? We don’t just blindly kill people we disagree with. We can’t. We’re not conquerors. They’ve literally just had a war here to destroy oppression. You were not sent here to decimate the population of people who you deem to be unworthy. Mary Jane would never want that.”
I punched him in the mouth, my hand wrapped in dense air magic. Tommy flew back ten meters and collided with an old wooden shed, which imploded from the impact.
The silence that followed felt like a lifetime. I wasn’t sure how to take back what I’d just done. I wasn’t sure how to stop the anger and hate inside of me, how to burn away the pain that had all but consumed me.
“Did that make you feel better?” Tommy asked as he hurled a large piece of wood a hundred meters into the fields beyond.
“Don’t you ever say her name,” I snapped, feeling the warmth of the hate return to push aside the pain.
“Mary Jane was your wife,” Tommy said as he strode back toward me, shrugging off his coat and dropping it onto the snowy ground. “I know her death hurt you, but it’s been sixteen years. Everyone involved in her murder is dead. You killed them.”
“I said, don’t mention her name,” I seethed.
“We found the soldier,” Tommy continued. “We found him without his tongue, his eyes, his fingers, his toes, lips, and several other parts you’d removed. He didn’t even look human. You think Mary Jane would approve of that? You think she would be standing beside you, telling you this is a job well done?”
I threw another punch, and Tommy caught it in midair as if he were catching a child’s toy.
“Mary Jane was a good woman,” he said, pushing my arm away. “You disgrace her memory with every life you needlessly take.”
I threw another punch, this one wrapped in fire, but Tommy growled, low and mean, and struck me in the chest with the palm of his hand.
I smashed through the barn doors and crashed into one of the beams inside before dropping to the floor. I charged out, leaping over the blood, directly into Tommy, who had turned into his werewolf beast form. He caught me one handed and threw me aside into the fence that surrounded the barn. I wrapped myself in air magic as I bounced along the frozen ground into the field beyond.
Dirt and snow rained down around me as I got to my feet, ready for Tommy, who was methodically walking toward me.
“I don’t want to do this,” I shouted at him.
“Then stop,” he said sadly.
I created a blade of fire in one hand and extinguished it. Tommy was my best friend. I wasn’t going to fight him. I just needed to get away; I needed to finish what I’d started.
“Mary Jane would be disgusted at what you’ve become,” he said.
Blind rage took over, and I charged Tommy, trying to drive a short blade of fire into his chest, but he punched me in the jaw with enough strength to spin me in the air but not break every bone in my face, which he certainly could have done.
“You’re not doing this for Mary Jane,” Tommy said as I spat blood onto the snow and took another swipe at him, cutting him across the chest.
“Stop saying her name,” I screamed at him.
Tommy backhanded me across the face, and I felt my entire head ring from the impact as I hit the ground once again.
“You’re meant to be my friend,” I snapped at him.
“Yes,” Tommy said. “And that’s why I’m here. You need saving from yourself.”
“Liar,” I said, spitting blood onto the ground once more. “You’re here to stop me from what I have to do. What needsdoing.”
“You’re delusional,” he said softly, even through his werewolf mouth. “You’ve lost yourself to pain, anger, hate, and hurt. You think that if you somehow drench yourself in enough blood, you’ll either make up for your wife’s death, or you’ll just become numb to it all. But it’ll never be enough, Nate. Not ever. You know this.”
“You think beating me senseless will do the trick?” I shouted.
“I’d hoped to talk,” Tommy said with a sigh.
“Why do they get to live, and Mary dies at the hands of some piece-of-shit English soldier while I’m not there? Why, Tommy?”
“I don’t know,” Tommy said softly. “I wish I did. It’s not fair. It’s not right. But neither is how you’re dealing with it. You can’t stop the hurt inside you by hurting everyone else.”
I threw another punch at my best friend, but he caught my hand again, dragging me toward him, where he enveloped me in a hug, taking us both to our knees.
“No, Nate,” he whispered softly. “No more.”
“Why is she gone, Tommy?” I screamed to the heavens. “I miss her so much,” I whispered, my voice breaking.
“I know,” he said, his own voice cracking and tears running down his face. “I’m so sorry.”
I cried then, for the first time since Mary Jane’s murder. I cried for her, for me, for the horrors I’d inflicted. I cried in a snowy, blood-speckled field in Virginia as my best friend held me and brought me back from the darkness that had enveloped me. And right then and there, I knew there was nothing I wouldn’t do to repay him for that kindness.
Horsemen’s War Pre-order:
As you may or may not know, I have a book out on 15th September called Frozen Rage. I thought that you might like to get a look at the first chapter.
pre-order links (and the pre-order links for Hunted and Infamous Reign on Audible) are at the end.
The Realm of Dreich.
I was pretty sure I’d made a terrible decision to come here.
“No, fuck you,” the large man bellowed, getting to his feet at one end of the table laden with food and drink. He pointed a long finger at the man sat at the opposite end, thirty feet away. If I was honest, it could have been three times that, and it still wouldn’t have been long enough.
Tommy Carpenter, my best friend, stood beside me and sighed as he stroked his long, dark beard. A sure sign he was beginning to lose his patience. “I really wish I’d stayed at home,” he muttered under his breath.
Thirty people sat around a table designed for twice that number, although the shouting match between the two men at the opposing ends had everyone else move back from where they’d been seated.
The hall we were in was designed to look like something from a European palace, with high ceilings where murals of various gods—some of whom I couldn’t have named if I’d tried—looked like they’d stepped off the pages of a fashion magazine. The walls were adorned with paintings, several of which I was almost sure were from masters of the craft back on the Earth Realm. At least one was an original Michelangelo, and I wondered from where they’d been stolen. The stained-glass windows that ran along one wall let in rainbows of color that bounced off the highly polished wooden floor.
“It’s fucking Shakespearean,” Remy said from the other side of me. “Maybe they’ll murder one another, and we could all stop pretending we care.”
As far as ideas went, it wasn’t the worst I’d heard recently.
“Well, it is a wedding,” Diana said from the other side of Remy. “It’s probably not a proper wedding until at least one person has been bludgeoned with something.”
“You go to some weird ass weddings,” Remy said, looking up at her.
Remy was a three-and-a-half-foot tall fox-man. He’d pissed off the wrong witch coven, and they’d tried to kill him by turning him into a fox. Clearly, it hadn’t worked but the witches had all died, and their lives had been poured into a newly fox-man shaped Remy. He dealt with it by swearing and threatening to stab people. To be honest, as far as coping mechanisms went, I’d heard worse.
The two men were now face to face, spewing insults about each other’s mothers, fathers, and at one point a particularly inventive curse about a goat and a block of cheese.
“When do we step in?” Diana asked.
Tommy sighed. Like half the people sat at the table, he was a werewolf, although he was probably stronger than any of them, and certainly less likely to pick a fight at a wedding brunch with the father of the bride.
Werelions made up the other half of the guests. There was a long and unpleasant history between the two species, mostly involving vast numbers of murders. Peace had been brokered for a few centuries but that hadn’t stopped either side trying to tear the other in half whenever the chance arose. Some don’t forgive or forget, and some are just arseholes. The father of the bride and uncle of the groom most certainly fell into those categories.
An apple was thrown, and it smashed against the wall beside Diana’s head. Diana hadn’t even flinched, she just slowly turned to look at the remains of the destroyed fruit, and then back at the no longer arguing families. All eyes rested on her.
Diana was half werebear, and not someone you wanted to anger unless you liked the idea of having your arms ripped off so she could beat you to death with them.
My mind cycled through options of what was going to happen next when I spotted the expression of glee on Remy’s face.
The doors to the dining hall were thrown open. “Enough,” a large man bellowed as he stormed inside. He had a dark bushy beard, was broad shouldered with bulging muscles on his arms, and a barrel chest. Long, dark hair flowed over his shoulders. He couldn’t have looked less like the romanticized version of a Viking if he’d been pulled into the room while standing on a long boat.
“I’m going outside,” I said. “Come get me if they start to throw anything more dangerous than fruit.”
Tommy clapped me on the shoulder, and I left through a side exit usually reserved for the staff. The castle was on theme with the dining hall, designed to resemble something from the Middle Ages, if not earlier, but it was a much more modern piece of architecture. Even so, there were several secret passages for staff to use, and on more than one occasion as I walked the long hallway—adorned with old water color paintings of wars, and a carpet that I was pretty sure was thick enough to lose yourself in if you stood still for too long—one of the larger paintings was pushed open and several members of staff emerged. Most wore an expression of oh crap on their face as they presumably tried to remember if I was one of the arseholes fighting in the dining hall.
As I exited the castle, nodding to the two guards directly outside the main entrance, I walked through the large courtyard to the sound of horses neighing in the distance. It had been snowing on and off for the twelve hours since I’d arrived in the realm, and while there were runes inscribed in the stone exterior of the castle to ensure the snow never built too high, there was still a satisfying crunch where my thick boots punched through the soft layer.
A large granite water feature sat in the center of the courtyard, depicting a sword in the stone. Water bubbled from the sword hilt, streaming down into a bowl beneath the statue. I smiled as I walked past. I’d seen Excalibur many centuries earlier, before it was lost, and I don’t remember its hilt being quite so bejeweled.
After the courtyard, where there were more guards, I headed through part of a small village that encircled the castle and separated the makeshift from the real. The village, like the castle, had been purposefully-built, although the people who lived here were the workers and caretakers, so in that respect it was a real working village. But it was still designed to look hundreds of years older than it actually was. The village was surrounded by a forty-foot high, grey stone wall. The only way out was through the portcullis and across the drawbridge. As I strolled beneath the portcullis and across the dark wooden bridge, I noticed the crystal-clear water that made up the moat wasn’t particularly deep, yet it was all part of the facade of the place.
At the end of the drawbridge, was a huge stone archway, and I found one of the guests from the little soiree. He was sat on a stone bench, looking out into the thick forest. Mountains, forests, and lakes made up about eighty percent of the entire realm, which was probably one of the reasons why it had never boasted a large population.
A light wooden walking stick leaned against the man’s leg, and he looked up and me and smiled.
“Gordon,” I said.
He got to his feet and hugged me. “Nate, I didn’t know you were here,” he said before re-taking his seat.
“Tommy roped a few of us in to help with security,” I said, settling beside him. “Nice beard,” I said. “Distinguished.”
“You’ve grown one too,” Gordon said with a smile, stroking his own bushy yet greying beard—being a werewolf certainly had its advantages in the beard-growing department.
I rubbed my short growth. “Laziness,” I said with a smile. “How’s things?”
“Not too bad,” he said. “Hera took London, and I hear you and Mordred fought a dragon, destroying part of the city in the process.”
“A small part,” I said with a smile. It had been a just over a year since Hera had claimed London as her own, and, if I was honest, it had been a year of peace. I, like many of my friends and allies, was forbidden from returning to London on pain of death, but Hera had needed to spend time getting her stuff sorted, and with Arthur waking from his centuries long coma, it appeared she’d been forced to take a pause and behave. At least for now. It was unlikely to last, but I’d long since learned that you took your good times where you could.
“So, how did Tommy rope you into this?” Gordon asked.
“Ah, he said I needed something to do,” I told him. “Apparently, taking some time away from destruction and mayhem is being lazy.”
“Considering how much of your life has been destruction and mayhem, maybe he had a point,” Gordon said with a smile.
“Well, this is anything but boring.” I motioned to the castle. “This whole realm is batshit crazy.”
“A hundred years ago, this whole realm was uninhabitable,” he said. “I don’t know who came up with the idea to turn it into a rich person’s getaway, but I’m pretty sure they were rich.”
“It must be nice for the people who live here all year around through,” I said. “An entire realm for a thousand people for nine months of the year, and only having to put up with people like the wedding party for three months.”
“It would be nice if it didn’t rain for seven months of the year, and then snow for the rest of it. I think warm days here make up about a week in the year.”
“Sounds like Yorkshire,” I said, and we both laughed.
“I’m going to tell Matthew you said that,” Gordon told me, his smile at the mention of his pack alpha husband, growing wider. “He grew up there.”
“Where is Matthew?”
“He likes to go for an evening run before the sun goes down,” Gordon said. “The snow gets heavier at night. The runes all around the village and castle make sure we don’t wake up with six feet of snow, but out there it’ll be different. Matthew didn’t know when he’d get the chance for another run.”
“You not joining him?” I asked.
“I don’t need the run as badly as he does,” Gordon said. “Never have. I’m more content to curl up in front of a fire with a good book. Matthew prefers to run until his heart feels like it’s going to burst.”
We sat in silence for a moment, enjoying the peace. “How long have you known the bride, or groom, or whichever one it is you know?” I asked, somewhat regretting that I had to break the tranquility.
“Bride,” he said. “She’s a descendent from the werewolf royalty who signed the pact stopping hostilities with the werelions. The royal family doesn’t exist anymore, primarily because everyone just decided to ignore them and go about their business, but it’s still a formality that they invite several alphas to their weddings, or funerals, or brunch. Matthew is one of the most powerful alphas in Western Europe, so we get the invite. There are about a dozen of them. Probably the same with the werelions.”
“Any chance all of those alphas in one place will cause a problem?”
“Yes, a big one,” Gordon said. “But most of them are sensible and don’t want trouble. There are one or two who might decide to start a cock measuring exercise, but they’re in the minority, and I’m hoping the others will calm anything before it gets out of hand.”
“There was an argument brewing in the dining hall,” I said. “It’s why I left.”
Gordon nodded. “The bride’s father and the uncle of the groom, I assume,” he said with a long sigh. “Both arseholes, I’m afraid. Thankfully, their kids are smarter than them, but they both adhere to the old idea that any slight, imagined or otherwise, must be met with aggression. Matthew can’t stand either of them, so I’m guessing by the time we’re done, at least one of them is going to get hurt.”
Gordon laughed. “No, not unless they try something with him, and that’s why Tommy and you guys are here. We both know Tommy is one of the most powerful werewolves in any realm. Everyone respects him because he’s earned it. And Diana? Everyone fears her.”
“Because they’ve met her,” I said, making Gordon laugh again. “She almost got hit by an apple earlier. Never seen so many people look like they were going to piss themselves.”
“Diana might actually be the scariest person I’ve ever met,” Gordon said.
“I’m pretty sure that’s why Tommy asked her to come along,” I said. “That, and for Remy’s amusement.”
“Some of the weres don’t know what to make of him,” Gordon told me.
“They should be wary of him,” I said. “He’s small, got a big mouth, and is more than happy to back it up.”
“How many more of his people did Tommy bring?”
“Twenty-six,” I said. “Most of them are in the village getting a feel of the land, talking to the people who work here. This realm has a big security force, so they’re trying not to step on any toes, but werewolves and werelions together is not exactly a recipe for a happy time.”
“It’s all very Shakespearian,” Gordon said.
“Remy said the same thing,” I told him with a chuckle. “Hopefully, it’s less Romeo and Juliet, or Macbeth, and more…” I tried to think of a Shakespearian play that fit the bill. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
“I’m not entirely sure that any of his plays would make for a fun thing to live through,” Gordon said.
“Yeah, I was kind of grasping at straws there,” I admitted. “Still, if no one dies, I’ll consider this weekend a success.”
“How about the loss of a few limbs?” Gordon asked.
I was about to reply when a figure burst out of the forest. He was naked from the waist up, wearing only a pair of denim, knee-length shorts that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the Hulk after he’d turned back into Banner. Matthew was a muscular, hairy man which, seeing how he was a werewolf, wasn’t exactly unusual, although he had several dozen scars over his body that he’d gotten before his change. The life of a Knight’s Templar had been a hard one for many reasons, most of which Matthew didn’t want to talk about.
“Nate,” Matthew said, walking over and hugging me.
“You smell like pine needles,” I told him.
“I’ve had an invigorating run,” he said as Gordon passed him a red hair tie. Matthew cinched his long, dark hair before kissing his husband on the lips. “I missed you.”
“It’s been an hour,” Gordon said with a wry smile.
Matthew’s grin was full of warmth. “Even so, a run with my husband at my side is always preferable to one without.”
“Go shower,” Gordon said. “You really do smell like pine needles.”
Matthew took a deep breath. “I smell of manly smells,” he said, which caused Gordon to laugh.
I smiled; it was nice to see them both happy.
“You see how I am treated?” Matthew asked me. “An alpha, and my own husband mocks me.”
“Would you prefer if I got someone else to mock you?” Gordon asked.
“Remy isn’t busy,” I said.
Matthew’s eyes narrowed as he looked between us before a deep rumble of laughter burst from him. “I will go shower and change. Can I assume the wedding parties are still at one another’s throats?”
I nodded. “I think some of the guests went to explore the realm instead, but basically, yes. It’s going to be a long weekend.”
Matthew sighed. “I was hoping they would be able to act as adults for a few days.”
“To be fair, it was only two of them when I left, although someone came in at the last minute and started shouting at everyone.”
“Ah, that would probably be Sven, one of the werelion alphas,” Gordon said. “Sven is not known for suffering fools gladly, and he’s more interested in keeping the peace than he is in getting into petty squabbles.”
“I don’t think I’ve met him,” I said.
“He’s a good man,” Matthew said, which was high praise from a werewolf. “I’m pretty sure Sven and his council are the reason the werelions and wolves haven’t gone back to the old ways. He reminds me of Diana a lot. His presence here should stop anyone from thinking about acting in a stupid way.”
“Is there a werewolf equivalent here?” I asked.
“The bride’s mother, Victoria Walker,” Gordon said. “She was one of those who left for a walk. She divorced the father some time ago, and she very much wears the alpha crown without contest. If she’d been there, no one would have started an argument. She’d have thrown them through the damn window.”
“I haven’t met her either,” I said. “Haven’t met the bride or groom for that matter.”
“Beth and Logan,” Gordon said. “Both are sweet kids, although they’re about a century old, so the ‘kids’ thing is subjective. Beth is the spitting image of her mother, in both temperament and looks. Logan is a calm, relaxed, surfer dude type. I’m pretty certain there’s never been a situation he couldn’t charm himself out of. They’re made for one another. A fact Beth’s father and Logan’s uncle both hate.”
“That’s why they were fighting,” I said.
“Those two have been looking for a fight for a long time,” Matthew said. “One killed someone the other liked, or some such. I don’t even think either of them know anymore.”
There was a shout from deeper in the forest, and all three of us turned to look in the direction.
“Did you see anyone else in there?” I asked Matthew, who shook his head.
I took a step toward the forest when a young woman with dark skin burst out of the dense woodland, stopping a few feet away. She was breathing heavily, her long dark hair sown with leaves. She was completely naked, her body covered in scratches. She looked up at us as if seeing us for the first time, horror in her face, and pitched forward onto the snow, a small crossbow bolt jutting between her shoulder blades.
“Oh shit,” Gordon said as he rushed over to her.
“I’ll get help,” Matthew said, racing off.
I removed my coat and helped Gordon move the woman on to it.
“She’s still breathing,” Gordon said.
“You know her?” I asked.
Gordon nodded. “It’s Victoria, the mother of the bride.”
“Oh shit,” I whispered as Victoria opened her eyes and screamed.
The upcoming Hellequin Novella, Frozen Rage will be released on 15th September in Kindle, Paperback, and Audible edition. But not only that, the Audible editions of Hunted and Infamous Reign will also be out on the 15th September.
Links are below the covers, and if you do plan on purchasing, please do consider pre-ordering as pre-orders are really important to a new book. Thanks.
I know that the next book, Horsemen’s War isn’t out until Dec 2020, but before then will be the Hellequin Novella, Frozen Rage.
The Realm of Dreich is a getaway for the rich and powerful, a medieval-inspired town in the middle of a vast frozen wilderness. Now it’s the site of a wedding, intended to join two feuding families who have spent centuries in an uneasy truce with each other.
When Tommy Carpenter asks his best friend, Nate Garrett, to help him with the security of the wedding, Nate reluctantly agrees, knowing that it will be a long weekend of work and, in all probability, treachery.
It is only a matter of time before members of each family are found murdered and it is up to Nate and Tommy to find the killer before more bodies fall, potentially reigniting a war.
Frozen Rage takes place between A Promise of Wrath and Scorched Shadows, and is available to preorder on Kindle now for a September 15th 2020 release.
Paperback and Audible will be out on the same day, and I’ll put pre-order links up once I have them.
So, I thought that for something fun, I’d read from my Work in Progress. I hope you enjoy it.
I know it’s been a little while since my last blog post, and I hope everyone is keeping safe.
I thought I’d let you all know that I’ve done a reading of Death Unleashed for SRFC, which is now on Youtube to watch at your leisure.
Death Unleashed is officially out for people to read on 27th Feb, but before then, I thought I’d share the Prologue.
For someone who could use fire magic to keep warm, I was still bloody freezing.
I’d been sitting on the frozen ground under a large tree for the better part of an hour. I was wrapped up warmly in a big dark-brown coat and thick trousers and carried several books that helped keep the cold out, but I still didn’t want to be here. While my fire magic kept me warm, I couldn’t use too much of it for fear that someone would see, and I’d have to explain why steam was rising from all around me.
The Malaya Nevka River was a stone’s throw away, its icy top a crust on the frozen water beneath it. Any human who fell in would die in moments. Even a sorcerer like me would certainly remember the time without any fondness.
I sighed, ignoring the suspicious glance from the man who walked past me. It was early in the morning, and the only people out right now were those working and those up to something bad. I definitely looked like I belonged in the second camp.
Stretching, I walked toward the bank of the river, hoping I hadn’t been sent here for no reason.
Two decades ago, I’d left Avalon when it had become apparent to me that it was built on corruption and that even Merlin—a man I’d once considered a father figure—was capable of evil but had convinced himself he was doing the right thing. The murders he’d ordered committed in the name of keeping Arthur alive in his coma still haunted me.
I’d left Avalon and done very little else since. I’d just been beginning to figure out what I was meant to do next when Hades had offered me a job. Come to Saint Petersburg, help him with someone who wanted to escape Hera’s grasp, and maybe it would help me discover what I should do with my life. So far, it had only helped me realize that Russia was a mess. Economically, socially—everything was heading toward disaster. I’d been in Russia for a few months arranging everything, and the longer I’d spent in the company of workers and commoners, the angrier I’d seen them become.
The ice thirty feet back from the bank broke, and a gloved hand reached out to find purchase on the frozen surface. A second later, the hand vanished back beneath, then remerged ten feet farther toward me as it smashed through again. This time a second hand appeared, grabbing hold of part of the fractured ice, but the hands slipped and fell back into the dark water.
“Just swim to the bank,” I said, probably slightly louder than needed.
Either he heard my instruction or he decided the bank was the best idea anyway, as less than a minute later the cold, wet man dragged himself out of the water and onto the mud. He was taller than my own five nine by a few inches but slighter in frame than I was—gaunt, almost. His looming presence was frankly . . . disconcerting.
I walked down to him, helped him to his feet, and practically dragged him up the bank before dropping him on the grass behind a stone wall.
“What if they see me?” he asked in Russian, his voice trembling from the cold.
“They think you’re dead,” I told him, speaking his own language. “At least, I hope they do.”
“They poisoned, beat, stabbed, and shot me, before throwing me into a frozen river,” he said. “I very nearly was dead.”
“Well, if they don’t think it now, they never will,” I told him. “Why didn’t you just pretend to die after the poisoning?”
“Didn’t realize I was poisoned until it was too late; by that point they’d stabbed me. I pretended to die then, but apparently they needed to shoot me first. Have you ever been shot? It hurts like the fires of hell.”
“Yes, I’ve been shot,” I said. “Now, to the world, Rasputin is dead, and in his place is… actually, I have no idea. Call yourself Fred if you want.”
“I will call myself whatever you wish so long as you take me from Hera’s grasp.”
“That’s why I’m here.”
“How are we leaving?”
“We have a carriage to take us to Finland, where we’ll be getting on a boat to England, where we’ll be changing to another boat to America. Once in New York, we’ll . . . well, I’ll explain that later.”
I took Rasputin to the nearby carriage, where its driver nodded a greeting.
“Any trouble?” I asked him.
He shook his head. “Clothes are inside.”
“Get changed,” I told Rasputin. “You’re wearing fine clothing, and despite them being saturated and covered in mud, it’s a bad idea for where we’re going.”
Rasputin nodded and removed his coat, revealing the orange glyphs lit up over his arms. Fire magic keeping him warm and dry: it was why he hadn’t died in the river. Being a sorcerer certainly had its advantages, although Rasputin was quite low on the power levels when it came to our kind. He was manipulative, cunning, and shrewd but not powerful. He used fire and air magic, like me, although I’d gone to great pains to explain to him that should he cross me, I would kill him.
I climbed in the carriage just as Rasputin was pulling on a shirt, showing the scar on his stomach where a silver knife had been used to try to kill him a few years earlier.
“Hera sent you here to steer the czar and his family toward actions that benefited her,” I said as the carriage set off. “Like keeping Europe from descending into war.”
Rasputin nodded. “Didn’t work out so well. The war is a mistake. I actually agree with Hera on that.”
“Me too,” I said. “It’s a waste of time, money, resources, and, more importantly, people. Lives thrown away because of pettiness and politics. But once the war started, Hera changed her position, using you to get information about the Russians’ military plans. She saw an opportunity and didn’t care how many lives were sacrificed to benefit her.”
“I know what I’ve done,” Rasputin snapped. “Hera craves power over all else. She might not have wanted the war initially, but once it happened, she was happy to use it to her own ends. She constantly switches sides, playing them off one another, to ensure that whoever wins, she’s on their side. I cannot work for her any longer.”
“Hera has started rumors that you and the czar are members of a pro-German group. That you’re encouraging the czar to make a separate peace treaty with Europe. A lot of people want your head.”
“As I discovered,” Rasputin said. “Thank you for arranging my death, by the way.”
“It took me a couple of weeks to put the idea in a few heads that your death would be better for Russia,” I said. “Funny, they didn’t take much convincing. They really don’t like you! I may have suggested some suitable methods; ensuring you were disposed of in the right manner was important. Last thing we’d want is them cutting your head off or using silver.” Decapitation could kill us, just as it would any human, and silver hurt like hell.
“Well, I’m glad you helped.”
“Rasputin, the drunken debaucher who influenced a czar and his wife,” I said with a smile. “Hera has clearly finished her use of you. You made a good decision to seek Hades’s aid.”
“Hera is a monster,” he said. “She lies and betrays everyone. There’s no one she wouldn’t sacrifice should it aid her. Her own family is terrified of her.”
“I’ve met her on several occasions,” I said. “Never been someone I liked. Why work for her all these years if that’s how you felt?”
“Being on Hera’s list of enemies is a good way to seek an early grave. Once you’re in her grasp, getting out is not as easy as walking away.”
Rasputin coughed and spat out the open window, closing it afterward. “What happens once we’ve reached our destination?”
“You will tell your interviewers everything. And I do mean everything. Hera’s plans, plots, schemes, why she wants the czars to fall. You’ll leave nothing out, and in return you will be rehomed somewhere safe with a new identity. You will never refer to yourself as Rasputin again; you will learn a language that isn’t Russian. I don’t care which one. You will always need to look over your shoulder, because if Hera should discover you didn’t die . . .”
Rasputin sighed and nodded. We both knew what Hera was capable of.
We were in the carriage for over an hour before we stopped unexpectedly, and voices could be heard from outside. There was a bang on the carriage roof. “Stay here,” I told Rasputin before opening the door and stepping outside, wrapping my long dark coat around me as I crunched through the fresh snow to the front of the carriage. I looked up at the driver and nodded that it was okay.
“Gentlemen,” I said, paying attention to the three men for the first time. “How can we help you on this cold night?”
The three men were all slightly taller than me, and all wore thick coats that had seen better days. One held a wooden club, one a rusty sword, and the final one a scythe. Although two of them, from their clothing, appeared to be farmers, one of them wore an old military uniform. Things could go very badly, very quickly.
“We want all of your valuables, and whoever is in the carriage can cough up as well,” the man in the uniform shouted. “Now, or we start hurting people.”
He was obviously the leader, which made sense considering he’d had the training to fight. He looked more assured of himself, while the other two appeared outright terrified.
I reached into the large pocket inside my coat and grabbed the smallest of three leather money pouches, throwing it to the man who was closest to me, completely shutting out the leader. The expression on his face told me that he knew what I’d done. No matter what else happened, he would not let that lie.
“There’s enough in here for six months’ wages,” the man closest to me said, the awe in his voice easy to hear.
“All silver,” I assured them, turning to the leader. “I assume a good soldier like yourself knows of somewhere to exchange it?”
The two farmers looked at their leader in horror.
“He knows you deserted,” the man in the middle of the three said to the leader.
“I don’t care if you deserted,” I said. “Look, I’m in a hurry, and I need to leave. It’s a matter of life and death. Please take your money, go home, and feed your families.”
“We should,” the man with the money pouch said.
The leader took a step toward me, pointing his dagger at me the whole time. “I think I’m going to take that nice coat and those nice boots, and then I’m going to kill you.”
“We don’t need to do that,” the middle man pleaded with him. “We have money for food. That’s all we need.”
“I need something more,” the leader said. “I need to show this rich asshole that he can’t spend his whole life looking down on us, letting us die for his kind.”
“I’m not who you think I am,” I said. “And I’m sorry for your loss, but you don’t want to do this.”
The leader took two steps toward me before I sidestepped him, grabbed him by the wrist with one hand, swept out his legs, and threw him into the snow. I picked up the dagger and threw it into the trees at the side of the road.
I looked over at the two remaining men. “Either of you try, I’ll kill you,” I said. “Go home.”
The leader roared, thrusting himself up from the ground and charging at me, but he met my elbow with his jaw and got a fist to his stomach, which sent him back to the ground. I placed a dagger of fire against his throat.
“As I said, I do not have time for this,” I said. The two other men ran off into the woods as the leader’s eyes opened wide with shock and fear.
“I tried to be nice, I tried to just get you to go, but you want something I can’t give you. And if you try again, I will kill you.” I moved back to the coach and opened the door. We were on our way a moment later.
“Why didn’t you just use magic?” Rasputin asked. “Why not kill them?”
“Because they were desperate men who have been pushed to a breaking point by poverty. The leader wanted some kind of retribution for what he’d been through, and besides, I get the feeling this place is going to see a lot more death in the future.”
“Not just here if we don’t stop Hera,” Rasputin said, smoothing his beard. “She will unleash War on this world if she isn’t stopped.”
“Other than the war in Europe?” I asked.
Rasputin shook his head and looked about to say something but sighed instead. “No, my friend,” he said after several seconds. “Her War is something else entirely. It’s to be feared like nothing you’ve ever seen.”
And there you have it, the prologue of Death Unleashed. If you’re interested in reading more, please do consider pre-ordering, as they’re vitally important. The links for which are below.