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.
With just over a month to go until the launch of Sorcery Reborn, I think now is a good time to let you all read the opening chapter. You can pre-order by clicking on the links at the end. Enjoy.
A year. I’d been told it would be a year. Gotta be honest: that hadn’t turned out so well, had it?
Clockwork was a town of just over seven thousand people, the majority of whom appeared to be quite nice. Acknowledging that being a solitary loner who never spoke to anyone was a pretty good way to screw up your mental health, I’d made sure to make a few friends in my time here. While the last two years had sucked on more than one occasion, having friends was one of the good parts.
I’d introduced myself to Clockwork as Nate Carpenter, Nate Garrett being, for all intents and purposes, officially dead. I’d used the surname of my best friend from my old life. Tommy was one of the people I missed seeing the most.
Duke’s Diner was one of three in town and the only one I visited with any frequency. This was partly due to the fact that the owner and chef, Antonio Flores, cooked the best damn food in town and partly because I liked several of the people who worked there.
I parked my blue Mercedes X-Class outside the diner, which was already busy with those who required an early-morning coffee and/or a Mexican breakfast. Antonio served more traditional American food, too, but no matter how good it was, no one came to Duke’s for the pancakes.
The snow was a few inches high and crunched under my booted feet. Despite wearing a thick green winter jacket, warm jeans, black boots, and black gloves with a matching hat, I was still cold. The heater in the pickup had spoiled me.
I pushed the glass door of the diner open and enjoyed the warmth and the sounds of eating and chatter that washed over me.
“Is that you, Nate?’” Antonio bellowed from the kitchen, sticking his head out of the serving hatch.
“No, it’s Commissioner Gordon. I’m looking for Batman,” I shouted back to Antonio.
Antonio smiled. “Are you coming tonight?”
“For the approximately one hundredth time, yes,” I said.
Antonio’s smile turned into a huge grin. Antonio had been a US Army Ranger. Having served two tours in Afghanistan without so much as a scratch, he’d gone back for a third time and hadn’t been so lucky. He’d lost the lower part of his left leg when an improvised explosive device had gone off near his team as they’d been sweeping a village that had been massacred by insurgents. That had been ten years ago, although the loss of a limb didn’t appear to have slowed Antonio down. He’d once told me he’d considered it a new challenge to overcome.
Apart from owning Duke’s—which, despite me asking, Antonio had never shown any interest in explaining the name of—he also ran the under-fifteen girls’ soccer team for the town, with the help of one of the sheriff’s deputies, Brooke Tobin.
“Football game tonight,” he shouted, using the correct name for the sport.
“I know,” I shouted back, gaining a few laughs from the three waitresses and waiter who were working in the diner.
“You are coming, though, right?” Jessica Choi asked me as she led me over to a booth at the far end of the diner. Like all of the waiting staff, the only uniform she wore was a black T-shirt with Duke’s adorning it in big red letters.
“Yes,” I promised.
“Because Ava has been talking about you coming to a game for weeks now,” Jessica said. “It’s the cup final.”
I sat down and sighed. “I promise I’ll be there.” The match had been postponed for several weeks because of bad weather. Matches were usually played on Thursday nights at the local high school, but the snow had been so bad that playing football in it would have been a special kind of torture. I’d missed a few of Ava’s games during the season and always felt bad for doing so, but I avoided traveling to other towns for away games, just in case I got spotted by the wrong person. I was in Clockwork to keep a low profile, so running around the state of Oregon would have been a risk.
Ava was Jessica’s younger sister. They had been brought up by their grandparents, Drs. Daniel and Donna Kuro. Ava had been only three and Jessica sixteen when their parents had died in a car crash twelve years earlier.
“How goes the doctorate?” I asked Jessica after she took my order of scrambled eggs and chorizo along with a cup of English tea. An addition to the menu I knew Antonio had only included to stop me complaining about its absence.
“Good,” Jessica said. “I feel bad for dropping Simon off at my grandparents’ so often, but they don’t seem to mind. And Simon loves spending time at their place.”
“It’ll be worth it when you’re Dr. Choi.”
Jessica smiled. “Then I just have to find a full-time job.”
“That’s okay; you can bring Simon here. I’m sure Antonio wouldn’t mind him helping out.”
Jessica laughed as she walked away to give Antonio my order. She returned a few minutes later with my cup of steaming-hot tea. “Antonio says he hopes you choke on it,” Jessica told me, barely keeping a straight face.
“He’s really cleaned up his usual language,” I replied.
Before Jessica could reply, the door to the diner opened, and she turned to look at the newcomer.
I followed her gaze and watched the man stand in the doorway staring at Jessica. He was over six feet tall, which put him several inches above my own five feet eight, although he wasn’t as broad across the shoulders as I was. He removed a red hat and gloves, revealing a bald head and heavily tattooed hands.
I looked up at Jessica and saw the fear in her eyes.
“Jess?” I asked softly.
“It’s okay,” she said, turning back to me and forcing a smile.
I liked Jessica Choi a lot. She was a smart, kind, and interesting woman. Also, her grandfather, Dr. Daniel Kuro, was one of only two people in town who knew exactly who I was and why I was here. I trusted Daniel with my life and owed him just as much. And while Jessica didn’t know the truth about me, she treated me as if I were one of the family, and for that I was eternally grateful.
Jessica walked over to the newcomer. Their conversation was short, and they were too far away from me for any of their whispered words to meet my ears, but I could see that Jessica was upset and angry.
She motioned for the man to wait and went to talk to Antonio in the kitchen before gathering her coat and hat and leaving with the stranger.
A second waitress brought me my food. I was concerned about Jessica and considered following them to check that she was okay. However, Antonio left the kitchen and went out the back door of the diner, making me feel better. If anything was going to happen, I was confident that Antonio could deal with it.
The food looked amazing. The chorizo scrambled egg sat on one half of the plate, while the other half was filled with a mild salsa that Antonio refused to tell me the recipe of. A stack of warm tortillas had been placed on a separate plate, and the whole thing smelled of heaven itself.
I took a bite of the food and sighed in appreciation. Antonio was a grumpy bastard, but he sure as hell knew how to cook. But even the great food couldn’t distract me for long; glancing to the rear entrance of the diner, I put my fork down beside my plate.
“Goddamn it.” Getting to my feet, I grabbed my warm outdoor clothes and headed toward the rear exit.
“What are you doing?” the waitress who had served me asked.
“I’m going to go see what your boss is doing before anyone gets in trouble,” I told her.
The look of relief on her face was reason enough for me to know I was doing the right thing. Everyone else in the diner was either engrossed in their own lives or watching me cautiously. They clearly wondered what was happening but didn’t want to be involved in it, just in case it turned out to be something unpleasant.
I pushed open the rear exit and took a face full of cold air before stepping outside and walking down the ramp to the staff parking area at the rear of the property. There were four cars, including Jessica’s own black Ford Ranger pickup and Antonio’s silver Mitsubishi Evo. There were no signs of either owner, except fresh tracks in the snow that led around to a nearby alleyway, which, in turn, led to a large field behind the diner.
Following the tracks was easy enough, and it didn’t take long to hear voices. As I drew closer, the voices became more distinguishable: three men, one of whom was Antonio. The other two were . . . unknowns. I didn’t like unknowns; they made me nervous. Exiting the alley into the large field, I spotted Antonio sitting on a bench with the two strangers standing over him.
They looked over at me as I approached, and one of them—a large white man with a bald head and bushy black beard—turned toward me, casually opening his jacket to show the pistol he held. A wordless threat.
“Hey,” I said jovially. “It’s a bit cold to be having a chat out here.”
“Go away,” the second man snapped. While his gun-wielding friend stood over six and a half feet tall and probably weighed over twenty-five stone, this one was barely taller than me and considerably less broad. He had military-style short dark hair but no obvious weapons. Like his friend, he was white and wore a thick red jacket, although his was still zipped up. Didn’t mean he didn’t have a weapon; it just meant if things went bad, he was second on my list of problems.
“I’m just here to tell the chef how good his food is,” I said, looking over at Antonio. “How can I possibly repay such an excellent breakfast?”
“It’s okay,” Antonio said with a forced smile. “I’m good. Go finish your food, Nate.”
“Yes, Nate,” the shorter of the two men said. “Go finish your food.”
“Where’s Jessica?” I asked, ignoring the man.
“She’s just having a nice conversation with our boss,” the gun owner told me. “You can see her from here.”
He gestured across the field to where Jess stood at the far end defensively. From the amount the man was gesticulating, the conversation looked pretty one sided.
“Now you can fuck off,” the shorter man said. “We’ll keep Speedy Gonzales company.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Really?” I asked. “Was that meant to be funny because he only has one leg or because he’s Mexican?”
“I don’t care what you think,” he snapped.
“Did they hurt you?” I asked Antonio in Spanish.
Antonio’s surprise showed he hadn’t realized I spoke the language, but he shook his head. He looked a little frustrated too. Antonio was used to kicking ass and taking names; I imagined that the two men getting the drop on him had stung. Better to have stung feelings than be dead, though.
“Are you leaving or not?” the smaller man said, taking a step toward me and unzipping his jacket.
“I think I’ll sit and wait with my friend for Jessica to finish talking,” I told him.
The man shrugged off his jacket, revealing a gun still in its holster. His arms were covered in various tattoos, including a swastika on his bicep that showed from under the blue T-shirt he wore.
“Nazi?” I asked.
He smiled at me. “Not really your business.”
“Just making pleasant conversation,” I told him. “This doesn’t need to go sideways.”
“He’s right, Bryce,” his partner said quietly. “We didn’t come here to hurt anyone. The boss will be angry if we do.”
Bryce nodded slowly and picked his jacket up off the ground. He was quite wiry and certainly had the appearance of someone who knew how to fight. Maybe he was more dangerous than his partner.
Once upon a time, I’d have killed them both without a second thought, but that time had ended two years ago, and I had to remind myself to stay calm. To not allow myself to be drawn into anything that would cause trouble. Even so, I really wanted to break Bryce’s smug face.
Bryce motioned for me to go sit beside Antonio, but he refused to move aside as I walked toward my friend, and he smacked his shoulder into mine as I stepped around him. A stupid, childish way to tell me he was tougher than me. I sighed, put on my best smile, and sat next to Antonio.
“So are you both Nazis, or are you just freelancing?” I asked.
No one answered.
“Guys, I’m just making conversation,” I said.
“Can you not piss off the people with guns?” Antonio asked.
“Ah, they’re okay,” I told him. “The gun is only so we don’t do anything stupid. I just want to know a bit more about our Third Reich–loving friends here.”
Bryce punched me in the jaw, knocking me off the bench. “I told you to shut up,” he snapped, giving me a kick in the ribs for good measure.
“Enough,” the hulking Aryan wannabe snapped. “Damn it, Bryce. Enough.”
“He’s asking too many questions, Jackson,” Bryce said. “He needs to learn to keep his mouth shut.”
“Help your friend up,” the man called Jackson said to Antonio, who offered me his hand and assisted me in getting back on the bench.
“I meant absolutely no disrespect,” I said, with no sincerity. “I just figured talking would be better than awkward silence.”
Bryce got into my face. “When the time comes, scum like your friend here will be turned to ash. And those who stand beside the lower born will be right beside them. Got it?”
“Riiight,” I said and spotted Jessica walking alone across the field toward us.
Bryce moved away and looked over at her.
“You both got off lucky this time,” Jackson warned us. “We might not be so hospitable next time. You need to mind your manners. I thought you Brits were good at that.”
“Mostly we just drink tea and live in castles,” I told him. “Doesn’t leave a lot of time for manners.”
The man shook his head as Bryce walked off to intercept Jessica, putting me on edge. “A word of warning,” he said. “Don’t piss Bryce off again.”
“No shit,” Antonio said.
“Was I fucking talking to you?” Jackson snapped. “Your kind speak when asked to. Your kind come into our country, taking our jobs and dirtying our bloodline.”
His sudden move from calm to rage surprised me. “Okay, no one needs to lose their cool here,” I said. “We get it: Nazis hate everyone who isn’t a Nazi.”
“KOA,” he said proudly.
“What?” I asked, confused and wondering whether I’d missed a giant part of the conversation. Before he could answer, Bryce and a worried-looking Jessica returned.
“You okay?” I asked Jessica.
“Yeah, we can go now,” she said, not looking up.
“She knows where she stands now,” Bryce said smugly. “Hopefully we won’t need to have a second conversation. A meeting between you and Robert will be arranged. I advise you not to miss it.”
There was a wealth of questions in my mind, but now was not the time or place to ask them.
“You can go,” Bryce said. He made a gun from his fingers and pointed it at me. “I’ll be seeing you again, boy.”
I ignored him.
“What’s the KOA?” I asked Jackson.
“The Knights of Avalon,” Bryce answered. “We’re going to take back this country of ours. We’re going to make it pure again.”
I nearly made a smart-ass comment about giving it back to the Native Americans then, but I decided that being a smart-ass wasn’t as important as not getting anyone shot. “You’re part of Avalon?”
“Let’s go,” Antonio said from beside me.
“That’s right—go on with your friends, boy,” Bryce called after us as we walked away.
It took every ounce of self-control not to turn around and beat the ever-loving shit out of the two of them. We stopped in the car park of the diner.
“You want to tell us what that was about?” Antonio asked Jessica.
“Not really,” Jessica said, looking miserable. “I’ll deal with it; they won’t be coming back. I’m sorry for what happened today.”
“Take the rest of the day off,” Antonio said and rubbed his jaw. “Been a long time since someone threatened me with a gun and I didn’t break his arm for it.” He looked over at me. “How’re the ribs?”
“Sore, but I’ll live,” I said.
“We should really tell the sheriff,” Antonio said.
“No,” Jessica snapped. “You can’t. It’ll just get worse.”
“Jess, no offense, but there are literal Nazis with guns in town,” I told her. “I’m not sure that’s something we should keep from the sheriff.”
“Look, I promise I’ll sort it out. Please, just give me a few days.”
I nodded and looked over at Antonio, who sighed and said yes. Jessica hugged us both and walked over to her car.
“Any idea what the hell that was all about?” Antonio asked. “Nazi fucks.”
Jessica drove out of the alleyway and turned onto the road before I spoke again. “Knights of Avalon,” I said, almost to myself. “That’s not good.”
“What’s not good? Avalon?” Antonio asked. “Those bastards are taking over the whole world. You see on the news at the demonstrations about them, about the people who are alleged to have gone missing? It’s not a conspiracy theory, my friend; it’s a fucking fact.”
“I know,” I said. “Look, I’m sorry about the food, but I need to go see the doc. I think I may have busted a rib.” It was an easy lie, but I did need to see someone. I took a ten-dollar bill from my pocket and offered it to Antonio.
He shook his head. “Buy me a beer at the game tonight. Go get checked out.”
I smiled, but inside concern gripped me. Avalon was in Clockwork. Were they here for me? Or for someone else?
Read the rest when Sorcery Reborn launches on ebook on 21st Nov, and on Paperback and Audible on 28th Nov.
A quick post today.
If you’re in the UK, and you haven’t read the Hellequin Chronicles, then they’re all only £1 each over on Amazon.co.uk. 7 books of action-packed fantasy for £7 is a bit of a bargain (I will admit to being a bit biased here).
Here are some reviews from Amazon:
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