Lies Ripped Open – Prologue
Well the time for the release of Lies Ripped Open is almost upon us (25th August), so in preparation, here’s the prologue and cover reveal for those who haven’t seen it. If you want to pre-order the book, just click on the cover.
November 1888. London.
It’s not every day you get to meet the Queen of England. It’s even rarer when a human who rules a country gets a visit from someone in Avalon and the human ruler is happy to see us. But Victoria was a tough old lady, and someone I respected, if not liked. I’ve met her a few times since she took power, but only once since the death of her husband, Albert, some twenty-seven years ago. I found her to be a strong, honest woman, who said what she thought and rarely cared one way or the other about offending anyone. She was the queen; if you were offended it was your problem, not hers. But she wasn’t exactly easy to get on with. She resented Avalon’s influence in the world, and by extension resented the visits from Avalon’s emissaries, such as myself.
But on this occasion I actually got a smile from her that didn’t look like she was considering whether or not to attack me with a walking stick.
She’d thanked me, and then as she hurried away, clutching the small item I’d brought her, I’d been asked to leave so that she might have a moment alone. It was a fair request; I had returned something of her husband’s, after all. Something that had been stolen by an annoying insect of a being by the name of Alan Daly.
I stepped out of Buckingham Palace and walked the few miles to where a carriage was waiting for me. It was outside of a house in Whitechapel that the SOA—the Shield of Avalon, Avalon’s internal security force—used when spending time in London. The two horses were busy eating from their feedbags, although I didn’t see either of the SOA agents that were supposed to be watching the prisoner. I reached the horses and patted one of them on the side of his neck. He flicked his ears in response, but was clearly more interested in his food than in me, so I left him be and checked the coach, but found it empty.
On the one hand, the locks were still in place and there was no blood inside the comfortable carriage, but on the other, Alan was a slippery little bastard. I entered the house and checked every room, but it was empty, too. One of the rooms had been changed to a prison cell, complete with rune-marked walls and floor, but it had been decided that we’d transport Alan the second I returned, so he’d been moved to the carriage.
His absence didn’t raise any immediate level of concern. The likelihood was high the two SOA agents had taken him into the seclusion of nearby streets to give him a good kicking. They’d wanted to do it all day, and with Alan’s almost continuous taunts about their wives, sisters, girlfriends, and in one particularly rage-inducing speech, their mothers, I figured he’d probably brought it on himself. Ordinarily I’d have left the agents to their fun, but they were liable to kill Alan, and for all of his irritating qualities, he didn’t deserve to die.
I made my way back outside and walked off into the nearby gloomy streets in the hope that, just maybe, I’d find them before one of the many criminals in the city decided to find me.
Whitechapel, like a fair amount of East London, was riddled with crime and death, and large numbers of people doing incredibly unsavory things, a lot of whom lived in squalor. I’d questioned why they’d put a safe house in the middle of the area, but had been informed that it was the safest place to put anything. No one asked questions in Whitechapel, probably because they were afraid of the answers.
Even during the recent spate of horrific murders a few months earlier, no one had come forward to say they’d seen anything. And no one ever would. Either the police would resolve it, or the local people would get to the killer first, and then no one would ever find him. Those living in the East End of London trusted your average copper probably less than they did your average criminal, and people taking the law into their own hands was fairly common.
I had a pretty good idea where the SOA agents would have taken Alan. There was a small park down an alley a few hundred meters from the safe house. It was somewhere I’d heard that the police took suspects to question them when needed. It was dark, and from what I’d heard, it was a well-known area to stay away from, even in Whitechapel.
I reached the alley after being propositioned by half a dozen women, although I noticed that no one stood close to the mouth of the alley, as if it were creating its own barrier of fear.
I walked down the alley. The light from the street lamps appeared to be pushed back by the darkness, which was a stupid thought to have, but even so it still made me pause. Something about this place wasn’t right. About half way down I heard grunts and groans.
“That’s enough,” I called out while using my fire magic to give me a semblance of night vision.
One of the SOA agents sat hunched over, leaning against the wooden panels that surrounded the park’s long grass.
I walked over to the second agent, whose back was toward me as he stood a little further into the park, and placed my hand on his shoulder. “That’s enough,” I repeated, but he spun around and all of the breath left my body at once, followed immediately by pain as it exploded across my torso. I glanced down as a shimmering blade of ice was pulled free from my chest. It was covered in my blood. I dropped to my knees and watched as the magical weapon vanished from view. The pain forced me to abandon my night vision, and the darkness once again took control.
The overwhelming thought that bounced around my head was that neither of the SOA agents had been sorcerers.
My attacker crouched beside me. “They interrupted me and my prey got away,” his accent was from East London, but sounded slightly different from many of those living in the city. As if he’d been away from here for a long time, and had not quite remembered how the accent was meant to sound.
I glanced up at him, still unable to breathe; the blade had punctured a lung. It wouldn’t kill me, but it would be a few hours until I was back to normal, and without my night vision I could have been staring into Merlin’s own face and I’d never have known.
The man got back to his feet and kicked me onto my back. “I should make sure you remember your time here, but I’m sure your comrades over there will be able to do that better than I could.”
He sat on my chest—the weight of him making me gasp as the remaining air left my body—and placed his finger to my forehead. He moved his finger slowly, removing it every few seconds before returning it, newly wet against my flesh. “Don’t go forgetting me now,” he said, before almost jumping off of me and running down the alley.
“Anyone conscious?” I wheezed.
“Your agents are dead,” Alan said. “I hope you weren’t friends.”
I closed my eyes and sighed, trying to control the anger that flared inside of me, while at the same time managing the pain that still coursed through my body.
I rolled onto my side. “What happened?”
“Your companions took me here to give me a good beating. But we found that man and a woman already here. She got free and ran for it, so he took it out on the agents. He had a knife.”
“Not that blade of magical ice?”
“No, a real knife. He cut your boys to pieces.” There was an unmistakable strike of match, and a sudden flare of light. Alan held the meager flame against a piece of paper he took from his pocket and soon there was enough light for me to see him.
“Holy shit,” I whispered. “Did he cut you?”
Alan shook his head. He was drenched in blood; it covered every single part of him that I could see. “All of this blood belonged to your friends. He killed them while they were next to me.” He raised his wrist, showing me the sorcerer’s band—a small metal band that stopped him from using his powers. And would explode if he tried to remove it. “I couldn’t do a damn thing.”
“You could run now,” I said. I coughed, which caused more pain, but once it had eased off I finally managed to sit up and use my own fire magic to illuminate the area. Night vision took too much control for me right now.
“Shit,” I continued. One of the two bodies was in the deep grass, invisible to me as I’d entered the park. The side effect of my magical night vision was that everything was in shades of orange and yellow, so blood was harder to pick out.
“I’m not going to run,” Alan told me, his tone hard and full of anger. “I used those agents to get me here so I could escape. I wasn’t going to do this to them though. No, I’m going to help you find the man who did this. And then I’ll escape.”
I chuckled. “Deal. But first we need to get back to the safe house.”
“Actually, first you need to know what that asshole wrote on your forehead,” Alan told me.
“It’s in blood.”
“What does it say, Alan?” I demanded, anger dripping into my words.
“It’s just two words. It says From Hell.”