Scorched Shadows – Chapter 1
So, it’s not long until Scorched Shadows is officially released to the world, but before then my publisher has graciously allowed me to put up the first chapter of the book for you all to read. If you haven’t pre-ordered it yet, links will be below the chapter.
A word of warning, this isn’t the final edited version, so there might be a few things that will be changed by the time it’s finally out.
Manhattan, New York, USA
By the time Mordred reached the front of the queue in the coffee shop, he’d read their winter menu a dozen times and discounted each of the drinks available as either too sweet or something he’d only drink under torture. Coffee, he decided, should not have sprinkles in it, on it, or close to the cup.
“Large Americano, please,” Mordred said with a smile to the young man standing behind the counter.
The server looked vaguely disappointed that it was something so simple but rang up the order. “Your name?” he asked, poised to write it on the side of the cup.
The young man was ready to write but instead looked back up at Mordred. “Seriously?”
“Who would possibly make up that name for themselves?” Mordred asked. “Yes, my name is Mordred.”
The young man wrote something that was at best barely legible on the cup and passed it over to a second young man, who made Mordred’s drink.
Mordred began to hum the theme tune to The Legend of Zelda, gaining a few strange looks from people, which he promptly ignored. A minute later Mordred was passed his drink, and he walked off up a set of stairs to find a comfortable seat on the floor above.
The red leather couch he found was exactly what he’d been looking for, and he sat down with a slight sigh and looked out a large window beside him at the street below. He placed his drink on the pale wooden table in front of him and shrugged off his jacket. He was in Manhattan to meet Elaine Garlot. Elaine had been the ruler of Avalon before Arthur woke up and everyone assumed he would take control. She was also Mordred’s aunt, and someone he had a genuine affection for.
Over a decade ago Mordred had been shot in the head, and instead of finding himself very much in the land of the dead, he woke up sans bullet hole. There had been a few benefits to being shot, a fact in and of itself he found strange, but the main one was that after over a thousand years of wanting to murder people, he was finally free from his homicidal desires. He was finally able to start putting things right.
It had been nearly three years since he’d revealed to Nate Garrett that he was alive, something Nate had been at first unhappy about considering he’d been the one to shoot Mordred in the first place. Gradually Nate began to trust Mordred, and now they were both in a place where they could be friendly, each man not having to worry about the other trying to kill him. Well, mostly, anyway.
It had been foretold by the Fates that Mordred had to kill Nate, because otherwise Nate would go crazy and murder everyone. Nate was, understandably, upset by this news, but the very idea of killing his friend made Mordred feel queasy. He’d spent the better part of twelve hundred years trying to kill him, but at last he was in a place where they could be friends again. Yet this specter of the future hung over them both. Mordred hoped they could find a way to avoid it; in fact he’d spent several months trying to figure out just that but hadn’t come up with any ideas.
Concerned that he’d have to murder his friend to fulfill some prophecy he wanted no part of, Mordred avoided Nate for the better part of a year, trying all the while to find a way out of a future he was certain would come to pass.
Mordred took a drink of his coffee and thought about the many changes that had occurred in the three years since he and Nate had begun to re-form the bonds of friendship. Arthur Pendragon, once comatose by Mordred’s own hands, had woken and taken charge of Avalon—the organization that secretly ran the world far from the gaze of humanity. Mordred hadn’t seen Arthur since he’d reclaimed his position as the head of Avalon, and he had little interest in doing so. He was almost sure that Arthur would be in a much less forgiving mood than even Nate had been.
The enemies of Avalon had seemingly dropped off the face of the Earth, too. Even Hera, who had claimed London as her own only months before Arthur had woken, had been quiet. Any trouble had seemingly been taken control of by Avalon as Arthur sought to regain control of an organization that had been trying to tear itself apart for too long.
The lack of people trying to kill him and his friends had made it easier for Mordred to walk away from that life and try to find answers. He’d traveled the world and eventually arrived in America so that he could talk to people there who were considerably older than even his own sixteen hundred years. Elaine had been around for thousands of years. She’d probably seen everything there was to see. If anyone had an answer, it would be her. Elaine had contacted him a month earlier to give a date, place, and time to meet. She told him she had information about the prophecy that he needed to hear.
One of the big problems with the Fates was that while they often saw a future, it was not necessarily the future, and frankly the whole thing made Mordred’s head hurt. Just because the Fates saw something didn’t mean it would happen, but they’d told Mordred that they had seen no other way forward for him and Nate.
He was still thinking about his reason for being in New York, and trying to stop whatever future lay before him, when someone cleared their throat. Mordred looked up at a woman on the other side of the table, standing next to one of two leather chairs.
“Is this seat taken?” she asked.
“Of course,” Mordred said with a smile. “Sorry, I was miles away. Do you do miles? It’s kilometers here, isn’t it? I’m never all that sure which British words Americans understand.”
The woman smiled. She had a nice smile, Mordred thought. In fact she was a very attractive woman. Her long hair had been dyed a mixture of greens, blues, and even a little red. Several strands of bright-green hair had been tucked behind her ear. She had a multitude of hoops in both ears, and a dragon tattoo on one arm that started on her wrist and vanished up the sleeve of her blue T-shirt. The other arm had several different tattoos, but Mordred was only interested in the Mario and Princess Peach tattoo on her forearm.
“So, it’s taken?” she asked.
“Sorry, I said of course, didn’t I?” Mordred motioned toward the chair. “Please take a seat and ignore my inane ramblings.”
She placed her drink on the table between them and sat down.
“Nice tattoos,” Mordred said, pointing to her arm as he tried to decide whether she was human. Or whether she was an enemy.
“Thanks, I’m a big Mario fan. You play?”
Mordred smiled. “I’ve been known to annoy friends by humming the theme tune, so a little, yes.”
The woman laughed. “I’m Cass, by the way.”
She offered him her hand, which he shook, and he noticed that on each of the nails on her hand was a Mario 1-Up mushroom. The small green image made Mordred chuckle.
Cass looked at her nails. “Yeah, I’m a bit obsessed. Zelda, too.”
“A woman after my own heart,” Mordred said. “I only recently got into playing video games. I had some things to work though, and they genuinely helped. Wind Waker was a special favorite of mine.”
“Ah, that’s a beautiful one. So, what do you do when you’re not drinking coffee or playing Nintendo games?”
“Oh, not just Nintendo,” Mordred said quickly. “Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid . . . and I just realized you weren’t asking me about my video-game habit. Sorry.”
Cass laughed. “It’s okay. You’re passionate about it.”
“That is one way to put it. As for what I do, not much of anything at the moment. I’m in New York to see a friend of mine.”
Mordred shook his head. “I hope not.”
“Were your parents big fans of the folk story?”
He quickly understood that he was being mocked, albeit with affection. Mordred decided she was human, after all. He was certain that anyone who knew of Avalon, Arthur, and Merlin wouldn’t call it a folk story. “The Mordred thing. Yes, I’m afraid it’s my real name. My parents gave it to me and everything, although I have no idea why. You get used to it.”
“Well, you’re the first Mordred I’ve ever met.” She smiled and sat back in her chair, as if at ease in her surroundings. “And I’ve met a lot of people with unique names.”
“So, what do you do, Cass?”
“Ex-army. Left two years ago, and now I work at a charity helping people like me readjust to normal life.”
“A noble goal.”
“Thanks. Sometimes it’s hard going back to being a civilian. You see things—do things—that maybe others don’t understand. Things you don’t always want to talk about with anyone who wasn’t there.”
“No, I get that.”
“You military? You have that look.”
Mordred’s smile was tinged with sadness. “I guess you could say that, yes. I’ve certainly seen and done things that a lot of people wouldn’t understand. Done things for my government that maybe I’m not proud of but at the time I thought were the right things to do.”
“You’re from England, right?”
“Yes,” Mordred eventually said after realizing he hadn’t replied for several seconds. “Born and mostly raised. Where are you from?”
“Texas. Dallas to be exact. Dad was an army ranger, and Mom was a teacher. And there was no way I was going to follow in my mom’s footsteps. Other people’s children make me twitch.”
Mordred laughed. “Don’t they say you should never work with children and animals?”
“I think that’s for acting.”
“Yeah, it would be a bit restrictive otherwise, I guess.”
Cass chuckled. She had a nice laugh that went with her smile. Mordred hadn’t come to New York intending to meet someone, but it was always nice to have a new friend, and if he was being honest, friends weren’t something Mordred had in abundance anyway. People who knew of his past were always worried he was going to kill them.
“So, how long are you in New York for?” Cass asked after a while.
“A few weeks, maybe. I’m not a hundred percent .”
“Would you like to get together again for another drink?” Her smile was somewhere between flirting and being coy.
“I’d like that very much.” While Cass was attractive, and more importantly interesting, romance wasn’t something Mordred had either the time or inclination to engage in. Still, it was nice to be able to talk to someone who didn’t know his background, who didn’t know exactly who he was.
Cass removed a card from her pocket and passed it over to Mordred. He stared at it intently, memorizing the phone number and email address without even thinking about it. Old habits were hard to break.
“Call me,” she said. “It was lovely meeting you, Mordred.” She stood up, and Mordred followed. He offered her a handshake, and she accepted before leaning over and kissing him on the cheek. “I’ll see you soon.”
Mordred watched Cass walk toward the stairs with a mixture of sadness at being alone again and happiness at how he’d met someone like Cass. He hoped he’d be able to do it again.
He was about to settle back for a few hours of doing nothing when he noticed that she’d left her wallet behind. The small blue leather object must have fallen out of her handbag, or pocket. It shimmered slightly as he turned his head to look at it from a different angle. Mordred shook his head; he was beginning to fixate on something pointless again. He reached over and grabbed the wallet, placing it on the table beside his cup, before sending a message to Cass to inform her that he had it. Hopefully she wouldn’t be worried about it.
“Mordred,” a man said from the foot of the table.
Mordred looked up, surprised that someone would use his name in such an angry tone. The man was just over six feet tall, and thin, with a small, dark beard and shaved head. His stare was completely neutral, as if he cared neither one way nor the other about being there.
“Yes, how can I help?”
“I have a message for you.” The man had an American accent, although Mordred couldn’t quite place it with any degree of certainty. Somewhere in the South maybe—he wasn’t great at placing accents at the best of times.
“Okay, is it from Elaine?”
“It’s from My Liege.” The man tore open his shirt, releasing a mixture of glyphs painted there, before he raised his hands and shouted, “For My Liege!”
Power blasted out of him, forcing Mordred to put up a shield of magical air to stop being torn in half, and even then he was thrown back through the window behind him. Before he’d hit the ground, a second blast tore through the ground floor of the coffee shop, slamming him into a taxi with enough force to tip him up over it and into the road. He quickly rolled to the side, avoiding whatever might be coming, and pushed himself up against the side of the taxi.
The sound of the blasts had been deafening, but Mordred’s magic allowed him to heal much quicker than anything human. Within seconds he was back on his feet, wishing his hearing was still broken. Screams and cries permeated the air, people begging for help, people weeping. Mordred ignored them—forced himself to ignore them—and entered the coffee shop through what remained of the front door.
The inside of the shop was littered with the charred and broken bodies of innocent victims. The closer Mordred got to where the detonations had been, the more the bodies had been turned into piles of ash. Chairs and tables had been vaporized, and the previously blue-and-white-tiled wall had been partially melted by the magical inferno. The ceiling had been destroyed in places, with a portion of the above floor collapsing, merging the bodies and destruction into one giant mess. Mordred looked up at the holes in the ceiling and noticed that part of the roof was missing.
Both magical explosions had been superheated, but they’d been unlike any fire magic Mordred had ever seen. It was almost as if it were just pure energy. He stepped over remains, hoping to find someone alive, but the devastation had been total.
Mordred used his air magic to put out any fires, smothering them until they were no longer a threat, before he walked up the nearly destroyed staircase to the floor above. More dead littered the floor, and near where Mordred had sat was the body of the man who had caused it. He was dead, which was a shame, because Mordred had wanted to kill him. The skin on the man’s chest, where Mordred had seen the glyphs, was nothing but ash. Mordred wondered how the man had managed to stay mostly intact when everything around him was destroyed. Maybe the magic that allowed him to create such devastation had been designed to keep them relatively intact, despite killing them. Mordred turned in a circle as he surveyed the building. The magic had pushed out from the murderer to everything surrounding him. Maybe whoever sent him wanted people to know who had been the killer, or maybe whatever had allowed him to commit such a horrific act hadn’t worked properly. Too many questions, not enough answers.
Mordred hadn’t been able to find a second body on the floor below in any kind of state to prove conclusively that there had been two attackers, but he assumed whatever had allowed the body of the attacker above to remain intact had in fact incinerated the attacker below. Either that, or they were buried under mounds of innocent victims and pieces of the building. Either way, Mordred had no desire to go digging around for answers. One killer or two didn’t matter in the scheme of things. Mordred sighed out of a combination of sadness and frustration. He walked back down the stairs, leaving the coffee shop, where strangers hurried to help the injured.
A young boy of no more than five or six lay on the ground, his leg twisted and badly broken. Apart from the leg and a small cut on his forehead, he appeared to be okay. Mordred could use his magic to heal him. Could use his magic to do a lot of things, but then Avalon would be angry that he’d done so. Magic was not allowed to be shown to humans. Oh, humans could discover Avalon on their own—the Internet had made sure of that—but it wasn’t considered good form to use magic on humans to heal them. Or kill them.
“I can help,” Mordred told the woman beside the boy, who he guessed was his mother.
“You’re a doctor?” she asked, hopeful.
Mordred just nodded and placed his hands on the boy’s leg, and yellow glyphs lit up over his arms. The boy cried out in pain for an instant before he realized the pain was gone.
“How’d you do that?” a familiar voice asked from behind Mordred.
Mordred knew who the voice belonged to, and knew that his actions would cause more questions than he was comfortable answering. “Hi, Cass.”
“I came back for my wallet. I saw what happened. I don’t understand what happened here. I don’t understand why you can heal people. What’s going on?”
Mordred stood, ignoring the look of disbelief from the boy’s mother beside him.
“An angel,” the woman said.
Mordred snapped around to the mother, anger in his eyes. “Don’t be so fucking stupid. Get your son somewhere safe. Preferably to a hospital. I healed the leg, but they’d best check for anything else.”
The mother nodded hurriedly, picked up her son, and ran toward an ambulance that had pulled up just down the street.
“I’m not human,” Mordred told Cass. “The people who did this are not human. I will find who is responsible, and I will bring them to justice.”
Cass stood, mouth open, and then cracked a slight smile. “You can heal these people.”
Mordred stared at Cass for a heartbeat, unsure if she was mocking him. Unsure if she was human, after all. He nodded anyway. Whether she was human or not, it didn’t matter at that moment. “Some, but not all. I’m not a damn angel, or anything else like one. My kind has been confused with gods and goddesses for long enough—we don’t need to add angels to the bloody mix.”
Mordred expected questions, or at least some disbelief, but instead all Cass said was “Can I help?”
Mordred wanted to find out if Cass was human, but now wasn’t the time. “Find those in desperate need of healing. I’ll see what I can do.”
For the next hour, Cass and Mordred went around the wounded, under the guise of Mordred being a doctor, and he helped heal a dozen people who would have otherwise died. Eventually, though, he’d used so much magic that exhaustion was beginning to set in, and he was unable to continue. He walked away from the scene, merging with the onlookers to duck down an alley.
“Just going to run off?” Cass said from behind him.
Mordred patted his pockets and removed Cass’s wallet. “Sorry, I forgot. This is yours.”
“What are you?”
“Are you really Mordred? Like the Mordred?”
Mordred nodded. “King Arthur and all that? Yep, that’s me.”
Cass took her wallet and stared at Mordred for several seconds. She opened her mouth, and Mordred thought she was going to say something, but instead she turned around and walked away, soon vanishing into the sea of people.
Probably for the best.
Mordred removed his mobile phone from his pocket and dialed a number.
“You’re in New York, aren’t you?” Olivia Green said the moment she answered. Pleasantries could be done some other time.
“I was in a coffee shop that blew up,” Mordred told her. “Now I’m about a half a mile away from that shop. He said ‘For My Liege’ before he killed himself.”
“Just the one attacker?”
“Two, I think. I assume the glyphs were meant to turn them into ash, but for some reason they didn’t quite do the job to the guy who attacked me.”
“The news is saying that thirty-six people are dead.”
“At least. This is the start, Olivia.”
“You need to come back to England, Mordred.”
“Not yet. There’s something I need to do first.”
“You’re a target, Mordred. Things have gotten worse since you left.”
“I’ve always been a target. You get used to it. Worse how?”
“It’s Elaine Garlot. She’s missing, has been for a few weeks now, from what I can tell.”
“Define ‘missing.’ She contacted me a month ago and told me to meet her here in New York today.”
“Have you heard from her since?”
“No, I didn’t expect to, though.”
“Avalon are saying she’s just taking some time to herself. But that’s bullshit. I know Elaine; she’s not the type. And she would return her calls. I need you to go find her.”
“Does Nate know?”
“Not yet. He’ll run off after her without a second thought.”
“Where was she last seen?”
“At her place in Scotland. We sent a team after her, and they vanished. Manannán mac Lir was a part of that team.”
“Mac? Damn it. I’ll be at Elaine’s tomorrow. I need a team, people you trust. We’ll find Elaine, Mac, and anyone else with her. And once we’re done, we’ll find out who this My Liege is and make him eat his own fucking hands.”
Olivia paused for a second before continuing. “You okay?”
“No, Olivia. I just saw innocent people die. I am the exact fucking opposite of okay.” Mordred hung up. The fact that he’d had a meeting with Elaine about the prophecy just before she’d vanished was far more of a coincidence than Mordred liked. Even if Elaine hadn’t been his aunt, finding her was now at the top of his list of things to do. He glanced back at the end of the alleyway before continuing on. Whoever the people behind My Liege were, they were now happy to kill humans by the dozen, and do it in the open, in a busy city. Mordred could be certain of one thing: things were going to get a lot worse before they got better.
So, there it is, hope you enjoyed it. If you haven’t pre-ordered, and want to read more, please use the links below.