Death Unleashed Prologue
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.