Seeing how it’s less than a month until The Last Raven is released on 8th November, I thought everyone might like to have a look at the prologue.
Five Years Ago
“Are you sure you can do this?” Isaac asked me, checking on my well-being for the twentieth time in the last few hours. Isaac had a bald head and was clean-shaven, with dark skin, and eyes that appeared to bore into you. He was over six and a half feet tall and loomed over everything, and everyone, around him. I tried very hard not to sigh. He was only checking up on me. And I appreciated it, but also wished he’d just shut up for a while.
We were stood on the stern of a fifty-foot ship as it bobbed beside the dock of a small island some miles off the coast of Newfoundland. Technically, the island wasn’t meant to exist, it wasn’t on any maps. Even satellite imagery showed nothing but clear blue ocean.
It didn’t even have a name, although after learning about what was happening on it, I’d named it Hell’s Mouth.
The captain of the ship, a stout man of about fifty with long grey hair and a beard, left the galley and walked over. His crew, all half dozen of them, were busy unloading the cargo for delivery.
“If you’re going, go,” he said with slightly more irritation than was deserved, considering how much money he’d been paid to get us there. “Remember, my people know nothing about our deal. As far as anyone is concerned, you’re spare crew. We don’t want trouble.”
“I won’t do anything to jeopardise them,” I promised.
I checked the earpiece that Isaac had given me, tapping it twice.
“Thanks for that,” Isaac said with a slight wince.
We walked down the gangway onto the dock, and jumped up into the rear of the truck where the crates of cargo had been stored. I banged twice on the back of the truck cab, and we set off along the only road on the island.
It was a fifteen-minute drive at a fairly slow pace as the rain lashed against the outside and the wind whistled by the exposed rear of the vehicle.
“Lucas,” Isaac said in my ear.
“Yes,” I replied, leaning back against the side of the truck and spotting the second, identical truck with the rest of the captain’s workers aboard.
“Thank you for doing this,” Isaac said.
I let out a slight sigh. “Thank you for asking me.”
“I know it hasn’t been easy for you,” Isaac continued. “I know you’re going through some rough times. That you’ve been going through rough times since . . .”
“My friends were all murdered and I couldn’t stop it,” I finished for him.
“Yeah,” Isaac said softly. “But this could be the start of you finding your feet again.”
I nodded, realised Isaac couldn’t actually see me, and felt a bit foolish.
The truck started to slow and, a moment later, it stopped altogether. I sat still as the driver spoke to someone outside. The wind made picking up the individual words impossible, but a few moments later, a guard in a midnight blue uniform, a black hat, and carrying an AR-15 poked his head around the corner of the truck, looking into the cargo area where I sat.
“You comfortable back there?” he asked, chuckling.
“No,” I said. “But I drew the short straw, so I get to sit with the boxes. If you like, you can sit back here on the way to the docks.”
The guard laughed. “I’m good, thanks.” He banged twice on the truck, and after a count of ten, we lurched forward as we were allowed into the compound of the . . . asylum.
The asylum was originally built as a prison in the 1940s when some enterprising monster decided that, as Alcatraz was doing so well, they should build a second one, even further away.
In the 1960s, it changed to Netley Asylum. It was shut down in the 1980s when a reporter exposed the experiments that were being done on the prisoners sent there. Lots of people were quietly paid a lot of money to go away and shut up, but it reopened about five years ago and there were concerning rumours about the place we needed to investigate.
The truck moved through the outer gate of the asylum. The gates were made of iron, painted black, and sat in the middle of a hundred feet of sixty-foot-high chain-link fence. Two guard towers sat at the far end of the front fence. A guard post sat beside the entrance gates, which rumbled closed, all done through a switch inside the hut.
I looked out the back of the truck as it drove through the front courtyard of the asylum grounds. Our info showed the asylum was one main building with an entrance at the front. It had two more at the rear—which wasn’t accessible unless I wanted to climb an electrified fence, and more guards patrolling the black tiled roof of the building. There were two loading bays either side and a smattering of other exits, secured by ID cards, which we didn’t have.
The front entrance—two large, imposing metal doors painted red—was shut, and the truck continued to the side of the building, reversing into a loading bay where two guards waited.
“You new?” one of the guards, a large man with military style haircut and tattoos on the back of his hands, asked me.
I pushed down the ramp at the back of the truck. “Yep,” I said, stepping off the platform and making sure it was anchored to the bay.
I turned to find the man stood directly behind me, staring at me. He was a similar height to Isaac, so a good few inches taller than my own five-eleven.
I ignored him, walked back into the truck, and unloaded the first plastic container.
I worked there for a half hour until the second truck came in and the guards got bored watching me.
The truck was nearly empty, with most of the contents on the loading bay as the guards started to check everything.
“You can start moving it into the building,” the tall guard told me. “Just keep your nose to yourself.”
He actually flicked my nose, and it took me a good few seconds to remember I wasn’t meant to leave a body count behind.
Restraining myself, I pushed one of the plastic containers through a set of open double doors and into a large storage area. I’d studied the blueprints, so I knew that there was a door halfway down the storage room.
The door was hidden behind a tall set of shelves stacked with tins of various foods.
You wouldn’t even know it was there unless you went looking for it. The door was painted the same white as the wall. Even the door handle was painted white.
I looked behind me, checking for guards, and opened the door, stepping through into a stairwell and quietly closing the door behind me.
The stairwell was dingy; it had been a long time since it had been used on a regular basis, but there were strip lights at the top of each set of stairs, so at least I didn’t have to make the climb in complete darkness.
Four flights later, I came to the only exit. The second floor. I wished the light above my head was off, but breaking it might set off some kind of alarm somewhere, and I wasn’t about to risk it. I pushed open the door and found myself in a small room, with a black-and-white tiled floor. The light was dim and had a black shade, illuminating very little. It was enough to see the door only a few steps in front of me. I pulled the door open and stepped into the brightly lit hallway beyond.
There were windows down one side of the hallway, with six doors opposite—a fact I’d memorised from the blueprints. The last door on the left was my target. I had maybe twenty minutes before I was missed. Before the trucks headed back to the ship. Maybe thirty if I was lucky.
I jogged to the end of the hallway, paused, and peered around the corner, down the hallway that ran perpendicular to the one I was in. No one there. Maybe luck was on my side after all.
The dark wooden door looked like every other door on the second floor of the asylum, except for the metal name plate on it, which read dr callie mitchell in black capital letters. I knocked three times. Waited. No answer.
I tried the door handle and found it unlocked. The whistle-blower who’d reported to Isaac said that she never locked her door.
I pushed open the door and darted inside, closing it behind me. I immediately understood why Dr Mitchell didn’t lock her door. There was little to worry about being stolen.
There were no cupboards, just a table in the middle of the room, with a chair, a computer, and several coloured plastic envelopes. A sideboard with locked drawers sat under one long window that showed off the doctor’s various awards, and the walls were decorated with her qualifications. I wondered if they were real or if she’d fabricated them along with the reason for the island’s existence.
“Get in, get out,” Isaac said in my ear.
“Seriously?” I whispered.
“I hadn’t heard from you in a while,” he said as I walked over to the envelopes on her desk and started going through them. Each one had a different name on them.
“You have ten minutes,” he said. “My contact says she’s in the garden right now; she does it every day. Talks to a different patient out there, shows them the futility of where they are.”
“You are not helping,” I said through gritted teeth. “The files on the patients aren’t all here. These envelopes just have stuff about names and ages but nothing about what she’s actually doing here. They’re perfectly ordinary files. She’s got a locked sideboard; they must be . . .” I stopped.
“Lucas,” Isaac said, worry creeping into his voice.
“Shit. She has a Raven Guild medallion,” I said in horror, staring at the object. It was copper in colour, made from hardened stone, and was in the shape of a buckler shield with a sword and hammer crossing over each other in front. A steel raven sat on top of the shield, as if holding it. The whole thing was about the same size as the palm of my hand. It took a lot of effort not to reach out for it.
There were seven Guilds, each one named after a different bird, but only one Guild had been massacred. My old Guild, the Ravens. I felt my heart race.
“Lucas,” Isaac warned.
“Why does Dr Callie Mitchell have the medallion of one of my murdered Guild members?”
“I don’t know,” Isaac said. “But we don’t have time for this now.”
“Isaac, I need to know,” I told him. “They were my family. My friends. My Guild. I was meant to protect them. I was . . .” I stopped, and picked the medallion up, feeling the emotions crash inside of me.
“Lucas,” Isaac said, almost a whisper.
“Give me one week,” I told him.
“Have you lost your mind?” he hissed.
“There’s no intel in here; we’re no clearer on what’s happening here than before we arrived,” I bargained.
“You’re only meant to go there to find those files,” Isaac said. “My contact assured us they would be there.”
“The files are a bust,” I said. “They’re not here.”
“So, it’s a setup?” Isaac said.
“Looks like it,” I said. “Guess I’ll just have to find out what’s going on. One week.”
“Lucas,” Isaac started, before sighing. “If they find out who . . . or what you are, you’re dead. You know that, right?”
“Yep,” I said. “I’m going to have to go dark, Isaac. No comms.”
“Damn you, Lucas Rurik,” Isaac said. “Not like I have much of a choice, is it?”
“No,” I told him, hearing footsteps outside in the hallway, running toward the room. “Guards are on me already. That seems unnaturally fast. Get Hannah to make me a realistic backstory. Reporter, my normal name. Got it?”
“I’ll make sure of it,” Isaac said.
“You don’t hear from me in one week, come get me,” I said, mentally preparing myself for whatever was about to happen.
“If I don’t hear from you in one week, I’m tearing this fucking island apart,” Isaac assured me.
“Stay safe,” I said.
“Stay alive,” Isaac said.
I removed the earpiece and smashed it underfoot, picking up the medallion and taking a seat in Dr Callie Mitchell’s chair as the door burst open and the tall, sneering guard ran into the room, his sidearm aimed at me. He screamed at me to get on the floor, to lock my fingers behind my head. The usual stuff. I complied and still got a kick to the ribs for my trouble.
I looked up as Dr Mitchell strolled into the room. She was forty-ish, with long dark hair touched lightly with grey, piercing blue eyes, and olive skin. She wore a black-and-white dress that stretched down to her ankles; her arms were bare, revealing a sleeve-effect of mixed tattoos in picture-perfect ink. Each tattoo was a different bird: falcon, owl, eagle, hawk, vulture, kite, and lastly, raven. The latter of the birds sat wrapped around the wrist on her right hand, and the sight of it made the anger inside me surge.
I was dragged to my feet and forced to look at Dr Mitchell as she picked up the medallion and turned it over in her hands. “Who are you?”
“I am the King of Finland,” I told her.
The guard punched me in the stomach.
“Who are you?” Dr Mitchell asked again.
“I am the Queen of Finland,” I told her.
That one got me a smash in the face with the butt of the AR-15.
My vision went dark as Dr Mitchell leaned over me with a chilling smile. The last thing I heard were her words: “Welcome to the asylum, Your Majesty.”