Author Archives: Steve McHugh

Riftborn Book: Blessed Odds – Chapter 1

With Blessed Odds coming out in only a few weeks (21st Feb) , I figured people might like to have a read of the first chapter.

WARNING: If you haven’t read The Last Raven yet, there are spoilers in chapter 1 for the end of that book.

Pre-order Links:

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Audible.co.uk

Audible.com

CHAPTER ONE

London in the summertime is that awful combination of torrential rain, stifling heat, and unbearable humidity. Usually one right after the other, occasionally all three at the same time. Either way, you spend half of the time feeling like you’re walking through treacle.

The sun shone through the windows of the cab as the driver weaved through early-morning traffic, and I tried my best not to be concerned about other people using the road. London roads were more Mad Max–inspired than most other parts of the country, and I’d long since given up driving in the city if I could get away with it.

“Lucas, King’s Cross station, now,” Ji-hyun had said before hanging up.

I’d called the concierge to get me a taxi, and had been dressed and out of the hotel door a few minutes later. The car had been waiting for me as I stepped outside of my hotel near St Paul’s Cathedral. Ji-hyun Han, Nadia (no last name), and I had all been staying in the same hotel, although Ji-hyun and Nadia had left earlier to meet the human detective who was helping us while we were in London.

I got into the black cab and told the driver the destination. Thankfully, there was no conversation, and it meant I could sit back and continue to wake up. I’d been mid-breakfast when the phone call had stopped me from finishing a second cup of coffee.

The possibilities of why Ji-hyun had sounded so urgent rattled through my brain. She wasn’t hurt; I was sure of that. She and Nadia were more than able to take care of themselves. It was probably to do with why we were in London, still searching for those blasted vials of the super serum that Callie Mitchell had sent to buyers several months earlier. Dozens of vials of lethal gene-mutating serum sent all around the world. We’d only found nine. The odds weren’t exactly in our favour that we’d find the rest before any more of them were used to transform whoever took them into a monster.

Six months earlier, I’d killed Mason—a spoilt, rich brat with delusions of grandeur—and Callie had gone to ground; half a dozen people had used the vial they’d received. They’d all been criminals of various levels and had all been about as pleasant to deal with as having sandpaper rubbed over your genitals. They’d also all died horribly, either because their body hadn’t taken well to the drug they’d taken, and they’d essentially melted, or because some rift-fused were there to put them down. But either way, they hadn’t been stopped before they’d killed people. Callie had innocent blood on her hands, and she was going to eventually pay for that. But first things first: find the rest of the damn poison.

Ji-hyun had been asked to take over the investigation on behalf of the Rift-Crime Unit, primarily because most of the New York branch where Callie had been were either dead, working for the bad guys, or both. I got the feeling that Ji-hyun accepted more out of a need to punch Callie—and anyone working with her—in the face than anything else.

Our investigations had revealed that a man calling himself the Croupier—for reasons I’m sure he thought were incredibly clever—had arranged the meeting between Callie and her buyers. Callie had escaped while I’d killed her underling and was … who knew where. That left one thread to tug on.

A cyclist took their life into their own hands and cut up the cab, prompting the taxi driver to throw some good old British curse words at the offending rider, who stopped and stuck his middle finger up before continuing on.

“Fuckin’ cyclists,” the taxi driver said in an east London accent. He was white with a bald head and a few days’ worth of stubble. On the back of his left forearm was a tattooed badge of a military unit, although I couldn’t have said which one.

I gave a noncommittal grunt; I was just glad no one got hurt. Cyclists in London are part daredevil and part insane-asylum escapee, the degrees of each part dependent on the day and weather conditions. The hotter it got, the less inclined anyone was to be nice to one another.

“You from London?” the driver asked.

“No,” I said, steeling myself for the inevitable conversation. “Was born up north, but I spent a lot of time in the city. At some point, my accent sort of merged into one that doesn’t sound like I’m from anywhere.”

“You’re from Yorkshire?” the driver asked with no hostility or mocking in his tone, just a genuine level of curiosity.

“Not exactly,” I said, not wanting to get into the whole thing about being born when Yorkshire was just a collection of tribes. The world knew about riftborn and revenants, about how they were created, about our exceptionally long lives, but that didn’t mean they were always welcome. Their knowledge of us as a species was relatively new, and fear was still a big part of their reaction to us.

“It’s a bit of an everywhere accent, isn’t it?” he said.

I nodded. “It’s what happens when you move around a lot,” I told him. “You from around here, then?”

“Hackney,” he said. “Hence the Hammers badge. You a supporter?”

“No,” I admitted. “Moved around so much that I never really settled on a team. Always enjoyed going to watch a game, though. Well, most of the time.”

“Yeah, not every game can be a blinder,” he said with a chuckle. “I take my nippers to them, though. Good time to spend with the kids, and it gives the wife some time off.” He laughed at that one.

“She not a fan?”

“She’s a fuckin’ Man City fan,” he said with slight disgust in his voice.

“Must be fun in the house when they play each other,” I said with a smile.

“It’s hell, mate,” he said. “They battered us last time and she didn’t let me forget it for weeks. She made me fish and chips that night and spelt out 4–0 on the plate.”

I laughed at that.

“It were fuckin’ quality, if I’m honest,” he said with a laugh of his own. “Hopefully, one day I can repay the favour.”

The cab stopped, and I paid, leaving the driver a nice tip for his morning trouble. “Best of luck at the next game,” I said.

“Thanks, have a good day, mate,” he said, driving off.

I turned around to find Ji-hyun staring at me. Judging by the expression on her face, it was not going to be a good day.

Ji-hyun Han was little over five and a half feet tall, with long brown hair that was, as usual, scooped back into a high ponytail. She wore black boots, jeans, a red T-shirt with a Starfleet badge from Star Trek on the left breast. Unlike most redshirts, there was a hundred percent chance that she’d make it back from an away mission.

“What happened?” I ask, looking around for Nadia and feeling concern in my gut.

“Nadia is fine,” Ji-hyun said, as if sensing my thoughts. “She’s gone with Ravi.”

“Okay, so, what was the urgency in getting me here?” I asked. “What’s going on?”

“You remember our inside man who has been feeding us information?” she asked.

“Simon Wallace?” I asked. Ex-paratrooper, current criminal, and all round semi-bad guy. He drew the line at innocent people dying because someone turned into a monster and went on a rampage. I actually liked the guy: he was completely honest about what he was and why he did it, and that was always better than people who made excuses because they couldn’t outright deal with their life choices.

“That’s the one,” Ji-hyun said as I followed her across the wide-open space in front of King’s Cross train station. “Well, Simon just called and informed us that the Croupier and his people are boarding a train from King’s Cross to Edinburgh in an hour and ten minutes.”

“That’s going to be a very busy train,” I said, thinking with concern at what might happen on a speeding train that was packed with commuters, if the Croupier found themselves threatened.

“It’s going to be empty,” Ji-hyun said with a smile as she stopped and turned to me. “Mostly empty.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because it’s not a normal commuter train; it’s a rich-person train.”

“Is that really a thing?” I asked as she turned and began walking again.

“Sort of,” Ji-hyun said. “We’ll go see Ravi and he’ll explain.”

I wordlessly followed Ji-hyun up a nearby street, where she indicated two unmarked police cars. Looks like Ravi had bought backup.

We arrived at the hotel, the name of which I didn’t catch or care about, and stepped through a set of automatic double doors into a large, spacious lobby. A rock feature sat in the centre of the large room, in front of three elevators. Lights shone from the base of the feature, illuminating the lower half of the fifty-foot-tall sculpture in a slowly shifting rainbow of colours.

The right of the foyer lead to a restaurant that proudly declared itself to have the best steak in town, which I doubted. The restaurant was empty. The right side of the foyer was the check-in, and there were currently half a dozen people queued there.

“You got the medallion on?” Ji-hyun asked.

I fished my Guild badge—a copper-coloured buckler shield made out of hardened stone with silver sword and hammer crossing over it, and a small black raven atop it as if holding the shield—out from under my dark blue plain T-shirt so it was visible to everyone. The badge of the Raven Guild. I was the only member left after everyone else had been murdered, but it still afforded me the same privileges as when the Guild had been full. Every law enforcement agency in the world knew what a Guild badge meant: give me access and keep your mouth shut. Not every member of law enforcement was happy about it.

Two plain-clothed officers, obvious to anyone who’d worked with their type before, stood in front of the elevator: a man and woman, just talking to each other as if they weren’t there for any particular reason. Both looked over at me and stepped aside when they saw us, passing me a key card.

“For the room,” the female officer said.

I thanked them as Ji-hyun pushed the button for the elevator, and the four of us waited in uncomfortable silence. Law enforcement might know what the medallion meant, but that didn’t mean they had to like it. There had been members of Guilds in the past who had used that power in unethical ways, and stories grew about how Guilds were a law unto themselves. How we didn’t care about human laws. Half the time, we were so busy trying to ensure that either humans didn’t kill revenants or vice versa that human laws just became a bureaucratic over-complication.

The elevator eventually arrived, and Ji-hyun and I stepped inside, giving me a moment of relief.

“Police aren’t happy we’re here?” I asked.

“Don’t care,” Ji-hyun said with a shrug. “Their boss is okay with it and that’s all I care about.”

“You left Nadia with Ravi?” I asked.

“She likes him,” Ji-hyun said with a sigh, as the elevator door opened, and we both stepped out into a small, windowed foyer with glass and dark-wood doors on either side. I spotted a card reader on the door leading to the rooms. You had to be a guest—or at least have a working card—to get through it.

I scanned the card over the door, and Ji-hyun pulled it open before I could, holding it for me as I stepped through.

“Ta very much,” I said with a smile.

“Don’t get used to it,” Ji-hyun said with a smile of her own.

I followed her the short distance to a hotel room, where she knocked twice and the door opened, revealing Agent Ravi Gill.

Ravi was just over six feet tall with brown skin and a slight Cockney accent. He wore a dark grey suit that I wasn’t convinced was standard issue. He’d been our point of call when we’d arrived in London to investigate the missing vials. He worked for the RCU, but due to underfunding and how a lot of people still didn’t trust those who had died and returned, the RCU in the UK was only recently given its own autonomy. Before then, it had been merged with an MI5 unit, meaning some of the RCU members were human. It also meant you had to be really good at your job. Humans tended to be a bit squishy, especially when it came to having a revenant or fiend barrelling toward you.

Public opinion was still divided on rift-fused—those humans or animals who had died and then been powered by the rift and returned as something more. Some hailed revenants and riftborn as miracles, but others called us demons, devils, and much worse. Certain politicians play on that fear of the unknown, and the politicians in the UK were no different from those anywhere else. Find a scapegoat and make everything their fault.

Thankfully, Ravi been helpful and considerate, and had wanted to catch Callie Mitchell and anyone who had helped her a lot more than he wanted to play political bullshit with us. I liked him. But more importantly, I trusted him to do his job well.

I stepped inside the hotel room, following Ji-hyun as I took in the layout of the room: One king-sized bed, lit by small lamps on either side of it. The bed was messy, the pillows on the floor beside it, the white cotton duvet cover strewn in the corner. The end of the bed had a metal footboard that Nadia was perched on. She was, as always, barefoot, and her chains were wrapped around her, like a comfort blanket.

Apart from the bed, the room had a wooden desk with coffee machine and phone on it. The curtains were open, and light flooded into the room. The room’s key card was inserted into the card reader next to the door. The bathroom door was ajar, light spilling out over the dark purple carpet. There were pieces of artwork on the walls of the room and a small HDTV up on the wall opposite the bed.

“Been productive?” I asked Nadia.

Nadia was five feet tall, with short dark hair and olive skin. She wore faded blue jeans and a bright yellow T-shirt. She allowed herself to fall back onto the bed and lay there like she was making a snow-angel in the bed covers.

“She okay?” Ravi asked.

“Define okay,” Ji-hyun replied.

Nadia let out a slight giggle.

“She’s fine,” I said. “Nadia, are you fine?”

“Dandy,” she said, giving a thumbs-up.

“She’s probably seeing a new timeline,” I said. “Chained revenants can see multiple threads of their own future. Sometimes, those threads are … strange and cause momentary lapses of …” I gestured to Nadia, who was now bouncing gently on the bed. ‘Well … this …” I said.

Ravi looked over at Nadia and smiled. “Fair enough,” he said, looking back at me. “Sorry to get you up early.”

“No bother,” I told him. “Ji-hyun said you have a rich person’s train and a target.”

“Every morning at exactly ten a.m., a train leaves King’s Cross and doesn’t stop until it reaches Edinburgh,” Ravi explained. “It then comes back. Every. Single. Day. It’s used by a very select group of people, who I believe are involved with the Croupier. It’s where deals are done.”

“And who arranged this exclusive train?” I asked.

“I’m looking into that right now,” Ravi said. “It went through a committee with the government, but so does a lot of stuff.”

“So, some MPs might be involved?” Ji-hyun asked.

“I can neither confirm nor deny that we are currently looking into several sitting members of Parliament,” Ravi said as if reading it off a teleprompter.

“You’ve said that before,” I said.

“It could just be a coincidence,” Ravi said.

“I don’t like coincidences,” Ji-hyun said.

“I don’t like beetroot,” Nadia said, from where she lay on the bed. “You forget you’ve eaten it, and then you go pee, and bam, you see pink pee and freak out.”

Everyone turned to stare at Nadia before pretending like that part of the conversation hadn’t happened.

“So, are we sure that this Croupier is on board the train?” Ji-hyun asked.

“No, but Simon says his allies will be,” Ravi said. “They could be a source of great information.”

“So, why not just stop the train in King’s Cross before it leaves?” I asked.

“Because if they don’t go quietly, we’ve got a rift-fused battle in the middle of one of London’s busiest train stations. Innocent people would be hurt. I don’t think any of us want that.”

“So, we need to get on the train and stop it once it’s some distance from a populated area,” I said.

“That’s the plan,” Ravi agreed.

“Okay, so, how do we get on?” I asked.

“I assume you’ll figure a way,” Ravi said.

“How do you guys get on?” Ji-hyun asked.

“You’ll have to stop the train, and we’ll be there when it’s done,” Ravi said.

“Let me get this right,” I said, leaning up against the edge of the bed. “You want us to board a train with potentially dangerous people on board, stop them, stop the train, and somehow do this safely?”

“Can I fight on the roof?” Nadia asked sitting up. “I’ve never fought on the roof of a train before.”

“You do realise that fighting on the roof of a train would be near impossible,” Ji-hyun asked.

Nadia waved her arms. “I died. I was reborn. I have chains coming out of me. I can see multiple futures. Which part of fighting on a train is harder than all of those?”

“Everyone has a dream,” Ravi said.

“Yes,” Nadia almost shouted. “See, Ravi believes in me.”

“I’m not sure I’d go that far,” Ravi started.

“No need to backtrack,” Nadia said, getting to her feet and hugging a clearly confused Ravi. “You believe in me, and that’s all that matters.”

“Yes, Ravi,” I said with a smile. “All Nadia needs is the belief that she can fight on a train roof. Physics be damned.”

Nadia clapped. “I’m going to mentally prepare myself.” She left the room a moment later, and everyone exchanged a bemused look.

“Are all chained revenants like her?” Ravi asked.

“No,” Ji-hyun said. “Some are completely insane.”

“Or murderous,” I added.

“Or just psychotic,” Ji-hyun continued.

“Or all three,” I said.

“Those are the fun ones,” Ji-hyun said, pointing at me as if I’d said something perfect.

“Can you do this?” Ravi asked, his voice now serious.

“Of course,” Ji-hyun said. “I’ll go find Nadia and make sure she’s not trying to learn how to fly or something.”

“No bravado,” Ravi said when we were alone. “Our informant got us this information.”

“Is Simon still safe?” I asked.

“He’s being monitored for now,” Ravi said. “There’s nothing linking him to anything we’re about to do, but we’re keeping an eye on him and his family, just in case. So, can you do this?”

“Ravi, we can do this,” I said. “I’m not convinced Nadia will be able to have a fight on the train roof, but the rest of it, sure. What’s the target’s name?”

“Eve Dior,” Ravi said. “We know that’s not her real name. She’s Caucasian, about five-three, maybe nine stone, we have no photos of her. No one has photos of her. Simon wouldn’t risk taking any. She terrifies him. He’s an ex-paratrooper.”

“Scary lady on a train,” I said. “We’ll deal with her. Bring her in, get you to question her, and hopefully we’ll get intel on where the rest of the blasted vials are.”

“If we can get her and get intel, we might be able to stop this before more people die,” Ravi said.

“Let’s hope so,” I told him, and left the hotel room, feeling like neither Ravi nor myself believed that.

Writing a Book part 3: Research

I’ve done the next video in the series about writing. 

Riftborn Book 1: The Last Raven Book Launch

I have a new book out today. It’s on kindle, paperback, and audible. Go read and (hopefully) enjoy.

Order Links:

Amazon 

Audible

Amazon UK

Audible UK

Writing a Book Part 2: Prologues. Yes or No?

Writing a Book Part 2: Prologues. Yes or No

The Last Raven: Prologue

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.

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.

I waved.

“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.”

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No Gods, Only Monsters – Audible

I know that quite a few people have been waiting for this, but as of 11th October, No Gods, Only Monsters will be out on Audible. It’s currently available to pre-order on whatever Audible you wish to use, and if you are considering it, I really appreciate it.

Riftborn Book 1: The Last Raven

My next book release has gone live for pre-orders. Out on the 8th November, this is the start of a new series, in a new world, with all new characters.

The Last Raven will be out in Paperback, Kindle, and audible versions.

Lucas is a riftborn fighter bent on vengeance in this thrilling urban fantasy/detective noir series from the bestselling author of the Hellequin Chronicles.

The peace between the rift and humanity has always been tenuous. It’s up to the Guilds to protect it, removing whomever—or whatever—poses a threat, whether human or rift-fused. Lucas Rurik used to be part of the Raven Guild. That is, until someone murdered all of its members—except for him.

That was seven years ago. Now, Lucas keeps to himself, avoiding getting too close to anyone lest they become targets themselves. But when one of his oldest friends at the Rift-Crime Unit calls upon him for help with a case that’s already taken down people who mean a lot to him, Lucas can’t resist stepping back into the fray.

Something is killing FBI and RCU agents alike—something unlike anything Lucas has ever seen before, on Earth or in the Rift. Even more concerning, the gruesome assaults seem to be linked to Dr. Callie Mitchell, a depraved and disturbed individual who treats the rift-fused like her own personal lab rats.

And when someone Lucas thought he could trust turns on him, he realizes these killings aren’t just the random attacks of some terrifying new kind of fiend. They’re connected to whoever killed off his Guild all those years ago—and that’s something Lucas just can’t let lie . . .

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Writing Update May 2022

Just a quick video to talk about current sales, upcoming work, and the launch of the new book, No Gods, Only Monsters, which was out on the 1st May 2022.

No Gods, Only Monsters – Chapter 1

My new book, No Gods, Only Monsters is out on 1st May 2022, so I thought some of you might like to read the opening chapter.

Links to be able to pre-order are going to be at the bottom of the post, and please do remember that pre-orders really do help an author out. Thanks.

Diana, the Roman Goddess of the hunt, lives alone on the far edge of the Roman Empire. When an old friend arrives looking for help, Diana finds herself thrust back into her old life, and old problems.

With innocent lives caught in the crossfire, Diana realizes that the only way to ensure the safety of her friends and loved ones is to do what she does best: hunt her enemies down.

Chapter 1

There’s no escaping the Roman Empire. For centuries, they’ve moved across the world like some damnable plague, seizing and consuming all before them. Cutting down anyone too weak or stupid to not take precautions. 

It wasn’t like I could just blame the Romans for that particular lifestyle choice. The Greeks, Spartans, Egyptians, Carthaginians, hell, even the Sea People. They all conquered and took what they wanted. Sometimes I think that humanity is just about war and will never be satisfied. Sometimes I get drunk and try to forget about it. 

Today was the latter. 

The jug was empty. It wasn’t the first, although it was the first that annoyed me enough to throw it down the hill with as much strength as I could muster. The pot shattered in the darkness, followed by the yelp of an animal of some kind. Wild boar probably. They were in abundance around the hillside. 

I sat outside my home on a wooden chair and looked up at the night sky. The stars twinkled with possibility. I didn’t know what stars were, but I was pretty sure they weren’t the gods looking down on us. I’d met the gods, I used to be one of them. ‘Used to’. 

I picked up another jug of wine and proceeded to drink. 

The darkness did little to diminish my eyesight, and a few moments later an irritated boar shot over the path a few feet ahead. The smell would have given it away if I hadn’t seen it. I considered going after it; it had been a while since I’d had boar, but I was too drunk and I was pretty certain if I stood up, I’d fall down, which would be embarrassing—for me. There wasn’t another living human, or human-shaped thing within an hour ride from here. That had been sort of the point of building my home here. The point of living here. 

The two young mares I’d purchased from a dealer in Troas a few years ago, were safely locked in the small stables that sat a little way from my home. Celeritas and Robur had been the majority of my company since I’d gotten them. 

The lights from the town of Troas lit up the countryside in the far distance, like a smudged glow. I’d been here over two centuries ago, just passing through when the town had been little more than a hamlet with delusions of grandeur. But the Romans arrived and turned it into a bustling city; a port linking the eastern and western parts of the vast Roman Empire. 

I drained the last of the jug and discovered I’d drunk the lot. Five jugs. Next time I’d buy seven. 

I hadn’t intended to drink it all, but it was coming up to the anniversary of my moving to Troas, and it brought back nothing but bad memories. Occasionally, I wondered if I was becoming a drunk. Five jugs would probably kill a human, but within the hour I’d probably be back to sobriety. The half werebear side of me could heal wounds in minutes that would kill a human, but it didn’t let me stay drunk for long either. And even when I was drunk, I didn’t forget. Never forgot. Another great thing about being almost immortal. You have a lot longer to remember all the shitty things you did and saw. 

With a long, protracted sigh, I leaned back in the comfortable chair as the first drops of rain fell on my head. “Go away,” I shouted at the sky, just in case one of the bastard gods was actually listening. 

My home was a modest two-storey affair, with the lower floor containing a table and few chairs, while the upper had a bed. I didn’t need much. There had been a leak in the red tiled roof earlier, and I was glad I’d gotten up there and fixed it or I’d be sleeping in a puddle of water. 

The rain began to fall harder, so I gave up and went back inside, taking myself upstairs as the wind whipped through the balcony entrance, knocking over a plain wooden shield I’d propped up against the wall. I’d been meaning to decorate it but hadn’t decided how, and now it was going to need to dry out. 

The bed was inviting, and I sat for a moment, meaning to stay awake until I’d sobered up, but instead found myself lying down, and not long after, falling into a deep sleep. 

I woke to find it still raining, although one of the rays of sunlight that peeked through the cloud caught me in the eyes making me blink and try to bat it away. I’d have to punch Helios in his stupid face the next time I saw him. I knew he didn’t really pull the sun every morning, but Helios was a dick, so he usually needed punching for something. 

It was a short walk to the nearby mountain summit, and looking down into the deep waters of Lake Egeria, I dove from the top of the cliff, hitting the water in an almost perfect motion. I continued on under the crystal-clear water toward the bank on the other side. 

“Diana,” a voice called. 

I raised my arm to block out the sun, but I couldn’t figure out who the voice belonged to from sight alone. I sniffed the air. “I’m not interested,” I shouted and went back to swimming.

“Diana,” she called again as I resurfaced, running my hands through my shoulder-length dark hair and turning my neck until it audibly cracked. 

“Not interested,” I shouted, diving back under the water. She wasn’t going to go away; they never bloody well did. Far too stubborn, far too petulant. I touched the rock on the bottom of the lake, and wondered how long I could hold my breath. I’d counted to a thousand once, then had to surface because a shark had tried to eat me. Turns out sharks don’t taste that great. 

The second my head broke the surface, it was filled with the same voice. “Will you please get out of the water.”

I half sighed, half snorted, and swam over to the bank, pulling myself up and out with ease. 

“You’re naked,” she said. 

I looked down at my body, the water still dripping off it, joined by the increasingly heavy rain as the last vestiges of the sunlight vanished behind fast moving black clouds. “Who swims clothed, Artemis?” 

Artemis was almost the same height as me, but her hair was blonde and was currently tied in exquisite plaits that contained several coloured feathers. I didn’t know why she’d spent so long getting her hair done, but there was a lot about Artemis I didn’t understand. 

Some believers of the Roman gods said Artemis and I are the same person, something I’ve found to be exceptionally strange. Artemis’ skin was similar to my own olive tone, and she had green eyes, she was open and honest and, quite frankly, annoying. She didn’t like to rock the boat, didn’t like to get into confrontations, which considering her prowess as a hunter and fighter wasn’t something you’d think she would be concerned about. Of all the Greek Pantheon, Artemis was one of a handful I actually didn’t want to actively hurt after just being in their company. Didn’t mean I was happy to see her. 

“Are you going to get dressed?” Artemis asked me. 

“You’re a goddess,” I said, ignoring her question. “You’re a goddess who works with Zeus. I’m pretty sure you’ve seen more naked people than just… well, anyone ever.”

“Yes, but they don’t all look so…” she didn’t finish the point. 

“Awesome?” I asked for her. 

Artemis rolled her eyes. 

“Buxom?” I asked as Artemis turned and headed away with an audible sigh. “Effervescent? Tantalising?” I continued as I followed. 

“Stop it,” Artemis called out without turning around. 

“Glorious,” I suggested. “Spectacular.”

Artemis spun back to me as we reached the bottom of the pathway that led up the cliff. “Seriously, Diana. Stop it.” There was no playfulness in her tone. 

I nodded in apology. “I meant nothing by it.”

“I know,” Artemis said and started off again. 

Artemis and I had been a little more than just friends on a number of occasions, but she devoted herself to becoming the best hunter, the best fighter, the best warrior that she could, and didn’t have time for flights of fancy as she called it. Sometimes she accepted my teasing and flirting, but occasionally, when something was important, she shut it down fast. I used to feel bad for her, that she didn’t allow herself to get into relationships, but honestly, she seemed happier alone, and if that was what made her happy, then I was all for it. 

“Why are you here?” I asked when we reached my home. 

“Dress first,” Artemis said, pointing to the house. “Talk later.”

She didn’t look at me when I walked past, and I found a leather-armour skirt and top, taking time to put on my sandals before I attached my sheath on my back and slung my double-bladed axe to it. 

I found Artemis stood outside the house still, looking off into the distance, down toward the ocean. “Troy was there,” she said almost wistfully. 

I followed her gaze. “I know.”  

“Did you ever see it?”  She asked as I stood beside her. She looked over at me and I saw the sadness in her eyes. 

I shook my head. 

“It was magnificent,” she said softly. “So many people, so many sights and sounds. And men destroyed it for… pride and revenge.” 

“The gods helped,” I said. 

Artemis looked over to me. “Yes, we did.” She didn’t sound all that happy about it.

“Hera especially wanted Troy gone.”

“It was the beginning of the end of Hera being happy with the power she had,” Artemis said. “The beginning of the end of Demeter being neutral too. She hated that Hades and Persephone were together, but she didn’t support Hera either. I think Troy ruined the gods as much as the gods ruined Troy.”

“You didn’t come here to discuss history,” I said as Artemis once again looked off to where the magnificent city had once stood. “Ancient history at that.”

Artemis shook her head and seemed to find herself again. “No, we have more important matters.”

“Should I say I’m not interested now? Or wait until you’re done?” 

“You were always… petulant,” Artemis said. “I need your help.”

“Why not ask your Pantheon? I don’t do the god stuff anymore.”

“I can’t ask them,” she said, clearly not wanting to discuss the matter further. 

I sat on the ground near the entrance to my home as the wind tugged at the wooden door, threatening to throw it open. “I don’t do god stuff,” I repeated. “Not now.”

“This isn’t god stuff,” she said. “This is me asking you for help.”

“How’d you even find me?”  

“I’m quite literally the god of hunting,” Artemis said with a flourish of her hands. “It’s sort of my job.”

I narrowed my eyes, got to my feet, stretched, and entered my home, with Artemis following close behind. 

“The boar you lobbed a jug at told me,” she said. “The birds had been telling me for a while now. I imagine you saw more above than usual.”

There had been an unusually large number of sea birds above. “How long have you been tracking me?”

“A few years,” Artemis said. “I wanted to check you were okay.”

“You could have just come and asked,” I said with a slight shake of my head.

“You wanted to be alone,” Artemis said sadly. “I didn’t know how you would take my interference. But this is too important to ignore. I need your help, Diana. Please.”

It was the please that hit me hardest. Artemis didn’t ask for help, she didn’t need it, and on the odd occasion she did, she’d have asked Persephone or Apollo before anyone else. The fact that she bypassed them to come to me did not bode well for whatever shitty thing she was about to ask. 

“What’s going on?” I asked.

There was a knock at the door, and I motioned for Artemis to wait a second as I got to my feet and opened it, ready to tell whoever was there that I wasn’t interested. There was a dwarf there. A Norse dwarf to be exact. He was five feet tall, so well over a head shorter than me, and wore dark grey metal armour. He was carrying a metal helmet under one arm, and a large battle-axe was sheathed on his back, much like my own, but he had two more hand axes hanging from either side of his waist. Also, a sword. Several daggers. And what looked like a short bow slung over one shoulder. He looked like he should be invading countries. 

He smoothed his long, ginger beard and cleared his voice. “Have you told her yet?” he asked Artemis, speaking in Latin while looking behind me. 

I turned back to Artemis. “Why is there a Norse dwarf at my door?”

“You know it’s fuckin’ raining out here, right?” the dwarf said. 

I turned back to him. “You worried you might get all that nice armour rusty?” 

He laughed, although there was no humour in it. “Aren’t you the fuckin’ witty one?” he said sarcastically before looking beyond me to Artemis. “I see why you like her; she must be a hoot with the rest of the Roman Pantheon.”

“You want to come in?” I asked, looking at the multitude of tattooed runes that covered his face and backs of his hands.

“Ah, what a fuckin’ splendid idea.” He stepped into the house and placed his belongings beside the door, taking time and care with the weapons until he shrugged off his drenched chainmail shirt. I’d seen them before on dwarves, but rarely on humans, and I’d never worn one myself. They looked cumbersome.

He removed his soaked linen shirt, revealing even more tattoos over his torso. “Anywhere I can put this?” 

“By the fire is fine,” I said, watching as he hung his tunic over a wooden bar close to the flames. “Most people who strip in my home have to give me their name.”

He looked back at me, embarrassed for the first time. “Ah, sorry.” He removed his huge leather gloves and offered me his hand; it was calloused, and the strength in it was easy to feel. “Skost.”

“Diana.”  

“Yeah, I know,” he said, turning to Artemis. “I know you told me to wait, but it’s not the weather for sitting outside under a tree. Anyway, there are people in Troas who I think might not be happy to see me.”

Artemis, looking out of the nearby window, asked, “Were you followed?”

“I’m not new at this,” Skost said.

Artemis looked back at him, the question still in the air. 

“No, I wasn’t followed,” Skost said with a sigh. “Although, I don’t think it’ll take long for someone to come here and ask questions.”

“Why would anyone be coming here?” I asked, getting slightly annoyed at being in a conversation where I had no idea what anyone was talking about. “Artemis.”

“You’re going to want to sit down,” she said. 

“What did Zeus do?” I asked, taking a seat.

“Oh, nothing,” Artemis said. “Not on this occasion anyway.”

“I’ll keep watch,” Skost said. “I saw a balcony above, that’ll be good enough.” He walked off without another word. 

“Artemis,” I said, my tone hard now. 

“Okay, about a year ago there was a notion to move the Minotaurs,” Artemis began. 

“Why?” I asked before I could stop myself. 

“Long story,” Artemis said. “Basically, their compound on Crete became no longer usable. We moved them toward Northern Dalmatia where there’s a realm gate to Niflheim. 

“The city in Helheim?” I asked, thinking of the massive city in the realm ruled by Hel. 

“No, different place,” Artemis said. “That’s Niflhel, this is Niflheim.”

I stared at her. “They did a superb job with the naming stuff part.”

Artemis sighed. “I think we may be getting off track.”  

“Minotaurs to Niflheim,” I said, trying to remember if I knew something about the place. “It’s a land of ice.”

“It was,” Artemis said. “Some of it still is, but it’s a huge place and nothing lives there except a few cities of humans. It’s a peaceful place. It’s a good place for Minotaurs to not be hunted or thought of as demonic.”

The anger in Artemis’ words showed her concern for the Minotaurs. No one had been happy with what had happened to them—except maybe Ares and Hera, but no one I cared about gave two shits what either of them thought.

“Nearly all of the Minotaurs were moved successfully,” Artemis said. “We were moving the last half dozen when we were attacked. It happened as we landed in Macedonia. A group of people in black and red, a deep red silhouette of a flying bird as emblems.”

“You know it?” I asked.

“Never seen it before,” she said. “They killed several guards, and the rest scattered. The Minotaurs vanished into the forests there.”

“You couldn’t hunt them,” I said. 

“No one can hunt them unless…”

“It’s the blood of the one who created them,” I said. “Yeah, I’ve heard before. You need a Gorgon then.”

“Hera and Poseidon helped create the Minotaurs to punish people, but they turned into a species on their own,” Artemis said. “They used the blood of a Gorgon to do it. Only Gorgons can track them.”

“You want me to find a Gorgon?” I asked. 

Artemis nodded. “I need you to find a Gorgon. And I can’t do it.”

“Why not?”  

Artemis looked away. “Because I can’t. Don’t ask more. Please.”

“Why can’t the dwarf do it?” 

“Because the dwarves are angry enough that several of their own were murdered by these assassins, and are looking for a reason to come here en masse.”

“The dwarves are itching for a fight,” I said. “What a shock.”

“I can hear you,” Skost said from the room above.

“A few questions,” I said. “One: where’s the Gorgon? Two: why didn’t you go to Apollo or Persephone for help, or anyone who isn’t me?”

“The Gorgon is on Corsiae,” Artemis said. 

“That’s some distance south of here,” I said. “A few days ride. Maybe less by sail, but this time of year the storms aren’t fun, and they arrive quickly. And a long way to go back to Macedonia after.”

“It can’t be helped,” Artemis said.

“And question two?” 

“I can’t ask them for help because I’m pretty sure that members of the Greek Pantheon are behind the attack,” Artemis said. “I don’t know who to trust.”

“Ladies,” Skost said practically jumping down the stairs. “I see horses coming this way.”

“If they are working with the people who attacked us, we can’t be found,” Artemis said. “The location of the Gorgon is known only to a few. If they should get to her before us…”

I looked out of the window at the closing riders. I turned, and moved a rune inscribed rug off the floor, revealing a hatch beneath it and lifting it. “Take the steps down to the tunnels below, I’ll join you after.”

“That’s some nice work,” Skost said, looking down the hole. “Really well maintained.”

“Can we discuss architecture when we know if people haven’t come to kill you?” I asked, passing Skost all of his weaponry as he descended the ladder after Artemis.

I closed the hatch, replacing the rune inscribed rug. It cut off the senses, making it harder to track people hidden beneath. It had been a present from the last time I’d dealt with the Norse dwarves. 

I glanced out of the window as the riders neared. It was still raining and windy outside, but I picked up my axe and walked out of my home to confront the riders. 

And there you go, I hope you enjoyed it.

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