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Blackcoat Chapter 1

As you may have heard, my new book, Blackcoat is out on October 5th for Paperback and Kindle. Here is the first chapter. If you’re interested in pre-ordering, and it really does help out the launch of a new book, the links are at the end of the chapter.

From the award nominated, bestselling author of the Hellequin Chronicles. 

When Celine Moro took a job as a Blackcoat, an elite agency tasked with investigating crimes throughout Union space, she thought she had finally put her past to rest.

Now, betrayed by her allies, her world is falling apart. Running from the corrupt politicians that she had sworn to bring to justice, Celine is dusting off the skills of her old trade in order to bring truth to light.

The only thing bringing her comfort is knowing how much worse her friends are eventually going to feel about their betrayal.

Chapter One

My cell was little more than a steel framed bed that had seen better days, a mattress that was thin enough that I could feel the springs underneath, and a bucket. I had no idea how long I’d been a prisoner. A few days, probably. There were no windows. No glimpses into the outside world. Just a steady stream of cold air flowing around the badly fit steel door. 

I would remain in my dingy cell until those who put me here decided when to execute me. That had been made clear from the moment I’d arrived. That was my fate. A fate I was still trying to figure out how to ensure didn’t come to pass.

No matter that I’d worked for the city of Euria—the largest city on the planet of Xolea—and the people who lived there for a decade. No matter that I’d fought against the criminal gangs of Euria while the galaxy around us burned in civil war. No matter that I protected the people of Euria from those same gangs, or that I saw friends give their lives in their duty as judges and Blackcoats of this fine city. No one will ever know that I tried to do the right thing, no one will remember that I stood up against corruption. It was all for nothing. 

The realisation had taken a toll on my confidence of being able to get out of the predicament I found myself in. 

Xolea is on the far edge of Union space, and consisted of four continent-sized cities. Only Euria, with its population of over twenty million, was considered helpful to the Union in any meaningful way. It was one of the largest manufacturing cities within the entire Union, and during the civil war had been heavily guarded by the Union’s fleet to ensure it couldn’t be captured or destroyed. Life had been hard in Euria before the war, but during it, when everything was done for the war effort, life had gone from hard to almost unbearable, while those in charge got rich and powerful. Richer and more powerful.

Now that the war was over, those who had benefited from it the most refused to give up their gains. Refused to allow people to go back to what had gone before. The gangs that had been around for my entire life, had been taken over by the most affluent in society to be used for their own goals. Keep the people down. Make sure no one tries to stop them from becoming more powerful. I knew the Blackcoats had been infiltrated, knew there was corruption, but I hadn’t realised just how deep and far-reaching it had become. Until one dark night on my way home from work, I was jumped by half a dozen people who were meant to be colleagues. Meant to be friends. 

The anger at what had been done to me and my city had been all that had sustained me for my time in my dark cell. My partner had vanished, presumed killed by the gangs, and I had been framed for treason against the Union. All because I didn’t take bribes. Because I thought that Blackcoats—the Union’s law enforcement—were meant to be better than that.

The door to my cell opened with a shriek of metal on stone, bringing with it a gust of freezing air. A Sanctioner stepped inside. One of the five judge ranks. Sanctioners usually didn’t deal with crimes that involved the death penalty. I got the feeling in this case there might be an exception. 

Two guards—both wearing charcoal-coloured, thick, thermal protection suits, and carrying plasma rifles—stood at the door. Masks covered the lower parts of their face, and each wore dark glasses either to protect their eyes from the harsh sunlight outside or because they thought they looked menacing. Their pale foreheads were all the skin that showed, and both had short, dark hair cut close to the head. The Sanctioner waved them away after one of them brought the man a metal chair that had seen better days. The folds of the Sanctioner’s fur-lined, ornate red and yellow robes almost enveloped the chair when he sat. 

A scan mask hovered into the room, its two red eyes glowing inside the dark face. At some point, someone—possibly a psychopath— had decided to make vid recorders look like black face masks with red glowing eyes. I’d always hated them. Not because they were particularly creepy or unpleasant—although they were definitely both—but because I found them to be intrusive. Which, I had to concede, was probably the point. 

“Celine Moro,” the Sanctioner said, looking down at the brightly lit screen of the data-slate in his hands. “Thirty-eight, female, no family. If you like, I can read you the list of commendations you’ve received over your career as a Blackcoat? It’s honestly very impressive.”

I glared at the Sanctioner. “I didn’t expect to see you,” I said through gritted teeth. “Not here. Not with these murderers and thieves, Gorat.”

Gorat took a deep breath and let it out slowly, reclining as much as possible in the rigid chair. “You should have taken the money,” he said eventually.

I wanted to rip his tongue out for that. I wanted to beat his head against the thick walls of my cage, but instead I remained seated and seethed inside. “I am a Blackcoat of the district of Euria,” I said, keeping my tone level. “I do not accept bribes. It’s quite literally a line you have to say when you’re sworn in. I’m pretty sure there’s an identical line for judges when they’re sworn in too.”

“Maybe you should have just taken that line as a suggestion,” Gorat said with a slight sigh. 

“I can’t let people’s lives be ruined when I could do something to try and stop it,” I snapped, before reining in my temper. 

“And that, dear Celine, is why you’re here in this shithole,” Gorat said. “The mask is here to document this conversation for… prosperity. You were offered wealth to look the other way in the dealings of one Trias Nateria, a well-known and wealthy Confessor of the Golden Dawn, and a Councillor of the Union. Did you really think you were going to win this? Did you really think your actions would do anything but end with you here?”

I turned to the scan mask. “You can fly into a wall.”

“That’s not very mature,” Gorat said. 

“No, but you’re going to execute me anyway because I’m not corrupt. Unlike you, unlike half of the people I worked with.” The words tumbled free before I could stop them. “I did what was right and for that I end up here. I end up a criminal. Framed for treason because I was an inconvenience. Because I wasn’t corrupt. Framed by a Councillor of the Union. Godsdamned it, Gorat, these people aren’t meant to be tyrants, that’s why The Wardens exists.”

“There are no Wardens on Euria,” Gorat said. 

“Which is exactly why people like Trias are allowed to do whatever they like.” I wanted to throw something at the wall in frustration. 

The Wardens were responsible for the protection of every single Councillor and their families throughout the Union. But they also investigated any wrongdoing by those same Councillors. If they’d been on Euria there was a good chance I wouldn’t have been stuck in a damn cell, and Trias wouldn’t have been allowed to make himself the tyrant of the city.

“You always were too stubborn, too sure of what was right and wrong,” Gorat said, angry. “Everyone else just manages. You don’t have to like it, but it’s how things are done here. Especially during the war.”

“The war has been over for two years.” 

“Yes, which is why we need to help the people of this planet,’ Gorat explained slowly, as if I was an idiot. 

“And corruption helps them, how?”

“The workers here need these drugs, need to be helped.”

“Because they got addicted helping the war effort,” I said, the anger bubbling up inside me once again.

“There’s no going back now,” Gorat said. “Too many people made too much money to change things back to how they were.”

“Then maybe those things need to change,” I snapped. 

“You think you’re the one to do it?” Gorat snapped back. “Trias doesn’t play games. He wants you dead. He wants to know what you know, and then he’s going to have you executed, and your body will be taken to one of the factories and burned up in a furnace. The people will look the other way, and do you know why? Because Trias either pays them to, or they’re not worth his money and they’re so terrified of him that they do it for free.”

“He’s a Confessor of the Golden Dawn and a Councillor of the Union,” I said, not really sure how to convey the betrayal I felt, not only at Gorat and my old comrades turning against me, but that a Confessor—a man who was meant to protect the people of their planet—could turn his back on everything he was meant to believe in. For profit and power. The fact he was a Councillor too, made the transgression doubly hard to take. Two jobs that were meant to be carried out by those who were meant to want the best for their people. It was a corruption of two great institutes of the Union, and when I’d first discovered the truth, it had made me physically ill. 

Gorat sighed again.

“You knew my parents,” I said, my voice now barely above a whisper. “You worked with them. You knew me as a child, and now you’re going to be the one to have me executed. Why keep me here for however long it’s been? Why not just kill me?”

“I told you, Trias needs to know what you told to whom.”

“So you can go and kill more people?”

“Your parents were good people in a different time,” Gorat said, rubbing his eyes after several seconds of silence. “They would have taken the bribe.”

really wanted to hit him for that. 

“Trias wanted to come see you himself,” Gorat continued. “That’s why no one has hurt you yet. But instead, he’s decided you aren’t worth him venturing out into the cold. You’re just not important enough to him.”

“I could have brought him down,” I said more to myself than Gorat. 

“You gathered more information on his operation than anyone else ever has. You and that other Blackcoat you were working with.”

“His name was Prasan,” I said, the familiar and warming sensation of anger keeping me from breaking down.

“He’s dead by the way,” Gorat said. “They’d considered framing you for the murder, but honestly, you both vanishing is much easier. Neither of you have families, both single, both married to the job, both disposable.”

“He didn’t deserve that,” I said. Prasan did have a family, a sister. They’d kept their mutual existence secret from those they worked with. Prasan the Blackcoat, and Rika the criminal arms-dealer. Having a criminal or a Blackcoat as family members didn’t inspire confidence or trust in their allies. “He was a good Blackcoat. He was a good man.”

“He was,” Gorat said. “I made sure his death was quick. It was all I could do for him. Some of Trias’ more… ardent supporters wanted him flayed. Wanted to send a message to other Blackcoats, but I managed to convince them otherwise.”

“Am I meant to be grateful?” I shouted.

“You’re meant to understand that I can only do so much for you and those you work with,” Gorat said. “I can’t begin to tell you what some of those same people wanted to do to you. I got Trias to agree that making you vanish without a trace was better in the long term, but if you won’t tell me who you spoke to, his people are going to get to make you talk. I can’t stop that.”

“So, did you come in here to get information, or to taunt me?”  

“This isn’t easy for me either,” Gorat said. 

“Oh, I’m sorry, are you being betrayed by your own people and about to be executed for standing up against a crime boss?” I looked around the room. “No? Just me then.”

“Councillor, not crime boss,” Gorat corrected, his tone soft as if imparting a lesson.

I laughed in his face. “If it walks like a crime boss, talks like a crime boss, and shoots people in the face like a crime boss, he’s a crime boss.”

“This isn’t going to get us anywhere, is it?” Gorat said with a sigh. He got to his feet and looked down on me as if about to scold a child. “For the final time, Trias told me that if you cooperated, your death would be quick. But if not, then the guards will come in here and get the information out of you in another, much less pleasant way.”

“They’re going to sing a song?” I asked. “Or maybe do a dance routine? I think both of those would be less pleasant.”

“You never could keep a civil tongue in your head,” Gorat said, disapprovingly.

“And, apparently, you never could stop taking bribes to look the other way,” I said, leaning back on my bed. “I guess we’ve both been disappointed today.”

I looked up at the mask as it stared at me with its red eyes. “Trias, when you read this back, or watch the vid, or whatever you’re going to do, I hope you realise one day someone will actually find you in that lovely home of yours looking down over the rest of the district, and they’ll kill you. I’m just sorry to say I won’t be there to celebrate it myself.”

“Trias controls this city,” Gorat said, the palm of his hand against the door. “You should have realised that. Soon, the four guards in this building will come for you. They will take you to the room where you will eventually meet your death.”

“Only four?” I asked. 

“Torture doesn’t take many people,” Gorat said. “They will hurt you before you die. You could have ensured that didn’t happen.”

You could have ensured that didn’t happen,” I said, throwing his own words back at him. 

“Goodbye, Celine,” Gorat said, pushing open the door, letting in the cold air from outside. 

The mask left the cell first and Gorat reached inside his robes and placed a small box on the floor. The rectangular box was eight inches long by three inches wide, and was no deeper than the length of my finger. It was coloured orange and red with yellow trim, and reminded me of Gorat’s robe. 

“Goodbye,” Gorat said again, and left me alone in my cell. 

I stared at the box for some time. I wasn’t really sure what to do with it. Was it a bomb? No, probably not. That seemed too much like hard work for Gorat. My curiosity eventually overrode my feelings of trepidation and concern, and I picked up the box, flicking open the metal clasp and lifting the lid. 

Inside sat a six-inch-long carbonate-fibre combat knife. I lifted it free and examined it. It was light, and sharpened to a dangerous edge. Knives were used by anyone from generals to street scum, but carbonate-fibre was different. They were used to by Special Forces members to be able to cut through shields and armour. It was the same material used to make the battleships and was almost indestructible against conventional weapons. It was the weapon of an assassin, of a warrior. And they were banned on Euria for one reason and one reason only: Trias and his loyal supports wore specially designed force shields at all times. If you wanted to kill one of them, you’d need to get close, and there was little chance of that with all of their guards and spies looking out for them. 

Thankfully the carbonate blade would work just as well on flesh as it would on those with shields. The question was why had Gorat left it? Had he intended for me to use it to escape, did he think I could use it to kill Trias? Or had he left it because he knew I would try to escape and would be killed in the process. Giving me a heroic death instead of one screaming through hours of torture? Did it matter? Probably not. But it still played on my mind. Whatever else happened, escaping from the cell was my first move. 

The shuffling of feet sounded outside the cell, and I held the knife down by my leg, the blade against the outside of my thigh, hidden from the man in foul weather gear who opened the door and stepped inside. 

“It’s time to go,” he said with a snarl, a plasma rifle casually slung over one shoulder. He considered me no threat. He was an idiot.

“I think I’m okay right here,” I told him. 

“I didn’t say I was giving you a choice,” he barked, stepping toward me, reaching for my arm. I sprung toward him, brushing his arm aside as he tried to grab me. He never saw the dagger until it was buried in his throat, his eyes wide with shock. He was dead a moment later.  

I stepped aside as I removed the dagger, avoiding any blood as the guard collapsed forward. I dragged him further into my cell and checked the hallway beyond, finding it empty. There were three more guards somewhere in the building I’d been held in, and I had to work fast in case they were on the way to me as well. 

I removed his red, fur-lined jacket and put it on; it was a little big, but it was that or deal with the sub-zero temperatures of a Euria winter without one, and that wasn’t much of a choice at all. I removed his second layer of clothing too—a skin-tight, black, cold-resistant top that was designed to change size to fit any frame. Anything to make sure I didn’t freeze to death the moment I stepped outside. I took his back holster and the energy pistol inside it, leaving the well-used plasma rifle where it was. The damn things only take six to eight shots before the magazine overheats and you need a new one. An energy pistol can put three times that number of shots out. 

It took me a few minutes to get dressed, and every noise outside of the cell made me pause, and pick up a weapon, waiting for the inevitable attack. But none came. I wondered where the other guards were. Had they expected this one guard to be able to deal with me? Were they torturing some other poor soul? I pushed the thoughts aside; I didn’t need the distraction right now. I was soon dressed and ready to battle both the enemy inside the facility, and the elements outside. 

I picked up the cell key card—a small, transparent blue device— and after checking the hallway once again—and finding it thankfully empty—I stepped out of the cell. The cold air whipped through the hallway of the building. Six doors ran the length of one side of the hallway, and large windows opposite each showcased the frozen tundra outside, the snow coming down hard. There would be several feet in a few hours in some parts, a dangerous time of the year for those working on the trams moving goods to and from the space port. 

A light overhead flickered, and I counted to thirty to see if anyone would come check on their friend. But after forty-five seconds, I decided it was safe to continue. I had no idea exactly where I was or why Gorat had left me a weapon, but I planned on finding out. And then I was going to find Trias and we were going to have a long conversation about the error of his ways.


So, there you have the first chapter, I hope you enjoyed it, and that it made you look forward to the rest of the story.

Pre-order links:

May Update – I Sold A Million Books

A quick Youtube video update about my current work, and what’s coming next.

It’s Been A While

Hello all.

Yes, I know it’s been a while since I last posted anything, and I know I was going to keep better up to date with everything, but seeing how the kids were home for 3 months during lockdown the best laid plans flew out of the window.

So, this is just to update everyone on a few things.


I’m currently no contracted for anything, although I’ve got a book with my agent so hopefully that’ll change sooner rather than later. It’s the first book in a new world, so that’s pretty exciting.

Yes, Horsemen’s War is the end of Nate’s storyline involving Avalon and Arthur, but it’s not the end of the me writing in that world.

The first book I’ll be writing outside of the Nate stuff is the Diana Novel, titled No Gods, Only Monsters. It’s the first of 3 books that at the moment I’ve titled Antiquity, although that may change. It’s not a Diana trilogy as each book will have a different Main Character, all of whom anyone who has read the Hellequin books will have met already.

Hopefully I’ll have details of it soon.


In the mean time, my 3 current Novellas are still out there.

Infamous Reign


Frozen Rage

All 3 are available on Kindle/Paperback, and at Audible.



Book Depository


For years now, people have been asking me for my address so they can send me copies of books/whatever cool stuff they want to send me, and I really don’t like giving out my home address. So, after far too long, I got myself a PO Box address.

Should you wish to send me something (nothing illegal/weird/creepy/ you get the general idea), the address is:

Hidden Realms Publishing

PO Box 1925


SO18 9QE


And that’s it for the post. It was just a catch up, and I’ll be making sure to post more regularly, and also do Youtube stuff about writing now that all 3 kids are back at school and I can return to doing somewhat normal stuff.

Take care.

Frozen Rage – A Hellequin Novella

I know that the next book, Horsemen’s War isn’t out until Dec 2020, but before then will be the Hellequin Novella, Frozen Rage.


The Realm of Dreich is a getaway for the rich and powerful, a medieval-inspired town in the middle of a vast frozen wilderness. Now it’s the site of a wedding, intended to join two feuding families who have spent centuries in an uneasy truce with each other.

When Tommy Carpenter asks his best friend, Nate Garrett, to help him with the security of the wedding, Nate reluctantly agrees, knowing that it will be a long weekend of work and, in all probability, treachery.

It is only a matter of time before members of each family are found murdered and it is up to Nate and Tommy to find the killer before more bodies fall, potentially reigniting a war. Frozen_Rage-eCover

Frozen Rage takes place between A Promise of Wrath and Scorched Shadows, and is available to preorder on Kindle now for a September 15th 2020 release.

Paperback and Audible will be out on the same day, and I’ll put pre-order links up once I have them.

My Work In Progress – A reading

So, I thought that for something fun, I’d read from my Work in Progress. I hope you enjoy it.




Hunted Release

Today is the day that the Remy Roax novella, Hunted, is out to purchase from whatever version of Amazon best suits your needs.

If you do purchase it (and obviously, I hope you do), and you enjoy it please do consider leaving a review as they’re incredibly helpful, especially for newly released books.

Thanks and enjoy.



Cursed by witches centuries ago, Remy Roax was content with living his long life as a half-man/half-fox. But when he learned he had had undiscovered powers, he had no choice but to learn how to use them.

After relocating to North Dakota in order to practise his new found abilities, he soon finds himself in the targets of Louis Bonne, a man who wants to understand how the curse placed on Remy worked, so that he can use the souls of innocent people to make himself immortal.

Since Remy has no interest in helping, Louis sends a group of murderers intent on convincing him. But Remy isn’t some helpless bystander, and these people will soon discover that Remy isn’t the kind of fox who runs from a hunt.

Hunted is a new novella set in the universe of the bestselling Hellequin Chronicles and Avalon Chronicles series.


Hunted Preview

The Remy Novella, Hunted is only a few weeks away, so I thought that people like like to read a short preview of it. Also, there’s still time to Pre-order, and pre-ordering really does help an author, so I’ll put links at the end. Thanks.

Chapter 1




North Dakota, USA.


“You want me to jump off this cliff onto those rocks below?”

I was several hundred feet above ground, the forest stretched vast and unblemished before me. Directly below, a maw of jagged rocks awaited. I turned to Chao Wei, who stood twenty feet behind me, looking smug.

She nodded.

I glanced over the edge of the cliff then back to Wei. “Bollocks to that.” Being British has always given me access to the best swear words.

As I headed back over, irritation radiated from her. “How long have we been here?” she asked.

“A month.”

“How long have you been in your human form?”

“Nearly a month,” I replied.

“We arrived and almost day one, you learned you could become human. Since then, you have spent your entire time here getting as drunk as possible and having sex with anyone stupid enough to agree to have sex with you.”

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I have. Because, and I’m not sure if you’re aware, but I was a fox for hundreds of years! Not a lot of humans want to have sex with fox-men, and those who do are usually people I want to run away from. I’m making up for lost time.”

“You are dwelling in self-pity,” Wei snapped. “Your friend died. I am sorry for that.”

“Nate was murdered,” I snapped back. “By Arthur, who was meant to be the good guy. Avalon have pretty much taken over the world, and we had to come to the arse end of nowhere just to stay ahead of them.”

“You agreed to let me train you, Remy,” Wei said, slightly kinder now. “But you have to actually trust me.”

“By jumping off a four-hundred-foot cliff?”

“In your human form, you’re all but impervious to harm. Your body heals almost instantly. You need to know the limits of that power. And if you die, you have plenty of lives left to come back,” Wei said, slightly colder than I expected.

I sighed. She was, oddly enough, right. The coven who had cursed me all those centuries ago had done me that favor. Not by turning me in a fox-man hybrid—although I could think of worse things—but by dying in the process and giving me their souls. Twelve lives I had. I’d used five. Didn’t mean I wanted to waste one of them jumping off a fuckingcliff.

I returned to the cliff’s edge. “If I do this, and survive, does that mean I get to continue to stay in my human form and not have you complain about it?”

“Probably,” Wei whispered in my ear, before shoving me off the cliff.

I learned a few things falling off that cliff. One: I cannot fly by flapping my arms, no matter how hard. Two: four hundred feet rushes up on you pretty damn fast. And finally: rocks hurt like an absolute motherfucker.



Sorcery Reborn Blurb

So, the last time I posted anything was a few months ago, and honestly, I know I’m a bit remiss and should post more often. It’s something I’m hoping to work on once I’ve finished the third and final Rebellion Chronicles book by the end of the year.

In other news, I have an exciting announcement coming up that I can’t talk about at the moment, but will hopefully be able to do so soon. Yes, I know it’s super vague, but unfortunately that’s all I can say at the moment.

In the meantime, here’s the blurb for Sorcery Reborn. Also, the new date for the Kindle version is November 21st. The Audible version should be out either the same day or the original 28th November, unless my publisher tell me any different.

Oh, and I will be putting up the first chapter of Sorcery Reborn a little closer to the release date.


McHugh-Sorcery Reborn-28346-CV-FT

He doesn’t need a weapon. He is the weapon.

After losing his powers in an epic battle between good and evil, former sorcerer Nate Garrett finds himself living as a humble human in Clockwork, Oregon. While the world thinks Nate is dead, his friends continue to fight against Avalon and the evil it’s intent on spreading.

Avalon’s forces turn up in Clockwork, and Nate’s frustration grows with every passing day his magic doesn’t return. He finds himself trying to stop Avalon’s plans while hiding from enemies who would destroy everything in their path to see him dead.

Avalon’s darkness begins to threaten the people Nate cares about, and an old nemesis returns; magic or no magic, he has no choice but to fight. But will Nate see his magical powers reborn before the entire town—and everyone he loves—is destroyed?


If you haven’t yet pre-ordered the book, and you’re intending to purchase it, please do consider pre-ordering. The early weeks of a books launch are really important, and publishers use them to see how well the book is expected to do.

I have links and everything:

Amazon UK

Amazon USA




New Writings

For those of you who don’t know, the first book in The Rebellion Chronicles, Sorcery Reborn, is due out on November 28th this year.


Here’s the cover and pre-order link.McHugh-Sorcery Reborn-28346-CV-FT

Amazon UK

Amazon USA

The audible and paperbacks should all be out at the same time, but if that changes, I’ll let everyone know.

One thing though, if you do plan on getting the book, please do consider pre-ordering it. Pre-orders and early purchases are pretty much the best way to support an author’s new release as those are the figures that are vitally important to publishers. Thanks.


So, now that that’s out of the way, an update on where I am with book 2, Death Unleashed. Basically, it’s currently being edited by me, and should be out next year. I have no idea when yet, but once I find out, I’ll let you know.

Last, but by no means least, I’m writing a novella in the Hellequin/Avalon/Rebellion universe. There should be a cover in the not too distinct future, as I’m hoping to get the novella out this year.

I’m not going to say who the main character is, as the cover should give it away, but the title is: Hunted.

That’s it for now. Enjoy.


A Thunder of War – Chapter 1

It’s only a few short weeks until the final chapter of the Avalon Chronicles, A Thunder of War, is out. If you plan on buying it, but haven’t yet pre-ordered, please do consider it, as it really helps with the release of a book:

Now that bit is out of the way, below the wonderful cover is the full first chapter. I know some people like to wait until the book is released, but for those of you who want to read it, I hope you enjoy.




Layla Cassidy

It was meant to be an easy mission for Layla Cassidy and her team. Get into the realm of Norumbega, move her team to the prison where Mammon’s frozen body was being kept, and, after retrieving the body, get out again without any trouble.

The mission had not gone entirely to plan.

“Well, this sucks balls,” Remy said as he sat up against a large tree. He was three-and-a-half feet tall, and part man, part red fox. He stood on legs that were more human than animal, but his entire body—from the tip of his bushy tail to his fox muzzle—was covered in fur. Remy had crossed a witch’s coven several centuries earlier and they’d decided to kill him by turning him into a fox and handing him over to a hunt master. The spell had gone wrong. It had turned him into a fox, but only partially, and it had also killed all twelve witches and deposited their souls in his body, essentially giving him twelve lives. Last Layla knew, he was on life eight.

Beside him, Layla nodded. “It’s not been our best day ever.”

The team had gotten into Norumbega without a hitch. Felicia Hales, a powerful vampire who lived in New York, arranged for them all to go through the realm gate and meet up with Mayor Issac Eire. Unfortunately that was where the good news ended. Issac’s people turned on him, revealing that they’d been working with Avalon all along. They killed anyone who tried to stop them, and Layla’s team were given the choice either to cease fighting, or watch more innocent people in Norumbega die. They chose the former.

The team had been taken to the prison that was their original target and put beneath the trees at the edge of the massive clearing in front of it. The ground was hard and cold with snow still covering large parts of it. Layla was grateful for the warm clothes she’d put on before coming. Her team wore thick jackets over their leather combat armor, with dwarven runes scribed on them. None of them were impervious to the cold, although Remy’s fur probably meant he needed fewer clothes than most, but the runes on the armor meant they wouldn’t freeze to death.

“At least we’re not tied up,” Harry said. “You’d think that, considering I’m the only human here, they’d be a little more concerned with the fact that you could actually kill them.”

“That’s why,” Chloe said, pointing to ten townspeople kneeling at the opposite side of the clearing. Each one had an Avalon soldier behind them. If any of Layla’s team made a move, they would die.

Harry turned toward the frightened men and women. “I didn’t see them. Shit.”

Layla looked over at the prison and caught Zamek—one of the last remaining Norse dwarves—staring at it. “What’s up?” she asked him.

“They’re trying to get inside,” Zamek said, pointing to half a dozen people attempting to force the massive metal doors apart. He was shorter than Layla’s own five-foot-four height, although not by too much as he was just under five feet tall himself, but he was broad. To Layla’s mind he was his own wall. Short, muscular, and unmovable unless he wanted to be moved. He was stronger, faster, and could heal more quickly than a human. Like all dwarves, Zamek was also an alchemist, able to alter the shape of natural matter so long as he had physical contact with whatever he wanted to change. Zamek’s long, brown beard was plaited with various colored beads, and, aside from a long, plaited ponytail, his head was shaved.

The prison itself was huge with fifty-foot white columns outside the front entrance and massive glass domes atop several parts of the roof. Built into the side of the mountain, there was no telling how far into the rocks the gray and white stone building went, or how deep it was.

“So, why are we still alive?” Mordred asked.

Everyone turned to Mordred.

“Seriously?” Irkalla replied. “That’s your big wonder?”

“Well, they’ve captured us, and we went quietly to spare more innocent blood from being spilled, but if they can get in there and get Mammon, why are we here still? What purpose do we serve?”

“They can’t get in there,” Zamek said. “Not unless they happen to have a dwarf working for them. That’s dwarven architecture filled with runes. And I placed my own runes on top of those. They manage to get that door open and everyone in a fifty-foot radius is going to be turned to ash.”

Layla mentally calculated the distance between the prison and her and found that she was okay. “Not to mention the giant,” she said.

“There’s a giant?” Harry asked. “Why is this the first time anyone has mentioned a giant?”

The flame giant had been a surprise when, six months ago, Layla and several allies had chased Kristin to Norumbega. They’d stopped her from freeing Mammon, but she’d woken the flame giant before they could get there, and Layla had been forced to drop an avalanche on him. After dropping the avalanche, the group had dragged him back into the prison, and Zamek had reapplied the dwarven runes. It was not a scenario she wished to repeat anytime soon.

“Sorry, there’s a flame giant inside,” Remy said. “There, now you’re caught up.”

The team watched as the Avalon soldiers gave up on the door, and two of them grabbed a beaten and bloody Mayor Eire and dragged him over to the group, dropping him on the ground next to Chloe.

“You make me wish that guns could be taken through realm gates,” Remy said. “Or tanks.”

The man smiled and patted the two custom-made black swords that hung sheathed from his hip. “These are fine weapons, little fox-man. I think I’ll use them to skin you with when I’m done here.”

“Good luck with that,” Remy said, flicking him the middle finger. “Drako,” Mordred said. “What do you want?”

“Kim and I are becoming impatient at our inability to get into the prison. You will help us.”

Layla looked between Drako and Kim. Drako was the taller of the two, with a bald head and scarring over his nose that looked like someone had slashed him with a claw. Kim had short, dark hair, and tattoos around her exposed neck. Both wore combat armor and used bladed weapons. Guns and ammunition didn’t always survive the travel between realms and had a tendency to explode after making the trip.

“You give me my ax back, and I’ll help,” Zamek said, pointing to the double-edged battle-ax Kim carried in one hand.

While everyone in the team had been disarmed, only Zamek and Remy had any emotional attachments to the weapons they’d lost. Layla looked down at her metal arm and wondered whether she could turn it into a sword and run Kim through before the innocent people across from them died. No, she decided, there had to be another way.

Drako waved to the soldiers by the hostages, and two innocent people lost their lives.

“No,” Irkalla shouted, moving to stand, but she was kicked back down by Kim.

“You want more to die?” Kim asked, a slight sneer to her voice.

“I open that door and a flame giant is going to come out,” Zamek said.

The concerned glance between Drako and Kim didn’t go unnoticed, but Drako shrugged. “We’ll deal with that when it happens.”

“You have fifteen armed people here,” Mordred said. “I’m pretty sure the giant will get a few of you before you stop it. Simple numbers. There’s more of you than there were when it last woke up. And it might not be happy to see us again.”

“Then you’ll have to deal with it,” Kim snapped.

Drako tapped his colleague on the shoulder, and she turned as Abaddon entered the clearing. She was of average height with brown skin and long, plaited brown hair that touched her waist. She wore black combat armor that looked more military in design than any of Layla’s team. Like everyone else who worked for her, she wore a small wooden bracelet with runes carved into it. Layla had no idea what they were for, but she was certain it wasn’t good.

“Devils don’t feel the cold, I assume?” Zamek asked as Abaddon reached them.

She looked down at her lack of jacket and smiled. “No, extremes of weather aren’t something I’m concerned with. But I think that’s a conversation for a time when we’re not on the clock.”

“We’re not getting Mammon for you,” Irkalla said. “You might as well just kill us all and be done with it.”

“Not quite what I had in mind,” Remy said.

Abaddon picked up the mayor by his hair and slit his throat. The white snow quickly turned red as his body was pushed onto the ground. Abaddon put her boot on his back. “Silver dagger,” Abaddon said, absentmindedly cleaning the blade on Drako’s sleeve. “The mayor is dead. Very sad. I will go back into town and pick every child under the age of eight and butcher them all. Want to rethink your position?”

“As we tried to explain to your friends here, there’s a flame giant in there,” Layla said.

“How’s the hand?” Abaddon asked Layla.

Layla flipped her the middle finger of her metal hand. “Works okay.”

Abaddon laughed. “You’ve gotten harder than last time we met. It wasn’t that long ago, was it?”

“Where’s Elizabeth?” Layla asked, hoping that the longer she could keep Abaddon talking, the more time they had to come up with a good enough plan to get away without more people being killed.

“Your mother is murdering people who deserve it. She’s quite good at her job. I have plans for this realm, and you’re getting front-row seats to see them come to life.”

Layla knew that Elizabeth was not really her mother. Not anymore. Her mother had died in a car crash years earlier. But Abaddon had forced Elizabeth’s spirit back into her broken body, and then forced her to become an umbra, utterly fracturing her mind and allowing the drenik in the spirit scroll to take permanent control. Elizabeth was a killing machine, someone who lived for violence and bloodshed. She reveled in it. It was one of many reasons why Layla wanted to kill Abaddon, even if she wasn’t sure it was possible.

“Hey, crazy,” Remy said. “How’s tricks?”

Kim kicked Remy in the chest, sending him sprawling to the ground. “Disgusting half-breed creature.”

“I like her,” Remy said, receiving another kick for his trouble.

“If she does that again, I will kill her,” Mordred said. His words were spoken very matter-of-factly, and Kim froze mid-strike.

“The great Mordred,” Abaddon said with mock applause. “You finally regained your faculties. I did enjoy ripping your mind apart day after day. Baldr, Arthur, even your own brother, Gawain, got involved. It was a lot of fun.”

Mordred stared at Abaddon for several seconds. His expression was completely calm, but Layla knew he would have tried to kill Abaddon right there and then if he’d been able to.

“You murdered my friend,” Irkalla said.

“Probably lots of them. Which one in particular?”

“Nathan Garrett.”

Abaddon almost flinched at the name. “He killed Ares, Helios, and Deimos. He didn’t submit to the methods we used to turn him to our side, so he had to die. The funny thing is, I don’t even know where his body is. Just in a field somewhere. Did you weep for him, Irkalla? Did you weep for Nergal? He was your husband, after all.”

“Ex-husband,” Irkalla corrected.

“This little catch-up was nice, but you’re going to retrieve my brother now. Drako and Kim will accompany you into the prison.”

“All of us go,” Layla said. “If that flame giant wakes up, whoever goes in there is going to have to fight. And we don’t even know where your brother is.”

Abaddon clicked her fingers and a soldier walked over, passing her a scroll, which she gave to Layla. Layla unrolled it, revealing a map of the prison interior.

“How did you get this?” Zamek asked.

“Is this really the time for your questions?” Abaddon asked him. “I’ve written where Mammon is being kept. Retrieve him. Now.”

Layla slipped a tiny hypodermic needle into Zamek’s hand, and he nodded. “I’ll be back soon. Irkalla is coming with me,” he told Abaddon. “Shockingly, I don’t trust your people.”

“Fine. The rest of you get comfortable,” Abaddon said. “Once Mammon is back, I don’t want anyone to miss the show.”

They were left alone as Drako and Kim escorted Zamek and Irkalla to the prison. Zamek opened the prison doors, and they went inside. Abaddon spoke to her soldiers by the entrance before walking off into the nearby forest.

“What is going on?” Chloe asked.

“You noticed the bracelets?” Mordred asked.

“They look like sorcerer’s bands,” Harry said. “Except they can’t be, because they’re all wearing them, and I’ve seen several of them use their powers.”

Sorcerer’s bands stopped the wearer from accessing their power. Layla had worn one on occasion, although never by choice. She hoped never to wear one again. They essentially turned even the most powerful being into something no more resilient than an ordinary human.

“Let’s ask,” Remy said. “Hey, numbnuts,” he shouted to the nearest guard.

The woman looked confused for a moment, before her expression became irritated and she walked over. “You shout out again and I’ll have your tongue,” she told Remy.

“Sure. Hey, Abaddon said you guys were all going to do something awful here, and you have to wear those bracelets so it doesn’t affect you, but you do know that the runes on them are wrong, yes?”

“What?” the woman asked, slightly concerned.

“Yeah, that’s not a dwarven rune,” Harry said. “It’s just a squiggle. I’ve noticed it on some but not on others.”

The woman looked genuinely concerned and walked over to talk to another soldier. Layla watched the pair look at each other’s bracelets. They in turn went on to another one.

“They don’t trust Abaddon,” Mordred said.

“She’s not exactly shy about wasting lives,” Chloe said.

Over by the prison, Abaddon had returned from the forest and was giving orders for the remaining hostages to be taken away. The soldier walked over to Layla’s group and hit Remy in the side of the jaw, knocking him to the ground. “Next time you think to sow dissent between us, I’ll kill you myself.”

“Why don’t you trust Abaddon?” Layla asked.

The soldier stepped toward Layla, who got to her feet.

“You punch me, I’ll take your hand, and then your life,” Layla told her, her voice utterly calm and devoid of anything that suggested she was lying. “Your leverage just walked away, so what are you going to do, exactly?”

The soldier considered her options. Layla was pretty sure that her reputation as a fighter had drifted to Abaddon’s soldiers. The last six months had been hard on Layla, and she in turn had become harder. She knew she was still capable of laughing and joking with her friends— when she saw them—but in a fight, she no longer second-guessed her- self. She’d had excellent teachers, and she knew without hesitation that she would take the soldier’s hand off. There were nearly thirty soldiers in the clearing, and Layla wasn’t certain that her group would be able to take them all, but the woman in front of her would die. She would make sure of it.

The soldier took a step back, then turned and walked away, allowing Layla to sit down again.

“You okay?” Layla asked Remy who rubbed his jaw.

“Yeah, you?”

“It’s been a long day,” Layla said.

“It’s about to get longer,” Harry said, pointing to the entrance of the prison as Zamek emerged with Irkalla followed by two soldiers carrying an unconscious Mammon.

Mammon was a huge man. At nearly seven feet tall with a short, black beard and long, dark hair that fell freely over his shoulders, he cut an imposing figure. He wore red robes that were emblazoned with dozens of runes.

“I don’t think they can remove the robes,” Harry said.

Abaddon and Zamek argued, and she motioned for her soldiers to retrieve Layla and the rest of the team.

Zamek walked out in front of them, striding across the clearing toward the group. “Abaddon wants us all together.”

“When it all goes to shit, get inside the prison,” Mordred said. “Move fast, don’t stop.”

“What about the prisoners in the realm?” Harry asked.

“They’re dead,” Zamek said softly. “Drako was bragging about how we’ll get to see some new weapon they have. Apparently the death of everyone in this realm is just the start. Those bracelets protect them from the effect, or something like that. I’ve seen similar runes before.”

“Hurry the hell up,” Drako shouted.

Zamek made a big deal about helping Harry to his feet. “He’s only human,” he said.

They walked over to Abaddon, where they were forced back to the ground at sword-point.

“My brother,” Abaddon said in a loving tone. “Once the others are reunited, we will kill Lucifer for betraying us, and then Asmodeus will be without equal.”

“You mean Arthur?” Mordred asked. “I know you used Asmodeus’s spirit and power to ensure Arthur was conceived, but you don’t really think Arthur and Asmodeus are one and the same, do you?”

Abaddon went to strike Mordred, but stopped. “We will crush you all,” she whispered, lips curling in anger. “Arthur and Avalon are, at this exact moment in time, on their way to Greenland to destroy your little rebellion. They’ll break your leaders and kill everyone else. You’re all done.”

Fear filled Layla. Her friends, people she loved and cared for, were still in Greenland. They had to warn them somehow, had to get out of the realm. She forced herself to be calm. Hopefully Avalon hadn’t started their attack yet and they still had time. The fact that time moved slower in Norumbega than it did on the Earth realm might work in their favor.

“So, this whole thing was a setup?” Layla asked.

Abaddon nodded. “I was advised not to open the prison while there were dwarven runes on it. No one was sure what they did since it’s ancient dwarven we’re talking about. I knew that eventually you’d send your expert here to get Mammon out—he’s too dangerous to let loose, although I didn’t expect him to be so placid.”

Layla knew that Zamek had managed to inject Mammon with the syringe she’d given him. It had been made by Persephone and Hades to ensure that Mammon stayed quiet for long enough to get him out of the realm.

“And Felicia?” Mordred asked.

“Felicia’s people have worked for me for some time now, so it wasn’t hard to make them realize that I am the person they need to back. Felicia is dead, by the way.”

The news caused anger to bubble up inside Layla. She’d liked Felicia. Abaddon and her people would pay for what they’d done.

“No one wants to be on the losing side,” Remy said. “Especially not people who sell their allegiances.”

Drako tried to kick Remy, but he leapt on him and drew one of the blades out of his belt as he scrambled up his torso. Drako screamed as Remy drove the sword into his throat. With one hand still on the hilt of the sword, he vaulted up onto his head, dragging the sword out as he went. Remy dropped to the ground and removed the second blade from Drako’s belt.

Blood poured from Drako’s wound as Remy kept moving. He ducked Kim’s blade and got close enough to drag Zamek’s ax free and toss it to the dwarf, who was already running toward them. Zamek caught the ax in midair and changed direction at the last moment, driving it toward Abaddon, who blasted him in the chest with her necromancy power.

Dozens of soldiers attacked the group, and blood magic poured out of Kim’s hands, smashing into Harry before he could avoid it. Chloe dragged him away toward the prison entrance as he screamed in pain. Irkalla tackled Kim to the ground, punching her in the face, before rolling off her and running up the steps to the doors.

Mordred blasted Abaddon in the chest with a torrent of air before she could do anything to aid her soldiers. Layla was blocked from get- ting to the prison by the soldier who had threatened to hit her. The soldier drew a curved knife, and Layla’s metal arm instantly changed shape into a broadsword. She drove the blade up toward the soldier’s chest, causing the woman to dodge back briefly before darting forward with her dagger. Layla moved to the side and grabbed the silver blade, absorbing the metal into her limb. The silver content in the blade caused her a modicum of irritation as it merged with the titanium and steel of her arm; it felt as though she were holding hot rocks. She swiped her arm-blade across the soldier’s chest, bypassing the runes on the armor, cutting through the leather as if it wasn’t even there, and killing her.

Layla avoided a blade-swipe from a second soldier as Mordred shouted at her to hurry. He’d created a shield of dense air that he was using to keep people back, but it wouldn’t last forever. Magical power was being flung around the clearing with reckless aplomb by those few soldiers who were sorcerers, and while Mordred was one of the strongest sorcerers the world had ever seen, his power was not infinite.

Layla ran up the stairs with Irkalla behind her, and a few seconds later Zamek and Chloe shut the doors. Killing Drako and getting everyone into the prison had taken moments, but to Layla it had felt like a lifetime. And yet they still weren’t safe.