Phoenix-Born Preview

Chapter 1

I approached the house silently, using magic to pull the shadows around me and cloak my figure. Anybody about would see only shadows where I stood. Magic was easy in urban areas, there were plenty of energy sources, plenty of places to draw power to convert into magic. Kagen Payne lived a little out of the way, but there were still plenty of energy sources. His own ridiculously large house provided me with plenty of resources to churn into spells. Spells which I would use against him. His huge house was about to become his tomb. 

He deserved it. Trust me. Contrary to popular belief, I did not kill anybody who didn’t deserve it. I was a hired killer but I was a hired killer with a code. It’s a strange concept I know. All jobs were vetted extensively before I agreed to take them. Only if the target deserved to die did I accept the contract. I’ve turned down plenty of jobs over the years. 

Kagen Payne was tonight’s target. His house being on the outskirts of Ashford was beneficial to me. It was isolated and secluded. I could make as much noise as I liked and nobody would come snooping around. Not that I intended to make much noise. That wasn’t my style. I dealt death swiftly and soundlessly. Unless the client requested otherwise. This one had not. The only request was that the victim knew who had come for him. 

The Wraith. 

That was the name I went by when I was killing. I was no longer Jacob Graves, the nightclub owner from Sangford. I was the cold, merciless killer that stalked the shadows and delivered inescapable death. Dramatic, I know, but in my line of work drama sells. I didn’t become the deadliest supernatural assassin on this side of the Atlantic by being modest. 

I moved across the driveway to where Kagen’s motorbike was standing; a red Victory Octane. I concentrated on the battery that I assumed was housed beneath the seat — not that it mattered. I called to the energy that coursed through it. Then I pulled every drop of power out of the battery and into myself where I converted it into magic. This served two purposes; it provided me with plenty of magic to get the job done, and more importantly, it stopped Kagen from making a getaway on his bike. Having drained his only escape route, I approached the house. 

Lights were on in one room at the front of the building. The rest of the house was dark. As I drew closer I heard the muffled sounds of a television. I crept up to the window and peeked through. Kagen was slumped on a white leather sofa, his dirty-soled feet were rested on a wooden coffee table. He was dressed only in an old pair of boxer shorts. I couldn’t really judge a man on how he chose to dress when in the privacy of his own home. 

I did find it curious that he was so underdressed. It wasn’t that hot. Although it was the middle of Summer it was actually quite a cool evening. Kagen was a pyromancer so maybe his ability to control fire made him excessively hot. 

I backed away carefully, any sudden movements might draw his attention. I stalked up to the front door and planted my palm on the wood. I closed my eyes and focused on the house. No trace of magic. It wasn’t protected with any spells or totems. Good. 

I heard the hum of an approaching car and waited for it draw closer. As the car passed the house I flicked my eyes to the lock and said, ‘Shkalt.’ The locked clicked and the door opened a crack the sound hidden by the passing car. I slipped inside quickly and pushed the door closed behind me, using the remnants of the sound from the passing car to mask my movements. 

I stood still on the inside of the house waiting to see if I’d alerted my mark in anyway. No sound of movement came from the living room. I was safe. 

The door to the living room was ajar, orange light was shining out across the laminate flooring. I would need to neutralise Kagen quickly. If I wasn’t fast then he’d start throwing fire around and then everything would be more difficult. The longer the fight went on for the more chance there was of drawing attention. I knew from the research files that Kagen was not subtle or restrained. In a fight he would throw everything he had at me without thinking about the consequences. He didn’t care about drawing attention or hurting innocent bystanders. He didn’t care who got hurt, or who died. Killing meant nothing to him. That was why I was here. 

It was showtime. 

I exerted my magic into the room and lowered the temperature. As the room grew colder the windows began to fog over. Kagen drew his arms closer to his body and when he opened his mouth a small cloud of mist emerged. His eyes narrowed in suspicion and then the brown irises glowed orange. He rose from the sofa slowly and looked about him curiously, looking for the source of the sudden coldness. 

‘Whoever you are, you’re making a stupid mistake,’ he said quietly.

I sent shadows crawling across the walls around him, dimming the light and inching the room into semi-darkness. Kagen now stood in the only lit up part of the room, everything around him was shrouded in shadow. He glanced around the room, his eyes narrowed in suspicion, but he didn’t seem frightened. Not yet. 

I touched my fingers to the door and creaked open with the slowness you only saw in horror movies. Then I entered the room. Kagen’s eyes found me standing in the darkness at the edge of the room. But he didn’t Jacob Graves, he saw the Wraith. I projected a magical facade for my victims. What he saw was a tall ganglia creature seemingly made of the shadows that clung to the room. My face was a twisted, sunken monstrosity, pale and lifeless. Razor teeth lined my lips and huge haunted eyes stared out at my victim. 

I didn’t put not his show for all my targets but the client had requested the full terrifying Wraith. He wanted Kagen to die filled with fear. 

‘Kagen Payne,’ I said. My voice was a screeching howl. 

He stared at me dumbly and then his lips stretched into an unbelievable smile. ‘Wow, talk about overkill!’ He said and then let out a high-pitched bellow of laughter.

I didn’t know how to respond to that. They never laughed at the Wraith. 

‘My evening just perked up,’ he said. He extended the fingers of his right hand and in his palm a burst of flame appeared. 

I cast my hand forwards. ‘Himas!’ I shouted in a rasping hiss and a stream of ice blue magic flew across the room at him. My spell fell over his fire like a blanket of snow and snuffed the life from his flames. Bizarrely that made him chuckle again as he brought up his other hand. 

Rabole!’ I shouted and he was blasted across the room. His back crashed into the wall that had the sixty-inch televisions fixed to it. Kagen thumped the floor and the television smashed down on top of him, cracking as the screen broke on his back. 

I stepped further into the room to look down on my fallen foe. 

He groaned and pushed the television off his back. He raised his unfrozen hand and I froze that one too, hoping that he needed his hands to summon fire. 

‘Your pyromancy won’t work on me. I’m not as feeble as your other victims,’ I said. I stood in the centre of the room and watched as he pulled himself into a sitting position. He slumped back against the wall, knowing that I had him beaten. I liked it when they were smart enough not to fight back. 

‘Pyromancy,’ he scoffed with a derisive laugh. He looked up at me, orange eyes gleaming with a smugness that I didn’t understand. ‘Who are you?’ 

I pulled out a small object and placed it on the coffee table where he had a clear view of it. It was a small pewter totem. A tombstone with a clawed angel crouched on its top. I left one at every job I completed, unless the client didn’t want people to know the mark had been assassinated. The smile fell from his face taking the smugness with it. 

‘The Wraith,’ he said in a whisper. Still there was no fear. He seemed awed by me but not afraid. Not everybody feared death. I encountered several targets in my career who hadn’t been scared of dying.

I nodded. 

He drew in a deep breath and then let it out heavily. ‘Do we need all the theatrics? I think you’ve made your point,’ he said. He was right. It wasn’t like he was going to be walking away now so there was no harm in dropping the illusion. I released the magic and Kagen gazed upon my true face. 

‘Who hired you?’ he asked.

‘Your father-in-law. He wasn’t too happy about you killing his daughter.’ 

‘I was not charged for that murder.’ 

‘Because there was no evidence the police could use. I’m not the police. There was more than enough evidence for me. And she wasn’t your first victim, was she? You’ve killed before. Many times. But your father-in-law doesn’t know about the others. He only cares about his daughter. You killed her for the money, correct?’ The client wanted a confession before I killed him. 

‘Well that was the only reason I married her,’ he said with a cruel sneer. 

‘You’re awfully smug for somebody who is about to die.’ 

‘Oh, please. You can’t kill me. You think you’re the first wizard I’ve taken on? Your ice can’t smother my fire.’ He held up his blue, frozen and hands and they ignited with rich glowing flames. 

My eyes widened with amazement at how effortlessly he overcame my spell. I’m not a weak wizard, he should not have been able to undo my spells so easily. Or at all for that matter. 

He began to rise. ’Well, Wraith, I’m going—‘

Morivar!’ I shouted hurriedly. Red light flashed across the room with the force of the spell that hurtled towards him. The magic made contact and his heart exploded in his chest. The fire in his hands vanished leaving only wisps of smoke behind. 

‘Oh…’ he said feebly as his face twisted in pain and then his body collapsed heavily to the ground. 

I released a massive sigh of relief and sunk down onto the sofa. Adrenaline was already flooding through me from that brief moment of panic when he’d overcome my spells. He was a lot stronger than I’d anticipated. If I hadn’t been as quick then I would have probably been cooked. I really needed to brush up on my pyromancy knowledge. I gave myself a minute to recuperate and then I got back to work. 

I pulled my phone out and took a picture of Kagen’s corpse. His wide open eyes had reverted to being brown and despite being dead he still looked pained. The worst part of the job was having to look at the expressions on their faces. Whatever they’d been feeling, fear, pain, sadness, it was always left on their face like a photograph plastered there forever. And I actually had to take a photograph to prove I’d completed the job and receive the rest of my payment. The client only ever paid half upfront. 

I slid my phone back into my pocket and turned away from my handiwork. The job was done. 

Chapter 2

I drove to the other side of Ashford and there I found Drew, my uncle, waiting for me in a car park outside some public toilets. He was waiting with my Maserati Quattroporte Gransport which he was shamelessly leaning against. It was like he had no idea how much it had cost me. 

‘Job done?’ he asked as I emerged from the Audi I’d used for the job. I always used an Audio Q5 when I was the Wraith. 

‘Don’t lean on my car,’ I scolded.

‘Is it?’ he repeated, not moving off of my car. 

‘Would I be here if it wasn’t?’  I snatched the duffel bag that he was holding and strode towards the toilets. ‘Get off my car!’ I shouted over my shoulder. 

A bit of magic unlocked the toilets. Once inside, I stripped away the black jumper and trousers I’d used for the job. I hadn’t got any blood on them but you never knew what you might have picked up or left behind on a job. It paid to be cautious. I pulled on the clothes Drew had brought for me. A pair of tailored trousers, white shirt, waistcoat, and custom-designed tie. I liked to dress with a little class. 

I stuffed the kill clothes into the duffel and zipped it closed. The Wraith was done with for now. I was Jacob Graves once more. 

I strolled out of the toilets and shook my head when I saw that Drew was still leaning my car. In fact, he’d moved his backside right up the bonnet so he was practically sitting on it now. ‘One of these days…’ I warned him. 

‘Get on with it,’ he growled, nodding at the bag in my hand. 

Sinair,’ I muttered and flames began licking away at the bag. The heat rose up warming my fingers. I pulled open the door of the Audi and tossed the fiery bag inside, slamming the door shut behind it. 

No evidence. No risks. 

The two of us went for the Maserati and Drew foolishly tried to get in the driver’s side. 

‘Uh-uh,’ I said plucking the keys from his grip. ‘You only get to drive this baby when I’m not in it.’ 

He shot me a sour look and then shrugged before climbing into the passenger’s side. I slipped into the drivers side, relishing in the luxurious feel of the cream leather seat against my back. What was the point in earning so much money if I couldn’t splash out on fancy things. Drew did not share my love of material objects. He preferred the simple life and couldn’t understand where I got my love for the lavish style. 

Drew had raised me. My father had done a runner the moment he found out my mum was pregnant. Apparently he’d decided I wasn’t good enough to be in his life before he’d even met me. My mother did her best but when I was six she’d decided she didn’t like me that much either and she killed herself. Drew said she’d done it because she was depressed. The love of her life had abandoned her and she was tired of struggling to make ends meet week after week. That made it worse in my eyes. The pain of abandonment had started off the slippery slope that was her life and she’d decided to inflict that same pain upon me when I was only six-years-old. I suppose I should be grateful really, my parents had taught me a valuable lesson early on: nobody sticks around. Everybody leaves in the end. 

Except for Uncle Drew. He had stuck around. Even after his own son had run away and got himself killed because of me. Drew was the only person to have stuck with me through everything. He was the exception to the rule. Although, the cynical part of my brain likes to remind me that he still has time to abandon me yet. 

Drew hadn’t had a lot of money and he lived in the Dregs, the poorest part of Sangford, the city we called home. I’d hated growing up there. It was only a few steps away from being a shanty town. Okay, that’s not true. But still, the place is awful. It’s like somebody gathered up all the poor people and all the criminals and dumped them in one grotty place together. I still hate the place now. I only go there if I absolutely have to, which luckily isn’t often. I started earning good money from the contracts I was hired to complete, but unlike me, Drew didn’t change much about his life. 

I moved to a fancy apartment in the North End of the city, the posh part. The general rule is the farther North you go the posher the city gets. Drew didn’t stay in the Dregs, but he didn’t move far away. His flat was so small that it was roughly the size of my living room. He didn’t change his style of dress, he stuck with the cheap jeans and chequered shirts. He even drove a Golf. He could easily afford a car like mine. I couldn’t get my head around it. 

‘Phone?’ he said, holding his hand out. I passed him the phone I’d used on the job, the only thing I hadn’t burned. I used a new phone for each job and after job was done Drew would deliver it to the client as proof of completion. What they did with it was up to them. Drew made sure there was no way it could be linked back to us. 

Drew was the organiser and the brains behind all the jobs. He met the clients and he decided which jobs we took. He had a knack for knowing when people were being dishonest. It made him perfect for vetting potential clients. He then did all the research on the mark and handed it over to me. He spent weeks doing all the prep work. He purchased the cars, the clothes, the phone. All I had to do was kill people. 

I told him everything that had happened from beginning to end as I drove us back to Sangford. This was how it went every time. He insisted on knowing every detail. There was always something to be learned and he liked to make sure I hadn’t done anything to jeopardise us. In the early days I’d left my own blood at the scene and it had taken him weeks to clean up my mess. He’d never trusted me not to fuck up since. 

‘Pyromancers aren’t powerful enough to overcome spells. Not ones cast by a wizard as strong as you,’ he said, his brow furrowed ponderously. 

‘Thanks,’ I said, smiling smugly at the compliment. 

‘Don’t be cocky,’ he growled. ‘Cockiness…’

‘Will get me killed,’ I finished for him. He was a bit of a stickler.

‘Exactly. I’ve lost enough to cockiness.’ He was talking about his son. My cousin, Samuel Graves. Sam had always been too cocky for his own good, especially since he wasn’t that good a wizard. He’d walked into a duel with a much stronger wizard. Drew had brought him home in a box. 

‘Kagen’s dead. It doesn’t matter how he overcame my spell,’ I said as I pulled up near Drew’s flat. I wrinkled my nose at the grottiness of the shabby old building. It looked like it was ready to collapse. 

‘Everything matters,’ he said. He swung open the car door. ‘I’ll get this to the client,’ he said, waving the phone at me. And then he was gone. 

I sped off towards the good end of town as fast as was legal. I didn’t head home. I went to Alibi, my nightclub. It was one of the best clubs in the city. I’d only opened it to launder my money. I’d had no idea at the time that it would end up becoming so popular. I had Leah to thank for that. She was my business manager. I had no idea how to run a club so frankly, she was a godsend. 

I swung my car into my reserved parking space and jumped out. This is a strange thing to admit, but after completing a job I always get a little horny. I used to have a friend-with-benefits who helped me out but that situation went pair-shaped, so I was just going to have to pick up a girl in the club. It meant a little more effort but it would be worth it. After-killing sex is the best. You’ll just have to trust me on that. 

I entered the club through the back door but didn’t make it far before Leah found me. I have three nightclubs in the city and she manages all of them. She used to work for the City Hall revenue department. She came out to audit my books and apparently it was blindingly obvious that I was laundering money through my clubs. I remember the pit of despair filling my stomach as I realised I was going to have find a way to shut her up. Several ideas came to mind; bribery, some kind of spell to make her forget, murder… Luckily, she suggested a much better one. Working for City Hall was boring, so for a generous salary she would come to work for me and she’d hide the laundered money so that the next auditor didn’t find it as soon as they opened the books. I accepted. Obviously. 

I never told Leah where the dirty money came from and she had the good sense never to ask. She didn’t need to know that I killed people for a living. If she ever found out she’d probably pack up and bolt. That would be bad for me because she was a fantastic business manager. She’s the best investment I ever made. 

She came strolling down the corridor, her perfectly curved hips swaying with each step. Leah was without a doubt the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She wasn’t very tall, but she was shapely. Slim, with curves in all the right places. Her angelic face was framed by rich, flowing, dark locks that hung over her shoulders. Her eyes were sparkling blue, like sapphires that had captured the colour of the sea. Her face was her best feature. It was the sort of face that no camera, nor even the best artists the world has ever seen, would ever be able to capture. It was a beauty you could only experience in person. She was beauty personified. 

To say that I fancied her would be an understatement. But I have rules. You don’t dip your pen in the company ink. It’s a crude saying but it’s apt. Leah was off limits. Relationships are complications. Life is easier without them. That was why I found friends-with-benefits. In fact, they weren’t even friends. They were just people I knew. Acquaintances -with-benefits doesn’t have the same ring to it though. 

I didn’t have any friends. I didn’t have any attachments at all. Apart from Drew, but I’d known him my whole life. He was the only family I had. When he was gone I’d have nobody. And that was how I liked it. Attachments were liabilities. Better to find happiness in things than in people. My Maserati would never get fed up and leave me. 

‘Jacob,’ she said, her irresistible face wrought with concern. That was unusual, Leah was the sort of person who could handle anything. Worry was not a word she was familiar with and yet she had it all over her face. 

‘What’s up?’ I asked, a little of her worry rubbing off on me. 

‘The police are here. They want to ask you some questions.’ 

Chapter 3

Leah led me to her office where two plain clothes police officers were waiting and then she left the three of us to it. 

‘Mr. Graves, I’m Detective Constable Decker, and this is Detective Constable Mitchell,’ he said and thrust his hand out at me. I shook it as I appraised the two coppers. Decker was a squat bald bloke, and Mitchell was pretty much the same only with hair. From what I could gather they were both nocults — that’s the term for a non-magical person. Magical police officers usually had a purple star on their uniform to distinguish them from nocult coppers. 

‘What can I help you with?’ I said, flashing my most charming smile. When the police came knocking smile and oblige them. The second they start accusing you of anything clamp your trap shut and wait for a lawyer. Those were the rules taught to me by Drew and those were the rules I stuck to. Despite the amount of people I’ve killed I’ve never actually caught the attention of the police. Drew taught me well. I was hoping that tonight was not going to be the night the law finally caught up with me. 

‘We were hoping you could tell us the last time you saw Ruby Hassell?’ Decker asked. There was nothing accusing about his tone, simply inquisitive. 

‘Ruby Hassell?’ I said in surprise and relief. She had absolutely nothing to do with my work. She was a former fuck buddy, but as I said before, things had gone south. I suddenly had a good idea what this was about. 

‘Yes. The last time you saw her,’ Decker promoted.  

I walked around the desk and lowered myself gracefully into Leah’s chair indicating that the officers take a seat too. 

The last time I’d seen Ruby had been about three weeks ago. I’d just completed a job and was feeling the hormonal pull in my loins so I headed to her flat in the South End of town. It wasn’t the nicest of areas but I wasn’t planning on moving in. I’d met Ruby at a bar about a month before that. We’d got talking, one drink led to another, and… You know how these things go. We’d ended up back at hers and after half an hour of strenuous exercise, mainly on my part, we were both rather relieved. Since then she’d alway been available when I’d been in need. It was an arrangement we’d both liked. No strings, just sex. 

Three weeks ago I’d given her a call after I’d finished a job. She was available so I headed straight there. I was out of town so it took me an hour to get there but she was eagerly waiting when I arrived. 

She buzzed me in and I headed up straight up to her flat. She was waiting in the doorway, dressed in nothing but a Lacey red pair of bra and knickers, a playful smile on her face. Scarlett hair was curled over her shoulders and expensive makeup had been applied to her face expertly. Ruby had average looks which had never bothered me but she had a bit of a complex about it. She never let anyone see her without her makeup on. It was a bit sad really that she felt that way. I wanted to tell her she was pretty enough without it but once you start giving out compliments like that you’re on a slippery slope to something more than just physical. Besides, I’d never actually seen her without it so it might not be true. The truth was she could’ve been standing with her hair in a mess and dressed in a bin bag and I’d still have taken her to the bedroom. 

‘Evening, Mr. Graves,’ she said in a sultry tone.

‘Evening, Ruby.’ I grabbed her by the waist and pulled her in for a deep, hungry kiss. She returned the gesture with force. I could taste the strawberry lip balm she was wearing. She pushed her groin against mine voraciously and plunged her tongue into my mouth like she was hunting for treasure. She wasn’t the best kisser but I wasn’t there for the kissing. Using my foot I kicked the door closed and continued the kiss, pushing her up against the wall with my body, pushing myself into her. She responded with a small moan. 

We made our way to the bedroom, stripping off each other’s clothing along the way. Mine took considerably longer than hers since I was wearing so much more of it. 

Some time later I rolled off her and fell in a sweaty mess onto the mattress. We both lay panting next to each other. I wasn’t entirely sure why she was panting so much, I’d done the main bulk of the work. 

‘Wow,’ she said breathlessly. ‘If only I knew how to put all men in that mood.’ 

I chuckled. If only she knew what put me in that mood. Maybe she’d be less eager to take me to bed. She’d want nothing to do with me. 

Ruby grabbed a hairband from the bedside table and pulled her now disheveled hair into a sloppy ponytail. She rolled onto her front and pushed her petite breasts against my stomach. Her fingers eased into my chest hair as she gently massaged me. I didn’t like this side of things. Won’t the main act was done there was no need for any more touching but it seemed a bit of a dick move to take only want I wanted and deprive her of… whatever this was. So I closed my eyes and let her massage my chest. It wasn’t a bad feeling after all. 

‘So, I was thinking,’ she said. There was a familiar and unsettling characteristic to her tone. It was the kind of tone somebody took when they were going to ask something that made them nervous. Like when you have to ask for a raise. Not that I’ve ever had to ask for a raise, but you know what I mean. 

My eyes flicked open and I glanced down at her. She could see the apprehension in my expression and her own green eyes shifted to the side. I didn’t think her eyes were really green. The colour was too vibrant. Just like her hair wasn’t really red. It was all fake. I had no idea what she really looked like, without the contact lenses, the hair dye, and the layers upon layers of expensive makeup. She was a product tailored to what she thought men wanted to see. It was sad that she felt like she needed to do that. Anybody worth her attention would accept her for whatever she looked like underneath all the glamour. My hand moved instinctively to brush her hair from her face and I stopped myself just before I made contact. That was a gesture of intimacy and bonding. This was just a sexual thing. 

She watched my hand withdraw and I saw the disappointment as clear as day. And that’s when I knew things had gone too far. She’d grown feelings for me. I closed my eyes again and exhaled in frustration. 


‘Jacob,’ I corrected. Nobody called me Jake. 

‘Jacob,’ she said, the cheer now gone from her voice. ‘I’ve been thinking.’ 

I groaned. Those three words never led to anything good. 

She chewed on her lower lip. It was obvious that she now knew this conversation was not going to go in her favour but shed started it now and she was determined to finish it. ‘I’ve been thinking. We get on well enough. Maybe we could give things a go properly?’ She hurried the words out, eager to get over and done with. 

‘Ruby…’ I started not exactly sure how I was going to shut her down. 

We both tensed at the sound of the front door opening. Neither of us moved immediately. Both of us were waiting for a followup noise. As far I was aware Ruby lived alone. Nobody had ever been here on my previous visits. I was pretty certain it was a one bedroom flat. 

‘Fuck,’ Ruby said in terror as she flew to her feet. ‘Babe?’ She called out. 

Babe. Who the fuck was babe? As far as I’d known she was single. 

I leapt up and she mouthed for me to hide. That was not going to happen. It was pointless anyway. My clothes were strewn across her hallway. Babe would definitely see them on his way to the bedroom. 

‘What. The. Fuck?’ An angry male voice asked from the hallway. I was thinking the same thing. 

‘I can explain,’ Ruby said shrilly. She ran or the door but the other man was already in the bedroom before she made it. He was stocky, a little shorter than me but a lot broader. He wasn’t exactly muscular, just broad. 

He froze when he saw me and stared lividly from the doorway, his brain stuck trying to find an appropriate reaction to seeing a naked man in his bedroom with his... girlfriend? I didn’t move. I stared back at him showing no emotion whatsoever. Honestly, I didn’t know how to feel. Confused was the winning emotion. I’d been in this flat several times over the last month and not once had I ever seen a scrap of evidence that a man was living here. My hands crept to cover my meat and two veg. 

‘Who the fuck are you?’ he asked at last. 

‘He’s my friend,’ Ruby answered before I could even open my mouth. The other man and I both looked at her incredulously. It was hands down the stupidest answer she could’ve given. She might as well have just told him I was the plumber. 

‘Why is your friend naked in our bedroom? Why are you naked?’ he shouted, pointing furiously at her nudity. 

‘To be fair, you’re the only one not naked so you’re kind of the oddity in this scenario,’ I said. I don’t know why I said it. Every now and then my mouth says something stupid before my brain can stop it. His head turned slowly my way, his eyes widened incredulously. ‘I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that,’ I admitted. 

‘Ethan no!’ Ruby screamed as he strode forward and swung his fist in a mean looking right hook. His fist connected with my cheek with more force than I’d expected and I staggered to the side, grabbing hold of the dresser to stop myself from falling down. The whole thing was made more awkward by the fact that I was naked. Trust me, getting punched is awkward enough but getting punched when your Crown Jewels are out on display was about a million times more awkward. You were stuck between trying to defend yourself from attack and trying to defend your modesty by covering up.   

‘I deserved that. I think,’ I said. I still wasn’t quite sure what was happening. I really just wanted to put my boxers on. 

‘You think? I find you in bed with my fiancée and only think you deserve a punch,’ he snarled. 

‘Fiancée?’ I repeated stupidly. She’d been hiding a fiancé from me all this time. 

Ruby just stared at me in utter horror. Her brain seemed to have shut down, unable to comprehend the situation the three of us were now in. 

‘Ethan—’ I started but his fist hit me in the face again, this time knocking me down back onto the bed. Pain radiated through my face. There was going to be a nasty bruise there in a few hours. 

Ethan was already drawing his fist back for another shot at me. Two seemed enough to me. After all, I hadn’t intentionally wronged him, I hadn’t even known he existed. 

Rabole,’ I said quickly, drawing power from the electricity around me. In my haste to pull power I pulled too much and the bedside lamp fizzled angrily and exploded in a puff of smoke. My spell hit Ethan far harder than I’d intended and he was sent crashing into the wardrobe. The wooden doors cracked open as his bulky form went barrelling through them. One of the sides crashed down to the floor and the rest of the wardrobe landed on top of him. He didn’t deserve that but I’d acted instinctively. 

‘Ethan!’ Ruby screamed and ran to him. She tried to help him up but he pushed her aside and she fell onto her bare backside with all the dignity of a three-wheeled car falling on its side.

‘Bloody wizard,’ Ethan muttered as he ambled to his feet, brushing splinters of wood off his sleeves. I climbed to my own feet and held my palm out to him in a placating gesture. 

‘Listen, I didn’t know about you. I thought she was single. She never mentioned you,’ I explained. He stood snarling at me like a rabid dog but made no move to come towards me. He didn’t like his chances against a wizard. ’I’m sorry. If I’d known I wouldn’t have done this,’ I said truthfully. I never got involved in complicated situations like this. Single ladies only. 

‘Drop the magic. Let’s have this out. Man to man,’ he said. 

‘That’s not going to happen.’ I turned to Ruby. ‘You’ve got a lot of explaining to do. But not to me. You make sure you delete my number.’ 

‘Jacob,’ she said sadly, as if she was hoping there was something I could do to smooth this situation over. 

I moved slowly towards the door, ready to defend myself again if I needed to. 

‘This isn’t over,’ said Ethan. 

‘Yes. It is,’ I answered. I closed the door behind me and then fled down the hallway, gathering my clothes as I went. 

I relayed all of this to the officers, missing out any mention of what I’d been doing prior to meeting Ruby. I really emphasised the part about me not knowing she was engaged. I didn’t want them to think I was a sleaze who bedded other men’s girlfriends.

I’d had a few threatening phone calls from Ethan over the following week. He’d promised to ruin my life no matter what it took. Childish really. He’d obviously got my number from Ruby. True to his word he did make several attempts to try and cause me trouble but none of them panned out for him. I’d had several text messages from her too. She begged me to give me and her a go. I assumed that she’d come to the conclusion that her relationship with Ethan was irreparable. 

‘Look, I don’t know what Ethan’s up to this time. He already called you guys and made a false report that I was dealing drugs from this club. He also said I was letting kids on the premises. He’s just a pathetic man with a vendetta. Whatever he’s said this time I guarantee he’s lying,’ I told them.  I thought Ethan had finally moved on. Apparently not. 

Decker and Mitchell exchanged a look before turning back to me. ‘He’s saying you killed his fiancée,’ Decker told me flatly. 

‘What?’ I said, too stunned to say anything else. My brain had frozen like an overheated computer. If I was a cartoon my jaw would’ve been on the floor. ‘Ruby’s…’ 

‘Ruby Hassell is dead, Mr. Graves. She was murdered.’ 

Top 5 Books of the Year So Far...

So we’ve past the halfway point of 2019 and I’ve read a fair few books so far. Not as many as some but more than I did last year. I thought it would be good fun to have a look through all the books I’ve read so far and choose my 5 favourites. If you haven’t read the following 5 books then I recommend you go grab a copy!

5. The Girl Next Door - Jack Ketchum

This is a horror book and it’s not for the faint hearted. It’s pretty up there in terms of… well horror. It’s a nasty book. If you have a look at some of the reviews this book has then you’ll see how strongly some people feel about the content in this book.

I cam across this book during a time when I was wondering exactly where the line was for horror. For me anyway. I found that line in this book. I wouldn’t want to read a book that went beyond this.

A teenage girl and her sister lose their parents and they are taken in by a woman and her teenage sons. The woman is not all there, to say the least. She and her sons, as well as some other boys from the neighbourhood, take the girl prisoner and keep her tied up in the basement. She is then sunjected to various kinds of torture and the book jsut grows progressively more horrible.

This books is certianly not for everyone and if you don’t like hardcore horror then steer well clear of it. Don’t worry the rest of the books on this list are all a lot nicer!

4. Grimm - Shayne Silvers

This book is part of the Nate Temple series. This is the third book in the series so I’d recommend you start with book 1. Nate is a wizard/maker (you’ll have to read it to find out what that is) who lives in St Louis.

I’ll have to tell you about this book without giving much away or I’ll ruin the books that come before it. The Brothers Grimm have excaped from a prison realm and want to resume their quest to kill everything superntural they come across. Starting with Nate Temple.

It’s an exciting read that is action-packed and rund at about 1000mph. It didn’t take me long to burn through this book. The whole Templeverse is a thrilling creation that spans across 12 books and has 2 spin-off series too. If you like urban fantasy I sugest you go and get book 1 now!

3. Kill Creek - Scott Thomas

This is another horror and it’s a cracker of a read! It’s a haunted house story that’s succesfully avoided becoming a cliche of the genre. The story follows 4 authors who have all been lured there with a promise of publicity and a lot of money.

The author does a great job of building hte characters up so they come alive perfectly in your head. The first half of the book is focused on character building and psychological things going on in the house. The second hosue is when the author cranks up the horror.

I’d say it was kind of a cross between The Shining and The House on Haunted Hill.

If you like horror then you need to read this.

2. Summer Knight - Jim Butcher

If you like urban fantasy then you already know what this book is all about because you’ve heard of the Dresden Files.

This is as far as I’ve read in this series and I’ll be honest, the first 3 books in the series were a bit meh. I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. This book changed that. This is the best one I’ve read so far. It was amazing.

Harry Dresden, a wizard living in Chicago, has gotten himself right in the middle of a brewing war between the summer fay and the winter fay. He has to figure out who killed the Summer Knight before the fay go to war with each other. Oh, and if he fails his own people would probably kill him.

This was the second best book I’ve read so far this year and I’ve finally started to see hwat all the other fans see in the Dresden Files.

If you haven’t already then go and start this series.

1. Six of Crows - Leigh Bardugo

Here it is — the best book I’ve read this year so far. This is a young adult fantasy novel set in a fictional world that seems to be based on Europe.

The worldbuilding is on point and the characters are fleshed out to perfection. Kaz Brekker is such a fascinating character that he has become one of my favourite fictional characters.

It has mutliple viewpoints (six - clue in the title) and focuses on a task given to them. They are hired to break into one of the most secure fortresses in the world and break out a prisoner who has the potential to change the world of magic for forever.

It’s kind of like Game of Thrones meets Oceans Eleven. It’s a fantastic heist story set in a fantasy world. I don’t think any book will beat this in the second half of 2019, that’s how amazing it was. I’m now palnning on reading all of the books set in this world.

Undead Warlock Sample Chapters

Chapter 1

It didn’t hurt. Dying.  I mean it did hurt. A lot, in fact. But once the magic was done literally ripping my body apart it didn’t hurt anymore. So, yes, dying did hurt, but once the actual death bit was done it was like the pain had never even happened in the first place.

Cedarstone disappeared behind a wall of shimmering red magic that erupted up all around me. It erupted from within me. As soon as that happened the pain was gone. Just like that. The click of a finger. For a second or two I was still there, somehow. Even though my body was destroyed, I remained there in that place. And then the place was gone. Redness was followed by darkness. Explosions were followed by silence. And then…

I was somewhere else. A room. It was still silent. I was sitting which meant I had a body again. I looked down at my legs. I definitely had a body. Was I still alive? No, I was some kind of spirit now. I’d passed over. I looked around for Ashley. She said she’d see me on the other side, but she was not here.

I was in what looked like a doctor’s waiting room. About thirty of those cheap-looking chairs that primary schools have lined three of the walls, with another ten placed in the middle of the room back to back. I was in one of the chairs in the middle. Almost every chair had somebody sitting in it. Nobody looked sick. They were all waiting in silence, and all of them looked apprehensive. I was pretty apprehensive myself. Being dead will do that.

The wall at the front of the room had five plain brown doors. I wondered what the hell was going on. As if to answer my question the number sixty-seven appeared in glowing red numbers above the third door. A lady in the corner of the room stood up nervously. She glanced at her palm and then up at the number above the door. She looked around the room as if looking for someone to tell her what to do. Nobody did. There was no staff. Only people waiting. With a look of resignation, she shuffled off and entered the room. I tried to catch a glimpse through the door but saw absolutely nothing. It looked like she’d walked into a plain white room. The door closed quietly behind her and she was gone.

I raised my own hand and stared at my palm. As I suspected there was a number that looked like it had been burned into my flesh. Sixty-nine. I sniggered. The tufty, grey-haired man to my right turned to look at me, eyebrows raised. I showed him my palm.

‘Ah,’ he said, and gave me a wink. Then he checked his own. ’73,’ he said with disappointment.

‘Do you know much about this place?’ I asked, hopefully. Silly really, it wasn’t like he could’ve been sitting here long enough to know much more than I did.

He shook his head. ‘Some kind of purgatory I guess. We sit and wait to go into those rooms where I assume we will be judged.’

‘Fun,’ I muttered. I did not relish the idea of being judged. I hadn’t liked it much when I was alive and I knew I wouldn’t like it any more in death. I’d probably like it less on account of the consequences being far more permanent and totally out of my control.

‘May I ask how you died?’ he said, leaning in closer.

‘Why not?’ I answered. ‘I absorbed so much magic that my body exploded. Well, I think it exploded. I couldn’t really see what happened and I died pretty much as soon as it did happen.’

He looked up at the ceiling. ‘I didn’t even know magic was real,’ he said sadly. ‘Imagine that. You were out living your young life, enjoying magic, knowing all the secrets of the world, and I had no idea any of that even existed. How boring my life must seem to you.’ He let out a small laugh. I was about to agree with him, but then I stopped. It was bad enough that he was dead without me making it seem like his life had been crap too.

‘Did you enjoy your life?’ I asked.

He considered the question for a moment, his head tilted to one side. ‘Yes, I suppose I did. I don’t have many regrets so I guess that’s a good thing.’

‘It doesn’t matter what you didn’t know then. You had a good life.’

Sixty-eight appeared on the wall and another person got up and went through one of the doors.

‘Did you enjoy your life?’ Now there was a complicated question. It had been easy for him to answer. Not so much for me.

‘Some of it,’ I told him. ‘I think maybe I would’ve enjoyed it more if I hadn’t known about magic. It would have been a lot simpler.’

‘Hindsight, eh?’ he chortled.

‘How did you die?’

‘I’m not entirely sure, you know. I was sitting in the conservatory reading the paper when the ground sort of… rumbled and then everything turned red. And then I was here.’

The small amount of pleasure I’d been getting out of the conversation dissipated in a heartbeat. ‘Where did you live?’ I asked him in a quiet voice. I knew what he was going to say.

‘Cedarstone. It’s in Kent,’ he said proudly. I looked around the room and wondered if all these people had been killed by me. Were they all from Cedarstone? How far had the magic spread if it had killed this old man in his home? It was supposed to have been just the high street that got hit. That’s why the high street had been evacuated.

My hand tingled and I saw my number appear above the first door. ‘I’m so sorry,’ I said to the old man. He looked at me in confusion and shook his head. I didn’t wait to hear his reply. I got up and strode through the first door without even thinking about what might lie waiting on the other side for me.

It was an office. A plain, somewhat shabby, office. The magnolia walls were plain. The only furniture was a large wooden desk that a had a chair behind it and a chair in front. The chair in front was the same as the crappy ones from the waiting room. The one behind was an executive, high-backed, leather chair. In the nice chair sat a small man who looked like he was severely over-worked. He looked up at me, his monobrow lifting slightly in greeting. He indicated the chair and then waited for me to sit down. I did as I was bid, noticing that the chair was very low so that I was looking up at him. I wasn’t going to have that. I pointed my fingers down at the chair legs, willing them to elongate, but nothing happened.

‘You don’t have magic here. Perhaps you will be granted magic again in your afterlife. That depends on how your judgement goes,’ he said in a weary voice. He was clearly not that interested in his job. Maybe an eternity of doing it dulled the experience.

‘I thought Saint Peter took care of judging people. I mean no offence, but you don’t strike me as Saint Peter. Or Saint anyone for that matter,’ I said. His eyebrow rose higher on his forehead.

‘Insulting your judgment officer?’ he said quizzically. ‘Foolhardy.’

‘I didn’t mean anything by it,’ I said quickly, hoping to salvage the conversation. ‘I’m just a bit nervous. You know, being dead and all can do that to a guy.’

He nodded. ‘I understand. Don’t worry, this will not affect your judgement. As for Saint Peter, he does not reside in this realm. Now, let us begin.’

I wanted to question him further on that but thought better of potentially irritating the man who was about to judge my deeds. If Saint Peter wasn’t in this realm then which realm was I in?

Before him on the desk was a manilla file that was absolutely bulging with papers of a variety of colours. I saw whites, oranges, reds, yellows and a couple of greens. He lifted open the cover and stared down at the first page. I could not see it on account of my chair being so low. I did see his brow furrow as he studied whatever was written there. ‘Two in one shift,’ he muttered to himself. Then he shook his head. He closed the file and then looked back at me. ‘It seems you have not been assigned to me after all.’ He stood up.

‘Who have I been assigned to?’ I knew it wasn’t Saint Peter.

‘Come,’ he said. I followed him through the door and we reentered the waiting room. The old man was gone now. The people that were there looked up eagerly, wondering what was going on. They probably weren’t used to people coming out of the rooms. The officer turned right and led me down a long plain looking corridor. I wondered why everything was so boring in this place. Had God put them on a tight budget or something? I know the Bible espoused modesty and humbleness but this was just depressing. I could not remain in surroundings like this for eternity. I’d take the fires of Hell any day. It occurred to me that I probably shouldn’t even think things like that. I mentally retracted the thought.

At the end of the corridor was an elevator. Shiny gold doors were fixed in the wall in complete juxtaposition with the shabbiness of the rest of the place. The elevator doors looked beautiful. I could see my reflection in them. I could really do with a haircut, I thought.

The officer pressed the button and the doors opened on a mirrored elevator cart with a beautiful marble floor. Now this was more like it. I stepped inside the elevator and turned to see the officer was not coming with me. He looked at me the way someone looks at his friend when he knows he’s in the shit.

‘What?’ I said, suddenly nervous. ‘Where am I going?’ He flashed me a nervous smile that did not comfort me in the least.

‘Good luck,’ he said. And then the doors slid shut.


Chapter 2

I didn’t feel the elevator move whatsoever, and yet after a few seconds, the doors slid open onto the biggest hall I had ever seen. It was the throne room of a god. A white marble floor stretched out for about a hundred feet. Golden pillars soared up way above, holding up the ceiling which had been enchanted to resemble a beautiful blue sky complete with fluffy white clouds. It was the perfect picture of a summer’s sky. At the head of the room atop a high dais, stood a white glowing throne that looked like it was made of pure light. As enticing as it was, it looked like it would destroy anybody who sat in it. Anybody apart from the man who was already sitting in the throne.

He was tall even for a seated person. He sat straight, his chin slightly elevated. Both arms rested on the arms of the throne, his fingers draped over their fronts. Luscious golden locks hung down from his flawless face. Keen, bright eyes stared down at me as I shuffled into the room.

There was another figure standing behind the throne but I could only make out the shape of him as the throne was shining so brightly.

I turned back to the elevator, considering leaving again. Something about the man on the throne made me uneasy. I couldn’t tell if it was the unnatural perfection of his appearance or the cold silent exudation of power. To my dismay, the door was no longer there and only a golden wall stood behind me.

‘Come,’ the man said. His voice was gentle but commanding. I squared my shoulders in an attempt to look as confident as possible and strode determinedly across the hall. The man sat perfectly still, his eyes never leaving me, his expression never changing. My shoes clip-clopped on the marble, the sound rebounding around me.

As I passed the last set of pillars I saw a fourth person. There was a man chained to the back of the pillar on my right, so only those on the throne side of the room would be able to see him. My blood burned in my veins at the sight of my grandfather, Nickolas Blackwood. Despite being restrained against the pillar, he stood defiantly. His chin was raised, his jaw was set and his eyes had a look of cold hatred in them as he stared at the throned man. As I came into view he turned his head my way. His expression did not soften when he saw me. His top lip curled into a snarl and it was then that I saw the golden stitching that was holding his lips together. If Nickolas was here and he was clearly under duress then I guessed this was not Heaven. And if this was not Heaven then the man sitting in the throne was most likely…

‘He had a reputation for having a silver tongue when he was alive. He tried to use his gift on me. I found it less than effective. Tedious, if anything. I much prefer him now,’ the throned man said lyrically.

‘You can’t trust a word he says anyway. All he does is lie,’ I replied. I gave Nick a final gloating smile and then turned away.

‘His lies do not fool me. No lies do. After all, they do call me the father of lies. Not that I have ever told a single lie. Propaganda.

‘I will profess that I had not expected to meet Nickolas Blackwood for some time yet. I have you to thank for his early arrival, Edward Lancaster.’ He dipped his head ever so slightly at me.

‘You’re welcome, I suppose. Just a shame I had to follow him here,’ I said.

‘Indeed,’ the man said slowly, ponderously. ‘But that is enough about him. His judgement has been passed and it did not go in his favour. I have met many bad souls in my time ruling the Realm of the Dead, but there are very few whose bad deeds outweigh their good as Nickolas’ do. Very few indeed. I wonder how you shall fair, Eddie.’

‘If I’m in Hell and you’re going to judge me, I guess you must be Satan?’ I asked him. It was quite obvious I should not have said that. His eyes widened in repugnant disbelief. The entire room seemed to darken as if a storm cloud had fallen over it. A hideous howl filled the room and a force slammed into me from behind, forcing me down to my knees. Even though I was already dead I felt the pain as the marble floor slammed into my knees.

‘Satan is the name used to insult me. It is not now, nor has it ever been, my name. I am Lucifer the Light Bringer,’ he said his name with pride and the darkness evaporated from the room.

I remained on my knees, fearful that he would just force me back down again. I had to remind myself that things were different here. Lucifer was not an adversary like Rachel or Nickolas. There was no way to beat him. There was nowhere in his realm that I could run to, and I knew of no way to escape his realm. And here death was not the worst thing that he could inflict on me. Death, in fact, was the one thing I knew would not rescue me from any torture he sent my way. For once in my existence, I was going to have to be tactful.

‘I’m sorry I offended you, Lucifer,’ I said in my humblest tone.

‘You are forgiven,’ he said benevolently. I felt the power that had forced me down fade and slowly, I rose to my feet.

‘This is not Hell,’ he said. He began descending the steps towards me. I fought the urge to back away from him. ‘This is the Realm of the Dead. The Underworld. Hades. The Dead Realm. The Land of Souls. The list goes on.’

‘Ah, I always thought the Bible said you ruled in Hell,’ I told him, keeping my voice low as a sign of respect.

He made a scoffing sound. ‘That is not written anywhere in the Bible. The texts say I was cast down to Earth and on the day of judgement, I, like all other sinners, will be thrown into Hell. Needless to say, the Bible is a falsehood. There isn’t a religious text in the Living Realm which is accurate, though all of them have their merits in some form.’

I felt an info dump coming and longed for a chair. The last thing I wanted was to stand here for hours whilst he retold the Bible in its true form. But I dared not say anything through fear of offending him again.

‘I shall tell you the truth of the matter,’ he said as he stepped onto the same level as me. He was a good foot taller than I was. ‘The Bible is correct in that I did rebel against Yahweh.’

‘Yahweh being God?’ I asked. The room darkened once more and his eyes bore into me furiously.

‘That’s what he calls himself,’ he said through his teeth. ‘If he’s a god then my siblings and I are too. It is true that he is my father, but he is an archangel, the same as I am. He just has more supporters. That is how he defeated my rebellion. There was no battle, no fighting. It was a dignified vote.’

‘A vote?’ I said in disbelief. There was something very unbiblical about a vote taking place in Heaven.

‘Yes, a vote. All of the angels came together to vote for which of us should be their leader. Which of us should govern the Cosmos. Yahweh, or myself. He won. Barely. And as a punishment, I was exiled from Heaven. Myself and all my supporters were sent here, to the Dead Realm, to rule over the souls of the deceased. That is my part in the running of the Cosmos now. I reign only over the dead. Whilst Yahweh gets to lord it over everything else from his throne of splendour in Heaven. But, mark my words, my time shall come. I shall rise up from this place and I shall take my rightful throne in Heaven, and this time there shall be no vote. Only the sword.’

I opened my mouth to reply and then made one of the wisest decisions of my existence. I closed it again.

‘So, here I am. Reigning not over Hell, but over all the plains of the Dead. Good and bad, they all come through me.’ He turned and began climbing the stairs back to his throne.

‘So, if my judgement goes well I can get into Heaven?’ I asked hopefully. He paused halfway up the stairs. His shoulders rose and fell as he let out a tiny laugh. He looked over his shoulder at me, his eye glinting devilishly.

‘Heaven is not for humans, Eddie. Heaven is the home of the angels. The creatures of the Cosmos, brought to life by the Universe itself to ensure that everything within the Universe runs smoothly. You have no place there.’ He climbed the last few steps and turned back to face me. ‘But with a positive outcome, you can move on to a pleasant afterlife. Your own version of Heaven. So,’ he lowered himself gracefully back into his throne. ‘How do you predict your chances?’

‘Well,’ I said, inclining my head as I considered things. I had done my fair share of bad things in my life, but I’d also done plenty of good. I’d helped people. I’d saved people. I wasn’t exactly a hero, but I certainly wasn’t a villain. ‘I did give up my own life to save everybody from him.’ I jerked my thumb in Nick’s direction.

‘Oh.’ Lucifer’s eyebrows rose. ‘And do you believe that this one act of goodness cancels out all of the terrible things you did prior?’

‘I didn’t say that. I mean, I never did anything that bad,’ I argued, still trying to maintain a respectful tone.

‘How would you categorise the murder of three-hundred innocent people in the Hazlitt Theatre?’ he asked. He leaned forward in his throne, eager for my reply.

‘I wasn’t in control then,’ I said, barely containing my temper. If he was going to throw accusations at me then he could at least choose something I’d done when I wasn’t under the influence of a dark curse.

‘If I had another supporter for every time I’ve heard someone tell me that then I would be on the throne of Heaven right now. But very well, you were cursed. Explain to me your part in the death of Clara Winters. You weren’t cursed then, were you?’

‘She was hardly innocent!’ I exclaimed, throwing my hands up in the air. ‘She’d imprisoned me and was planning to use me against my will if she needed to.’

‘Her actions do not excuse yours. Murder is murder.’

‘I didn’t murder anybody.’

He leaned back, a cool smile on his lips. ‘I’m starting to see that famous temper. The one that results in people getting hurt. Even killed. The very temper you inherited from your grandfather,’ Lucifer said with mirth. He was enjoying this.  

I closed my eyes and drew in a deep breath. If I lost my temper he would likely hurt me. I was a magicless mortal and he was an archangel. The only way to beat him was by defending myself with words. I had to treat this like a court case.

Once I’d calmed down enough, I opened my eyes and spoke in a steady, even tone.

‘I did a lot of things. I hurt people. I killed people. My actions got people killed even if I didn’t do the killing myself. But I was only ever reacting to situations I was forced into. I never intended to hurt anybody. I just wanted to protect the people I cared about. I made a lot of bad decisions in my life, but I did the best job I knew how to do. I made the best out of the circumstances given to me.’

Lucifer sat in silence, staring down at me. He contemplated my words with his eyes on my face. He wasn’t making eye contact, his gaze seemed to look through me… into me. It was unsettling to say the least. But judging from the calmness of his expression I’d say my words had had the desired effect.

‘Maybe you did do your best. And maybe your best just wasn’t good enough.’ Each word hit me like a fresh curse pounding into my soul. I glanced over at Nick who was staring off into space, his expression unreadable. If he couldn’t talk Lucifer round then what hope did I have?

Lucifer rose and let out a great sigh, shaking his head sadly as if he was greatly disappointed in me. ‘If we continue with this judgement I fear it will not go in your favour, Eddie.’

‘Please,’ I said in a whisper. ‘I just want to see Ashley again. If you’re going to send me to Hell, or whatever the bad place is called, then just let me see her one more time before you send me. Surely my sacrifice has earned me that much?’ It wasn’t in my nature to beg but when you’re dead and standing before the throne of the closest thing to a god there is, begging is a pretty good option. In my case, it was the only option.

‘I’ve never been in love,’ he said. Once again he began descending the steps. ‘I’m not even sure if it is possible for my kind to fall in love, though many have claimed to have done just that. So, you can understand that this desire you have to be reunited with Ashley is not something I can understand. Not fully.’ He reached the bottom and stared into my eyes. His eyes were so enchanting. The irises didn’t seem to be one colour, they were many all at once, constantly moving and swirling in the darkness around them. ‘I have never understood the purpose of humanity. Animals have a chain that keeps the world in motion. Remove one link in that chain and everything will start to fall apart unless that link can be replaced. Angels are here to ensure that the Universe runs smoothly. We are here to maintain the cosmological order. Without us, the Universe would quickly descend into anarchy. What purpose does your race have? Why are you here?’

I wasn’t sure if he was waiting for an answer but I knew that anything I said would likely anger him so I said nothing. After several moments of silence, he broke eye contact and began circling me slowly, like a parent lecturing their child.

‘For eons, I have struggled with this riddle. I often considered the notion that perhaps your very existence is entirely designed to frustrate me. But I cannot imagine the Cosmos would be so petty.

‘I take it God did not create us then?’ I said. I realised my mistake as soon as the words had left my mouth. My spine became ablaze with burning agony. I clamped my lips together and stopped the scream from coming out. My body shook as I fought against the pain. A low whimper squeezed through my lips like a fart.

‘There is no God. Only us, and the Cosmos.’ The pain vanished with his words. Then he resumed pacing around me. ‘Some races were created. Though none from scratch. Everything had a template to work from. I watched my father start the process of evolution in your race. He forced mankind to evolve from apes and to this day I wonder why. One of the only pleasures I have in my existence is knowing that eventually, you will all have to come to me and answer for your pointless existences.’

‘Without us, your existence would be pretty pointless unless you’d like to sit here and judge the pigs and cows,’ I snapped. I braced myself for pain but none came. Instead, a burst of snakelike hissing laughter slithered over my shoulder.

‘Without you, I would not be in this realm. The annihilation of your race was one of the key points in my manifesto. The Universe would be far easier to govern without you complicating things. All the things we have had to engineer to try and keep you in line. To try and stop you from destroying the very planet you need for your own survival. Climate change was a fantastic idea. My brothers in Heaven really thought it would scare your race into changing your ways. Even I was surprised to see its lack of results. You are a stubborn race.’

‘You guys caused climate change?’

‘We are behind everything that happens. We rule the Cosmos. We control it. That is our purpose. I would like to bestow upon you a new purpose.’

I raised an eyebrow and turned to face him. Whatever he wanted from me would not be good. People only ever preceded requests with long-winded speeches when they knew the request would be denied if asked for outright. The big speech was the distraction. ‘What purpose?’ I asked.

‘When people die they come to my realm. That is the law of the Cosmos. The Ambrotos Dagger makes a mockery of the Universe by stopping humans from dying. I have allowed this insult to go on for far too long. Go back to the Living Realm, retrieve the Ambrotos Dagger, and deliver it to me. Do this for me and I will allow you to bypass my judgement and rest peacefully with Ashley. Or however you choose to move on. Whatever Heaven looks like to Eddie Lancaster. Your record will be wiped clean.’

It was a good offer. An amazing offer. I was fairly sure that my judgement would not go favourably if I let him continue. But still… something didn’t add up.

‘Why don’t you go and get it yourself? You’re an archangel. Nobody would be able to stop you.’

His face soured. ‘There are rules. Rules set by Heaven. Exiled angels who reside in the Realm of the Dead can only enter the Realm of the Living if they forfeit their powers. When I set foot in the Living Realm I am at a greatly diminished capacity. But you are under no such restrictions. I can send you back and you can do this for me.’

‘But why me?’ I pushed. ‘Surely there are other people more suited to this task.’

‘If I fail I will bear that in mind,’ he said, his patience thinning. ‘Do you accept my gracious offer, or shall I continue with your judgement?’

It didn’t take long for me to think it through. ‘I accept on one condition.’ His eyebrows nearly took flight from his head. ‘I want to see Ashley before you send me back.’

‘Humans,’ he said with a shake of his angelic head. ‘Agreed.’

Chapter 3

I returned to the elevator which had now reappeared and stepped inside. As the door slid shut I saw the figure at the back of the room emerge and approach Lucifer. In just a few seconds the doors opened on yet another place. I wondered if this elevator was the way everybody travelled around the Dead Realm. It wasn’t what I’d expected. I’d always thought it would be more magical. Instead, it was strangely corporate. I chuckled at the idea of the Universe being run by a load of toffs in suits.

The door opened on a street. It wasn’t any street I recognised. It was a pretty generic street. A neat row of houses, all built with boring, faded bricks. I expected better in the afterlife. Then again, it didn’t look like anybody lived in any of the houses. I stepped onto the street and looked up and down the road. No cars, no birds, no people. No lights were on in the houses, no curtains were moving. No sound came from anywhere. It was a ghost town. No pun intended.

I looked behind me. Once again the elevator had vanished. It obviously wasn’t for public use, only the angels could summon it. I started walking down the road, hoping I’d find somewhere or someone familiar soon. The sun was setting in this unfamiliar world, and a dusky orange glow filled the sky. It was quite beautiful to look at. Maybe it was like that here every night. I’d get bored of it if that was the case. If you have something every day it loses its splendour.

I reached the bottom of the road and saw a beach just before me. It was odd the way the urban street just blended into the sand. This must be somebody’s idea of a happy ever after. It certainly wasn’t mine. I hate beaches. All that sand stuck in between your toes, getting in your socks. The only solution was to wear sandals or the dreaded flip-flop. No thank you. One person’s paradise is another person’s hell.

‘Eddie!’ I knew Ashley’s voice straight away. I turned and saw her running down the road towards me. Her light hair flew behind her and I’m not ashamed to admit that I was drawn to the bouncing of her heavy chest.

God, I’d missed her.

She threw her arms out as she ran and I realised that we were about to reenact that scene that pops up in every single romance film in existence. The one where the separated lovers reunite and run towards each other for a massive embrace. Well, I’m not that guy. I stayed still and let her come to me. I extended my arms to return her embrace but I’d underestimated the force with which she was coming at me. She barrelled into me and we both tumbled to the floor. As I fell I realised why the guy also ran in the films. The mutual running cancelled out the momentum and stopped this kind of thing from happening.

We both lay on the ground laughing at the clumsiness of our “romantic” reunion. She buried her face in my neck and laughed beautifully. Her warm breath fell on my flesh and caused my heartbeat to pick up. We’d only been apart of a few weeks but it felt like a decade. She raised her head and looked down at me. Her hair fell over my face as I gazed up into her loving green eyes. Then our lips were locked together, never to be parted again. Well, until a few minutes later when they were parted.

‘I’ve missed you,’ she said, her voice breaking on the words. I looked away so she wouldn’t see the tears in my eyes. I’ve never understood why people cry when they’re happy. Even when experiencing the tears of joy myself I still didn’t understand it.

‘I’ve missed you too,’ I confessed. I kissed her again. And again. And again. I have no idea how much time went by. Minutes. Hours. By the time we stopped kissing the sun had almost set completely.

Ashley jumped up and then pulled me to my feet too. I didn’t object as she dragged me onto the sand and across the beach. The sound of the tide lapping against the shore was soothing as we walked along the sand. She turned back to me and then kicked her shoes off across the beach. She gestured for me to do the same.

‘Oh, no,’ I shook my head. ‘I don’t want sand in my toes.’

‘You’re dead, Eddie. You can risk a little sand in your toes.’ It was hard to argue with that logic, and it was impossible to deny her anything. If she wanted my shoes off, well I guess she could have it. I kicked my shoes off and then stripped my socks off too. The sand did not feel nice beneath my feet, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. The mind has a way of vilifying unpleasant memories so they’re even worse than the experience actually was. A mechanism to stop us from doing something unpleasant again I suppose.

Ashley didn’t stop at shoes and socks. She pulled off her top and then stood there in just a pair of denim shorts and a Lacey white bra. I was eager to see those come off too. But first I had to follow suit. Soon enough we were naked and back in each other's arms.

My nightmare of being on the beach was worse than I’d ever imagined now that I was naked and rolling around in the sand. Those devilish little grains could get in much worse places than between my toes. But I didn’t care. My hell had become my heaven. I entered Ashley and realised exactly what I’d been missing. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it was the best sex of my… No, it wasn’t the best of my life actually. And I couldn’t say it was the best of my death because it was the only sex of my death. It was the best sex I’d ever had. Period.

When it was over we lay in each other’s arms, enjoying the breeze from the sea, and staring up at the slowly darkening sky. I was fairly certain by this point that the sun set much slower than it did in the Living Realm.

‘Did you see everything going on with me after you…’ I asked without saying that she’d died, it seemed wrong to verbalise it. I wanted to know if she’d seen the atrocious things I’d done with Nick or if I was going to have to tell her now. I didn’t have to tell her, Lucifer had offered me the chance to bypass judgement which meant it was only my conscious that would suffer. For eternity.

‘No. Every now and then we can glimpse the other side but it’s a rare privilege. I know some of what you did, though. People have passed through here. Nobody I know, but people Mum knows,’ she spoke calmly, still staring up at the sky. Not a care in the world. Not a shred of judgement.

‘So you know I sided with Nickolas Blackwood?’

She nodded. ‘Yes. And I know that you stopped him in the end. That’s what matters.’

Not according to Lucifer, I thought. ‘You aren’t angry at me or anything?’ I pushed myself up on my forearms so I could see her properly. She looked up at me and smiled. It was one of those smiles reserved for people who were being silly.

‘Of course not. We’re both dead now. Nothing before matters. Not really. The fact that you’re here proves that you were a good man. You’ve come to a good place rather than being sent off for eternal torment.’

‘About that,’ I said, looking off into the distance. ‘I’m only here for tonight.’ Her happiness ebbed away and I told her the deal I’d made with Lucifer.

‘Oh, thank God,’ she said, letting out a heavy sigh of relief. I looked at her in confusion. ‘I thought you meant we had one night and then you were going to be tortured for the rest of time!’

I burst out laughing. It was a high and raucous sound. Ashley slapped me on the chest hard enough to sting a little.

‘Don’t do that to me!’ She scolded.

‘I’m sorry! I’m sorry!’ I fell back to the sand and we lay together in silence, watching the stars together. ‘So what do you do here?’ I asked.

‘Whatever I want. I live with Mum in the family home. Sometimes we see people. Others who’ve died, you know.’

I chewed on my lower lip as I listened to her talking. Living with her mum in her family home sounded nice. For her. Not for me.

‘We’ll get our own place when you’re here for good,’ she said, as though she’d been reading my mind.

‘Are there any people here? The whole street seemed empty,’ I said. I liked peace, but not this much. Although it was handy having no-one around when you were lying naked on the beach.

‘You can go to see other people, but most people stick with their loved ones in their own little pockets of the afterlife. I think it's only so quiet here because that’s how me and Mum like it. Other people might live with more people around,’ she explained. ‘There’s a train that takes you wherever you want to go if you want to see people.’

‘A train?’ I repeated. How strange a concept that was. A train that choo-chooed its way through the Underworld. The train would be a blessing for me. I like my solitude but a world with only three people was certainly not my idea of Heaven. Not at all.

We lay together under the stars, in that perfectly cliched fashion until we both fell asleep. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d slept so peacefully. Probably not since I was a little boy safe with my parents. I did not dream and I did not wake up once. I slept all night with Ashley in my arms. When I woke up in the morning she was gone.

Chapter 4

I sat up and looked both ways up and down the beach. The sky was pink as the sun rose and the golden sands were clear in both directions.

‘Ashley?’ I called as if she might have been hiding behind a sand dune or something.

‘Your time with Ashley has ended. She has gone home.’ I turned to see a man standing a few feet away. He was a plain man, dressed in plain black robes. His face was young and angular, like a thin diamond. Thin black hair was combed back across his head. I don’t know how I knew it, but this was the figure who’d been lurking in the throne room.

‘Who are you?’ I asked. I realised I was still naked as I climbed to my feet. I covered my dangly bits and looked around for my clothes but I had no idea where they’d gone. We hadn’t stripped off that far from here, had we?

‘My name is Malek. I am the Lord of Death’s lieutenant.’

‘Lucifer sent you?’ I asked, abandoning the search for my garments.

‘I have been sent to return you to the Living Realm,’ he said, staring me down with distaste.

‘Okay. Have you seen my clothes?’

‘There will be time for clothing later. It hardly matters right now.’ He shook his head as if I were a nuisance. I couldn’t help but notice that he was not naked. There was plenty of time for him to be dressed.

‘It matters to me, mate.’

‘Mate?’ He took a long time pronouncing the word as if it was the first time he’d heard it. ‘I am not your mate. We are not equals. You ought to show me some respect, if not for the fact that I am an angel, then for the fact that had it not been for me you would not have been granted this gracious opportunity to forgo judgement.’

‘If not for you?’ I looked at him, eyes narrowed. He was up to something, that much was obvious.

‘Indeed. I recommended this idea to Lucifer. I am his oldest friend. I have his ear.’ He raised his chin with pride.

‘Why? Why me? Why not any one of the other dead guys you’ve got wandering through here?’

‘Wandering through here… The Dead Realm is not a market.’ He shook his head at me again.

‘But why me?’

Ignoring my question, he reached into his robes and pulled out a small phial of glowing white liquid. It looked like radioactive milk. Or something else…

‘Drink this,’ he commanded, offering it to me.

‘Uh… What is it?’ I asked. There was no way I was going to put some suspicious white liquid down my gullet. It could be anything. And I think we all know where my mind was wandering.

‘This is but a sample of Lord Lucifer’s grace. You will need this if you are to be returned to a full living state.’

‘I see.’ I took the phial and turned it over in my hands. The liquid moved like treacle. ‘And where did it come from?’

‘From within Lucifer’ I grimaced at that.

‘And, from which orifice was this extracted?’

Malek’s nose wrinkled in disgust. He glared at me the way a parent might look at a child who’d farted at the dinner table. ‘Grace is to an angel what blood is to a human. It was extracted via an incision to the forearm. Now drink it before I change my mind and choose a new candidate from the many hordes of deceased souls we have wandering around down here.’

I pulled off the lid and raised the phial to my lips. I closed my eyes as I tipped Lucifer’s grace into my mouth. I needn’t have worried. It was actually delicious. Kind of tasted like custard. I only wished there was more of it.

‘My God, that was good!’ I exclaimed and then smacked my lips with enthusiasm. My body warmed from within as the grace worked its way inside me. I felt like I was glowing even though I clearly was not.

‘How dare you say that word in my presence,’ growled Malek.

‘Malek, you are far too serious. Maybe you should come back to the Living Realm with me. We could have fun together.’

‘A combination of being rendered powerless and being in your company is enough to drive even an angel to suicide.’ He turned and beckoned for me to follow. I decided not to be offended by his blatant rudeness.

I followed him along the beach until we came to the trusty elevator. This was not the place I’d got off the night before which meant it could appear anywhere. That begged the question why didn’t he just summon it where we were already standing?

Pfft, angels.

We stepped inside and the door slid shut behind us.

‘If you’re an angel like Lucifer why did I have to drink his grace, why not yours?’ I asked.

‘I am not like Lucifer. I am an angel whereas he is an archangel. Only his grace has the power to restore life,’ Malek told me. ‘Any angel could send a dead soul back to the Living Realm, but only an archangel can restore life fully.’

‘Sucks to be you then,’ I said without thinking.

‘It will suck a lot more to be you when you inevitably fail in your quest.’

We stepped out into a large white room. Lines of people stood sentry on either side of the room. They were dressed in white and their faces were covered by expressionless white masks. Or those were their faces. It was hard to tell. I guessed they were some sort of guards. I hadn’t seen guards anywhere else in the Realm so far which meant this room was important.

None of the sentries moved as we passed them. Malek led me up to the far wall which looked like a giant window covered in cellophane. Through the window, I could see a blurred street. It was dark but I could just about make out the shapes of parked cars beneath glowing streetlights. Silhouettes moved about on the street too.

‘Your town,’ Malek said, nodding at the window. ‘Maidstone.’

‘Is this the gateway then?’ I asked.

‘Yes,’ he replied simply. ‘Do I need to remind you of your task?’

‘Find the Ambrotos Dagger and bring it back here,’ I said. As if I’d forget such a simple task. He really thought I was a moron.

‘You won’t be able to bring it back here. Once you have it I will send an envoy to bring you to me. The Dagger will be handed to Lucifer and you will be able to spend eternity rolling around on that beach.’

My cheeks blushed at the idea that Malek had been watching me and Ashley get busy. If that’s how things were here then I would be far more cautious about where we did it in the future. Angel or not, I did not want him watching me in action.

‘Before I go back, I don’t suppose you know where the Dagger is?’ I asked. I’d last seen it in Cedarstone but such a powerful artefact was unlikely to have been left there. The moment the debris had settled someone would’ve gone in to retrieve it. The question was who.

Malek stared at me in disbelief. ‘If I knew where it was I would hardly need you.’

‘I’m still not sure why you do need me. I mean anyone would do.’

‘Just consider yourself lucky it is you and stop worrying about the why. Curiosity will be the death of your race.’ He took hold of my wrist and turned it over in his hand. His touch was frosty and made my blood slow in my veins. He touched his index finger to my tattoo. An hourglass with green sand trickling through the funnel. I’d got it to remind me not to waste time.

‘How very fitting,’ he said. My tattoo glowed with faint purple light as whatever spell he was casting took hold of me. ‘We don’t want you getting any funny ideas and deciding to stay over there in the Living Realm. You were not given enough grace to make your resurrection permanent but that doesn’t mean you won’t find another way.’

‘This is all unnecessary,’ I told him. ‘I want to get back to Ashley.’

‘Perhaps. But if you come to realise you cannot complete your task your only alternative would be to avoid dying again. This makes that impossible.’

He released my wrist and I saw that my tattoo was no longer a static image. The sand, which was now purple, had all shifted into the top portion of the hourglass and was very slowly trickling through to the bottom. He’d made my tattoo a real timepiece. It looked pretty cool.

‘When the last of the sands fall to the bottom your time will be up and you will return here. If you do not have the Ambrotos Dagger then you will not enjoy your time here. Which will be forever.’

‘This wasn’t part of the deal,’ I protested, holding my wrist out for him to remove the spell.

‘Good luck, Eddie Lancaster. See you soon.’ He said and then shoved me through the window.

Preorder Undead Warlock now and read the rest as soon as it hits Amazon on July 23rd.

Growing Stronger

I’ve been thinking about how I’ve grown as a writer since I wrote Warlock For Hire. There are things that I did back then that I wouldn’t do now. One thing is the scenes I added about Doris and Gavin. Those scenes were purely for comic value and add absolutely nothing to the story. Readers have enjoyed those scenes and nobody has ever complained about them, but they don’t need to be in the book. I think everything else in that book is quite tight in regards to the plot. They add a bit of flavour to Eddie’s life, I guess, so they’re doing no harm by being in there.

These scenes with Doris and Gavin feature in the first three books, but you can see I’ve learned a lesson as early as the second book, Warlock Wanted. In this book the D and G scenes lead to a conversation that actually helps Eddie figure out what is happening to his friends.

Something else I used to do in my earlier days as a writer was something that the Game of Thrones writers tend to be doing in season 8. Having things happen for shock value. Is a reader, or viewer, I do like to be shocked by something that happens, but that shock has to be earned and it has to make sense. Something should only happen if it serves the story. I don’t think I knew that in my early books. The Eddie Lancaster books are fairly safe, but the Cedarstone Chronicles I think did suffer from unnecessary shocks.

My skills have developed a lot since I started out with my first book, Cursed, and they will continue to develop more. At least I hope they will. When I started writing about Eddie I made sure that my writing was a lot tighter and neater than when I wrote the Cedarstone Chronicles. And now that I’m preparing the Jacob Graves series (more on that later) I want to make sure I carry some of the lessons I learned from Eddie to this new project.

Plot Twist!

I was doing a bit of research on angel this week because angels feature in the latest Eddie Lancaster book, Undead Warlock. I was reading up about Lucifer, first from holy texts, then his portrayal in various fictions. I came across the plot of a movie that Lucifer is in and could not believe what I read.

The ending of this film had a remarkably similar plot to the ending of my book.

Naturally, this made me sit up. I had been lying down, you see. I sat for a good few minutes trying to figure out how to proceed. Should I just pretend I hadn’t read the summary? If the plots were that close then people might accuse me of plagiarism whether I’d read this article or not.

I decided to watch the film and see how close they really were and then decide what to do. So, the following day I watched the film and, let me tell you, it was boring. It was rated a 7 or higher by IMDb which made me think it would be good. I suppose some people must’ve enjoyed it, but I did not. I had to wait right until the end too because that was the only bit that was similar to mine. It was a fairly long film too.

It turned out that my ending and the film’s ending were very close. My options were to rewrite my plot, and bear in mind that I’m about 40,000 words into this book too. Or, I could ignore this film and carry on anyway. After all, I hadn’t stolen the idea, I hadn’t even heard about this film’s plot until after mine had been written. if anything, the film copied me in advance.

I mulled it over for a few hours and came to a decision. The majority of my story is very different from the story of the film. The part that is similar makes up a very small portion of the tale. And it wasn’t copied because I hadn’t seen this film. So, I’ve decided to lave my books as it is. The elements are very close, but not the same. I’m not going to name the film because that would give away part of the plot for my book. Let’s just hope I don’t get accused of copying the film that shall not be named in the reviews!