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. 

‘Jake…’

‘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.’ 

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.

Warlock in Hiding

Chapter One

I stood up from my table, still wiping my mouth with the napkin and began walking through the packed Indian restaurant having just devoured a delicious chicken tikka masala. My favourite of the curries.

‘Sir! Excuse me! Excuse me, sir!’ the very un-Indian waiter called from behind me. I walked on, hoping I could get out before he caught up to me, but I could hear him closing the gap between us. His hand landed on my shoulder and I stopped walking reluctantly.

‘No, no, no,’ I said, shaking my head as I turned to face him. ‘We don’t touch.’ I pushed his hand off my shoulder and fixed him with a reprimanding look.

‘You have not paid your bill,’ he said, looking flustered as he looked up at me. I’m not a tall guy, 5’9, or thereabout, but this guy was really short.

‘Yeah, this one’s on the house,’ I informed him. I took in the look of bewilderment on his thin, hairless face before I turned and once again made my way towards the door. The miniature waiter must’ve made some sort of signal because the security guard moved away from the door and headed for me. This guy was not so short. He dwarfed me in both height and width. As he approached it was like a shadow had fallen over me. Now I was the one craning my head up to look into his bulbous face, topped with thick curly hair.

‘Problem?’ he said, not to me, but to the waiter behind me.

‘He has not paid his bill,’ said the waiter, a hint of smugness now in his voice. I resented that. the urge to hurt him crept up within me and I had to force it back down.

‘As I explained to this little fellow,’ I said, in my most restrained voice, which probably wasn’t that restrained at all. ‘My meal was on the house. You can check with the owner.’ Usually, when I tried this they’d go and check with the owner allowing me time to get away. Sometimes they even took my word for it. Other times, more than I would care to admit, it did not work and I had to resort to other methods. This was one of those times.

‘I am the owner,’ said the minute waiter.

‘Ah,’ I said, smiling awkwardly at the bloke blocking my exit. ‘Well, that complicates things.’ Only a tad, though. I raised my hand to the bouncer’s face, snapped my fingers and released a burst of magic that sent him to sleep. The great mountain of a man fell like an avalanche. As his body crashed to the floor the plates on the nearby table jolted up in the air and clattered back down again. Curry spilled over the green tablecloth. 

‘Goodness gosh!’ shouted the waiter, leaping away from me. I turned to face him, still fighting the urge to hurt him for that slither of smugness in his tone before. I can be a petty guy sometimes. Ah hell, why resist it? I thought.

I flicked my wrist and sent him cartwheeling into the table behind him. The table flipped overtaking him with it. I saw him become tangled within the table cloth and then land in a heap, dishes falling him around him. Broken poppadoms fell down like a shower of confetti. I let out a contented sigh and then strode through the restaurant, very aware of all the stunned faces staring up at me from the tables around the room. All these lucky people had come out for a meal and got some free entertainment too.

As I approached the doors they burst inwards and a man dressed all in black charged in. Right behind him, two men gave chase. One of them lunged through the air, grabbed the man in black’s legs and tackled him to the ground. The other man leaped on top of him to ensure he didn’t get away. Diners and staff were screaming, and people were darting about to get clear of the brawl that was now going on in the middle of the restaurant. I was no longer the centre of everyone’s attention.

I watched with interest as they scuffled. There was something about all three of them that wasn’t quite right, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. They just looked odd. As I watched I realised it wasn’t all of them. The man in black looked perfectly fine but the two chasing him weren’t men at all. They both had pointy ears which angled up towards the top of their heads. Their skin was milky and every now and then when the light fell on them it seemed to shimmer.

As they scuffled a small velvet bag slipped from the man in black’s pocket and landed directly at my feet. I looked about but nobody else seemed to have noticed. I opened my hand and summoned the bag to me. It shot up from the floor and I closed my fingers around it. Whatever was inside was heavy. Was this what they were fighting over?

The man in black managed to fight his way up and shot off across the restaurant and through the kitchen doors before they could stop him. The other two bolted after him without a moment’s hesitation.

None of them had noticed that I now had the thing they were almost certainly fighting over. I contemplated going after them. Then I decided not to. If they were going to be so careless with whatever was in the bag then it was their own fault they’d lost it. Besides, it was obviously valuable if they were willing to fight in the middle of a restaurant over it.

I left through the front doors and as I walked down the chilly street I sent a little warming magic through my body. The January chill faded away quickly. I couldn’t wait until I got back to the place that currently served as home to see what was in the bag. I held out my palm and tipped the contents of the bag out. A heavy ruby fell into my palm. It was at least half the size of my palm and cut into an octagon. The ruby was rimmed with gold and although I didn’t know much about jewellery, I somehow knew that it was solid gold. Light from the streetlamp hit the ruby and mesmerising red strands of light cascaded off it in all directions. It was like have some sort of laser light display in the palm of my hand. Strands of liquid gold shot out of the ruby, one on each of its edges. They ran across my palms, through my fingers and down the base of my hand. They twisted around to the back where they all connected on the back of my hand. The gold solidified until it was as solid as the border of the ruby itself. Then the ruby began to glow. As the strange hand decoration shone I felt a small burst of energy pulse through me. It started up my arm and then spread through my whole body. It was like a burst of adrenaline. I felt lighter but stronger.

The thing still looked ridiculous wrapped around my hand like a cross between a glove and a bracelet. It was entirely impractical. I reached out to remove it, not that there was any clasp, but then I stopped, my fingers grazing the bands. It didn’t look that bad, and it made me feel so… there was no word for the feeling it imbued me with. Marvellous, fantastic, powerful, divine. None of them was sufficient.

I no longer wanted to go home. I wasn’t the least bit tired. No. I wanted to stay out. I walked down the road until I came to The Clairville pub. I didn’t usually frequent bars, not being much of a drinker, but I was feeling like it now. I pushed open the door and strode in like I’d been there a hundred times before. I’d actually never been there before. The building used to be a supermarket so it was a big pub. It was fairly busy for a Wednesday night, not that I knew how busy pubs usually were on any night of the week. Nobody batted an eyelid at my arrival. I liked it that way. I walked up to the bar and the serving girl came right over.

‘What can I get ya?’ she said in a heavy Scouse accent. That was the problem with living in Wallasey, it was right across the river from Liverpool so everyone was Scouse. The accent was a bit cute at first, on girls anyway, but after a month or two of not understanding what anybody was saying it quickly grew annoying. On this occasion, I understood her perfectly. It was a combination of a simple, obvious phrase and the fact that I was getting used to the grubby accent. I’m a Southerner, part of being from the South is getting to look down on those from the North.

Any sane person would wonder why I chose to live in a place I obviously did not like. Well, the reason is that nobody would ever expect me to live here. Therefore any unsavoury characters who might be looking for me would never bother looking in Wallasey. Most people have never even heard of the place, anyway. Not unless they’re from the area, and I can hand on my heart say that I did not know anybody from the area.

‘Just a coke please,’ I told her.

‘A coke?’ she repeated, looking at me with disdain. She obviously did not approve of my choice of beverage.

‘Is that a problem?’ I asked, adding a little attitude. I don’t like to be judged. Especially not for something so trivial.

‘No. Most lads that aren’t kids tend not to drink pop in a pub.’ Pop was one of those annoying Northern things. By pop, she meant a fizzy drink. In the local bakery, they called bread rolls batches. That annoyed me to no end. I could just about accept bap, but batch was going way too far. I ignored her comment and resisted the urge to throw one of the nearby dirty glasses at her. She poured me a pint of coke and then slammed the glass down on the bar hard enough to send a fair amount of the fizzy brown stuff spilling onto the side. I wondered what I’d done to deserve that. She was the one being rude.

‘Two quid,’ she said and held out her hand. now it was time for me to have some fun. I don’t have a job. I move around from town to town a lot, so finding work isn’t all that easy. Also, I don’t want to work. When you’ve got magic you don’t have to. My trick was to take what I wanted and if anybody protested I hit them with a sleeping spell as I did in the restaurant. Basically, I steal things. In this situation, I felt fully justified in not paying my bill.

‘I’ll be drinking for free,’ I told her with a small smile. I raised my hand ready to put her to sleep and the ruby in my palm glowed richly, casting my hand in warm red light. Her eyes, which had been annoyed, calmed down and glazed over.

‘Alright then, pal,’ she said and then she turned and walked away. The ruby stopped glowing and I stared at the palm of my hand in wonder. I understood why those three men had been fighting over this hideous piece of jewellery. I’d stumbled upon a stone that gave me mind control. Fucking fantastic.

 


Chapter Two

I took my drink to a circular booth on the far side of the pub. The glass was sticky where the horrendous barmaid had slammed it down and spilled the drink. If there’s one thing I do not like it’s sticky fingers.

There were few people nearby so I would have some privacy. I didn’t plan on doing anything that required privacy I just preferred to stay out of the way. I slid into the booth and sipped my free Coke only to discover it was a Pepsi. Anybody who says Pepsi is as good is a liar, and anybody who says it’s better ought to be shot.

I wasn’t sitting for long before a woman with a striking resemblance to an otter came over. ‘Booths are for groups not for loners,’ she said in a crass voice that was far too loud. The pub was not busy enough to warrant such shouting.

‘I’m not hard of hearing,’ I told her. I made sure my voice was incredibly low to emphasise the lack of a need to shout.

‘Whatever. Just move so me and my friends can sit down.’ There was nobody near her which made me wonder which friends she was referring to.

‘I find it hard to believe that you have even a single friend,’ I told her. I took a long slurp of my Pepsi to celebrate my witty retort. She slapped both her palms on the table and leaned in close.

‘If you’re on your own you have to leave!’ I stared up at her, trying to think of a suitable spell to punish her with. I could set her hair on fire. Could make her shit herself, but then I’d have to put up with the smell. Could turn her temporarily blind. I liked that one. The fear on her face would be compensation enough for her incredible rudeness. I never got to put my plan into motion because somebody else came to my aide.

‘He’s not alone,’ a voice as rich as chocolate said. The woman and I both looked over at the newcomer. Her eyes grew so wide I thought they’d fall right out of their sockets. She took a huge step back. To be fair I was pretty shocked too. The man who’d spoken was about seven feet tall. He had long, black, wavy hair that hung around his dark skin like a mane. A craggy black beard dangled beneath his chin, tied with a band halfway down. His blue eyes were so bright in contrast to everything else that they practically glowed. He was wearing a long black trench coat and a heavy pair of Doctor Martens that looked like they could crush a skull. The guy looked like he could take on the whole pub and win. In a word he was hench.

‘He’s with me,’ the guy finished in his deep booming voice.

‘Oh, alright then,’ the woman said meekly before scurrying away. Then the giant turned his shiny blue eyes on me.

‘Mind if I join you?’ he asked. He didn’t have a Scouse accent so he wasn’t from around here. I wasn’t really sure what it was. It was English for sure, but there was also a tinge of American somehow.

‘Dare I refuse?’ I said and he cracked a small smile.

‘You probably shouldn’t.’ He slid in opposite me and even sitting down he still loomed over me. I had no idea what the guy wanted but I didn’t get the sense I was in any danger from him. Something about him just felt calming which was a complete juxtaposition to his size. It wasn’t like I needed to be afraid. I had magic and a hand bracelet that could make him do whatever I wanted.

‘What can I do for you?’ I asked him.

‘Why don’t you start by telling me who you are?’ I usually preferred to keep my identity to myself. If you didn’t need to know who I was then you didn’t get to. I’m a secretive guy and there were people looking for me who I’d rather not be found by. But there was something about this big fellow’s calm demeanour that just made me want to tell him.

‘I’m Eddie Lancaster,’ I said. He made a small noise in his throat and nodded his head thoughtfully.

‘Okay, Eddie Lancaster, what is a Southern warlock doing this far north?’

‘How do you know I’m a warlock?’ I asked him. My suspicion broke through the calmness and it was right then that I realised it was a spell he’d been casting. He was talented to cast a spell without giving away even the slightest sign of it, but now the spell was disrupted it would not work any longer. It was a shame because I was enjoying that sense of serenity. Now I was just on edge.

‘I can tell that you’re a warlock because I can sense your magic and I can sense that it doesn’t belong to you,’ he said judgmentally.

There were many different types of sorcerer. Warlocks were the only ones born without magic. Nobody was actually born a warlock. People became warlocks when they murdered a sorcerer and stole his magic. That minor detail made other sorcerers look down on them.

‘Before you get all judgy, I’m not a typical warlock. I’m natural,’ I explained, enjoying the look of confusion that passed over his face.

‘Forgive me, Eddie Lancaster, but I’ve never heard of a natural warlock.’ I could feel him trying to calm me with his spell again. It was like an invisible, snug blanket was falling over me. I waved my hand and pushed my own magic at the spell to deflect it. As I did I saw his eyes lock on the hand bracelet I was wearing.

‘I was born with the ability to siphon magic out of people. So I don’t need to kill people to steal their magic,’ I told him.

‘But you still steal it.’ He raised one bushy eyebrow at me. I shrugged.

‘Only when I have to.’ I’d only ever stolen magic from people who tried to use their magic against me. Or when I was forced to do so. Stealing magic wasn’t easy. I had to be able to overpower the other sorcerer which takes a lot of strength — unless they’re unconscious.

‘Hmmm,’ he said. He stroked his beard slowly.

‘So what’s your name? Or shall I just call you black Gandalf?’ I asked.

He let out a small chuckle. ‘Black Gandalf?’ he repeated ruminatively.

‘Well you’re tall, black, you have a long beard and you are some kind of sorcerer.’

‘A wizard in fact,’ he said. Wizards were one of the strongest types of sorcerer there was. Contrary to their representation in the media, wizards could be male or female, just like witches. Witches were weaker sorcerers. But that’s enough info-dumping for now. The important takeaway was that if this guy wanted a fight he would win. ‘You didn’t tell me what you’re doing up here?’

‘I just fancied a change of scenery. This place seemed like a nice fit.’

‘Wallasey isn’t a nice fit for anybody. Not even the people born here.’ He was not wrong.

‘Well I like it,’ I lied. ‘You still didn’t tell me your name.’

‘My name is Zeke.’ He reached into one of his pockets and pulled out a can of Dr Pepper. He pulled open the ring pull and then tipped the can down his throat. I watched as he glugged the entire contents of the container down without even stopping to take a breath. He then crushed the item in his hand and dropped it on the table. If I were a school kid that would have been intimidating.

‘I don’t think you’re supposed to bring your own drinks in here,’ I told him, at a loss for anything else to say. I mean, who carried cans of drink around in their pockets? And who downed an entire can like that? His response was a tremendous belch that went on for an age. He didn’t even look away and his hot breath washed over my face like a putrid breeze. When he finished we both sat still, letting the silence hang over us. A couple of people had even looked over at the commotion that had come from Zeke’s mouth.

‘Grim,’ I said at last.

‘Listen, Eddie,’ he said, pulling another can from the same pocket. I peered over the table to try and see how deep his pocket was. It was like Mary Poppins’ bag. He placed the can on the table without opening it. ‘That fancy piece of bling you’re wearing on your hand does not belong to you.’

I turned my hand palm up so we could both see the ruby. ‘So this is what you’re here for.’ I hadn’t seen him at the restaurant but I guessed he must have been about somewhere.

‘Indeed I am. Witnesses saw you taking a velvet bag from the restaurant where all the commotion went down, and I tracked you here.’

‘That would be impressive if I’d walked further than three doors down the road,’ I said. I took a gulp of my drink and then let out a burp that was pitiful in comparison to what he’d just let out. He had the grace not to say anything.

‘Do you even know what that is?’ he asked me.

‘A mind control hand bracelet.’

He snorted. ‘Ignorance at its finest. That is The Kraticle.’

‘Sounds like a sea monster,’ I said, shaking my head. I’d never heard of it.

‘It is a legendary piece of jewellery and one of the Crown Jewels of the fay monarchy.’

‘Fay as in fairies?’ I couldn’t believe that I was wearing a crown jewel belonging to the fairy king. 

‘Yes. The fay is the highest of all the fairy races. The Kraticle was created and gifted to the fay king centuries ago by Kratos.’

‘The Greek God Kratos?’ This was getting interesting now.

‘Well, he wasn’t really a god. But yes, him. It gives the wearer increased powers. Physical, magical and mental. In short, it gives a monarch the power to rule. It was stolen recently and I have been tasked with finding it, which I have now done. I need you to give it back so I can return it to its rightful owner. Before things get out of hand.’ Zeke held out his hand as if that meagre speech had been enough to convince me.

‘I’ve got a better idea. Why don’t you go away and never come back?’ I said. The ruby in my palm glowed as I exerted my new, irresistible will.

Zeke shook his head slowly. ‘That won’t work on me.’

‘Why?’ I demanded, I stared down at the important jewel in frustration.

Zeke did not answer my question. ’The fay king isn’t the only one who wants it, Eddie. Others are looking for it. They aren’t as reasonable as me and they aren’t human. If they catch up to you they will skin you alive. If they’re feeling benevolent.’

‘I think we have different understandings of the word benevolent.’

‘Be that as it may—’ I was tired of him now and knew I needed to get away. Since the Kraticle wasn’t going to help me I had to rely on my own magic, which did feel considerably stronger, no doubt due to the royal garment wrapped around my hand. I concentrated on his can of Dr Pepper, sending my magic to the bubbly fluid within. The drink burst through the can, forcing the metal to explode. The liquid flew up into Zeke’s face. Whilst he was distracted I jumped to my feet and shot out of the pub like a dog that’s nicked a string of sausages. As I grabbed the door I saw Zeke getting to his feet, Dr Pepper dripping from his hair and beard. I charged outside and took off down the street as fast as my legs could carry me, which with the support of the Kraticle was pretty fucking fast.

 


Chapter Three

I ran fast and far. I took every turn I came to trying to put as much distance between myself and Zeke as possible. There was no way I was going to give up a weapon like The Kraticle. This thing could protect me from anything. I had to figure out how it worked so I could avoid more embarrassing incidents like that one with Zeke.

I remembered that he’d said he’d tracked me. I wasn’t sure if he meant he’d followed me or if he’d used magic somehow, but I needed to mask my location from him. That meant a spell. It would take a more complicated spell than the sleeping spells, or the one I used to fizz up his Dr Pepper. I looked around to get my bearings and then headed in the direction of Central Park. I needed dirt.

Annoyingly, there were still people in Central Park, even at this time of night. Teenagers were lurking around the playing area. Young boys seeing how far they could get with the girls before they were told to stop. I knew their game, I was their age once. Even if I didn’t have a conventional childhood, or anything even close to a normal one. Since the age of thirteen, I was either in captivity or in hiding. Not exactly conducive to scoring with girls.

I walked past the kids who didn’t even seem to notice me. They were too occupied with getting their ends away. I walked through the park until I found a quiet area, surrounded by trees. I knelt down with only the moonlight to help me see. I could have conjured a light but I didn’t want to draw attention from the teenagers, or anybody else. I didn’t know how close Black Gandalf was. I rolled up the sleeve of my jacket to expose my left forearm and then shoved the forefinger of my other hand into the dirt. Magic is a natural phenomenon and so nature is naturally imbued with the stuff. A good sorcerer knows how to tap into it. I was a good sorcerer. I had a good teacher. Even if she was batshit crazy and totally evil.

I drew out the runic symbol for Perth - not to be confused with the city in Australia. Symbols held power. Runic symbols could be used for many different purposes. As I drew this one I focused on the power of concealment, willing the spell into place. As I drew a circle around the symbol on my arm I felt a snapping in the air around me as the spell took hold. The dirt melded into my skin, losing it’s muddy quality and looking more like a faded tattoo. I brushed at it with my fingers but it didn’t budge. It didn’t even feel like there was anything there, just skin. Zeke wouldn’t be able to track me with magic now. Not unless he had the strength and skill to overpower my spell. Considering he was a wizard it was possible. If he did catch up with me again I’d have to find a more forceful way to tell him to sod off than exploding a fizzy drink over him.

I heard movement in the trees and stood up. No way had Zeke found me already. It was probably the teenagers. If they were looking for trouble they were about to get one hell of a headache.

‘Whoever is in there better come out before I turn those trees into an inferno!’ I shouted. It wasn’t an idle threat. Although I did use nature when I needed to I had no respect for it. There wasn’t much I did have respect for. I’m kind of a dick. You’ll get used to that.

It was not the teenagers. A tall thin man with odd skin came out. Odd skin was the best way to describe it. It was a pale white with a sort of silver tinge to it. When he stepped into the moonlight it caused his flesh to shimmer in an oddly hypnotic way. When he stood in the dark his skin looked normal. He had curly, fair hair that stopped just above his ears and bounced when he walked. His ears were what gave him away the most. The tips pointed up in true Elven fashion. He was dressed in a black suit that fit too well to be off the peg. His shirt was open without a tie. As he neared I saw that his eyes were gold. I don’t mean a light shade of brown that looked golden, they were actually golden. They shone like the metal that now clung to my right hand. He stopped a few feet in front of me. He was not tall and had to look up at me ever so slightly to meet my gaze. I wasn’t tall either, only 5”9, so this was new to me.

‘That belongs to me,’ he said, pointing at my hand. Now that he was close I saw that the suit was much finer than I’d realised. It was decorated with a swirling pattern of a glossier black than the base material. He had what looked like solid gold cuff links on his shirt too. This guy was fancy.

‘This?’ I held up my hand to show him the Kraticle. His pupils dilated and locked onto the jewel.

‘Yes,’ he said. His voice was high and melodic, yet infused with a vicious twang. ‘Hand it over, human.’

‘Rude,’ I said. You can’t just go around referring to people by their race. It’s not polite. I’m not exactly the politest of people, but I dislike it when I’m on the receiving end of the rudeness.

‘Give me The Kraticle.’ He held out his hand demandingly.

‘Are you the fairy king then?’ I asked him. Zeke had said the item belonged to the fairy king so if this guy was claiming it was his then he must be the fairy king. ‘I mean, you look fancy with your suit and all, but I wouldn’t say you look kingly.’ His nose wrinkled in annoyance and his shiny eyes narrowed.

‘I am Prince Morgil, brother to the Fay King. This attire was created for my foray among your kind. When I am at home I look far more regal. Hand over the Kraticle or face my wrath,’ he warned. His lips curled back to reveal razor sharp teeth.

‘I’m not into biting,’ I told him. ‘Go back to where you came from,’ I ordered him, holding up The Kraticle for emphasis. The Prince sneered at me.

‘Did you truly believe you could command me with my family’s heirloom?’ I really wasn’t getting the hang of this magic jewellery at all. The first time I’d used it must have been a fluke. ‘It only allows you to command those of your own species.’

‘You know, this thing doesn’t work so well. However, it does give my own magic a healthy boost so I think I’ll hang on to it. Why don’t you run along before I burn you alive and eat your roasted innards?’ For the record, I’d never burned anyone alive, nor eaten their innards, but I thought it was a nifty threat to make. I had no intention of eating any part of him. 

‘Eating fay innards is a privilege only given to upper classes. You would never be given such an honour. And you would never be able to burn me alive, even with the power of The Kraticle.’ He looked up at the moon and let out a heavy sigh. ‘I grow tired of this palaver. Hand over my property or I shall kill you where you stand.’

I looked at The Kraticle again, trying to decide how to proceed. Would the Kraticle even allow me to attack its rightful owner? Only one way to find out. I flicked my hand out, stretching my fingers his way and released a massive blast of magic. It was bigger than I’d intended, the hand bracelet was really amplifying my power. My arm shuddered as the magic was expelled. An invisible force shot through the air and whacked Prince Morgil right in the chest. He shrieked in pain as he was lifted up into the air and tossed backward towards the trees. There was an odd tearing sound and then two great wings protruded from his back and halted his momentum. He hung in the air majestically, gazing down on me. I stared up in wonder at the sight before me. Each wing spanned about three feet and was in a jagged spike design. They were translucent black with faint silver swirls that dazzled in the moonlight.

‘Wow, you really are a fairy,’ I said in amazement. I’d never seen a fairy before. My mentor had liked to catch magical creatures but true fairies were rare to come across. There were many different types of fairy, but Morgil was the highest order of fairy, the fay. The type you find in kids stories. Not all fairies were as pretty. My mentor had kept several unattractive species of fairy.

‘I’m a fay!’ Morgil screamed at me. Apparently not happy with the broader fairy term. He held out his hand and wiggled his fingers at me. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to cast a spell or if he was making some sort of crude fairy gesture at me. I was about to ask him when the answer become apparent. I felt a sharp drop beneath me and looked down to see that the grass had softened and was now devouring me. My ankles had already disappeared. I pulled against it but I could not free my legs.

‘My kind have a natural affinity with nature. Something your race could never comprehend,’ he boasted from above me.

‘No, maybe not,’ I said, still struggling against the earth. ‘But my kind do have a certain affinity for destruction.’ I opened my hand and conjured a ball of blazing fire. ‘Now, I’m just guessing here, but I’m pretty sure you fairy folk hate it when nature gets hurt. Release me or I’ll burn every tree in this park.’

‘Oh, please. You read too many stories, human,’ he said derisively. Maybe he didn’t care, or maybe he was bluffing. Maybe he thought I wouldn’t really burn the woods down. He didn’t know me. Eddie Lancaster did not bluff. Ever.

‘Stop!’ said an incredibly commanding voice. There was no magic in the shout but I stopped all the same. We both turned to see who had shouted and saw Zeke striding across the park towards us, his coat billowing behind him in the wind. He looked pretty awesome. I needed to get a long coat. And grow a few feet. I was going to ignore him but with a mere glance, he extinguished my fire spell as if he’d tossed water over my hand. At the same time, the mud stopped eating my legs, for which I was thankful. It did not release me, however.

‘Prince Morgil,’ he said to the fay. ‘Welcome to Wallasey.’

‘Thank you for the courtesy,’ he replied. His wings fluttered as he lowered to the ground. ‘I expected to see you sooner or later, Zeke.’

‘Can you let me out of the earth?’ I asked. It was like they’d both forgotten me.

‘I wouldn’t advise it,’ Zeke said to the fairy. ‘He’ll just pull some cheap trick and run away.’

‘I wasn’t going to release him. He’s impertinent and annoying. I intend to bury him beneath the earth as soon as I have what is mine.’ I did not like the sound of that.

‘Except it isn’t yours, and I can’t let you take it,’ said Zeke.

‘I’d like to know how you plan to stop me?’ Morgil was a midget compared to Zeke. He was almost half the wizard’s size, so seeing him talk with such confidence was more than a little amusing. The small snigger that escaped my mouth drew their attention.

‘Aren’t you two on the same side? You work for his family, right?’ I said. I shouldn’t really have been uniting them against me, but the smart-Alec inside couldn’t be controlled.

Zeke shook his head and Morgil made a serpentine hissing sound that must have been laughter. ‘Who do you think stole The Kraticle in the first place?’ Zeke asked, pointing a long finger at the fairy.

‘Oh!’ I said as I caught up. ‘Well, you must be wanted for treason then?’ I asked Morgil.

‘That he is,’ replied the wizard. He turned back to the fairy. ‘Speaking of which, your brother has dispatched a team to hunt you down and take you back to his court to stand trial. They’re probably closing in around you now.’

‘There is nobody in my brother’s kingdom with enough skill to subdue me and we both know they can’t kill me.’

‘He hasn’t dispatched a team of your own kind. If that doesn’t scare you then you should know that after your bungled attempt to sell The Kraticle, your buyer is now hunting for you too. She wants you dead. Unless you can provide the item before the assassins catch you.’

‘I am not scared of an elf,’ Morgil said, this time betrayed by his voice which was barely more than a whisper. I adjusted my leg and found that I was no longer trapped. Tentatively, I raised one leg and it slid easily out of the mud.

‘Enemies on every side. Do you think you’ll be able to fight both me and him?’ He gestured my way. ‘Even if you do kill us both, by the time you’ve managed it one of the others will have found you. Who would you rather get caught by, the elves or your brother's hunters?’

Morgil looked about shiftily, his brain working overtime to figure out a solution to his problem. I stood as still as possible, like a child trying to win at musical statues. I called on my magic, summoning the shadows to me, bending them to my will. I felt my spell taking effect. I saw the shadows of the night crawling in, encompassing me, and then with the subtlest of shifts, I was gone. Zeke’s eyes widened. Morgil stared at me with mild annoyance. I hadn’t actually moved, they just couldn’t see me. The shadows were cloaking me. Combined with the spell on my arm it should suffice for me to make my escape.

I backed away slowly, worried that any sudden movements might reveal my position. Zeke was still staring at the place I had been standing.

‘Humans can’t teleport, can they?’ Morgil demanded, turning to Zeke. The wizard shushed him angrily, still focussing on me. Then he tossed at a fireball right at me. I sidestepped the attack but my position was uncovered. Before Zeke or Morgil had a chance to react four people came running out of the forest and then there were spells flying in every direction. That was my cue to leave. So I ran.

Zeke the Wizard (Warlock in Hiding Extract)

I took my drink to a circular booth on the far side of the pub. There were few people nearby so I would have some privacy. I didn’t plan on doing anything that required privacy I just preferred to stay out of the way. I slid into the booth and sipped my free Coke only to discover it was a Pepsi. Anybody who says Pepsi is just as good is a liar, and anybody who says it’s better ought to be shot.

I wasn’t sitting for long before a woman with a striking resemblance to an otter came over. ‘Booths are for groups, not loners,’ she said in a crass voice that was far too loud. The pub was not busy enough to warrant such shouting.

‘I’m not hard of hearing,’ I told her. I made sure my voice was incredibly low to emphasise the lack of a need to shout.

‘Whatever. Just move so me and my friends can sit down.’ There was nobody near her which made me wonder which friends she was referring to.

‘I find it hard to believe that you have even a single friend,’ I told her. I took a long slurp of my Pepsi to celebrate my witty retort. She slapped both her palms on the table and leaned in close.

‘If you’re on your own you have to leave!’ I stared up at her, trying to think of a suitable spell to punish her with. I could set her hair on fire. Could make her shit herself, but then I’d have to put up with the smell. Could turn her temporarily blind. I liked that one. The fear on her face would be compensation enough for her incredible rudeness. I never got to put my plan into motion because somebody else came to my aide.

‘He’s not alone,’ a voice as rich as chocolate said. The woman and I both looked over at the newcomer. Her eyes grew so wide I thought they’d fall right out of their sockets. She took a huge step back. To be fair I was pretty shocked too. The man who’d spoken was about seven feet tall. He had long, black, wavy hair that hung around his dark skin like a mane. A craggy black beard dangled beneath his chin, tied with a band halfway down. His blue eyes were so bright in contrast to everything else that they practically glowed. He was dressed in a long black trench coat and a heavy pair of Doctor Martens that looked like they could crush a skull. The guy looked like he could take on the whole pub and win. In a word he was hench.

‘He’s with me,’ the guy finished in his deep booming voice.

‘Oh, alright then,’ the woman said meekly before scurrying away. Then the giant turned his shiny blue eyes on me.

‘Mind if I join you?’ he asked. He didn’t have a Scouse accent so he wasn’t from around here. I wasn’t really sure what it was. It was English for sure, but there was also a tinge of American somehow.

‘Dare I refuse?’ I said back and he cracked a small smile.

‘You probably shouldn’t.’ He slid in opposite me and even sitting down he still loomed over me. I had no idea what the guy wanted but I didn’t get the sense I was in any danger from him. Something about him just felt calming which was a complete juxtaposition to his size. It wasn’t like I needed to be afraid. I had magic and a hand bracelet that could make him do whatever I wanted.

‘What can I do for you?’ I asked him.

‘Why don’t you start by telling me who are?’ I usually preferred to keep my identity to myself. If you didn’t need to know who I was then you didn’t get to. I’m a secretive guy and there were people looking for me who I’d rather not be found by. But there was something about this big fellow’s calm demeanour that just made me want to tell him.

‘I’m Eddie Lancaster,’ I said. He made a small noise in his throat and nodded his head thoughtfully.

‘Okay, Eddie Lancaster, what is a Southern warlock doing this far north?’

‘How do you know I’m a warlock?’ I asked him. My suspicion broke through the calmness and it was right then that I realised it was a spell he’d been casting. He was talented to cast a spell without giving away even the slightest sign but now the spell was disrupted it would not work any longer. It was a shame because I was enjoying that sense of serenity. Now I was just on edge.

‘I can tell that you’re a warlock because I can sense your magic and I can sense that it doesn’t belong to you,’ he said judgmentally.

There were many different types of sorcerer. Warlocks were the only ones born without magic. Nobody was actually born a warlock. Non-magical humans and other sorcerers became warlocks when they murdered a sorcerer and stole his magic. That minor detail made other sorcerers look down on them.

‘Before you get all judgey, I’m not a typical warlock. I’m natural,’ I explained, enjoying the look of confusion that passed over his face.

‘Forgive me, Eddie Lancaster, but I’ve never heard of a natural warlock.’ I could feel him trying to calm me with his spell again. It was like an invisible, snug blanket was falling over me. I waved my hand and pushed my own magic at the spell to deflect it. As I did I saw his eyes lock on the hand bracelet I was wearing.

‘I was born with the ability to siphon magic out of people. So I don’t need to kill people to steal their magic,’ I told him.

‘But you still steal it.’ He raised one bushy eyebrow at me. I shrugged.

‘Only when I have to.’ I’d only ever stolen magic from people who tried to use their magic against me. Or when I was forced to. Stealing magic wasn’t easy. I had to be able to overpower the other sorcerer which takes a lot of strength — unless they’re unconscious.

‘Hmmm,’ he said. He ran his fingers along his beard slowly.

‘So what’s your name? Or shall I just call you black Gandalf?’ I asked.

He let out a small chuckle. ‘Black Gandalf,’ he repeated ruminatively. ‘I like that. Not sure if it’s racist though.’

‘Why would it be racist? You are black and you are some sort of sorcerer.’

‘A wizard in fact,’ he said. Wizards were one of the strongest type of sorcerer there was. Contrary to their representation in the media wizards could be male or female, just like witches. Witches were weaker sorcerers. But that’s enough info-dumping for now. The important takeaway was that if this guy wanted a fight he would win. ‘You didn’t tell me what you’re doing up here?’

‘I just fancied a change of scenery. This place seemed like a nice fit.’

‘Wallasey isn’t a nice fit for anybody. Not even the people born here.’

‘Well I like it,’ I lied. ‘You still didn’t tell me your name.’

‘My name is Zeke.’ He reached into one of his pockets and pulled out a can of Dr Pepper. He pulled open the ring pull and then tipped the can down his throat. I watched as he glugged the entire contents of the container down without even stopping to take a breath. He then crushed the item in his hand and dropped it on the table. If I were a school kid that would have been intimidating.

‘I don’t think you’re supposed to bring your own beverages in here,’ I told him, at a loss for anything else to say. I mean, who carried cans of drink around in their pockets? And who downed an entire can like that? His response was a tremendous belch that went on for an age. He didn’t even look way and his hot breath washed over my face like a putrid breeze. When he was finished we both sat still, letting the silence hang over us. A couple of people had even looked over at the commotion that had come from Zeke’s mouth.

‘Grim,’ I said at last.

‘Listen, Eddie,’ he said, pulling another can from the same pocket. I peered over the table to try and see how deep his pocket was. It was like Mary Poppins’ bag. He placed the can on the table without opening it. ‘That fancy piece you’re wearing on your hand does not belong to you.’

I turned my hand palm up so we could both see the ruby. ‘So this is what you’re here for.’ I hadn’t seen him at the restaurant but I guessed he must have been about somewhere.

‘Indeed I am. Witnesses saw you taking a velvet bag from the restaurant where all the commotion went down and I tracked you here.’

‘That would be impressive if I hadn’t only walked down the road,’ I said. I took a gulp of my drink and then let out a burp that was pitiful in comparison to what he’d just let out. He had the grace not to say anything.

‘Do you even know what that is?’ he asked me.

‘A mind control hand bracelet.’

He snorted. ‘Ignorance at its finest. That is The Kraticle.’

‘Sounds like a sea monster,’ I said, shaking my head. I’d never heard of it.

‘It is a legendary piece of jewellery and one of the Crown Jewels of the Fay Monarchy.’

‘Fay as in fairies?’ I couldn’t believe that I was wearing a crown jewel belonging to the fairy king.

‘Yes. It was created by an incredibly powerful being and gifted to the Fay King centuries ago by Kratos.’

‘The Greek God Kratos?’ This was getting interesting now.

‘Well, he wasn’t really a god. But yes, him. It gives the wearer increased powers. Physical, magical and mental. In short, it gives a monarch the power to rule. It was stolen recently and I have been tasked with finding it, which I have now done. I need you to give it back so I can return it to its rightful owner. Before things get out of hand.’ Zeke held out his hand as if that meagre speech had been enough to convince me.

‘I’ve got a better idea. Why don’t you go away and never come back?’ I said. The ruby in my palm glowed as I exerted my new, irresistible will.

Zeke shook his head slowly. ‘That won’t work on me. You don’t know how to use it. The fay king isn’t the only one who wants it, Eddie. Others are looking for it. They aren’t as reasonable as me and they aren’t human. If they catch up to you they will skin you alive. If they’re feeling benevolent.’

‘I think we have different understandings of the word benevolent.’

‘Be that as it may—’ I was tired of him now and knew I needed to get away. Since the Kraticle wasn’t going to help me I had to rely on my own magic, which did feel considerably stronger, no doubt due to the royal garment wrapped around my hand. I concentrated on his can of Dr Pepper, sending my magic to the bubbly fluid within. The drink burst through the can, forcing the metal to explode. The liquid flew up into Zeke’s face. Whilst he was distracted I jumped to my feet and shot out of the pub like a dog that’s nicked a string of sausages. As I grabbed the door I saw Zeke getting to his feet, Dr Pepper dripping from his hair and beard. I charged outside and took off down the street as fast as my legs could carry me, which with the support of the Kraticle was pretty fucking fast.

Intrusion Sample

Jenny knew she had to move. If she sat there any longer then the man who had intruded in her home and attacked her family would get her. He might already know where she was. He could be waiting out in the hallway for her to step out. And when she did…

She didn’t want to think about that. She’d already seen the intruder’s handiwork on her dad. If he’d managed to get her mum and sister too… She closed her eyes as the shudder ran through her. Drops of water leaked through her tightly clenched eyelids and ran down her trembling face. Taking a deep breath, she told herself that it was going to be alright. She just had to leave the room, run across the hall, out of the house, and into her car outside. Once she was safely in her car she’d be able to drive into town and get help. 

But she was sure that she was the only one left. She hadn’t heard anything for so long. Not since the sound of her sister’s screams had filled the house. Her whole family was already dead which meant the intruder could focus solely on her. Escape was impossible. No! She told herself. That kind of thinking would definitely get her killed. 

‘Move or die,’ she whispered to herself. She got moving. On shaking limbs, she turned around and grabbed the door handle. She edged the wood out of its frame slowly. Only the tiniest of creaks sounded, surely not enough to give her away. She peered out through the gap into the hallway and nearly screamed. Her sister, Abigail, was lying against the far wall, one arm was strewn away from her lifeless body, the other hung over her stomach. One eye peeked out from behind her messy brown hair, the other was gone. That whole side of her face had been pulverized into a mash of blood and bone, covered with sticky clumps of matted hair. Discarded on the carpet next to her was their father’s tennis trophy. Once it had been glistening gold, now it was bent and bloody. Her sister’s screams hadn’t sounded that close. That meant the killer had left the body and the trophy there for her to see. He must be nearby. Waiting. 

Taking in several shaking breaths and holding back vomit, Jenny tore her eyes from her sister and looked towards the stairs. That end of the room was all clear. She looked the other way, also clear. The killer was nowhere in sight. Next to the front door stood the bowl of keys, exactly where they’d always been. Her key was in there. Unless it had been taken. There was only one way to find out. 

Jenny pulled herself to her feet, relieved to find that her legs had not abandoned her just yet. She pulled open the door fully and edged out into the hallway, being sure not to look again at her sister’s corpse. She clamped a hand over her mouth to hold in any involuntary sounds and crept on tip-toes across the carpeted floor. Tip-toes weren’t really needed on such a thick carpet, but she was going to take every precaution. She reached the unit on the far side of the room and thanked whatever deity was on her side that her car keys were still in the bowl. She plucked them up, the metal making a small clink on the china bowl. Then she froze. 

A single thud sounded behind her. the thud of a foot falling on the stairs behind her. She wrapped her fingers tightly around the keys. Her arm was shaking so violently she was sure she would drop them. 

‘Jennifer,’ he sang softly across the hall. ‘Where are you going, Jennifer? We’re not done yet are we?’ She could hear his steps as he descended the stairs. She turned her head to look over her shoulder and saw the 8-inch chef’s knife in his blood-stained hand. She didn’t need to see any more. She grabbed the handle on the front door, twisted and pulled. It didn’t budge. Her heart hammered away in her chest as she stared stupidly at the door, trying to figure out why it wouldn’t open. 

‘Oh dear,’ said the intruder, and she imagined him shaking his head at her. ‘Having a bit of trouble? Oh, the things I’m going to do to you, Jennifer.’ He reached the bottom of the stairs. 

The security lock! She reached up and turned the small security lock and heard the bolts slide out of their holes. She tried the handle again and this time the door swung inwards easily. She could see her car clearly in the moonlight just yards away. 

‘Jennifer, no!’ the intruder shouted.

‘Fuck you,’ she spat the words over her shoulder and ran out into the night. She didn’t feel the chilly winter cold on her bare arms. She didn’t feel the gravel cutting into the soles of her bare feet. All she felt was the exhilarating adrenaline coursing through her veins as she neared her car. She pressed the button in her hand and her car lights flashed twice as the doors unlocked. She could hear him pursuing her, his boots treading into the gravel. He wasn’t running. She reached the car and saw why, coming to a standstill to take in her discovery. He’d slashed all four tires. They sat sluggishly and deflated beneath the car. Like the air from the tires, her last dregs of hope escaped her and she stood flattened on the driveway. 

Fuck it, she thought. Even with flat tires she’d be able to use the car to get away from him. It was worth a try either way. She stepped forward and grabbed the door handle, pulling the car door open. His hand slammed into her back shoving her forward into the door, slamming it closed again. Before she could react his hand was in her hair, pulling her head back. 

‘No!’ she screamed as loud as she could. Praying that somebody would be nearby. But she knew it was hopeless. Her parents had chosen a house in the middle of nowhere because they liked solitude. Nobody was going to hear her. Nobody was going to help her. She wriggled in his grip, but he was too strong. He thrust her head forwards, smashing her face into the car window which shattered under the impact. She was momentarily silent. Her mind had gone blank, occupied by pain. Warm moisture oozed over her face as she struggled to regain control of her mind. Then she was flung down on to the floor, the tiny pieces of gravel scraping her skin like claws. 

He looked down at her. She couldn’t see much of him in the darkness. The moonlight shone behind him turning his short body into little more than a silhouette. The knife glinted in his hand. 

‘Let’s get you back inside,’ he said. He stepped forward and she flung her leg up. Her foot found his balls. They felt squidgy on top of her toes as she forced them up as far as she could, hoping she would crush them. He howled in pain, batting her foot away with one hand. She saw his face twisted in rage. That was the last thing she saw as he swung the knife down, burying it in her gut. A small cry escaped her lips and that was all she could muster. 

The pain in the intruder’s genitals faded at the same time as the life flickered out in Jennifer’s eyes. He let out an irritated sigh as he looked down on her lifeless form. He hadn’t been ready to end the game yet. His own temper had ruined his fun. Still, it hardly mattered. In a few nights, a new game would begin and he already had the location set. There was a beautiful large house in the secluded village of Hoo St Werburgh. He didn’t bother retrieving the knife from the dead girl as he walked away from the house, which contained a further three corpses. A new game meant new weapons. Those were the rules of his game and it was a game he was very good at. 

‘Fourteen to nothing,’ he said to himself as he stepped off the driveway and disappeared into the darkness.