Working hard this morning, so a small bribe instead of answering questions.
“Darin, why don’t you go on and scout ahead,” Conrad said. “Make sure we don’t run into something.”
Darin clicked his mouth shut and rode on.
Conrad turned to Hugh. “I know what you’re doing. If the Lady wanted you to know, she’d tell you. Leave the boy alone.”
Hugh considered stringing Conrad up by his ankles. An hour or so with blood pooling to his head, and the older scout would sing a beautiful song filled with all of his secrets. He was still deciding if he were going to do it, when Darin came riding around the bend.
“A fort!” he reported. “Looks empty.”
Hugh looked at Sam and nodded at the column behind them. “Get Sharif.”
The kid turned his horse and rode back. Half a minute later, Sharif came riding from the back. The dark-haired lean scout had been covering the rear. Sam followed him.
Hugh touched the reins and they rode on. The path turned. A wooden palisade rose to one side of the road, a ring of sharpened tree trunks ten feet high. A crude guard tower stood on the right, just inside the palisade walls, overlooking the road. A bell hung from its roof. The gate stood wide open. To the left, the road bent and rolled on, widening into what used to be main street of a small town stretching into the distance, an old pre-Shift two story house on one side, a trailer on the other, both mostly eaten by the forest. He could just make out the sharp point of a church steeple in the distance between the new trees.
The palisade lay silent. No sentries. No movement.
Hugh glanced at Conrad.
“This is new,” the older scout said. “Wasn’t here nine months ago.”
Sharif dismounted. Light rolled over his dark irises and flashed green. He inhaled deeply, crouched and sniffed the road.
“Nobody’s home,” he said quietly.
Hugh dismounted and fixed Conrad with his stare. “Stay here with the boy.”
If something happened to those two idiots, Elara would screech at him for days.
Hugh walked inside the gates. Three large log houses waited inside, two to the left and one to the right. In the back, an animal pen stood empty. The wind brought a hint of carrion.
“The road smells odd,” Sharif said quietly.
“Odd. Nothing I’ve smelled before.” He held out his arm. The hair on the back of its stood straight up. “I don’t like it.”
Shapeshifters had a freakishly strong scent memory, and among all of the shapeshifters, werewolves were the best. They had no problem taking a whiff of a blood smudge and sorting through a couple thousand scent signatures to identify a guy they shared a drink with once two years ago. Sharif had been with him for five years. If he hadn’t smelled it before, it had to be one hell of a rare creature or something new.
New. Hugh smiled. “Well, that’s interesting, isn’t it?”
Sharif rolled his eyes for half a second before schooling his features into a perfectly neutral expression.
Hugh turned to the nearest house, walked up the wooden stairs onto the porch and touched the door. It swung open under the pressure of his fingertips. A simple open floor plan with the kitchen and dining area to the far left and the living room space to his right. A dinner was laid out on the table. He moved across the floor on silent feet to the table. The reek of rotten food made him grimace. Fuzzy blue mold blossomed on the leftovers. Looked like pulled meat of some sort with mashed potatoes on the side and a serving of formerly green vegetables. A fork lay by the nearest plate, its tines covered with the mold.
He crouched and looked under the table. A broken plate.
Sam was hovering nearby. Hugh pointed at the plate. “Thoughts?”
“It happened in the middle of dinner?”
Hugh nodded. “There is a walkway built along the palisade and a tower. What was under it?”
The kid took off.
Sharif crossed his arms. “I don’t like it.”
“I heard you the first time.”
Sam came back. “A broken plate.”
“What does that tell you?”
“There was a guard on duty. They brought him dinner.”
“Something killed him so fast, he couldn’t raise the alarm.” Sam paused. “Was he shot?”
“No blood spatter,” Sharif said. “But there is this.” He slid his finger down the wooden frame. Four long bloody scratches gouged the wood.
“And this.” He crouched and pointed to the floor.
A bloody human nail.
Sam’s face turned pale. “Something dragged them out of here.”
Hugh pivoted to his right. A row of guns and swords hung on the wall, just by the door. It would take him less than a second to cover the distance from the table to the wall. “Something smart and fast.”
“Vampires?” Sam asked.
“I don’t smell the undead,” Sharif said.
“But you do smell something. If Nez resorted to snatching people from isolated communities, he wouldn’t use the regular bloodsuckers to do it.” Hugh straightened.
“But why?” Sharif asked.
“That’s a good question.”
The People bought their undead by offering contracts to terminally ill. That was one of the cornerstones of Roland’s policy. He needed to seed his Masters of the Dead into every major city, and it was much easier to do that if the People seemed like an above-board operation, beneficial to the community. They ran casinos, they volunteered their services when undead were involved, and they offered the dying a chance to guarantee a payout to their families. If the general public suspected that the Masters of the Dead began grabbing warm bodies to turn into vampires, Roland would be livid and the guilty would be dead before they had a chance to repent their sins.
But the pattern did fit the navigators. A fast, stealthy surgical strike.
He headed for the door.
“Are there irregular bloodsuckers?” Sam asked behind him.
“You have no idea,” Sharif told him.
MONICA b says
Made my Monday! Thank you!!!!
Yehey! Thank you. it is making it very hard to wait.
Well, now, this is turning interesting. More mention of Elara, and is Hugh doing some investigating? Maybe he’ll go work for Cutting Edge. Wouldn’t that be funny?
I’ll quote the interesting part, but for me because – a shapeshifter with Hugh? Why do I distinctly remember that Hugh thinks they’re the lowest of animals pretending to be human and thus not worthy anything really? Yet here we have him together with one, have been for 5 years and didn’t feel like Hugh thinks less of him. Hypocrite much? Guess I gotta wait till the novel to see just how exactly their relationship is like, maybe he still thinks of him as all the other shapeshifters, just a useful one.
Also, yeah, the Elara bit is getting definitely more interesting 😀
lol, when they (our beloved authorlords) said (more or less, don’t remmeber word for word) the kind of woman that could be with Hugh was a no nonsense one, seems like Elara just might be one, heh, screeching ahahahahhaha 😀
But what’s to be taken notice of, for whatever reason he wants to avoid it ;p
Oh, yeah, I forgot about his feelings on shapeshifters. I was just thinking he was a member of Hugh’s team. And the bit about rolling the eyes implies the shifter isn’t worried about Hugh seeing him rolling his eyes, and that usually only happens with close friends. Maybe Hugh knew him before he was bitten and became a shifter, but then you’d expect Hugh to be more tolerant of his views of shifters.
So many questions, so little book! I want the whole book. Gimme gimme gimme! 😉
Or maybe Hugh doesn’t particularly dislike shapeshifters, just ones who oppose him. His own people are fine?
But context is everything, isn’t it? That whole speech was aimed at trying to pry Kate away from the pack in general and Curran in particular.
Of course, I came away from that same speech with a sense that Hugh respected shifters as a fighting force, even if he was a smug, superior bastard. But, I wonder – I’m thinking of the scene, again, where he’s taunting Kate with Ascanio, who is dying. Hugh is clearly hugely manipulative, and can talk a lot of shit – and at the same time, he healed Ascanio. Now, I’m thinking about what we know about Roland’s recruitment practices – where he finds the outcasts and finds a place for them. What we know about the Iron Dogs seems to indicate that Hugh works along similar lines… which makes me doubt shifter prejudice can be particularly deep, if he harbors it at all.
I hope Elara has one holy heck of a bullshit detector.
Yeah, that’s why said that gotta wait to read the whole novel to see what the relationship is truly like. Whatever the case, the interest has only grown even more 😀
Hugh strikes me as one to never pass up anything that might give him a tactical advantage.
In any case, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Hugh working closely with a shapeshifter —
In Magic Binds (ch. 3), we find out the Iron Dogs had six cohorts, each having a captain (so, being captain, kind of a big deal). Turns out Hibla, who is a shapeshifter, was captain of the cohort known as the Rippers (what I like to think of as an elite task force of major assholes with mad kill-skills).
Yay, thank you! This looks like it’s going to be such a fun read. Can’t wait to see Hugh’s redemption unfold!
oooh. thank you! i am really looking forward to this book. any ideas on when we can pre-order it?
It was already on my “Buy” list. Now I want to know “When, when, when?!” I’m not getting any younger here…
Hahaha agreed, can’t wait for a release date!
Sara T says
That was awesome. Waiting is soooo hard…
Definitely a must buy. My inner proofreader insists I mention that it should be “reins”.
Ahhhhhhh made my Easter, thank you so much!
Hugh using a shapeshifter is not that surprising, no matter what Hugh thinks of a species he will always use them for his own gains. He’s learnt that from a master – Roland
Despite what Hugh has done before he is the product of his upbringing, will he be all good – probably not – can he be brought back from evil – possibly – his life is in the hands of his writers!
Whatever the outcome I’m sure we will all enjoy the journey, whether we agree with it depends on each readers point of view.
I like a HEA myself, will I get that? I am always optimistic! ?
Many thanks for the snippet ?
Very Interesting (refer to old Laugh In skits). Hugh had sharpshooter working for him. He may consider them animals, but still useful. Thanks for the bribe.
Damietta Armstrong says
Sharpshooter?, or Shapeshifter?….$hould wee bee cursings Otto kerect?
Thanks, that was great!
Hmmm. Book still being written, editing, copy editing, two (?) book tours still to come, at least six months on upcoming release printing list. Maybe a copy in our sweaty palms sometime around Christmas or later. We are greedy but mostly practice patience because we like great books with remarkable characters and tightly woven plotting AND the thought of Hugh getting his come-uppance is delightful!
😉 Killer prom dress by the way!
I will note that since the Iron Dogs were started by Ares, a werewolf, that shapeshifters probably feature heavily in the troop. Also, wasn’t Aunt B’s killer a shapeshifter? I seem to recall Hugh’s second in command at the Castle in Europe being identified as were.
A calorie-free Easter treat – yum, thank you!
Thanks! Made my Monday.
Hmmmmm. Thank you for brightening an otherwise very Monday Monday.
Awesome! thanks for feeding the Book-Devouring Horde’s overwhelming hunger this morning!
Thanks,but now Im desperate to read something similar.And we all know there isnt anything like these books out there.
It is almost like addiction…
Something similar in what respect? Well drawn characters and a plot that barrels along? Does it have to be fantasy? If not, may I suggest Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series (what I’d call science fiction/space opera). There are lots of ideas about where to start reading in this series, but I’d probably start with either “Cordelia’s Honor” (first published as “Shards of Honor” and “Barrayar”) which has a female protagonist or “The Warrior’s Apprentice” with a male protagonist.
I read this comment through email and was ready to come down here and warn people not call each other names. 😀
Ah hah! Now we know how to get her attention, everyone!
I read all of your comments. Always.
Way to deflate my mwa-ha-ha.
There goes having quiet conversations somewhere deep in dead threads on old posts (I mean, not that I ever though it was safe exactly…)
I hear a “MOM” voice. fear strikes
When I laughed at Hugh’s thoughts of stringing up Conrad I had to face facts…I’m warped. I will however place blame on the author lords and Jeaniene! Compelling stories that take hold and don’t let go will do that to a person. That said, Hugh is evolving into someone very interesting. At this stage I can’t get my head around an HEA. Elara doesn’t feel to be part of a true HEA. I think she’s a tool. Possibly a weapon. Looking forward to more dribbles. This is shaping up to be a real adventure.
Death to Hugh! (?)
I am so very, very conflicted.
I adore Hugh as a villain who positively relishes his power, his ascent from the gutter, and has no internal doubts about his moral position (in fact I get the distinct impression it’s along the lines of “I/Roland want to do this therefore it’s right Q.E.D”).
I really did not want to read a book about his redemption and potential HEA.
…you go and write that. I’m chortling and intrigued.
Patricia Schlorke says
Just what I needed after work. Thank you! Yeah Hugh may have a warped thought about shapeshifters who oppose him, but remember Hibla was also a shapeshifter and an Iron Dog. Wasn’t Hibla the one who killed Aunt B? Kate decimated Hibla (cheering anyone?) when Kate rescued Christopher and Robert from her dad.
Like everyone else, can’t wait to read the entire story. 😀
Punishment, piece by piece.
Any thoughts on a release date? These snippets are wetting my appetite. Thank you. Must admit I kinda like the “dark” characters especially if they have a sympathetic side, the best heroes/villains are well rounded people – I’m still waiting for a follow up to Alpha Origins, poor me.
Ohhh a followup to Alphas wd be amazeballs…..cannot wait for this bk. Tyvm!
Yeah, what she said. When? When? When? Just a general sort of idea so we can wait in rapt anticipation.
This is very interesting. Thank you.
When will this be available please
Thank you! Even more impatient to know all these new characters, but thank you for the good start on the week =)
Thank you for the snippet!!! Seriously made my day- totally looking forward to Hugh’s book. Although I must confess I just reread Burn for me in anticipation for may 30th and am super jonsing for a Rogan pov. ?
If y’all are still taking questions I am curious about something. I’m not sure if you have answered this elsewhere- if so can someone link me?
How do you come up with your magic systems? All the series have such wildly different systems that are so completely fleshed out with their own cultures and quirks. Do y’all come up with them together? What are your influences when developing each of the systems in the different series? And which came first, the characters/plot or more world building/magic?
That’s several questions- I would be happy with answers to any of them! Thanks!!
I love Hugh’s reaction to something new! Just when you think you’ve seen it all in the last 1000 years….
Add me to Camp Conflicted. How can I be so mesmerized by these snippets when Hugh is so awful? Sigh, but I am.
Ditto. I can’t believe I am so intrigued by these snippets when I had decided Hugh was irredeemably bad.
Ah, I just love you guys. Personally want to see Hugh impaled by Vlad, but that’s one heck of a crossover. Thank you for the snippets one and all.
A wonderful treat! I think having a “Hugh” book is simply brilliant- and I love these snippets! Thank you!
Thank you! Even in snippets i’m finding I have a fondness for the seemingly clueless Sam. The story on why Hugh puts up with him is bound to be good…
Susan Linch Ravan says
Henry King says
We are conflicted on the reincarnation of Hugh, but what about Sebastien North. Did the Empire take some of Spider’s parts and graft them to plants and animals? So much to look forward to.
Yes, interesting point. Spider believed himself so superior to everyone, especially the ‘dirt from the Edge’, but he lived to be an old man (when George finally assassinated him), so he must not have offered up his flesh and enhanced blood (that his niece stole for him) to the Emperor & Royal Family & nobility and the mad, grafting scientists working for them ?
Huge sigh of thank you. I so enjoy the little bits and pieces you let us read.
I like it. I still think Hugh should die a horrible death. And I want a Roman something (novel, novella, short story, anything!) I am a greedy bastard. Me, me, me!
Thank you for this. I didn’t even realize just how much I needed it.
Well…yeah i want it.
As if i could resist you.
DO NOT write a book for knitting or cooking please.
Dianna Kilgore says
Oh come on, you know you love an Innkeeper’s Cook book. It would have Orro’s recipes plus the ribs and egg salad from the first book.
Thats why i wrote it. In the end i am addicted and cant resist the awesome authorlords^^
They can sell everything to me 🙂
Jennifer C says
What fun! Thank you!
for all of us who are not native-english-speakers: what does HEA mean?
And to Ilona: thanks for your really cool way of interacting with all of us!
H E A = happily ever after
Shortened words are complicated in any language, (just had a two day seminar about writing as a representative of the department I work for, and you realise just how complicated you yourself write, and how much in-house shortened words you use ?) but Internet slang is hard for me too. No problem with Shakespeare or Jane Austen or older writers, but all those Internet words! Thank goddess for Google…
Hang him by his heels over a slow fire. You are halfway to a standard Apache torture death method. It may be really hard to think of a reformed Hugh. Almost as hard as thinking of a reformed Geronimo. This is going to be a really interesting read. Go Gordon!