Book 13 in the Wild Hunt Series
Release date: August 2020

The Father of Dragons has returned to the world and all hell is breaking loose. A group of vrykolakas is running loose, threatening to spread plague through Seattle. A shadow dragon has his sights set on destroying the Wild Hunt. And in the midst of the chaos, Ember’s facing a major decision brought on by a twist in her status with the Queen of Dark Fae.

But when the shadow dragon attacks her friend Viktor and drags the half-ogre into the world of the dead, Ember must set aside her personal drama and journey to the Phantom Kingdom to rescue him. Will she be able to save Viktor before it’s too late? Or will she lose her own soul to the armies of the dead?

 

Excerpt:

Chapter 1

The afternoon sun splashed through the windows overlooking the alleyway, the blinding glare so bright that I squinted, tilting the blinds to block out the light. I was in the break room, foraging through the refrigerator, looking for lunch. I had forgotten to bring anything, and Angel was away from her desk so she hadn’t remembered to order in. I finally chose a frozen fried chicken dinner and popped it in the microwave, turning as Viktor entered the room.

“She said yes!” He bounced into the break room, rattling the floorboards like a troupe of dancers on a rickety stage. “She said yes, she said yes, she said—”

“Let me guess,” I interrupted, grinning. “She said yes!”

The half-ogre nodded, beaming. “I can’t believe I’m getting married!” He looked around. “Where is everybody?”

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The break room was empty except for me, surprising given it was one p.m. on Friday afternoon. We normally all ate lunch together, but today was different.

“Herne’s in his office, talking to the mayor. Angel’s downstairs at urgent care.”

“Urgent care? Is she all right?” Viktor’s smile slid off his face.

I hurried to reassure him. “She’s fine, or she will be. She got into a fight with a splinter. She rammed it right under her nail this morning.”

“Ouch. How’d she do that?”

“She was out in the garden, trying to prune one of the bushes. One thing led to another. She tried to coax the splinter out, but half an hour ago she gave up and Herne told her to go down and get it looked at. As for the others, Talia took the afternoon off. She’s got a headache. Kipa’s not coming in today, and Yutani is in his office, talking to ComputaGeek. We need an upgrade to the computer system, apparently, and he’s giving them the specs. Rafé won’t be in till later, of course. Charlie, either.”

Rafé was our new company clerk, and he came to work in the evenings, so that he could do all the filing and organizing needed after we were all gone. It also prevented him and Angel from getting tired of working together, although it did cut down on how many dates they went on. But Angel said it had been good for their relationship, and they both seemed happy. Rafé working evenings served another purpose. He was able to work with Charlie Darren, our resident vampire, on the evenings Charlie came in, and they got more done together than apart.

“Oh. All right.” Viktor sounded a little dejected.

I took one look at him and realized he was disappointed. He was bursting to tell his good news, and I could tell that he wanted everybody in the office to know. I settled back in my chair, fork and TV dinner in hand.

“So tell me, was she surprised?” I had planned on eating at my desk, but Viktor needed to celebrate and I was determined to make him smile.

He thrust his hands in the pockets of his jacket, sitting down beside me.

“Yes and no, actually. Sheila told me that she thought I might be about to propose, but she hadn’t wanted to get her hopes up, just in case she was wrong. However, she didn’t expect a diamond. My mother gave me my grandma’s ring to give to her,” he added, suddenly somber and staring at the ground.

“Oh, that sounds lovely. Your grandmother, is she still alive?”

“No, I’m talking about my mother’s mother, who was human. My maternal grandmother. Besides my mother, Nanna was the only one who fully accepted me for who I was. I still remember her telling me, ‘I love you because of who you are, and everything you are goes into making up your nature, Viktor. Both your human side and your ogre blood.’ Nanna never once tried to deny my ogre heritage, nor did she praise my human side more.”

Viktor had told us many times that he was estranged from his father and his father’s people, but I hadn’t realized that his mother’s side hadn’t accepted him either.

“I’m sure she’s watching over you,” I said. “When did she die?”

Viktor shrugged. “Long ago. My father had traveled to Russia and that’s where he met my mother, back in 1767. He married her and brought her home on a sailing ship, back in 1768. Her parents and her two little sisters came along with her. They settled up on Mount Rainier in the ogre compound. The ogres accepted Tatiana—my mother. She and her family were among the first settlers in this territory, but they lived in the village Keyren, the ogres’ village. It was hidden deep in the mountain, though now it’s moved to the area surrounding the national park.”

“I knew your father’s people had first lived up there, but once Mount Rainier was turned into a national park, I wasn’t sure what had happened.”

“After my parents split, we moved down into what’s now the Puyallup area. My grandpa Viktor was strong and with me to help him, we made our homestead thrive. I’m named after him. He wasn’t all that fond of me, but he didn’t mistreat me.”

“I wondered about your name.”

“Right. At first my name was Yalt. In Ogrísh—the language of the ogres—it means Blessed Between Worlds. My father named me. But when the clan leader instructed him to disown me, my father formally reclaimed my name and gave me to my mother. Among my father’s people, if you’re turned out from the community, they steal your name and you’re no longer allowed to use it, under pain of death. So Mother renamed me after my grandpa.”

That seemed harsh, but then, ogres weren’t a gentle people. They could be brutish and crude, although you’d never know it by how Viktor acted. “How did the local natives feel about you and your family?”

“They were friendly enough. They didn’t care for the ogres, which was understandable given my father’s people are given to thievery and loutish ways, but they didn’t hold my blood against me. We farmed and my mother kept the cows and chickens. We traded with the local tribes for what we needed. I think my grandparents longed for their days in Russia, but they never blamed my mother or me.”

“They never went back, then?”

He shook his head. “How could they? If they took me along with them, there would be so many questions and no one would accept me back home. If they left me and my mother, we would have died in the wilderness. No, my grandmother swore up and down we’d make a comfortable home, and we did.”

“She sounds like a strong woman.” I wondered if Viktor had any living relatives besides his ogre family. I had heard him speak of his mother, but she was human. “Your mother…”

“Tatiana is still alive. She remarried when I was eighteen. I don’t often talk about it, because my stepfather died twenty years after they married and he’s long gone. He fell into a river and drowned before anyone could save him.”

“But she’s alive?”

“Yes, Pierre was one of the magic-born. On their wedding day, he offered her a potion that would extend her life by some three hundred years and she decided to accept it. He offered it to the rest of her family as well, but no one else wanted it. The only problem is, longevity potions and spells don’t guard against accidents and murder. So my mother lost him in 1817, and decided that she’d live out the rest of her life, but she wouldn’t seek to extend it further. She told me she’s seen and done more than most people ever get the chance to.” He suddenly blushed. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be so chatty today. I’m sure this is all very boring.”

“On the contrary. I’m fascinated.” I finished my meal and crossed to the counter, where I poured myself a cup of coffee. Viktor was usually reticent about his family, so him opening up made me feel like he trusted me a little more. “Coffee?”

“Thanks, with cream.”

I handed him the mug and set the dish of creamers in front of him. “What about your grandmother? You said you miss her?”

“Oh, I do. Grandmother Anna used to call me her ‘big boy’ and she’d hold me on her lap. By the time I was four, I was the size of a ten-year-old human, but she never said anything bad about my size. My grandmother’s hair smelled like apples and hay, and she always had a cookie in her pocket for me.”

“How old were you when your parents split?”

“I was…oh…ten? Eleven? Somewhere around there. As it became apparent I wasn’t going to reach the expected size of an ogre male, my father started acting out against my mother. He blamed her and wanted nothing to do with me. The leader of the ogres ordered him to either cast me out into the wilderness, or for her and me to leave. My father told my mother she had to choose.

“I overheard that fight. It isn’t a pleasant memory,” he said, closing his eyes. “In the end, Mother chose me. She told my father to go to hell. The next day, we gathered our things, and my father relented enough to give us the supplies to last through the summer while my grandpa and I built a little cabin. We left the mountain and moved down into the Puyallup valley. Grandpa died of a heart attack five years later, but my grandmother and my mother kept the homestead going. Pierre came along a year or so later and he did wonders adding on to it.”

I pressed my lips together, thinking that all of us at the Wild Hunt had been through one form of hell or another. Well, maybe not Herne, and probably not Kipa, but we had all faced our demons as we grew up.

“I’m sorry it was so hard. Your mother has always supported you, hasn’t she?”

He nodded, his voice softening. “She’s never stopped being my cheerleader. She loves Sheila, and while we’ll never have children of our own—Sheila really doesn’t want to go through pregnancy—we thought we’d adopt. My mother likes the idea. You’ll meet her at the wedding, which will be on Imbolc. Sheila honors the goddess Brighid, though she’s not a priestess. So we thought it would be nice to get married then.”

“I’ll be there with bells on, Viktor. Congratulations again.” I reached up on tiptoe and threw my arms around his neck, giving him a long hug. “You deserve happiness, and so does Sheila.”

At that moment, Herne entered the room. I spun around, poking Viktor on the arm as I did so. “Tell him before I do.”

Herne glanced from me to Viktor and a slow smile spread across his face. “You did it! You asked her?” He tossed his file folders on the table and hurried over to Viktor’s side, grabbing the half-ogre’s hand and shaking it as Viktor nodded, grinning.

“Yes, I did—we’re engaged! The wedding will be on Imbolc. We were wondering if you would mind hosting the wedding at your house, Ember? We want a garden wedding—we’re hoping for snow, but that’s something we can’t control.”

“Of course you can! We’d be thrilled to host it. I know Angel will agree.”

“Thank you. And…Herne, I have a special request. If the answer’s no, that’s fine, but I don’t want Sheila to know until our wedding day.”

“What is it? You know you can ask me for anything, man.” Herne pumped Viktor’s hand again, his voice cracking just a little.

One look at Herne’s cornflower blue eyes and I knew that he was putting on a good show, but behind the smile was a trace of worry.

I hadn’t answered his proposal yet. I was close to an answer, but the ramifications of what it meant to be the wife of a god had set in, and I wanted to be fully aware of what I was promising before I gave my word. But Herne was struggling with my hesitation and I knew I had to give him an answer soon.

“I was wondering if you might ask the Lady Brighid if… You see, Sheila reveres her, and I know—I just know if Brighid were to oversee the service or even send her blessing…” Viktor faltered, wincing. “I just realized what I’m asking.”

“No, good gods, man, it’s not a problem for me to ask her. She might say yes. The Lady Brighid can be extremely generous about things like this.” Herne turned to me. “I have to go visit my father in Annwn tomorrow. I’ll drop by Brighid’s palace then and see what she says. Do you want to go with me?”

I shook my head. “Actually, your mother’s coming to dinner at my house tomorrow around six.”

Morgana had been to my home once or twice, but always with Herne, and sometimes with Cernunnos. It felt awkward asking her to come solo, but I wanted to have a heart-to-heart chat with her, and I didn’t want Herne listening in.

Herne cocked his head, squinting at me. “All right, then. Well, you are pledged to her.”

That was another thing. How would that work once Herne and I were married? If I became a goddess—a thought that freaked me out—what the heck did that mean for my interactions with Morgana? It was too much to think about right now.

“So, are we on for Lughnasadh tomorrow night? Marilee’s leading the ritual, if we’re still all good for it.” I leaned back in my chair, thinking about marriage and holidays and all the celebrations that made up our lives.

Milestones were important. They were reminders of crossroads in our lives, and the touchstones that kept us connected to the cycles of the earth. We called it the Wheel of the Year, and the Fae and other Cryptos weren’t the only ones who celebrated the Sabbats—the name for the eight great festivals that marked the quarters and cross-quarters of the year. Human pagans also celebrated the holy days, and together, we bridged gaps in age and race and even species, coming together to mark the tides of life in joy and in sorrow.

“We’ll be there with bells on. Or, corn tassels. Marilee has done wonders for you, and for Angel.” Herne gave me a quick peck on the forehead. “I’ve got to run. Will I see you tonight?”

I shook my head. “No, Angel and I decided we need a girls’ night. It’s been too long since we’ve just climbed into our PJs and binge-watched some of our favorite shows with a big bowl of popcorn and a tub of ice cream.”

Snickering, he merely nodded. “I get it. No boys allowed.”

“Right.” And because I wanted to set him somewhat at ease, I added, “You know before too long I won’t have that option. Not if you and I are…” I paused, biting my lip. Was I really ready to say yes? But then I caught a glimpse of Viktor over at the refrigerator. This was his night and I didn’t want to spoil it for him.

Herne leaned in and gazed into my eyes. “Are you saying…”

“Not yet.” I gave a covert nod toward Viktor. “But soon. I promise you, before the week is up, I’ll have an answer for you. I just have a couple more things to decide.” I kept my voice low, not wanting Viktor to overhear. “Meanwhile, why don’t you take Viktor out tonight, to celebrate his engagement? Get Yutani to go as well, although he doesn’t drink much.”

Yutani, our IT guy and a coyote shifter whose father was the Great Coyote himself, was a borderline alcoholic. He kept himself sober and when he did drink, he never had more than one or two drinks. He was tightly wound, and a Dom, and altogether, a good man who walked on the freaky side of life. But then again, weren’t we all a little freaky?

“Good idea. We don’t have to go to a bar. I think I could persuade Yutani to go bowling.” He glanced over at Viktor. “Hey, want to go bowling to celebrate your engagement? We can take Yutani and Rafé with us as well.”

At that moment, my phone rang. I glanced at the caller ID. It was Angel. Frowning, I answered. “Hey, what’s up? How are you? When are you getting your butt back up here?”

She didn’t bother to answer. “Ember, turn on the TV. Channel 8 KPOZ. Hurry.”

I grabbed the remote from the counter and pointed it toward the break room television and switched it on to channel 8.

“This just in,” the newscaster said from behind the desk. “The town of Klarkson, on Highway 2, has been overrun by creatures that no one has yet been able to identify. They’re attacking the townsfolk. Several people have been seriously injured, including five children. Right now, police are swarming the graveyard from where the creatures are believed to have originated, but officers have been forced to fall back twice. Bullets are proving useless, and the creatures are inhumanly strong and appear entirely uncommunicative. Mayor Willis of Klarkson has appealed to the National Guard for help, and there’s so much chaos that no one seems to know what course of action to follow.”

The news anchor held her hand to her ear, pausing, then looked bleakly at the camera. “I have a report from the Klarkson Hospital. They are reporting the admittance of four adults in critical condition, along with three children who are also critical. If you are in Klarkson, police ask that you please stay in your houses and lock your doors and windows.”

I turned down the volume, looking at Herne. “What the hell?”

He was staring at the screen, a solemn look on his face. “This started in the graveyard? You know what I’m thinking.”

“Yeah, me too. Typhon.” I returned to my phone call with Angel. “How did you find out about this?”

“Urgent care has a TV in the waiting room and I’m waiting to pay my bill. You think it’s Typhon?” She paused, then added, “I have a feeling in my stomach, Ember—it’s not good.”

When Angel had a gut reaction to something, we paid attention. She was human, mostly—and I say mostly because we suspected that she had some degree of magic-born blood in her system—and she was an empath. She was also my best friend and had been since we were eight years old and got in a mud-wrestling battle that netted us both a trip to the principal’s office. After that less-than-auspicious start to our friendship, we bonded instantly.

“Not good, how? Not good as in, gee this sounds nasty, or not good as in, we’d better get ready or get our asses kicked?” I wasn’t sure where Klarkson was, but I knew that I didn’t want to go there.

“Not good as in, we’d better get prepared because there’s something much bigger on the horizon.” Her voice drifted off and after a moment she said, “I’ll be up shortly.”

I shoved my phone back in my pocket and turned to Herne. Both Viktor and he were watching the footage out of Klarkson. There wasn’t much yet, and they were running the same clips over and over, along with video taken by the townsfolk using their cell phones. A lot of it was fuzzy and indistinct, but after a few moments, a clip came on that was clear as a bell.

The creature looked a lot like a zombie in many ways, but there was a brightness to the eyes that whispered “cunning” to me. But zombies weren’t cunning. They had some form of sentience, but they weren’t the brightest bulbs in the socket. These creatures were corpses in varying stages of decay, but they crouched low, skulking along, and there was a malevolence to them that felt like more than the feeding frenzy of zombies. Nor were they ghouls. Given I’d spent most of my adult life cleaning up messes with sub-Fae and the undead, I could spot the differences.

“What do you think they are?” I asked Herne.

He shook his head, his gaze fixed on the screen. “I don’t know, but we’d better find out.”

“Angel thinks we’re in for something big.”

As we watched the report spinning out, I could feel the hair standing up on my arms. Angel was right. Typhon was sending something new at us and, whatever it was, we weren’t going up against a mere batch of skeletal warriors.

I took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. All the joy that I had felt over Viktor’s announcement had drained away. We were truly entering the war against the Father of Dragons, and life wasn’t going to let us forget what we were facing. After a moment, I turned and headed down the hall, poking my head into Yutani and Talia’s office. Yutani glanced up and I saw that he was watching the news on his tablet.

“You saw?”

He nodded. “Yeah. But it’s worse than that. The local channel just came out with a report. Something similar is happening in the Worchester District. We’d better get ready to rumble.”

As he stood, I cursed under my breath. Just what we needed right now. Angry that we couldn’t have one day to celebrate—just one day to breathe—I gave him an abrupt nod and headed for my office. It was time to get suited up and ready to go.

COLLAPSE

Playlist for Autumn's Bane

Air: Moon Fever; Playground Love; Napalm Love
Airstream: Electra (Religion Cut)
Alexandros: Milk (Bleach Version); Mosquito Bite
Alice in Chains: Sunshine; Man in the Box; Bleed the Freak
Android Lust: Here & Now; Saint Over
Band of Skulls: I Know What I Am
The Black Angels: Currency; Hunt Me Down; Death March; Indigo Meadow; Don’t Play With Guns; Always Maybe; Black Isn’t Black
Black Mountain: Queens Will Play
Blind Melon: No Rain
Boom! Bap! Pow!: Suit
Brandon & Derek Fiechter: Night Fairies; Toll Bridge; Will-O’-Wisps; Black Wolf’s Inn; Naiad River; Mushroom Woods
The Bravery: Believe
Broken Bells: The Ghost Inside
Camouflage Nights: (It Could Be) Love
Colin Foulke: Emergence
Crazy Town: Butterfly
Danny Cudd: Double D; Remind; Once Again; Timelessly Free; To the Mirage
David Bowie: Golden Years; Let’s Dance; Sister Midnight; I’m Afraid of Americans; Jean Jeanie
Death Cab For Cutie: I Will Possess Your Heart
Dizzi: Dizzi Jig; Dance of the Unicorns
DJ Shah: Mellomaniac
Don Henley: Dirty Laundry; Sunset Grill; The Garden of Allah; Everybody Knows
Eastern Sun: Beautiful Being
Eels: Love of the Loveless; Souljacker Part 1
Elektrisk Gonnar: Uknowhatiwant
FC Kahuna: Hayling
The Feeling: Sewn
Filter: Hey Man Nice Shot
Finger Eleven: Paralyzer
Flora Cash: You’re Somebody Else
Fluke: Absurd
Foster The People: Pumped Up Kicks
Garbage: Queer; Only Happy When It Rains; #1Crush; Push It; I Think I’m Paranoid
Gary Numan: Hybrid; Cars; Petals; Ghost Nation; My Name Is Ruin; Pray for the Pain You Serve; I Am Dust
Godsmack: Voodoo
The Gospel Whisky Runners: Muddy Waters
The Hang Drum Project: Shaken Oak; St. Chartier
Hang Massive: Omat Odat; Released Upon Inception; Thingless Things; Boat Ride; Transition to Dreams; End of Sky; Warmth of the Sun’s Rays; Luminous Emptiness
The Hu: The Gereg; Wolf Totem
Imagine Dragons: Natural
In Strict Confidence: Snow White; Tiefer; Silver Bullets; Forbidden Fruit
J Rokka: Marine Migration
Jessica Bates: The Hanging Tree
Korn: Freak on a Leash; Make Me Bad
Lorde: Yellow Flicker Beat; Royals
Low: Witches; Nightingale; Plastic Cup; Monkey; Half-Light
I.A.: Bad Girls
Many Rivers Ensemble: Blood Moon; Oasis; Upwelling; Emergence
Marconi Union: First Light; Alone Together; Flying (In Crimson Skies); Always Numb; Time Lapse; On Reflection; Broken Colours; We Travel; Weightless
Marilyn Manson: Arma-Goddamn-Motherfucking-Geddon
Matt Corby: Breathe
NIN: Closer; Head Like a Hole; Terrible Lie; Sin (Long); Deep
Nirvana: Lithium; About a Girl; Come As You Are; Lake of Fire; You Know You’re Right
Orgy: Social Enemies; Orgy
Pati Yang: All That Is Thirst
Puddle of Mudd: Famous; Psycho
Red Venom: Let’s Get It On
Rob Zombie: American Witch; Living Dead Girl; Never Gonna Stop
Rue du Soleil: We Can Fly; Le Francaise; Wake Up Brother; Blues Du Soleil
Screaming Trees: Where the Twain Shall Meet; All I Know
Shriekback: Underwater Boys; Over the Wire; This Big Hush; Agony Box; Bollo Rex; Putting All The Lights Out; The Fire Has Brought Us Together; Shovelheads; And the Rain; Wiggle & Drone; Now These Days Are Gone; The King in the Tree
Spiderbait: Shazam!
Tamaryn: While You’re Sleeping, I’m Dreaming; Violet’s in a Pool
Thomas Newman: Dead Already
Tom Petty: Mary Jane’s Last Dance
Trills: Speak Loud
The Verve: Bitter Sweet Symphony
Vive la Void: Devil
Wendy Rule: Let the Wind Blow
Yoshi Flower: Brown Paper Bag

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Autumn’s Bane