Hello everyone and welcome to my stop on the Escapist Book Co. virtual book tour for Steve McHugh’s urban fantasy novel A Talon’s Wrath! Today, I am excited to help start the tour by sharing an excerpt from the book to further whet your appetites!
You can find the excerpt below, along with all of the info about the book, the author, and links to purchase a copy of A Talon’s Wrath for yourself! Also, be sure to take a look at the schedule here or at the top of the post and follow along to see the stops from our other awesome hosts!
A Talon’s Wrath by Steve McHugh
Series: Riftborn #3
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Intended Age Group: Any
Published: June 13, 2023
Lucas Rurik faces unwanted celebrity, ancient enemies, and dangerous zealots in a thrilling urban-fantasy noir from the author of the Hellequin Chronicles.
Centuries of life experience inside and outside the Rift couldn’t prepare former Raven Guild member and riftborn detective Lucas Rurik for his latest set of challenges. First, when his capture of a prominent political figure “trends” on social networks, he finds himself the target of both the media and the public. Then, Noah Kaya, an Ancient, tracks him down for help on a job. As a rule, Lucas doesn’t trust the Ancients; they always seem to have an ulterior motive. But something about this gig just won’t let Lucas say no.
It seems one of Noah’s close friends disappeared right after becoming the lead suspect in a murder case. The problem is the guy in question isn’t the type to knock someone off. Not to mention a whole lot of rift-walkers have recently gone missing, the crime scene reeks of pure rift energy, and a deranged killer who Lucas thought was long deceased might not actually be dead after all.
Soon, what was originally a simple search for a missing person devolves into a dangerous game of cat and mouse with an age-old enemy—and it could bring Lucas face-to-face with Dr. Callie Mitchell, the depraved scientist he’s been hunting for months . . .
The last few months had been somewhat more . . . interesting than I was particularly comfortable with.
The rift-fused are not considered to have a particularly large worldwide population. There are, at a push, about nine million of us on Earth. And while that number has steadily increased over the millennia, it would take tens of thousands of years before they’re anything close to even one percent of the human population.
So, when a rift-fused is shown on TV arresting a Member of Parliament for the British government, people tend to notice. The fact that the person doing the arresting was me meant that for the last four months, I’d been far more recognisable than I was happy with.
After my brief appearance on every news channel in the UK, and quickly followed by a majority of them in the world, people had wanted to know more about me. Who was I? What was I? And where did I live? These were all questions that people online had tried to fish answers for. I trended . . . a word I was not happy to have occur or needed to know existed.
Thankfully, my flat in Brooklyn is under a different name, which meant no one could track me to my home. My friend Gabriel, on the other hand, and his church in Hamble, New York, received more visitors than ever before. In the end, we decided to use his church as a point of contact should anyone try to get hold of me. So far it had worked out, and after a few weeks, the media of the world decided there was something new to focus on and I was largely forgotten about.
Unfortunately, that still meant lots of people trying to contact Gabriel to find me, some friendly, some not. Gabriel was a big boy, though, and could more than handle himself.
I was putting all of that behind me for a few days as I was taken from New York and flown to London. There I was driven through the city in the back of a Range Rover to an eight-storey building near the Shard.
Ravi Gill, head of the UK Rift-Crime Unit, had told me beforehand that because the RCU were stretched thin, he’d requested a driver from the Met police.
The UK RCU branch had a real problem with people working for them who were essentially employed by MP Jacob Smythe, who’d turned out to be a crime boss. Ravi had done his best to ensure that only his people were still in the RCU, and I hoped, for everyone’s sake, that was the case.
The piece of work I was visiting was that very MP. After trying to open a permanent tear to the rift, which would have turned a large portion of the Hampshire countryside into an apocalyptic nightmare, I’d made my very visible capture of Jacob Smythe. He was the type to hold a grudge, and I wasn’t sure how he was going to react when he saw me for the first time since his arrest.
The building I was heading to was the front for an underground rift-fused prison. The facility had been in use since well before the rift-fused had been public knowledge. It housed a little over a hundred prisoners, although currently the number of inmates was single digits.
There were prisons like this all over the globe. Most of them out of the way, underground, or somewhere so heavily guarded that the world at large assumed it was some sort of government facility.
It was winter in England, which meant it was either windy and cold or windy and raining, or, on this particular occasion, both.
“I’m beginning to think we’re going to need an ark,” Ravi said as we dashed from where our cars dropped us off to the front entrance of the eight-storeys-high building.
Ravi was over six feet tall, with brown skin, a Cockney accent, and a tendency to wear exceptionally nice-looking suits. Today’s choice was dark purple, which I was pretty sure I could never get away with but looked like it was made especially for him. Ravi was also human, which was a rarity for the RCU, although it had no bearing on him being good at his job.
We walked through the large foyer, where two receptionists sat behind a large semicircle table in front of a bank of monitors showing various news networks all on mute. Half a dozen armed guards stood next to a set of metal detectors, in front of four lifts and two sets of stairwells. The guards were a mixture of human and rift-fused, all armed with both rift-tempered bladed weapons and guns.
Ravi nodded to them as we walked silently through the metal detector, with me having placed my dual rift-tempered daggers and anything else that might cause a beep, on a counter to the side, pausing to put it all away when done.
“I always find it amazing that you can just walk around anywhere with those things,” Ravi said after he used his security card on a reader next to the lifts.
“Things?” I asked as we entered the newly arrived lift.
“The daggers,” he said.
“Ah, well, the Guild medallion gives me a lot of leeway,” I said, talking about the copper-coloured medallion that hung around my neck. It was in the shape of a buckler shield with a sword and hammer crossing over each other in front, and a steel raven sat atop it. As the sole surviving remaining member of the Raven Guild, it had taken me a long time to start wearing it again.
“Can you take them on a normal flight?” he asked, selecting the button for the fourth underground floor on the panel next to the door.
I nodded. “It’s weird, but whenever Guild members fly and we’ve got whatever bladed or blunt weapon we use with us, people appear to be calmer about the flight.”
“I guess if there is trouble, having someone who can stop it makes people feel better,” Ravi said.
“Never given it much thought,” I said. “Normally, Guilds used private flights and cars.”
“Where’s your Guild’s private plane, then?” Ravi asked.
“Destroyed a long time ago,” I said. “Not entirely sure the Ancients would give me a new one.”
“You ever thought about re-forming the Ravens?” Ravi asked.
I nodded. “I did, but then Callie Mitchell and her turn-people-into-monsters scheme fell in my lap and here we are. Ji-hyun and Nadia send their apologies for not coming.”
“They okay?” Ravi asked.
“Ji-hyun is in charge of not just the RCU in New York but most of the eastern states of America’s offices, so busy . . . and frustrated. And Nadia is . . .” I thought for a second. “She didn’t want to come and see Jacob.”
“She wasn’t sure if her ability to see possible futures might make her see one where she’s meant to rip his head off,” I said. “Didn’t want to risk it.”
“Probably wise,” Ravi agreed.
The lift stopped and the doors opened slowly, revealing a small foyer with four more armed guards. The guards were stood either side of the only exit out of the foyer, a long corridor that led to a large metal door.
There were, like at the front entrance, metal detectors to walk through, although these were built into the corridor you had to walk down to reach the door. There were one-way mirrors on either side, and more guards sat inside, watching your heat patterns and X-rays.
A guard walked with us down the corridor, making us wait for several seconds while she turned a huge wheel on the door, which made a loud beep when it was fully rotated. A second beep, this one muffled, came through from the other side of the door, and with a loud hiss of air, the door slid into the wall.
More guards were behind the door, and like every other guard so far, they wore padded armour and black masks pulled up to their eyes. Anyone working there was always at risk of an inmate escaping and going after their family. Most rift-fused prisons used a mixture of human and rift-fused workers, and usually only the rift-fused or those in high positions were unmasked.
We continued down the corridor, past several closed doors that I was pretty sure led to more corridors and deeper parts of the prison, until we reached another foyer with more guards and a second large metal door.
“This is it,” Ravi said. “You ready?”
“Always,” I told him.
The door opened without any input from the guards, and a middle-aged man walked out. He had long grey hair, a matching beard, and was nearly seven feet tall with a barrel chest.
“Dr. Striker,” Ravi said, shaking the doctor’s huge hand.
“It is good to see you, Ravi,” Dr. Striker said with a Scottish accent.
“Is our guest ready for visitors?” Ravi asked.
“I think we should talk first,” Dr. Striker told us. He turned to me. “Lucas Rurik.”
I noticed he hadn’t offered me his hand.
“Is there a problem?” I asked.
“I am curious about how you will react to my prisoner,” Dr. Striker said. “I am in charge of this prison and the inmates here, which means I am also in charge of their safety. Along with the safety of my people.”
“You think I’m going to try to kill Jacob now that he’s had his Parliamentary status removed,” I said.
“The thought crossed my mind,” Dr. Striker confirmed.
“I’m not going to kill him,” I said. “I just want to talk.”
“Yes, that’s another problem,” Dr. Striker said. “Why would Jacob only talk to you?”
“I’m lucky?” I suggested.
Dr. Striker didn’t smile. “I do not want him to say something that you retaliate to. I do not wish to have to clean up the mess of a Guild member. Again.”
And the penny dropped. “I’m not killing him or hurting him; I just need to talk to him,” I said. “Whatever issues you have with Guilds has nothing to do with me. I don’t murder people in custody.”
Dr. Striker stared at me for an uncomfortably long time before nodding and walking back through the open door with Ravi and me behind him.
The corridor behind the door had the same white walls and ceiling as everything else, but the black tiles had a green line running the length of the corridor.
“Jacob is at the end,” Dr. Striker said, leading us down the eerie corridor, past a dozen doors.
“This whole place is a bit of a maze,” I said.
“It’s why there are coloured lines,” Dr. Striker said without turning back. “Each of these doors leads to either a corridor or to cells. Jacob is the only prisoner in the Green Zone of the prison. We decided it best to keep him separate from anyone else in case his parentage was discovered and it caused . . . complications.”
“You know that his father is a Prime in Inaxia?” I asked.
“He told us,” Dr. Striker said as we reached the door. He turned back to me. “You swear you will not harm him.”
I crossed over my heart. “Promise.”
Dr. Striker removed a card key from his black suit jacket pocket and swiped it over a small card reader, which beeped. The door made a clicking noise and Dr. Striker pushed it open.
The room beyond was maybe fifteen feet wide by thirty feet long. There was a partition after six feet, dividing the visiting area from the cell. There were no doors or windows in the cell, although a lamp inside the cell and one in the visiting area were bright enough to illuminate everything.
There were three comfortable-looking leather chairs in the visiting area, and a couch that sat against one side of the room. A table on the opposite wall had various recording equipment on it, presumably for official visits for prisoners.
Dr. Striker walked over to the recording equipment and activated it, tapping a microphone. “Do not disable this,” he said to me.
I ignored him and walked over to the partition separating me from the cell itself. The cell had two rooms, both of which were visible from where I stood. One room had a bed, seating, a table, TV on the wall, and a small stereo system, while the second room had a toilet, sink, and shower. There was no such thing as privacy in these cells.
Jacob was lying on his bed. The last time I’d seen him, he’d been wearing an expensive dark blue suit and custom-made shoes. They were now replaced with a bright blue jumpsuit and dark grey socks. He was reading a newspaper, although I couldn’t see which one or what the article was about.
“Jacob,” Dr. Striker said from the electronics table.
“Yes, Doctor,” Jacob said without moving.
“You have visitors,” Dr. Striker said.
“Thank you, Percival,” Jacob said, placing his newspaper on the floor and swinging his legs off his bed. He’d grown a slight beard in the months from when I’d last seen him.
“How are you doing in there, Hannibal?” I said. “You wanted to see me?”
Jacob gave a tight smile and walked over to what passed for a kitchen sink, filling a kettle, plugging it in, and switching it on.
“Always the joker, Lucas,” he said. “If you don’t mind, I would like a cup of tea before we begin.
“What, no fava beans with a nice Chianti?” I said with a smirk.
Ravi stifled a laugh.
I sat down in one of the comfortable seats, with Ravi taking the seat beside me and Dr. Striker remaining by the electronics table.
“Dr. Striker, our agreement, please,” Jacob said.
I looked over at Dr. Striker, who was staring at me. He nodded once and pushed a button on the far wall. The foot-thick, bulletproof glass partition between us slid down into the ground.
“Ah,” Jacob said. “Thank you, Doctor.”
I stayed put. “We could have just spoken with that there if you were concerned I’d hurt him,” I said to Dr. Striker.
“Jacob refused to speak to anyone unless he had several demands met,” Ravi said. “No partition. Speaks only when you’re here. And a kettle with tea and milk delivered regularly.”
“That’s it?” I asked.
“He also asked for an internet connection, but funnily enough, we vetoed that,” Ravi said.
The kettle finished boiling and Jacob calmly made himself a cup of tea, adding milk and sugar to the hot water and stirring it slowly without looking back at us.
“Jacob,” Dr. Striker said, an almost-plea in his voice. “We really do need to begin.”
Jacob let out a deep breath, turned back to us, and, cup in hand, walked out of his cell, moved the chair beside mine so that it was facing me, and sat down.
“I wish you to know that should anything occur here that jeopardises either party, I will hit the panic button,” Dr. Striker said, pointing to a red button on the wall beside him.
I got up, moving my own chair so that it was facing Jacob, and retook my seat. “Could have saved us a lot of time and effort if we didn’t have to do the theatrics,” I told him as Ravi pushed his chair back. Far enough away to not be involved in the conversation, but close enough that he could stop me from murdering Jacob. Well, technically, he couldn’t stop me if he tried, but I liked Ravi, so I wasn’t going to do anything stupid.
“Lucas Rurik,” Jacob said, before blowing on his hot cup of tea. “It’s been a while. My beard isn’t quite as full as your own, but it’s getting there.”
“I’d be glad to share grooming tips,” I told him. “If it helps, the prison jumpsuit really looks good on you. The colour is great for your skin.”
Jacob laughed. “I imagine you have many questions. Most of which I refused to answer without you being here. Do you know why?”
“Because you’re a self-aggrandising dipshit?” I suggested with a shrug.
Jacob’s smile didn’t reach his eyes, where only hate lived.
In contrast, my smile beamed.
“We want details on where Callie Mitchell is,” Ravi said. “We also want information on your work while you were a Member of Parliament, and every single other member who was aware of your status and did nothing.”
“The Prime Minister,” Jacob said first.
“We know about him,” Ravi said. “He’s currently under criminal investigation.”
“He’s a moron,” Jacob snapped. “He used my ill-gotten funds to prop up his electoral campaign; he used my knowledge and contacts to help push through legislation. In short, he was only made Prime Minster because I couldn’t be seen to have any higher profile than I did. I helped him, and he pushed through the legislation I needed. I gave you all of the intel about the Prime Minister.”
“And it’ll take a long time to go through,” Ravi said. “There’s a lot of detailed notes and journals.”
“I liked notes,” Jacob said. His gaze snapped around to me. “How is being famous?”
“I get better restaurant tables,” I said nonchalantly.
“Where is Dr. Callie Mitchell?” Ravi asked.
“I’ve told you a hundred times, I don’t know,” Jacob said. “She contacted me using a burner phone and pinging her IP across a million different places. I don’t know where she is, I don’t know what she’s doing, I just know that when she’s done, she’s going to change the world.”
“What does that mean?” Ravi asked.
“It means exactly how it sounds,” Jacob said. “She’s going to change the world. It’s what she does.”
“She’s a monster,” I said. “She experiments on people, fiends, on anything she can get her hands on. She’s a murderer and a torturer. She’s closer to a war criminal than an actual doctor.”
“She really got under your skin, didn’t she?” Jacob asked. “She said that you were in her charge for several days. I guess she made a good impression on you. Did she show you her experiments? Did she show you the leaps she’s made?”
“I saw a lot,” I said softly.
“You know the suit I wear right now, the one that’s designed to stop me being able to access the rift?” Jacob asked, pulling his jumpsuit collar aside to show off the dark blue second-skin suit. “Do you know how it works?”
“Yes,” I said.
“You ever worn one?” Jacob asked.
“Yes,” I told him. “Practitioners help make them. They create potions that can stop people accessing the rift; those suits are soaked in them. It’s not quite as permanent as Callie wanted me to believe when I first met her, but it lasts long enough. Were you the practitioner who helped her?”
Jacob shrugged. “What if I was? What if I helped Callie subjugate and experiment on rift-fused? You’d consider me a monster, wouldn’t you? Even though I was banished here with Callie, with the Blessed. Betrayed and banished for trying to make our lives better.”
“By murdering a whole bunch of people,” I pointed out. “I will give you that maybe your dad could have used a little murdering. He did betray you, after all.”
“My dad is the real monster here,” Jacob shouted, almost jumping up. “And you helped him.”
“Jacob, please,” Dr. Striker said, his voice soothing. “This isn’t helping.”
Jacob let out a sigh and sat down. “Fine; let’s start again, shall we?”
About the Author
Steve self-published his first book, Crimes Against Magic, in 2012, following up with Born of Hatred later that year. In 2013, the series was picked up by a traditional publisher, and the final novel in the series, Scorched Shadows, was nominated for a Gemmell best novel award. Three additional trilogies have been published in Hellequin Universe; The Avalon Chronicles, The Rebellion Chronicles, and The Antiquity Chronicles.
Steve has had multiple books become bestsellers and has sold over a million books worldwide.
Amazon Author Page: https://amzn.to/3nXoJnZ