A brave warrior risks a battle with the gods to save his family in this “gripping, horrific, and unique” grimdark fantasy (Seanan McGuire, New York Times–bestselling author)
Since time began, the Grakhul—immortal servants of the gods—have taken human sacrifices to keep the world in balance and the gods appeased. But when warrior Brogan McTyre’s entire family is chosen as the next offering, the Grakhul are met with a resistance they never expected.
Determined to free his family from their terrible fate, Brogan begins the toughest battle of his life. But when you challenge the power of the gods, you challenge the very fabric of society. Declared an outcast, Brogan and his family are hunted like criminals—though they aren't the only ones who suffer the consequences of their rebellion. When the gods turn their wrath elsewhere, Brogan realizes his fight is not just for the lives and freedom of his loved ones, but for the lives and freedom of the entire world.
File Under: Fantasy [ Hunted by the Gods | A Great Refusal | By Land and Sea | The Ultimate Sacrifice ]
About the Author
James A Moore is the award-winning, bestselling author of over forty novels, thrillers, dark fantasy and horror alike, including the critically acclaimed Fireworks, Under the Overtree, Blood Red, the Serenity Falls trilogy and his most recent Seven Forges series. Along with Jonathan Maberry and Christopher Golden, he hosts the popular Three Guys With Beards podcast.. He has twice been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award and spent three years as an officer in the Horror Writers Association.
Author hometown: Bradford MA, USA
Read an Excerpt
One: Four Coins
Was there ever a finer word?
Brogan McTyre and his cohorts had spent the last eight weeks riding along the Hollum trails and the plains of Arthorne, serving as guards and guides alike to the merchant trains. It was hard work, and it was unfulfilling, but it put enough coin in their purses to keep them through the worst of the winters.
Now, after two months’ travel, they were heading back to where they all wanted to be – except for Harper, who was seemed perfectly content wherever he settled. Back to their homes.
The leaves had started their slow burn, and to counteract the oranges and yellows that imitated a hearth’s fire, the air had grown cold, and frost covered the ground every morning.
That meant the air was chilled enough that every breath offered a gust of steam into the air and every intake sapped just a touch of the internal heat.
Still, they were heading home.
The Broken Swords were behind them. According the legends Brogan’s father had told him when he was a lad, the collection of mountains hid the remains of old giants, and the gigantic spears of crystal that thrust from the earth and stone of the area were supposed to be fragments of the giants’ swords.
He didn’t believe the tales, but he remembered them fondly and had shared them with his own children more than once.
A smile crept across his face as Brogan thought of his little ones. Braghe was his pride, of course, a hearty lad who at only five years was already an adventurer and constantly getting into battles with whatever monsters his imagination could summon. His daughters, the twins, were as lovely as their mother and happily too young for him to worry yet about the sort of lads who thought as he had before he married. Leidhe and Sherla were eight, and their hair was spun from the same fire as his. They had his locks and their mother’s looks. A combination that would doubtless cause him plenty of grief, as they became young women. Also like their mother, they were fighters. When they weren’t trying to be prim and proper they were out fighting imaginary beasties with Braghe.
Much to their mother’s chagrin, they were seldom prim and proper.
His smile grew broader as he thought of their mother. Nora was reason enough to come home and the thought of being with her again took a great deal of chill from the morning.
“You’re thinking of your woman again, aren’t you?” Harper’s voice cut through his thoughts and he looked toward his lifelong friend. Harper was the only man he knew who looked as comfortable on a saddle as he did on the ground. There was something of a cat about the man. He seemed perfectly relaxed all the time, until you looked at his eyes. They were always moving, roaming even when his body seemed incapable of doing more than stretching lazily.
“Why do you say that?” The thing with having Harper as a friend was you never knew when he was going to tease ruthlessly or try to provoke a fight. He looked calm but that meant nothing.
“Because you’ve got that dreamy smile on your face again. You only ever get that smile when you’ve just been laid or when you’re thinking about Nora.”
“How would you know how I look when I’ve just had sex?”
“Because I’ve seen you after you get home to Nora as well as when you’re thinking about getting home to her.”
Brogan shook his head and smiled. If nothing else he could always trust Harper to observe the world around him very well.
“What are your plans for the winter, Harper?”
“I’ll be finding a place to stay and a woman to keep me warm, I suppose.”
That was always Harper’s plan for the future. It was as reliable an answer as could be found in the Five Kingdoms.
Up ahead of them Mosely was rounding the final curve in the road leading to Kinnett. Not far from him stood Volkner, who owned the homestead nearest Brogan’s.
The look on Volkner’s face when he saw Brogan was enough to cause the first panic to set in.
Brogan urged his horse forward and kept his eyes locked on his neighbor, a dread sinking into his stomach that was deep and abiding.
Mosely looked back over his shoulder as Brogan rode forward.
Volkner’s dark eyes were wide and filled with sorrow. “Brogan, lad, I’m so very sorry. We’ve been trying to reach you. I sent Tamra to find which path you were on. He must have chosen badly.”
“What is it, Volkner?” His voice shook.
There are rules all people follow. Most of those rules are made by kings.
Volkner’s hands were empty.
“There are coins, Brogan. At your door. Four of them.”
“Coins?” Brogan frowned and shook his head. “What are you talking about?”
Volkner spoke again, carefully, with great emphasis, his eyes blinking wetly as he made sure Brogan was listening. “Coins, Brogan. There are coins at your doorstep. Four of them.”
“No.” Brogan could barely speak.
Harper came up from behind, his voice calm and cold. “Are you sure, Volkner?”
The older man looked to Harper and a faint contempt painted his broad features. “Oh, I’ve seen them before, Harper. Not as many as you, perhaps, but I’ve seen them.”
Brogan’s ears rang with a high, sweet note that tried to seal all other sounds away. “Have you looked in the house?”
“It’s forbidden, Brogan. You know that.” There was regret in the words.
“How long ago?” Harper again, asking the questions that Brogan would have asked if his heart wasn't trying to break.
Volkner shook his head and spread his arms in a gesture of his sadness and frustration. “Five days since that I know of. I visited two days before that and all was well.”
“Five days?” The winter grew in his chest.
Without another word Brogan drove his horse forward, brushing past all of them on his way home. The gelding charged hard and the familiar landscape nearly blurred but it was not fast enough.
His dismount was more of a leap than a proper climb from the saddle. Brogan only took five strides toward the door before he saw them.
He had heard of the coins before. Had seen one as a child, but only the one and he had never touched the thing.
That they were valuable was impossible to deny. Brogan could see the weight of them where they lay on the ground in front of his home. They were large and heavy and worth far more than he’d made in the last few weeks of travel. He stepped over them and opened the door, calling out to Nora and each of his children as he entered.
It was a good place. He’d built it himself with the help of Harper and others. The people around him had helped as he had aided them when the time came. The town was good that way. He left Kinnett and knew that all was well with his wife and children, and that people as good and solid as Volkner were always there.
But the coins were different, weren’t they?
No one answered his calls.
No one was home. He’d known they wouldn’t be. There were four coins, one for each of his children and one for his wife.
When they came, when they took from a family, they always left one coin behind for each person they stole away.
One coin for each and every sacrifice.
He backed away from the door and shook his head, that feeling of dread growing more profound.
“No. No. No. Nonononononononono….”
He looked to the ground and saw them. Four coins. Just as Volkner had said.
Without thinking about the possibilities, he reached out and touched them. They were weighty, to be sure. The largest gold coins he had ever seen or touched. The metal was as cold as the air, colder, perhaps, as he held them in his hands. They were marked with unfamiliar images and symbols.
As he held them, Harper dismounted and came toward him.
“Brogan….” Had he ever heard so much sorrow in his friend’s voice before? No, surely not. Harper was not a man who held onto his grief. He was gifted that way. When his mother died as a child he’d cried for fifteen minutes and never again that Brogan knew of. When his father grew ill and withered five years later there were no tears at all.
“Harper.” He could barely recognize his own voice. “You know the Grakhul. You’ve dealt with them.”
“Aye.” Harper did not turn away from him, did not flinch, but held his gaze. “What you would do, it’s forbidden. You know this.”
“Four of them, Harper? My entire family?”
“Brogan, it’s the law in all Five Kingdoms. ‘When the Grakhul offer coin it must be taken.’”
“My entire family, Harper.” Brogan’s voice was stronger now. Louder.
“My entire family! How many do they take at a time?”
“Four. You know this, too.”
The world did not grow gray, as he feared it might. It grew red.
“How long do they take to offer up their sacrifices?”
“How would I know that, Brogan?”
Part of Brogan knew Harper was trying to make him see reason. But where it mattered, Brogan did not care.
“Is there a chance that my Nora is still alive?”
Harper licked his lips. He looked as nervous as he ever had.
“There is a chance, yes, but it is slim.” Harper held up his hand as Brogan started for his horse. “You don’t know where they are, Brogan.”
“No. I do not.” He looked away from the gelding and toward his friend. “But you do.”
“I cannot. You know this too.”
“My entire family. All of them. Has that ever happened before?”
“No one knows how they make their choices.” Harper shook his head as Brogan started walking again.
“Take me to them. Maybe I can make them change their minds.”
He could see Harper wanting to argue again. He knew his friend well. They had fought side by side on a score of occasions and traveled together long enough that even if they had not grown together in the same town they’d have claimed fellowship.
“I have to try, Harper.” His hands clenched into fists around the four cold, metal coins. They were of a size that his fists could not completely close. “I have to.”
Harper stood completely still for one more moment and then he sighed. “So let’s go see if we can get your family back.”
“I owe you.”
“I’ve owed you for a lifetime.” Harper shook his head and spat. He was not happy. There was nothing to be happy about.
Volkner was coming his way, his ambling stride leaving him swaying one way and then the other. Brogan knew exactly how much the man ached inside for failing to stop Nora and the children from being taken.
“I am so sorry, Brogan.”
“You could not have stopped them.” It was all he could manage as a defense for his friend. It was the truth. No one could stop the Grakhul. They were called by many names, not the least of which was the Undying. Every story of anyone trying to prevent a family member from being taken ended poorly for the would-be saviors.
Brogan climbed back into the saddle and turned toward the Broken Swords. The sun gleamed off the distant shards in a display of colors that was the envy of rainbows, and Brogan did not care in the least.
Somewhere beyond those mountains his family was being dragged to their deaths.
He would save them or he would die trying.