Red Gambit

Book One of the Harvesters Series, by Luke Mitchell
(This excerpt is also available in audio right here.)

Chapter 1

The Rath was a real charmer, Rachel decided as she drew up beside the sputtering neon sign. Every bit the kind of establishment she’d been expecting. 

Somehow, the air outside the dingy pub felt even muggier than everywhere else in the dilapidated town. But maybe that was simply her imagination—a manifestation of her disdain for the sickly green tint of grimy alley lights and the mixture of muffled voices, bad music, and pungent odors wafting out of the pub.

“A real charmer,” she confirmed to the empty alleyway, running her thumb along one of the glyphs etched into the light gray surface of her staff.

A hint of a breeze ruffled a few wavy strands of her dirty-blond hair, but she hardly noticed as she closed her eyes and sank into a deep focus. Time to see what she was about to walk into.

She directed her thoughts toward the sounds and the smells of The Rath, guiding nebulous tendrils of her mind outward as she had a million times before.

The inside of the pub took shape under her extended senses. A greasy haze of smoke permeated the place, accentuated by the clinking of glass mugs on wooden tabletops and drunken slurs that she felt more than heard. The smoke poured most heavily from one table in particular, where six men sat awash in a sea of cigars and drinks, playing cards.

“C’mon, Jim,” one of them, a hulking gorilla of a man, was saying. She focused in.

The big guy scratched at his head and tapped the excess ash of his cigar into an empty mug. “If you’re gonna play with yourself between hands, at least have the decency to leave the table and let us have on with it.”

“Piss off, ya wanker,” another—Jim, she supposed—replied in a bad imitation of the big guy’s thick English accent. “Have someplace to be tonight, do ya?”

“Give us a minute to call your wife, and I’ll let ya know at that.”

A low rumble of laughter made its way around the table as Jim shook his head and began dealing out cards. The men carried on, verbally deprecating one another between swigs from their heavy mugs.

She swept on with her extended senses.

Near the card game, two men nursed drinks at a smaller table. Across the room, a man tapped his greasy fingers at the touchscreen of an ancient jukebox, which proceeded to wheeze out an unfortunate tune from the early 2000s.

“Christ, Darrel,” someone called, “can’tcha pick something from this half of the century?”

Another round of chuckles filled the pub. There hadn’t exactly been an outpouring of contemporary music since the Catastrophe.

Two more men at the bar, not counting the bartender behind the thick wooden counter. A dozen men inside, assuming no one was cloaked from her senses. Another quick sweep told her that every single one of them was packing, save for the bartender, whose sawed-off double-barrel shotgun was stowed under the bar and technically not on his person.


She drew the tendrils of her mind back home and opened her eyes, her senses shifting back to her own sweaty palms and dry mouth. It wasn’t as if she’d been expecting to find a roomful of well-mannered gentlemen sharing an evening of lively debate, but that didn’t make her any happier about walking into a den of armed assholes.

Michael had been missing for nearly a week now, and if that punk from earlier had been right (which was, admittedly, highly debatable), this dive was her best bet of finding out why.

Cursing her brother for having run off in the first place, she pushed open the door of The Rath.

Inside, the big guy must have been faring poorly at cards. His thick voice was the first thing she heard. “Son of a—”

He paused as she stepped through the doorway, presumably to turn along with every other head in the bar and get a look at the tiny blond chick who’d just walked in. She didn’t need to gauge their expressions to know that very few outsiders, small blondes or otherwise, casually walked into this place. Especially not outsiders carrying glyph-covered staves.

Her eyes settled on the gorilla in the cheap suit she took to be the closest thing to a boss in the room. Focusing on one man instead of a dozen was a hell of a lot less daunting, and if she ended up needing to make a point, starting with the biggest and baddest was probably her best bet.

The big guy stared right back, a hint of amusement creeping onto his round face. “My heart alive. Whatever brings you to this side a town, little sweetling? Do you know where you are?”

Her throat initiated a dry swallow without her leave. She bit down, steeling herself. “I’m looking for someone. I think you boys might be able to help me.”

The tension in the room was palpable as the men exchanged looks, then eased as they reached the unspoken agreement that a lone girl couldn’t possibly pose a threat. Shoulders relaxed, and hands shifted away from the weapons they’d gravitated toward upon her unexpected entrance. A few men went back to their drinks. She started to hope, and then—

“I’ll help you here, sweetie.”

The asshole at the bar leaned back and patted his lap. “Why don’t you come tell ol’ Darrel what it is you want?”

Why did they always have to go there? She wrinkled her nose, glancing around to take in the dozen stares that bored at her from all around, waiting to see what kind of prey she was.

“Why don’t you fuck off, Darrel?” She shifted her gaze back to the suited gorilla at the table and hoped that would be the end of it.

It wasn’t.

Wood creaked, and the faces in front of her took on hungry expressions as they watched ol’ Darrel rise from his barstool behind her.

“Well look at the pretty little mouth on this one,” Darrel said, loud enough that the room could hear and share in his stupid chuckle.

So it was going to be like that, then. He’d staked his claim, and now he couldn’t let it drop.

With slow deliberation, she shifted her staff toward the giant dick resembling a man named Darrel and reached out with her mind to form a channel between the battery packs on her belt and the fist-shaped glyph on her staff.

Darrel took a step toward her.

She unleashed her gathered energy, and he flew backward as if he’d been struck in the chest by an invisible battering ram. He toppled messily over the bar, colliding with the bartender on the other side. Both men went down in a tangle of limbs and undignified noises.

The others were off their barstools in an instant, digging for their weapons. From behind, there was an ensemble of rustling fabric, sliding chairs, and mechanical cocking sounds. She didn’t need to extend her senses to know she would find the rest of the weapons in the pub pointing at her.

A long, tense silence stretched out as the pub’s denizens took her in with fresh eyes. She turned back, commanding her suddenly wobbly legs to get their shit together and resisting the urge to look everywhere at once. More by nerves than design, some of the energy she held ready bled out around her, rustling her hair in the still air.

The men scarcely moved—a tighter grip on a weapon here, an uncertain glance at a neighbor there.

“Tom . . .” One of the men at the card table eyed the suited gorilla from behind his raised pistol.

The big guy—Tom, apparently—silenced his man with a raised hand, his beady eyes studying her all the while. “Who the hell might you be then, love?” All traces of amusement were gone.

She met his stare. “Someone who’s looking for Michael Carver. And in case it was unclear, when I said I thought you might be able to help”—she tilted her staff toward him—“what I meant is that you’re going to help me.”

Tom considered the staff for a long moment. Then he began to chuckle, low and steady, and looked around at his fellow thugs. “Right then, gents. I reckon the King’ll be wanting a word with this one.”

Her stomach fell at his words, and then it plunged through the floor when he pointed at her, his eyes taking on an eager glint.

“Take her.”

She squeezed her eyes shut and clamped her free hand over them, then raised her staff and channeled energy to two of its glyphs. Pins and needles crackled through her body, and the room exploded with a blinding flash of white light and a deafening bang.

Everyone staggered back in disoriented confusion—everyone except Rachel. She pushed through a wave of channeling fatigue, past the ringing in her ears, and struck while she had the chance.

She shifted her grip and brought the staff down on the head of the closer of the two at the bar. The staff kicked in her hands, a dull thunk of bone and sinew she felt more than heard. She spun and cracked a heavy blow over the other man. Through her boots, she felt the thump of bodies hitting the floorboards.

The men by the card table were regaining their senses.

“Shoot the bitch!” Tom roared. He pointed a shiny, oversized pistol at her.

She jabbed her staff toward them and focused her will once again. A low thrum rushed through the air, and a wave of unseen force plowed into Tom and two of his companions. They sprawled to the ground, upsetting the table and taking two more men down in a mess of limbs, broken glass, and spilled beer.

She trained her staff on the three men still standing with sawed-off shotguns and a revolver all raised her way. They hesitated, looking around uncertainly at their battered colleagues.

She turned back to Tom, resisting the urge to shake her head clear. That last telekinetic blast had left dark spots in her vision, but now wasn’t the time to let them see her vulnerability. She raised a hand, fixed her mind on the big gorilla, and pulled.

Tom sailed through the air and slammed heavily against the solid wood of the bar, sending two bar stools crashing to the floor.

She strode over to him, trying not to stumble from exhaustion. “Where is he?”

Tom tried to lunge for her, and she drew the necessary energy to slam him back to the bar. He snarled a curse and spit at her. She punched him in the groin. He bucked and gave a furious yowl, but when he tried to move again, she kept him pinned to the bar with her mind.

“Where is he, asshole?” she said, her face only inches from his.

A gunshot roared from the direction of the overturned card table, shockingly loud in the enclosed space of the pub. She whipped around in time to see the dull bullet that had snapped to a halt in midair a few feet from her head. It dropped impotently to the ground.

She extended an open hand toward the shooter. The man’s revolver drove back into his face hard enough to send him toppling onto the table behind with a pained grunt. The two guys beside him recoiled at a look from her. 

Tom’s eyes were wide with disbelief—or maybe terror—as she turned back to face him. She suppressed a shiver at the sudden coolness of the air around her and faced him as calmly as her adrenaline-soaked brain would allow.

So the bullet catcher worked. But now wasn’t the time to celebrate.

She made a show of carefully holding the end of her staff over Tom’s right foot as if preparing to drive it down. “Where is he?”

He tried to raise his hands and found them secured by invisible bindings. “All right, Jesus, all right. Word is, a week or two ago, Carver and his mate managed to get their mitts on somethin’ that wasn’t theirs to trot off with. Somethin’ big—a shipment from the Red King straight to the Overlord, word is.”

“And?” She glanced around to check that the room’s stunned obedience was holding.

“Well, the King wanted it back, didn’t he? He went after them two. Nabbed Carver and killed Huxley trying to do the same to him, I heard . . .” He frowned as if he’d only just realized he was still talking. “That’s all you’re gonna get here, love. That’s as much as any of these lummoxes know.”

This sounded bad. Beyond bad. What the hell had Michael gotten himself into?

“Where do I find this Red King?”

His brow furrowed and his mouth opened and closed a couple of times. Then he glanced around the pub, apparently looking for a partner to share in his disbelief. “Christ, love, you’re not from around here, are ya?”

She scowled and punched him in the groin again. “Clearly I’m on holiday, asshole. Now where do I find him?”

Once he got past his indignant yowl of pain and colorful stream of curses, he began to chuckle, shaking his head. “You’ll find him at the Red Fortress, you crazy bitch. Across the river—old industrial area. Be my guest and hop on over.”

She gave him a long, measuring glare and turned to leave. No one said a word.

When she reached the door, she released her hold on Tom. He snarled a curse and rushed for her back, yelling something about her having the balls to walk into his joint and disrespect his authority.

She spun on her heel and, with one last effort of will, hurled Tom back to join the men on the floor behind the bar. Then she walked out of the pin-drop silence of The Rath and into the muggy Newark night.

Keep Reading Today.

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Thank you for reading,
Luke Mitchell

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