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Supernatural is Eternal

Poster Placeholder of - 99The infamous CW series Supernatural is about to wrap up after 15 seasons on air, but the legacy of this fantastical giant is eternal. S. A. Hunt, author of the Malus Domestica series, joined us to talk about falling in love with the show, the impact the series had on her work, and more. Check it out here!


By S. A. Hunt

Y’all, I love Supernatural.

I came to the fandom incredibly late—I didn’t watch the series until well after I’d already written most of what would become Burn the Dark, I Come With Knives, and The Hellion. But between the first draft and the final round of edits and additions—last summer, I think it was—I sat down with my friend Kate and binged every single episode to date.

Wish I’d gotten into this show back in the day. By that, I mean 2005, the year I enlisted.

For eight excruciating years of the Army life, Supernatural went on without me, marching forward into the darkness, where it would be waiting to be picked up and loved . . . and still, for some strange reason, I still didn’t answer the call. I think the first episode I tried to watch during that period was the Bloody Mary episode, and I had convinced myself it was a rip-off of The Ring/Ringu, which left a sour taste in my mouth. And to be fair, even now it seems heavily inspired by The Ring—but I should have given the show’s writers a lot more credit.

After I went to Afghanistan in 2011, I went another nine years without watching.

By then, Supernatural had reached this place in my mind where I had seen this overwhelming fandom deluge, of Tumblr gifs and Wattpad fanfics and hashtags, and I sort of became desensitized to it. From the outside, it was like seeing a too-long trailer for a movie. I felt like I’d already watched it—and from the boil-over I saw, it didn’t seem like something I would be interested in.

But then in 2019, I was going out with Kate, and we were sitting at their place one night looking for something to watch when Kate suggested Supernatural.

“Cool, sure,” I said, non-committally. “I’ve been meaning to get into it for a long time.”

What ensued was a journey of epic proportions, like they say, as we industriously bulldozed our way through the entire run of the show.

The first thing that struck me was how intimate the show’s scope was—how “homespun” and human the writing was. This wasn’t some slick, overproduced vehicle for a pair of pretty faces and a series of cheesy, romantic trysts, like other CW shows, or like fanfics made me believe. The Winchester brothers felt like two real, actual brothers that had real, actual fights, and loved each other in a real, actual way. I will admit that sometimes their enemies felt a bit like cardboard cutouts—but the brothers. It always came back to the brothers. Their dynamic felt real, and it felt complex, and that element was always the compelling force throughout the seasons, even when it wasn’t the focus of the written plot. I credit that wholly to the acting chops of Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki. They took it to the next level, and their natural complexity and charisma were the driving force behind the show’s popularity. They made the viewer feel like they were the third Winchester brother.

But if we’re to be honest here, if there is a real third lead character of Supernatural right behind Dean and Sam, it’s the rock n’ roll.

Supernatural may have been the first time I’d ever seen—or heard, rather—dark urban fantasy with a classic rock soundtrack. Something about soundtracking all that monster-killing with songs like “Carry On Wayward Son” gives the series heft, gives it real flavor and personality, and brought urban fantasy into the real world in a way it just hadn’t been done before. It made urban fantasy accessible to everybody, not just bookstore nerds.

Up until then, all the urban fantasy I’d seen or read lacked that certain gravity; it all took place in big cities and either had a doomful, stately, gothic tone, or it bordered on self-parody, or it had a certain storybook-noir feel. Detective fiction with fairies and centaurs.

Ironically, I had been a devotee of the show True Blood during the show’s initial run, which definitely hewed closer to that mold than Supernatural ever did. And really, True Blood had a thread of good music running through it—that opening is a legend visually and acoustically, and the closing credits always ambushed you with something amazing—but TB’s music wasn’t something that gave itself to who the show was the way Supernatural did.

And somehow without even having watched the show, I followed in Supernatural’s footsteps—music became a part of Malus Domestica as well.

But where the Winchesters hunted monsters to classic rock, my witch-hunter girl and her merry monster squad were inspired by modern women-fronted bands—namely, Halestorm, which I listened to on repeat for months and months. Burn The Dark and I Come With Knives were heavily inspired by The Pretty Reckless, In This Moment, Kidneythieves, Warpaint, Phantogram, Nova Rockafeller, Thundermother, Battle Beast, and other bands that provided the right kind of feminine rage and revolution I wanted to channel into my work.

I feel like I was in a unique place when it came to being a Supernatural fan toward the end of the series, and getting caught up on it between writing the Malus books on my own and editing them for Tor. Most viewers experienced the show in a slow simmer, like cooking a lobster, over the course of a decade and a half, where it’s harder to “see the forest for the trees,” so to speak. But I was able to mainline it over the course of a couple of months—which gave me a much stronger, more concentrated sense of what made Supernatural tick, and how it made me feel.

This afforded me the opportunity to enter the genre without cannibalizing Supernatural for parts, but after watching the show, I was able to go back after the fact and tailor my books around the edges to push the style and quality closer to what I loved so much about Supernatural.

My protagonist Robin’s relationship to Joel became more sibling-like, and they got more banter dialogue; Robin’s relationship to Kenway became less of an awkward meet-cute and more of a mutual support between two survivors of terrible trauma; music became more of a presence in the narrative, especially in the tune-packed Hellion, whose structure was made to resemble an album with music tracks for chapters; Gendreau the magician took on more of a Castiel role, as a liaison between Robin and the secretive Dogs of Odysseus.

Most importantly, I gained a better understanding and feel for the life of a monster-hunter on the run.

Supernatural ends this year, and I consider it the end of an era. I hope to see a lot more of Ackles and Padalecki in new projects. We’ll probably never see them together again, but we were lucky enough to get almost 20 years.

As for me, I don’t delude myself that the Malus Domestica series could ever blow up to be the spiritual successor to a show as widely beloved as Supernatural—especially if we get that coveted TV show adaptation—but a girl can dream. Supernatural was the ultimate UF adventure, and we were lucky to have it.

Keep on kickin’ it in the ass, all you hunters out there.

S. A. HUNT (she/her) is the author of the Malus Domestica horror-action series from Tor Books, which begins with Burn the Dark. In 2014, she won Reddit’s /r/Fantasy “Independent Novel of the Year” Stabby Award for her Outlaw King fantasy gunslinger series. She is an Afghanistan veteran (OEF 2010), a coffee enthusiast, a fervent bicyclist, and she currently lives in Petoskey, Michigan.

Order Burn the Dark Here

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Every Tor Book Coming This Fall

We’re dreaming of fall weather at Tor…the changing of colors, the crackle of a bonfire, the tastes of our favorite fall foods. And we can hardly contain ourselves as we wait for our fall books to finally make their way into our hands. Check out which books are coming to shelves near you this fall below:

September 8

Poster Placeholder of - 59Architects of Memory by Karen Osborne

Terminally ill salvage pilot Ash Jackson lost everything in the war with the alien Vai, but she’ll be damned if she loses her future. Her plan: to buy, beg, or lie her way out of corporate indenture and find a cure. When her crew salvages a genocidal weapon from a ravaged starship above a dead colony, Ash uncovers a conspiracy of corporate intrigue and betrayal that threatens to turn her into a living weapon.

September 15

Placeholder of  -78To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

During a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, Kira finds an alien relic. At first she’s delighted, but elation turns to terror when the ancient dust around her begins to move. As war erupts among the stars, Kira is launched into a galaxy-spanning odyssey of discovery and transformation. First contact isn’t at all what she imagined, and events push her to the very limits of what it means to be human. While Kira faces her own horrors, Earth and its colonies stand upon the brink of annihilation. Now, Kira might be humanity’s greatest and final hope . . .

Image Placeholder of - 52The Hellion by S. A. Hunt

Robin Martine has destroyed witches all across the country, but since her confrontation with the demon Andras, Robin has had to deal with her toughest adversary yet: herself. While coming to grips with new abilities, she and her boyfriend Kenway make their way to the deserts of rural Texas, where new opportunities await.

September 19

Place holder  of - 26The Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford

In a snowbound inn high in the Alps, four people meet who will alter fate. Together they will wage an intrigue-filled campaign against the might of Byzantium to secure the English throne for Richard, Duke of Gloucester—and make him Richard III. Available for the first time in nearly two decades, with a new introduction by New York Times-bestselling author Scott Lynch, The Dragon Waiting is a masterpiece of blood and magic.

October 6

Image Place holder  of - 44The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab

France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever—and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets. Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

October 13

Attack Surface by Cory Doctorow

Most days, Masha Maximow was sure she’d chosen the winning side. In her day job as a counterterrorism wizard for a transnational cybersecurity firm, she made the hacks that allowed repressive regimes to spy on dissidents, and manipulate their every move. The perks were fantastic, and the pay was obscene. When her targets were strangers in faraway police states, it was easy to compartmentalize, to ignore the collateral damage of murder, rape, and torture. But when it hits close to home, and the hacks and exploits she’s devised are directed at her friends and family–including boy wonder Marcus Yallow, her old crush and archrival, and his entourage of naïve idealists–Masha realizes she has to choose.

Dune: The Duke of Celadan by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

Leto Atreides, Duke of Caladan and father of the Muad’Dib. While all know of his fall and the rise of his son, little is known about the quiet ruler of Caladan and his partner Jessica. Or how a Duke of an inconsequential planet earned an emperor’s favor, the ire of House Harkonnen, and set himself on a collision course with his own death. This is the story.

October 20

To Hold Up the Sky by Cixin Liu

In To Hold Up the Sky, Cixin Liu takes us across time and space, from a rural mountain community where elementary students must use physicas to prevent an alien invasion; to coal mines in northern China where new technology will either save lives of unleash a fire that will burn for centuries; to a time very much like our own, when superstring computers predict our every move; to 10,000 years in the future, when humanity is finally able to begin anew; to the very collapse of the universe itself.

November 17

Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

After forming a coalition of human resistance against the enemy invasion, Dalinar Kholin and his Knights Radiant have spent a year fighting a protracted, brutal war. Neither side has gained an advantage. Now, as new technological discoveries begin to change the face of the war, the enemy prepares a bold and dangerous operation. The arms race that follows will challenge the very core of the Radiant ideals, and potentially reveal the secrets of the ancient tower that was once the heart of their strength.

December 1

Hollow Empire by Sam Hawke

Poison was only the beginning…. The deadly siege of Silasta woke the ancient spirits, and now the city-state must find its place in this new world of magic. But people and politics are always treacherous, and it will take all of Jovan and Kalina’s skills as proofer and spy to save their country when witches and assassins turn their sights to domination.

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Extended Excerpt: The Hellion by S. A. Hunt

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Placeholder of  -68For fans of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Stranger Things: S. A. Hunt’s The Hellion, third installment of their horror-tinged action-adventure series about a punk YouTuber on a mission to hunt down the supernatural, one vid at a time

Robin Martine has destroyed witches all across the country, but since her confrontation with the demon Andras, Robin has had to deal with her toughest adversary yet: herself. While coming to grips with new abilities, she and her boyfriend Kenway make their way to the deserts of rural Texas, where new opportunities await.

Something lurks in this isolated town of Keystone Hills: a dangerous gang ruled by a husband who wields an iron fist over his wife and daughter. Robin vows to protect these Latina women from harm, but may be underestimating how powerful Santiago Valenzuela is… and how his shapeshifting powers may pose a threat to everyone Robin holds dear.

Please enjoy this free extended excerpt of The Hellion by S. A. Hunt, on sale 9/15. Read excerpt of the first two books in the Malus Domestica series, Burn the Dark and I Come With Knives here.


Then

Her first night in Heinrich’s compound was a long one. The teenager lay under a wool military blanket in the deepening twilight, listening to the silence of the desert and rain drumming on the tin roof. The man slept hard, his breath a steady susurration barely audible under the rattle of the rain. Occasionally, heat lightning flashed across the ceiling, throwing her makeshift bedroom into ghastly ghost-story detail.

An incredible crash of thunder shook the room.

Terrified, Robin sat bolt upright and threw the curtain aside, preparing to run for the door.

“Good morning,” said Heinrich.

As always, he wore all black—jeans, boots, a thermal henley draped on his broad shoulders. The witch-hunter sat on a stool at the kitchen island, tall and lanky, with an expressive mouth and hard eyes, and his skin was the cold, steely kind of black, like he’d been carved from the night itself.

One of the many things she would pick up from him: the para- noid gunslinger tendency to sit against the wall, so she couldn’t be shot in the back. Or have her throat cut, how the witches liked to get you when your guard was down. Simple and effective.

“What time is it?” She put on a pair of the fresh new socks she’d bought on the way through Mississippi. Reaching under the cot, she dragged out her new boots and wriggled into them.

“About six.” Heinrich beckoned her over. “Come on, I made food.”

The teenager joined him at the kitchen island, where he’d made omelets and bacon on a big plug-in griddle. French press half-full of coffee. A cookie sheet rested on a towel, loaded with several flaky biscuits. Nearby, a radio quietly played a morning drive-time show. “Boy howdy, you know how to do breakfast.” Robin poured a big cup of coffee, dipped a spoonful of sugar into it, and made herself stir it before gulping half the cup in one go.

He watched her. “Most important meal of the day.”

Caffeine clawed the sleepiness from her brain. “Been so long since I had a good cup of coffee,” she said, downing the other half. She poured another cup and took an omelet, along with bacon and a biscuit, and ate ravenously. “Don’t let you have it in the psych ward.”

“We’ll need the energy.” The man peeled open a biscuit and spooned jam into it. “Today you start your training. Sleep okay?”

“Slept like shit.” She ground the back of her wrist into one grainy eye, her fingers shiny with grease. “Thanks for asking.”

“Yeah,” he said into his coffee cup, “I know the feeling.” He grinned. “You gonna sleep good tonight.”

According to the man, the building they lived in had been used by the Killeen Fire Department as a training structure. The lower floors were devoid of furniture or decoration—just bare cinder-block walls and cement floors. Heinrich led her all the way down and around the back of the bottom staircase to a rusty steel door. This he opened, and he shined a flashlight into a closet full of junk: two sawhorses on which hung a pair of flak jackets, a plastic trunk, and leaning in the corner was an assortment of PVC pipes pushed through foam pool noodles and wrapped in duct tape. “Here, put this on.” He took one of the flak jackets and handed it to her.

The instant she took it from him, the heavy jacket hit the floor. She gathered her arms inside and lifted it over her head. Two slabs of armor in the front and the back, and one pressed against each hip. Heinrich meticulously fastened all the buckles and straps, pulling them tight until the vest fit her like a turtle shell. He rapped his knuckles on her chest, the flashlight shining in her face. “This is called an IOTV. It’s a military—”

“Flak jacket?”

“A flak jacket is something different. Vietnam gear. This is desert shit. I don’t remember what IOTV stands for, but the ceramic plates can repel small arms fire. It’s current military issue. Weighs about forty pounds.”

Robin’s face went cold. “You ain’t gonna be shooting at me, are you?”

“Lord, no.” Heinrich smiled. “This is just for weight training. Bought ’em for emergencies, but they make good weight vests.” He didn’t specify what constituted an “emergency.” Instead, he opened the plastic trunk and dug out a pair of things like icepacks. Velcro ripped open and he slipped them around Robin’s ankles. “Ankle weights.”

“What is all this for?” Her feet felt like they were made of lead. “Like I said, weight training. Come on.” He grabbed one of the pool-noodle swords and a burlap sack, and led her back upstairs. “Want you to wear ’em for three hours today, and every day from now on. Toughen you up, get you used to carrying extra weight. Trust me, you’ll see where I’m going with this after that three hours.”

By the time she had climbed back up the three flights of stairs, the teenager was huffing and puffing. “Jesus,” she wheezed, leaning against the wall of their den as Heinrich stepped over to the record player and put on a Fugees album. The speakers banged out “Ready or Not,” and Lauryn Hill sang about playing her enemies like a game of chess.

“Tired already?”

“No,” she sighed.

“Good,” said the man, and he threw her a padded stick. She barely caught it, almost fumbling, and when she looked back up, he had heavy pads strapped to his hands. “Let’s work off that breakfast, kiddo.”

The rain worsened into a downpour—bad enough Heinrich had to let down the tin-sheet awnings covering the windows. They spent the entire time in the “lair,” as he called it, beating each other with the pads and the boffer. Plenty of room there, an open space some thirty or forty feet square, the furniture pushed out of the way, with that dusty Oriental rug in the middle of it.

Their sparring session was soundtracked by everything from Ray Charles to Ol’ Dirty Bastard to James Brown to twenty different heavy metal bands. “Nine times out of ten, once you’re face-to-face, they gonna try to claw you with their fingernails,” he said. “Like fightin’ a wildcat.” She tried to bat his padded hands aside, but somehow he kept managing to shrug past it and deliver a volley of body blows. “But it’s a last-ditch effort. They’ll try to keep you from even getting close in the first place.”

Frustration twisted around her chest, binding her even tighter than the IOTV. She couldn’t seem to move fast enough to get through his hands. “They’ll use tricks, try to appeal to your empathy. Lie to you. Offer you riches, immortality. They’ll make you see things. Terrible things. Wonderful things. Things that make no goddamn sense. They’ll make familiars, like they did with your daddy, send those after you. When all else fails, they fall back on the claws.”

He slapped her across the face. “You paying attention?”

Heat and ice surged across her skin as a shot of adrenaline hit her, pissed her off, made her see red. Santa Esmeralda crooned in the background, I’m just a soul whose intentions are good. She swung the boffer overhead—“Urrgh!”—and caught him across the wrist.

“Good one,” said Heinrich. “Time to come down. Get out of that vest and go get some water.”

Dropping the boffer, Robin staggered toward the kitchenette, clawing at the IOTV’s straps. Clutching the counter, she used her foot to hook a stool and drag it over to sit on. As soon as she got the armor off and let it slam to the floor at her feet, every muscle in her body screamed out in relief.

December in Texas. Humidity made it unbearably chilly outside, cold right down to the bone, but their lair was heated from underneath by a furnace.

In hindsight, the structure and exertion were probably what cured Robin of her torpor and cleared her head, focused the thoughts scattered by the death of her mother and the breaking of her spell, and fended off her depression, more than the psych medication. First thing every morning, they got up and ate breakfast, then sparred each other until lunch whether they felt like it or not. Heinrich went out to chop some wood while Robin made lunch, then they ate together and spent a few hours poring over old books. Case studies about witches, occult encyclopedias, language trainers, German, French, Chinese, and Icelandic magic tomes, books of hieroglyphs and runes, and other esoterica.

This is where she learned more about the ways and methods of how witches were able to use cats to scry and to control people. She learned the radius from which a nag shi dryad could draw life-force, what factors could alter that reach, and the properties of its accretion disk, such as how running water could dampen it; she learned fire was just about the only thing that could kill a witch older than at least forty years, and bullets were useless other than for slowing them down. She learned the various forms witches who held the Gift of Transfiguration could choose to take—beasts and self-augmentation only, no doppelgängers or inanimate objects; she learned how elaborate witches could make their illusions, from simple visions of insects to artificial realities; she learned the range and strength and dexterity of the Gift of Manipulation, which you might know as telekinesis, and ways to defeat it, such as blinding the witch, because they could only manipulate objects they could see.

After study time, Robin went outside in her vest and brought

firewood up the two flights of stairs to the third floor, whether they needed it or not. By Christmas, she had filled the entire eastern wall of the furnace room with chunks of oak and pine, and Heinrich had to cut the loads from five to two per day.

Then it was suppertime. The weekends were downtime, and they made big, heavy meals on Saturday and Sunday like slow-cooker Italian meatball soup, chicken enchiladas, steaks and baked potatoes, and pizzas of all shapes and kinds, and during the week, they nibbled the leftovers for supper.

After dinner, they crashed on the couch with a little bowl of ice cream or a soda float and watched TV or a movie out of Heinrich’s collection. DVDs and VHS tapes covered one entire wall of his den. Robin lost count of the number of times she fell asleep on the couch watching Zatoichi annihilate a gang of troublemakers.

“Wherever I go,” said the blind swordsman, “I’m the god of calamity.”

By that summer, their sparring looked like something out of one of those movies. The teenager worked him around the den with the boffer, and he juked and jitterbugged out of the way like Sinatra, the both of them swashbuckling up and down the stairs, from the window and through the kitchenette. Whenever he managed to parry the boffer and go in for the kill, either he’d get kicked in the leg and staggered, or Robin would twirl the boffer over her head and down across his forehead.

One day, she backed him into the kitchen and he managed to pin the boffer with a cabinet door. Out of some kind of instinct, Robin snatched a barbecue fork out of the dish drain and tried to stab him with it, but Heinrich shielded his face with his free hand, and the fork jammed deep into the hard foam of the punch pad.

Pulling out the fork with a wince, he tossed it in the sink, then slid his hand out of the pad. Two neat puncture wounds vampired the back of his fist.

She gasped. “I’m—”

Heinrich gathered himself, standing. “It’s okay.” “I’m so sorry.”

“I said it’s okay.” Blood dripped on the kitchen floor between their feet. “The apprentice has become the master,” he said, back- ing away to the first-aid drawer. He dug out a roll of gauze and wrapped it around his injured hand. “Maybe,” he began, as the girl ripped a handful of paper towels off of a nearby roll and wiped up the blood, “maybe it’s time to finally show you something.”

She gave him a confused look.

“Come with me,” he said, grabbing a combat knife off his bed and clipping it to his belt.

They clomped down the stairs to the bottom floor of the fire tower and into the closet where he kept the pads and boffers. In the back of the room was a steel rack with cardboard boxes. In one of them was an orange case, and inside the case was a flare gun. He handed it to Robin.

“What do I do with this?”

“Stick it up your ass? I don’t care. Just don’t lose it.” She shrugged and jammed it into the back of her jeans.

Outside, Robin followed him through the broad main avenue running through the middle of Hammertown. Spaghetti-western shopfronts loomed over them on either side, their façades welcoming them inside with signs in Arabic. He stepped down one of the side alleys, cutting between a tin shack and a two-story building. Left, around a corner, through a chain-link gate with a Beware of Dog sign in Arabic.

Brazen sunshine baked the dirt under their feet. Before them spanned a seemingly infinite vista of Texas desert and, in the distance, a backbone of vague gray mountains.

Between here and there was a lone bur oak, with a short thick trunk and branches stretching in every direction. This tree draped shade over a dilapidated barn with a high, pitched roof and a broad door. Strung through the handles was a strong new chain, secured with three padlocks. The man took out a keychain and unlocked all three, tossing the chain aside. Then he opened the door, pulling both panels aside.

Inside, a ragged, filthy woman in a tattered dress stood tied to one of the support posts under the hay loft, her tangled hair over her face. Ripe body odor hung in the air, along with some pungent, fruity undercurrent Robin couldn’t quite identify.

“Oh, my God!” she cried, pushing past into the room.

Before she could free the man’s captive, one hand shot out and grabbed the drag-handle of her vest, stopping her in her tracks. Heinrich pulled her gently backward, pointing at the ground.

“Icelandic containment ward.”

On the dirt under her feet was an enormous circle etched with salt, an elaborate runic diagram comprised of a dozen concentric circles. Between each circle was an unbroken sentence of hundreds of sigils. With his bandaged hand, Heinrich directed Robin’s attention to the walls and ceiling, where dozens of algiz protection runes had been painted on every visible surface. Then he pointed at the woman tied to the support beam in the center of the runic bullseye. Glinting in the woman’s chest was the handle of a dagger. “Is that a witch?” Robin struggled to make sense of the scene.

Nothing witchlike stood out about this scrawny woman, whose face was pale with abject terror and exhaustion and misery. The woman peered at them through a curtain of matted hair. “Oh, God.” Her voice was kitten-weak. “Are you here to save me? This man has had me trapped here for months.”

A burst of anger gave Robin the words she needed. “You mean you’ve had a witch out here the entire time? Like eighty feet from where we sleep? Are you high?”

“Please help me,” said the woman. The silvery dagger was buried in her chest right up to the cross guard, and a stain ran down her belly in a banner of dull brown. “I think I might be dying.”

“You ain’t dyin’, Tilda,” Heinrich said mildly.

Writhing in her bonds, Tilda stared at him with wild, baleful eyes. The man stepped across the outermost circle of the containment ward toward her, taking care to disrupt the runes with his foot.

“What are you doing?” asked Robin, her heart beating a little faster.

“Been a couple of months since I been around to see my good friend here.” Heinrich stepped inside another of the concentric circles. Dry dirt gritted under his boot as he disturbed another ring of symbols. “Thought we could stop in and say hi before lunch.” The woman’s eyes didn’t leave Heinrich’s face. Terrible eyes, the washed-out blue high beams of a dope fiend, glaring from under thick eyebrows. Heinrich stepped into another of the circles and a slow smile spread across her face, revealing jagged teeth in ink-black gums.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” said Robin.

Fear gripped her. Shivers ran through her like a stampede of wild horses, and her face and hands became cold. The sound of her mother’s last words, echoing in the back of her mind as Annie Martine lay broken on the floor—Cutty. Witch. The sight of her father writhing on his back next to her, blood gushing out of his mouth and nose. Witches aren’t real witches aren’t real witches aren’t real—but they were, weren’t they? They were real. And here was one, right in front of her, large as life and dark as death, glaring at the both of them as her mentor crept closer and closer.

“Nothing is a good idea, except in hindsight.” Heinrich stepped into another circle, scuffing the diagram again. “Every decision we make is a Schrödinger’s Box. D’you know what that is, Robin Hood?”

“Sure. Yeah. The cat in the box.”

“The cat in the closed box, both alive and dead until you open it and find out which it is. Every decision we make is a Schrödinger’s Box—both good and bad. We never know which until after we make it.”

The woman’s breathing came quick and fast, blowing streamers of her hair out in front of her face, huff huff huff huff like birthing breaths in a Lamaze class. She laughed under her breath, casting all pretense aside. “You’re a pretty little one,” she croaked, her cheek meeting her shoulder in a bashful sort of way. “A little older than I like, but that just means I’ll have to cook you a little longer. You’re still ripe.”

“Cook me?”

“Yeah, Robin Hood,” said Heinrich. “They eat virgins, remember? They’re pedophages? Didn’t your mother ever read you the story of Hansel and Gretel?”

“You mean that’s real?”

“Yeah, it’s real. We been reading the same books up there in that tower, ain’t we?” The man took another step into a smaller circle, dragging his foot through the salt symbols. “Remember that one I made you read about witches in medieval Russia?”

She winced. “I’m sorry. It was long-winded as shit and really badly translated. I only made it about halfway through.”

Dust shook out of the witch’s clothes, hanging in the sunbeams coming through the hayloft, as she thrashed violently in her bindings. Rope bound her wrists and elbows behind the pole; rope kept her neck pinned. “It’s been so long since I’ve eaten,” said Tilda, grinning with those gnarly brown teeth.

“Anyway, who the hell said I was a virgin?” asked the teenager. Halfway through scuffing another of the circles, Heinrich shot her an incredulous look. “You were involuntarily committed in your sophomore year, and you’ve been in there ever since. Your mother was about as religious as you can get in the South without mailing your paycheck to Billy Graham. You trying to tell me you got laid in the nuthouse?”

“Well, you did just call it the ‘nut’ house.”

If he’d been wearing glasses, he would have peered over them at her.

“No, I didn’t get laid.” Robin scowled. “I was too busy going through the Ludovico technique, sleeping through HGTV reruns, and eating spaghetti with a plastic spoon to care about sexual intercourse. Besides, antidepressants make it hard to orgasm, apparently.”

“TMI, kiddo.”

At this point, the man was only a few feet away from the witch. Her mouth opened, and kept opening, and her tongue uncoiled, fattening, lolling from between her teeth like a purple python. Lengthening, sharpening, Tilda’s teeth bristled in her cavernous mouth. “Come a little closer, Heinie,” she said, grinning.

“Heinie?”

Despite herself, Robin couldn’t help but laugh.

The man stepped inside the last circle, a ring of runes some six feet across. Reaching out with her serpentine tongue, Tilda could almost reach him—close enough, in fact, for Heinrich to lean backward to avoid getting licked in the face. As he did, he moved around the witch, sidling around the inside of the innermost rune ring.

“What are you doing?” asked Robin.

“Oh, nothing.” Heinrich’s hands rose in that don’t mind me way.

The witch watched him, her tongue curling around her own upper arm. “What are you doing?” she asked, as if she couldn’t believe what she was seeing either.

Then Tilda looked down at her feet. Robin looked down as well, and realized the Icelandic containment circle had been disturbed in a straight line from her own toes to directly in front of the witch. The witch’s eyes came back up to Robin’s face, grin widening. In one swift motion, Heinrich slid the combat knife out of its sheath and cut the ropes.

Looking back and forth between the two of them, Tilda seemed to be indecisive about who to go after first, but she turned toward Robin and lunged forward, reaching—

the teenager flinched in terror, falling—

but Tilda was immediately halted by the silver dagger in her chest, doubling over around it. “Gurk—!”

“What the hell, dude?” said Robin, sitting on her ass in the dirt. She reached behind her back and pulled out the flare gun he’d given her earlier, pointing it at Tilda.

“The Osdathregar.” Heinrich stepped away from the witch, standing by the innermost rune ring. “In the Vatican Archives, documents call it the Godsdagger. Secret verses of ancient Hindu texts refer to it as the Ratna Maru.” Tilda reached up and grasped the hilt of the Osdathregar, trying to wrench it loose. The man paced around the perimeter of the ring, his hands clasped behind his back. “Nobody knows who made it; nobody knows where it came from. All we know is that it’s powerful enough to stop a witch cold in her tracks.”

Hollywood had conditioned Robin to expect the eldritch and the ornate: a wavy flambergé with a pewter-skull hilt, cord-wrapped handle, and a spike for a pommel, a Gil Hibben monstrosity from a mall kiosk. But the real Osdathregar was a simple main gauche with a gently tapering blade a little wider than a stiletto. The guard was a diamond shape, the handle was wrapped in leather, and the pommel was only an unadorned onion bulb. The diamond of the guard contained a small hollow, and engraved inside the hollow was a sinuous scribble.

“See that symbol there?” Heinrich pointed at the hilt. “That means purifier in Enochian, the language of the angels. Regardless of where it came from, this is a holy weapon. Which means even if it can’t outright kill a witch, she can’t remove it from where it’s em- bedded. Deep magic, baby. You stake her into the floor, or a wall, wherever, she’ll be there until the end of time, or until you come along and pull it out.”

With the flare gun’s muzzle, the teenager gestured to the diagram that filled the barn floor. “What about this, then? And the ropes?”

Heinrich shrugged. “In my line of work, I’ve learned to appreciate redundancy.”

“What can kill a witch, then?”

A wry smirk. “Come on, Robin Hood. That’s Mickey Mouse kindergarten shit. You know what kills a witch.”

“. . . Fire?”

“Ding ding ding!” cried Heinrich. “We have a winner! Now, listen—I’ve brought the anger out in you, Robin. Made a fighter out of you. You finally cut me. Now I need to get rid of the fear. A knife ain’t nothin’ but a worthless piece of steel unless you’re willing to use it!”

With that, he pulled out the dagger. Now nothing stood between them.

“Guns can’t stop me, child,” said the witch, marching resolutely through the gaps in the ward and out of the barn. In broad daylight, she was even more disgusting, a crusty ghost wrapped in shit and rotten fabric. Blood running down her chin looked like hot black tar, dribbling all over the ground. Her fingernails were yellowed spades. Her hair was the woolly, filthy mane of a lion, and her eyes were fiery red and yellow, with pinprick pupils.

A shout from the man in the barn: “Fire, you idiot!”

The flare gun in her hand. Robin pointed it at the witch and pulled the trigger, but the safety was on.

Tilda didn’t even flinch. “Nice shootin’, Tex,” she cackled, and charged, tongue snaking, harpy talons extended.

“Fuck!”

Panic made a live wire out of every nerve in Robin’s body. Stones dug into her knees. She aimed the flare gun with both hands and fired. The flare hit center mass.

Waves of incredible heat washed over the little barnyard as the creature erupted into flames ten feet tall, a tornado of smoke and light. Tilda shrieked madly, staggering toward the teenager, flaming hands outstretched.

“Grain alcohol,” said Heinrich, coming outside to join them. Blackened fingers combed through dim orange whorls of light, cupping and clawing, searching. The rest of her was obscured by the column of fire. The teenager shuffled sideways along the fence, trying to keep the flaming witch from grabbing her. “I see you burning, Robin Martine,” gurgled the thing in the flames. Collapsing on her knees, and then kneeling prostrate in the shade of the giant bur oak, Tilda laughed through a mouthful of fire. “One day, your enemies will trap you, and you will burn just like me.” She fell over and lay motionless, a black wraith shrouded in light. “You will burn,” she said in a strained hiss. “You will die.”

The last syllable seemed to stretch on forever, becoming the soft rustle of the bur oak’s leaves, until it faded into silence, broken only by the warp and woof of the flames biting at the wind.

They stood there and watched her burn until she was a coal sculpture, twisted into a fetal position in the dust.

“That wasn’t pleasant,” said Heinrich.

“Wasn’t a fucking birthday party, that’s for sure.”

He looked over at her, genuinely surprised. “It’s your birthday?”

“Yeah,” said the teenager, and she walked away, still gripping the flare gun in one trembling hand.

“Happy birthday,” he called after her.

“Stick it up your ass.”

Copyright © S. A. Hunt 2020

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A Fond Farewell—Series We’re Saying Goodbye to in 2020

A Fond Farewell—Series We’re Saying Goodbye to in 2020

Everything ends eventually, and that is (sadly) true for several Tor series in 2020. This year marks the conclusion of some of our flagship sagas, as well as one epic fantasy that we’re releasing in a four-month sprint (bingebingebinge)! So, if you want to make sure you’re all caught up, here’s a list of everything ending in 2020. But don’t worry, we’ve got plenty of new and ongoing series to take you well into 2020—and beyond!

Image Placeholder of - 73Heart of Black Ice– The Nicci Chronicles –Terry Goodkind 

Taken captive by their enemies, King Grieve, Lila, and Bannon are about to discover the terrifying force that threatens to bring destruction to the Old World. The Norukai, barbarian raiders and slavers, have been gathering an immense fleet among the inhospitably rocky islands that make up their home and are poised to launch their final and most deadly war.

ON SALE NOW!

 

Image Place holder  of - 16Song of the Risen God– The Coven Series – R.A. Salvatore 

The once forgotten Xoconai empire has declared war upon the humans west of the mountains, and only a small band of heroes stand in the way of the God Emperor’s grasp of power. But not all hope is lost. Far away, an ancient tomb is uncovered with the power to stop the onslaught of coming empire and, possibly, reshape the very world itself.

ON SALE NOW!

 

Poster Placeholder of - 81Servant of the Crown– Dragonslayer Trilogy – Duncan M. Hamilton 

A swordsman and a dragon make an unlikely pair as they team up to defeat the Prince Bishop. This trilogy started just a year ago, so if you haven’t gotten hooked yet, now is the time to dive in. Come for the swordplay and magic, stay for the compelling characters searching for meaning in their lives.

ON SALE: 03/10/2020

 

Placeholder of  -9The Poet King– The Harp and Ring Sequence – Ilana C. Myer 

The nation of Tamryllin has a new ruler, who proclaims himself the first Poet King despite not all in court supporting the regime change. Meanwhile, a civil war rages in a distant land, and former Court Poet Lin Amaristoth gathers allies old and new to return to Tamryllin in time to stop the coronation.

ON SALE: 03/24/2020

 

Place holder  of - 48Last Emperox – The Interdependency – John Scalzi 

The collapse of The Flow, the interstellar pathway between the planets of the Interdependency, has accelerated. Entire star systems are becoming cut off from the rest of human civilization. Emperox Grayland II has finally wrested control of her empire from her enemies, but “control” is a slippery thing, and the forces opposing her rule will make a final, desperate push to topple her from her throne.

ON SALE: 04/14/2020

 

Queen – The Sibyl’s War Series  Timothy Zahn

Nicole Hammond was just trying to survive on the streets of Philadelphia, then she and her partner Bungie were abducted by a race of mysterious moth-like aliens and taken to a strange ship called the Fyrantha.

ON SALE: 04/14/2020

 

 

The Cerulean Queen– The Nine Realms Series – Sarah Kozloff 

 The series that starts AND ends in 2020! Perfect for binging, this is an epic fantasy that’s part kick-ass Disney princess and part Game of Thrones. The exiled Princess Cerulia of Weirandale was raised in obscurity. She has no resources, no army, nothing that can help her against her enemies—except their gods.

ON SALE: 04/21/2020

 

Critical Point – The Cas Russell Series – S.L. Huang 

When a demolitions expert targets math-genius mercenary Cas Russell and her friends, the hidden conspiracy behind her past starts to reappear. The past, present, and future collide in a race to save one of her dearest friends.

ON SALE: 04/28/2020

 

 

 The Shadow Commission – The Dark Arts Trilogy – David Mack

In The Shadow Commission we jump forward almost another decade from the events in the previous Dark Arts novel, The Iron Codex. Now it’s November 1963, and Cade and Anja have been living in hiding, training new mages. But when President Kennedy is assassinated, a series of murders whose victims are all magicians forces Cade and Anja to learn how to fight back against the sinister cabal known as the Shadow Commission.

ON SALE: 06/9/2020

 

The Unconquered City – Chronicles of Ghadid – K.A. Doore 

Seven years after the Siege — a time when the hungry dead had risen — elite assassin Illi Basbowen must find the source of the monstrous guul that travel across the dunes. How much can she sacrifice to protect everything she knows from devastation?

ON SALE: 06/16/2020

 

 

In the Kingdom of All Tomorrows – Eirlandia – Stephen R. Lawhead 

Conor mac Ardan is now clan chief of the Darini. Tara’s Hill has become a haven and refuge for all those who were made homeless by the barbarian Scálda. But when a large fleet of the Scalda’s Black Ships arrives, Conor must join Eirlandia’s lords to defeat the monsters. And so begins a final battle to win the soul of a nation.

ON SALE: 07/14/2020

 

The Last Uncharted Sky – The Risen Kingdoms Series – Curtis Craddock 

Isabelle and Jean-Claude undertake an airship expedition to recover a fabled treasure and claim a hitherto undiscovered craton for l’Empire Celeste, but the ship is sabotaged by an enemy agent and Jean-Claude is separated from the expedition. Meanwhile, a royal conspiracy threatens to undo the entire realm.

ON SALE: 08/11/2020

 

Breath by Breath – Step by Step Series – Morgan Llywelyn 

The residents of Sycamore River emerge from nuclear war caused by the Change and its effects on technology. As they try to rebuild their shattered lives, they discover the Change continues and that for some, the air has become lethally toxic.

ON SALE: 08/25/2020

 


The Hellion – Malus Domestica 
S.A. Hunt 

Robin Martine has destroyed witches all across the country, and now makes her way to the deserts of rural Texas where a dangerous gang leader wields an iron fist over his wife and daughter. Robin vows to protect these Latina women from harm, but may be underestimating how powerful Santiago Valenzuela is… and how his shapeshifting powers may pose a threat to everyone Robin holds dear.

ON SALE: 09/15/2020

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