Hour of NeedHour of Need – Michael Pryor

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Cover blurb
Aubrey Fitzwilliam, renegade and traitor.

Instead of clearing his name in Albion, Aubrey has chosen to pursue his enemy, Dr Mordecai Tremaine, deep into the heart of enemy territory. What he uncovers about Dr Tremaine’s plans promises to change the course of the war and the future of humanity itself. A hideous combination of electrical science and soul-shattering magic is bringing the world far closer to the edge of the abyss than anyone apart from Aubrey realises.

Aubrey must risk everything, or there’ll be no world left to save.

Michael Pryor says
The last book of a series presents challenges, especially when the series is as complex and absorbing as The Laws of Magic. I knew that I had an enormous number of plot threads to pull together, and a cast of minor characters clamouring for an appearance, but I was determined not to make this a pedestrian finale, something indulgent and disappointing. I wanted Hour of Need to have its own integrity, with its own dramatic ups and downs.

When I came to write the last chapter, it was difficult. I was conscious of wanting to do it right for all the loyal readers out there, but I also wanted to do it right for the characters. Aubrey, George, Caroline and Sophie had put up with a lot over the eight years I’d been working with them and they deserved a fitting finish.

It was a test, and I think I may have passed.

Hour of Need begins
You’re the one who betrayed us! I always knew it was you!’

Aubrey Fitzwilliam flinched as the accusation echoed on the rock walls of the cave that had been their home for almost a month. Slowly, he put aside the spellcraft notebook and climbed to his feet, trying not to startle the wild-eyed Holmlander. A restraining spell was on his lips but he was unwilling to use magic unless he had to, not with the magic detectors around Dr Tremaine’s estate below.

‘Traitor!’ von Stralick snarled at him. ‘You, and the rest of them! Everywhere!’

Softly: ‘I’m not a traitor, Hugo.’

‘Liar.’ Fists clenched, Hugo von Stralick, the ex-Holmland spy, advanced. ‘We have photographs.’

‘Put the stone down, Hugo. You’re sick.’

‘Hah! Sick, am I?’

A grunt, then the stone thumped into the wall not far from Aubrey’s head. He sighed. Von Stralick may have been sick, but enough was enough. Aubrey lunged and caught him around the waist. A feeble blow or two landed on Aubrey’s back, then von Stralick faltered, groaning. His knees buckled and Aubrey had to move quickly to avoid falling on top of him.

‘Traitor,’ von Stralick murmured as he lay stretched out on the rocky floor. His eyes fluttered, then closed. His face was a disturbing chalky-white. He was shivering, too, and when Aubrey touched his forehead he was dismayed at how hot it was.

Alarmed, he dragged von Stralick back to the pile of tree branches that was his bed and arranged him as comfortably as he could. Von Stralick’s lips moved, a meaningless stream of half-words and names, as if he were alternately reading from a street directory and a poorly compiled dictionary. What had begun as a simple cold, a few days after they’d found the cave in the crag, had worsened gradually until the Holmlander had collapsed while working on their sketch maps of Tremaine’s estate. In the days since then, Aubrey had been dividing his time between tending him, finding food and water, and working on the spells that could win the war, all in isolation.

Aubrey had thought von Stralick had been getting better, but it had obviously been wishful thinking. The fever and the delirium hadn’t broken. Aubrey was now worried that the ex-Holmland spy was going to die.