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*includes a digitally signed author note*


Discover the origin of the love story behind Empire.

1695. Spanish Netherlands.

The war between King Louis XIV and the League of Augsberg reaches a pivotal moment at the Siege of Namur.

When the besieged French army starts to mount an increasingly fierce resistance, Bastian immortal Conrad Greene and his company of elite intelligence operatives are sent to Liège to track down the traitor supplying the enemy with stocks of a new, powerful gunpowder.

Frustrated at every turn, an unexpected visit from Conrad’s superior results in a surprising addition to his team. Can the captain resist his all-consuming attraction for immortal Laura Hartwell long enough to solve the mystery of the gunpowder plot?

The Hunger is a short story set in the riveting world of A.D. Starrling’s award-winning supernatural thriller series Seventeen.


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Hunted (Book 1)
First Death (Short Story 1)
Dancing Blades (Short Story 2)
The Meeting (Short Story 3)
Warrior (Book 2)
The Warrior Monk (Short Story 4)
Empire (Book 3)
The Hunger (Short Story 5)
Legacy (Book 4)
The Bank Job (Short Story 6)
Origins (Book 5)
Destiny (Book 6)


August 1695. Liège. Spanish Netherlands. Holy Roman Empire.

Conrad Greene stopped in his tracks, his heart hammering in his chest. Fifteen feet away, on the opposite side of a narrow, drab alley, the muzzle of a flintlock pistol was trained on his head. He kept his hands hanging loose at his sides and ignored the weight of the twin pistols and staff weapon tucked in the low of his back.

‘Steady there,’ he said in a level voice. ‘I am only here to talk, not to fight.’

He was aware of movement on the low roof of the tannery overlooking the alley to the right. He twitched his little finger, a silent signal to the man creeping atop the building. His companion froze.

Conrad studied the shadowy shape wedged in a gap between two rows of barrels, its back against a brick wall as it pointed the pistol at him. A new smell reached his nostrils above the stench of the neighboring workshop and the foul odor drifting from the nearby River Meuse. It was the coppery scent of blood.

He registered the absolute stillness of the figure pointing the firearm and swore under his breath.

‘It is all right, Anatole,’ Conrad called out to his companion.

He crossed the alley, crouched in front of the man they had come to meet, and scrutinized the deep slash in his throat. Whoever had inflicted the fatal wound had made a neat job of it, with a single deep arc that had dissected the man’s blood vessels and windpipe. Death would have been almost instantaneous. The victim had collapsed where he had been attacked, body trapped between the wooden casks and the fingers of his right hand locked around his firearm in cadaveric spasm. The lack of burnt gunpowder on the pistol indicated he had not had time to fire his weapon.

There was a soft noise behind Conrad as the man on the roof dropped down lightly into the alley. A shadow fell across him and the corpse.

‘Bloody hell,’ muttered Anatole Vassili, his second-in-command. The red-haired immortal squatted next to him.

‘Indeed,’ Conrad said, frowning.

This was the second informant who had been murdered since his small group of intelligence operatives arrived in Liège.

Conrad wondered why none of his men had been the subjects of similar attacks. Whoever had killed their sources must have known they had been about to divulge secrets to members of the League of Augsburg, the European Alliance formed in 1686 to counter King Louis XIV of France’s aggressive attempts to expand his borders and claim new territories from his disgruntled neighbors following his successful campaigns in the recent Dutch War.

Do they know we are immortals?

He mulled over this worrying thought while he watched his companion pat down the corpse. Anatole paused and leaned closer to the victim.

‘There is something trapped in his hand.’

He carefully uncurled the dead man’s left fingers. Crumpled in the pit of the latter’s palm was a fragment of paper. The immortal lifted it out and unfolded it.

The paper had been ripped from a larger piece. A section of a red wax seal was visible on the ragged upper-left corner.

‘He must have snatched it from his killer,’ said Anatole.

Conrad inspected the partial design. He did not recognize it.

Anatole looked at him, his expression hard. ‘What do you want to do?’

Conrad tucked the piece of paper inside his jerkin, rose to his feet, and inspected his surroundings, anger coursing through his veins. The chances of there having been a witness to the killing were poor. They had set up the clandestine meeting in a deprived neighborhood on the outskirts of the city, away from curious eyes and ears. Even if someone had seen their informant’s killer, they were unlikely to divulge any useful titbits, for fear of reprisal. Although law and order prevailed in Liège, the poor were too often exempt from the protection afforded to the more wealthy citizens. Here, in the back alleys overrun with rats and the smell of human waste, most led a desperate existence well beyond the rules of civilized society.

‘Let us return to the inn,’ he said stiffly.

They left the dead man where he lay and headed south toward the center of the city. The remains of a fortified citadel rose on the hilltop to the west, its lines sharply defined by the fading sunlight, the crumbling bastions and walls testimony to the bombardment the fortress had suffered at the hands of the French a few years before.

Lights flickered into existence around them as the city’s lanterns and fires were lit. They reached the inn where they had taken lodgings and entered the low-roofed tavern on the ground floor. It was already crowded, the air heavy with the unwashed smell of men’s bodies and the smoky aroma from the logs burning in the fireplace. They found a small corner table at the back of the room and waited. A hulking figure with pale eyes and an unruly mane of tawny hair finally detached himself from the bar and joined them.

The newcomer took a seat and pushed two tankards of beer toward them. The chair groaned under his weight. ‘I sense from your expressions that the meeting did not go well.’

Conrad accepted his drink gratefully and eyed the giant man. Although Horatio Gordian gave the impression of being fat, he knew the immortal was mostly muscle. He had been a victim of the man’s vicious bear hugs on more occasions than he could count during their sparring sessions.

Horatio’s only family resemblance to Anatole, his younger cousin on his mother’s side, was the shade of his hair and the color of his eyes.

‘What happened?’ Horatio said gruffly.

Anatole grimaced and made a throat-slitting gesture with his thumb. ‘Our man suffered a fatal encounter a short time before our arrival.’

Horatio raised his eyebrows, the light from the candle on the table throwing dark shadows on his face. ‘Well, that is bloody bad luck.’ His gaze shifted to Conrad. ‘I have had no joy either. About the only interesting thing that happened at the garrison was some idiot infantryman accidentally shot himself in the foot.’

Conrad took a swig of his beer and frowned.

It had been ten days since they were sent to Liège by Victor Dvorsky, their immediate superior and the leader of the Bastian Corps, a growing division of the Order of the Bastian Hunters. Unbeknown to most of the soldiers fighting on behalf of the Alliance, immortals were assisting the monarchs of the League of Augsburg in their attempts to turn the disastrous tide of the war that had started seven years ago.

Few humans knew of the existence of the Crovirs and the Bastians, the two races of immortals who could survive up to sixteen deaths and who had walked among their kind since the dawn of time. Fewer still realized how much influence the immortal societies wielded over human rulers and to what extent they had helped shape mankind’s history.

As in many of the human conflicts where immortals were involved, the Crovirs stood firmly on the opposite side of the battlefield to the Bastians and were helping the power-hungry French king in his efforts to annex more land from the Holy Roman Empire. Despite the uneasy truce that had existed between the immortals since the fourteenth century, when their own devastating millennia-old war ended, the two races still had different ideologies when it came to what constituted right and wrong.

With most of the Bastian Corps still stuck at the Hungarian borders assisting Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I with his campaign to push back the Ottoman armies threatening to conquer central Europe from the south, only a few thousand immortals could be spared to fend off the threat from the west. Among them were the freshly-formed groups of intelligence operatives Victor Dvorsky had personally assembled from the best and most unusually skilled soldiers of the Corps. Conrad’s company of fifteen men was the first of this strange new breed of agents. As it was, only five of them had come to Liège, including Conrad. The rest of his company were scattered to the four winds along the French borders, where they were garnering essential information for the Bastian First Council.

Three years ago, the Crovirs had helped the French capture the strategically-important city of Namur. Namur sat at the confluence of the Rivers Sambre and Meuse, thirty-six miles to the west of Liège as the crow flies. Five weeks before Conrad was dispatched to this part of the Spanish Netherlands, the League of Augsburg, headed by King William III of England and Maximilian 11 of Bavaria, decided to take the city back. It was a calculated move meant to destabilize the French forces, following the successful recapture of the city of Huy by the Alliance the previous year and the recent death of Louis XIV’s most brilliant strategist, Marshal Luxembourg. It was also a desperate measure by the League to re-establish contact with their besieged armies in the Rhineland.

The siege had been going well. In theory, William and Maximilian should either have conquered Namur or been doing so imminently. Three weeks ago, they suddenly found themselves facing a fresh wave of increasingly deadly resistance from the French. A most puzzling situation soon came to light; despite being under siege, the enemy appeared to have mysteriously acquired fresh stocks of a new and powerful gunpowder from an unknown supplier. Victor Dvorsky received an anonymous report indicating the source of the explosives to be Liège. Conrad’s mission was to discover how the enemy was getting hold of this gunpowder when their supplies had been cut off by the Alliance.

He studied the dimly-lit tavern. ‘Where are Boris and Emil?’

‘Here, captain.’

Two figures emerged from the shadows.

The men were of average height and of slender build. They were also twins. Boris was the best tracker in Conrad’s company. Emil, his younger brother by ten minutes, was the greatest trickster Conrad had ever met; he once famously conned a member of the Spanish royal court out of a significant sum of money and his daughter’s chastity. The only distinguishing feature between the brothers was the faint scar that ran down Boris’s left cheek, a legacy from his encounter with a bear when he was sixteen.

Conrad apprised them of the latest grim findings.

‘We have nothing new to report,’ said Boris.

‘Apart from the fact that we are now thoroughly sick of the taste of beer,’ added Emil.

‘Really?’ said Anatole wryly. ‘This from the man who once drank a whole cask of the finest German ale and proceeded to throw up over his superior officers.’

Emil belched in response.

The twins had spent most of the last ten days establishing themselves as regular patrons in the drinking houses around the city. They were the ones who had tracked down the men willing to divulge information that could lead to the traitors supplying gunpowder to the French in Namur. Meanwhile, Horatio had infiltrated the local garrison as a farrier in order to glean any useful titbits that could help elucidate the mystery.

Conrad glanced around the room before pulling out the fragment of paper they had taken from the dead man. ‘This was in our informant’s hand. Does it mean anything to you?’

Horatio and the twins studied the design of the broken seal and shook their heads.

‘Darn it all to hell.’ Conrad sighed and pushed his chair back. ‘All right, I am going to my room. I shall see you in a short while.’

He made his way to his quarters on the second floor of the inn, stripped to his waist, poured cold water from the jug on the dresser into a bowl, and washed the grime of the day off with a cloth. The clatter of horses’ hooves and the rumble of carriage wheels on the street outside drifted through the open window. A breeze rattled the shutters and made the flames in the lamp on the nightstand flicker. The Aesculapian snake birthmark on his left forearm appeared to slither in the wavering light.

It was both a symbol and a conduit for his supernatural healing powers, a legacy of his rare, pureblood noble lineage. Although the men he had fought alongside had seen his birthmark and knew of the unique talents associated with it, he kept the snake covered for the most part. His ability to heal not only his own wounds at an unearthly speed but also those of others was not something he divulged readily. Victor Dvorsky and the Bastian First Council knew the truth and did their best to keep it a secret. Public knowledge of his abilities would make him a hunted man and he was far too valuable to their ranks for them to risk him deserting.

A knock sounded at the door. Conrad wiped his face with his hands, grabbed the bath cloth, and waited.

The knock came again. He frowned. His men would have entered by now.

An image of the dead man from the alley flashed through his mind. He grabbed his gilded staff weapon from the dresser next to him, twisted the first ring in the middle of the shaft, and slid his two short swords apart. He slipped behind the door just as it opened.

A shadow fell across the wooden floorboards. Conrad brought a sword up to the neck of the figure who entered the room. The latter froze.

‘Is this how you greet your superior officer?’ said Victor Dvorsky coldly.
Conrad scowled at the dark-haired man in the doorway and slowly sheathed the swords.

‘My superior officer can kiss my sweet—’

A quick flicker of Victor’s eyes indicated they had company. Conrad grabbed the edge of the door and yanked it fully open.

A slender figure dressed in close-fitted cotton trousers, calf-length boots, a linen shirt, a loose jerkin, and a cavalier hat stood in the shadowy hall outside his room.

Self-awareness slammed into Conrad and stole his breath as a pair of hazel eyes bore into his soul.

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