Now Available: The Masks of Honor

Masks of Honor

Luisa is always more than she appears. Rumor and mystery surround her. And strange events seem to follow wherever she goes.

Born in Lima, City of Kings, to a noble family, her father so fears her true nature that he banishes her to a convent. There she falls under the suspicion of the Inquisition and decides to flee.

How can a young woman hope to hide herself in colonial Peru, where honor is prized above all else? By adopting whatever masks respectability requires. It is only when someone is able to pierce the veil of her mask that the real danger begins.

In a world where she will always stand apart, Luisa embarks on an adventure, marked by betrayal and murder, terrible powers and mysterious strangers. The Masks of Honor is her incredible confession and a story like no other.

A novel by Clint Westgard
Available at AmazonKobo, and Smashwords

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A Nefarious Rite

When I slipped out of my room it was deep in the night, well past second sleep, when not an honorable soul could be expected to be about in the world. I was at one with the shadows as I moved through Don Francisco’s hallways, going from room to room, verifying again that all were empty of inhabitants. As I inspected what were ostensibly the servants’ quarters more closely than I had the previous night, I was convinced that no soul ever lay their head upon those rough pillows. When I had satisfied myself that the house was empty, I turned to the grounds, scouring the stable where Don Francisco kept his horses, along with a few pigs and some cattle, finding no sign of anyone there either.

I returned to the house, convinced that I must have overlooked something there. A dozen Indians and a Castilian could not simply vanish into the air, even if the man was an alchemist, as he claimed. I retraced my earlier steps within, this time going slowly so that I could feel at the seams of the place, here at the floor, there at a fireplace, trying to find some secret passageway. None appeared, until I came to what appeared to be a newer addition to the house attached to the kitchens, which I had only glanced at on my earlier journey. At its far end, near where the entrance to the cellar was, there was an empty space, absent of purpose.

I went to it immediately, crouching down to run my hands along the floor, and was rewarded with the discovery of a trapdoor. I pulled it up and saw some wooden stairs descending into the inky blackness below. After checking to ensure that the door would not lock behind me, I went below. The darkness was near absolute, but I have always been at ease in the dark. When I came to the bottom of the stairs I could discern a pathway, carved from the earth and supported by timbers, as though it were the shaft of a mine. I half expected to be assaulted by the sound of pickaxes upon rocks and the searing stench of quicksilver, but the silence and the darkness held firm.

I started forward, the smell of damp earth heavy in my nostrils, unease tickling at the hairs on my neck. The farther I went the farther I was from my only avenue of escape, and the damper my palms and the drier my throat became. I walked for what seemed like hours, though in all likelihood it was only a few interminable minutes, the silence playing on my thoughts until my imagination had filled my head with any number of fearsome and terrible sights that I was certain were about to be revealed to me. The passage narrowed as I went until it came to a turn—somewhere near the edge of the professor’s land, I reasoned—and after I had made the turn a dim light flickered into view at the end of this new tunnel. I slowed my approach, being careful to make absolutely no sound as I went, though I could hear nothing from the room where the light was.

I crouched low as I came to the entrance and peered around the corner, my body pressed against the cold earth. Within I saw a cavern, ancient and wide, formed long ago by the vagaries of the earth. I paid little mind to this wonder, though, for a far stranger sight drew my attention: all the professor’s servants were arrayed in a circle upon the cavern floor, each of them with a vial attached to their arms. Studying them closely, I could see that these vials were being filled with blood dripping slowly from small punctures on the Indians’ wrists. At the center of this nefarious circle was a goblet that, I knew without looking, was filled with blood.

I hissed at the sight of it, recalling the terrible rites the Stranger had been carrying out in the tombs of Cuzco. What foul necromancy was taking place here? I turned my attention to the poor Indians whose blood was being stolen, shaking the nearest to me to see if they were asleep. He did not rouse, and no breath seemed to pass from his lips. Had they somehow passed from the realm of the living and now inhabited some purgatory in this place? I was so engrossed in my study of the Indians, my own horror rising like bile in my throat, that I did not notice the shadows begin to move until it was too late. A firm blow struck my head and I fell to the ground and was lost to oblivion.

When I awoke, the light in the cavern had gone out and the Indians had risen, only the goblet remaining at the center of the circle. I was at the far end of the cave, my wrists and ankles chained to some ancient stone lodged in the earth. I had no idea how long I had been unconscious, but I suspected it had been some time and that morning would be near. Would Diego be joining me soon, I wondered? As if in answer to my thought, he appeared, led by Don Francisco. I called to him but he gave no sign that he heard me, his face blank of thought and expression.

A chill went down my spine at this sight, and my horror only grew as Don Francisco led the boy to where his Indians had so recently lain having their life force drained from them. He drew a thin knife from his belt that I could see was ornamented with oddly shaped runes, along with one of those fiendish vials of his. That he tied to Diego’s wrist, muttering some phrases in Latin, the knife poised in his hand. He pierced the boy on each wrist, one draining into the vial, the other left to open to feed the earth.

Diego, you are not his, I called to him. You must resist him.

Don Francisco laughed at my words. He is yours no longer, he said to me, leaving the boy and walking over to me, a malicious look in his eyes. Soon enough he will be mine, as docile as all the sheep in my flock.

I spat on the ground at his feet, cursing his name. What of me, I said. Do you expect me to be transmuted into one of your automata?

No, he said. Your kind does not respond well to my treatments. I have other plans for you.

What are your plans for the boy and these others, I asked, my fury growing by the instant. Are they to be drained until they are husks. I thought you were educating them and turning them into Christians.

Indeed I am, the professor insisted. Christians and good subjects. They are obedient and observant, not the slothful and ignorant sort like your boy here. He will learn his place in time.

Christians? I laughed at him. What claim do you have to our true faith? What foul rite are you practicing here?

Don Francisco looked at me scornfully. I am a philosopher and learned man and I will not have someone of your kind saying that I am not a Christian or a man. What you see here is no black rite, no foul magick, but a philosophic investigation into the most important alchemical secrets of our age. What I am collecting here is the divine quintessence of this land. This is the secret Magnus told Aquinas upon his deathbed, the secret to eternity itself.

As for you, he continued, stroking his chin with his fingers, a dear friend has requested that I keep you here. He is most eager to reacquaint himself with you.

My heart went still at his words and I felt myself begin to tremble. Though I tried to master my emotions they must have shown upon my face, for Don Francisco chuckled at my reaction.

Yes, I thought you would remember my friend. You are in his debt, as I understand it. You should know that he only accepts payment in blood.

I should not be surprised you would be in league with that devil, I cried, anger surging to overwhelm my fear. Do you do this work for him? He has worked his black magick on you as well.

Don Francisco scoffed at my rage. Don’t be a fool, he said. He is one of the great minds of this new world. A philosopher of existence to rival Magnus. It was he who taught me the secrets of the philosopher’s stone. But enough chatter, young Diego’s vial is full and I have much to teach him.

He turned his attention to the boy, untying the vial and emptying it in the cup, which was now full almost to the brim. He fingered it tenderly, as though it were the holiest of grails, and then pulled Diego to his feet and began to lead him away. He paused before he left the cavern, as though a thought had just occurred to him, and turned to say to me:

Tell me, then, I am given to understand from my friend that you can survive for quite some time without food or drink. We shall see, at any rate.

His laughter, grim and cold, echoed down the halls of the passage long after he had disappeared from sight. I was unable to stop myself from snarling and cursing like a rabid dog at him, but as soon as the sound of his mocking had vanished from the air I started to weep, for the Stranger was now on his way from Cuzco, and with him came my doom.

from The Maleficio Chronicles

The Falkenbourg Place

There were several hired men who passed through the Faulkenbourg Place in the following years. None of them stayed for long, though none admitted to feeling any odd sensations while living in the house. It was the nature of job that there would be so much overturn, at least that was what David’s father told him. At the same time the farm prospered and, along with the rest of their neighbors, their family had money to spend. They put electricity and plumbing in the house not long after, removing the last vestiges of its homesteader roots.

What truly marked the passage of time though was the worsening of his mother’s condition. There was the day when she ceased to rise to see he and Eric off in the morning, the day when his father started to make their suppers after he came in from work, the day when she could no longer walk without help, and, worst of all, the day when he had to keep score in their nightly game of gin rummy. Though it was never said by anyone, David understand that these were the way stations on the path to oblivion, that his mother was dying, as Albert Faulkenbourg had died, as the steers did when they were sent to market in the fall.

Death did not seem a strange occurrence to him, not when he was surrounded by it daily. He assisted in killing the hens and pigs when the time came each year and had spent many an afternoon watching hawks lazily circling the sky above a tractor as it moved through the field, stirring up the mice and voles below. This, he understood, was a different kind of death, a momentous one, the others merely profane. It wasn’t the fact of the death that told him this, dying seemed much the same regardless of who or what was doing it, it was everyone else’s reactions to it.

Visitors that came to the farm, even the various hired men, would speak in hushed tones or with a forced joviality when his mother was about, her condition obvious at a glance. They would not meet her eyes and then stare at her when they thought she wasn’t looking. David suspected she noticed it all, though she never said. His father, taciturn by nature, turned ever more inward as his mother’s condition worsened, some days speaking no more than a dozen words. Eric, too, retreated within himself, passing his hours at home in his room, not even spending time with David. He was hurt by this change in his brother, for in their younger days they had been inseparable.

Unlike the others, David was drawn to his mother, spending as much time as he could with her. He became the one who unfailingly helped her around the house as that became more difficult. He found reasons to be near her, to touch her, crawling into her lap to sit, though she found such contact painful in her condition. His father would yell at him to leave her be when he would see him sitting in her arms and he would slink away, only to return later as soon as his father had gone away. The smell of her fascinated him, musty and rank, as though an unseen decay had already begun within her. As the end neared and she spent more and more time in bed, neither sleeping nor truly awake, David would secrete himself in the hall outside her bedroom and stay for hours listening to her labored breathing.

He was fourteen when death granted her the peace life had not. Just as her illness had changed and reordered the cosmos of the farm, so her passing did again. His father withdrew ever more inward, working blindly in the fields, and in the evenings retreating to his office or to shop, where he would tinker mindlessly on some project or another. It fell to Eric to take care of them, once the neighboring wives stopped bringing over meals they had prepared, getting David up in the morning for school, helping him with his lunch and making supper for them when they got home. It was a role he resented for the burden it placed upon him, and yet fiercely protected whenever David would try to care for himself.

For his part, David felt lost in this new world, so he avoided both his father and brother as much as he could. He would wander among the three rows of trees, evergreens and caraganas, which divided the farm from the road, playing in imagined realms in the shade of the branches. Days when he knew the farm hand was out working or in town, he would take his bike and ride the mile to the Faulkenbourg Place, sitting in one of the rooms on the floor, staring off into nothing. In those long hours he felt it speak to him, its soundless reverberations echoing through the center of his being.

Even as he turned fifteen and started high school, a time when he knew he should have moved beyond these childish things, he continued to venture to the house, its very presence reassuring him. One Sunday, with his father and brother having retreated into their respective worlds and the farm hand gone home for the weekend, he went over to pass the dreary afternoon. He stayed for hours, losing track of time, watching the sun move through the sky by the changing light coming through the windows. Though he knew he should leave, that the farm hand would be returning soon, he could not bring himself to stir from his reverie, until he heard the truck wheels on the driveway.

In an instant he was on his feet, sweat on his forehead and panic in his mind. He stayed frozen for a moment, unsure of what to do, knowing only that he couldn’t go out the front door without being seen. The windows were no good either. He would need time to get their screens off and their being open would be evidence enough of his presence. Had he been a little older and a little more confident he might have met Grant at the door with an apology and some excuse – no butter in the house – which he would likely have accepted without question.

Unable to think of anything else, he fled to the bathroom, climbing into the tub and ducking down so that his head did not peek over the side. This proved to be a poor hiding place, for after the long drive from Bonneyville, the first thing the farm hand did was go to the bathroom. He had his fly unzipped before he noticed David.

“Goddamn Christ,” he said with a jump. For a terrifying moment David thought he was going to hit him. Instead he walked out without saying another word. David could hear him on the phone to his father. He stayed where he was, letting the disaster continue to unfold, knowing that Grant was on the other side of the door if he tried to leave.

In a few minutes he heard another truck pulling into the yard and the front door opening, the screen door clanging against the side of the house. No words passed between the two men and then his father was there, looming above where he lay crouched miserably in the tub. His father leaned down and cuffed him hard on the ear, the other side of his head hitting sharply against the tub. Without needing to be told David got up and followed him out, past Grant whose eyes he could not meet, and then home, neither of them speaking.

from Smeagol Blues

Available in the collection On the Far Horizon

Now Available: Realm of Shadows

Realm of Shadows eBook Cover

Discontent festers within the realms of Craitol and Renuih, fed by battles and intrigues carried out in the shadows. As rivals and apostates struggle for power, a new and more powerful menace looms on the horizon. For, in this world of shadows, it is the Shadow Men who stand apart, threatening the existence of both realms and exposing long simmering conflicts to the light of day. And now they have gained the secrets of the Council Adept’s alkemya.

Caught in the middle of this growing hostility is Masiph id Ezern, unfavored son of the Imperial Vazeir. As he tries to forge a path for himself within the empire, he finds himself drawn into a conspiracy against the emperor and his father. With the rains coming to the desert, the choices he makes will have consequences that reverberate across all the realms.

The first part of The Shadows’ Dance. The second volume, The Passing of Days, will be available in 2014.

A novel by Clint Westgard
Available at AmazonKobo and Smashwords