Excerpt: Dance of Shadows

There were no Shadows upon the desert, at least none that they had seen, and the cohorts were growing restless, their desire for blood growing stronger even as a lingering unease began to edge into their thoughts the farther into the desert they went. Would they lose themselves in this place, as so many had said before whenever an invasion of the desert had been proposed, whether at court or in a drinkery, chasing Shadows? The kehels and seconds merely repeated what their Gvers, who themselves were beginning to feel anxious about the entire enterprise, had told them: they were marching to the ruined city Esyln there to face the Shadow Men and their alkemysts. And what if they should find only ruins there, the men asked, and to that there was no answer.

The answer, Donier thought as he relieved himself in the latrine dug the night before, was that the Council Adepts would decide the matter, letting the Gvers and the Qraul think the decision was theirs. That was how they had ended up here in the first place, after all. The Adepts would take them everyone to their doom all over a couple of engines.

Donier spat when he was finished and clapped his hands together, a ritual begun sometime in his youth and now done unconsciously, though he could not have told anyone of its providence. He picked his way among the still-slumbering cohorts, going mostly by memory, dawn still a little way off, though there was a hint of light on the horizon. A false light, he knew; the sun would not arise for at least another hour.

He had become used to the desert in the last week, now knew its rituals. There was the false light before morning, the endless sunsets that seemed to color the whole sky, the wind that would pick up late in the morning and die as evening settled in, to say nothing of the unrelenting heat of the day and surprising cool of the night. The vastness of it all, these endless landscapes, red rocked or dull green, fading to brown with scrub, and the scent of sage everywhere.

It was the place of his dreams, he realized. It all had the same feel, the same absence of any other living things, and the silence but for the wind. The valley where he had walked endlessly he felt certain was here somewhere, though he had no urge to discover it and the destination he had been seeking. The Gods, though, would decide the matter, he knew. He could only thank them that the dreams had absented themselves since the march into the desert had begun.

His thoughts were still upon the dreams as he slipped into his tent, hoping to get another hour’s sleep before duty called him forth, so he did not notice the other man’s presence until the hand was at his throat and the point of the dagger was pressed into his back. Continue reading

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Coming Soon: Dance of Shadows

Available December 2015

War with the Shadow Men looms in both realms as the consequences of the Gvers’ Council in Craitol begin to make themselves known. A war that could end in glorious triumph or bitter disaster.

Doubt shadows everyone’s steps, for they know there are no certainties in the desert. Especially now the Shadow Men have made the art of alkemya their own.

No one has more questions than Vyissan, for he is working in service to a cause he is no longer sure he believes in. And now he must undertake a journey with those who both loathe and fear him. Before the first sword is drawn, his life will be under threat.

But his will not be the only one, for somewhere in the desert the Shadow Men lie in wait…

Dance of Shadows is the final volume in The Shadow Men.

Fiction: The Door

No one could recall when last the door had been opened. Lifetimes, some said. Centuries, claimed others. There were those in fact who stated, with an air of quiet authority, that it never had been, that it had always remained closed. All agreed that no one alive had opened the door, or had known of anyone who had. All they knew was the stories their parents told, which their parents had told them, back through time where the collective memory became misted and cloudy.

Philosophers would often argue about the door, launching into great disquisitions on their theories surrounding why the door had or had not to have been opened. There were even those who said that the door should be opened, for stories were nothing more than stories, and the true nature of the door could only be discerned by seeing what lay behind it. None of them, of course, volunteered to bear witness to what was beyond that terrible threshold, even those who professed to believe that nothing was there to be found.

Most, though, did not give in to such foolish and idle thinking. The stories told were so uniformly terrible, and all so similar, that there simply had to be some truth to what was said. It could not be otherwise, no matter what some radical thinkers might claim. Most importantly, no one wanted to be the one to discover they were in fact true, for the horrors described were so awful there could be no encountering them without a life being changed irrevocably.

Though no one would dare to so much as approach the door, to say nothing of putting a hand upon the handle, or even pretending to turn it, there came a time when the leading citizens of the day determined that someone needed to be set to watch it, to ensure that no one made the mistake of opening it. Two men were set to the task, both of them considered to be honest and upstanding, the finest among them. One took the daylight hours and one took the night.

See the rest at Circumambient Scenery. A new story will be published there every Thursday.

Fiction: Last Night

Another long night of keeping watch without a fire. I can smell olives on the trees. There is noise all around: the stirrings of a breeze, a restless unseen creature, or something more sinister? The air feels like a coming squall. The moon has disappeared above and I am left with only the stars till morning.

The roads are dangerous. Life is dangerous, after a time, when all the consequences from things done and choices made begin to make themselves known.

I can just make out your form through the darkness. I long to lie beside you, to press up against you and feel the contours of your body. It has been months since we had such luxury, every moment of passion has been a stolen one. A few minutes here as we rest out of sight of the road, or a few minutes there as we trade off the watch, one of us still filled with the sleep, the other driven to frenzy by boredom.

It is such an empty life now, it is hard not to feel despair, especially in these bleak moments when the darkness is my only companion. When did life become so absent of anything but survival, our days all the same, repeating themselves one after the other? I cannot recall. Every choice seemed beyond doubt, essential to our beings. Now I can hardly recall them. They seem barely to matter.

The world has just gone to fire. All of us tearing at each other in a frenzy, until nothing remains but the bones.

See the rest at Circumambient Scenery

Image: Van Gogh’s The Olive Trees

Fiction: Sketches at the Inquisition

The Monster was born, far from the vast and glowing Metropolis, in the Hills where only the odd light flickered in the distance, beacons for the weary traveller, too long tossed about by the tempests of the road. According to reports, he had no hair upon his head, and his ears were jagged, almost reptilian, and close to the skull. A single eye glared out savagely from his forehead, slightly off-center, and his expression seemed to rest in something resembling a tortured grimace.

Upon hearing of this occurrence that suggested so many tantalizing questions for one who had read Cuvier and Lamark, the Inquisitor decided to make his way to the Hills to discover where the Monster lived. Up until his leaving the Inquisitor had led an uneventful, somewhat distinguished, career running a cabinet in one of the deeply boweled buildings at the academy. His main innovation had been the slight modification of Cuvier’s structural classifications of some fauna. As he had noted in a talk given at one of the academy’s annual open air plenary sessions, this suggested some interesting new directions for analysis, as well as some slight revision to several species’ classification. He also held monthly tutorials, for any who wished to attend, on the art of anatomical drawing, following the von Soemmerring method.

But nothing in his career to that point had suggested a man with the curiosity or bravery—some would say foolhardiness—to set out on such a long and uncertain journey. The Hills were wild lands, a violent jungle of tangled and twisted things, where the weather seemed always to threaten and the inhabitants lived life to the bone. And the story of the Monster was just that, no more than a tale. To risk a respectable, if modest, career for a mere rumor seemed to many the height of madness.

The Inquisitor drew up detailed plans for the studies he wished to conduct in the Hills. This was by necessity, of course, for the academy grant forms demanded a specific accounting of the expenses he would incur, in order to determine the extent of funding he would receive. In brief, he aspired to conduct a complete botanical survey of the far reaches of the Hills, utilizing modern and rational techniques that had not been available to previous explorers. The Monster, so central in his thoughts about the project, went unmentioned in his various prospectuses.

See the rest of the story at Circumambient Scenery

Image Credit: University of Liverpool Faculty of Health and Life Science

Fiction: The Return

The hole was covered by a large and somewhat thick piece of styrofoam, like those used to protect electronics, that had gone yellow from the sun and was beginning to disintegrate. He had not come out for a very long time and, as such, was unaware of the state of its decay. The hole itself seemed to be somewhat decomposed, and—if it were possible—even smaller than when he had entered. But that was not surprising, for it had been so long since he had even strayed above to assure himself it was still intact.

It was when he saw that the last of his oranges had gone moldy that he grew fed up and decided to leave. How he had even lasted as long as he had was somewhat of a miracle. The days had been tedium upon tedium, with little to do but wait and nothing really to wait for. Long ago he had said there would be a sign, a signal, that would call him forth, but he had since forgotten what it was.

The moldy oranges—though they had begun to taste bitter long before—were sign enough, he determined. Time enough had been spent here, time enough indeed. The world beckoned him.

See the rest of the story at Circumambient Scenery