Excerpt: Unspeakable Rites

In advance of the publication of Unspeakable Rites on August 24, here is a short excerpt:

The storm swept through the city of Tson in the middle of the night as most everyone slept, leaving in its calamitous path a sea of fallen branches, and not a few fallen trees, along with a seemingly endless amount of unidentifiable refuse, mostly stolen from shacks in the poorest quarters. Many of those did not survive the tempest and the next morning the streets of these quarters were filled with those who had been left homeless. Mixed in amongst all this detritus on one street near the city wall was the body of a young man. The local Magistery discovered it on their patrols of the neighborhood and had the body taken to the central mortuary.

Because of the youth’s shade, the Magistery notified the Chaziqs of the Enir Quarter in the hopes that they would know if one of their community had gone missing. Dutifully, the four men put on their finest robes and made their way to the central mortuary to look upon the body, all of them declaring that they did not know the man and that he was not from their quarter.

Chief Magister Gahryll a Tyranil frowned and pursed his lips. He ran a distracted hand over his head and the close-cropped hair there, a habit he had formed once he had started going bald several years before. Each time he did it, he was left annoyed at the fact there was less and less to pass his hand through, to say nothing of the fact that what remained was turning grey. All artifacts of his advancing years, but not so advanced yet, as he never failed to remind himself.

He forced his thoughts back to the matter at hand. There were not many Enir in Tson, so it was not unusual to expect the Chaziqs to know the majority of them. It was strange as well that no word had gone among their people of someone missing a son or a brother.

“You will ask around for me with your people,” Gahryll said. “Perhaps he is new to the city.”

Reluctantly, or so it seemed to Gahryll, the Chaziqs agreed to this request. He did not give much thought to their hesitation. It was just a dead itinerant after all, and an Enir at that, hardly worth wasting any thought over. There were more pressing concerns at hand.

The Golden Veil had recently returned from beneath the smoldering ruins they had left ten years before, striking at the Gver of Lastl during the Gver’s Council in Cratiol. Rumors of their resurrection had gone wild throughout the Realm of Craitol, no doubt attracting disaffected nobles of rank to their banner in every city and town. With the coming war against the Shadow Men bringing the absence of Gver Hythel and his finest cohorts of men from Tson, malcontents like those in Veil would see an opportunity to strike, which meant that Magistery would need to be watchful. Something like this death of a youth of no account could only distract from their true duty, to protect the city.

No word came back from the Chaziqs, and Gahryll had his assistant Ducaryh—a man of Kragian extraction, but of unquestionable competence—arrange to have the body put on display in the public room of the mortuary where anyone in the city could look upon it. The dead displayed there were sometimes identified and claimed, but as most came from the vagrant classes—prostitutes and homeless, thieves and murderers, or the poorest of the Realm, cast from the countryside into the city in the vain hope of shaping a new life—this was exceedingly rare.

The youth was evidently one of these sorts, with no kin looking for him, for in the three days that his body was displayed no one stepped forward to claim it. While this was ongoing, Gahryll ordered a cursory investigation be conducted by one of the Magisters. The man assigned to the task, Mihiubel a Jorhkah, was extremely thorough, though, and when he brought his report to Gahryll, he indicated his belief that the youth had died at the hands of another and that further investigation was warranted.

“You don’t think the storm killed him?” Gahryll said. They were sitting across from each other in his offices in the Magisterium. “It was quite violent. If he was left outdoors, it could easily have done him in.”

“No, Nes Gahryll,” Mihiubel said, with a firm shake of his head. “Did you notice his robes? Very fine silk, too fine for anyone forced to live on the street. No, I am quite certain he was living somewhere, but it was not anywhere near where he was found.”

“What makes you say that?”

“For starters, it is a poor neighborhood. Most of the inhabitants could not dream of owning such robes. And no one remembers him. I went to the Enir Quarter as well, thinking he must have lived somewhere there, no matter what the Chaziqs told you. But it seems not. They are all quite adamant. Very strange. I found a few who recognize him though, but they will not admit it.”

This attracted Gahryll’s attention. “Why not?”

Mihiubel held out his hands. “I can’t say. No one will speak to me of it. Except one man who said he thought he recalled seeing him coming and going from a particular house.”

Something about his phrasing of those last words drew the Chief Magister’s attention. “What particular kind of house?”

“It is an academy, I believe, though I haven’t called on them yet. I imagine he was in service there in some form, or servicing the trulls.”

“So call on them and see if there is someone there who wishes to take possession of the body and let us be done with this matter.”

“There is something else,” Mihiubel said. “I took the liberty of removing his robes. I’m sure you noted the bruises upon his face. His chest is similarly bruised. And there are lacerations as well, on both his chest and his back. Symbols of some sort.”

“Were they enough to kill him?”

Mihiubel shook his head. “I think not. None of his wounds were severe. If I were to guess, I would say they were symbols for some kind of rites.”

Gahryll nodded. It was all very curious and he could see why Mihiubel was drawn to the case, but in the end he could see no reason to pursue the matter with so many other concerns at hand. If the youth had been murdered, as the Magister believed, there was little to be done about it. Not with the Enir Quarter refusing to help and no witnesses to the crime, or obvious suspects. The Enir punish their own, he told himself, and that seemed as satisfactory an explanation as any. The youth had crossed someone, perhaps at the academy, perhaps elsewhere, and had paid the price.

With no one to claim the body after four days on display, Gahryll sent word to the Chaziqs to dispose of the corpse as per their customs. The Enir buried their dead and presumably would want to see this one interred, lest they anger their ancestors. It was Mihiubel who brought word that the Chaziqs had refused to honor the body.

“Well have it burned then,” Gahryll said, with a shake of his head.

Mihiubel nodded, but did not leave the room. “You don’t find it odd that they are refusing. Have you ever heard of such a thing? An Enir risking the wrath of their ancestors by refusing to bury one of their own. The whole Quarter could be cursed.”

“The Gods curse them already, what does it matter if their ancestors do as well?”

“I just think we should find out what this youth has done that would have them cast him out so completely. There is only one thing I can think of that might lead them to do that.”

“What is that?” Gahryll said, his mind already on the papers Ducaryh had brought him to sign. Orders and reports and messages. There was so much to attend to and it was already afternoon.

“Perhaps he has been playing at alkemya,” Mihiubel said.

That did get Gahryhll’s attention. An Enir practicing alkemya was unheard of. They abhorred the art. It was condemned by their ceinobytes and cursed by their ancestors. Any Enir who did so would know he was crossing to a realm from which there was no return. He would be an Enir no longer.

Gahryll also knew that no Council Adepts would ever train an Enir. There was only one kind of alkemyst who would dare to, and the Chief Magister thought he had done with them long ago. Apparently not, for it seemed there were Desecrators in Tson.

Desecrators and the Veil. Was it ten years ago? No, then he would be in Haigah Pass watching the best of his generation perish. He shook his head, lost in the thought, before looking up at Mihiubel.

“You think we should pay a visit to this academy then, I take it?”

Mihiubel nodded and with a sigh of annoyance Gahryll rose to join him.

 Unspeakable Rites is now available for preorder:
Buy the ebook

Advertisements

Now Available: On The Far Horizon

ON THE FAR HORIZON

WESTERN, CRIME, THRILLER

CLINT WESTGARD

Cattle rustlers on the run, caught between a storm and someone bent on revenge. Cowboys pursued by the law and their own demons through a long night. A dive bar in the middle of nowhere hosts five criminals for a deal that goes terribly wrong.

These and other stories explore the lives of those who populate the west. Homesteaders with mysterious pasts they’d prefer to keep hidden. Women wronged by the men they love and caught up in events beyond their control. There are killers, thieves, cops on the make, and people just trying to get through their days with their eyes On The Far Horizon.

All of these characters, and many others, meet in this pulse-pounding collection that will keep you at edge of your seat.

Buy the ebook

Now Available: The Burned One

THE BURNED ONE

HISTORICAL FANTASY

CLINT WESTGARD

The tale of the Burned One, a mad noble who demanded children’s lives as tribute and sought eternal life, is told in a forgotten part of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.

An amateur folklorist discovers it following the end of the Great War and begins to trace its origins. She is driven by a compulsion she cannot explain to find what truth, if any, lies behind this unbelievable story.

She will find it in a forgotten palace, secluded deep in the mountains. What else she finds there is beyond all belief. It will change her, forever.

Buy the ebook

 

Excerpt: On The Far Horizon

In advance of the publication of On The Far Horizon on August 31, here is a short excerpt from the short story Menthols and Pisco Sour:

She tasted of menthols and pisco sours. Jaime ran his tongue along her lips, savoring the flavor, before biting at her lip. He could feel her freeze a little at the sharpness of the pain, wondering if he was going to go further, and had to resist a smile. She was staring at him, looking up from the circle of his arms, where he pressed her in close.

Looking down at her and meeting her gaze, Jaime was unable to tell what exactly she was thinking. She was not lost in passion, not eager to see that he was either. No, she was watching him, a part of her reserved and standing off, to observe this. What for, he wondered, slightly unsettled. To cover his unease, he bit down on her lip again, harder this time, and was satisfied to see her wince and frown.

She had told him her name, but he did not remember it. They had met in some dive bar near Plaza San Martín in Lima, a dark and grubby place he sometimes went to when he wanted to be with the people, so to speak. It was across the street from a tourist hotel and sometimes he would meet American girls there, who were also deigning to visit the place, looking for a little danger. If only they knew, he thought.

This girl though, he had thought she was a prostitute, off the clock for the night. Or maybe not, maybe the bill would come due in an hour or two. She was light skinned, with mestizo features, and quite beautiful with long black hair, wide eyes and incredible tits. They were what had drawn his attention first. Her teeth were a little crooked and her clothes a little too tight and little too garish. Otherwise he would have expected to find her in one of the Miraflores clubs. Maybe, in a couple of years, if fate shone upon her, he would.

Tired of kissing, Jaime moved to pull down the shoulders of her dress and reveal what he was here for, but she pulled away from him. “I just need to go to the bathroom babe,” she said, patting his cock through his jeans. “Don’t unload this while I’m gone.”

He smiled and released her, or rather, she wiggled from his grasp. He walked over to the bed and sat on it, contemplating taking his clothes off, but decided not to. Let her take them off, that would be more fun. Absentmindedly, he flipped on the television, searching for a sports station while he waited.

They were in a hourly hotel, called El Encuentro, the sort of place where everyone ended up at some point or another. Boyfriends and girlfriends stealing away for that first time. Husband and wives who just wanted some peace from her parents and his children from the first marriage. Affairs, of course, and people like him. Impromptu customers.

As a result, the furnishings were very minimal. There was only a mattress and a sheet and two very flat looking pillows. Beside the bed there was a small table with a phone, and on the other side there was a large tub with jets. The place was immaculately clean. That was why he came here. It was something he looked for.

He flipped through the channels for a second time, unable to find anything to capture his interest. Even the porn channels weren’t exciting him. Where the hell was this girl?

As he looked up, determined to go to the bathroom and see for himself what as going on—maybe she was getting high; he didn’t like that, not around him—the bathroom door opened and she stepped out. The first thing Jaime noticed was that she had not taken off her dress to reveal those remarkable tits, which irritated him. The second thing was that she had a gun in her hand, which annoyed him even more.

On The Far Horizon is now available for preorder:
Buy the ebook

Excerpt: The Burned One

In advance of the publication of The Burned One on August 24, here is a short excerpt:

It was in a tiny corner of what was once the Austro-Hungarian Empire, near its southern extremities where conflict with its Ottoman neighbor was a constant, and where all the many blessings of modernity brought by the nineteenth century had yet to make their way, that the stories of the Burned One became a part of the local folklore. The origins of the tales are obscure. Few in these, even more modern times, can be found who can recall having heard them. In time, they will be available (if at all) only in the archives of the folklorists and anthropologists, who happened to find themselves in one of the five or six villages in the valley south of the Rudenka Mountains, two days journey north of the Danube.

I am here to record that I was one, though more an amateur than a true scholar. Not only that, I met the man himself in those mountains. Such a thing seems impossible as I write it now, but it is true. My memory has not failed. I have not gone mad or surrendered to hysteria. I am of sound mind and body, and the events that I recount here did, in fact, actually take place.

How strange a thing to be writing again after such an interval of years. I was a different person then than the one who puts pen to paper now. What compels me to return to it, after so long, I cannot say. So many things have changed, and so much has been lost in my lifetime, but perhaps I can save this small piece. Continue reading

Now Available: The Farthest Reaches

THE FARTHEST REACHES

SCIENCE FICTION

CLINT WESTGARD

A mission gone wrong in the vast depths of space. A strange artifact in a rancher’s pasture, that may or may not be of alien origin. A deadly contagion spreading like wildfire across the planet.

These and other stories explore the impossible choices faced by those who have lost everything and the fine line between faith and disbelief, reality and dream, silence and a scream. There are no simple answers in The Farthest Reaches.

A mindbending, universe expanding collection of science fiction stories that will take you to the edges of imagination.

Buy the ebook

Now Available: The Horns

THE HORNS

HISTORICAL FANTASY

CLINT WESTGARD

It is the year 1625, in Cartagena, and nothing matters more to Don Santiago Alvarez de Armias than his honor.

When he discovers his wife has betrayed him with another, he kills her in a rage and receives a curse in return. The next morning he awakes to discover horns upon his head.

Strive though he might, he cannot rid himself of them. And so begins a journey to discover the person who can.

Buy the ebook

Excerpt: The Farthest Reaches

In advance of the publication of  The Farthest Reaches on July 27, here is a short excerpt from one of the stories in the collection, Dream Logic :

She suspected, though she had no proof one way or the other, that this fallen realm in which her dream had her trapped was underground.. Perhaps it was the ever-present shadows and darkness, the days as the nights, whole and unchanging that led to this belief. Her existence here was immutable unmarked by any sense of the passage of time. She imagined a world of caverns, hollowed out and reconstructed into this strange habitat that seemed to her without purpose. A dream within a dream, she realized, and perhaps it was just the dream state thwarting her senses and not allowing her to comprehend all that she saw.

The last words of the voice came to her mind, dimly and half-remembered, as though that were the dream and not this. She was following one of her usual trails toward a dispenser that she was knew was still working. After that, if her dream went as it normally did, she would go above to one of the higher rings where there was a large room filled with desks with screens. Some of the screens still worked, after a fashion, and she would sit and watch them flashing their information and images, until she grew restless and started moving again.

This time, compelled by the words, she continued on along the ring, chewing on the block of foul tasting food the dispenser had given her. She often felt ill after she had eaten the food, though this dispenser seemed to agree with her more than the others. It was clearly degrading, as everything here was, and part of her knew that it was only a matter of time until all the dispensers failed entirely. Would her dreams allow that to happen, would her mind compel the machines to continue to work or would the logic of situation play out as it should? And what then?

Not wanting to dwell on that, disliking the sensation of dreaming and yet aware that she was in a dream, she pressed on, ducking through corridors. Rather than taking one of her usual paths, the ones she knew were safe and abandoned, she went to those areas that the Fallen inhabited. Not all of them were unhazardous, she knew, so she went with care, always checking each door she passed through to make sure it had not sealed behind her allowing her no escape.

One of the machines confronted her as she went, looming up out of the darkness, demanding her authorization. Its voice was disturbingly similar to the one that questioned her when she was awake, though they all sounded more or less the same. The flat monotone, parched of emotion.

“The area is contaminated. Please exit immediately. You are not authorized.”

She ignored it, ducking around its bulky frame and moving down the black corridor, the machine sounding an alarm that no longer functioned. The corridor ended at a door that was jammed, which she pushed and pried apart just enough so that she could slip through. She waited a moment to ensure it did not close on her and then turned to go further down the corridor, her path illuminated by a blinking red light along the ceiling. Was this the alarm the machine had started after her breach into his realm, she wondered, or was it from some earlier calamity?

There were a few doors off the corridor, but she knew by the shape and the markings on them that there would be nothing of interest in them. They were small rooms that had perhaps been used for storage or for those who had left to sit in and pass their days. Now they would be empty, or filled with the uninteresting refuse of the decay. At last she found what she had been looking for, a larger door than the others with symbols above its frames. It was open, its automation having failed, and she stepped through into a large chamber.

It was cavernous, the ceiling stretching up past the far reaches of her sight. There were giant tubes, fragile seeming cylinders, and pipes that curved and wound around on themselves, sheltered behind protective glass. Some glowed with dim activity while others were dark. The flashing red light was brighter here, more insistent, if that were possible. She ignored all of that, ducking around the artifacts of this previous age, looking for one of the Fallen. They would be here, she knew, the smell of them was undeniable.

After some searching she managed to find one. He leaned against one of the glowing cylinders, seeming to rest his head against it as he stared off into the distance. In spite of his faraway gaze she felt his eyes upon her, no matter where she stood as she considered her approach. At last, realizing that he would already have seen her anyway, she walked up to him directly. The heat coming from the cylinder on which he rested was tremendous. Instinctively, she crouched down as she moved forward, as though that would protect her from whatever force lay within the tube should it somehow be loosed.

Nothing happened as she came face to face with the Fallen man. The cylinder did not explode, as she had feared, nor did the man rise up and seize her. He continued to stare off into the distance, a leering grin marking his face. She eyed him warily, still unconvinced that this was not some manner of trap that he had lain for her. When he made no motion at all, after she had watched him for several minutes, she moved within range of his grasp, poised to flee at the first instant of motion.

None came and then she wondered if he were waiting for her to speak, to make plain her intentions. How did one address the Fallen? She had no idea, the machines mostly did not respond to her, perhaps it would be the same here. In this realm it seemed she had forgotten the tools of speech, though words still seemed to form as thoughts in her mind. She wet her lips and reached out to touch the man, thinking that if there were no words to speak, then this gesture might be enough.

Her hand had just brushed the cloth of his uniform when one of the machines seized her.

“You are not authorized. The area is contaminated.”

The Farthest Reaches is now available for preorder:
Buy the ebook

Excerpt: The Horns

In advance of the publication of The Horns on July 20, here is a short excerpt:

In the year 1625 of Our Lord, in Cartagena, that magnificent and redoubtable coastal fort in the Viceroyalty of Peru, Don Santiago Alvarez de Armias awoke one day to discover horns upon his head. They were long and narrow, curving slightly upward from his forehead, not unlike an goat’s. Or a demon’s, as his servants and slaves whispered to each other upon seeing it. Most of them fled his house in the days that followed, for they had a premonition of the trials that awaited him.

These began, if there is such a thing as beginnings and endings, the day prior, when Don Santiago met some acquaintances on the streets beyond the Plaza de los Coches, where he had come from looking at some slaves on offer at the market. The full heat of the day was upon them and they elected to retire to a nearby tavern to take some sustenance there. One of the men, a notorious cocksman named Armando Gonzago, told the other men a salacious tale of his latest conquest, who he had been with that very morning while Don Santiago was at the slave market. So tempestuous was their lovemaking, Armando claimed, that they broke the baluster on the bed. All three men laughed at the thought of the poor cuckold who would return home to a broken bed and his wife’s poor excuses. Which he would no doubt believe, for Armando noted he had been so oblivious to this point that he did not suspect anything was amiss.

The three men finished their oruja and said their goodbyes. Don Santiago went about the rest of his day, giving little thought to Armando’s tale. It was evening by the time he returned home. As he let one of his servants wash his face with a damp towel, his wife called out to him that he would need to see to the repair of their marriage bed, whose baluster had somehow become broken.

Don Santiago went still at her words. “How did it become broken?” he said.

I only noticed it this afternoon,” she said, as though that were an explanation.

As if in a dream, Don Santiago recalled other instances of her evasions from his questions, other times when she had offered no explanation for strange incidents and absences. An incredible anger began to build inside him. His whole body seemed to tremble, as though assailed by a tempest. Words failed him.

When he recovered himself somewhat he strode into the bedroom to investigate and saw that, indeed, the baluster had been snapped in half. He strove to peer through the dim mists of his memory to that very morning when he had risen from bed. How had the baluster appeared then? Solid and whole, just as the frame itself. Now here it lay upon the floor, as broken as his trust in everything his wife told him.

Don Santiago called her into the room, demanding that she explain herself.

I don’t know. It was fine this morning, but when I came in this afternoon I found it so. Perhaps,” and here she lowered her voice, so that only he could hear, “the servants were about where they should not have been.”

Don Santiago stared at her, numb and cold, all emotion having fled. He turned to look at the mestizo boy who attended him when he was at home, but the boy would not meet his gaze. A terrible shudder overcame him, as though a spirit had passed across his grave. He bent down to seize the offending piece of wood and turned back to his wife, who studied him with a bemused expression on her face.

His rage returned to him, overwhelming, coursing through his veins like a torrential river. He struck his wife with what remained of the baluster, knocking her stunned to the floor. A trickle of blood ran from her head down between her eyes. Blow after blow he rained down upon her, until she lay upon the floor in an ever-growing pool of blood.

Servants were screaming, footsteps sounding throughout the rest of the house. Don Santiago could not hear them over the thunder of the pulse in his ears. His head ached and he felt exhilarated beyond belief. He looked from his wife to the mestizo boy who remained standing, his lips quivering wordlessly, too afraid to move lest he draw his master’s ire.

The baluster was still in his hand and he tossed it to the floor beside his wife, gesturing to the boy. He would not come, still staring in mute horror.

Here boy,” Don Santiago said, “listen. Go summon the Alcalde quick.”

The servant would still not move and Don Santiago had to drag him from the room to send him on his way. When the boy was on gone, he turned back into the bedroom trying to gather what remained of his thoughts. The Alcalde would need clear evidence that his had been a righteous fury, justified by his wife making him a fool and a cuckold. As he pondered this, he looked upon the broken form of his wife and saw her mouth opening and closing oddly, as though she had lost all command of it. Her body writhed on the floor, as if she were in the throes of an awful ecstasy.

One of the other servants tried to come tend to her, but Don Santiago chased her away with the baluster, forbidding anyone else coming near in a voice that sounded tinged with madness. He sealed the door to their chambers and crouched beside his wife. As he stared into her dying eyes, he tried to think of something to say, a fitting closure to their lives together and her utter betrayal of his honor. But his wife surprised him by speaking before he could.

I curse you, Don Santiago Alvarez de Armias, a feckless lover and inattentive husband, for all time. You will never rest easy again.”

With those words she died, before Don Santiago could summon a response. He remained crouched at her side, her curse reverberating in his ears. Though she had perished, he could have sworn he felt her hand upon his head and he leapt back from her in horror, falling to the floor at the edge of the bed. It was in this position that the Alcalde discovered him.

After, as he prepared for bed, Don Santiago would think that the strange moment—the seeming possession of his wife by an enraged spirit—had been fortuitous in the end. The Alcalde had arrived and witnessed the whole bizarre scene, with Don Santiago’s expression one of fear and madness. It was all of a piece with his claim, that he had been seized by an inordinate anger, a rage beyond all meaning, at his realization his wife had so utterly betrayed him.

He had answered the Alcalde’s questions, the notary scrawling his answers, as someone saw to the removal of the body. His servants cleaned the room as best they could and, when the Alcalde was done with his interview, everyone left him alone in the bedroom. Don Santiago stared at the bloodstained floor and his bloody clothes for a time, before snuffing out the candles and going to bed. The darkness seemed to swim around him, alive and sinister, before he at last drifted off to sleep.

The Horns is now available for preorder:
Buy the ebook

Now Available: The Woman Who Didn’t Speak

THE WOMAN WHO DIDN’T SPEAK

SCIENCE FICTION

CLINT WESTGARD

In a failing colony, one woman will do whatever it takes to survive.

Soon after their arrival on the planet, everything starts to go wrong. Crops fail. Strange fevers afflict the colonists. Terrible storms rack the settlements. All the while their supplies slowly dwindle.

In the face of such calamity many retreat into despair, refusing to leave their homes. Others embrace an optimism, oblivious of all facts. Marjiana chooses a different path.

A story that asks what you would do when there is no hope to be found in the farthest reaches of space.

Buy the ebook