Excerpt: Theoreticals of Illusories

In advance of the publication of Theoreticals of Illusories on February 1, here is a short excerpt:

I sit in the chill alone, another mile further down the road, staring up at the sky and watching my breath as it forms puffs of vanishing clouds. The air is the way only winter can make it, sharp and crisp, cutting at my lungs as it goes down my throat. Clouds are gathering, distant on the horizon, foreshadowing the storm I know is coming. Wind, snow, and tumult; the storm of our humanity will not even register.

I can see a fire in the distance, not far from where I crouch in the miserable shelter of a few trees. It must be no more than half a mile, if that, and I long to trudge across the snow to join whoever is there. To ask them if they will share their fire and perhaps a little food or drink, if they have any to spare. The commonwealth of all travellers on a cold winter’s night.

But I do not stray from where I sit in the frigid darkness, shivering and rubbing my hands together to try to put some semblance of warmth in them. The Commonwealth—my commonwealth—died some time ago, and I have no friends left to me. Certainly not in this place.

Does he feel as tired as I do? As hopeless and alone? Is he worn out and ready to quit, the strength to keep fighting drained by these endless hardships?

No, not him. For him, the privations and difficulties are merely proof of his righteousness. The blood on his hands only demonstrates the justness of his cause and the lengths he will go to stand by it.

For me, I do not enjoy this new world that he and his kind have wrought. That it is him, of all people, that I am forced to reckon with only makes it all the worse. If it were someone else, it would be another matter. It would not cut so deep.

As these thoughts flit through my mind, I finger the tome that I carry with me. It has only the dead in it now. The incantations here that my kind once worried over are now only the words of a forgotten tongue. I am its last speaker and I have sworn myself to silence. He and his kind have seen to that.

He has the silver and the gold, and our lives, so many I cannot even bear to count. And now he will take this last thing too, to bring an end to all this.

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Now Available: Two Skulls

TWO SKULLS

FANTASY/HORROR

CLINT WESTGARD

 

Mejk the Unharnessed is a spirit walker, who can traverse the lands of the dead and bind the souls there. Chosen by his people to restore them to greatness, he will take any risk to claim the dead in the Untamed Lands.

Harni the Cleaved travels with Mejk, his guide and protector. She will stay at his side, no matter how arrogant he might be, for her people have chosen her as well. More than Mejk, she understands just how forgiving the Untamed Lands are.

Neither of them is prepared for what they will face when they come across an ancient skull. Mejk will find himself facing a greater power than he knew existed, while Harni tries to defend him against impossible odds.

In a world where the living and the dead offer no quarter, Mejk and Harni will be pushed to their utter limits just to survive.

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Excerpt: Two Skulls

In advance of the publication of Two Skulls on February 1, here is a short excerpt:

The bones had been bleached dry by the sun and were a gleaming white amidst a sea of green grass that stretched on for miles in any direction. The sun glimmered off them, catching the eye of Harni the Cleaved, one of two riders making their way across the plain. She brought her horse to an abrupt halt, wordlessly pointing at the distant speck of white. The other rider, Mejk the Unharnessed, grunted in response and they both turned their horses toward the bones.

They came across the rest of the body in their search for the skull—a femur here, a rib there—the body obviously having been torn apart by whatever carrion hunters inhabited these parts. Mejk was forced to dismount from his horse to find the skull, which was hidden beneath an especially thick swirl of the lengthy grass. He knelt on the ground, picking it up gingerly to study it, while Harni kept her eyes watchful upon the horizon.

The skull was whole and unbroken, except for a small hole at its base where an arrow had obviously struck and killed the warrior. Mejk turned it over in his hands, counting the teeth and looking at the form of the skull with a skeptical eye. Harni interrupted his study with a grunt.

Be quick,” she said. “Someone’s approaching.”

You know this can’t be rushed,” Mejk said, not taking his eyes from the skull.

It may have to be,” Harni said.

Hearing the urgency in her voice, Mejk looked up from the skull and cast his eyes along the horizon. “Who is it?”

Who else,” was her whispered reply.

Who else indeed. These were the Untamed Lands, which no one had claim to. But that would not stop some of the Great Tribes from doing so, especially to two warriors from the Fastarl traveling far from their lands. These plains had once been theirs in more glorious times, but that was many lifetimes ago, long before Harni or Mejk had come of age. Now the Fastarl lived upon the winds, forced to survive on their wits and at the sufferance of the Great Tribes, never to have a true home.

All that could change if Mejk was successful here . For the Untamed Lands were littered with the dead, many of them Fastarl, murdered in those dark days when the Great Tribes had driven them from their lands. And Mejk was a spirit walker. He could walk with the dead, could claim them from those places where their spirits were banished. Continue reading

Now Available: Mouth of the Underworld

MOUTH OF THE UNDERWORLD

FANTASY

CLINT WESTGARD

The Mouth of the Underworld, the eater of souls, has long been lost. But Kasuir and Jasryl, Hautlyrun youths who have heard endless tales of it, discover its entrance in the highlands above their town.

They are forbidden to enter the cave, warned that the old tales may be true. But they are both young. They do not believe in those old stories, told to scare them as children. The old ways were all proven wrong when the Ven conquered and brought the railroad and modernity.

But sometimes old tales do have a kernel of truth. For something awaits them in the Mouth of the Underworld. From it, there will be no escape.

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Excerpt: Mouth of the Underworld

In advance of the publication of Mouth of the Underworld on December 14, here is a short excerpt:

Help me. I am here. Help me. I am trapped.”

The words, carried on the wind, from somewhere within the mountain, were so faint I could barely make them out. I leaned forward, straining to see if there was any more to be heard, but only the sharp whistle of the wind on stone and the stirring of the trees behind me reached my ears. I stayed rooted where I was for five minutes or more, my sweat cooling on my back, but the voice did not return. I stood on the threshold of the Mouth of the Underworld, peering uneasily into the darkness that lay beyond the narrow ingress, knowing that I had to step within that void, but fearing to cross into that unknown realm.

My father had forbidden me to enter this place, and it was not in me to disobey him.

Only the past lies there,” he had said. “We have forgotten the entrance for a reason.”

I could have argued that the past was who we were, that we had to face it and exorcise those demons if we were to ever be free of the Ven and their rule. But I had not, for there were many in Huispar who still believed in demons, in the terrible gods of the deep our ancestors had once worshipped. They believed the old laws still applied and that no Hautlyrun should enter the caves, for they were the path to the underworld, where the living had no place. That I knew differently did not matter, the cataman’s son had to obey the ancient laws.

The breeze coming from the mouth of the cave died and silence descended in the surrounding cloud forest, as though the whole world was hushed, awaiting my decision. I had imagined the words, I told myself, imagined the voice, my own disquiet playing tricks on my mind.

But, even if that were true, it did not matter. Jasryl was still down there somewhere below. He had been gone for the better part of two days and there was nowhere else he could be. I had to go after him, because no one else would dare. More than that, he was the truest friend I had in this world. If I left him to die I would never be able to forgive myself, no matter that it went against my father’s word and my own nature.

The decision made, I felt the weight lift from my shoulders. I slid through the narrow gap, the jagged edges of the stone almost touching my arms, giving me the distinct sensation of teeth closing in for a bite. I tried to ignore the feeling, though it was difficult, telling myself it was just the stories I had heard as a child coming to life in my head.

Three days before I had crossed this same threshold with Jasryl. That had been a different occasion, both of us filled with awe and excitement. Now every harbinger seemed to point toward doom.

I knelt in the opening of the cave where there was still enough light that I could see and fought with the lantern I had brought, trying to get it to stay lit. The wind was very strong, gusting at times, almost sweet smelling, alive with the earth itself. As I crouched over the lantern, trying to spark the oil, the words came on the wind again, more distinct this time, the voice clearly recognizable.

Help me. I am here. Help me. I am trapped.” Continue reading

Now Available: Unspeakable Rites

UNSPEAKABLE RITES

FANTASY

CLINT WESTGARD

A dead man of no family or account is what Gahryll, Chief Magister of Tson, sees when the corpse of an Enir youth is brought to the Magisterium. But Magister Mihuibel sees something else: a conspiracy involving false adepts practicing an outlawed form of alkemya.

Against his better instincts Gahryll authorizes an investigation that draws both Magisters into the seamy underbelly of Tson where the rich and powerful prey upon the desperate. When the inquiry implicates one of the most important families in the Realm of Craitol in forbidden practices and false alkemya, their positions and ranks will be threatened.

But that is only the beginning. For the killer will stop at nothing to ensure his secrets remain hidden and Gahryll is brought face to face with the unspeakable power of alkemya that has been unleashed. It forces him to make a choice. Will he risk everything to fight for justice in a realm ruled where rank and wealth are all that matter?

Set in the same universe as The Shadow Men Trilogy, Unspeakable Rites, further explores the nature of alkemya, its terrible power, and the heavy price paid for its use.

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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:
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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.

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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 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.

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