The 900 Club

I’m not sure if talked much about The 900 Club on this blog, but if you haven’t heard of it, I recommend you check it out and read the diverse collection of short stories you will find there. The 900 Club is five authors, each with their own individual style and literary leanings. Every month we each write a short story of exactly 900 words which has to include a two word phrase that we take turns to choose. Apart from that there are no rules so we are free to write about whatever we want in any genre.

I have posted my latest 900 Club short story below to give you a taste of the sort of thing you will find. As this blog is predominantly about my fantasy fiction, I have posted my latest one which is a fantasy, although not everything I’ve written for The 900 Club is fantasy or speculative fiction. If you enjoy short stories and you want to read some original and imaginative stuff, you will love The 900 Club.

Desert Sketch

The Beggar

“Keep your distance, beggar, or he’ll turn on you,” the gnarled old crone rasped as she led a giant wolverine down the cobbled street, batting the beggar’s out-stretched hand aside at the same time. The beggar watched her pass along with the rest of the retinue of whatever wealthy adventurer had just arrived in Fargate. As usual the procession of hangers-on was endless – bards, jugglers, whores, exotic animals of all kinds, gaudily painted wagons and women – all drawn by the promise of wealth.

The beggar kept his filthy, louse-ridden head down and stayed silent, gazing down at his bare feet and his battered ceramic cup containing a few small coins tossed to him by the more compassionate passers by. Fargate rarely received new visitors but when it did, they came in their hundreds. He raised one hand to shield his eyes from the dust kicked up by the caravan.

The people of Fargate wore head scarves to protect themselves from the frequent sand storms and oppressive afternoon sun, but all he had was the rags that barely covered his back and his heavy thatch of matted hair to shield him from the elements. Fargate’s permanent population consisted of a few ragged inhabitants scratching a meagre living from the baked earth, a handful of knights of the realm posted there to enforce the emperor’s law, and of course, a few beggars. It was a poor town and a remote outpost. The last pocket of so-called civilisation before the vast desert stretched away into desolation.

But that desolation occasionally attracted visitors. Now and again, men and women made the long journey to Fargate and into the desert beyond, never to return. They were not attracted by the town itself, for it was a place devoid of hope, but to the very emptiness that lay beyond. What drew them there was a legend.

The legend varied depending on who recounted it. Some believed, out there hidden in the sands, was a gateway to the celestial sphere, others that it was a place where gods existed in the physical world. Monks made pilgrimages there, only to perish in the vast, boiling nothingness. Knights and Priests and holy men of many different orders travelled there seeking enlightenment, salvation, eternal life, knowledge, judgement, even the apocalypse. But religious visits were in the minority, most came because they thought they would find the ancient treasures of the gods.

It was written that there lay a great palace, out there in the desert beyond Fargate, which was the birth place of the gods. The legend said that they dwelled there at the beginning of time, creating the physical world around them. Then they created men and women before departing for the Celestial Sphere, leaving behind them divine treasures beyond value and, some believed, with divine powers.

Those who came for the treasure were always rich. Drunk on their own greed and arrogance, they would roll into town, proclaim that they were on an expedition to find the treasures of Fargate, then set off into the wilderness never to be seen again.

There was a lesser known part of the legend of the divine treasures of Fargate. People seemed either to choose to ignore it, think it was a bit far-fetched or simply stop listening after they’d heard the words “divine treasure”. Indeed, those scholars who had actually read written accounts of the legend noted that this second part of the legend was only recorded in the very earliest versions, getting increasingly brief references until finally disappearing from the later versions altogether.

The legend begins by describing the gods and their palace, their treasure, how they created the world and everything in it from that spot and how their final deed was to create man and to ascend to the heavens. The part of the legend which eventually disappeared said that creating men was not the final act of the gods.

After the gods created men they dwelled with them in the physical world. For a while they lived in harmony, but soon men grew jealous of the gods and demanded that they too should be divine. The gods refused, knowing that men would destroy themselves and their world if they possessed such power, but the men formed armies and threatened war, as futile as it was to make war on gods.

Saddened by men’s actions, the gods went back to the Celestial Sphere and left the physical world forever, leaving their palace behind. But not all of them left. Unwilling to leave their palace and its powerful contents to eventually be taken by men and used for destruction, some stayed in the physical world to ensure it was never found.

As the final stragglers wandered into Fargate and disappeared into the overflowing inns and taverns, leaving the street quiet, the beggar looked across the way to see a knight of the realm watching him. Eventually the knight approached, his boots crunching on the gravel as he walked. The knight halted before the beggar and looked down.

“It is time,” the knight said.

The beggar shielded his eyes from the sun and slowly stood, hunched and skinny next to the tall, broad-shouldered knight. They turned together and walked into the desert.

As they left Fargate behind them, the beggar grew taller and his rags turned to dust, drifting away on the breeze as he unfurled his wings.

Sorrow Part 9: The Maker of Pain

Fantasy Sorrow 9: The Maker of Pain

“Darkness awaits those blinded by the light of glory.”

Sorrow Part 9: The Maker of Pain is due for release by Musa Publishing on 24 May 2013. Here is a brief synopsis and an excerpt.

An uneasy peace has descended over the World Apparent. The Winter Realm and the Old Kingdom are recovering from the cataclysmic events of the Twelfth Reconquest, while in the south, the Djanki and the Sharib retreat to lick their wounds from the battle at Temple Rock. To the east, the divided Empire of Temeria is nearing the end of a long civil war, in which rival Generals have fought like mad dogs to seize the long-vacant Imperial Throne.

General Saqr sinks ever deeper into despair. Besieged by General Anma, her grip on his magnificent city, Hasan, the City of Eagles, tightens by the day. Saqr is out of ideas and close to madness but his secretary, the cunning Hoshea, is prepared to go to any extreme to prevent the inevitable. Having escaped the clutches of the enigmatic Moon-Walkers, Bail and Sorrow find themselves in the company of the High Bloods – a stark and remorseless mountain tribe – and Sorrow makes quite an impression.

Excerpt

The secretary was holding a very ancient book in the crook of his left arm. The pages, yellow with age and covered in stains and water marks, were covered in spiky handwriting, a difficult form of Old Temerian that Hoshea labored to understand. His lips moved silently as he traced the words with his forefinger.

After a while he stopped reading and looked up. The musty air in the cellar had thickened slightly, and the flames of the braziers flickered as if rippled by a soft breeze.

“I expected something more dramatic,” said Hoshea, doing his best to sound nonchalant. “These old grimoires speak of dog-headed apparitions, curling horns, cats-eye pupils, grinning mouths full of wolf-like teeth, and the like. Perhaps they exaggerated. I suspect that many of the old true sorcerers were rather too inclined to indulge in narcotics.”

“You will call me Lord,” hissed a sibilant voice. It was as though someone whispered in Hoshea’s ear, and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up.

Control, control, he thought to himself. Ignore the prickling of sweat on your skin and the terrified knocking of your heart. The demon must know that you are the one in control here.

“You are mistaken,” he said, careful to speak slowly and enunciate every word, for the demon might seize on any inaccuracy of pronunciation. “I am not your servant, and you will call me Master. I summoned you, and the words of the conjurer are binding.”

Silence for a moment, and Hoshea was uncomfortably aware of the sweat trickling down his spine.

“What do you want with me, Master?” the demon said in a sulky voice. His name in the book was given as Am-Ho-Ra-Trep, or the Maker of Pain. His true demonic name was unpronounceable in the human tongue, and his true form (so the book claimed) too horrible for any human to look on without losing their sanity. Thus it was a relief that the Maker chose to remain invisible.

“That is proper obedience,” said Hoshea, “now, do you see this man before me?”

“I see him.”

“He is sorely wounded and his life hangs by a sliver. Restore him for me, but on my terms.”

A note of anxiety crept into the Maker’s hissing voice. “This one is sworn to the War God. You should petition him for aid, not me.”

“The War God does not listen to prayers. You know that. He is a harsh and unforgiving deity.”

“He is also proud, and jealous. I would be risking a great deal if I snatched one of his servants away from him.”

“Nonsense, you are more powerful by far. He is an old God, stale and failing, while you are young and vigorous.”

The Maker actually purred at these compliments, and Hoshea remembered that to a demon, flattery was an almost physical pleasure.

“Restore this man,” he commanded, growing in confidence now, “restore him to full health, strength, vitality, and more.”

“There is a price, Master.”

“I know. I am prepared to pay it.”

The Maker chuckled, a sinister throaty noise, his hot stinking breath drifting across Hoshea’s face. “Is he, though?”

Sorrow Part 8: The Crooked Man

Fantasy Sorrow Part 8: The Crooked Man

“In the time of Sorrow, one shall take shelter under the Dead, and there be met by the Crooked Man.”

The latest in our epic fantasy series, Sorrow Part 8: The Crooked Man, is now available from Musa Publishing and Amazon, amongst others. Here is a brief synopsis and an excerpt.

“An uneasy peace has descended over the World Apparent. The Winter Realm and the Old Kingdom are recovering from the cataclysmic events of the Twelfth Reconquest, while in the south, the Djanki and the Sharib retreat to lick their wounds from the battle at Temple Rock. To the east, the divided Empire of Temeria is nearing the end of a long civil war, in which rival Generals have fought like mad dogs to seize the long-vacant Imperial Throne.

Sorrow and Bail journey through The High Places, doing their best not be noticed by the fearsome inhabitants. Bail begins to understand that there may be more to this innocent child than meets the eye. Felipe has escaped the battle at The Field of the White Bull with his life. Now a fugitive from General Anma’s forces, he seeks shelter with a hermit in the nearby swamp. But how long can he resist the Grand Master’s iron will?”

Excerpt:

“The prophecy named you well,” said Sorrow, returning to his intense study. “You are the Crooked Man, crooked in every word and deed. I would not trust you if you asked for water when dying of thirst. I’ll accept nothing from you.

“Oh, enough,” Bail snapped. “Yes, I sold you into slavery, but let it serve as a lesson to you. The world is a hard place, full of hard people. And listen, I’m scum and a bad lot and I know it, but at least I came back for you. That has to count for something, surely?”

Sorrow thought before replying. “You did not come back out of the goodness of your heart,” he said eventually. “The Crooked Man thinks of his own profit, always. What happened to the money you got for selling me?”

Bail looked sharply at him. “You’re uncommonly shrewd for a brat. Sometimes it pays to keep your mouth shut and not ask awkward questions.”

“Does it? And why should I be cautious? You listen for a moment. I have nothing. My mother and father are dead, along with all my kin. I am the last of my people, the only one in the whole of the living world. All I have is you, a criminal who betrayed me for the sake of a few coins, and you don’t want me asking awkward questions. Well, to the Hells with you, blue-eyes.”

Such forcefulness coming from a child’s mouth made Bail feel uneasy, and he wondered, not for the first time, if he had made a mistake in rescuing Sorrow. “I imagine the tribe that spawned you would be a match for anyone,” he said, rubbing his bristly jaw.

“We were nomads and thinkers, not fighters, though we would fight if we had to. Men covered in metal came and slaughtered my people during the night. I lived, thanks to a blow to my head that knocked me out but did not kill me. More is the pity.”

Bail wondered who had committed the massacre. Some roving band of cutthroats, out for food and plunder? There were enough of them roaming the land in the aftermath of the civil wars, remnants of defeated armies or soldiers cut loose without pay now that their services were no longer needed. The forests and highways were also plagued with another class of robber, once peaceful men turned to banditry after the loss of their homes and families. To any of these, a group of peaceful nomads like Sorrow’s kin would have been easy meat.

Bail felt a twinge of pity for the boy. It wasn’t much, a mere pinprick in the solid wall of self-interest that made up most of his character, but it was there. Perhaps he did owe some sort of explanation.

He took a pull from his flask and wiped his mouth with a grimy hand. “I’m going to tell you a few bits of truth, Sorrow,” he said, “which you should take as a compliment, because truth is not something I deal in very often. I came back for you because the money the Moon-Walkers gave me was false, a clever enchantment. A couple of days after leaving you, I woke up in a roadside inn with the innkeeper in a red rage hammering on my door. The coin I had given him had turned to mud overnight, as had all the money in my purse.”

Sorrow looked at him, and a wry smile crawled up one side of his face. He clearly liked what he was hearing.

And the lucky winners are…

Heroes & Villains Blog Hop

Heroes & Villains Blog Hop – 3-6 May 2013

SILENCE!

A big thank you to the very talented writers who joined me on the Heroes and Villains blog hop, to everyone who took the time to read my post, and of course to those who commented and entered to win one of two free copies of my fantasy novel (co-written with David Pilling), The Best Weapon.

The winners are Shadow Kohler and Jessica Rydill.

Epic Fantasy The Best Weapon

Epic Fantasy The Best Weapon

Welcome to the Heroes and Villains Blog Hop

Heroes & Villains Blog Hop

Heroes & Villains Blog Hop – 3-6 May 2013

Welcome to the Heroes and Villains blog hop. To enter the draw for a free digital copy of my epic fantasy novel, The Best Weapon, please follow me on Twitter (@Bo1_tan) or if you’re not on Twitter or already follow me on Twitter, just follow this blog. Please also leave a comment below saying you want to enter so I don’t miss anyone out. This blog hop runs until 23:59 GMT on Monday 6 May, on Tuesday night I will post the names of two lucky winners here.

Epic Fantasy The Best Weapon

Epic Fantasy The Best Weapon

Don’t forget to check out the links at the bottom of this blog post and tour the other participating speculative fiction, sci-fi, fantasy and historical fiction writers and their blogs. All these talented authors are giving away freebies so don’t forget, the more blogs you follow and comment on the better chance you have of winning prizes.

* * * *

My thoughts on Heroes and Villains and how this has affected my writing, and indeed how writing has affected my thoughts on heroes and villains.

Heroes and Villains. This can be a contentious subject. Life is full of heroes and villains. You see them in the street every day. You see them on the news, in the media, running governments, evening singing shit songs badly on crap talent shows (and judging said singers). Opinion is nearly always divided. Someone I might see as a hero or heroine, you might see as a villain. Apart from in extreme cases, it is usually subjective. One might say there is a fine line.

When I was still an eighteen month old baby my brother Tony was around twenty one (I can’t even remember his exact age, but it doesn’t seem important any more). He rented a caravan down in Cornwall not far from where I lived with my parents. Sadly the owner of the caravan had installed a gas fire and neglected to ensure there was proper ventilation. Tony went to sleep and never woke up.

I learned about Tony as I grew older and felt aggrieved that I was too young to remember him living and breathing. My mum is still angry about it. When I was thirteen my brother Paul was killed by a policeman in Ohio. I won’t go into the details, but needless to say the man who did it was a villain in my mind, even though I never met him and doubt I ever will. Yet this was a man I held responsible for all the stupid and downright wrong things I did for years after. My own anger and hatred ate me up and a lot of things and people got broken in the process. One day I realised I hated myself more than anything or anyone. At times I think I was a villain in the truest sense of the word. I wonder what my dead brothers would think of that.

The heroes in my life have been the people who have forgiven me for the things I’ve done. People who have have been through more pain and grief than I could shake a shitty stick at and still maintained a quiet dignity. Sometimes I think the heroes are just the people who live their lives and manage not to make  complete c*unts of themselves, which firmly rules me out. Some people say everything happens for a reason. I’m not saying I believe that necessarily but having found myself in a very dark place struggling to find some light within me, and eventually found it, I think I now find it easier to see it in others. Every cloud.

So, how does all this affect how I write? I’ve learned that there is rarely a human being who can be all bad or all good. Everyone harbours some bad feelings – jealousy, greed, selfishness, anger – and everyone does bad things sometimes. I can’t think of many people I have met who didn’t, deep down, just want to do the right thing – it just isn’t always easy to see what the right thing is. Sometimes I think the truth is in life you’re lucky if you get the chance to do anything heroic, and when you do it nearly always passes you by before you can do anything about it.

Frankly, my opinion changes depending on my mood. Mostly, I don’t think there is any such thing as a hero or a villain. The world is just full of people. I’ve seen people do some terrible things, people I had grown up with and seen them raised and treated like dogs – worse than dogs. I never saw them as villains, I saw them as people with so much turmoil inside them that they just lashed out. It is easy to judge someone until you put yourself in their position, live their life and you might form a different opinion. It is not my place to judge anybody.

When I wrote the character called Naiyar, the young Djanki in The Best Weapon, I based him on myself. Naiyar discovers he is half demon and realises he has powers beyond his belief. He has to learn to control those powers while his family are murdered, his world is turned upside down and everything he believes crumbles away before his very eyes. He has to take control of his destiny and do the right thing. Naiyar feels lost, isolated, alone, angry, but with the help of a friend he is able to master his situation and his powers, as I mastered my hatred and rage. I remember how powerless I felt myself – powerless to control my anger, powerless to see past my own feeling that I was somehow the victim. Naiyar is one of the two main protagonists in the book, but I don’t think he is a hero, he is just a person caught up in life’s inexorable ebb and flow, doing his best to keep his head above the surface. Like Naiyar, I’ll never be a hero, but I’m not a villain either, I’m just a person. Maybe when you read about Naiyar, you will get an insight into my own psyche, and maybe you will discover you have felt the same way.

Being creative has always been my anger management. One thing I didn’t expect was that writing about a character like Naiyar actually taught me a lot about myself. It was as though empathising with him was therapy for my own state of mind, it brought up a lot of deeply buried feelings and he even has some similar dreams. Apart from my own life experiences, I think creating and writing about people makes you try harder to see why they do things and how they really feel, and that has helped me grow as a person.

When I create a new character I start with myself, because I know how a villain feels and I at least aspire to be a hero (although the paparazzi would probably get a bit much, I already have to contend with the bears – always watching, waiting, waiting for the right moment). A character, even in a fantasy novel, must be based on real life to be believable, and no-one is black and white – there is an interesting and unique grey area inside everybody (though it isn’t grey, it is vivid and multi-coloured).

So next time you look in the mirror, ask yourself – am I a hero or a villain?

Heroes & Villains taking part are:

#1 Nyki Blatchley
#2 Adrian Chamberlin
#3 Mike Cooley
#4 Karin Cox
#5 Joanne Hall
#6 Jolea M Harrison
#7 Tinney Sue Heath
#8 Eleni Konstanine
#9 K. Scott Lewis
#10 Paula Lofting
#11 Liz Long
#12 Peter Lukes
#13 Mark McClelland
#14 M.Edward McNally
#15 Sue Millard
#16 Rhiannon Douglas
#17 Ginger Myrick
#18 David Pilling
#19 Kim Rendfeld
#20 T L Smith
#21 Tara West
#22 Keith Yatsuhashi

And to see you out, here is a short story you can also see at the 900 Club.

The Beam of Light

My earliest memory is of my grandfather’s craggy face, illuminated by flames. His deep set eyes twinkling as he gazed at me across the fire. His expression gave nothing away, the only clue to his thoughts lay hidden in the darkness beneath his brow. That visage reminded me of a cliff face; stark and uncompromising, changed only by the fullness of time and the relentless song of the wind.

I can hear his words now as though we were still sat in his hut, either side of that fire.

“Boy,” he said, “you know the customs of our people because you have been taught them every day since you were able to sit upright. And you know that you can only be named once you have killed, that is how you earn the right to exist. You are but a shell until you take the soul of another and claim it for yourself. Your father must name you for your acts of courage. I named your father Redmist, because when he beheaded his first enemy he did so with such ferocity that his victim’s blood sprayed into a fine mist before it fell into the mud. Do you know why I summoned you, boy?”

Of course, I didn’t know why I was there. I was seven harvests old and my grandfather terrified me. I stared silently across the dancing flames and slowly shook my head as he drew from his pipe, never taking is black eyes from mine.

“You should also know,” he continued, “that if your father should die before you have killed, his soul is yours and you become him, and your name will be his name.” He paused again to smoke his pipe.

“Your name,” he said as he let out a thick cloud smoke into the flames, momentarily obscuring his face, “is Redmist.”

That is how I learned of my father’s death, and of my own doom.

There is a beam of light shining through the tiny window, far above me in the slimy stone wall of my dungeon. It is the last light I will see in this world. It seems fitting that, as I gaze at it, I am reminded of the my earliest memory. They say that when you die, your life flashes before your eyes. Perhaps that is the way if your death is quick, but during the past months as I lay in the darkness, mine has trudged past me painfully slowly on a daily basis. But I always end up staring at that beam of light and remembering my grandfather’s words.

“You must now become everything your father was,” my grandfather’s face remained impassive, “because you will be judged against his achievements. You are young now, and you may not fully understand, but you must live up to the memory of your father or be cast out. In the eyes of your people you are Redmist, the same man, and if you fail to emulate him, you will be regarded as an imposter, an abomination, a walking corpse. Do you understand?”

I did not understand, but I nodded anyway.

The beam of light moves each day. It journeys from one side of my dungeon to the other, even as my life runs through my mind. So, each bloody and barbaric event in my life time has its own spot on the dungeon floor. Every act of rage and violence I have perpetrated is marked by some stain on the stone or a rat carcass or a finger bone, each with its own harrowing story. And every day it starts and ends with my grandfather before the fire.

“You must live your life without remorse, without pity, and never show weakness. Every moment of your life will be hard, and every choice you make is etched forever in the annals of time, and burned into the memory of your people. In the end you will not be judged by your actions but by your conviction. The world is full of fools who are certain about every mistake they make, and geniuses who could have the world in the palms of their hands if they were only cruel and ruthless enough to take it. Let other men doubt your decisions, let them deliberate over right and wrong. Yours is to lead, and they will follow a certain fool over a reluctant genius. Are you paying attention, boy?”

I nodded again, my wide, watery eyes not daring to look away.

“Every decision you make will mean life for some and death for others. And every fleeting moment in life is gone in the blink of an eye, never to be retrieved. So live your life in each and every moment and never look back. Never doubt what you have done or will do. Die as a man, die as Redmist, with no regrets. Now go.”

So I lie here, physically broken, watching the beam of light and reliving my life each day. I see the faces of the people I killed. Men, women and children. I see the villages I burned, the people I enslaved and disfigured. I see the babies I blinded so that they would become oracles and tell me the future. I see all this as I await the moment when I pass from this life to the next.

I will die as a man, as Redmist, with no regrets.