Usher – a 900 Club Short story + The Best Weapon on kindle for 99p

Epic Fantasy The Best Weapon

Get The Best Weapon on kindle for just 99p.

 

As I fell out of the habit of posting my 900 Club short stories on here as I write them each month, I have now started picking and choosing which ones to post and when. As my epic fantasy novel The Best Weapon has just been released, the below story seems an appropriate one to post.

You can now pick up The Best Weapon on kindle for just 99p.

Usher

by Martin Bolton

Corleb gazed into the fire and chewed a mouthful of boar. The meat was carved fresh from the spit and the boy wiped hot grease from his chin with his sleeve. His fingers throbbed as the heat from the fire seeped into them.

His father regarded him across the flames with stern eyes, black beard absorbing the light of the fire, making the man’s eyes shine all the more brightly.

“What have you been doing today, boy?”

“Playing swords in the forest.”

“With whom?”

“Chukka and Breem.”

“The twins,” said his father, raising one scarred eyebrow, “they are two winters older than you, twice your size, and already students of Feurn. Do you not wish to play with children your own age?”

“The children my age are weak, they say I play too rough.”

“But you are small, even for your age.”

“Yes, but I am quick. They try to take advantage and it makes me angry,” said Corleb.

“If you wish to be a warrior, you must learn to control your anger. You must not show emotion, you must be a closed door.”

“But it is anger that gives me strength.”

“I did not say you don’t need your anger, just that you must control it. Sooner or later you will meet an opponent who will use it against you.”

Corleb was silent for a moment. “When can I be taught by Feurn?”

“You know you must see twelve winters before the swords-master will consider you.”

“I have seen nine, and I am strong.”

“It is tradition, Corleb, you must wait. Patience is a warrior’s virtue.”

“So is timing, and I am ready.”

“Only one warrior was ever schooled by the swords-master before his twelfth winter,” his father smiled, “and that man has passed into legend.”

“What happened?”

“You know the story well, boy.”

“Tell me the story again,” demanded Corleb.

“Long ago,” his father began, “so long that the memory has all but faded in the mists of time, our people, the Rowaceni, lived to the east, across the mountains. The summers were warm, and the winters mild. The land was a sprawl of forests and valleys, verdant dales and clear rivers filled with fish.

“There we prospered throughout the ages. Until the tyrant, Khalic, formed his empire. Your ancestors were given a choice: bow to Khalic or die. The Rowaceni cannot be ruled. Khalic sent an emissary to the Rowaceni chief, Seldat, offering to spare the lives of his people if he would bend the knee. Seldat sent the emissary back to Khalic with a message of his own – that Khalic would have to come and fight.

“Khalic sent a force to subdue the Rowaceni, but he underestimated our skill in battle and the ferocity of our berserker warriors. Khalic’s force was shattered. The slaughter was terrible, but Seldat allowed one man to escape alive, minus an eye, an arm, and his manhood. He sent the soldier back to Khalic so the tyrant would hear and see first hand what it meant to threaten the Rowaceni.

“One man became a legend in that battle. He was the greatest swordsman who ever lived, and he slew countless men. Without him, the Rowaceni would be slaves.”

“What was his name?” asked Corleb.

“You know very well. His name was Usher.”

Corleb whispered the name into the fire, his eyes wide, as though Usher’s spirit would appear before him in smoke.

“Khalic was furious,” continued Corleb’s father. “He immediately made plans to lead a vast army west and exterminate the Rowaceni. He vowed never to rest until every last one of us was destroyed. Seldat, knowing his people could not stand against Khalic’s entire army, made plans to lead the women and children, together with a few men, through the mountains. As the story goes, there was just one safe pass through the peaks, known only to Seldat.

“But the risk of Khalic catching up and following the Rowaceni through the pass was too great. Khalic would have to be held up. Usher volunteered to stay behind with a horde of Seldat’s finest warriors.

“As Khalic’s army marched into our lands, he found them deserted. He burned and laid waste the land as he went. Usher, knowing he could not prevail in the battle that followed, needed only to hold out long enough for his people to escape to freedom. And so the courageous Usher gave his life so that we might live. Legend has it that one day he will rise again, pass on his martial knowledge, and show us the way back through the ancient high pass in the mountains, to reclaim the fertile land of our origins.”

Corleb finished his boar in silence and walked back into the twilight. The sun still peered over the horizon, the sky was a deep purple, and the forest was darkening. His father would expect him back before nightfall.

As he wandered into the deepening gloom, the pungent scent of pine trees in his nostrils and snow crunching under foot, a voice greeted him warmly.

“Did you eat all your supper, Corleb?”

“Yes, just as you bade me.”

“Good, you must grow strong,” said the voice, “you have many more lessons to learn, many more trials to pass.”

“I know who you are.”

“Of course you do,” laughed the voice.

“How old are you?”

“Older than you can possibly imagine, boy.”

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The Best Weapon: A World Apparent Tale

Epic Fantasy The Best Weapon

The good news is the publishing contract for the first fantasy fiction novel I co-wrote with David Pilling has now expired. This means we are able to re-publish with a new cover and also make available on paperback.

The story is called The Best Weapon, and is set in a fantasy world created by myself and my co-writer, David Pilling. The world is known as The World Apparent. I think the following excerpt sums up well how this world works. This excerpt, however, is from another World Apparent Tale which we are still writing, so you’ll have to stay tuned to find out when it is finished.

“As I drift through and between the three planes of existence, each mirroring the last, I occasionally catch a glimpse of the void. The place that existed before even the physical realm of men. The infinite chasm beyond The World Apparent, with its endless dimensions and crushing, incalculable vastness. The contemplation of which would drive even the immortal minds of gods, themselves as young and minuscule as man’s basest desires, to eternal despair.

I shy away from such terrifying glimpses, not just through a healthy fear, but through a sense of preservation. To know the limits of one’s own consciousness is to resist the temptation to discover the ancient alien horrors that dwell in the abyss, beyond the physical plane and its spiritual parallels.

In stark contrast to the void are the lives of men, by their very nature trivial and temporary, even fleeting. Yet their lives are governed by powerful things: love and hate, hunger and greed, honour and pride. Emotions so powerful they drive men to incredible acts of strength and heroism, and despicable crimes of brutality and murder. So strong are the hearts and minds of men they unknowingly created the Celestial Sphere and the searing caverns of Hell. They dictate the course of events in the physical plane, known to gods, demons and men as The World Apparent. A world of chaos.”

Fantasy-Parchment_map-v1_downsized

The World Apparent

My inspiration for the story comes from my own personal struggle with anger and loss, and writing it has helped me come to terms with many things in my life.

The sequel, entitled The Path of Sorrow, will be released later this year. It was previously released as a serial entitled “Sorrow” but was originally written as a single novel. We are returning it to its natural state, so keep your eyes peeled for news on that soon.

In the meantime, The Best Weapon is available to pre-order now on Amazon, and will be released on 19 February 2015. Here’s the blurb from the back cover:

“Two young men, born on the same day on opposite ends of the world and into two vastly different cultures, are inexorably drawn together by forces outside their control or understanding.

As they come of age and face their own personal trials, they begin to become aware of their true identities. Driven by dark forces, their shared fate draws them on a journey to the centre of The World Apparent, where their enemies gather in wait.

As their world slides into war and chaos, they discover there is much more to The World Apparent than meets the eye, and glimpse the other worlds that lie beyond the physical plane. Created and manipulated by demonic forces, they must seize control of their destiny, conquer their fears, vanquish their enemies and prevent the very disaster they are supposed to bring about. But first they must learn that the power to do so lies within…”

The Reavers’ Knell – a 900 Club Short Story

This was my short story for The 900 Club’s May batch, it has taken me a while to get around to posting it. I hope you like it. Do check out The 900 Club for monthly short stories from myself and four other writers, each with our own take on facial hair fashions and literary styles. May’s theme was Dystopian and the two word phrase was “get down”.

This story, like many I have written, came to me in a dream. Hopefully I’ve captured the feeling.

The Reavers’ Knell

by Martin Bolton

Heron skipped aside from his father’s down-swinging blade, but no sooner had he done so the bright steel whistled from his left. He ducked and danced back the way he had come, spinning on the balls of his feet. The blade came again, relentless, this time upwards and from his right. He brought his own blade up and the razor sharp edges rang together. The sound of the blades’ kiss sang in his ears. The Reavers’ Knell, the warriors had named that sound.

Egret advanced swiftly, glistening brow furrowed with concentration, but Heron found his father too predictable. He slid around the sword thrust and let the bigger man’s momentum do the rest.

Egret Steelflight stumbled over his son’s outstretched foot and toppled over, landing heavily on his face.

“Good,” said Egret, wiping blood from his lips, “but you must be more ruthless. You fight well, with grace, but you must learn to kill.”

“How can I learn to kill when I fight my own father? Would you have me slay you for the sake of a lesson?”

“You will have to kill without hesitation when the Reavers return. The fate of mankind rests upon you. The prophecy…”

“Fuck the prophecy!” Heron roared, his temper flaring. “Who shall I kill then, Father? You? Raptor? Ibis? I am eleven years old…”

Egret cuffed his son back-handed across the face.

“…and already the finest blade in Talonreach!” Egret barked, then his voice took on a softer tone. “You are the only hope. When The Reavers return, you will stand against them, and you must… you will prevail!”

Heron looked sullenly down at his sword, turning it back and forth in his right hand, wiping blood from his lip with his left. “I am not the finest sword in Talonreach. Redkite is.”

“Then you have answered your own question,” replied Egret.

Heron gaped. “What are you saying?”

Egret looked away. “It is the only way we can be sure you are the one. You will kill Redkite or die trying.”

* * * *

“Get down from there you fool, you’ll break your neck!” Heron called out, frowning.

Raptor capered on the rock with a stick. “I am Heron Steelflight,” he cried, waving the pretend weapon in the air, “I am born of the prophecy! I am indestructible!”

Ibis’ smile faded when she saw Heron’s face, and she reached out to touch it. “What happened to your lip?”

“Nothing,” he replied, not meeting her gaze.

“He only wants you to fulfil your destiny,” she said.

Heron turned away, irritated that she always knew what he was thinking. He took a few steps and stopped, sighing heavily. He glanced up at Raptor, still dancing atop the rock, fighting off imaginary Reavers, though the boy could not know what they looked like.

Even Heron’s father was not old enough to have witnessed the near total destruction of his kind, but even so he believed in the prophecy. He had told Heron stories of the distant past. Stories of how mankind had spread across the entire planet. They had once built machines that required no beast to pull them, yet moved at amazing speeds, and weapons of fire that could destroy entire towns from miles away across sand and sea. All this was lost long before the Reavers came, or humanity might have defeated them, but mankind had all but destroyed itself by then. All the Reavers did was help to finish them off, or nearly. A few survived and founded Talonreach, many generations before Heron’s birth.

The Reavers would return, the prophecy said, and Heron Steelflight would lead the army that wiped them out once and for all.

Ibis took his hand and they walked away, leaving Raptor to his game.

“What am I?” he asked, picturing the bloodied corpse of Redkite in his head. Something deep within him made him sure he would kill Redkite, but what if the prophecy turned out to be false? He would have killed his friend for nothing.

Ibis stopped and took both his hands in hers, fixing him with those intense, green eyes. “You are Heron Steelflight,” she said.

“And who is he?” He felt tears in his eyes.

“The prophecy…”

“…says I am invincible.” He finished her sentence for her. “I cannot be injured by another mortal. I am the saviour of humanity. Where does it say I must kill Redkite?”

Ibis pursed her lips, the way she did when she was in deep thought. He wanted to take her and run away, but he knew she would not allow it.

“My father says I must kill,” he continued, “to be sure I will not falter when the Reavers come.” He produced a knife from one sleeve and pushed the handle into her palm. “I must be sure. If you believe I am the one, press the blade into my heart.”

For a moment he thought she would refuse, and if she did he would know her belief had wavered. Ibis took the knife and swiftly pushed him down onto his back, placing the blade against his heart. She placed one hand over the hilt and, as she pressed her lips against his, put all her weight on the slither of steel.

Heron Steelflight closed his eyes as the blade broke against his skin. In his mind he heard The Reavers’ Knell, and knew who he was.

Interview & Giveaway – Win a free copy of epic fantasy The Best weapon

Epic Fantasy The Best Weapon

Epic Fantasy The Best Weapon

Fantasy Fiction Sorrow Part 1: The Ring of Steel

Sorrow Part 1: The Ring of Steel – coming 21 September

Check out my interview about co-writing a fantasy novel on Daniel Ausema’s blog. Comment on it before the end of the weekend and enter the draw for a chance to win a free copy of my epic fantasy novel The Best Weapon AND a free copy of the first part of the subsequent series Sorrow Part 1: The Ring of Steel.

CARAPACE – a 900 Club Short Story

Happy First Birthday to The 900 Club

Happy First Birthday to The 900 Club

Please join me wishing The 900 Club a happy first birthday. We have just posted our twelfth monthly batch of five  very different short stories, we would be honoured if you would pay The 900 Club a visit and have a read. Soon we will be publishing the 2013 anthology to mark a year writing together, so keep your eyes peeled for a unique collection of tales in all styles and genres.

Fantasy Sorrow Part 13: The Sack of Hasan

In other news, Sorrow Part 13: The Sack of Hasan, latest in the epic fantasy series was released today in ebook format by Musa Publishing. The story is nearing the end now, as part sixteen is the final part, and the plot thickens.

Below is my latest offering for The 900 Club, I hope you like it.

* * * *

Carapace

by Martin Bolton

The weatherman used the phrase “mainly windy”. That made me laugh, not just because it sounds like such a ludicrous phrase when considered out of context, but also because the weatherman was my husband, and that was exactly the sort of thing he came out with all the time. He made me laugh every day then.

I remember that laughter now like a distant dream, another life, a memory shrouded by the mists of time and the madness that comes with it – and time is madness when it is all you have. It seeps into you, it eats away all the tiny barriers in your mind until you are left with stark reality, and with that comes raw madness. I have learned that since I was trapped here, in the darkness, with nothing but the silence, the cold, and this… thing.

I was Professor of Arthropodology, specialising in arachnids, for The Department of Zoology, Oxford University. We were on an expedition to Laos to visit the caves in the Mekong Subregion and follow up on local reports of a species of spider thought to outgrow the biggest known – the giant huntsman.

Had I known what really existed, deep in the heart of these ancient caves, I would have stayed in England, safe in my laboratory, where my scientific mind could cling to its superficial pretensions that man’s innate fear of the dark is purely visceral.

Our intention was to explore beyond the mapped network of passages with the purpose of plotting more of the cave and discovering new species. We were about a mile into virgin tunnels when I came upon a vast crystal chamber about the size of a football pitch. As I shone my halogen lamp across the space, the light was refracted by huge, perfectly transparent crystals like cut diamonds. The effect was breath taking: the vivid display of colours, the dazzling kaleidoscope of alien shapes. The rest of my team were behind me, but I was transfixed, enthralled, as though in a dream, isolated from the real world. Then the floor of the cave opened like a trapdoor. The colours vanished, replaced by blackness.

I ran out of breath screaming long before I hit something. I must have struck a ledge or a protruding rock, because I felt my legs shatter, making a soggy crunching sound. The impact sent me spinning helplessly into empty, black space.

What I landed on was not rock, or I would certainly be dead. How I long for such a blissful end now. We go through life fearing death, all our instincts geared to towards avoiding it. I wonder if our primeval ancestors knew what I know now. Surely if they did, they would fear the end no more, because they would know as I do, there are things on Earth so much worse than dying.

After landing on this strange, springy surface, I lay for sometime. The pain in my legs was intense, and I passed in and out of consciousness. Either that or the dreams I had of daylight, laughter and fresh air were just hallucinations caused by agony and shock. I lifted my head to look down at my body. I could move my arms but my legs were a twisted wreckage. I moved my head from side to side, initially relieved there seemed to be no injuries to my back or neck. That relief turned to dismay, then terror, when I saw what I lay on.

On either side, stretching away into the seemingly infinite darkness, were taut, thin strands of some tough, flexible material. I tried to move my upper body and felt the surface give slightly beneath my elbows. I shook my head vigorously and felt myself, almost imperceptibly, swaying back and forth. There was only one thing I knew of that came close to the description forming in my mind.

A web.

No sooner than the dim light was finally extinguished by the inevitable death of the batteries in my headtorch, I felt vibrations. Something moved in the darkness. The web shook more violently, and soon I felt its touch. The way the web moved, either side of me, gave me the impression that whatever it was, it was behind me. It was on the underside. Then I felt a sharp pain in my neck, a bite, and just before I succumbed to paralysis I felt the web shake as the thing scampered away.

I wish I had been devoured then, but the grisly fate I had imagined for myself was nothing compared to the sickening reality. It is now apparent when that thing bit me, it set into motion a ghastly, insidious process; a metamorphosis more hideous than anything I have seen in my study of arthropods, or ever imagined possible. Nor did my paralysis bring with it the inability to feel sensations, so I have felt the realigning of my very molecules like a permanent, tormenting itch.

To my horror, the first parts of my body to develop their new form were my eyes. I can see again now, even in the total darkness, only this time I can see in all directions at once. I can see myself, or at least the thing that used to be me. My transformation is at an advanced stage: I have a complete cephalothorax, spiny carapace and abdomen, and the beginnings of eight huge legs.

Cyber Monday – Get Fantasy The Best Weapon Half Price

Half Price Fantasy Fiction at Musa Publishing

Half Price Fantasy Fiction at Musa Publishing

Tomorrow is (02/12/2013) is Cyber Monday at Musa Publishing. Check out the website to get any publication, including epic fantasy The Best Weapon and the Sorrow series, HALF PRICE. This offer is on for one day only, and all Musa Publications are half price, so don’t miss out on the opportunity to get half price Christmas presents for fantasy fiction lovers.

Cyber Monday also marks the first day of the Thirteen Days to Christmas promotion. The release schedule of the 13 Days Free Reads is as follows:

The Silence of Reza by IJ Sarfeh 02/12

The Break-In by Carrie Russell 02/12

Christmas Crossroad By Viki Lyn 02/12

Out of Magic by CD Coffeit 03/12

Boughs of Halle by Holley Trent 04/12

Medusa by Kaitlin Bevis 05/12

The Terrible Mighty Crystal by Sharon Ledwith 06/12

Jump by Shannon LC Cate 07/12

War Crimes by Jennifer Povey 08/12

Dream Stealer by HL Carpenter 09/12

The Last Stage by Nicky Penttila 10/12

Looking for Home by Lyn Rae 11/12

Yesterday’s Tomorrows by Devin Hodgins 12/12

Sweet Revenge by Liese Sherwood-Fabre 13/12

Marisa Becoming Fourteen by Kadee McDonald 14/12

The Smartest Fish In The Ocean by Heather Lockman 15/12

The Wicked Duke and the Yuletide Gift by Emma Lane 15/12

SPANIEL IN THE WIND – a 900 Club Short Story

The 900 Club have now posted their latest short stories for November. The two word phrase this month was “this time”. Please check it out if you enjoy fresh, original short stories. My offering, below, was inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, although it is probably not quite what you’re expecting….

* * * *

Spaniel in the Wind

by Martin Bolton

I, Fletcher Stanley Norman, write this now in the hope that I might deter others as foolish and unthinking as myself from perpetrating similarly vile acts. I fear that I have sunk too far into the murky depths of depravity, into realms beyond the light of the sun’s blessed rays, to hold any real hope for my own salvation. I can but warn others that this path I have taken leads only to eternal damnation, and pray that my warning is heeded.

The unwitting catalyst for the change in my previously mild and forgiving disposition was a cocker spaniel named Pete. His arrival in my garden one bright morning in early spring sparked a lamentable transition in my psyche, culminating in the dire events I am about to recount, the consequences of which are poor, innocent Pete’s shallow grave and my enduring slump into despair and darkness. Were it possible to turn back time, I would gladly give my own life in return for little Pete’s, but alas my despicable acts of blind jealousy can never be undone. I can only hope that Pete rests in peace, or perhaps exists in another sphere, beyond the shroud, where he is free from molestation and malice, where he bounds undisturbed through perfumed meadows void of the groping, fungal fingers of sin to which my soul succumbed.

At first, Pete’s boisterous, irrepressible zest for life was a welcome distraction from my permanent pond-side vigil. Each day he would breathe new life into the garden as he bounded back and forth, chasing his tale or following the scent of some long retired nocturnal beast, pausing periodically to slobber noisily over is testicles. There was a contagious energy in him that flowed into his surrounding environment, making every day seem like the first of spring. That energy has now left this derelict place, giving rise to a stagnant greyness that wreathes my pointy hat like a malignant smog and drains the light from my heart.

That first summer after Pete’s arrival seems like a painfully ecstatic dream that serves only to remind me with unrelenting brutality of all that I have destroyed. Pete was the sunshine, and every night as the moon shone upon my pond, I gazed at the water and pictured his manic tale and his thick, spongy ears dangling in the water as he lapped up mouthfuls of green slime. I would patiently wait, knowing he would be back at dawn to a lay steaming mound on the grass and mark me as his own.

But as I watched him, day after day, mindlessly urinating at every opportunity and relentlessly pursuing any hapless creature that ventured within the confines of the garden wall, something dark was nurtured within my soul. I gradually grew to despise Pete.

He became an insufferable annoyance, the constant scent marking seemed unnecessary and, in my head, became a mortal insult directed at me, and his incessant barking at every passer by an ear-splitting cacophony that cut me to the quick. I became irritable and developed a purple temper that flared up and threatened to explode whenever he was present. That indiscriminately affectionate, delirious young cocker spaniel became the secret focus for a deeply destructive, unforgiving hatred.

I was gradually gripped by a malignant, corrosive darkness that dug a fetid pit within my spirit, and it was two years after his arrival that I finally slid so disastrously to its very depths. I remember that morning so vividly that it tears at my heart like the claws of some ravenous raptor to recount it. It was early spring, dew hung heavy on glistening spider-webs, and the chorus of bird song was food for the soul – though mine had long since abandoned such sustenance.

I swear I did not plan what happened next, or perhaps I did in my festering, cursed subconscious. The sun was just rising and steam rose from the hedgerows. I heard the latch on the back door, the noise that signalled my daily torment. True to form, Pete came bounding onto the lawn, barking at the feeding birds, trying vainly to catch one in flight and sending them flapping to the tops of trees. He then squatted for his morning defecation – you could set your watch by his bowel movements. I had witnessed this very scene every day for two years, but this time it would have a different ending. As I watched him through eyes sooty with the blackness of hate, a terrible idea formed in my mind. As Pete squeezed out his final nugget of miasmic waste, I leapt from my rock as if controlled by some powerfully malevolent force, and mounted him roughly. Using my fishing rod as a miniature horse-whip, I gripped one of Pete’s giant ears and I rode him hard around the garden.

God forgive me, I rode him!

We cantered around the perimeter and out the gate. I did not see the range rover. God help me, I did not see it until it was too late! I managed to jump free in the nick of time, but poor, innocent Pete was not so lucky. His skull was crushed like an egg under the front wheel.

Shame and guilt are not my only punishment, for my porcelain heart will live on through the millennia and I shall linger in the knowledge of what I have done.