Not Without a Fight – a 900 Club Fantasy Short Story

WarAxe_downsized

“Not without a fight.”

 

Meet Shortstraw. This chap sprang to mind, axe in hand, while I was sitting in a hotel in Lanzarote trying to think of a story. I knew it was going to be a fantasy even before I had any ideas. Maybe it was the sunshine and the beer that put me in the mood to write my favourite genre.

Like most of my favourite characters, Shortstraw seemed to just appear virtually fully formed, I didn’t have to think for long about who he was and where he came from. He basically wrote himself. Not bad for a bloke who is completely illiterate.

This story was written for The 900 Club, which I recommend you check out if you like short stories. However, I like Shortstraw so much he is very likely to appear in a fantasy novel very soon, but never mind that now. Without further ado, I give you Sparrow Brokenspear aka Shortstraw…*APPLAUSE*

Not Without a Fight

by Martin Bolton

Since the age of sixteen, Sparrow Brokenspear had been better known as Shortstraw. That’s to say, since he was attacked by a bear, which was not his first piece of evil luck.

No one knew how he survived the mauling he took. The bear swiped its massive paw across his front, near disembowelling him. Damn thing should have killed him, but folk said life wasn’t finished knocking him about yet, and maybe they were right. Instead of giving up the ghost like any sensible man might, he hovered somewhere painful between life and death for more than a year.

He wasn’t the same after that. Some would say indifferent. Some said he was touched by death. Some even said he was a walking ghost, a dead man who was just too pig ignorant to do the done thing and lie down. Shortstraw would have said life ain’t fair, but it’s all he’s got and he ain’t giving it up without a fight. And no one ever hung on to anything more stubbornly than Shortstraw hung on to life.

News of Shortstraw’s awakening was not greeted with what you might call enthusiasm by the people of his small village. Most took it to be a bad omen. He’d been a quivering unconscious wreckage for so long he was considered dead already, so when he eventually strode from his mother’s hut, all anyone saw was a walking corpse, and a big one at that.

People said he was touched by death, that he was bad luck, that the gods would forsake them if they harboured such a demon. Some even said that he was death himself, decided to climb into the body of a dead boy and take it for a stroll.

Every piece of ill fortune that befell Shortstraw’s village was blamed on him. Sickness, bad weather, failing crops, still births. People would spit and mutter as he passed by.

“Demonspawn.”

“Go back to the pit where you belong.”

“Just go back to the earth, dead man.”

But it all slid right off Shortstraw’s broad back like boiling fat off a spitted pig. He’d walked with death. He’d had his arse scorched by the searing fires of hell and his eyeballs scored by the blinding light of the celestial sphere, and for some reason neither wanted him.

Death’s normally welcoming arms had pushed him away, and nothing on the physical plane held any fear for him. He was impervious to their sharp tongues and their hatred, and woe betide any man who took it upon himself to remove him physically. There were a few challengers. Men who wanted names. Men who wanted reputations. Shortstraw buried the lot, and barely broke a sweat doing it. He didn’t fear death, but if a bear couldn’t send him there, he was damned if any man would.

Such was his approach to every situation. He treated killing a man the same way he treated cooking an egg. Just another thing that needed doing. A thing he had got quite good at.

There was one other reason he wanted to live: to protect his long suffering mother from the folk who thought she had committed some dark rites to revive her shattered son. Without him there she’d be strung up for sure, or burned or flayed. Who knows what punishment they would dream up for the mother of a demon.

When she got the crying fever and breathed her last, he had no reason to stay. So he did the obvious thing and went to find an army to join.

It wasn’t long before his talents were noted and he found himself leading men. He wasn’t a man of words, not one for a stirring speech, but Shortstraw’s reputation spoke for him. And men listened. Word spread of Shortstraw Brokenspear, the quiet reaper, the striding ghost.

Reputation meant nothing to Shortstraw, it seemed to him those who wanted it died trying to get it. Those who didn’t found themselves with names and stories and men behind them and no idea how it happened.

Some would say he’d drawn his lucky number, that he had all a man could want. He’d asked for none of it, and wasn’t sure he wanted it. But that was the way of life and death, and he’d seen plenty of both.

So here he was leading men into battle, men who followed him for the same reasons his own people rejected him. It was a funny old world, but who was he to argue?

He hefted his axe and awaited death with indifference. He knew it would come, it always did, but it always seemed to be for someone else. Surely one day it would return for him, and when it did he’d give it one hell of a fight.

He pursed his lips thoughtfully as he gazed at the shrieking warrior charging at him. He could see the fear in the man’s eyes and in the way his sweaty, white-knuckled fist gripped his scimitar too tight.

“You die!” the warrior roared as he leapt forward and swung the great, shimmering scimitar.

But Shortstraw had other ideas, and so did his axe. He swayed to his left and let the singing sword pass a hair’s breadth from his ear, then buried his axe in the man’s head.

“Yeah,” Shortstraw muttered as he jerked the blade free, “but not without a fight.”

 

Advertisements

The Shrieking – a 900 Club Short Story

The Shrieking

by Martin Bolton

My wife, Rene, had suffered from severe depression all her life and became increasingly delusional. I had studied her condition and tried to treat it, but I ultimately failed to save her. In the autumn of 1870, my beautiful Rene hanged herself. She was the love of my life, and my heart carried with it a shadow for the rest of my days.

When the former home of the late Professor Gabriel Monroe, an eminent psychiatrist and a pioneer in his field, came up for sale, I immediately made an offer. I moved in to the house in the spring of 1878.

It was on my first exploration of the cellar that I found a curious contraption languishing beneath a layer of dust on a large desk to the rear of the chamber. The thing resembled a phonograph, the sound recording device invented by Thomas Edison the previous year. Its construction comprised a wooden box with a cone shaped loudspeaker and wires leading to an apparatus designed to be worn on the head.

The light from my lantern also revealed a loose collection of papers which, upon closer inspection, I was excited to find were the handwritten notes of the late professor himself, entitled Psychograph – Professor Gabriel Monroe. According to the professor’s scruffy hand, his Psychograph was the only one of its kind in existence. Why he had left it here I couldn’t guess. Certainly what I read on those yellowing sheets of parchment seemed somewhat fanciful in its nature, and I began to understand why this invention, if indeed it was genuine, had never seen the light of day.

Professor Monroe’s jagged scrawl claimed that the human mind was an even deeper, darker world than previously thought, and that aspects of that murky realm could manifest themselves and communicate independently. Indeed he believed that his machine was a link to the subconscious. In short, he had created a device through which voices from the mind of the wearer of the head piece could speak through the loudspeaker, and the professor could answer. Not only were Professor Monroe’s theories about the human mind contrary to all conventionally accepted ideas in the field of psychology, but his claims that he could communicate with manifestations from the minds of the insane were nothing short of outrageous.

Having read Professor Monroe’s far fetched ideas, I wanted to take them seriously, the man had inspired my own career and, besides Freud, there was no one in the field I admired more. The poor man had clearly succumbed to dementia. I resolved to tell no one of my discovery, lest I besmirch his good name, the last of his blood line, and I left it in the cellar.

During the next few days I explored the countryside surrounding my new home. I walked through verdant dales and fragrant meadows, past babbling brooks and beneath the canopies of sun dappled woodland, alive with birdsong and the buzzing of insects. My mind wandered too, free from the distractions of a working life in the city. But something lurked in the dark recesses of my consciousness, and periodically my mind’s eye would stumble upon it. The professor’s machine, waiting in the cellar.

The more I thought about that sinister contraption, the more my natural curiosity grew, and I found myself increasingly preoccupied by it. But some unexplained instinct gave me a feeling of dread whenever I contemplated returning to the cellar to closer examine of the thing.

One night, having spent the evening in my study writing my memoirs, I lay awake in bed. The moon was bright. A shaft of white light pierced the drapes like an icy blade, and the night outside was still and silent. I could not seem to close my eyes, and my alertness drove me to distraction. I knew then I would not sleep until I had satisfied my curiosity. I donned my nightgown, took a candle and made my way to the cellar.

My excitement grew as I sat at that mouldering desk and picked up the head piece, placing it over my head. Taking a breath to steady my nerves, I wound the handle on the side of the box, and it began to vibrate, making a high pitched whirring sound. After a moment of silence, I felt a jolt so forceful I stood, knocking my chair to the floor and involuntarily taking a step backwards. What followed was a sharp, painful whistling in my ears causing me to double over, ripping the head set off and casting it aside. The whistle quickly became a shriek. Then I saw her face.

My poor, sweet Rene, her translucent skin taut to her skull, her black, bulging eyes staring, her lank, greasy brown hair hanging in tatters, her lips peeled back over yellow teeth, and her creased, rope burned throat heaving. A mixture of pain and anger was her expression as she shrieked and shrieked.

I destroyed that accursed machine and burned Professor Gabriel Monroe’s notes. If smashing the psychograph closed whatever hideous door I had opened, it did not banish the thing I had emancipated from the damnable chaos beyond.

It will not stop, I can still hear it, and I cannot leave this house, for some twisted part of my being clings to the belief that a ghoulish semblance of my wife still shrieks, down there, in the cellar.

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.”

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.

Curses – a 900 Club Short Story

The theme for the latest 900 Club short stories was “a tale of murder” and the two word phrase was “too long”. Here’s what I came up with.

Curses

by Martin Bolton

A rasping fart rattled the privy seat and echoed around the chamber. Grandpriest Morbic grimaced. White knuckles gripped his bunched robe as he hunched forward, groaning. Sweat and drool slid down his beard. He breathed in deep and gave another push, teeth clenched, eyes bulging with the strain. Finally there was a heavy “thunk” – a sound somewhere between a splash and a thud.

Exultant, Morbic gathered up his robes and wiped his slickened beard on the back of one trembling hand. He took another breath and let out a long sigh, specs of spital flew like little fireworks from his lips, a celebratory display in honour of his achievement. He stood slowly, feeling a wave of pins and needles wash over his legs. As he turned and gazed down into the privy to inspect the fruits of his labour, his face dropped.

“Curse my bowels!” he growled. “The one morning the gods see fit to grant me a solid stool they take it away before I can lay eyes upon it.”

Morbic turned away in disgust. Curse my life, he thought, curse the misfortunate that has befallen me. Curse the demon offspring that common whore of a maid whelped upon me.

He had not been well since his maid, Parmina had died. She left him Pelig, a sullen boy of twelve, and Grenda, a tearful girl of eight. He would never have allowed them to stay if he hadn’t felt partially responsible for their existence, but he’d decided to be generous. Now he wished he had drowned the pair of them at birth as he had with all the other shrieking pups spawned of the wanton wenches he’d employed over his long and illustrious career.

Parmina had died in childbirth, or so he told everyone. He’d actually smashed her head in with a coal shovel the moment the girl Grenda had come oozing into the world in a welter of blood and shit. He had no choice, he’d seen her smiling at one of the knights at his church congregation. He could tell by the way the witless buffoon smiled back they were in love. And when people fall in love they tell each other everything. He couldn’t have this knight, with all his foolish notions of chivalry and justice, hearing how he had raped his maid for years and fathered two dirty sprogs. That wouldn’t do at all. It would harm his career, he was the Grandpriest. He was a role model.

He was sure the boy, Pelig, had some inkling of the truth about his mother. He’d seen the look on the boy’s face every time he barked an order or thrashed his sister – there was a spark of defiance there, it was faint and buried deep, but it would blossom before too long. I will have to do away with him too. Morbic was getting old and the boy was getting bigger, soon the tables would turn. Perhaps a dose of the purple shakes was in order, or a poison with similar effects.

All this Morbic brooded on as he shambled from the privy. “Girl!” he bellowed, “hot water for my bath, now, or do I have to come down there and thrash you?”

He shuffled into his bed chamber to find a bath of steaming hot water waiting. The girl came in with another bucket and topped it up a little more. He glared at her as he removed his robes and tested it with one hand. Her eyes and cheeks were red, what was she crying for this time? Had he not been kind to her? He could have dashed her head on the hearth at birth, but he’d shown mercy, despite the fact she was bastard born and her mother was a shameless harlot. He could have thrown her out, and where would she be now? Dead or enslaved no doubt. Her ingratitude sickened him.

She stood nervously as he lowered himself into the tub.

“What are you waiting for, girl? Scrub the shit off me.”

She visibly shuddered as she picked up his washcloth.

After his bath he commanded his breakfast be brought to his solar and made his way there to have tea in the sun.

Presently, the boy Pelig entered carrying a silver tray with fried bacon, eggs, bread, cheese and a flagon of the sweet mead the Grandpriest enjoyed so much. The smell of the bacon made his mouth water and his stomach tingle. He leaned, almost imperceptibly, to one side to allow a searing fart to escape, stopping just short of a mishap. He glanced suspiciously at Pelig. The boy had a knowing look that he didn’t like. Can he smell that?

Grandpriest Morbic broke his fast as Pelig and Grenda watched. The girl seemed particularly nervous today. He wondered why. Pelig stood there watching, perhaps a little more intently than usual. He was about to ask the boy what in the hells he was staring at when he suddenly had a queer feeling. Curse my bowels, he thought, but before he could make a dash to the privy he began to shake violently, gasping for breath. He reached one bony hand towards Pelig, but the boy brushed it aside easily and gazed at him with that knowing look.

Then Morbic knew.

“Curse you. You ffffff-ffff-fff-ucking…” but Grandprist Morbic would have to finish that sentence in hell.

The Lights of Ember Vale – a 900 Club Short Story

The 900 Club has posted its latest short stories. The chosen genre was Magical Realism and the two word phrase was “never forget”. If you haven’t already, please do check it out, you’ll find a diverse and original collection of short stories and there are brand new stories posted on the last day of every month. Below is my latest effort.

The Lights of Ember Vale

by Martin Bolton

Samuel gazed across a moonlit sea of leaves. The view from the observatory, high in that lonely house, took in all of Ember Vale. Since he’d been alone he had spent every night there, waiting intently for the vision he saw so often in his dreams. The lights.

Rumours about what happened to his father, Professor George Bukowski, had circulated in the nearby town of Ember. Since his father’s disappearance, Samuel had ventured away from Ember Vale less and less, until eventually he became a complete recluse. Now the place was shunned altogether by the townsfolk, and he was left alone, waiting for his time. He knew it would come soon, his dreams grew more intense, and yet his memories of them remained frustratingly vague. He remembered the feeling well enough. It was a feeling of home, of peace, of completeness. A feeling of belonging. Something he had never experienced in his waking hours.

It was the vision that eluded him when he woke, as though what he saw in his unconscious did not translate into the sights and sounds of this world. As though he saw them with different eyes. The only things he could remember were the lights, out there in the woods, beckoning.

His father was a Professor of Astronomy, and this had been his observatory before the night when he walked silently from the house and vanished. He had been well respected in the community. Educated at Ember University, he had lectured there before buying the house in the middle of Ember Vale to set up his observatory. It was the perfect spot, away from the bright lights of the town, to watch the stars. It was also the dream location for Professor Bukowski to start a family, or so he thought.

Samuel was fifteen when his mother disappeared without a trace. The search of the surrounding countryside found nothing. She had been at home, Samuel was in his room and his father was in the observatory. There were no signs of a break in, she had apparently left the house without even her shoes and wandered into the forest never to be seen again. It was a night he would never forget, not because it was the last time he saw his mother, but because it was the night Professor George Bukowski stopped watching the sky and started watching the woods. And the first night Samuel dreamed of the lights.

Samuel had always been a misfit, and was only interested in reading alone in his room or wandering the woods, deep in his own thoughts. After his mother’s disappearance his father had confined himself to his observatory, that was five years previously. A year ago his father had left the house one night and walked into the woods. He too had left no trace, not even a footprint. It was then Samuel went to the observatory and found his father’s journal.

The journal began on the night his mother had disappeared. It was the first night Professor George Bukowski, whilst searching for lights in the sky, instead saw them in the woods. The professor’s journal began with various scientific theories as to what he might have seen, gradually he began to connect these theories with the disappearance of his wife. After a few pages the journal descended into incoherent ramblings about parallel dimensions and an overwhelming sense of longing for something he couldn’t describe.

Samuel’s father had become increasingly distant since his mother vanished. He had locked himself in the observatory and rarely emerged. When he did he was gaunt, his eyes sunken hollows, his skin a pale grey, as though he had died but his soul somehow still inhabited his body, waiting for its time to leave. Samuel felt the same way, as though he belonged elsewhere. He had seen the lights again in his dreams the night his father disappeared, and the next day he took the professor’s place in the observatory.

This time there was no search, no news stories, no rumours, he told no one of the professor’s disappearance. The man had been locked away from the outside world for so long it had moved on and forgotten him. Samuel knew the knowledge of what happened to his parents was buried deep within his subconscious, a distant memory that would not reveal itself until he was ready. And there he waited, day after day, for the vision to return in his conscious state. For the tantalising calling that remained just beyond his grasp, in the fleeting glimpses that so far confined themselves to the misty plains of his unconscious mind.

As he watched the distant trees, Samuel’s sleep deprived mind conjured indescribable shapes and colours, a kaleidoscope of swirling patterns danced before his eyes. He wondered if he slept, or if he was in some other, hitherto unknown state of consciousness. He tried to blink, to clear his vision, to be ready for his calling, but everything was foggy and indistinct. Soon the shimmering patterns shrank, until they were painfully bright lights in the blackness. He could no longer see the moonlight on the leaves, or the stars in the sky, just the lights in the woods.

Samuel rose from where he sat, exultant. Slowly he left the observatory for the last time, and walked bare-foot into the woods, to join the lights.

Sorrow Part 15: The Last King of Ghor – penultimate in the epic fantasy series

“Fear makes a foe, courage makes a king.” Fantasy Sorrow Part 15: The Last King of Ghor

Sorrow Part 15: The Last of Ghor is the penultimate part of the epic fantasy series and is now available from Musa Publishing. The final part – Sorrow Part 16: Son of the Stars – will be published 18 April 2014. Below is a brief synopsis and an excerpt from The Last King of Ghor .

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.

Hoshea’s army is spotted by a High Blood lookout as it approaches the High Places. The High Bloods mount aFantasy Sorrow Part 16: Son of the Stars vicious ambush, but Hoshea unleashes a secret weapon, one that no living man could stand against. The mountain tribes retreat to their ancient fortress and look to their new leader, Bail, to make a stand. But can the newly crowned King of Ghor find the courage?

Excerpt

Hoshea sensed rather than heard the unspeakable pleasure of the thing he had unleashed. Sick with horror, he became aware of a pressure on his arm and looked down to see Shalita’s slim white fingers.

“I feel him too,” she breathed, leaning towards him, her eyes half-closed in ecstasy. “The hot rush of blood flowing down his throat, the screams, the snapping bones, the sucking of marrow… Gods, it feels good.”

Hoshea snatched away his arm and recoiled. What kind of monster had he created in her? She would have to be dealt with later, either killed or bundled away to some secure, remote prison where she could do no harm.

He turned his attention back to the matter in hand. The High Bloods were nowhere to be seen across the river, though he knew they were fleeing in rout, in blind terror from the invisible, stinking death that he had inflicted on them. The near bank was now crowded with soldiers, hundreds of horsemen and foot soldiers mingling, shifting uncertainly as they waited for the next move. Their perspiring sergeants rode to and fro, shouting men into ranks and plying vine rods on the stragglers, but they too looked for guidance. They looked for it from the gaggle of richly-dressed nobles and officers beneath the white banner; they in turn looked at Hoshea.

All things wait on me, he thought. For a moment he felt crushed by the overwhelming sense of responsibility, a terrible weight to carry even after his lifetime’s experience of service. With a great effort, he pushed it aside.

“Unleash the horse,” he barked at his waiting subordinates. “Lancers, heavies, bowmen, everything we have. Pursue the savages through the woods, allow them no respite. Scatter them, harry them. Spare those who surrender, wipe out the rest.”

Wipe out the rest. How easy it was to command death. Hoshea was surprised and not a little frightened to discover that his sense of guilt had vanished.

One of the nobles cleared his throat. “Lord, how do we know they are retreating?” he asked. “They could have fallen back a little way into the woods and be waiting in ambush.”

Hoshea almost smiled a bitter smile. “They are running,” he replied, and in his mind he heard distant screams. “They are running for their lives. Trust me on this.