The Momentum Blog

Exclusive excerpt: The Bloody Quarrel episode 5

Posted January 4, 2016 by Michelle Cameron

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“This is an outrage and if this is the way you intend to run the city, you can forget about the support of the Guilds,” the new head of the Bankers Guild declared.

Fallon glowered at him but a sheaf of requests for money had arrived just that morning from the nobles of the neighboring counties. With money he could purchase, through them, food and goods from counties further away. The food situation was better but it seemed there were many other things the city needed for winter, from firewood to wool for clothing, while the animals stabled within the city to be slaughtered and eaten later needed fodder for the next moon or two. He might get enough gold if he raided the Bankers Guildhouse or he might not. And he could not take the risk.

“What are you talking about?” he asked innocently.

“Duchess Dina. Arrested in the square outside this castle! The Guilds are all happy to deal with her but if she is imprisoned or executed then we shall have to rethink our support,” the Banker said loftily.

“And what if I decided to come calling and look into your affairs, see whether you are secretly worshipping Zorva?” Fallon challenged.

The Banker sat up straighter. “We have all sworn loyalty to Aroaril,” he said. “And if you destroy the Guilds you will throw this city into chaos. No merchant will deal with you and none of the nobles sending food and goods in from the counties will trust you. Duchess Dina was someone we could all deal with. You, on the other hand, are the man who gutted the King in front of a cheering crowd. They are too afraid to work with you.”

Fallon leaned back in his chair, his mind racing. Was this part of Dina’s plans? Had she made the Guilds secret promises in exchange for their support if anything should happen to her? Do we even need the Guilds? Why not just march into every Guildhouse, arrest their leaders and take their money, share it out among the people? It was tempting but they were clever men. They would have planned for this possibility, while he had not. By the time he had men mustered and marching, the Guildsmen would be scattering like rats in torchlight. Unless he got their leaders and their money then he was creating more trouble. He had to get ready for a fight with the Kottermanis and make sure Bridgit got back safely. Fighting his own people in Berry, even if they were Guildsmen, was foolish.

“Well, I am afraid you are mistaken,” he said. “Duchess Dina was not arrested. She is merely resting in her townhouse. We have had a strenuous few days of fast marches and hard camps. Not something she was really used to. She will be available for meetings tomorrow, where she can tell you herself.”

He smiled at the Banker, thinking that he could take a page from Aidan’s schemes.

The Banker looked uncertainly at him. “She was not arrested? Not taken screaming and crying into the castle?”

Fallon made himself laugh lightly. “A foolish jest between friends. She will tell you herself when you see her tomorrow. Shall we say noon, so she does not have to rise early? Bring as many Guild leaders as you feel necessary.”

He could see the confusion on the Banker’s face and enjoyed it. If nothing else, this would buy him enough time to be ready to search every Guildhouse at a moment’s notice.

“We understand the Duchess might be tired after the success of your march through the counties. We shall make it brief.”

“Excellent,” Fallon said. “Well, if there is nothing else that concerns you?”

“No, that was my reason for visiting.”

“Good. Well, I am glad I could clear that up. And after you have met with the Duchess, we can perhaps discuss terms for a short-term loan to keep the city operating?”

He saw the man out to the door, where Gallagher was ready to take him back out of the castle.

“What are we going to do? That traitorous bitch is not going to help us,” Devlin said. “What in Aroaril’s name were you thinking of when you said that?”

“She will help us. She has spent a night in the cells. We offer her the chance to live in her townhouse and, if she behaves, the chance to go and live quietly in the country somewhere after all this is over.”

“Why not keep her here, right under our thumb, in her rooms?” Gallagher asked.

“Partly because we need to use them but mainly because I don’t want her hearing or knowing what is going on around here. Who knows what servants she has in her pay?”

Brendan thumped the table. “I will not see her get away with it!” he growled.

“And nor will she. We will lie to her, pure and simple. And at all times she will have two dozen guards around her. Men we trust. If she tries anything then she will suffer a tragic accident. And we shall be ready to raid the Guildhouses at a moment’s notice, if they kick up a fuss.”

Brendan grimaced. “I don’t trust her any further than I can throw her.”

“Well, that could be quite a way,” Padraig said with a wink. “She’s pretty small, you know.”

“This is not a laughing matter,” Devlin said.

“No, it’s not. But we need to use everything we can to get this city ready for the Kottermanis. If that means tricking and lying to Dina, then so be it. We have just forced the nobles around here to help us. If they smell weakness then they will all stop the food coming and then we will have even more trouble,” Fallon said forcefully. “And what about the Guild of Magic? With their help, we have blinded Swane. If they turn against us then we would have more problems than a lack of flour. I would not like Swane to see how weak we really are here.”

He looked around the table and they all nodded, even Brendan.

“We had better keep a close eye on her though,” he added. “We’ll pick at least a score of our best recruits and put Casey in charge.”

“Not one of us?” Brendan suggested.

Fallon shook his head. “We’re too well known. The Guilds will smell a rat if we are there. They don’t know Casey.”

“Aroaril, I hope you are right about this,” Devlin said. “It might be safer to keep her here.”

“Would you invite a snake into your house? I fear she will be up to mischief here. In her townhouse she will be all alone, watched by a score of our best men at all times and only those we allow can enter. I don’t like keeping her around any more than you do but you heard that bloody Guildsman. People are talking and we don’t have the time or the energy to waste on fighting inside Berry. We have to get ready for the Kottermanis. Besides, there is a kind of justice to it. She used us to help her plans. So we use her now.”

 

The Bloody Quarrel: episode 5 is released on the 7th of January.

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Exclusive excerpt: The Bloody Quarrel: Episode 2

Posted December 9, 2015 by Michelle Cameron

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Prince Kemal looked out over the water and sighed. Then he turned to look at his family, his wife Feray and sons Asil and Orhan, and smiled.

“What is it, my Lord?” his wife asked, her voice gentle and musical.

Kemal did not need to glance around to see if anyone was listening. His people knew better than to disturb his privacy. They were alone on the high stern deck, looking out over the endless ocean that divided Kotterman from Gaelland.

“I wonder whether we will like it there,” he said. Many men, in fact most men, would not confide in their wives, let alone discuss matters of great import with them. But Feray was not an ordinary woman. He had married her because it solidified his father’s grip on a vital part of the Empire, but he had swiftly fallen in love with her anyway. Their sons were eight and six summers of age and another source of joy to him, although they were less interested in what he was saying and more curious about a pair of dolphins that were swimming alongside the ship.

“How can we not? We will be representing your father and the great Empire of Kotterman, bringing a new province into its boundaries for the first time in one hundred years,” she said.

He chuckled. “I know what we are supposed to do. I question why.”

She cocked her head on one side. “Tell me, my Lord.”

Kemal smiled and enfolded her in his arms. “Do you know why I have taken no other woman?” he asked. “Although my brothers believe an oath to Aroaril is no oath at all?”

“Because you know I would remove your manhood with a rusty knife?” she suggested with a grin.

“Well, that also. But the real reason is I could never find anyone with half as much sense as you. This business with Gaelland concerns me deeply. When my forefathers began to expand our Empire, they could not stop once they had started, because there were always enemies across the border who wanted our riches, as well as allies who wanted our trade. But we have no border with Gaelland and it is a huge distance from my father. And their King is a strange man. We talk to him because we must but he reminds me of a shark. It looks like he is smiling all the time, he even appears foolish on occasion, but then you catch sight of his eyes and you realize there is something evil there.”

Feray shuddered a little. “But surely we have nothing to fear from him? There are too few of them and they are too poor to cause us concern.”

“That is what my father thinks. But all he has done is read the reports on this King Aidan. He has never met the man. Although that is one thing about Gaelland coming under the Kotterman Empire. If we remove Aidan from the throne, it will actually help the people.”

“Do you believe that?”

He smiled. “More than that, I know it to be true. Our agents have been meeting with people from the King’s eldest son, Prince Cavan. Many of the nobles would like to see the end of Aidan’s rule and the Crown Prince assures our agents they would welcome Kottermani rule if their positions are preserved and the lives of their people improved. Obviously I will need to meet with this Cavan myself, as well as the nobles he claims support him. It will influence my talks with King Aidan, although it is up to me to make my father’s dream come true.”

“What are you going to do, my love?”

Kemal kissed her on the head. “What I must. I can never forget that I have three brothers, all of whom would love to sit on the Elephant Throne one day. As you say, Gaelland is the first new province to be brought into the Empire since my great-great-grandfather’s time. My father lusts more for it than he has for any woman. He feels the touch of Aroaril on his shoulder and wants to leave his mark on the history scrolls. If I do not do this, then he will find another who will.”

Her arms tightened around him. “I do not care if you are the Emperor or just a man. I would still be with you,” she said against his chest.

He chuckled. “Let us never put that to the test!”

He might have said more, but his sons came running over then, the dolphins forgotten, wanting to show him how they had been learning the sword, brandishing their wooden practice blades.

“Come then, let us see how good you are!” Kemal challenged them, winking at his wife’s indulgent smile as he defended himself against the children.

Asil, the older of the two, was slim and fast, while Orhan was younger but already stocky and solid through the chest and shoulders, and his blows had the same power as his older brother’s, albeit without the speed.

Kemal fended the two of them off easily, his footing sure and quick, making them bump into each other and occasionally using his wooden sword to tap one of them, all the while telling them what to do better.

“Enough!” he cried finally, as Orhan abandoned his sword and grabbed him around the leg. “I am defeated by you!”

“Really, Baba?” Orhan asked, looking up at his father in delight.

“No!” Kemal laughed, grabbing them both in his arms.

Their laughter echoed across the ship as Feray called down to servants for refreshments to be brought up.

 

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Exclusive excerpt: Kraken Rising by Greig Beck

Posted October 19, 2015 by Michelle Cameron

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PROLOGUE

Southern Ocean – Edge of the South Sandwich Trench – October 12, 2008

Five hundred feet down, the silent leviathan glided through the water. At that depth there was just the faintest trace of sunlight penetrating down to create wave-like ripples on its surface, but below it, there was nothing but utter darkness.

The USS Sea Shadow was an experimental design submarine. Based on a miniaturized Ohio Class design, the 188-foot craft had an electric drive and high-energy reactor plant that allowed it to navigate the seas in total stealth. In addition, nano-paint on echo-free tiles reduced the chance of detection from active sonar – it was effectively an ocean ghost.

For now, Shadow, as the crew affectionately knew it, carried only conventional impact torpedoes, simply to add test displacement weight. The rest of its armament stores were empty, but when the craft was fully operational, it would be crammed with enough weaponry to obliterate anything on or below the water. The new design submarine was fast and invisible, and as far as the navy was concerned, was a high seas game changer.

The test run was watched from naval command with a mix of pride and trepidation. Shadow was in international waters, which would have made it diplomatically awkward should it have been detected. Even though the closest high-tech power, Australia, should not have possessed the technical capabilities to see or hear it, training runs in this part of the Southern Ocean were necessary and extremely useful as the environmental conditions were as hostile as they could get. And if the Aussies could find them, then the project would be determined a fail.

Today’s exercises were to be carried out on the edge of the deepest trench in the region – the Southern Sandwich Trench, just off the Antarctic’s coast. Muddy plains, abyssal mountain ranges and crevices that fell away to 26,000 feet into the Earth’s crust, dominated the ocean floor here.

Captain Clint O’Kane stood on the command deck, shorter than the rest of his crew, but his authoritative presence made him seem like he towered over every one of them. His dark eyes were unreadable, as they reflected the green glow of the instrument panels.

O’Kane was relatively young, but had been a mariner for two decades. Still, he felt his heart rate lift as he passed over any of these deeper zones. It was the trenches that worried all submariners. These cold black voids were worlds of crushing depths, permanent blackness, and were most often shielded from them as the deep water made the liquid compress enough to repel most of their sonar pulses. And every now and then, when something did bounce back, more often than not it could never be identified. In that mysterious darkness, there were temperature fluctuations and flow variations that defied explanation, and every mariner felt there were things down there that saw them, without ever being seen themselves.

This trench had an additional reputation – it was the Southern Sea’s Devil’s Triangle. Dozens of ships had disappeared down in these stretches of water. And aircraft had also vanished, like the 1920 disappearance of Amelia J – a low flying spotter plane that gave a single fear-filled message: “It’s coming up”, before disappearing from radar, never to be seen again.

O’Kane would sail into the teeth of any battle that he was commanded to, against any odds, and never even blink. But he always slept better when they were well away from this particular deep-water stretch.

Contact.”

The single word was like a small electric jolt to his gut. He casually approached his sonar officer, standing just behind him, and outwardly radiated his usual calm.

“Distance?”

The officer calibrated his sonar, and concentrated. “Five miles, coming up out of the abyssal zone.”

“That deep?” O’Kane grunted. “Biological?” He knew that sperm whales could get down to nearly 7,000 feet to hunt in the total darkness for the giant squid.

He waited. The officer’s face was creased in concentration. Beside him, O’Kane could see his screen, the winding sonar line passing over the long darker stain on the sensor. The man leaned even closer to his console and also pressed fingertips over one of his microphone’s ear cups. He shook his head and shrugged.

“Nonmagnetic signature, but unknown.”

O’Kane groaned. They had an online identification library of blips, pulses and pings for every deep-water biological creature and geological movement. Their library also stored the propeller sounds of the world’s entire naval fleets – they should have been able to isolate, and then identify, anything and everything below the water.

He remembered Fuller’s Law – nature provides exceptions to every rule. O’Kane ground his teeth. Meaning, he was back to relying on experience and his gut.

“Give me bearing and speed.”

“Sir, relative bearing is sixty degrees, three miles out over the trench and speed is at twenty knots, variable. Rising, and moving into a parallel course.”

O’Kane grunted his approval. Parallel was good, he thought. At least it wasn’t moving any closer. “Too fast for a whale,” he said.

The sonar officer half turned and pulled one of the cups away. “I don’t think it’s a whale, sir. It’s not making a sound … and it’s big, very big.” He frowned and swung back. “Doesn’t make sense.” The officer rotated dials and leaned forward for a moment, his face a sickly green from the monitors. “Whoa.”

O’Kane didn’t want to hear that word from his sonar man. He began to feel a sudden slickness as beads of perspiration popped out over his face and body.

The officer spun. “It just turned towards us, and speed increased to fifty knots.”

“Fifty knots? Not possible.” O’Kane’s jaw set. “Sound red-alert. Come to twenty degrees port bearing, increase speed to maximum.” He exhaled through clenched teeth. Anywhere else he would have immediately surfaced, but doing so here would mean exposure to the unfriendly satellites he knew were always watching. He could not risk breaking cover over a damn sonar shadow.

“Object now at 1.1 miles and closing. Collision course confirmed. Not responding to hailing, sir.”

O’Kane had only one option left – to fight.

“Ready all torpedo tubes. Come about eighty degrees starboard, and then all stop.” The huge steel fish yawed in the water as it moved to face its pursuer. O’Kane grabbed the back of the operator’s chair, as incredible centrifugal forces acted on the huge armor-plated body.

“On my order.” O’Kane planted his legs and stood straight, waiting.

“Five hundred feet, collision imminent. Closing to 480 feet, 430, 400 …”

It was too fast, and O’Kane knew it was probably already too close. “Fire tubes one and two. Brace.” He gritted his teeth.

“Firing one and two – brace, brace, brace …” The echo sounded as his order was relayed to the torpedo room.

The order was drowned out by klaxon horns. O’Kane felt the slight pulse that went through the superstructure as the torpedoes were expelled from the nose of the submarine. He held his breath, his eyes half closed as he waited for the sensation of the impact detonations, and the destructive shock wave that would follow.

Seconds stretched … nothing came.

O’Kane opened his eyes. “Status update.”

“Negative on impact, sir. Bogey seems to have, uh, vanished.” The sonar operator spun dials, and hit keys, his face dripping sweat now. “It just … ” He shook his head. “Something’s wrong.”

“Impossible. It must have dived.” O’Kane felt his heart racing. “Let’s give it some space. Full speed astern.” He felt the thrum of the engines kick in and looked to the inside wall of the submarine, as if seeing through the inches of steel plating. His gut told him it was still there.

“Come about, ahead full.” The USS Sea Shadow jumped forward as the high-energy reactor gave the drives immediate power.

Go, go, go, O’Kane silently prayed.

The operator suddenly jammed one hand over his ear cup again. “It’s back – a hundred feet, fifty …” He balled his fists and spun, his face contorted.

Where …” O’Kane almost yelled the words. “… where the hell is it?”

“It’s … on us.”

The crew and Captain Clint O’Kane were thrown forward as the submarine stopped dead in the water. He held on to an instrument panel and then started to slide, as unbelievably, the huge craft was tilted. The sound of metal under pressure immediately silenced the yells of the crew. There was nothing more terrifying to submariners than the sound of the ocean threatening to force its way in to the men living in the small steel-encased bubble of air below the surface.

O’Kane looked at the faces of his men, now all turned to him. There was confusion and fear, but no panic. They were the best men he had ever served with. For the first time in his long career he decided to break protocol.

“Blow all tanks, immediate surface.”

The order was given, and the sound of air rushing from a compressed state to normal atmosphere, as it filled the ballast tanks, was like a long sigh of relief throughout the underwater craft. O’Kane’s fingers dug into one of the seat backs as he waited for the sensation of lift. It never came.

“Negative on rise. We’re still going down.” The operator’s voice now sounded higher than usual.

The command deck tilted again – nose down, now leaning at an angle of 45 degrees.

“Full reverse thrust!” O’Kane yelled the command, and he immediately felt the engines kick up as the screws turned at maximum rotations. He leaned over the operator again and looked at his screen. He knew the result without having to see the numbers.

“Descending.”  The officer now calmly read them out. “800 feet, 825, 850, 880 …”

The USS Sea Shadow had been tested to a thousand feet, and could probably withstand another few hundred. But beyond that …

O’Kane exhaled as the sound of hardened steel compressing rose above the thrum of the engines.

“Something has us,” he said softly. It was every mariner’s nightmare – the unknown thing from the depths, reaching out and taking hold. He knew how deep the water was here, but it didn’t concern him. They would all be dead and pulverized long before they ever reached the bottom.

Anger suddenly burned in his gut. But not yet, he thought. O’Kane spun. “Get a Cyclops out there, now.”

Hands worked furiously to load and shoot the miniature wireless submersible that was a torpedo with a single large eye for a nose-cone. Inside the fast moving craft was a high resolution streaming video camera with remote operational capabilities.

“Cyc-1 away, sir; bringing her back around.” The seaman worked a small joystick, turning the six-foot camera craft back towards them.

O’Kane leaned closer to the small screen, waiting.

Sea Shadow coming up on screen, should be … oh god.” The seaman’s mouth hung open.

O’Kane stared, feeling his stomach lurch. Nothing could ever prepare any man or woman of the sea for what confronted him on that tiny screen. O’Kane pushed himself upright, and slowly looked down at his right hand, spreading his fingers, then closing them into a fist. In the hand of a god, he thought.

Into his head jumped a few lines of a 200-year-old poem by Tennyson, and much as he wanted to cast it out, it sang loud in his mind: Below the thunders of the upper deep; Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea; His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep; The Kraken sleepeth.

No, not sleeping, thought O’Kane, now awake.

He raised his eyes back to the screen and continued to stare at the thing that engulfed his entire submarine. Rivets popped in the skin of the vessel, and then the super-hardened hull started to compress. The 33-foot diameter submarine began to buckle, and he saw that the automated distress beacon had been activated.

“We’re gonna breach.”

The shout came from behind him, and he spun, roaring his commands. “Sound general quarters, increase internal pressure, close all watertight doors, shut down everything nonessential, and watch for goddamn fires.”

The hull groaned again as they continued to descend into the darkness.

“What do we do?” The seaman at the screen looked up at him with a face the color of wax.

O’Kane could feel the crew’s eyes on him; he could feel the fear coming off them in waves. His hand went to the key around his neck. The high tech, prototype submarine had self-destruct capability. He alone could trigger it.

“What do we do, sir?” The man gulped dryly, his face twisted.

If there was one thing O’Kane was sure of; while there was life, there was hope. His hand fell away from the key.

“We pray.”

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Excerpt – Peter Allen: The Boy from Oz by Stephen MacLean

Posted October 7, 2015 by Michelle Cameron

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More than ninety years after those words about Tenterfield were written, the first man ever to dance with New York’s famed Rockettes found himself once again in Atlantic City, New Jersey. This time he was crouched inside a giant champagne glass prop waiting for the orchestra down beat to start his dinner show. The solo performance awaiting him would doubtless be demanding, but the man himself was intrepid, the man was a tank. But it was also true that the 1980s for Peter Allen had started in triumph then ended in calamity, testing him personally to the limit. He had buried in the past few years more friends, colleagues and lovers than he likely had the heart to dwell on. He had also seen his dream of a Peter Allen Broadway musical soar into a fantasy of goodwill and imminent triumph, then splatter into the reality of scornful reviews and a sniping, vengeful press. The worm had turned and now the song and dance man’s most valuable resource, his energy, was beginning to ebb. The uninvited visitor illness was quietly creeping up on him.

The performer nonetheless had his vast experience and pronounced native cunning to fall back on. Once Peter’s show was humming along he would pad it out by talking and telling gags instead of singing. He would tell the audience the same story he had always told them, the story of his childhood, ‘Out in the bush, chasing kangaroos, eating koala bears for lunch.’ This was Peter Allen’s image, his show-business insurance and it made simple commonsense to maintain it. ‘Never interfere with the legend, never correct it,’ his former mother-in-law Judy Garland had decreed, and the bush boulevardier was not about to. Not that he expected to be genuinely understood, not in his racket. Truth was far too complex a matter for legend and Peter Allen had too many incongruous and opposing qualities to be understood; it was one of his strengths that this gregarious, guarded, self-contained man had never expected to be understood. So Peter Allen would joke his way around the Broadway flop and tell them about the folksy Australian town he came from, Tenterfield.

The fact that Peter had never actually stayed on in Tenterfield would not be mentioned because it would only confuse the issue. Peter Allen, real name Peter Woolnough, had in fact grown up in Armidale. But Armidale had been almost (but not quite) sophisticated for an Australian country town, and what was the value of that to legend? Best to talk about this little kid dancing in the never-never land of the Tenterfield bush, hoofing and tapping and queening it up while his grandfather made saddles; destiny’s tot rejecting the family business because he ‘didn’t want to work in leather,’ as he put it. As for the other town, Armidale, it just wasn’t funny, and didn’t sound right in a lyric. More to the point, though, Armidale was cursed by memory and blighted by personal ruin. So Peter Allen was the boy from Tenterfield and that was that for the purpose of myth.

In reality it was Dick who had grown up in Tenterfield, Peter’s father Richard Woolnough. Dick Woolnough would eventually be buried there too, in an unmarked grave, in the Presbyterian section of Tenterfield cemetery. But Dick Woolnough in the interim had taken himself to the larger town of Armidale which was a few hours south from Tenterfield along the New England Highway. Tenterfield had the looks but Armidale had the one quality that transcends all others: luck. Tenterfield was static, Armidale up-and-coming. These were the early days of World War Two and the young man hoping to better himself soon met and married a local Armidale girl, Marion Davidson. Marion Davidson was lively and, compared to Tenterfield, so was the town Dick chose to settle in.

With its population of nine thousand and growing, Armidale had its hoity-toity side and was the self-proclaimed ‘City of Arts and Cathedrals’. Australia’s fortunes at the time were tied to the land, so it was a fortunate thing that Armidale itself was ringed with land that yielded money — conservative, agricultural, animal-slaughtering money. The surrounding area had been settled by the station-owning class, many of whom lived in high rural style with full English silver tea services and private chapels for their own exclusive devotional worship. These were tough people who could now indulge in the luxury of gentility and self-improvement. The township of Armidale had subsequently flowered as a growing centre for higher education. Colleges, boarding schools and halls of hallowed learning had slowly but surely sprung up for the express purpose of turning rough colonial boys and girls into models of Anglo refinement.

All this brought business to the town, and there followed pubs, stores, boarding houses and aspects of what would later come to be known as the service industry. This burgeoning package also came with an inevitably rigid class system, fused to an outward show of good old Aussie egalitarianism.

Within this structure, Peter Woolnough when he arrived would be the product of the service industry working class. He would come with a powerfully instilled work ethic then swiftly develop an almost religious sense of vocation. Such was not the case with his father, who had very different leanings. Arriving in Armidale, Dick Woolnough found himself prosaic enough work selling and delivering groceries for Lamberts, a local retail outlet. The work was manageable but would quickly prove mind-numbing and the young man from Tenterfield would ultimately withdraw into his own shadow. Delivering foodstuffs year after year to wives with ice chests which melted with alacrity during the long hot summers would help turn the man into something similar to a phantom. As a consequence, few of these bushtown Beryls would remember with any real clarity the character, identity or personality quirks of Richard Woolnough. On the surface of things he was pleasing enough to the eye, a chap who liked his beer and cigarettes and had an index finger turning yellow from nicotine. He was also a man who liked dogs, appreciated their simple canine loyalty. Dick Woolnough lived inside himself but, in the early days, before the brooding darkened, he also had a taste for social dancing and a knack for playing the banjo.

Marion Woolnough nee Davidson was known as ‘Bubby’ to her family and friends. If Dick Woolnough was a ‘quiet chap’ as the locals referred to him, Marion herself came with a good deal more sparkle. She was the eldest of four sisters given to candidly quirky humour and the urge to laugh. Marion also had a talent for Scots dancing. She could do the intricate sword dances and the highland fling, for the outward markings of Marion’s character were derived from the more upbeat and celebratory aspects of the otherwise dour Scots soul. When it came to dancing, Marion and her sister Jean were something near to local champions in the heavily tartan town of Armidale, good enough to hold classes and pass on the dance steps they had mastered. When the Scots people of Armidale celebrated their special New Year it was often Marion who led off the twirling hogmanay dance, but at the same time surely no-one could seem more indelibly Australian than Marion Davidson.

Marion’s voice had the sound of the Queensland border to it, a lazy-sounding country drawl which came without the nasal aspect of the antipodes. Hers was the voice of Aussie fatalism and native wit, knowing and resigned, scorched by the sun and cork-tipped cigarettes which still came in tins. Marion didn’t say yes, she said ‘Yairs’, and her affirmative could bestow the flattery of endorsement or the sting of scepticism, depending on the tone. ‘Yairs,’ Marion would say, seeming to agree with life and the order of things, but the dull-minded were advised to beware, for Marion had the instincts of the unassuming rebel, the mordant iconoclast. Marion was bolder than she looked. Bright and wry, she delighted in making outrageous statements with a deadpan expression. Marion had a gimlet eye for truth and a dry, roaring laugh. Human pretensions and human disasters were favoured targets, for what could be funnier than either? Especially here in the City of Arts and Cathedrals? Both areas of observation provided the essence of humour, and humour was insurance against boredom. So was music, especially the cat-house piano of Fats Waller and the racing vibrato of Al Jolson, both of them personal favourites of Marion’s.

The stately centre of Armidale possessed temples to the Lord out of proportion to its population, praying space galore, but the township also played host to a lively, institutionalised gambling culture. Armidale had its own race track, and a profusion of pubs devoted to beer and bets; there was a porter at Tattersall’s Hotel, a weedy little guy who was said to have made himself a tidy fortune running wagers for visiting drinkers. As to Dick Woolnough, the man himself was something of a sucker for the horses. Life on the grocery route did not match Dick’s imagination and he had a penchant for attempting to gamble his way out of introversion and boredom.

 

Peter Allen: The Boy from Oz is OUT NOW!

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Excerpt: Hammer of God by Greig Beck

Posted September 21, 2015 by Michelle Cameron

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PROLOGUE

Soran, Northern Iraq, late afternoon.

Arki Bapir and Mohammed Faraj watched as the huge man lumbered down the road toward them. He was headed toward the city center. A thick shawl covered his head and body, but still could not hide his powerful frame.

Strapped to the man’s back was a huge pack – oil drum size, and covered in an ancient script. And even though it looked to be of considerable weight, the man came on steadily, bowed forward for balance, but not staggering or straining.

“What is he carrying?” Mohammed asked his friend.

Arki shrugged. “Not sure, but it looks heavy. Maybe dumbbells?” He turned and grinned.

Mohammed snorted. “Well, let’s find out if he is selling something worth buying… or taking.” He turned the car around and pulled up beside the man, slowing. He nudged Arki. “Go on, ask him.”

Arki wound down the window, letting in a blast of hot dry air that mingled with the warm humidity in the car. “Hey, hey, my brother, what is it you bring us today?”

The pair waited for the man to respond. Mohammad coasted to stay alongside him, but the man continued to lumber forward, his face lost in the long folds of his shawl.

“Is he deaf?” Arki asked as he half-turned toward Mohammed. “He doesn’t know who we are.”

“Or maybe just rude?” Mohammed replied. “Shoot him in the leg.”

“Perhaps he’s stupid.” Arki leaned out the window. “Hey you.”

Mohammed’s eyes narrowed. “Be careful, he is big.” He dragged his aging AK-47 up onto his lap.

The lumbering giant was approaching the center of the city now, wooden single story dwellings giving way to multi-level concrete and glass blocks.

“Hey, brother, no need to be rude … oops.” Arki pulled back into the car.

The man stopped, seemed to orient himself. He shrugged out of the pack and it made a resounding thump as it hit the ground. He straightened to his full height of around seven feet, making the men in the car gasp.

“He truly is a giant. Let’s leave him be.” Arki shrunk back into his seat. “We are supposed to be gone by now anyway.” He watched as the huge man reached forward to pull open the backpack.

Mohammed squinted. “I think it’s some sort of machine in there.”

The man drew his hood back, and momentarily looked skyward as though praying or listening to something. His face was now revealed, its patchwork surface scarred and waxen. There was more of the ancient writing, but this time it was carved or branded into his very flesh, along with the zippering of deep stitches.

Mohammed recoiled. “Ach, mother of horrors, what happened to him?”

The giant man’s dead eyes never flickered as he reached into the pack and pressed a single button.

The pair of fighters from Mosul never knew what happened at the moment they were vaporized. The twenty-kiloton nuclear device detonated at ground level. The hypocenter of the explosion reached ten thousand Kelvin and was hotter than the sun. In the first few seconds it melted a crater down a hundred feet, and, within a mile, buildings, streets, trees, and men, women and children were all fused into a black, glass-like slag.

The thermal compression wave then traveled on at around seven hundred miles per hour, crushing everything before it – a heat and pressure tsunami straight from hell.

Before the blast, the city of Soran had a population of 125,000 inhabitants. By sundown, the remaining eight thousand souls, who were unlucky enough to survive, would then die slowly from burns, or from radiation poisoning, as their cells simply disintegrated within their own bodies.

Soran, the ancient city that had stood for nearly two thousand years, had ceased to exist, and the now toxic land would ensure it never existed again.

*

The winds blew the radioactive dust and debris back over the western desert, where it would settle over the dry plains. In the mountains to the northeast, Leyla ba Hadid, a girl of just ten, sat and watched as the mushroom cloud rose thousands of feet into the sky.

Her home was gone; everything was gone. Her father had said there would be trouble as soon as the bad men from Mosul had arrived. But even he could not have foreseen this. She sat and hugged her knees tight, her face wet and the skin on her neck peeling and raw.

Her father had told her to run and hide as the bad men maimed and killed, and then finally rounded up hundreds of men, women, and families, and bundled them all into trucks, along with her father, still in his favorite blue shirt. No one fought back – they just let themselves be taken and driven away. Leyla had followed, staying on the mountain slopes. She had cursed their ill fortune. But that changed in a heartbeat. Now, she realized she had been one of the lucky ones.

Soran was now ash and smoke. God had reached down a finger and touched the city, and taken it from them. The back of Leyla’s neck still stung from the heat flash and she wrapped her shawl there to dry its sticky rawness. Her eyes were sore, but it was pure chance that she’d been looking away from the blast and hadn’t lost her sight.

Leyla rocked back and forth, wondering how she would tell people of this moment. What would she say of Soran? Of all the poor souls who stayed; of her friends, neighbors, and when it came to it one day, what would she tell her children?

Leyla knew immediately how she would remember this moment. She would say to them:

I was ten when my world vanished in the flames. When the bad men came and beat us, we didn’t fight back. When they raped and killed us, we stood silent. And when they finally smashed God’s house and took us as slaves, we still did nothing. We were weak and maybe that’s why we were punished. God turned our world to ash.

She rocked faster, feeling tears on her cheeks. Father always said that when things were darkest, when evil was everywhere, then the angels would come – and they would strike like the hammer of God.

She lowered her head. I pray they come soon.

 

You can grab your copy of Hammer of God here.

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Extract – Melancholy: Book Two of The Cure by Charlotte McConaghy

Posted June 2, 2015 by Michelle Cameron

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Chapter one

Josephine

Sometimes when I sit here I feel like all the heat in the whole world has come to keep me company, cocooning the two of us in an inferno. It’s so hot out here it makes it hard to breathe.

I imagine words, thousands of them, forming conversations and sentences we never said when you were awake. I imagine the things I will tell you when you open your eyes, if you ever do. I imagine a world of truth that never existed for us in the beginning.

They tell me that it’s unlikely. That I shouldn’t hope. Here in the west they know a lot about hope. They know how to ration it just as they do with food and water. They dole out hope in tiny pieces, clutching it in their hard, calloused hands, spreading it thin so that it lasts and lasts until its very edges, until they have wrung it dry. They recognize when it is real and when it is false. They know that to hope can mean to survive, but so too can it destroy you.

They tell me, every morning, that today will be your last day. That today I should say my goodbyes, harden my heart, let you go. They have dispensed with any remnants of hope—there is none left for this, for us. You have been asleep for too long, they tell me. I must let you go.

They know a lot out here. They understand a lot.

But they do not understand you, Luke Townsend.

And they do not understand me.

*

September 18th 2065

Josephine

Every fiber in my body has reached a state beyond exhaustion, but I can’t let myself fall asleep. Instead I sit slouched in this sticky leather seat, watching the blackness rush past the window, rocked into a dull state of trance by the noisy hum of the train.

Luke’s head lies in my lap, the rest of his big body draped over the seat next to me. There’s no blood—he looks to be in perfect shape, and he’s breathing normally. I don’t really understand how a body could just shut down into this kind of sleep. With my finger I trace his lip carefully, wanting to memorize its shape.

“That’s creepy.”

I jerk my finger away and look up at the big blue eyes, so blue they’re almost violet, somehow. The bolt through her nose glints, as does the sheen of her skull under the razor-short hair. Her name is Pace and she stalks this train night and day. She likes to swear and laugh in a hysterical, crazy way.

I think I like her.

“Why?”

Her eyebrows arch. “All you do is stare at him. Or touch him. Real slow like that. Does he know who you are? Or are you, like, his stalker?”

This makes me smile. “He’s mine.”

She blinks once, then pushes off the seat in front of me and strides away.

Next to jog down the aisle is Hal, the big, brutish-looking one with the white mohawk and tattoos over his arms. As he passes he winks at me and keeps going. It’s their exercise, apparently. And it makes me tired just watching them. I don’t want to think about why they need to be so fit or strong.

My eyes shift to the black of the tunnel outside. It’s disorienting being underground so long, moving so fast but unable to judge how far we’ve come. I have no idea where we’re headed because Pace won’t tell me. I don’t trust them, but I believe that all three know Luke well.

“He’s real calm and contained,” she told me last night when they carried him through the bush. “But, like, all trembly under the surface.”

“That’s his wild,” Hal had chipped in. “His animal.”

And then the little one, whose name is Will, added definitively, “He’s sweet like honey to catch the flies.”

Yep. They had Luke pegged.

Now, startling me, Will’s head pops down from above—outside the train. He grins, swinging down to pry open the window and clambering inside like a little monkey.

“What are you doing?” I exclaim as he shuts it again, blocking out the loud rush of sound. “That’s dangerous.”

Will laughs, his smile wide and full of white teeth. We look surreptitiously at each other, trying to figure each other out. He can’t be more than fourteen or fifteen; I think Pace is a little older.

“You’re tired,” he observes eventually.

“How far are we going?” Having had no luck with Pace, I quiz him instead.

“Pretty far.”

“What’s that in miles?”

“Dunno. Pretty far though.”

“And what’s at the end of pretty far?”

“The west.”

I already know this. It does nothing to help the nerves under my skin. “Do you have doctors there?”

“One.”

“How does this train run?” Now that I have someone sitting still long enough to answer questions, I’m going to take advantage of it.

“Ask Hal. He’s the engineer.”

“Hal’s an engineer? He’s a child.”

“He’s nineteen.”

“And where did he get an engineering degree before nineteen?”

Will stares at me, his amusement patent. “You really are from the city, aren’t ya? Jeez.”

I don’t know what he means, so I shrug.

Will’s eyes drop to Luke and he shakes his head. “Can’t think of much that’d knock that one out. What happened to him?”

I look at Luke’s face. “I happened to him.”

Eventually I sleep. I’m too sore and woozy not to. My dreams are haunted. Blood and teeth and poles in spines. I wake with tears on my cheeks and, seeing Hal sitting opposite, I brush them quickly away.

“You’ll be okay in the west,” he says with complete confidence.

“What’s in the west?”

“We will be in about twenty minutes. I came to help you get your boy up.”

In the end it takes Hal, Pace and Will to lift Luke, big as he is. I’m useless, trembling with pain and fatigue, so I follow at a stumble. The train slows as if of its own accord, but doesn’t stop, so we have to sort of hop out onto a weird, crumbling set of stone steps as it speeds off. The steps take us up at an angle, through rock and earth, until we reach a wooden trapdoor and emerge into boiling hot sunlight.

My breath leaves me. It’s unbearably hot, and I start to sweat with a dizzying sensation along my spine. A hand takes my arm—I think it belongs to Pace—and steers me into what seems to be a large town square. Squinting against the brightness, my first understanding is of the bright yellow-orange dust under my feet. Next comes the brilliant, endless sky above. Not a speck of green anywhere, but I never expected green. Not in the west.

There’s an odd wash of salt in my nose, the kind of pungent scent you can’t ignore. I can’t for the life of me work out where it could be coming from.

Around us are low buildings full of open windows and doors, presumably to let the airflow help against the heat. And beyond the buildings, in every direction, is a mighty stone wall slicing right up into the sky, rimmed in rusting barbed wire. It makes the hairs on my arms stand on end, because my first thought is, of course, prison. I have been brought to a prison, and I’ll never be able to get Luke out. My next thought is not another one. In the city we were too used to walls. Too used to cages. I didn’t escape one just to wind up in a second.

“Where are we?” I rasp, but I don’t think anyone hears me.

Pace yanks me into a small brick building, then down a different set of steps. It is blessedly cool down here, and the relief, unfortunately, distracts me from what is actually happening. I just trot along, dazed and sore, until Pace shoves me into a square concrete room and then locks the door behind me.

I blink, staring at her face through the small glass window. “Get comfortable, Dual,” she tells me, her voice faint. Then her footsteps disappear back up the steps.

“Hey!” I shout. “What—?”

She’s left me here. What a bitch.

The room has a steel table that’s been screwed to the floor, and a single steel-framed chair. It’s clearly an interrogation room, or a prison cell.

Okay. Okay okay okay.

I mentally get my bearings. Possibly two days ago—it was very hard to keep track of time on the train—I escaped from the asylum on the hill with a recently drugged and unconscious Luke. I was picked up by three wild kids in the bush, who brought me on a train trip and then promptly locked me in this room. I don’t know where I am, or who lives in this place, or who the kids really are. They said they were resistance, but I have no way to trust that. And I have no idea where they’ve taken Luke.

That’s it. That’s all I have to work with.

My feet are still bleeding and my broken elbow is aching. Instead of slumping into the chair like I’d really love to, I squat to the ground and study the bolts securing the table. They look strong, but the legs were welded to the bases a long time ago, so I might be able to pressurize them at the right angle and get them to break. This seems unlikely, though—I don’t think I have ever been as undernourished or sickly as I am right now.

None of it turns out to be necessary as the door swings open and I stumble back. A man enters the room and shuts the door behind him. He is shorter than me, but very muscular through the chest and arms. He looks a bit like a bull terrier. Though his face is quite pretty, actually, beneath the boyish sandy hair.

“Hi,” he says.

My eyebrows arch. “Hey.”

“Sorry about this. Protocol.” He gestures to the seat. “We’d just like to ask you some questions, if that’s all right.”

“And if I say no?”

He smiles and I am abruptly met with the reality of this friendly-looking man: he’s dangerous. “Let’s start with your name.”

“How about we start with yours?”

Another smile. It’s a kind smile, but there’s an edge of something beneath it. “Sure. I’m Quinn.”

“And you’re the boss of the resistance?”

“Boss makes me sound like I’m a thousand years old.” A wide grin and a shrug. It’s the perfect gesture of self-deprecation—he’s good at this. At seeming non-threatening. He’s trying to make me comfortable.

“Sit down,” Quinn insists. “You look unwell.”

I sit.

“What’s your name?”

I didn’t tell the three kids my name; they never asked. Instead, Pace started calling me Dual because of my two-coloured eyes. Now it hits me like an electric shock—I don’t know why but I really, really don’t want this man to know who I am. The hairs on the back of my neck are literally standing on end because I can feel the danger in the room.

“Dual,” I tell him.

“Dual. Unusual. Do you have a last name?”

“Not one I can remember.”

He frowns a little, confused. “Really? Why’s that?”

“I’ve been in a mental health facility most of my life. Electroshock therapy and a nice cocktail of medication is a great way to strip you of anything and everything, including your name.”

“I’m sorry to hear it,” he tells me. “That’s where Luke found you?”

My mind starts working quickly. “The guy who saved me? Yep.”

Quinn watches me, studying my face. “You don’t know him, then?”

“Nope.”

“You aren’t cured.”

“How perceptive you are.”

“Why is that?”

I’m sure he can guess why, but I tell him anyway. “They never bother curing some of the looniest in the loony bins. It’s funny, really, ’cause we might have been the ones most in need of fewer emotions.”

 

 

Grab the whole book here.

 

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Excerpt: The Phoenix Variant (The Fifth Column, #3) by Nathan M. Farrugia

Posted August 11, 2014 by Momentum

It’s only a few days until The Phoenix Variant (The Fifth Column, #3) by Nathan M. Farrugia is released!

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Here’s a sneak preview to get you excited. And if you haven’t started his thrilling series The Fifth Column, #1, The Chimera Vector, is currently free for a limited time only!

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Chapter 1

 

Ekne, Norway

1944

The moment Denton sat down, he identified the most dangerous man in the room.

‘We’ve reviewed your request for the transfer of Victor,’ the Colonel said.

Denton had noticed poor Victor, the German mineralogist, on his way in. He was a prisoner at the camp, but they seemed to treat him well in exchange for his specialized work.

‘That’s why I’m here,’ Denton said. ‘Victor will be very useful for our team.’

When Denton arrived at the Norwegian boarding school turned Nazi prison camp, he’d been asked to hand over his Polish Viz pistol for the duration of his visit. It put him on edge, and he enjoyed it.

Denton smoothed the lapels of his SS coat. He had to give it to the Nazis, they sure knew how to make a uniform. Turning slightly in the metal chair, he checked the edge of his vision and observed the posture of the guards standing by the door. His threat assessment was complete.

‘I’ve noticed an irregularity in your records, which complicates things,’ the Colonel said, taking a seat at his desk in front of an ornate marble fireplace. The Colonel’s head was shaped like a watermelon. He had a receding hairline and a smirk that irritated Denton.

‘Irregularity?’ Denton asked.

‘You’re an American spy.’

Denton kept his breathing slow. ‘I can see how that might complicate things.’

Standing by the Colonel’s shoulder: Greyleg, the chief prison guard. His eyes gleamed at Denton. Watching.

The true influencer in any group was not always the person with the highest rank.

The Colonel cleared his throat and leaned forward. His stomach pressed his uniform taut.

‘Here is what will happen, Lieutenant Denton, Office of Strategic Services,’ the Colonel said, pushing his chest forward in small increments. ‘I’m short on test subjects for our experiments. You’re going to fill that. A strictly short term arrangement.’

There was that smirk again. Denton ignored it.

Greyleg was circling. He knew why.

‘If it’s all the same with you, I prefer the spy thing,’ Denton said, grasping his armrest. ‘Plus, your uniforms are fantastic. It’s a shame this Hugo Boss fellow doesn’t make suits.’

The Colonel touched the oak leaf on his collar. ‘One of many shames.’

While Denton might’ve looked like his focus was on the Colonel, his attention was riveted to Greyleg.

One look at the man and Denton recognized someone unburdened by humanity’s weaker emotions. He was free to operate at his full potential. And that involved shooting Denton, shooting the guards, and shooting the Colonel. Greyleg would blame it on Denton and receive his promotion.

Denton knew this because that’s what he would do.

Greyleg approached Denton’s nine o’clock, where the guards couldn’t see him draw. The Colonel was busy showing Denton how deep his voice could go, and hadn’t noticed Greyleg’s movements.

Denton stood. Greyleg went for his Luger P08 pistol. Chair in hand, Denton slung it into Greyleg’s midsection. The chair’s leg knocked air from his lungs and dropped him to his knees.

Denton closed on the Colonel.

The smirk was gone, but there was a glint of oxide steel. A Luger, identical to Greyleg’s. The Colonel drew his Luger. He should have drawn the pistol close to his chest, punching out and firing. But like many soldiers Denton had killed this year, the Colonel tried to swing the pistol from his hip. The barrel struck the edge of the desk, slowing his draw.

Denton reached the desk and slid under it. The Colonel brought the pistol across his body, hunting for a target. Denton emerged beside the Colonel, deflected the arm as the trigger squeezed.

The round discharged, clipped Greyleg in the arm. Much to Denton’s amusement.

Greyleg’s firing hand fell limp, his pistol skittering towards the slowly reacting guards. Denton twisted the Luger from the Colonel’s bulging fingers and used the Colonel’s body as a shield against the guards.

The guards advanced, trying to move wide enough for a shot around the Colonel. Denton applied trigger pressure to the base of the Colonel’s skull and they hesitated. The round would not only punch through the Colonel’s brain but, if he was lucky, strike one of the guards.

From the edge of his vision, he saw Greyleg recover.

Denton took aim over the Colonel’s shoulder and killed one guard. The second guard aimed, unsteady finger moving over the trigger. Denton dropped to the floor. Shots punched above him, through the marble fireplace. Denton lay under the desk, watching from an upside-down perspective as the guard’s legs moved closer. He fired a round through each leg, waited for the guard to drop, then continued firing as he collapsed. Through his chest, through his neck, through his nose.

At the same time, the Colonel slumped beside Denton, catching the poorly aimed rounds from the guard.

Greyleg’s boot crushed Denton’s pistol-wielding hand, pinning it to the floor. Denton was about to move in closer but he saw the knife early, just as Greyleg kicked the pistol across the floor. Denton pulled back, flipped the desk onto him. It glanced off Greyleg’s head, but didn’t slow the man down.

Denton appreciated the challenge. Engaging with Greyleg made the adrenalin burn sweeter. He brought his hands up, ready. Let’s see how Greyleg does without a firearm, he thought.

Greyleg leaped over the table in one stride, but then tripped on the Colonel’s body. Denton sidestepped as the man stumbled into the fractured marble shelf. A sharp edge tore Greyleg’s neck as he fell. He shuddered, hands clutched over scarlet.

Greyleg collapsed on top of the Colonel and bled out.

Denton lowered his hands.

‘That was disappointing.’

The Phoenix Variant is released on the 14th of August, where all good ebooks are sold. Or you can preorder now!

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Excerpt: DARK CHILD (COVENS RISING): EPISODE 5 by ADINA WEST

Posted July 31, 2014 by Momentum

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“We are a proud people, from an ancient lineage. We may be lovers of peace, but we know when to fight for it!” Imara raised her fist. “You wondered if the people who hurt you will pay for it? Hear me now. They will pay.”

This title is the fifth novella-length episode of Dark Child (Covens Rising), which will conclude the series. Please visit momentumbooks.com.au for further information.

Chapter 46
Kat watched her grandmother’s car disappear down the long driveway and into the night. Imara’s visit and her shocking disclosures had left her with a few new problems and many unanswered questions. Undoubtedly, she’d find out more at this family gathering Imara was taking her to tomorrow.

She brought herself back to the here and now with a sigh, and realized Dominic had come to stand by her shoulder.

“You and Gianni. What was that about?” Kat asked, without turning to look at him.

“I would never intentionally keep anything from you that you needed to know, Kat. I hope you believe that. This just … wasn’t relevant until now.”

“And now that it’s become relevant … ” She trailed off, waiting for him to finish the sentence.

“Gianni’s my brother.”

“You have a brother who’s pushing sixty?”

“Actually, he’s my younger brother. Ten years younger.”

Kat nodded. “Of course. He’s human, and you’re not.”

“Yeah.”

“So, your human brother, who just happens to have a Tabérin brother and uncle, works for my grandmother, who I’ve just been told is the leading light in witch society?”

“Of course it’s not a coincidence. All the parties involved know about it, and always have. My uncle’s job required him to develop a vast network of contacts and allegiances, many of whom I doubt anyone at the Directorate ever knew of. Placing Gianni with your grandmother was one of his long-term plays. Gianni has been an extremely devoted servant to your grandmother for many years; his family connections have not impacted upon his loyalty to her. And, from what I hear, your grandmother has always liked the idea of having a direct connection to a Tabérin powerbroker at her fingertips. Of being able to control exactly what information was made available through Gianni. My uncle always knew of you and your brothers, but his interest in you sharpened only when he realized you had Tabérin blood. That was very recently.”

“Anything else I need to know?”

“That’s all.”

She remembered his earlier comment about relevance, and decided to rephrase her question. “Is there anything at all that you’re not telling me, Dominic? Anything that perhaps you think I don’t need to know?”

The look on his face told her he’d resolved on telling her the whole truth, no matter what, and her question made him honor bound to reveal something he’d have preferred to withhold. “I … I want you to feed from me like you have from the others. And I very much want to kiss you.” He glanced down at her. “You asked!”

“I meant anything else you had to tell me about your uncle, Ionescu. You know I did.”

He shrugged. “What I said was still the truth.” He gave a gusty sigh. “Don’t worry, you’ve never done anything to make me think I really had a chance. You’re friendly to everyone.”

Whoa, major déjà vu. Her brothers had said something very similar to her when she’d laughed at their assertion that she was popular with the guys. Maybe she made a habit of pushing people who wanted more from her firmly back into the friends zone. Was that what she was doing with Dominic? He’d told her more than once that he had feelings for her, and she’d been dismissive both times.

“We didn’t exactly start on the right footing, did we, Dominic?”

He winced. “No.”

“What you did in New York cast a cloud over our next meeting, but I want you to know that I do believe you’ve changed. Otherwise … ” she held up her left wrist to display his bracelet alongside the others, “ … I wouldn’t trust you. Right?”

Her words seemed to give him hope. He took her hand, and swung her around to face him. “Don’t overlook me then, Kat. When I consider the fact that you’ve turned to Jonathan over me to meet your most basic personal needs, and he’s not a quarter of the man I am, it makes me feel like the most self-deluded … ”

“Darn it, Jonathan! I knew I was forgetting something. Where is he?”

Dominic dropped her hand and flung his hands wide with a frustrated curse. “Case in point!”

“Dominic, no! I’m sorry I interrupted you, that wasn’t supposed to sound the way it … ”

“Your precious Jonathan,” Dominic said with venomous solicitude, “is off somewhere hunting with the big guy, Corrin. I saw him earlier in the kitchen. Della seems to have him convinced that he’ll be most useful to you, and to us all, if he learns some actual skills besides bartending.”

“Good. I just needed to know he was safe because I’m responsible for him, Dominic.” She only realized how much they’d raised their voices when Luc came strolling around the corner and across the lawn toward them. He stopped a few feet away, and gave Dominic an insolent look before turning to her.

“Everything okay, chérie?”

“Yes, thank you, Luc.” She spoke with quiet dignity, and gave him a calm smile for good measure. “I’m going inside now.” She took a few steps, and then turned back to glare at Dominic. “You coming?”

She led him to a deserted antechamber with nice, thick stone walls, and, for good measure, closed the solid timber door.

“Now, listen to me, Dominic. There is not, and never will be, anything of a romantic nature between Jonathan and me. One of the main reasons I fed from him was because he knew it wasn’t about anything other than that. I was weak with hunger, and he was available. I won’t be feeding from him again, because, as you so eloquently explained back in Paris, I was taking too much. Jonathan won’t tell me to stop when I need to stop. So that, I hope, is that subject dealt with.”

Dominic gave a tight nod.

“On to the subject of Kat and her romantic entanglements.” She let out a frustrated sigh. “Obviously, I’m giving off the world’s most potent pheromones, or something similar. I’m enough of a scientist to have worked that out. Because the number of men I’ve had throwing themselves at me lately, and promising me their eternal and undying devotion is, quite frankly, off-the-scale ridiculous.”

“Your modesty is what I find most enchanting,” Dominic said.

She held up her hand in a ‘stop’ motion.

“Sorry.” Dominic gave an urbane smile. “You were saying?”

“If I were a different sort of girl,” Kat said with dangerous calm, “I might just take you all up on what you’re offering, and become some promiscuous blood-drunk Tabérin witch-queen. I could play my favorites off against each other. Provoke fights. Add more conflict to a world already in turmoil. Does that paint an attractive picture?”

Dominic’s face fell. “Not really.”

“At least we agree on that,” Kat said. “My world is being rocked by new changes every day, Dominic. So much so, that sometimes I feel like my head is spinning, and it’s all I can do to stay sane. Though everything else in my life is being turned upside down, I know I can trust in my values – the ones I had before all this started. The ones that tell me to treat others with respect. To give voice and a hearing to those without. To free the suffering and oppressed. To be generous, and kind, and responsible. To do the thing that’s right, not necessarily the thing that’s easy. Or at least, I’ll try to. Am I making any sense here?”

Every trace of levity and pique was gone from Dominic’s face. He appeared sober and even, perhaps, ashamed. “I’ve never had a code to live by,” he said quietly. “My uncle taught me to live by his code, but I didn’t share it. What you just said … it was spoken like a true leader.” He took a hesitant step toward her, and suddenly dropped to his knees. “I think I’ve found my code. My cause to live for.” He raised his face. “I don’t know how this is done, and I’m not sure that you’ll consider me worthy, but I want to pledge my allegiance. My fealty. I … I’ve heard the elders talk of it, but I don’t know the right words to say.”

That makes two of us. As usual, her helpful mind-dwelling presence was nowhere in evidence. It seemed Kat was on her own this time. “I accept your oath,” she said solemnly. It didn’t seem like enough, so she lightly touched his head with the palm of her hand.

Dominic looked up at her, surprised. “That’s it?”

“I might have been more … poetic the last time I did this.” She could see from his face that, on his knees or not, her moment of reprieve was over, and he was about to come out with some variety of smart comment. “Perhaps you should swear fealty to me again next week,” she added with a touch of acid. “I’ll have time to prepare a speech.”

Dominic lowered his head, looking slightly chastened, but she caught the hint of a smile too. “Witch or not, you will make a wonderful empress.” He rose to his feet. “I apologize for my earlier behavior. I was being selfish. I didn’t mean to add to your troubles.” He leaned close enough that his lips brushed her ear, and whispered. “I do still want to kiss you, though.” And then he slipped out of the room.

Kat stood alone for a moment. Her head was doing some kind of whirly-gig act. She was hungry, and she was tired. With a sigh, she went looking for Akilina.

She found her aunt in her bedchamber, and brought her up to date on the events concerning the other side of her family. The elder took the news that Kat’s grandmother was a powerful coven leader surprisingly calmly. Much more calmly than Kat had. The fact that she’d been born into a long line of witches, and the ramifications this might have, was still swirling around in her head.

“You are a powerful hybrid indeed, then, Katerina,” Akilina said. “Part Tabérin and part witch. Your strong family connection to the witch community is very fortunate. With tensions so high between our two peoples, you are in a unique position to keep the lines of communication open so that diplomacy can prevail. At least that would give us hope that there might be an opportunity to broker peace.” She shook her head sadly. “I fear our history with the Families of Power has not always been a peaceful one, so, despite centuries of truce, they mistrust us still. Small wonder that the covens are rising; though they may be misattributing his intent, the Vodas’s actions have left them little choice.”

Kat wasn’t sure she shared her aunt’s belief that she’d be able to bring the current conflict to a peaceful end single-handedly. Scary how alike the views expressed by both the powerful women in her life were, though. Both Imara and Akilina saw an opportunity for her to act as a go-between, but, given her own inexperience and the way the two groups seemed to feel about each other, the whole thing sounded like a recipe for disaster.

“I wonder.” Akilina paused, head cocked. “Could it be your mother’s bloodline that has contributed to your facility with channeling the energies? You’ve certainly mastered a surprising number of skills without proper instruction. Remember, though, that your first allegiance must be to your Tabérin people. If you choose to accompany your grandmother to this gathering she mentioned, you must be accompanied by your own security. Your grandmother needn’t know about that.”

Kat decided wisely that now wasn’t the time to argue that particular point, and went on to tell Akilina about her conversation with Char. “I think she might have been a little reluctant to talk to you directly about this, but I wondered if I could leave you with the task of welcoming them and providing the injured boy with whatever he needs? It’s been a long day – and eventful evening – for me, and I really need to sleep. If the boy needs healing, perhaps you and Anton could help him.”

“Certainly.” Akilina inclined her head. “Consider it done. Now, you must go and get some rest.”

Kat went straight back to her room, sending a mental call to Amarok on the way. I need you now. Are you free?

He reached her room moments after she did, and immediately crossed to where she sat on the bed. “Kat, you’re shaking.” He sat beside her. “From what I gather, you’ve been using powers that are very new to you somewhat indiscriminately. It has exhausted you. Just feed now. I’ll put you to bed afterwards.”

Kat slipped her shoes off. “Thank you,” she whispered, as her hands rose to his shoulders. Her eyes closed, and she let him guide her head gently into position, and fixed her lips to the flow. It was at once heady and comforting, this blood, this wondrous elixir that could replenish and soothe, invigorate and heal. It was food and medicine, and everything good, in perfect synergy.

As the tingling warmth spread through her, she let the day’s worries fall away, and sank into a blissful nothingness.

*

Kat woke briefly sometime before dawn, in her bed, with an unexpected weight on her back. She twisted her head to find not Amarok, but Alek lying beside her, breathing steadily, with one arm thrown over her. She lay her head back down, and closed her eyes. That was one thing she definitely liked about him, against her better judgment. Alek wasn’t timid. No waiting for permission – he just went right ahead and did whatever he felt like doing. It was up to her to tell him to go away – if she chose to.

This time, she didn’t choose to. She felt safer having him there. Strange that he still made her so nervous when they were together and she was awake. He was very restful to be around when either or both of them were asleep. She lay for a moment pondering that, and then quickly slid back into slumber.

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Excerpt: DARK CHILD (COVENS RISING): EPISODE 4 by Adina West

Posted July 24, 2014 by Mark

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Kat brought her eyes back to Amber. “Am I still in danger?” she blurted. 
      “Of course you are.”
An unexpected visit from Kat’s grandmother adds a shocking twist to the unfolding mystery of her hybrid heritage. Add to this a romantic tangle of epic proportions and Kat’s visit to Akilina’s chateau in the idyllic Loire Valley is shaping up to be anything but relaxing. 
Kat’s powers are growing, and with war between the races looming new alliances are being forged. And everyone, it seems, wants Kat on their side …
This title is the fourth novella-length episode of Dark Child (Covens Rising), which will conclude with Episode 5. Please visit momentumbooks.com.au for further information.

Chapter 35

Kat woke to birdsong. The morning light streamed through a tall open window; a tasseled cord held back brocade curtains. Though Alek’s sable rug lay tumbled across the foot of the bed, the sheets and coverlet were crisp and unfamiliar, the room surrounding her equally so. She had a vague – very vague – memory of being carried downstairs from Sabine’s apartment by Alek, and being transported out of Paris by car. So this must be Akilina’s château. Her aunt hadn’t refused her entry, despite their disagreement last night – which, now she came to think of it, had probably been caused mostly by her being in a rotten mood because she was hungry and overtired. Right now, none of it seemed important enough to fight about. Akilina had one set of beliefs and Kat had another. Maybe they didn’t mesh, but it was hardly the end of the world. She stretched, yawned, and looked around.

There, on the other side of her bed, lying full length on top of the covers, was a familiar giant cougar. He regarded her sleepily through half-closed eyes, and when he saw her looking at him, started to make a rough, throaty rumbling noise. He was … he was actually purring.

She reached out to smooth her hand over the thick fur on his head, and he closed his eyes again, and nestled his head into the spare pillow. So Alek had found a way to stay past dawn, exactly as he’d promised. Funny to think how, only a short time ago, she’d found him terrifying in his cougar form. Now that she knew he wasn’t a wild animal and she was in no danger of being eaten alive, she was almost more comfortable with him when he was like this.

Kat pushed back the covers, and slid her legs out of the bed. Her bare legs. Her t-shirt, bra and panties were all there but her jeans definitely weren’t. She glanced back at Alek, but his eyes were closed, and the golden brown fur on his back rose and fell with his regular breaths. Any bet, it was Alek who’d stripped off her jeans before putting her to bed. Luckily, that was all he’d taken off. She’d been seriously out of it last night. She didn’t even remember arriving here. Being so dependent on others, so vulnerable, was frustrating as hell. She’d no doubt be rediscovering the joys of claustrophobic restrictions on her movements now the attacks on hybrids that Ionescu had predicted had begun in North America. Her protectors would be back on alert again.

Kat found her clothes, including her neatly folded jeans, in an armoire against the wall, and she changed her underwear and dressed quickly with a wary eye on Alek. At least she was feeling good this morning. More than good. Alek’s blood obviously packed more of a punch than Jonathan’s, which probably made sense. He was older and, from everything she’d seen, definitely more powerful.

When fully dressed, she went to stand by the bed. Alek opened one eye a crack to survey her. Not asleep then.

“I thought I’d go exploring,” she said. “I’ll be fine on my own, given it’s daytime and all.”

She expected a protest but he just rolled his head to the side and gazed at her sleepily. A pretty clear body-language signal that he didn’t mind what she did. “You don’t seem worried about me going wandering by myself.” She paused to eye him speculatively. Only last night he’d been the one telling Akilina she had to be moved out of Paris without delay. So why wasn’t he protesting against her leaving his sight? Kat rubbed her wrist absent-mindedly, moving her bracelets up and down. She frowned, then looked down at the one Luc had given her last night. On impulse, she covered it with her hand, pressing it into her skin. And then she could sense them out there, like pinpricks of light in her consciousness. Most of the Paris unalil were spaced evenly to form a distant perimeter around the house. The rest were in a group somewhere outside.

Kat rolled her eyes. “Let me take a wild guess. This entire place is ringed by unalil on guard duty, isn’t it?”

Alek answered with an expression that was probably a cougar’s version of a grin.

Kat shook her head with annoyed resignation, before heading for the door.

As she walked down the wide stone hallway, a memory returned to tickle her mind. Alek had said something to Akilina last night. Something about the others coming back. So, hopefully, that meant Alek’s unalil family were all here somewhere, even Amarok. Yesterday, for a brief moment on the train, she was sure their minds had touched. Was it really possible she had contacted Amarok somehow, even though he’d been hundreds of miles away? A sudden pang of homesickness rushed through her, a need for something familiar. Kat closed her eyes with that thought running strongly through her mind, and immediately sensed another, brighter spark.

She had no idea whether she was doing this mind-connection thing right, but sent a thought toward that familiar energy source. Amarok?

Waiting for you to wake up.

The reply came so immediately that she couldn’t doubt it was really him. And he was close. By concentrating, she found she could trace a path toward him, through the quiet building. The place was huge. Already she’d climbed a staircase and passed dozens of closed doors, and the scale of the hallways and foyers she’d gone through gave her an image of how big the rooms inside must be.

She rounded a final corner, and found Amarok, in wolf form, lying across the doorway of a room. He jumped to his feet when he saw her.

“Hey!” She bent down to put her arms around him, and he nuzzled the curve of her neck. Kat gestured at the partially open door. “Is this Amber’s room?”

Amarok nudged her behind the knees, and she pushed the door open a little more and stepped into the darkness. She paused a moment so her eyes could adjust, then crossed to the bed she saw against the far wall. Amber was nestled beneath the blankets, sleeping. Her expression was peaceful, her features porcelain smooth. There was nothing pinched or gaunt about her anymore, and she’d been both when they’d first rescued her. Kat stood silently by the bed for a while, but Amber didn’t move. Her chest rose and fell, in unhurried rhythm, as she slept.

Kat left the room quietly, then turned to Amarok, who was still waiting outside. “She looks so much better!”

She wants to speak with you, tonight.

Kat nodded, and pulled the door back to its previous position, slightly ajar.

“Can we … is there somewhere we can talk?” she said.

Amarok nodded his shaggy head.

“Good.” She stretched out her hand, and he touched it with his nose. “I have to do something first, though.”

Kat led the way downstairs, to where she could feel the Parisian unalil grouped near the house.

“Do you mind waiting here?” she asked Amarok, and then opened the final door leading out to a walled courtyard abutting the château. It was paved in weathered stone, with beds of rosemary and other herbs in a formal pattern. On the many paths crisscrossing it, half a dozen giant dogs were sprawled, soaking up the sun and resting.

Kat stepped outside, and the nearest, a huge, shaggy Leonberger, jumped to his feet. This one she recognized; even though she’d only seen him out of the corner of her eye for a moment, flying through the air yesterday morning, he’d kind of stuck in her memory.

“Luc,” she said, with a nod of greeting. “Thank you all for coming here and protecting me. I’m sorry I don’t know everyone’s names. I guess I’ll get to know you all with time.” Kat frowned as a sudden thought came to her. “Unless … ” She covered their bracelet with her right hand, and pressed it into her skin. She felt it get warm as she pulled energy from the sunlight around them. As she focused on each stone in turn, she realized they each contained their own unique energy, and she could feel those sparks, like a signature attached to the being they were linked to. It made sense; from what Akilina had told her last night, each stone contained an individual drop of blood. She could sense each of them and call to them in her mind, individually or – for their energies were interlinked with each other, as they were with hers – as a pack.

Can you all hear me? Asking the question felt a bit silly, like saying “Testing, one two three … ” into the microphone in front of a half-filled auditorium.

A chorus of acknowledgments met her; French, and Karpat, and muted canine growls. It didn’t seem to matter. The eyes of each of the huge dogs in the courtyard were focused brightly on her, and she could sense the others out there were also listening, beneath their shady trees and sprawled on top of stone walls.

I know you now. I know you all. She touched the mind of each in turn, and their names came to her. There was Emeka, the big barrel-chested russet mastiff over beside the fountain. The chocolate-coated pointer lying alongside a bed of sage and thyme was Thierry, and, with his floppy ears, he certainly looked less fierce than some of the others. Like Guy, the black Rottweiler, and Jaouad, the black and fawn Doberman beside him, both watching her alertly, ears pricked. Each was solidly muscled and looked bred for attack. And then there was Stéphane, a Carpathian sheepdog, who rose to his feet and shook himself before trotting over to stand beside Luc. He looked immense, though maybe that was just because of his abundance of shaggy gray and black fur.

Far away on the property perimeter were Julien and Rémy, one a speckled black and white setter and the other a chestnut-colored Irish setter. There was Kwasi, a light brown ridgeback, and, finally, Marcel, a lanky gray wolfhound. From each, she could sense both gratitude and devotion.

I’m getting to know you unalil males. Kat let her humor shine through their connection. You tend to be the type to protect first, ask questions later. But you need to know what sort of threat we’re facing.

Then she let the images flow from her mind to theirs: the memories she had all but repressed, of her battle back in the White Mountains with the enhanced monsters from the laboratories beneath the Hema Castus, of their subsequent trip to Hema Castus, and of the emaciated trapped seers, and, finally, the building collapsing in on itself, in ruins.

You must all have heard about the attacks on Tabérin hybrids in America. We don’t know if or when the Directorate threat will find us here. But from something Luc said, I gather you all have your own history with them, and I’m asking you to remember that we are few, and you’re all valuable to me. Dont take unnecessary risks with your own safety to protect mine. We talk before we fight, and, as Ive shown you, when I need to, I can protect myself. Okay?

Again, a chorus of acknowledgments, tinged with respect this time. They’d heard rumors, heard part of the story, but most of what she’d shown them had been unknown to them.

As she finished, Luc separated himself from the rest. The big dog came right up to her, and bowed his shaggy head, butting his black nose gently against her leg. She could feel his approval of what she’d just shared. She hadn’t liked reliving some of those moments, but these males – however new to their roles – were now her inner circle. In a funny way, she felt, they were her ‘pack’. They wouldn’t respect her leadership without knowing what she was capable of, and given the critical nature of the threat they were facing, it was imperative that they work as a team.

As Luc raised his eyes to meet hers, she smiled, and ran her hand through the fur on his neck. There’s someone I’d like you all to meet.

“Amarok?” she called.

 

 

 

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Excerpt: DARK CHILD (COVENS RISING): EPISODE 3 by Adina West

Posted July 17, 2014 by Mark

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The hunger was worse every day, and now there was only a whisper-thin line holding her back from a dark red sea. 
      “You would feed me?” Her voice came out so husky and low that it was a wonder he heard her.
In Paris, Kat hears of horrifying events back in the States. The leader of the Directorate is openly attacking those with mixed Tabérin and human blood. Hybrids like her. And chances are he’ll be turning his attention to Europe next. 
Kat knows she needs to go into hiding again. But then her Tabérin aunt, Akilina, reveals something about Kat’s heritage that changes everything. If Akilina is right, the Directorate will stop at nothing until they have eradicated Kat and the threat she represents. No matter how many they have to kill to get to her …
As the threat from the Directorate intensifies, Ben and Yara barely escape the US with their lives. But being trapped together on a boat bound for Europe could prove much more dangerous than anticipated. Because one of them is in transition, and needs to feed …
This title is the third novella-length episode of Dark Child (Covens Rising), which will conclude on July 31 with Episode 5. Please visit momentumbooks.com.au for further information.

Chapter 24

Amarok stood staring out into the darkness. Forest smells drifted in on the early evening breeze, and the stone balustrade was cold beneath his forearms. The snow-capped peaks of Slovenia’s highest mountain range rose behind him and continued on toward the border with Austria and Italy in the north-west, while Lake Bled lay far to the east, three thousand feet below. Despite the troubling circumstances that had brought them there, he liked this remote castle of Aron’s. It was too long since the family had spent time here.

Amarok, where are you? I need you.

Kat’s words reverberated through his head, and, for a brief instant, he was aware of her surroundings in far-off Paris: a railway carriage, and her feelings of uncertainty and fear.

Kat? He felt her register his shock at the sudden contact, and in the next instant, she was gone, the brief connection between them sundered. Amarok hesitated only a second before hurrying to see his sister.

“I was just coming to look for you,” Della said when he entered the room. “Things have taken a bad turn.”

“She’s worse?” He went to the bedside to see for himself.

Amber’s eyes were open, but she was staring up sightlessly, mumbling to herself.

“No.” Della shook her head. “She’s fine – I think. But she’s in a vision state of some kind. Something bad is happening elsewhere.”

“Does this have something to do with Kat?” Amarok asked. “I was coming to see if Amber was awake, and ask her what she sees for Kat, because I’ve just received a cry for help.”

“What do you mean, received?”

Amarok tapped his head.

Della’s eyes widened. “Kat contacted you? It was more than a decade before I could establish a reliable psychic connection even with Corrin, who I was so intimate with. With you all, as you would be aware, it took much longer.”

“It was only for an instant.” Amarok frowned. “As if she didn’t quite know how to do it properly. But I’m sure it was real. I saw her on a train.”

Della nodded, her eyes troubled,  and then looked down at Amber’s face. “Perhaps you could try to talk to her. She may respond to you.”

“She’s crying!” Amarok said in wonder. And it was true. Silent tears were streaming down Amber’s cheeks, dampening the pillow beneath her.

He laid his hand against one cheek and leaned down to kiss her on the forehead.

Amber blinked, and looked up at him with recognition. “Brother, I see so much death.”

Amarok gripped the pillow beside her head. “Kat. Not Kat?” he demanded.

Amber shook her head from side to side. “No, this happens far away, across the ocean. Whole families slaughtered.”

Della directed a shocked glance at him. “Who?” she asked. “Is there anything we can do?”

Amarok smoothed back Amber’s hair with a gentle hand. “Who is doing this? And who are the targets of this violence?”

“Our distant kin. Our Tabérin blood. Too many to help. Too many to save.” Amber blinked away tears. “But we must be ready to receive the survivors.”

Amarok exhaled, and shared a look with Della across his sister’s bed. He touched Amber’s cheek gently. “Amber, is Kat in any danger? She … communicated with me tonight. She was afraid.”

Amber stared off into the distance, and shook her head at last. “No physical danger. But she will need us. We shall go to her tonight.” She frowned, and looked up at him, her expression troubled. “Alek is already in Paris. He can get to her faster. Why have you not sent him to her, silly Amarok?”

“Sometimes, you see too much,” Amarok said grimly. He bent and kissed her again. “I’ll contact him now.”

“Amarok?” Amber called as he turned to leave. “The covens will rise. All this death will bring the witches out of hiding. There are dark days ahead, and Katerina will need our faith now more than ever.”

Amarok was troubled as he returned to the quiet balcony he’d been on when disturbed by Kat’s call for help. He wasn’t yet sure of the link between the deaths Amber had seen in her vision and the witches. But, given the violent history between the Tabérin and the Families of Power, any mention of them wasn’t good.

*

Establishing a connection with Alek was ridiculously easy, though Alek growled at the intrusion.

What do you want?

Nice to see you still excel at the small talk, brother. Amber’s been getting visions. Something very bad is happening back in America. Find out what you can. But be careful – she also warned of retaliation by the witches.

Amarok wished the next part of his message was as easy to raise with Alek, though he knew Amber was right. If Kat needed protectors, Alek was closest. Maybe his reluctance had something to do with the fact that Alek had received a phone call last night that had sent him hightailing it back to Paris, only he’d refused to tell anyone what was going on.

Spit it out. What is it you’re so reluctant to ask me?

Amarok could hear the amusement coming from Alek. It was impossible to hide feelings from each other when engaged in this sort of connection, and clearly, his own conflicting motivations were coming across loud and clear. Kat had called to him, not Alek. It frustrated him no end to be sending Alek to do a task he’d have infinitely preferred to reserve for himself. But, with Amber still in a fragile state, Amarok’s loyalties were divided. Alek’s were not.

Kat needs backup. You’re closest.

Got it. And then Alek cut their connection.

It could have been worse. He’d expected to feel gloating triumph radiating from Alek at gaining the upper hand in their ongoing tussle, and he’d been spared that. Mostly he was annoyed at himself. For years, he’d been selfless in his protection of Kat. But lately, especially where Alek was concerned, he had trouble putting his own needs last. Perhaps Alek’s innate competitiveness had awoken his own, and realizing what he had to lose had shown him how much it was worth fighting for.

Amarok sighed, and turned to go back inside. Amber had made her pronouncement, so they would travel tonight.

 

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Dark Child (Covens Rising): Episode 3 is available now where all good ebooks are sold

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Dark Child (Covens Rising): Episode 1 is available FREE where all good ebooks are sold

 

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Go back to where it all began with Dark Child (Awakening): Episode 1 available now for FREE where all good ebooks are sold

 

 

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Excerpt: DARK CHILD (COVENS RISING): EPISODE 2 by Adina West

Posted July 10, 2014 by Mark

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In her dreams, she craved fresh blood. Warm human blood. And her incisors were long, sharp – able to bite through a fragile layer of skin with ease. What sort of monster does that make me?
Kat discovers that her presence in Paris isn’t such a secret anymore. But if she has to battle the Directorate again, it seems she’ll have much more support this time. Some of it from the most unlikely sources.
Meanwhile, teenage loner Ben discovers that he has much more in common with Yara Fortes, the girl of his dreams, than he ever hoped. But in a cruel twist of fate, the shared secret that links them together could also get them killed …
This title is the second novella-length episode of Dark Child (Covens Rising), which will conclude with Episode 5 on July 31. Please visit momentumbooks.com.au for further information.

 

Chapter 13

In English Lit class on the morning after his nocturnal excursion, Ben sat at the desk across from Yara, instead of in his normal position near the back. He was still high on adrenalin. He’d hardly been able to sleep after returning home last night and, even now, hours later, he was sure his pulse was elevated above normal – though that may have been for another reason.

“Yara.” He spoke in a piercing whisper, and she cocked her head slightly in his direction, while continuing to face forward.

“I’m sorry about last night at your house. The lights and the dogs and everything.”

She turned to face him in a flash, high spots of color in her cheeks. “What? That was you? You idiot, Ben, do you have any idea how dangerous … ”

“I’ll be more careful next time. Shhh,” he hissed, finger to his lips as he turned back to the teacher.

“Next time? Are you crazy?” Her voice had risen above a whisper now.

“Yara Fortes, eyes front, please!”

Yara gave a last meaningful glance in Ben’s direction. She was clearly biding her time until class ended. As soon as the bell rang, though, Ben escaped from the room. He didn’t want to give her the chance to spend any more time convincing him not to do something he was absolutely determined to do.

*

All the shutters were closed when he arrived home from school. Falcon was up early. Ben walked through to the kitchen and found his guardian waiting for him, his broad shoulders and long legs looking too big for the chair at the kitchen table. Ben rarely ever saw Falcon just sitting like a normal person. He usually went to work soon after rising for the night, and didn’t return until close to dawn. The rest of the time he spent sleeping in his heavily shuttered room.

So, Falcon sitting there at the table already made Ben suspicious. His next words proved there was reason to be.

“Any plans for tonight?” As usual, Falcon’s tone was calm, but the eyes that surveyed Ben were sharp and knowing.

Ben measured him, trying to guess how much Falcon already knew without betraying anything by his own expression. He kept his mind carefully blank as he answered.

“Ah, not really. Why, do you have a night off?”

“Funny.” Falcon’s tone suggested it was anything but.

They continued to stare at each other and, despite his best efforts, Ben felt himself growing faintly defensive. Damn, he hated it when Falcon did the waiting thing. Ben always caved in first. But this time he was determined not to give anything away if he could help it.

“So … ” Falcon continued in an offhand way. “You weren’t planning another trip to the Fortes house tonight, by any chance?”

“How did you know?” Ben burst out. He was absolutely certain he hadn’t let a single stray thought enter his mind. Over the years, he’d had plenty of practice at blocking out unwanted thoughts.

Falcon glanced down with a secret smile, and then gave a little shrug, as if the answer was obvious. “GPS tracker in your Vespa.”

“Damn. That’s really sneaky, you know that?”

Ben tried to feel angry about it, but couldn’t. It was so like Falcon. No matter what you did, he was always one step ahead, even if it was through using something prosaic, like a piece of human technology. It might have been a complete invasion of privacy, but Ben knew that, ultimately, anything Falcon did was for his own protection.

“Ben, I don’t want to be breathing down your neck, but I’ve got to ask you not to go back there. It isn’t safe.”

“Why?” Ben knew by his tone that Falcon wasn’t talking about the motion-sensor alarms and lights, or the guard dogs, though most people would have thought them reason enough.

Falcon’s eyes met his, the warning in them clear. “They’re not a normal family. Mess with them and it’s trouble, big trouble. And I mean the kind we’ve been trying to avoid for you. What on earth were you doing there?”

Ben’s eyes fell to the ground. He was silent for a moment. Then he faced Falcon, his expression serious. “I already know they’re not a normal family. Yara’s like me, I think. Part Tabérin. And she’s in trouble. Someone in that house … they’re making her drink blood, even though she hates it and it makes her ill.”

Falcon’s eyes narrowed. “And Yara would be … who? The girl from Italian class?”

Ben nodded.

“Let me guess. Yara Fortes?”

He nodded again.

“You like her?”

Ben didn’t want to answer that, but his response was plain from the dark red staining his cheeks.

Falcon swore softly under his breath, and shook his head disbelievingly. “Next time, could you maybe pick someone whose father doesn’t work for the Directorate? Ben, if she’s Victor Fortes’s kid, this is something we really don’t want to get involved in. Especially now.” He frowned. “Some stuff happened recently that caused a lot of tension at work. This is a really bad time to be attracting attention, especially with a background like yours or Yara’s. I want you to promise me you won’t go back in there. It’s too dangerous.”

“I don’t care if it’s dangerous,” Ben said stubbornly. “She’s on her own in a virtual prison. I have to help her.”

He faced Falcon, letting his clear recollection of every interaction between Yara and him float to the top of his mind: the dreams she was having, the way she’d reacted when she cut herself, her narrowed gaze as she caught him watching her in the library and, finally, Yara forcing down the glass of blood, and curling up in pain on the bed in her room.

He knew Falcon was reading his memories, because he gave a grunt, and swore again.

“Like I said, trouble. If she is Victor’s kid and she’s half Tabérin like you, it could be he’s trying to force her transition through feeding her blood. That’s just a theory, mind you, because it’s a godawful, ill-advised thing to attempt, in my opinion.” Falcon fell silent. Ben wished he could see past his ever-present emotional mask and guess what he was thinking.

At last, Falcon shook his head. “Dammit, Ben. Okay, but not tonight. Tonight, you don’t go near the place. We’ll do it my way – in a few days.”

Ben couldn’t believe his luck. Falcon was definitely the kind of person you wanted on your side when doing this kind of operation – but they’d never, ever done anything like this together before.

“You’ll help me? You can get time off work?” He knew that whatever it was his guardian did every night in his job with the Directorate, it didn’t usually leave him time for anything else. Not till now, anyway.

Falcon’s voice was his habitual rough growl. “I’ll make time.”

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Dark Child (Covens Rising): Episode 2 is available now where all good ebooks are sold

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Dark Child (Covens Rising): Episode 1 is available FREE where all good ebooks are sold

 

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Go back to where it all began with Dark Child (Awakening): Episode 1 available now for FREE where all good ebooks are sold

 

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Excerpt: DARK CHILD (COVENS RISING): EPISODE 1 by Adina West

Posted July 3, 2014 by Mark

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Kat Chanter isn’t your ordinary girl. And she isn’t your ordinary vampire, either. The ruthless Directorate would go to any lengths to have her power – including murder. And when that leads to a war between races, Kat’s fate becomes the ultimate prize …
Kat is done with being on the run, or so she hopes. A new pathology job in Paris is her big chance to start afresh, far from the Tabérin Directorate who want her dead. Sure, adjusting to life as a half-vampire, half-human hybrid in transition poses its own challenges, but it’s nothing Kat can’t handle … until the past starts to catch up with her.
When she’s approached by one Tabérin male from her past, she can explain it away. But add in another territorial Tabérin with a newfound conscience and it’s starting to get crowded on Kat’s Montmartre window ledge. Past experience tells Kat to be cautious, especially in her vulnerable state. But how can she tell friend from foe?
Perfect for fans of The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, Dark Child (Covens Rising) is the highly anticipated sequel to the best-selling urban fantasy novel Dark Child (The Awakening). This title is the first novella-length episode of Dark Child (Covens Rising), which will conclude with Episode 5 on July 31. Please visit momentumbooks.com.au for further information.

 

Chapter One

The wave of dizziness swept over her without warning. Hang on, girl. Katerina Chanter clung to the stainless steel surface in front of her and closed her eyes, fighting off the nausea that followed. Not again.

“You okay?”

Kat opened her eyes to see the freckled face of Eoin, her Irish workmate, tilted in her direction. It was just the two of them here in the hematology lab of the American Hospital of Paris, and right now Eoin was watching her with a perplexed frown, waiting for her response. He mimed drinking from a glass, and grinned.

“Been on the sauce again, Kat?”

She gave the smile she knew he expected. “Huh, I wish. Just low blood sugar, I think.” She’d thought the lies would get easier with time, but it turned out they didn’t – however necessary they were. It wasn’t like she could tell cheerful Eoin, with his mop of curly dark hair and infectious smile, that what she really needed was a hit of blood, pronto.

“Go on then.” He nodded toward the lab door. “Take your lunch break early. Go and get something to eat. Bloods from the oncology clinic aren’t due back for an hour, at least. I can cover until then.”

Kat battled against the helpless frustration that welled up as she walked through the hospital hallways toward the exit. She’d been trying to stay heedful of the calming advice Amber had given her shortly before the seer had left Paris. Own your present, Amber had said. But living in the here and now, avoiding her painful memories of the past and her fears for the future, would be so much damned easier if her body wasn’t constantly reminding her of how vulnerable she was, caught in this pre-transition state: half human and half not.

A sense of uneasiness halted her part way along the final hallway, and the back of her neck prickled in awareness of being watched. She turned to look behind her, and the place was, of course, full of people. Patients in transit between wings, trailing their IV fluid stands. A cleaner or two, and a group of surgical staff in scrubs, deep in conversation. Nobody who shouldn’t have been there. Nobody’s watching you, she told herself firmly. But still the feeling lingered, and when she turned to resume her path to the door, she walked a little faster than before.

Kat took a deep breath of fresh air as she exited the hospital and headed out into the sunlight. She’d been in this job for less than a week, and in Paris for only a few days longer. The threat to her life from the Tabérin Directorate was something she and her protectors all hoped they’d left behind in America. Especially since they’d gone to the extra trouble of faking her death before they fled to Europe. With any luck, her cell phone and engraved bracelet had already been discovered in the rubble of the Directorate’s Hema Castus Institute, and they’d have crossed her off their hit list. Nobody except her protectors knew she was in Paris, and even they had left her now the threat was over. Char and Jonathan were running a new club in York, in northern England. Alek and Amarok and their unalil family had gone somewhere remote, to aid in Amber’s recuperation. The last to leave had been Akilina, her hyper-vigilant aunt, who’d retired to her château in the Loire Valley last week – close enough to come rushing back if Kat needed her.

But now, Kat was forced to acknowledge that there was a huge difference between a threat that no longer existed and one that was merely … deflected. She had some freedom, yes, but only during the daytime. Come nightfall, she had to be safely home behind locked doors. No exceptions. Because the Directorate were still out there, and if she made even one misstep, they’d be onto her.

The constant vigilance was wearing away at her nerves. Making her jump at imagined shadows, even in the middle of a sunny spring day like today. This was supposed to be a fresh start, which was exactly what she’d told Alek she wanted, the night before he’d left Paris with the others. A fresh start, with the past safely behind her – and that past definitely included the golden-haired cougar shifter, and the painful confusion he always seemed to inspire in her. Of course, after Alek had left Paris, she’d found the bracelet he’d left for her. And she hadn’t quite been able to bring herself to take it off since.

Her health problems seemed similarly difficult to leave behind. As she headed away from the hospital, down the tree-lined Boulevard de la Saussaye, Kat mulled over her ‘symptoms’. The dizzy spells, the nausea – she couldn’t ignore the fact that they were happening more often. Even now, walking too fast was making her head swim. Were these symptoms of impending transition, or something else, as yet undiagnosed?

It was frustrating that these problems hadn’t gone away even though, despite initial reluctance, she’d been religiously following the regime Akilina had laid out for her. Before agreeing to leave Kat in Paris, Akilina had insisted she agree to take daily doses of blood that the Tabérin elder’s blood-made ‘daughter’, Sabine, was sourcing through a hospital contact. Kat’s current independence … living in Montmartre with Sabine, her new job at the hospital … it had all been contingent upon setting her aunt’s mind at ease.

“Not only have you been through an ordeal, it seems clear your body is preparing for transition. A normal human diet cannot sustain you. And I don’t want you taking the Directorate doses, even if we could source extra for you. It’s treated, and denatured. You must have fresh human blood.” Akilina’s expression had been so serious that Kat felt it was easier just to accede to the request. It seemed pretty clear that if she hadn’t, her aunt would have rethought the whole plan to leave her alone with Sabine and decided to stay to keep an eye on things. That was not what Kat wanted. She appreciated her aunt’s concern for her, she really did. Though their connection was recent, she couldn’t ignore the wishes of the woman who was her only link to the father she’d never known. Still, having someone around who was so concerned, so protective, was sometimes a little … claustrophobic.

Kat arrived at her favorite lunch place near the hospital, a modest bistro on one of the River Seine’s small islets, Île de la Jatte. She slid into her usual seat, giving a grateful smile to the waiter seating her. He was the main reason she kept coming back here; he seemed to have taken a liking to her on her first visit, and fast, attentive service in Paris wasn’t something to be taken lightly – especially when you had limited time for lunch. She ordered the plat du jour, like she always did. It was hard to pass up two courses at such a reasonable price. Since starting this job last week, she’d been eating her biggest meal at lunch, and for dinner having soup from a big batch she made every few days. Having her appetite back was one thing she was glad of. It seemed when she was supplementing her diet with a good dose of O positive every day, she could eat normal fare without it tasting like cardboard. She still found herself zoning in on the meat dishes every time, though.

Her steak and fries arrived quickly, and she cut into the meat as soon as the waiter had turned away. As she’d requested, it was ‘au bleu’, or rare. Very rare. The way she always needed it these days.

As she raised the fork to her mouth, she noticed her hand was shaking, and it didn’t become steady until she’d almost finished the steak. She tried not to let it worry her, but it was unnerving having her body give such clear signs that it wasn’t coping. Not on one dose of blood a day, anyway. She finished her steak, and picked at a few of the fries, then looked up and caught the waiter’s eye. He hurried over to remove the plate, and then brought her dessert; tarte tatin with thick cream. She was a bit addicted to the upside-down apple pie, which seemed to be served everywhere in Paris.

Her waiter lingered to hold the door for her as she gathered her things and left. Very thoughtful, as always.

The walk to the hospital seemed half the distance on her return journey. The same body she’d been dragging along before lunch was weightless now, and she was uncomfortably aware of the connection between this and the meat she’d just eaten. Like the symptoms it corrected, it was happening too often to ignore. But, just lately, it seemed that even a good meal of red meat didn’t make her feel better for longer than a couple of hours.

She sighed. Maybe it was time. What she was doing now clearly wasn’t working … but, given her aunt’s protectiveness, she wasn’t thrilled by the thought that her logical next step was to call Akilina for help. Still, she couldn’t ignore the possibility that the elder’s blood was the only thing that would work for her now, anymore than she could face the counter possibility: that nothing would work.

Kat entered the coolness of the hospital, and passed a white-garbed orderly who was adjusting a wheelchair. The tang of his sweat assaulted her, and she knew with a certainty she couldn’t explain that he’d had curry for dinner the night before, and started his day with black coffee. She continued down the hallway to the pathology department, rounded a corner, and swung open the door to the hematology lab. Eoin called out a greeting and reached for a clipboard.

“Hope you’re feeling better, because the oncology bloods have come in. A big batch.” He walked over and handed her the clipboard with a wink. “Be a star, and start while I grab a bite to eat? I haven’t been out yet.”

Was it her imagination, or did he seem a little flustered? Kat’s nostrils flared as she caught the scent of stale perfume on his shirt collar. Having met his wife Lainey a couple of days ago when she’d come to take Eoin out to lunch, she recognized a trace of the fragrance she wore. But there was another, fresher scent too, though Kat knew Lainey was away in Dublin. She’d only chatted to the woman for a few minutes, but Kat had liked Lainey instantly; she was the type to face everything with a smile, to see the best in everybody.

Even, probably, to see the best in a philandering husband.

“Kat?” Eoin prompted.

She forced herself to meet his eyes. It was none of her business why he was late going to lunch, and why his jacket smelled like Audrey, the nursing unit manager from oncology. No matter how much she wanted to say something, to exhort him not to do this to his lovely wife, she couldn’t. It wasn’t her place. Especially not when her suppositions were based on abilities that weren’t human. For a moment, she fancied she heard Eoin’s heart beating, a hurried staccato thump thump thump thump thump.

She took the clipboard with a forced smile. “Sure, I’ll go ahead and start. Enjoy your lunch.”

As soon as the door had closed behind him, Kat dropped the clipboard onto the stainless steel counter with a clatter, and sank onto a stool. Her hand went straight to her rune necklace, and she pressed it hard against her chest, closing her eyes and taking deep, slow breaths.

It’s not normal, a worried little voice in her head taunted her, in a refrain she knew all too well by now, but then another part of her cut in with a relaxed southern drawl. Honey, you ain’t never been normal.

“Ain’t that the truth,” she said aloud to the empty lab, with a wry smile, and went over to her handbag to retrieve a small sample tube.

At least, with Eoin gone, she could do her daily check on the blood sample she’d taken from herself when she’d started work here. She hadn’t centrifuged it. She hadn’t refrigerated it. In fact, in every regard she’d done the opposite of her training. The sample should be degraded. If it had been normal human blood, the cells would have broken down by now.

She drew a small amount of blood from the sample tube, and prepped a slide. When she slid it under the microscope, and focused – well, she couldn’t say she was completely surprised by what she saw, seeing as it was the same thing she’d seen every day so far. The blood sample was still perfect. Completely abnormal in its concentrations, with its huge overabundance of elongated platelets and shortage of red cells. But otherwise perfect. Not a hint of hemolysis. Despite her having exposed them to sunlight, and frozen and rethawed them, and dipped them in boiling water, the red cells looked as smooth-walled and robust as they had on the day she’d taken the sample. Five days ago.

She disposed of the slide, sealed the tube again, and returned it to her bag with a sigh. So, basically, her blood was super blood. It could live outside her body for days on end, even under the most extreme conditions. Maybe at least part of that could be explained by her Tabérin heritage. She’d never had the chance to get any Tabérin blood under the microscope, and the scientist in her itched to confirm her hunch that all Tabérin blood had a similar platelet and red cell profile to hers. It also made sense that the blood of a near-immortal being would be able to withstand a heck of a lot more punishment than a human blood sample.

But something still stood out as strange. During her short stint at the Hema Castus Research Institute, back in New York, the windowless lab and all the protocols her workmates had introduced her to had made one thing very clear; the scarce blood samples they were studying, the two other samples with elongated platelets, just like hers, couldn’t tolerate even the tiniest amount of sunlight. It wasn’t a leap to assume that those blood samples had been from other hybrids, those with both human and Tabérin blood. And that Tabérin blood, like the Tabérin race, was fatally compromised by sunlight. So far, Kat thought, her reasoning made sense.

But she’d left her own sample tube on the windowsill in full sunlight for a couple of hours two days ago, and when later she’d examined it under the microscope, she’d seen no after-effects whatsoever. Why was sunlight not an issue for her blood? It was yet another thing to add to the litany of oddness that had plagued her ever since her life went to hell in a hand basket a couple of weeks ago.

Kat shook off thoughts of the mystery, picked up the clipboard, and went over to start on the oncology batch. Her fingers were quick and sure as she methodically placed the samples in order. She’d been noticing changes like that in every area. Better vision and sense of smell. More strength, speed, dexterity, and, at least, with Eoin gone, she could apply those to getting this batch done in half the time it would usually have taken. Hopefully, before the effects of her lunch wore off.

It would have been nice to find some sort of middle ground, instead of these alternating states she’d been experiencing lately – heightened senses and abilities, followed by debilitating weakness. She gave a mock grimace. Ah, who wanted normal, anyway? Definitely overrated.

Tonight, though … if things didn’t improve, she had to call Akilina.

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Dark Child (Covens Rising): Episode 1 is available now where all good ebooks are sold

 

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Go back to where it all began with Dark Child (Awakening): Episode 1 available now for FREE where all good ebooks are sold

 

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I, MORGANA by Felicity Pulman: Excerpt

Posted July 1, 2014 by Mark

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PROLOGUE

I am an old woman now. My bones creak and scrape together like bare branches in a winter wind. I ache with longing for my youth. When I notice my reflection, I am aghast at the vision of the hag who looks back at me. I mourn the passing of who I was, and everything I could have been. More than anything, I long to reverse time. Throughout the years I have tried and tried to do this, without success. Now, even my most potent spells and incantations cannot transform me into the young woman I once was, with all my life still to live. With age, my magical powers have all but deserted me. Once I was desired by men; now I am disregarded by all and loved by none.

And I ask myself: How has it come to this, when once the future looked so bright and full of promise? And I swear a sacred oath to the gods, whoever they may be, that if only they would grant me my life anew, along with the wisdom I have learned so painfully, I would not make the same mistakes again. I would not lead us all to destruction.

But the gods are deaf to my prayers and to my promises. All I can do now is call for parchment, cut my quill, and tell my story. I shall start at the beginning, because that’s when the first seeds of doom were sown: when I was a child and believed I had the power to make the whole world new.

 

CHAPTER ONE

“Look at me, Merlin! Look at me.” I twirl and twirl, giddy with delight, bubbling with laughter as the earth turns around me and my hair flies into my eyes.

“Well done, Morgana! You must concentrate now; think about being a bird. How will it feel when you are flying?”

I close my eyes and I try, I try so hard, because I know how much it’ll please Merlin if I succeed. Around and around I spin, the world gone dark around me, the air swishing past.

“Open your eyes, Morgana! Look about you. See that raven? Remember what I told you? You have to think that raven, be a raven.”

I am a raven. I am a raven. I am Merlin’s raven. I am! I am a raven flying, flying high, soaring into the sky, riding on the wind.

 I think it. I will it with all my heart, my mind, my soul.

Something shifts. Something changes. The air feels cool against my cheek, my black feathers ruffle in the breeze. I look down as a little girl dissolves into light and shadows, and I know that I am free!

Merlin knows it too. I can see him down there, shading his eyes from the sun as he stares up at me. I feel such exultation, such triumph, I could almost burst. I am Morgana, Merlin’s raven, and I have the whole realm in my power. All that I can see below me will be mine one day. I know that’s true because my father has willed it, and Merlin has promised me.

He’s waving at me now, beckoning me to come down, for I have proved myself to him. But I am gone beyond him. I am intoxicated with joy, with the sensation of flying and the knowledge that at last I have unlocked the secret to shape-shifting. Now I can escape from my earthbound body and become anyone or anything that takes my fancy. And so I fly on, for the first time able to look down on the land that one day will be mine, and on the people over whom I shall rule. Beyond the spit of land on which our castle stands is the dark blue ocean, buffed into sharp waves by a brisk wind. It’s a ragged coastline of jagged cliffs, marked by the foam of breaking waves at their base. The sea hides a multitude of broken dreams, ships coming close to harbor but caught by waves and tide instead, and torn to pieces on the cruel and unforgiving rocks below the surface.

Bells ring out as I fly over the abbey. Obeying their urgent summons, the monks of Tintagel hurry to Mass in their great stone church with its cross at the summit. In my bird’s mind I pull a human face at them, for their love of the Christ is not for me. I put my trust in Merlin’s magic, not the will of the god they worship.

On a whim I fly onward, to the place where my father died in battle, for I have never been allowed to see the place where he fell, just as I was not allowed to see his dead body, nor was I able to mourn him openly, as a daughter should.

Once I come to the battlefield, I alight on a branch and look out across the bare scrubby grass that lies baking in the glare of the sun. I try to imagine how it must have been: my father’s troops trying to defend our territory against the soldiers of the High King; a battle that ended in the death of my father, Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall. My heart fills with sorrow as I recall the events that led to that moment.

It all began when my father was summoned to London to pay tribute to the new High King, and made the mistake of bringing his family with him, for it was then that Uther Pendragon fell in love with my mother and she with him. I remember how awed I was by the magnificence of the High King’s palace and the presence of kings and nobles from across the southern country. We’d walked along the banks of the River Thames, my father and I, while he’d announced his dreams for my future.

“I shall not make any arrangements for your betrothal, Morgana, not yet. There is time enough to choose a worthy consort to be at your side, but it is you I shall name as my heir, and it is you who will rule Cornwall in my stead. I’m putting my trust in you, Morgana. You must take care of my realm and rule wisely and well. You must not fail me in this. Do I have your word that you will do as I ask?”

His words had so filled me with excitement that I’d stopped walking and faced him. I’d crossed my hands over my heart and sworn an oath that I would never let him down, and that I would do all that he asked of me, and more.

My father had laughed then—not at me, but with relief, because he knew that I understood the gravity of his charge. And I saw the love and pride that shone in his eyes when he presented me to Uther, the High King, as his heir.

But there are other things I remember about that time. How Uther followed my mother, Igraine, around his court, seizing every opportunity to take her hand and press it to his lips for a lingering kiss. At the time I’d thought it a mark of his respect for us, but later I understood that Uther loved my mother. I also remember the growing tension between my father and mother that culminated in a bitter quarrel and led to our hasty departure from London.

Just six months after that, my father is dead and my mother remarried.

I shake my glossy feathers into smoothness, as if I could at the same time shake myself free of memories. Conscious of time passing, I look out over the battlefield once more, and mouth an anathema against the man who caused my father’s death. Then, with some trepidation, worried I may have lost the knack of it, I launch myself off the branch. I spread my wings and my body lifts up into a current of air that will blow me toward the forest and Merlin.

My flight takes me over the castle and I look down at its inhabitants, tiny as ants as they swirl in patterns around the courtyard, going about their business. I fly closer so that I can see them more clearly, for I am intrigued to find out what people might do, how they might act when they believe themselves unobserved.

I see my mother, and my heart catches in my feathered breast. She is sitting in her private arbor. With her is Uther Pendragon. As I watch, he places his hand on her stomach and leans over to kiss her cheek. She laughs, and puts her hand over his—and I realize the significance of what I see. Looking at them now, at the way their joined hands stroke the curve of her belly, I understand that soon I shall have yet another rival for my mother’s love.

How I hate Uther Pendragon! I hate him for the way he took my father’s place so soon after he was killed. That he loves my mother beyond reason, I have no doubt. But I blame him most bitterly for my father’s death in battle and for seizing our kingdom. I also blame him for taking my mother away from me. These days she has eyes only for him.

If only I knew how to do it, I would strike Uther Pendragon dead! And my mother’s unborn child with him. Merlin has promised to teach me more tricks and more magic than mere shape-shifting; he’s promised to give me all the gifts I shall need to rule a kingdom. I don’t want another rival for Merlin’s affection. What I really want is to change things back to how they were; to turn back time and have power over life and death, and that’s what I would learn from him.

A sudden thought strikes terror into my heart: What if my mother bears a son, what then? I fly back to Merlin as quickly as I can and, as soon as I’ve transformed myself, I question him.

He gives me a fond smile. “You have nothing to fear, Morgana. Remember: your father has named you as his heir, even if Uther has usurped your position for the moment. But I believe you have an even greater destiny, for while Uther dabbles here with your mother, he is neglecting his duty as High King. The kings of Britain are jostling for power, leaving our country disunited and increasingly vulnerable to attacks from across the sea. You have courage, and intelligence, and you have shown great aptitude in the magical arts. I believe that when the time comes, and with my help, you will have the strength and the knowledge to unite all the tribes of Britain and bring them under your protection so that we may live in peace and prosperity once more.”

I take comfort from Merlin’s words, for they justify my father’s trust in me. But Merlin has not yet finished.

“A word of warning,” he says, and now his voice is stern. “When I bid you to return from flight, or to do anything else, I expect you to do as you are told. No!” He raises his hand as I open my mouth to argue. “I know it is a temptation to fly further and to test yourself, especially when you are new to shape-shifting, but you must always respect your magical powers, Morgana, and use them wisely. You are six summers grown now; old enough to obey my instructions as well as learn from me.”

“Of course I shall do everything you ask, Merlin.” I am so grateful for the mage’s reassurance of my destiny that I will promise him anything. I am also grateful to have escaped a long lecture. Although I love Merlin, and will do anything to please him, I do hate it when he’s cross with me!

Merlin is something of a mystery to me. He has power, I know that—the power of a mage steeped in magic—yet he is not a member of our court. My mother has become a devout Christian since marrying Uther, and anything to do with the occult has been banned. But Merlin and I have always met in secret, right from the very first when, by chance, I escaped my nurse and my sister, and ran into the forest beyond the castle looking for adventure. Merlin found me—or perhaps he knew I would come that day and so he waited for me? I know not, but since then we have always met in the forest, and I have told no one about what he is teaching me.

He looks a bit like an elderly owl, with tufty white hair and piercing eyes that seem to see right through me. I know that he believes in me, for he cares for me as a father would. And I try to please him in everything, for there is much I can learn from him, lessons I need to understand if I am to fulfill the shining destiny he has promised me. I am determined to do well, to be the best. I am determined to justify his faith in me, and fulfill the oath I swore to my father.

 

I, Morgana by Felicity Pulman is available now where all good ebooks are sold

 

 

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GORGON by Greig Beck – Excerpt

Posted June 11, 2014 by Mark

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City of Uşak, interior Aegean region, Turkey

The Uşak rug bazaar was one of the largest in the country, with buyers coming from neighboring provinces to select the best, which they would sell internationally at greatly inflated prices. Before dawn, hundreds of sellers crossed the Lydian Cilandiras Bridge over the Banaz Stream, to compete for space in the bazaar and for the buyers’ attention. It was still dark, but soon the sun would rise, and the cacophony of hawkers’ voices, haggling traders, and playing children would turn the park-like grassland into a riotous circus of sound and color.

Halim watched his mother and grandmother unroll a pair of enormous rugs, their best. Pressure was on all of them to sell their wares early and then be off home. There was death about, a grotesque illness sweeping the countryside. The whispers hinted that the army had collected the bodies of the afflicted, and whole families, whole towns had been wiped out. The newspapers had urged people to stay indoors. A djinn, his grandmother had whispered knowingly. Other old women had picked up the word, and made the sign of the evil eye over their faces, so the devil would not see them this day.

Halim’s mother held his shoulders tight and stared into his face as she laid down the law to him: he was to stay close to her or his grandmother. Halim hummed and drew on the ground with a stick, watching his mother smooth the rug’s edges, and then work with a fine pick to adjust any thread that dared to lift its head above its brothers. He knew why she paid the rug such fussy attention – it took many months to weave, dye, and then dry, but a single sale could deliver enough money to keep the family comfortable for the next half-year.

Bored, Halim said he was going to have to pee, and headed off to the tree line. Once out of sight, he changed course and instead made for the bridge. His mother would scold him if she knew, and his father would more than likely thrash him for disobeying her. But this time of year, snakes, frogs, salamanders, and all sorts of wonderful creatures came out to bask in the day’s warmth. If he could catch one, it would keep him amused for the entire day.

He leaned over the side of the bridge, and waved at his dark reflection. He had the stream to himself, save for several large dragonflies, about a thousand chirruping crickets, and a few small birds warbling in the trees hanging over the water. There was a chill on the back of his neck – cold, but not unpleasant. Halim had collected a handful of stones, and now he dropped them one at a time into the cool swirling water, causing a few minnows to dart out of the reed banks to investigate, before vanishing in flashes of silver and green. He hummed tunelessly in the pre-dawn. He knew if they didn’t make a sale early, they would be there all day and long into the warm evening, before grandfather came with the truck to carry the three of them back home for a late supper. Until then, it was dry flatbread with pickle jam – luckily, he liked pickle jam.

As he watched the water, chin on his hand, the air misted and became cooler – like smoke lazily drifting across the stream surface to dull its sparkle. He looked skyward, expecting to see clouds pulling across the sky – which would be a tragedy for his mother, and all the rug sellers. Three hundred and sixty-four days a year they prayed for rain, but on the day the rugs were unfurled in all their brilliant dyed glory, they prayed for it to be dry. Today there were no clouds, just the same thin mist drifting in from the east. He squinted; it seemed thickest down the road, as if his grandfather’s truck was backing up, blowing exhaust fumes. But there was no truck, no noise, and even the birds and crickets had grown quiet.

Halim angled his head, his face creasing as he concentrated. In the center of the rolling mist, something was taking form, rising up, solidifying, a dark center appearing as if the cloud was denser at its core. The shape was tall, moving toward him, but gliding rather than walking. He grimaced, rooted to the spot. Something about the dark mass instilled dread in the pit of his stomach.

‘Hello?’ His voice was weak, betraying his nervousness. Speak like a man, his father would have said. Halim regretted wandering away from his mother and grandmother. He had the urge to turn and flee, and not stop until he was hugging his mother. But he couldn’t move.

The mist began to clear, and just as the form became a figure, something warned him to look away. He spun, crushed his eyes shut, and placed his hands over his face. He leaned far out over the bridge, holding his breath while he waited. He could feel it now, freezing cold on his back, every hair on his body standing erect, his skin prickly with goose bumps. There was no sound; it was like he had stuffed cotton in his ears, the air muffled and silent around him.

He couldn’t take it any longer and opened his eyes, looking down into the stream. He saw himself in the water, and looming up behind him, something so monstrous, so horrible and terrifying, that he immediately voided his bladder into his trousers. He felt bile in his throat and an explosion of pain behind his eyes. The warmth down his legs unlocked his stricken throat and he found his voice, screaming so long and loud he thought he would never stop.

He did, when consciousness left him.

When he awoke, his head hurt, and there was a needle-like pain behind both eyes. His senses slowly returned – he felt the sun hot on his face; he heard the stream slipping by underneath the bridge, crickets singing, dragonflies zooming about, their iridescent wings and green eyes like tiny jewels.

Halim had never owned a wristwatch, but the sun was well above the horizon – hours must have passed. His mother would skin him alive. He got to his feet, staggered a few steps, then began to run, back along the path, through the trees and into the bazaar. But instead of the swirling dust, riot of color, and noise of hundreds of people haggling, fighting or laughing, there was nothing. A silence so total, he had to rub his ear to make sure he hadn’t been struck deaf.

‘Mama? Nana?’

People everywhere, but all so still. Some were lying down, others were kneeling or sitting, many with hands thrown up trying to shield their faces. Halim saw that all were a ghastly white, even their eyes were the bleached blankness of dry sand.

He found the small square of ground marked out by the beautiful reds and blues of the rug dyes his family preferred. Mama was there, sitting crosslegged, one arm out, the other hand over her face. Nana was kneeling, tiny as always, her hand in front of her face, warding off the evil eye. It hadn’t worked.

‘Mama?’ He touched her – she was as hard as stone.

He nudged his grandmother, and she toppled over, her body remaining in its pose, stiff and unbending.

Halim crouched next to his mother and edged in under her outstretched arm. ‘I’m sorry, Mama. I fell asleep. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’

His head ached terribly as he leaned against her, feeling the hardness under her clothes. The familiar feel and smell of her, of her warmth, perfume, and love, was gone. A tear rolled from his cheek, to splash onto her leg. It dried quickly on the stone.

 

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The White List by Nina D’Aleo – excerpt

Posted May 14, 2014 by Mark

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Chapter 11 is watching you.  

Silver is an intelligence operative working for an agency that doesn’t officially exist—beyond any government and above the law. Chapter 11 is the kind of place a person can join but never leave. And it keeps a third of the world’s population under constant surveillance. At work. On the street. In their homes. 

Why? Because of Shaman syndrome. 

One in three people are born with Shaman syndrome, which endows them with abilities they cannot control and do not even know they have. It is Chapter 11’s responsibility to cap and surveil these walts—as they are known—to ensure their talents don’t turn ugly for the ordinary people around them.

After Silver’s partner, Dark, is seriously injured by a walt, Silver is driven to investigate. What starts as a routine investigation isn’t as clear-cut as it seems, especially when she discovers there’s a price on her head. 

Chapter 11 might be watching the world, but it can’t see the division in its own ranks. Someone wants the white list—the list of every known walt that Chapter 11 has capped—but for what purpose? Silver needs to find out the secret behind Shaman syndrome, before it’s too late. 

 

In rush-hour traffic, it took me a good hour to reach the destination. I parked under a streetlight and stepped out to look around. I’d ended up at an abandoned warehouse close to the waterfront shipping sector of the city. There weren’t any houses in sight. I checked the address on my phone and it appeared to match what I’d written down—but it didn’t even seem like the right suburb. Strange.

Night had now taken over from the light and heavy shadows stretched across the concrete square leading to the darkened warehouse. I shivered in the evening breeze. The air carried a tinge of smoke and the murmur of a storm. I stared at the warehouse. Smashed windows, graffiti marked, creepy and isolated—everything about the place said stay away. And I wasn’t about to argue. I started to get back into the car, but then thought maybe Dark had an old street directory in the trunk that I could check. So I went around and opened it up, rummaging through Dark’s duffle bag of tools. Footsteps sounded close by. I looked around the side of the car. A person, a woman, was approaching. I recognized her as the girl from the elevator at Dark’s apartment building.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

I stepped out from behind the car, not sure what she meant, confused at seeing her again, and by her saying but not sounding sorry.

She closed the distance between us fast and punched me in the face. A terrible debilitating pain crashed me to the ground and my eyesight blanked out then flashed back in. I rolled away as her boot rushed toward my head. I scrambled to my feet and grabbed for my gun. It was gone. The girl gave a nasty smile and opened her jacket. She was wearing my duty belt. I stared, shocked: how had she gotten it off me without my knowing? She took my gun out of the holster and held it up as if to say, Looking for this?

I struck fast, slamming my hand into her throat. She reeled and I bolted. There was only so long fists could hold up against bullets. Shots rang out and I lunged behind the side of the warehouse. The girl came after me, pulling on night-vision headgear as she ran. I crashed blindly beside the building, dragging my hand along the wall and stumbling over unseen rubble. I turned the corner into a lamp-lit area and saw a wall blocking my path. It was too tall to climb. I looked left and right searching for a way out and spotted an open window up about twice my height. I could hear the girl’s running steps closing in behind me.

I darted forward and grabbed a discarded cardboard box. I shoved it up against the side of the warehouse and climbed on. It collapsed, dumping me onto the ground. I swore and grabbed another box. I leaped up and reached for the window, grasping at the ledge. I stretched up, every part of my body straining. My fingertips closed over the windowsill. A hand darted down from the window and closed over my wrist. It wrenched me off my feet and dragged me upward.

 

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The White List by Nina D’Aleo is available now where all good ebooks are sold! Click here to purchase or find it at your preferred ebook retailer

 

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Excerpt: The Spartan by Charles Purcell

Posted May 13, 2014 by Momentum

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To celebrate the release of The Spartan, we’re pleased to give you a sample of this enthralling military thriller.

Chapter 1

The General was delighted to hear that the Spartan was dead. So much so that when a clued-up flunky from the US Army had told him the arrogant bastard had been killed in Kandahar on a black op, he’d immediately given his apologies to the Joint Chiefs of Staff gathering he was entertaining in Washington, boarded the first military flight to Afghanistan, crammed in with sweaty grunts on yet another plane to Kandahar’s main US hospital, and marched down the halls filled with the dying and wounded in search of the Spartan’s corpse. If there was one person whose death the General was willing to endure such indignities for it was the Spartan; the madman who had made a mockery of his command, the grain of sand in his eye, the black fly in his chardonnay.

Doctors, orderlies and wounded soldiers gave the tall fiftysomething general with graying hair a wide berth as he stormed down the hall. He was in full uniform. West Point ring on his finger. American flag pinned to his collar. Medals earned for everything except actual combat on his soft, white, hairless chest. He thought yet again of the Spartan’s silent scorn during years of special forces briefings, as if all the General’s years of service had been worthless because he’d never killed a man. Just given the order to do so.

“And now you’re dead,” the General mused happily as he approached the room where the Spartan had bled out, all attempts at resuscitation having failed. “So full of yourself. You thought you were better than me. A grunt judging a general. Fucker.”

The General actually smiled as he entered, in anticipation of seeing the lifeless Spartan under bloodied hospital sheets, tag around his toe. Perhaps he could even arrange for the Spartan’s corpse to go missing. Inconvenient things, sometimes living, sometimes dead, fell out of transport planes all the time. And the Spartan was nothing if not inconvenient. Hell, maybe he’d even have the Spartan “buried at sea” next to Osama bin Laden.

So it was with shock and bewilderment that he beheld the Spartan sitting upright in bed, his bare torso covered with old scars and fresh superficial wounds.  In his mid thirties, two hundred and fifty pounds of tight muscle, cobalt blue eyes, brown hair in a buzz cut, you could describe the Spartan in many ways. Maybe he looked like a younger, fitter Clint Eastwood. Or an Ultimate Fighting champion. But mostly he looked like someone who could fuck just about anyone up.

The Spartan belonged to the US military’s Tier 1 community. Masters of hand-to-hand and armed combat, they were the cream of the special forces, the tip of America’s spear, their identities top secret. The Spartan was among their best – was perhaps the best.

“Shit,” said the General, with deep  regret.

The hospital room was mostly bare. No iPods, no junk food, no TV. A duffel bag under the bed.  Gray Kevlar body armor on a chair. A uniform with the nametag “Spartan”, with the Medal of Honor pinned next to it. No doubt there was a gun somewhere.

“This is more disappointing than the final episode of The Sopranos,” the General said. “Seeing you here alive in your underoos.”

“Surprised?” the Spartan sneered in his deep voice. Without taking his eyes off him, the General grabbed a nearby metal chair and sat a suitable distance away, as you would with a rabid dog.

“I was told you’d bled out before they could operate,” offered the General. “That, to put it bluntly, you and your stupid head had been blown apart.”

“Just shrapnel wounds,” said the Spartan, staring at his visitor with disgust. “The al-Qaeda chief took most of the grenade blast in the cave complex. He blew himself up.” Through the window the sound of planes flying overhead came into the room, on their way to deliver freedom and democracy whether people liked it or not.

“The report said you found a Pakistani military adviser there beforehand,” the General said. “That you interrogated and then shot him.”

The Spartan flexed his huge hands, made to hold weapons. “He sold us out. The Pakistanis are playing their usual game, shaking down both sides.”

“They’re an important ally in the War on Terror.”

“Then they should decide whose side they’re on.”

“You don’t seem to give a damn that you might have caused an international incident,” said the General, shaking his head. “You never did appreciate politics.”

“I’m a soldier. I’m here to fight. I’m not here to build goodwill or roads or democracy.”

“You’re here to do whatever the corporation tells you to do,” said the General, pointing his finger at him. “You are our tool. We point, you shoot. Don’t forget it.”  He was sweating. The air-conditioning didn’t appear to be working. “So what’s your assessment of the situation here, if you’ll deign to give it? Should we pack up and go home?”

“No doubt if it was you out there, you’d surrender if it meant you could get a Starbucks in your village.”

“And I thought you didn’t have a sense of humor.”

“The Spartans had a sense of humour. It was dry and brutal, but they had one. But, to answer your question, we’re winning the battles. We own the night.”

“And the overall war?”

“I just hope the rear echelon motherfuckers back in Washington don’t throw in the towel before we’ve had time to finish the job.”

In the corridor outside, a hospital gurney raced past. Hurried footsteps followed. “IED victim,” said a voice.

“I heard from the radio chatter they’re afraid of you,” said the General. “The Taliban, I mean. You’ve racked up a lot of kills over here.”

The Spartan flashed back to those ancient faces, men of the mountains who refused to yield. Neither would he. “They know I won’t quit. And if they lie to me, I’ll be back for them.”

“Shit, I’m almost scared myself.”

“You are scared.”

A shiver of fear ran through the General. He’d forgotten how perceptive the Spartan could be. To mask his emotions, he picked up from the table a well-thumbed copy of Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War, the tale of the epic battle between the Athenians and the Spartans.

“Don’t tell me the ending. I’ll wait for the movie.”

“The Spartans won.” The Spartans; ancient warrior race, heroes of Thermopylae, scourge of the Persians.

 “Reading this instead of Hustler,” said the General, putting it down. “I’ve never heard of you having a woman. As far as I can tell, your only pleasure is war. Why do you bother living at all?”

The Spartan gave the General a thousand-yard stare, compressed to a few yards. “It’s a question of honor. You wouldn’t understand.”

“Honor … you talk of it when you don’t even call me sir.”

“Fuck you – sir.”

“No, fuck you!” the General raged, finally losing his shit. “Fuck you, you insolent bastard. You started this. If you had saluted me when we first met at Fort Invincible, we wouldn’t be here today. Christ, you should have been shitcanned right there and then. Unfortunately, somebody thought you were special.”

Lifelong grudges often begin over petty things. The douchebag neighbor who stole your parking space. The girlfriend who refused to give you a blowjob at the prom. The boss who refused to promote you. And the soldier who snubbed his alleged betters.

“I never saluted you because I could see right away what you were. A coward.”

The General flinched for a millisecond. “God knows what you are. A section eight case. Calling yourself ‘Spartan’ – you’re the only soldier who seems to think their call sign is a job description.” He laughed. “You never did tell anyone why you took up that name.”

“And I’m not going to,” growled the Spartan.  Then he exhaled, as if tired of talking. “I suppose you’re wondering why I called you here.”

The General laughed nervously. “You had no idea I’d come. How could you?”

“You’ve studied me, but I’ve studied you, too. Your weakness always was hubris. Just like the Persians.”

“This is the twenty-first century, you know.”

“I always figured that if a piece of shit like you could outwit me, I deserved to die. So, you were practice to me. But I made sure you got the news I was dead, so I could tell you that our training op is over.”

“What are you talking about now, madman?” asked the General testily.

“After hubris comes nemesis. I’m afraid I’m not going to have time to play with you anymore.”

 The Spartan reached under his pillow and pulled out his xiphos, a Spartan short sword. It looked sharp, deadly. Alarmed, the General wondered how many people had died by the anachronistic device. Who actually took the trouble to get close enough to stab someone with a sword when you could kill them from a mile away with a Barrett sniper rifle? Who did he think he was, Alexander the Great? It was Luddite insanity. Why not arm yourself with the jawbone of an ass, while you’re at it? The Taliban threatened to assassinate governors via text message these days, proving that even those ancient warriors had one foot in the modern world. But not this warrior.

The General suddenly regretted coming here alone. It had been foolish of him. Indulgent. “So you’ve got a shiv,” he said. “This isn’t show and tell. I’m not impressed.” The Spartan didn’t move. The tension was intolerable. “Don’t be a fucko. Put that away.” Still the Spartan did nothing. The General guessed his true intent. His mouth went dry from fear.

“You wouldn’t dare use that on me,” he somehow managed to say. “You’d be crucified. Finished!”

At last the Spartan tossed aside his sheet. “You’ve sent people to hinder, harass, discredit me – even arrange ‘accidents’ for me – for years. We’ve had some fun, but this game is over.”

“Sheath that sword, soldier – that’s an order!” the General blustered, getting out of his chair and backing away.

“You really should have stayed behind your desk, General.” Like a juggernaut, the Spartan jumped out of bed, landing on his bare feet with a thud. The General felt stunned, as if zapped by a million volts. He couldn’t believe that the Spartan didn’t give a shit about his rank or all his Pentagon connections. That his person wasn’t inviolate like that of some ancient Roman consul. That in this situation he was only as powerful as his personal physical prowess, which was piss poor.

He made a run for the door, reaching the cool metal handle just as the Spartan grabbed him in a headlock, sword still in his other hand. The General knew he was trapped. That he’d risked everything he had built during thirty treacherous years of army politics to come here.

“Help! Help!” Surely someone outside would come to his aid. It was a hospital. Terrified, he elbowed the Spartan in the sides. It was like striking ancient oak. The Spartan raised the sword, faint writing visible on its length in the light, its shadow falling across the General’s terrified face.

“So,” the Spartan almost whispered. “I’m going to start by cutting you … here.” The General screamed as the Spartan slowly, carefully, drew his xiphos across his  face. It cut deep and easily. Blood streamed down the General’s face. His legs thrashed underneath the Spartan, finding no solid ground.

“For sweet Mary’s sake!” the General yelled. “He’s killing me!” Sounds of commotion came from outside the door.

“No, I won’t finish you now,” vowed the Spartan into the General’s ear. “But every time you get in my way from here on, I’m going to cut you again. A different place each time. On the fourth cut, I will kill you. Tell anyone what I just said and you forfeit your life immediately.” Then the Spartan released his grip, opened the door and flung him out. The General collapsed on the ground in front of stunned orderlies and patients. A Pyscho shower scene in hospital. “But until then, get the fuck out of my room.”

“Dude, tango down!” exclaimed an excited young private in a wheelchair.

Hands went out to help the General. He waved them all away. Unsteadily, he got up, holding fingers to his face, finding it slick with blood. His anger overwhelmed his fear. The animal had dared cut him! “You’re dead, you stupid Neanderthal. Dead! I’ll bring the fucking wrath of god down on you!”

The Spartan regarded him coldly. “Until then, General.”

The Spartan returned to his room as the General regained some of his bluster,  screaming for a medic. He wouldn’t be appearing in the society pages any time soon with that face. But he’d come looking for revenge. He wouldn’t be able to live with the insult the Spartan had just inflicted.

And the Spartan would be ready.

Like what you read? The Spartan is available for purchase from all good ebook retailers and here.

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Excerpt: The White List by Nina D’Aleo

Posted May 2, 2014 by Mark

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Chapter 11 is watching you. 

Silver is an intelligence operative working for an agency that doesn’t officially exist—beyond any government and above the law. Chapter 11 is the kind of place a person can join but never leave. And it keeps a third of the world’s population under constant surveillance. At work. On the street. In their homes. 

Why? Because of Shaman syndrome. 

One in three people are born with Shaman syndrome, which endows them with abilities they cannot control and do not even know they have. It is Chapter 11’s responsibility to cap and surveil these walts—as they are known—to ensure their talents don’t turn ugly for the ordinary people around them. 

After Silver’s partner, Dark, is seriously injured by a walt, Silver is driven to investigate. What starts as a routine investigation isn’t as clear-cut as it seems, especially when she discovers there’s a price on her head. 

Chapter 11 might be watching the world, but it can’t see the division in its own ranks. Someone wants the white list—the list of every known walt that Chapter 11 has capped—but for what purpose? Silver needs to find out the secret behind Shaman syndrome, before it’s too late. 

Chapter 3

In this club, La Nox, the term exotic dancer didn’t quite cut it. Seriously I had to admire the athleticism of those girls. They were managing to maintain sexy while performing major feats of strength and acrobatics. They were flipping, jumping and kicking, dancing and sliding up and down poles that extended the full two stories of the club—all this while virtually nude. I had a mental flash of myself up on stage, out of breath and sweaty, mascara running and flab flying as I failed at cartwheels and fell into the crowd. Not a pretty sight. Maybe the imagery was overly self-critical. I did maintain a certain level of fitness—it was necessary for the job—but even so, the usual extent of my nude escapades involved dashing from the bedroom to the shower and back and I couldn’t imagine that changing any time soon.

Not surprisingly Dark knew exactly where he was going, so I trailed him through the club, which was crowded with patrons both male and female. I spotted the bachelor party, now one of many, settling into a corner booth. Dark and I took a position by the bar where we could keep them in sight and wait for our chance. A topless waitress came to take our drink order. She recognized Dark and spoke to him by name. They exchanged niceties and, to my partner’s credit, he looked her in the face the entire time—which was surprisingly more difficult than it sounds. In most human cultures, staring directly into someone’s eyes while talking, other than in intimate situations, comes across as threatening or strange. Our eyes naturally wander, especially to anything unusual—like a gigantic pair of double-Gs covered only in body glitter. She tried to strike up a chat with me as well, but I gave closed answers and kept my arms by my sides—my Italian parentage tended to make me talk with my hands, and the last thing I needed tonight was to accidentally grope some unsuspecting exotic waitress mid-conversation about the sunny weather we were having. She left and Dark glanced at me and snorted.

“What?” I asked.

“Could you be any more uptight?” he asked.

“We’re not on vacation here,” I told him defensively. “We are actually working.”

He shook his head and muttered, “Another arrest by the fun police.”

I gritted my teeth. I hated when he called me the fun police. It made me feel like he was some young springbuck cavorting through the fields of fun while I was the grumpy frumpy killjoy chasing him down with an oversized net, trying to foil all his good times. In reality, whatever Dark did with his time off was his business. Whether he felt as if we were married or not the fact remained we weren’t. I didn’t keep tabs on him and I didn’t try to curtail his fun. I could be fun and spontaneous too … At least I kept telling myself that and hoping it was true.

It was something I questioned, though: how did people see me? How did I want to be seen? How did I even see myself? Who was I? I’d heard that whoever we really are emerges when we’re all alone, unobserved. Well, when I was alone … I was usually asleep. It was the only chance I got. I wasn’t sure what that said about me, but now wasn’t really the time for self-reflection. Now we were working.

A group of lap dancers had surrounded our bachelor party. One girl stood gyrating in front of the walt. He was rocking, but not in time with the music or with the hypnotic circles of her hips. He was moved by an even more savage, primordial drive, one that was about to rip through his reasoning and send him green. The dancer would be the first one hit. I imagined pieces of sequined thong, silicone and lower intestine splattered across the walls and this time the imagery was not exaggerated.

“Bos, we’ve got to move now.” I said.

“No shit,” he muttered back. “I’ll try to get him to the bathroom,” I said.

“I don’t think there’s time,” Dark replied.

The walt staggered to his feet, knocking the dancer out of the way. Dark reached into his jacket and drew his primary weapon. If the walt lost it before we could get him, there would be no other choice but to put him down—not a concept that sat well with me. As a partnership, we’d never had a fatality before and that wasn’t pure luck. I put myself on the line every time to stop a shoot. The put-downs were murder—no matter how you dressed it up. Not that I had ever mentioned this conviction even to my partner, let alone any of our colleagues.

I moved past Dark, weaving a quick path through the crowd. I reached the walt and, with a glance to make sure none of his friends were looking, took hold of his wrist and directed him away from the dancers. He resisted, pulling back sharply. His otherwise handsome features twisted with anger and confusion. I tried to give him a reassuring smile and spoke close to his ear, “It’s okay, buddy. I know you’re not feeling great. Come with me, I’ll get you some help.”

I touched his hand lightly, slipping a sedation patch onto his skin. I noticed the spot from the laser sight of Dark’s weapon vibrating on the side of his head. I tried again to lead him away. This time, the sedative working fast in his system, he followed with minimal struggle. I took him down a crowded hall toward the women’s bathroom.

In most clubs on a busy night, the line to the ladies’ room would be a mile long, but here, with women guests the minority, it was inhabited by only two other girls. They were dressed in super short dresses and heavily inebriated. They were hugging each other and singing loudly into the mirror, using their tiny shiny purses as microphones. Their ankle-breaking high heels slipped around on the tiles. They cheered as we entered and both tried to high-five me on their way out, missing completely. One slapped my shoulder and the other lost her feet and fell over—legs in the air, flashing her underwear to the world. She lay where she’d fallen, paralyzed by hysterical fits of laughter. Her friend joined her on the floor and the two of them rolled around wetting themselves with the hilarity of it. The scene didn’t look quite so riotous from where I was standing, but I’d had my fair share of drunk and disorderly nights in my younger days so I really couldn’t judge.

I managed to shuffle the blitzed duo gently out of the bathroom and close the door on them. I moved the walt into a cubicle and sat him down on the toilet. I turned and locked the door, but as I turned back, it happened. He gasped. His pupils went from pinpoint to fully dilated in one second. All his muscles tightened. The veins in his neck bulged. I only had time to duck as he lunged at me, taking a swing that ripped the cubicle door off its hinges and sent it flying into the bathroom. It hit the mirror with so much force the glass exploded. I twisted and lunged backward, trying to get out of his way, but the walt caught me with an upper cut to the stomach. My ballistic vest absorbed the impact, but it still knocked the air out of me. I landed sprawled on the tiles and the walt rushed me. Completely disoriented by his condition, he misjudged the distance between us and smashed into the wall instead with a brutal whack that rattled my teeth and broke a row of tiles.

He reeled around, blood streaming down his face. He tried to charge again and toppled sideways, taking out a sink. It shattered to the floor and water gushed from the fractured pipes. I took the chance and leaped at him. I caught him around the middle and crash tackled him to the ground. I tried to pin him, but I may as well have been wrestling a rhinoceros. He flipped up with so much force we hit the ceiling and crashed back down to the tiles. His body mostly broke my fall, but then he was on me, his fingers clenched into claws, reaching for my neck. I went for my TRANQ gun.

The bathroom door flew open. Dark charged in with his weapon drawn and took aim at the walt. The young guy broke for the window, smashing through the glass and a good part of the wall. Dark and I both cursed and rushed for the damage. We looked out and saw the walt crashing down the fire escape. He found his balance and jumped from the structure down to the alleyway—a good twenty-five feet below. He landed on his feet running. We scrambled out onto the metal steps and flew down after him. We reached the alley and sprinted toward his fleeing shadow.

“No good,” Dark yelled out to me. “He’s heading for the road.”

We couldn’t allow the walt to cause a crash. Dark pulled up and dropped to one knee. He took aim at our walt’s back. I kept running, drawing my TRANQ and firing before he could get a round off. The dart struck dead on, into the back of the guy’s neck. He ran at least another two yards with enough sedative in him to drop an elephant, and then the effects hit him and he stopped. He didn’t fall, which would have been normal: he just froze. We ran the distance and as soon as we got to him, Dark threw the stocks around the walt’s arms and locked him down. We were literally five steps from the end of the alley, where pavement met a busy inner-city road. A constant stream of headlights passed before us. Our walt was shaking.

Tears shimmered on his cheeks. He looked young and scared, confused. He was struggling to whisper, his lips reluctant to move, “I’m sorry. I want to go home. Where’s Mom? Where’s Dad?” Then he bucked back and shouted. “Fuck off!”

Dark fought to hold him. I ripped a syringe off my duty belt and pumped another dose of paralytic into the guy’s neck. His eyes rolled back and his head hit his chest.

Dark and I exchanged a glance. This one was a real fighter. He stumbled to one side and we struggled to right him. His wallet tumbled out onto the ground. I crouched to pick it up, while Dark started walking the walt back down the alley. A honking horn drew my attention and I glanced up. Across the street, I saw the silhouette of a man in black standing, watching. I couldn’t see if his eyes were on me or not, but somehow I felt they were. A bus crossed in front of my line of sight and when it passed the person was gone. I dismissed him as a random passer-by.

“Sil,” Dark called for me from halfway down the alley. I shoved the walt’s wallet into my pocket and rushed to catch up. Dark was already on his cell phone calling in the catch and ordering a clean-up crew for the bathroom and a tech to check for CCTV footage. For sure Chapter 11 surveillance would have recorded the catch—including my use of the TRANQ, which was, as I well knew, against Chapter policy. Since every person is different we couldn’t be sure of the exact amount of drug needed to bring down any one individual, so we couldn’t be sure that one hit would be enough and that wasn’t good enough as far as the Chapter were concerned: regulations were to go straight to lethal force. Even so I’d always preferred to answer to my superiors than to my conscience.

“I’ll lay the cover for the friends,” I told Dark as reached the parking lot.

“No, you take him. I know who to ask,” he said. He handed over the shackled man and flipped me his keys. I headed for the car while he jogged back up to the entrance of the club. We needed to get someone to tell the friends the cover story—that our walt had decided to call it a day and had caught a cab home to sleep it off. I assumed Dark would ask one of the girls he knew in there to pass on the message. I looked around for witnesses to refute the story, but there were only a few knots of people up near the entrance of the club and no one was looking. The clean-up crew would double-check that.

I reached Dark’s car and directed the walt into the caged-off back seat.

“Watch your head, buddy,” I said, helping him to lower in. I locked the door and went around to the passenger side. The adrenalin was draining fast from my body, leaving my limbs weak and heavy. It hadn’t exactly been a flawless catch, but the job was done. Zero fatalities.

 9781760081218

 The White List by Nina D’Aleo is available from May 13 where all good ebooks are sold and is available for preorder now

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Excerpt: Troll Mountain: Episode III by Matthew Reilly

Posted April 23, 2014 by Mark

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A dauntless young hero.

An army of brutal monsters.

An impossible quest 

Journey to the mountain …

Raf’s mission to Troll Mountain is in ruins. 

Having penetrated the mountain, only to be caught in the act of stealing the fabled elixir, Raf must now face the trolls’ champion in a fight to the death.

As the trolls gather to watch the fight, Raf watches them closely. If he can somehow survive this fight, his mission may not be over.

The final battle for Troll Mountain is about to begin. 

IN THIS, THE LAST OF THREE SERIALIZED EPISODES, MATTHEW REILLY TAKES YOU ON HIS WILDEST RIDE YET: A HEADLONG QUEST TO THE DARK HEART OF THE KINGDOM OF THE TROLLS.

 

The trolls poured up and out of the lone tunnel that granted access to the Winter Throne Hall, fanning out as they did so, rushing eagerly to the eastern side of the great open space so as to get the best view of the Fighting Platform.

Storm clouds rumbled overhead. Rain was coming.

The king and his entourage mounted the winter throne while Raf and Grondo marched across the open-air hall, through the ranks of trolls, to a plank-bridge leading to the Fighting Platform.

As Raf strode past all the trolls, they mocked him, spat at him, declared their eagerness to see his blood.

But then, fleetingly, Raf noticed two things: first, he snatched a glimpse of one of Ko’s distinctive little green barrels over by the north-western column. And second, he saw Düm.

The gentle troll was lingering at the very back of the crowd of trolls, over by the single entrance cut into the floor of the Winter Throne Hall, unnoticed by any of the others.

Before he could see any more of Düm, Raf was shoved across the plank-bridge onto the Fighting Platform. Grondo followed behind him.

The two hobgoblin jesters were already on the wooden stage, pantomiming a death match. One stabbed the other with an imaginary sword and the second one fell, clutching his chest in mock agony. The two jesters scampered off the platform as Raf and Grondo stepped onto it.

The plank was removed and Raf suddenly found himself standing alone with the troll champion out on the round wooden stage, high above the eastern slope of the mountain. The stage was perfectly circular, perhaps twenty feet across, and made of thick wooden planks.

By the gods, Raf thought, now he really hoped he had interpreted Ko correctly.

The sight of the barrel made him think that perhaps he had, but then again, he might have gotten it all terribly, terribly wrong—

“Choose your weapons!” a troll who appeared to be some kind of referee called.

“My war hammer!” called Grondo.

The crowd cheered.

“And you, thief? Choose your weapon, for what it will be worth!”

The trolls laughed.

Raf thought for a moment. “My axe.”

A massive hammer was thrown onto the platform. A troll was sent below to the cell area where Raf’s axe had been sequestered.

As he waited for its delivery, Raf’s eyes scanned the Fighting Platform desperately. He was sure Ko had been directing him to challenge the king, knowing that such a challenge could not be refused, and thus bring himself here—although perhaps Ko hadn’t known about the king’s special privilege. And Raf had seen the barrel up here and Düm …

But why? What was Ko’s plan? The Fighting Platform was completely bare. There was absolutely nothing here that Raf could use.

He looked up and saw that, owing to the way the platform extended out from the Winter Throne Hall, he could see the crenellated battlement ringing the summit of Troll Mountain, complete with its troll-added horns.

If he could fling a rope over those horns, he supposed, his current position offered a viable route up to the Supreme Watchtower, but such a throw was well beyond his range and right now, with the imposing figure of Grondo looming before him, finding a rope and throwing it was the last thing he could do.

At that moment, Raf’s axe was tossed onto the Fighting Platform and the scene was set.

The massed trolls leaned forward, leering, salivating. The Troll King grinned nastily. His son, Turv, did the same; his wedding day would be remembered for a long, long time.

Raf’s heart sank.

He’d clearly got Ko’s plan wrong, and now he would have to face the trolls’ best fighter in mortal combat.

Grondo towered over him, impossibly huge, his tusks rising from hairy tufts on his jaws, one of his great gray fists gripping his enormous hammer.

Raf just stood there, puny and thin, holding his home-made double-bladed axe. The axe hardly looked capable of nicking Grondo’s thick hide.

Then it started raining. Thick pelting drops. The trolls didn’t even notice. Rain didn’t bother trolls.

“We don’t have to do this, you know,” Raf said to the champion. “We don’t have to fight.”

Grondo smirked. “Fool. You do not realize. This fight has already begun.”

*

Grondo lunged.

Raf dived. And the hammer came down on the stage with a resounding boom. So powerful was the blow, splinters flew up from the slats.

Grondo swung again, chasing after Raf, but Raf dived clear again.

Boom, boom, boom!

Duck, roll, dive.

The rain kept pouring. Lightning flashed.

The crowd cheered at every swing.

*

As the trolls roared at the action on the Fighting Platform, at the very back of the crowd, Düm came alongside the she-troll, Graia.

“Graia,” he whispered. “If you want to leave Troll Mountain forever, come with me now.”

Without a word, Graia took Düm’s hand and followed him down the stairs, away from the Winter Throne Hall.

A short way down, in a tight bottleneck of a tunnel, with the echoes of the crowd far above them, Düm did a strange thing: he closed the thick stone door—the only point of entry or exit to the Winter Throne Hall—and then he reinforced it with a pair of heavy stone sleds parked nearby.

Almost the whole troll community was up on the winter hall watching the fight … and he had just trapped them all up there.

*

Somehow, Raf was still alive, dodging and evading Grondo’s mighty swipes, slipping and sliding in the rain.

The rain didn’t help Grondo’s footwork and at one point, Raf managed to run under one of the big troll’s lusty blows and swing at him with his little lightweight axe—and he drew blood from the troll!

The axe cut Grondo’s skin under the armpit, in one of the few places where a troll’s skin was soft and sensitive.

Grondo froze.

The crowd gasped.

The big champion touched the nick, and saw his own blood on his fingertip. He glared balefully at Raf.

He wasn’t hurt. He was angry.

Grondo roared, a great bellow, and, raising his hammer above his head, came charging at Raf.

Hammer blows rained down around the darting figure of Raf and had any single one of them hit, he would have been knocked senseless and done for.

Grondo’s charge was fast and furious and relentless and it afforded Raf no chance of reply. Indeed, it took all his nimbleness to evade the flurry of blows—until suddenly, Grondo anticipated one of his moves and trapped him at the edge of the stage.

Grondo had him.

Raf had nowhere to go. He stood there exposed, soaked by the rain and lit by the lightning storm.

The big troll swung the final blow of this match and Raf went flailing off the edge of the platform.

 

Troll Mountain: Episode III is available now for $1.99 where all good ebooks are sold

 

 

 

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Excerpt: Troll Mountain: Episode II by Matthew Reilly

Posted April 17, 2014 by Mark

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A dauntless young hero.

An army of brutal monsters.

An impossible quest.

 

Journey to the mountain … 

The only unguarded entrance to Troll Mountain is the abandoned kingdom of the hobgoblins. 

With no other route available to them, Raf and his newfound friends, Ko and Düm, enter the dark, dank world of the hobgoblins. 

But is it truly abandoned?

IN THIS, THE SECOND OF THREE SERIALIZED EPISODES, MATTHEW REILLY TAKES YOU ON HIS WILDEST RIDE YET: A HEADLONG QUEST TO THE DARK HEART OF THE KINGDOM OF THE TROLLS.

Chapter 10

The realm of the hobgoblins was a dank collection of dark tunnels and immense stone caves, all cut out of the living rock. Exposed sections of a strange rust-colored stone could be seen in its walls. These sections were framed by long-abandoned scaffolds and ladders.

“What is this strange stone?” Raf asked, touching it.

Ko said, “This ‘kingdom,’ it would appear, was actually once a mine. Similar mines were common in my homeland, for that substance you see is raw iron which, when smelted in a furnace, can be used to make very effective weapons.”

“I have heard tales of an ancient tribe of men who lived in these lands,” Raf said. “They were clever men, and they wore shiny armor and bronze helmets with red plumes. But they left when their home city, across the sea to the south, was attacked, and they never returned.”

A short way down the first tunnel, Raf’s group came to a broad pit in the floor, spanning the entire width of the passageway. At the base of the pit were a dozen upwardly pointed wooden spikes. In among the spikes, Raf saw the remains of a troll, skewered by no fewer than five of the deadly stakes.

The troll, he noticed, was not very decomposed. “That corpse hasn’t been here long,” he said.

“A rogue troll seeking shelter, I would guess,” Ko said.

“It must have entered from the other side,” Raf said, “for the spider web sealing our entrance was undisturbed.”

Düm just nodded in agreement, saying nothing.

Two small stepping stones protruded from the right-hand wall of the pit: the only way across.

Raf and Ko skipped easily across the stepping stones, but Düm needed the help of a rope to get across. It was a simple but effective trap to stop a troll from entering the cave system.

They passed through two massive mine-caves, each connected by long straight tunnels that contained other traps. Grim hobgoblin decorations flanked the walls: more troll skulls, and some bear and wolf skulls.

In the first of those caves, Düm found a large wooden sledgehammer near some other mining tools. For a human, it was a large thing, to be wielded with both hands in a slinging over-the-shoulder motion, but Düm held it lightly in one hand.

Flanking the entrance to the next tunnel were the rotting corpses of not one but two trolls: they were both affixed to the wall with their heads sagging and their arms spread wide, their giant hands nailed to the stone wall.

Raf stared up at the dead trolls in disgust.

Düm just averted his gaze.

“Hobgoblins did this?” Raf gasped.

“Yes,” Ko said softly.

They passed between the two hideously displayed trolls, entering the narrow stone tunnel beyond them.

“Why would the hobgoblins leave this place?” Raf asked. “It gives ample shelter and good defense against the trolls.”

Ko said, “Hobgoblins are most unpleasant creatures, not just because of their cunning but because they only consume. They do not build anything. They do not domesticate animals or plants. They do not renew. Hobgoblins live in places built by others and they simply consume what is available for as long as it is available. Then they move on to another place and slowly destroy it. Hobgoblins cannot see beyond the needs of the present moment. They stayed here for as long as it sustained them and then moved on.”

“Are trolls any different?”

“Oh, trolls are much smarter,” Ko said. “Why, this is the cause of your current dilemma. The trolls deduced that they needed to secure their food and water supply for the future. They did this by damming the river and essentially enslaving the human tribes downstream. They give you just enough water to survive and you give them food. This enforced tribute feeds the trolls with minimal labor on their part. In this regard, the troll is much smarter than the hobgoblin.”

They edged further down the tunnel.

“What exactly is a hobgoblin?” Raf asked.

Ko shrugged. “Hobgoblins are smaller than men, but they speak like men. They have hands and feet just like ours but their skin is coarser, leathery, more bristled. If they were not once men then maybe they were once apes—it is as if they are an animal caught halfway between the two, for they share features of both.”

As Ko said this, Raf realized that the tunnel through which they were walking was becoming oddly warm and humid.

They came to a doorway and stepped out into an enormous cavern.

Raf stopped at the sight that met him.

A broad lake of steaming water filled the floor of the mighty space. Raf had seen thermal springs before, but not an entire subterranean lake.

A low wooden bridge spanned the hot lake, giving access to a most unusual feature that dominated the far wall of the massive cavern: a railless stone path cut into the rock wall itself. It switched back and forth up the three-hundred-foot wall, steadily ascending. Any slip or stumble would result in a fall into the steaming pool at its base. Bored into the huge rock wall from the path were many man-sized mini-tunnels.

At two places up the path’s length there were ancient guardhouses with drawbridges folding down from them that spanned gaps in the vertiginous walkway. At the moment, the lower of the two drawbridges was folded down and open, while the upper one was folded up, barring passage across its void.

At the very top of the path, Raf saw an imposing stone doorway like the one through which they had entered the old mine: the exit.

Raf stared up in awe at the incredible feat of engineering.

Beside him, Ko wasn’t looking at it at all. He was peering at something on the ground nearby. He dropped to his knees to inspect it. “Oh, dear, this is not good.”

Düm saw what Ko was examining and sniffed with distaste. “Droppings…”

“These are mountain wolf droppings,” Ko said. “And they are fresh.” He drew his sword with a sharp zing.

“Mountain wolves…” Raf said. He was already gripping his flint knife.

Düm hefted his sledgehammer.

Ko said, “Something did move in after the hobgoblins abandoned this place…”

A sudden cackle of laughter echoed out from the upper reaches of the cave.

Raf spun.

Düm turned.

“I seeeeeee you!” a thin reedy voice called from the darkness.

“I see you, too!” another voice called from another direction.

“I see you three!” a third voice called.

Raf spun again, eyes scanning the cavern, but he saw nothing, no movement.

“You shouldn’t have come here,” a lower voice said from somewhere much closer. “Because now you must die.”

Raf’s heart was pounding as he turned once more to face the tunnel through which they had come and abruptly found himself staring into the eyes of a hobgoblin holding a sword.

The sword came rushing at Raf’s face.

 

Troll Mountain: Episode II is available now for $1.99 where all good ebooks are sold

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Excerpt: Fury: Episode 1 by Charlotte McConaghy

Posted March 14, 2014 by Mark

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In the tradition of Divergent comes a novel about a world where negative emotions are stolen … and only those with fury can stand up and fight.
Eighteen-year-old Josephine Luquet wakes up naked and covered in blood on the same day every year—when the blood moon is full. Josi has not responded to the “Cure”—an immunization against anger mandated by the government—and believes herself to be a threat to others.
Then she meets Luke. Luke has had the Cure but seems different than the other “drones”—and he’s dead set on helping Josi discover the truth about herself before the next blood moon.
But time is running out. Is Luke willing to risk his life to be near her? Does he truly understand what violence she is capable of?
Raw and full of passion, Fury is a story of love in a dystopian world, and how much we are willing to forgive in the struggle to remember our humanity.
This is a novella-length episode of Fury. It will continue with Episode 2 on 18 March. 

 

 

Chapter One

September 11th, 2065

Josephine

I am a flame of fury. The last flickering flame in a world long since burned out. I have rage threaded through my skin, whispering against my ears, tied tightly around each one of my bones. My eyes, one brown and one blue, leak with it.

Most of the time this frightens me.

But sometimes I like it.

*

“When did it happen to you?”

He appears to be reading something but I figured out a while ago that he sits there and stares at a blank clipboard. God only knows why. Maybe he thinks it makes him seem smarter, or more aloof. I roll my eyes and turn them to the sky outside the window. A hint of dark gray is edging across the blue, and I can feel the static of a rising storm across my skin. I imagine being inside it, right in the heart of it, wild and out of control, but I only imagine this for the briefest of moments, because otherwise it starts to hurt too much.

“What?” Anthony asks. I know full well that he heard me perfectly the first time, so I don’t repeat myself. After a pause he says, “Nine years ago.”

“So you were … what—twelve?”

“Hilarious.”

“How old are you?” I sit up and face him.

“None of your business.”

“You’re in a friendly mood today. Aren’t you supposed to support every word I say?”

He shoots me a look that says at this point I couldn’t care less what I’m supposed to be doing with you. He is so tired. I can see it in his blue eyes and in the set of his mouth. I feel a moment of pity but it doesn’t last long because he wrecks it by saying, “Have you been taking your pills?”

“No. I seduced all the nurses on staff so that they skip me when it’s time for rounds.”

He actually looks alarmed, which is amusing.

“Yes, I take them. And they don’t do anything, like I’ve told you a thousand times.”

“That remains to be seen,” he says sternly. What a dick.

“You don’t look that much older than me, but you act like you’re eighty, Doc.”

He looks at me blankly and I grin. Antagonising Anthony Harwood is undoubtedly the only fun I have left in my life.

“Let’s talk about Luke,” he suggests.

The grin is wiped clean from my face. “No.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t want to.”

“Why don’t you want to?”

I lick my lips and then meet his eyes. “For the same reason I’ve requested a new therapist. You don’t understand, Anthony. You don’t understand anything.”

He looks pale as he glances down at his clipboard, as though searching for an answer. He’s on the small side of medium height and medium build, and he’s pretty much the definition of the word average. Except he does have nice eyes when he smiles. I only worked that out recently, because he’s smiled all of three times in the entire year. His dark hair is prematurely graying at the temples, which he probably loves. Despite this, I would still put him at about twenty-seven, twenty-eight.

“What don’t I understand, Josephine?” he asks me.

“You’re a drone. You have no concept of humanity anymore—which is why you’re no good to me as a therapist, and why the very thought of talking to you about something as private as Luke makes my skin crawl.”

He sighs. “Who else do you think you’ll get?” He folds his arms, starting to get impatient. “There’s no one left who hasn’t been cured. Everyone is a ‘drone’.”

Ain’t that the truth.

I sink back against the comfy window seat, depressed.

“The only people left who feel anger are the Bloods.”

“And me, apparently.”

“Allegedly,” he reminds me pointedly.

“Yeah, allegedly. So to sum up—Luke isn’t on the agenda, today or any day.”

“Is the real reason because you made him up?”

“Oh, Lord.” I laugh. “We really are back to Basic Therapy 101. Imaginary friends. You’ve outdone yourself today, Doc. Did you buy your degree off the net?”

“Luke has never come to visit you and yet you say he loves you.”

“I would never expect you to understand the simple concept of complexity,” I say sweetly.

“You speak in paradoxes.”

“And it feels wonderful.” I smile. “If only you could appreciate it.”

He frowns and drops his clipboard onto the desk in what seems a rather petty manner to me. There are still forty-five minutes of our session to go, but he has that stubborn look on his face that tells me he won’t be the first to break the silence.

We’ve been doing this—sitting here in this room—every day for almost an entire year. Each time he diagnoses me with some new disorder, I get to try a new type of pill that inevitably fails, and we have to go back to the drawing board. I don’t mind the drugs that make me sleepy, because they make the time pass faster, but I do not enjoy the hallucinogens. Not. At. All. I’d sooner gouge my eyes out than go through those kinds of visions again. I get enough of them in my sleep as it is.

At the moment Anthony is convinced I have schizophrenia.

I would love to have schizophrenia. I’d love it.

Because the truth—a truth I’ve been trying to convince Anthony of for almost twelve months—is much worse.

“So nine years ago, eh?” I murmur, running my fingers across the glass of the window. It’s not cold enough outside for there to be any condensation—in fact the air is warm and humid. The wind is picking up, but I don’t want to close the window—fresh air is a rarity in this place, and it’s one of the only things that makes me feel halfway sane. “Do you remember your life before you were cured?”

“Of course.”

“Is it … different?”

He tilts his head and then gives a sigh that says fine, I’ll indulge you because I’m infinitely patient and good and you are just a silly, erratic child I feel sorry for. “Yes, it’s different. It’s like there’s a wall in my head between then and now. Everything on the far side of the wall is wild, chaotic and exhausting. Everything here is calm, beautiful and healthy.”

I get what he’s saying. I understand the ache of the before, because I’ve never had the after. I’ve lived every moment of my life within the full spectrum of human emotion, and he’s right—it is exhausting. But I can’t imagine ever being tired enough of life to want to cut half of it away.

“Were you happy to get the injection?” I press.

He grimaces uncomfortably, taking a pen and pretending to write in his notepad. I stole a look at that pad once and it was covered in doodles of birds. I wait for him to quit stalling and answer, but he remains silent.

“Some people look forward to it, don’t they?”

I shudder.

“A great deal of people.” Anthony sits forward and searches my face. “Josephine, why are you so against the cure? It helps people. It makes things safer and happier.”

The futility of trying to explain something to the brainwashed is not lost on me. I have tried many times and it hasn’t made a lick of difference. But I simply cannot bring myself to give up.

“My fury belongs to me, and only me,” I say as calmly as I can manage. “No one can take it from me—no one has a right to it.”

“Even if it hurts people?”

“Tell me how I’m supposed to have any sense of who I am if I don’t have access to how I feel? It’s like punishing a crime before it’s even been committed—like punishing the idea of a crime. Where does our freedom go then? We all have a right to be as angry as we want, just as we have a right to be trusted.”

“Give me an example.”

Is he serious? “All right. I’m pretty damn angry with you right now, but I’m not going to lunge across the room and strangle you to death. I have restraint, and a logical awareness of consequences.”

“That remains to be seen.”

“Oh, shut up.”

“Why do you want to be angry?” Anthony asks. “It doesn’t help anyone.”

“Want has nothing to do with anything. Have you heard the rumours, Doc?”

“What rumours?”

I smile coldly. “Don’t play dumb. Even I’ve heard them and I’m locked in an asylum. They’ve cured the human population of anger, and everyone knows that soon sadness will be next. Sadness. Can you imagine never being able to feel sad? What value will happiness have? And what will be next? Fear? Jealousy? Vanity? We’ll cure ourselves of our humanity.”

“Perhaps you should try to calm down, Josephine.”

“It’s called passion. When was the last time you felt passionate about anything?”

“I don’t know—there are pills for it.”

It takes me a moment to realize that he’s made a joke. My jaw drops open in astonishment. The corners of his mouth twitch and I laugh abruptly. Our eyes meet and a moment later he gains control of himself, looking embarrassed at his outrageous behavior. He will probably go home tonight and school himself not to be so wild. Wind is starting to keen through the trees outside. It sounds like screaming and makes the hairs on my arms stand on end. I am reminded of the nightmare in my head, replaying itself over and over and over.

“Do you know what the date is?” I ask softly without looking at him.

“I do.”

“Have you made any preparations?”

“What preparations do you suggest I make, Josephine?”

“I’ve told you a thousand times, and I’ve watched you pretend to write it all down a thousand times. I’m tired of repeating myself.”

“Hallelujah,” he says.

My jaw clenches and it hurts to breathe; I can feel the tide creeping up. I am too tired to say another word. We sit together and yet not together—I haven’t had a ‘together’ in a year. Instead I’ve had lots and lots of ‘alones’. We sit alone together until the hour runs out, and then he stands and leaves the room before me.

He has never left the room before me. It’s nothing, nothing at all, and yet it leaves me feeling lost. Even though I hate routine, in this place I need it.

Doyle comes to collect me, taking hold of my arm with that alarmingly tight grip of his. I don’t know how long I will have to be here without misbehaving before he will loosen that grip. He is unlike any of the other nurses in the facility. His face is scarred, his nose crooked as though it has been broken and, if I didn’t know better, I would think he was an angry man. He doesn’t want to be here—that much is obvious, and I always wonder why he is.

Doyle jerks me out of Anthony’s office and starts walking me down the halls. The lights in this building are fluorescent and flicker just enough to make you go steadily insane, if you aren’t already.

Screams follow us down the halls. Screams and sobs and mutters. They make me cold, all the way through, even now. Even after a year.

As we reach my room I flash Doyle a smile. “Thanks, Doyle. One of these days you and I are going to have a really meaningful conversation, you’ll see.”

Doyle, true to fashion, doesn’t respond. He throws me into my room roughly and locks the door behind me. I turn and inspect the view, hoping that maybe my eyes will spot something new this time. What a surprise: they don’t.

There is my empty steel desk, bolted to the ground. There is my tiny steel bed, bolted to the ground. There is my uncomfortable steel chair, bolted to the ground. And there is my Maria, mute and asleep and stationary like she’s bolted to the ground. I also have four windowless walls, and one large calendar, so large that I suspect it may have been made for the vision impaired. I hate that calendar as much as I need it.

Circled in black is one date. A date that falls in this month. And this week.

Time is running out.

It won’t be me who suffers under the blood moon.

It will be Maria. And Doyle. And Anthony. And every other person in the lunatic asylum on top of the hill.

September 12th, 2065

Anthony

I don’t know how it happened, but at some point in the last year my life has become about Josephine Luquet. I can hate her for it, but I can’t seem to do a thing to change it. Every hour of the day is like torture, except for her hour. Josephine’s hour.

As she sits there, within the tiny room but miles away from me, I can feel my body start to tremble as though it wants to be angry with her but can’t remember how.

Anger is a foreign concept to me. I am still frustrated—endlessly, it sometimes seems—and I am still impatient, but these feelings are dull, shades of what they once were.

I want to make Josephine listen to me but doing that may as well be like trying to force her into a tiny box she is far too big to fit within.

I don’t know why Josephine is how she is. Why she wasn’t cured like everyone else in the world was. And I don’t know why she has such violent delusions.

The only thing I do know is that she is one of a kind. An anomaly. A monster with strange blue and brown eyes, and a smile too cold for words.

Yesterday’s session was bad. There’s no getting around it. I failed to contain her anger, which is my main job, and I failed to convince her to speak of Luke. But last night an idea occurred to me. Today I am keen to broach it.

“Why hasn’t he called you?” I ask as she enters my office.

She blinks, her eyes dripping with scorn. I can’t bear that scorn. It’s the worst thing about her.

Or maybe it’s the worst thing about me, that she has so much to be scornful of.

“Well hello to you too.”

“Don’t avoid the question, Josephine.”

“Oh, Anthony,” she sighs. “You suck the fun right out of this.”

I don’t know who told her that therapy for a mental illness is supposed to be fun, but I shrug apologetically anyway.

“I don’t know why he hasn’t called.”

“Have you tried to contact him?”

Her eyebrows arch. “Would that be via morse code, or with a homing pigeon?”

“Don’t they give you phone privileges?”

“Don’t who give me phone privileges?” she snaps. “Doyle, the barrel-of-laughs nurse who manhandles me constantly? Maria, my semi-comatose roommate? Or my ever-distracted, uninterested therapist who dashes from the room the second our hour is finished? Because the three of you are just about the only people I have contact with.”

I find myself speechless. Distracted? Uninterested? I must be a better actor than I thought, because those are two of the last things I am with her. I belatedly realize how sad her life must be. She hasn’t spoken to anyone except two virtual mutes and me all year. “All right, how about I organize for you to make a phone call?”

She doesn’t say anything, and to my surprise I see a faint pink blush creep up her neck. She crosses the room and sinks into her usual spot, twisting her face to the window as she always does. The rain has been falling all day and the sky is streaked through with white veins of lightning.

“What’s wrong? Don’t you want to call him?”

“I don’t … know how to reach him. His old number was disconnected.”

“I could find a new one for you.”

“I don’t even know where he is anymore.”

“Where did he work?”

“He was a state prosecutor.” Josephine pauses, frowning. “Still is, I guess. I forget that the world keeps turning beyond these walls.”

“There you go. Shouldn’t be too hard to find a contact number somewhere.”

Her face lights up and for a moment she is utterly unburdened by the heavy dark veil that usually clouds her.

“On one condition.”

Josephine’s shoulders slump and she rolls her eyes in that way of hers. “I should have known. You really don’t give a shit about me.”

“Of course I do,” I say firmly, but she won’t meet my eyes.

“What’s the condition then?”

“Tell me about Luke. All of it, every single detail from the time you met up until the day you arrived here.”

Her strange eyes flash dangerously. “What happened to privacy, Doc?”

“That doesn’t exist anymore. Not for you, and not in this room.”

“Why?” she demands. “Who gets to decide that?”

“I do, because you’ve tried to kill yourself three times.”

There is a slow-burning silence. A clap of thunder finds the right moment to startle us both.

I stand up from my desk, but can’t manage to move from behind it. It feels safe behind the desk. “Josephine,” I murmur. “I need to figure out what’s inside you.”

The truth is I already know—an abused child can respond to being hurt in a number of different ways, and Josephine’s hallucinations are a perfect example of that. But I need her to speak about it. She never speaks, not in the ways I want her to. Without words we’ll get nowhere together.

She smiles and there’s ice in my veins. “You could have just asked, Doc. It’s simple. There’s an inferno.”

September 17th, 2063

Josephine

I’m on fire; everything in my entire body feels alight. Even though my ears are pounding, I need noise, loud enough to drown out the screaming I hear when I blink, and I need darkness dark enough to black out every horrific image I imagine myself to have committed last night. I go into the first place I find, the pounding bass reverberating all the way out into the street. I push my way through a loud crowd, feeling every accidental touch against my skin. I manage to find a seat on a couch and slump down onto it, closing my eyes. Nobody comes near me—nobody even looks in my direction. I’m not sure why this is, but it’s always been the same. No matter where I go or what I do, I’m ignored.

I sit for a while and sink into the noise around me. Pain lances through every muscle, every bone. My mind whirls, entranced, dazed. The music helps to keep me here in the room, as does eavesdropping on other people’s conversations. There are two girls behind me who won’t stop talking about the benefits of wearing primer under their foundation. “I’d die without it,” and “Where do you get yours from?” and “Thank god they make travel-sized bottles!” I had thought primer was something you painted a house with, but I’ve clearly been labouring under a misapprehension and might die unless I get myself some fast.

“Hello, beautiful.”

It’s a deep, rough voice. I don’t look at him straight away. Instead I roll my eyes. I don’t get hit on much, but when I do it pisses me off. Opening with “hello, beautiful” is uninspired. At best.

“Hello,” I start to say, but as I turn I forget the second half of the word. He’s looking at me. Like, really looking at me. And he’s beautiful. Despite the fact that he looks like he might not have slept in a month, he has incredibly bright green eyes. There are dark bags beneath them, and they’re bloodshot as hell, but damn they’re green. He has short dark hair and stubble over his square jaw, and even as he sits there, completely still, there is an undeniable sense of movement in his long limbs. I can’t work it out, but he’s sort of … animal.

In all my life I can’t remember seeing anyone with a gaze like his.

“It’s rude to eavesdrop,” he points out, cocking his head to listen to the girls.

“It’s rude to point out when something’s rude,” I mumble.

“What’s primer?” he asks me while wincing at a shriek of their laughter.

“No idea.”

He gives up on listening to the girls’ growing hysteria and looks at me directly. “You looked really lonely.”

I pull myself together and give him a bleak stare. “How do I look now?”

He smiles slowly. “You look good.”

Yes, he’s gorgeous, and yes, he’s got possibly the most delicious smile I’ve ever seen, but in one line he’s just reverted into every idiot drone who doesn’t have a clue. I feel so tired—and angry, too angry. I want to tear this whole place to pieces so they won’t all be so happy. Their lives are just … easy. This man sitting before me is easy. I want to run and scream and cry and shut it all out, except that then I would be left alone with the blood moon.

“Just go away,” I sigh. I regret coming here. It was stupid. I am almost too tired to get up and leave. I consider what might happen if I curl up on this couch and go to sleep. Would they leave me here? I can’t imagine anyone touching me for long enough to move me. I can’t imagine anyone even realizing that I am here.

“I can’t,” the man says. At a guess he’s early twenties. He’s a boy, really. Or, he’d look like a boy if he weren’t wearing that expression. He would have received the cure at fifteen, like everyone else, which means he didn’t get much time. He didn’t get many years of freedom before they stole his personality.

“What do you mean you can’t?”

He shrugs. “I mean I can’t before I make sure you’re all right.”

I eye him suspiciously.

“So are you?” he presses.

“I’m fine.”

We stare at each other. “You can toddle off and feel really good about yourself now,” I murmur coldly.

“I’m not trying to pick you up,” he says.

“I didn’t say you were.”

“You’re the saddest girl I’ve ever seen.”

“So why didn’t you run the other way?”

“Because if sadness goes next, I want to remember what it looks like.”

And just like that, I am made of sand and sinking through the cracks in the floor. I have an absurd desire to have his skin against mine, to see what it feels like, to see if it burns as hot as mine does. I am a long way from words, but he doesn’t grow awkward, he simply waits for me to come back.

“What does sadness look like?” I eventually ask in a soft, rasping voice.

He tilts his head and eyes me critically. “It’s cold blue and warm brown. It’s blurry edges and stillness. It’s unnerving,” he says, “and beautiful.”

After a while he adds, “I’m Luke,” and holds out a hand for me to shake. I don’t, because there is still blood on mine, and even though he won’t be able to see it, I’ll know it’s there. I haven’t touched or been touched by anyone in years, except for the occasional brushing of a shoulder.

“Josephine Luquet.”

“All right, Miss Luquet. If I asked you why you’re so sad, would I be the first?”

“That’s presumptuous.”

“Probably. Would I be?”

I shrug, unwilling to admit that he would be. “Are you going to ask me?”

“Yes. But not tonight. Right now I’m going to walk you home because you look like one touch might send you to dust. Come on.”

I follow him outside, blinking to rid myself of the haze I’m trapped in. He feels like a dream. My teeth ache. And my fingernails.

He lights a cigarette and I look at him properly. In the spill of light from inside he looks pale. His white t-shirt is dirty and full of holes, as are his jeans, which sit low on his hips. He’s wearing ratty old flip-flops, and I can’t believe he got into the club dressed like that. On the other hand, he is undeniably attractive, and men probably spend hours trying to make themselves look as careless as Luke does. He’s tall and lean like he might be a little underweight, but he’s no less muscled for it. The strength through his arms and chest is real—it’s the type that comes from hard work, not from muscle enhancers.

His cigarette smoke makes me feel like I might throw up. My head is pounding and I realize I must get home immediately or I’ll be in danger of collapsing in the gutter with a strange and eloquent man named Luke for company. I take off down the street and he follows, uninvited.

“Should we get a cab?” he asks.

I ignore him. He doesn’t actually think he’s coming home with me, does he? I stumble slightly and he’s there to catch me by the elbow, but his hands on me cause my heart to lurch with fear and I pull away. This is too strange. No one even looks at me, let alone… this. “Don’t touch me.”

“Sorry. You were about to eat concrete.”

“Are you following me?”

“I’m escorting you home, like a gentleman.”

It’s becoming too much. I can’t breathe. Just last night I … Oh, Jesus, I can’t face that—not yet. But there was a last night, and now I can’t have … this. I can’t have him looking at me and saying nice things to me and being a gentleman. I’m not a girl who understands those things—not today, on the 17th. Today I am a wraith. A shadow.

I am covered in the blood of the moon, and I’m the only one left who can feel angry about it.

We reach my block of apartments and I face him. No way is he finding out which number I live in. “Okay. Bye.”

“Josephine,” Luke says quickly. The moonlight makes his eyes look greener.

“What?”

“It’ll be all right.”

I smile, and even I can feel the chill of it. “You’re a silly boy.”

He searches my face with a look of his own. I suspect that among people who know him this look must be famous. It is very assured and direct. It says you don’t frighten me because I am more than I look. “I’ll be back in the morning.” I think this is supposed to be a promise, but it feels more like a threat.

“No you won’t.”

“I have a question to ask.”

“Luke.” I lick my lips and try to give my next words weight. “If you come back and ask that question, I don’t know why but I think I might answer it. And the truth is, if that happens, we’re both going to regret it.”

Luke

I watch her go into her apartment with the hopeless awareness that my life has changed. She’s different—so alarmingly different that I knew it the first time I caught sight of her. Under the calm, she’s rabid. And I’ve been waiting a long time to find someone like her.

The world is a sea of ghosts. When the plague annihilated us there were riots in the streets. Buildings came down in a flood of dry rubble. A fury made of fear was born, and the world grew dangerous. Nine years ago the government—every government—built walls around the remaining cities and started administering the cures. No more anger for humanity. No more aggression. The fight went out of us; we were malleable, controllable drones. But with one emotion gone, the other parts of us grew skewed and out of shape. Now everything is distorted—our perceptions of the world are damaged. A woman cheats on her husband and he can’t manage to care. A house is burgled and the occupants think it’s funny. A child is lost and nobody understands the importance of this except the Bloods. These aren’t rational responses—they are the reactions of damaged psyches, brains that are scrambling to connect pieces of pictures that have been pulled apart.

It is rumored that in three years the first of the sadness cures are scheduled to be administered. And what will the world be made of then?

Society has gone mad. I’ve been suffocating—until tonight, until she looked at me. I’m not sure what she is, or what she means, but I must ask that question, even if it will make her hate me forever.

 

Fury: Book One of The Cure: Episode One is available now

Episode Two is available March 18

Episode Three is available March 25

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Excerpt: Kill Zone by Harry Ledowsky

Posted March 13, 2014 by Mark

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A nuclear device the size of a briefcase has been developed in Pakistan. The scientist  responsible has disappeared with it. The CIA believes the target is on US soil.
When the disappearance of the miniaturized nuclear weapon is uncovered a covert division of the CIA sends Ryan Nash, a major in the 82nd Airborne, to Pakistan. His mission is simple: assassinate the rogue physicist before the drop-off to a fundamentalist Islamic cleric can occur in the North-West Frontier Province.
But the mission is not as simple as it seems.
The CIA’s budget is being slashed in the wake of the disastrous war in Iraq, and the covert division is being shut down. The deputy director of the CIA, Conrad Lawrence, wants to stop the mission, and is willing to go to any lengths to achieve maximum deniability.
Will the team be able to stop the weapon getting to the United States? How far is Lawrence willing to go to stop the mission? Is the target really what it seems? Nash and his team must race against the clock to stop the terrorists and uncover the corruption at the heart of the CIA in this high-voltage military thriller…

 

“ETA three minutes,” said the Blackhawk pilot through the microphone.

All eleven men from the 82nd Airborne Division began to systematically check their gear, weaponry, and ammunition. The M4 carbines, with their attached M203 grenade launchers, were readied. The night-vision goggles attached to their helmets were pushed out of the way and their flak jackets, designed to protect them from shrapnel and light arms fire, adjusted and pulled tight. It was a ritual they’d performed dozens of times before. Rations wouldn’t be needed this time; it was going to be a short operation.

Major Ryan Nash checked the lipstick camera attached to his Kevlar helmet. This would send live pictures of the mission via satellite to their command post in Jalalabad.

He and his men were on their way to recover the last of the five Navy SEALs killed in Kunar. The bodies of the other four had been recovered before the initial rescue mission had to be aborted. Earlier a helicopter that was attempting to recover the body came under heavy Taliban fire from a strongly fortified cave high above the dried riverbed, where the body of this SEAL still lay, and was forced to abandon the rescue. Nash was determined that this wasn’t going to happen again.

The fallen SEAL was coming home.

The Blackhawk roared just ten feet above the barren terrain as it raced toward their target. Banking to starboard, it dropped to just above the sandy surface of the riverbed’s winding path and charged along it. Suddenly the Blackhawk turned a bend in the river and came to a hover, hanging in space like a huge insect. From its doorway an M60 air-cooled fifty-caliber machine gun exploded angrily to life.

One of the aircrew rained five hundred and fifty shots per minute of hot lead onto the granite clifftop and the heavily fortified cave only three hundred meters away. The empty cartridge cases and links spewed into the canvas ejection-control bag to stop them being flung into the path of the rotor blades or turbine-engine intake.

As the Taliban ran for cover near the cave’s mouth, pieces of rock, shrapnel, and dirt exploded like bombs all around them.

Just below the Blackhawk and several meters ahead of it the body of the Navy SEAL could be seen wedged between some boulders on the edge of the riverbank. Clouds of dust, as fine as talcum powder, swirled about as the helicopter dropped from the sky and bounced on the uneven terrain on the edge of the riverbed. The doors rumbled open.

“Go! Go! Go!” Nash screamed as he leaped from the doorway, followed by seven of his men. As they clambered across the rocks, the fine dust and sand blew over them, covering them in a deathly red mask.

“Rodriguez! Johnson! Recover the body,” Nash barked.

The two men hurried toward the fallen SEAL.

Suddenly the persistent and unique sound of AK-47s cut through the air, biting into the earth and ricocheting off the rocks around them, followed by the unyielding fire from a heavy machine gun.

The Blackhawk leaped back into the sky to avoid the relentless fire from the mouth of the cave, retreating a few hundred meters further and firing brutally toward the cave and its militia.

“Get some cover, over there!” roared Nash as he and the rest of his men raced over a landscape that was totally devoid of grass, trees, or vegetation of any kind. The rocks and pebbles, as hard as iron and as sharp as razors, cut into their leather boots and rolled beneath their feet as they scrambled for cover.

It was as if they had landed on the surface of the moon.

To his right he could see that Rodriguez and Johnson had reached the SEAL and were lifting him into the green rubberized body bag. Even over the din of the fight and the helicopter noise he imagined he could hear the sound of the zipper closing.

Raising his binoculars, Nash looked at the cliff face and studied the cave at the top. At its entrance, protected by the hedge of boulders, a band of five or six Taliban was firing down on them. Given that the SEAL commander had reported around twenty, the rest must have fled or were hiding deeper in the cave somewhere, he thought. Four of the Taliban had established a defensive position at the cave’s mouth and were enthusiastically firing the heavy machine gun.

“Kelly!” he called.

“Yes, sir.”

“Take them out!”

Kelly nodded to Jacobs and Bennett. They armed the M203 grenade launchers attached to their carbines and fired. The rocket-propelled grenades exploded in front of the cave between its mouth and the gun emplacement. Two bodies flew high into the air like bolts of cloth and dropped out of sight.

They waited for some returning fire. There wasn’t any.

Pausing to assess the situation, Nash peered through his binoculars and then signaled his men to carefully and silently make their way up the stone path that snaked up the mountain. With their weapons readied, they edged in single file along the rocky and rough track that climbed toward the cave’s entrance.

Arriving at the cave’s mouth, they found three Taliban fighters dead: one slumped over the machine-gun position; the other two bent and twisted in the dust nearby.

“Bennett, Kelly, come with me,” said Nash as he raised his Beretta M9 automatic and made his way into the cave. Kelly followed with his favored weapon, a flamethrower, which was held firmly out in front of him.

Standing in the cave’s entrance, Nash was surprised at how large the inside was. A small oil lamp barely lit the interior, and seven bedrolls were on the floor. A satellite phone was sitting on a box of ammunition next to an assortment of papers and maps.

Nash signaled silently with his fingers. Bennett and Kelly moved to his left. The three of them crept further into the bowels of the cave complex, which split into two passages and disappeared into total blackness.

The remainder of Nash’s team took up defensive positions just inside the cave’s mouth, watching the terrain below for any sign that the Taliban or their reinforcements were returning.

As Nash, Bennett and Kelly edged their way silently down the main tunnel, a volley of nine-millimeter bullets flew out of the darkness and tore into Kelly. Instinctively he squeezed the trigger of his flamethrower. A dripping liquid flame, some twenty meters long, shot from its mouth and raced into the depths of the cave, setting everything in its path alight. As Kelly fell to the cave floor, a barrage of sickening screams came from the direction of the flames.

Crashing through the wall of fire, two Taliban, their clothes ablaze, raced toward them. Thrashing their arms about wildly, they were trying to beat out the flames that were consuming them.

Nash aimed and fired two shots. Both bullets hit the first of the Taliban squarely in the head, and it exploded like a ripe melon. Bennett fired his M4 carbine and the second Taliban crashed to the cave floor. The screaming stopped as the stench of burning flesh and rancid smoke began to fill the cave.

Nash leaned over Kelly. The first bullet hadn’t penetrated his flak jacket but the second had caught him in the side of the neck, where his carotid artery was vigorously pumping the life from him.

“Did I get him?” Kelly asked.

“You sure did—barbecued him good,” Nash replied.

Kelly smiled and then said, “I’m really cold, sir.”

“You’ll be fine,” said Nash, knowing full well that he wouldn’t be. “Get the medic in here!” he called to Bennett, who rushed from the cave toward the rest of the men.

Cradling Kelly in his arms and with his thumb pressed hard against the artery in his neck, Ryan Nash watched another of his men die.

Suddenly, through the smoke, Nash thought he heard a sound. He laid Kelly’s head gently onto the cave floor. Covered in blood and moving to his right, he stepped through the smoke and came face to face with another Taliban fighter. This one was armed with a knife.

Nash looked deep into the man’s black eyes. “A knife …?” he asked.

The Taliban didn’t utter a word. He simply smirked through a shaggy black beard and broken yellow teeth.

“Maybe some other time,” said Nash as he raised his Beretta and pulled the trigger. It didn’t fire. It was jammed. He pulled the slide back to try to free the shell, but the Taliban lunged forward, slashing at Nash with his blade.

Nash leaped to one side, dropped the Beretta onto the cave floor and pulled his Special Forces dagger from its sheath. With a twenty-two-centimeter blade of hardened blue steel it was sharp enough to shave with.

As his enemy lunged again, knife held high, Nash leaped to his right and grabbed the Taliban around the head and shoulders. The Taliban’s arm carrying the knife was now pointing straight up into the air and was pinned hard against the side of his head. Nash lifted him above the ground. The Taliban’s feet flayed about desperately. He was much smaller and lighter than Nash had expected.

“This is for Kelly,” he whispered as he slit the man’s throat to the spinal column and dropped him to the ground.

The blood gushed from his neck, a strange gurgling sound filling the silence of the cave as his life drained from him and raced across the rocky dirt floor.

Nash stepped back through the smoke and into the cave’s entrance, where the medic was crouched desperately over Kelly. Nash looked down and the medic simply shook his head. In the corner Bennett was busily collecting the papers and maps that had been left beside the bedrolls and satellite phone.

Bennett stopped and stared intently at the piece of paper in his hand. “Major, you’d better look at this.”

Kill Zone by Harry Ledowsky is available for $5.99 where all good ebooks are sold. Click here to purchase from your preferred ebook retailer

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Excerpt: 8 Hours to Die by JR Carroll

Posted February 18, 2014 by Mark

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Perfect isolation. No phones. No neighbors. No help. 
Ex-cop turned criminal lawyer Tim Fontaine and his wife Amy are heading for their weekender – a restored farmhouse in remote bushland known as Black Pig Bend.
But even before they’ve eaten dinner, three outlaw bikers arrive on the scene. Suddenly Tim’s house becomes a fortress. Who are these people? Why have they come? Who sent them?
As the lights go out and darkness descends, their idyllic world is transformed into a nightmare from which there is no waking up. Tim must grapple not just with formidable adversaries, but with unsettling questions relating to his own past, both as cop and lawyer, and even to his marriage.
But even if they survive this night against appalling odds, the ordeal is far from over. For when the past comes knocking, it will not be denied …

 The following excerpt takes place after Tim and Amy have reached their isolated cabin. Night has fallen, they’re having dinner, when there’s a sudden knock on the door…

Friday, 7.53pm

Tim had his hand on the door knob and had begun to turn it when a little voice kicked in: Danger, beware: sabre-toothed tigers out there. He opened it a crack, a bit more than that, glimpsed a tall figure standing there, face obscured, head ringed by the outside light. Maybe someone else behind him; Tim wasn’t sure.

‘Yes?’ he said.

‘Special delivery package for one Tim Fontaine,’ the man answered. ‘You Mr Fontaine?’

Tim was used to FedEx deliveries in his business life; they were a normal, everyday occurrence, but out here?

‘Depends,’ Tim said. ‘What’s it about?’

‘Guess,’ the man said. Tim saw his hand come out from behind his back; a weapon in it, he thought. He didn’t wait to find out. It all happened in a flash as he slammed the door hard in the man’s face even as he tried to shove a foot inside. Then Tim jumped to one side as a barrage of bullets ripped through the solid timber door amid ear-shattering screams from Amy, who was standing at the table. He heard a shattering of glass and swivelled to see she had dropped her wine glass on the floor.

‘Amy! Get down!’ he yelled. She seemed to be rooted to the spot, unable to move. He rushed to her side and pulled her to the dining room with him as more shots tore through the door. He gripped her wrist as splinters flew and the room began to smell of gunsmoke.

‘What is going on?’ she screamed. Through her wrist he could feel her trembling. They were standing pressed against the wall.

‘I don’t know!’ he said. ‘Some guy with a gun—I don’t know! Shit!

‘Mr Fontaine!’ a voice called from outside. ‘Come on, now. I have to deliver this package!’

‘Leave it there and fuck off!’ Tim shouted back, realising at once the absurdity of his riposte.

The man outside laughed—two men laughed; maybe three. Fuck. ‘Can’t do that, Mr Fontaine,’ came the answer. ‘Against company regulations. You have to sign for it, see. As evidence. I could lose my job.’

More laughter from outside. But at least they weren’t shooting—for the moment.

Tim said nothing in return. His mind was working fast. Thoughts collided, became chaotic as fear swamped his rational mind. He put an arm around Amy; her shoulders were shivering.

He looked at her scared face, then at the door, splinters of timber sticking out of it.

He had to get his shit together. This was suddenly a bad place.

‘You OK?’ he said, almost a whisper.

Amy gave a nod in return. But she wouldn’t look at him.

The man outside was yelling: ‘Give it up, mate. You can’t win this one.’

‘Who is he?’ Amy said.

‘I don’t know. No idea. Some rough-looking bastard, middle-aged, bikie gear.’

‘Bikie?’ she said. ‘What the bloody hell—’

‘No idea.’ He was trying to think of any connection he’d had with bikies. If he had bikies after him for some reason, they were in deep shit.

He turned his attention to the house. Tim had always been security conscious—had to be, both as cop and lawyer. His current home in Canberra was no fortress, but not too far off it: high brick fences, sophisticated alarm system, sensor lights. Here on the farm, which was unoccupied much of the time, he’d been more concerned about ferals or drifters breaking in. So he’d gone to considerable trouble with the door locks, and steel bars on the front windows.

There were two doors to the house—front and back. Both were made from heavy timber, not the cheap, off-the-rack stuff; both were fitted with multiple deadlocks set in steel plating. Since arriving they hadn’t gone out the back, so the security door was still locked.

Only two ways into the house—and only two out.

‘Mr Fontaine!’ the man outside shouted. ‘Come on, now. We need your cooperation.’ He then lowered his voice into a growl: ‘We can do this the easy way, or the hard way. Choice is yours.’

Tim was thinking about the windows. Windows were always a weak spot in any house. No need to smash through a door if you could force a window. These were all of the traditional farmhouse sash type. No large glass panels or floor-to-ceiling sliding doors. The windows all had locks fitted, but most of the frames wouldn’t budge anyway due to warping and numerous coats of paint over the decades. They were stuck fast. The kitchen and dining room windows were double sash, with small quarter panels in the upper half and a single pane below. Tim had never been able to raise or lower them. Plus, they were protected by steel bars set too close together for anyone to squeeze between, even if someone was prepared to smash the panes and try to wriggle through.

But—these were obviously dangerous and determined men. They had at least one gun. They were here on a mission. Maybe they had the tools to lever the bars off, or force them wider apart.

Somebody wants to get in badly enough, they will find a way in. Matter of when, not if.

 

Click here to purchase from your preferred ebook retailer

Not for the faint hearted” – Shane Maloney, author of the Murray Whelan series

8 Hours to Die scorches along relentlessly, displaying all of JR Carroll’s trademark thriller-writing skills: hard-edged prose, vivid characterisation, a strong sense of place and tense plotting.” – Garry Disher, author of the Wyatt series and the Challis & Destry series

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Excerpt: The Memory of Death: Death Works 4 by Trent Jamieson

Posted February 7, 2014 by Mark

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The Memory of Death: Death Works 4 is a novella set in Trent Jamieson’s Death Works universe. It’s available for $3.99 from 11 February 2014 where all good ebooks are sold.  

One

My head strikes the ground, hard, and I bite my cheek; taste blood, get a lungful of water and I’m jerked backwards.

I cough. Roll over, and my knees click as I stand: bone scraping bone. There’s colour. Stabbing light, lending a hangovery intensity to my headache. And then there’s something that I realise is air. Its touch is such an unfamiliar sensation. So damn soft.

I try for breath, cough and try again. And this time my lungs billow. I can breathe. Ha!

A wave knocks me forward again onto my knees, and my fingers dig into the ground. Sand. Beach. A kid laughs somewhere, or screams (laughter and screaming, I know them both, laughter and screaming, screaming and laughter), and I cough up my guts, which amounts to not much more than a thin trickle of grey spit.

I squint, now on all fours, and try to take everything in. There’s too much.

Too much light. Motion. The world’s grown big again.

Gulls wheel in the sky. Beautiful, but the daylight burns. I drop my gaze from the sky to the shore.

One parent drags a curious child away from me, the kid’s heels leaving long trails in the sand. And then the kid spits at me. You’d think something monstrous had risen from the waves – and maybe it has. I snap my eyes shut. All I can smell is the sea. My lips sting, they have cracks the size of canyons; I could slide my tongue into them, if I could move my tongue properly. I taste salt, and bile. Water strikes my shoulders, pushes me forward yet again. Last time, it dragged me away, and there’s no guarantee that it won’t change its mind.

I have to keep moving or the sea will yank me back. And I don’t want that. Not with everything in front of me.

I heave myself to my feet, open my eyes again and shade them with my wrinkled hands. Half the beach watches me like I’m some sort of cautionary tale. No one offers to help.

Why would they?

My coat, the one that once belonged to my father, is heavy against my shoulders: stiff as lead. Dad had passed the coat on to me as a boy, and how I had yearned to grow into it. I was all grown up and working as a Pomp before it really fit, and even then it never fit me well. The last time I’d worn this coat I was so much more. I was the Orcus Entire: the Hungry Death incarnate. I’d wielded the stone scythe Mog. Something I’m sure my father would never have suspected (nor dared hope) I’d achieve. Yeah, I’d not really shown much desire for an executive position at Mortmax Industries; actually I’d barely shown a desire to put in more than the minimal amount of work there. Nor would he have even begun to imagine that I’d use Mog to sever the head of his best friend, Morrigan – a man who had become a god.

I’d been on a beach then too. And afterwards I’d leant on that scythe, weary from battle, and realised that I’d won. We’d won: my Pomps and me. We’d defeated our ancient enemy, the Stirrers, and their dark god. I’d felt pretty good about it all. Hey, I’d just averted a Global Apocalypse. But it didn’t last.

When you’re Death you know nothing lasts. But I never expected to lose everything so damn quickly. That was then.

Where the hell am I? Actually, I’m not in Hell at all, unless they’ve spruced the place up an awful lot. Hell’s all red skies, a giant Moreton Bay fig and the spirits of the dead glowing blue and forlorn.

This beach isn’t the beach of that last battle. No, that was on the Gold Coast. Different time, different light. And I’d been dragged from that victory to the deep dark Hell of the Death of the Water. We’d made a deal, to save the world, and he’d been unbending in his part of it. Mog, my powers, my life: all of it gone. And the world moved on.

Where’s Lissa?

Of course she’s not here.

She wouldn’t be. She thinks I’m dead. I thought I was dead. And yet I’m standing here. Get Out of Hell Free. Except no one gets out of hell free.

I’d learnt that the hard way when I’d performed an Orpheus Manoeuvre, with the help of Charon, and brought Lissa back from the dead. It was almost our first date. Lissa had returned the favour. I’m sure no one has done that to me this time. My memories were of death, but nothing after. And now, this too-bright beach, I focus on my boots, the leather as cracked as my lips, but at least they don’t sear my eyes.

I stumble towards the shore, a few more shuffles, and pause. I get the feeling if I take another step, I’ll cross some threshold. The world seems to stop. Holds its breath with me. The water’s white around my boots.

‘Mr de Selby?’

I look up. A guy in a cheap grey suit, lips a thin slash across his face. Nose broken more than once. He’s dry, a metre from the foamy dregs of the waves, holding a towel over one arm. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be dry, and clean, and not crusted in salt.

‘Yes, yes.’ The words come thickly from a mouth still remembering how to shape them.

‘If you could just take a couple of steps forward, sir. Out of the water. I can’t help you, unless you get out of the water. I’ve no jurisdiction there.’

I blink.

He frowns. ‘The water, Mr de Selby.’

He’s right. I can’t stay here forever, and I’m not going back.

I take a few unsteady steps towards him. The waves suck at my boots.

There are too many gaps in my mind. Holes you could drive a ute through, while it’s doing donuts, wheels throwing up stinking smoke and further obscuring everything.

Then I’m out of the water, onto wet sand. A wave hisses away behind me. I half imagine I hear it call my name.

‘Close enough,’ the man says, yanking the coat from me; it drops to the beach with a slap, and I feel about ten kilos lighter. He drapes the towel over my shoulders. The humanity of that movement, the touch of another hand, makes me cry: a single sob that threatens to build to a weeping.

Until he presses the gun into my spine.

 

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Excerpt: Sly by Rick Feneley

Posted February 6, 2014 by Mark

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Sly by Rick Feneley is available for $4.99 from 11 February 2014 where all good ebooks are sold. 

1

Misconceptions

Tom ‘Sly’ Fox was eight years old when he told me the facts of life.

‘The man sticks his willy in the lady’s belly button and has a wee,’ he declared. ‘That’s how they have babies!’

I was shocked but not sceptical. Like everything Sly Fox told me, I trusted it implicitly. He was all-wise and I idolised him, this boy who was otherwise despised, scorned and ostracised; this motherless son of a son-of-a-bitch.

The nickname ‘Sly’ was seven generations old in the Fox family. It was first uttered with affection, later with disdain. Even the nuns at our school called Tom ‘Sly’. They thought the Foxes were sly. But I didn’t call him Sly. I called him Pup. To his dad and me, Tom Fox will be forever Pup.

It all comes back to me when I fly with the seagulls over Little Bulli, when I fly on the breath of a gracious wind, floating on the fragrance of our youth, the sweet-and-sour scent of forest gums and fishermen’s abandoned quarry. The seagulls curse me as they circle about my absurd, synthetic wings. They chorus the same profanity, over and again: fuuuuck! fuuuuck! fuuuuck! Often I join the chorus while I recall my childhood with Pup.

I can see us now, up on Bald Hill, the great northern headland over our seaside hometown. It was here, in 1971, that Pup enlightened me with his theory of procreation. ‘The Pissing in the Belly Button Theory’, he called it later, though not so much later, when he knew better. Much better.

Bald Hill was Pup’s favourite vantage point for important discussions. From here, we had a royal box seat over the town we loved and the people we loathed, all trapped between the Pacific Ocean and the escarpment, at the point where the range meets the sea cliffs of the northern Illawarra. It was from Bald Hill that Pup’s great-great-great-great grandfather, Jeremy Fox, surveyed his modest farm, the land he pioneered in 1821.

From Bald Hill, Pup and I would grow to feel empowered, stronger than the fools in the valley who could not see beyond it. But now, at eight years old, I felt dizzy and nauseous as I contemplated Pup’s unthinkable description of sex, as I imagined my willy being swallowed by a hungry, pouting navel.

‘But what if you don’t feel like a wee?’ I asked.

‘You can’t help it,’ Pup explained. ‘You just have to.’

‘Oh!’

So now I knew. Except …

‘What about Mary and Joseph?’

‘Nah,’ Pup assured me, ‘they didn’t have to. They had an immaculate contraption.’

‘That’s right.’

Usually, though, it was a case not of Pup misunderstanding but of his being misunderstood. Often I misunderstood him as much as anyone else. Just when I thought I was beginning to understand, at the age of seventeen, Pup deserted me. That I will never comprehend. And now, at twenty-one, I find myself abandoned once again.

When she walked out on me yesterday, she said, ‘It’s a shame I couldn’t get to know you.’

‘But we’ve been together two years,’ I protested.

It was the diary that did it. She found my diary. It wasn’t anything I wrote about her. That was the point: I hadn’t written a word about her. My first diary entry was February 5, 1969. The last was March 22, 1980. It was the chronicle of my childhood with Pup. The childhood is the greater part of any adult. She knew nothing of mine.

‘That’s the bottom line,’ she said. ‘You’re someone I met in a book.’

And then she was gone. And now I am alone again.

Who do I blame?

Pup? Maybe I should blame his great-great-great-great grandfather. It was Jeremy’s diary, more than one hundred and fifty years old, that inspired me to write in the first place, at six years of age – that precious tome of Jeremy’s, still rotting and mouldering on the Fox bookshelf, every word embellished by the very decay of its pages, yellow and brittle. Some pages were destroyed, some partly incinerated, in the 1905 bushfires. The tales became all the more tantalising as we tried to guess the missing words.

That’s what I feel I must do now: fill in the missing words. Not to Jeremy’s story but to my own, and to Pup’s. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of every word. It’s just the way I remember it, which is all that matters now, I suppose.

The Foxes were hated in Little Bulli. This had more to do with what the locals didn’t know than what they did. And it had a lot to do with events that happened before I arrived in town, back when Pup’s mum was still around and when his dad had both his legs. And it goes back many more years. It involves Pup’s ancestors. It involves their ghosts.

 

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