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Available Now - The Leviathan Chronicle: Genesis

It's here at last. Currently available on Amazon through its Kindle and CreateSpate platforms, The Leviathan Chronicle: Genesis is a ...

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Author Trap

You've heard of traps in general? Maybe you've heard of fox traps, and man traps? But have you heard of author traps? You haven't? They're typically known by other names, including ""vanity publishers", "money sinks", and other more colourful terms that I won't sully your eyes with on this website.

I bring this up because I've had to be wary of such things. New writers are always susceptible to this. The "lure of the shortcut", as I remember a Dragon Age game referring to the concept of Blood Magic. But it's no fantasy. That lure is real, but while fantasy is able to paint such things with big and clear warning signs, real life isn't so forgiving. I think one of the best ways I've seen concerning agents it summed up in relatively polite language is on Erica Verrillo's blog;

And one more word - to the not-so-wise. There are a few unscrupulous people out there who claim to be agents, but who are really out to ensnare writers who are desperate to publish. Do NOT under any circumstances pay an "agent" to read your work, or to edit it. Do NOT get sucked into having your work crowdfunded, or placed before "beta readers." [...] You've worked hard on your book. It deserves good representation. (Source)
And another quote for publishers specifically.

Remember – legitimate publishers don’t need to advertise for authors, they already have a rich pile of pickings to go through, and the only time you should be asked for money is if you are self-publishing. And if your book really is that fantastic – someone will pick up the phone to talk to you. (Source)

I probably couldn't have put it better myself in either instance. Unfortunately, I've had reason to be wary of these kinds of operations. But fortunately, they haven't cost me anything yet. My first taste of this was a publisher who didn't say anything about cost on their website. They responded positively to my submission, and sent me a contract. As I read through it, I saw that they were asking upwards of £300 for their services. I politely rejected their offer, and kept my eyes open after that.

A different type of "scam" are marketing websites such as "Publishing Push", which for a "modest fee", would promote self-published works. A different yet similar thing was something posted in a comment on one of my posts, claiming to monitor which Amazon tags. Their lowest quote was something over $240. I investigated the whole thing fully, as they weren't that upfront about the costs.

This whole post can be summed up in this sentence: The waters navigated by fledgling writers are full of sharks, so take care.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

The Fictional in Pursuit of the Autobiographical

Now we've got the Oscar Wilde paraphrase out the way, I'll get down to the subject of this week's post. Something that many authors have said is that when creating their stories, they look to real life for inspiration as much as other stories. And having recently experienced (and still experiencing) several different autobiographies, I have to agree. The following post will contain minor spoilers.

The first one that struck me was Wings On My Sleeve, written by Eric Melrose "Winkle" Brown. He was a Royal Navy test pilot who flew in every type of Allied aircraft and a few Axis planes during WW2, and was one of the early jet fighter pioneers. Wings On My Sleeve begins in the 1930s, and goes into detail about his war career. I also remember watching a television documentary from 2014, two years before he died. In it, he went over his career and war memories, including a candid view of Air Marshal Goering from when he helped interview him as part of the Nuremberg trials. To read a description of the book, you might hardly believe it. But it is the real life of a remarkable and admirable man, whose exploits -- I think -- put many another war veteran's in the shade.

The second notable non-fiction work is Just Williams, a radio-exclusive autobiography written and read by famous British comedian Kenneth Williams. Like with "Winkle" Brown, my experience with Williams's life is drawn from both Just Williams and interview clips from the less sensational retrospective TV programs. It's enlightening and hilarious, and some of the stories seem lifted straight out of a sitcom or sketch show. From the antics he heard of or was part of during Army service post-WW2 in the Far East, tales from his work in radio and theatre and television. One of the highlights of his theatre stories is an incident during a performance of Chekhov's The Seagull when he was Richard Burton's understudy. It is eye-opening and hilarious by turns.

The third and final example is something unique. Spike Milligan's wartime memoir Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall. Rather than a straight memoir, it mixes actual facts with anecdotes and the brand of surreal humour and asides Milligan became famous for through his work on The Goons and other shows. Once you get used to his pace and style, the actual facts are just as funny as his little interludes. While there are genuine dark moments (what else in a WW2 memoir), there are also descriptions of the hilarious life of a British soldier. From calamitous army exercises and setting up camps, to the nighttime athletics of soldiers with local lasses and necessary bouts of lunacy to preserve general sanity, you'd never believe things like this happened. But they did!

When listening to all these, I was being constantly inspired by create elements of these antics in my own stories. Whether an insertion into fantasy or sci-fi, or something realistic that's more along the lines of these memoirs, these stories show that nothing is beyond reality. It also shows that an author's undernourished imagination is nothing compared to life's infinite variety. This may be taken as an extension of the necessity of every author to read (or listen to) new and/or classic stories. But let me ask you; how many people really include non-fiction in that category of "things every author must read"?

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Available Now - The Leviathan Chronicle: Genesis

It's here at last. Currently available on Amazon through its Kindle and CreateSpate platforms, The Leviathan Chronicle: Genesis is a dark fantasy trip through a land of war and religious schism. Inspired by the history of the Crusades. Following characters from both sides of the conflict between the Seraphic Church and the people of Sur, this first part of the

1111 of the 11th Cycle. War has raged between the native people of Sur and the Crusaders of the Seraphic Church for over two centuries. The conflict is bloody, with victims on both sides. But a darker force waits behind the scenes, guiding the war for their own ends. The Seraphim, worshipped by the Church. The Powers, rebel artisans of the world. Those who wield “Concord”, the blessing of the Powers, have helped keep the Church at bay.

As the true enemy begins their endgame, three are chosen. Astarte, driven by vengeance. Mastema, the reluctant heir to Sur’s throne. Elathan, mourning his lost love. But there is another; Leviathan, a woman with strange gifts and a hidden agenda. What awaits at the end of this tortuous path? Powers That Be, grant safe passage.

From the author of Crystal and Sin and When Ai Met Yu, witness the dark secrets of this holy war.

If you like, please help support my platform by buying a copy for whatever platform your prefer. If you don't want to buy, then please share this post or the Amazon links among your network. The second volume, The Leviathan Chronicle: Revelation, is going to release later this year.

If you're unsure, please read the first three chapters that I've posted on this blog for any wanting to sample the book's opening drama.

Kindle links - (UK, USA)
Paperback links- (UK, USA)

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Preview - The Leviathan Chronicle; Chapter 3

The following is the complete third chapter of my upcoming novel The Leviathan Chronicle; Genesis. To see the first chapter, click this link. To see the second, check hereA ruler is put under pressure by his peers and his subordinates, and a dead man is given a second chance at life...

Chapter III
Black Fists, New Rebirth

26th August, Ramliah Fortress

In the days following the battle, the fortress was repaired and its civilian population – which had remained even in the face of siege – was evacuated. But rather than abandon Ramliah entirely, soldiers remained stationed against the possibility of another attack. Mastema also remained, and now stood atop the battlements to gaze across the battlefield. He felt sorrow for those who had died, but that sorrow extended beyond the reach it should have. It extended to the Crusaders who had fallen, and even the makers of the Machina forced to watch their creations felled. Yes, he felt sorrow. More than Astarte could ever feel.
Those passing below Mastema would see him as a supernatural tower of strength, someone apart from his fellow humans. Covered by a dark cloak, his gauntleted arms folded in contemplation, a fine black shirt covering his bulky form, dark trousers of tough material enclosing his legs, and sturdy leather boots. His face, worn and grim with black hair sweeping into multiple proto-horns, reinforced this image. The only thing not in keeping were his eyes: full of compassion and sadness as if they were a new pair unused to battle and hardship.
An approaching soldier saw this as she had always seen it. She saw the prince, the prince heard her and turned, and their eyes met.
Sire, an urgent message from Madailah. By hand from a Court courier.’
Mastama took the scroll handed to her. He opened it slowly and looked at its contents. With a grimace, he tore the paper into quarters and tossed it over the wall, the fragments carried away on the wind.
No reply.’
No reply!’ the ferocity of the prince’s words made the soldier stop any contradiction she might have voiced. ‘Send the courier back with that and that alone. We must ready our garrison for the next assault. What was the damage?’
A Machina damaged our Western wall. In addition to repairs, we will need to shore up the walls to prevent another such breach.’
I see. Anything else?’
Almost fifty of our soldiers were lost on the field. And I feel that, unless we bring in artillery, we will be unable to withstand another assault.’
What of the cave system?’
That is still clear. I can compile a more thorough report–’
A moment... We will make use of this courier who waits below. I will send messages to Madailah concerning the artillery. Meanwhile, you get the report on the troops together. I must learn of their morale.’
Understood, sire.’
Mastema jumped down from his perch and descended the stairway into the square below. The soldier returned to her duties, including passing on the prince’s orders and speaking with the courier. Mastema did not want to return to any duty, but to escape from the smell and – if possible – the sight of the battlefield beyond. He strode across the square, through a pair of stark gates and into the training yard. The soldiers were generally given their regular weapons training here, always keeping their minds and bodies sharp in the use of blades. But today, at this moment, only one person could be seen in the fenced-off arena.
Astarte was weaving her giant sword about her with deadly expertise, her face a mask of cold determination. Mastema waited on the edges, watching her with a neutral expression, as she weaved her longsword about her as if it were made of grass. She had always worked to wield that sword with such lightness, ever since walking solemnly into Madailah’s martial centre and demanding her right as a royal scion to full weapons training. Many strained joins and torn muscles later, she had mastered the weapon and now used it with pitiless force.
It was as these thoughts filled his mind that the voice came again. A voice from within, yet not his own. The voice of Orobas.
You sense it, do you not?’
Sense it?’
Yes. The new presence within her. The one that saved her life. Asmodeus.’
I thought her merely touched.’ he tapped his head to illustrate.
Do not jest. You saw it on the battlefield, the power that decimated the Crusader lines and enabled her to enact her fantasies of vengeance.’
Mastema looked. He again saw the slight change in aura that surrounded her, the power that flowed from her. He had seen it, and had been truly frightened by it. Anyone with that much power and that little mercy was to be feared rather than lauded for their actions. He had been lucky: Orobas granted power knowing the consequences, but other Powers were not as discriminating in their choices. Human history was littered with such power-mad monsters.
You use the sword well.’
Mastema’s words halted Astarte’s movements. She turned to look at him, then looked down at her weapon.
It is the only skill left to me. Aside from killing Crusaders. You know that.’
Need that preclude compliments?’
Mastema slowly moved into the training area. Astarte continued her training motions even as he continued to talk.
You move as if you were fighting for your life. But the gift you hold now should make such fervour unnecessary.’
It does not stop you.’
True. It does make me think twice about what I do with it. Such as who would benefit from or be harmed by it.’
Such talk is for those with the luxury of mercy.’
And you lack that “luxury”?’
Prince Mastema, my mercy withered and died with my home and family. I would ask that you leave this topic.’
As you wish.’
Astarte expected Mastema to go away, but he remained. An unpleasant smile came to Astarte’s lips, and she raised her sword towards him.
Do you wish to spar?’
No. I have no wish to fight with allies.’
But I do. How else will I know that my enemies are truly strong. Come, prepare yourself!’
Astarte stood ready. Sighing, Mastama raised his fists, and he felt Orobas’s borrowed energies form invisible shields around his limbs. Astarte ran a hand along her sword as if caressing a lover, then attacked with a yell. The strength behind her attacks made parrying difficult and risky, so Mastema instead dodged and skirted round her, waiting for her to tire. As they circled each other, the sunlight caught her beautifully-crafted blade, washed clean of blood and revealing the place where the ancestral runes of its owner had been chipped away.
Finally, Mastema grew tired of the onslaught, and summoning a ball of energy into his hands, he shot his arms forward as if driving a spear into an enemy. Astarte raised her sword in front of her as if to guard, but the energy struck the sword and threw her back off her feet. The sword was knocked from her hands, Mastema caught it, then thrust it forward until it nearly touched her nose. She glared up at her opponent, then smiled again.
You win. This round!’
A blast of force threw Mastema back, then Astarte kicked the sword from his hand and caught it, thrusting it towards him. She seemed to fly at him, continuing her thrust and forcing Mastema to retreat until he was backed against the boundary. A grin of satisfaction spread across her face as she held him at her mercy, the blade pushing gently into the flesh just beneath his jaw, marking the point where she could drive her sword directly into his windpipe.
I win. Sorry.’
By falsehood only.’
Falsehood is a skill in battle. Heard of the feint?’
A cowardly tactic.’
The prince’s expression curdled the air between them. Astarte slowly lowered her sword and turned, then had to swing round as Mastema pushed towards her for a second onslaught. On instinct, she brought the blade down towards him, but he stopped it in mid-air. They remained motionless, Astarte gripping the hilt of her sword while Mastema held its blade in check, a tiny trickle of blood running from the shallow cut in his palm along its gleaming edge. Astarte’s face crumpled into a look of frowning anger.
You think yourself stronger than I?’
Mastema shook his head. ‘No. Just better.’
Mastema slowly pushed the blade back and down against Astarte’s face, and its razor edge drew a slight speck of blood from beneath her eyebrow. Astarte backed away and looked down at the prince’s cut hands. She smirked, and went to where her sword’s swathing cloths rested. No sheath could hold it, so she simply wrapped it in clean or even scented cloth to prevent weathering, carrying it in her hand or tied to her back.
As you will it, oh mighty prince. May your line be long.’
And even as she bowed, she saw the verbal bolt hit home. That would always strike him, no matter how high he was riding or how resilient his armour was at any one minute. She moved away and out of the training area, then Mastema turned to look at a training dummy set up against the wall. Going to it, Mastema began punching and kicking it, slamming his limbs into it with all his strength. Soon, the wooden stake supporting the doll snapped, forcing him to move to the next one. As he broke the second dummy, a new figure appeared to watch the young prince’s frustrated exercises.
The man was approximately twice Mastema’s age, wearing fine if drab clothing that marked him as of a higher status than others within the fortress walls. He bore no staff or seal of office, but the marks upon his hands and the gleam in his eyes sorted him from his fellows. He slowly approached the agitated prince, moving as quietly as he could. When he was at a suitable distance, he coughed gently. The prince was in the middle of a leg swing, and the sound made him carry that swing round to where he thought the new arrival’s head would be. Upon seeing who it was, he lowered his leg and relaxed.
Ipos bowed with due deference. Anyone who had come in at that moment would have seen the stark contrast in their forms and mannerisms. The prince was strong and confident, filled with the vigour of youth. Ipos looked his age and dressed in a sagely fashion, but his face was sharp and his manner sported a confidence equal and opposite in nature to his prince’s. They remained in silence for a while, then Ipos looked at the broken training dummies, smiling in the way old people do when looking at the misdirected vigour of youth.
You appear to have felled your enemy, Sire.’
Mastema chuckled. ‘Their fault for creating inferior training dummies. But I am sure you did not come here to admire my strength, or comment on my temper. Was there something that you wanted?’
Ipos hesitated, and Mastema felt a dread come into him. Ipos’ following words were spoken with a kind of sorrowful tiredness.
The Ruling Ministers and Court wish to know what you intend to do now.’
Yes. Do. I have received a letter from their official spokesperson. A somewhat irate letter, I must say.’
Saying what exactly?’
You should know. You received it.’
I barely read a line before giving it to the winds. Give me its breviate.’
That,’ Ipos rolled his eyes slightly as if recalling the text in his hand, ‘you have been neglecting your duties as spouse to the keeper of the Sacred Flame. That as the only legitimate descendent of the last reigning Shah, you are risking your life in a foolish manner in continuing to fight with your soldiers on these battlefields–’ he broke off, ‘This is a translation as much as a breviate. I could go on forever about their euphemisms. It felt as if the letter did just that. How they can say so little with so many words is surely beyond mortal comprehension.’
Then do not say more. I know what the rest of such a message would say, and they know my reply.’
Yes. And I am sure they are in no mood to have their ancient ancestors insulted into rising from their graves. Holding Concord does not allow the free abuse of your peers by flouting tradition and throwing their carefully-worded entreaties back in their faces.’
Sometimes I wish I could.’
With any other member of his Court, the prince would have been more than sharp, but Ipos was not any Courtier. He was the closest thing to a father he had in his life. Just thinking this made his old wounds ache, wounds that would never fade. Wounds in his mind.
Then I take it you can write a reasonably courteous and obtuse reply to those doddering old alhamqaa.’
Ipos smiled. ‘You can depend upon it, Mastema. I will even omit your most apt description of them, desperate though I am to include it on my own account.’
Ipos left, and Mastema looked at the broken training dummies. He reached picked one up, then stopped and winced. It was a memory, the memory of a body coming close to him like that, that caused him to stop. Horrible feelings coursed through him, and he ran to the wall and punched hard. The stone shuddered and caved a little under his strength, and a rock splinter struck his cheek.
Quell your anger, son of Alastor.’
You dare to mention that name!’
What harm can you do me? And still your voice. None other can hear me but you, remember? Regardless of true knowledge, it is not comely to speak to thin air. I exist on a plain most humans cannot dream of.’
Except those you wish to use.’ Mastema’s voice was quieter, ‘How I ever fell for your silver tongue...’
I chose you to help you, and you showed your gratitude. And now, do you wish the Crusaders to take and pillage your lands? No. And I do not want their sponsors to have dominion over our world. We have a mutual interest.’
And I am the worse for it.’
If I had not needed your help, I would have left you weeping on that bed like the “toy” you were. I gave you the strength to take back your life and become a man. I expect some degree of loyalty as repayment.’
Mastema smirked. ‘Indeed. I will repay. I will drive the Crusaders from my land, even to the farthest reaches of the Western Sea.’
That is what I saw in you that day. A spirit that would not be broken. Take out your rage if you must, but perhaps using the wall is not the best use of the Black Fists’ time. You have cut your cheek.’
The voice faded. Mastema looked down at his hands. The “Black Fists”; that was what people called his hands out of earshot. Dark spectres of death that struck down all who stood against his people. On the battlefield, he was unstoppable, his strength and agility unmatched even by the nimblest soldier. But he was lost in the face of it, seeing his hands take life and become unstoppable after years of being powerless. As a tiny speck of blood dripped from cheek to palm, the aches came again and he slumped against the wall, feeling himself and grinding his teeth with shame.
Powers That Be,’ he muttered through his suppressed tears, ‘will I ever be free?’

1st September, Forsaken Graveyard

Where is he to be laid?’
Does not matter much. That one there.’
The two elderly women assigned to the disposal of invidious corpses, called caretakers by those in the know, handled Elathan’s naked body with uncharacteristic care. Even as they prepared to secure the shroud, the older of the two looked down at Elathan’s face.
A pity. He looks so handsome.’
The younger caretaker studied the dead man, and agreed. The red flush that had come to his face during death was gone, and despite a dry line of spittle at the corner of his mouth, only the deep-ridged mark around his neck and the welts on his limbs showed that he had not died in his sleep. The older caretaker brushed a lock of hair from the man’s face, then smiled and nodded.
Yes. Beauty is in all things. Even in death. That is the universal blessed gift of the Seraphim. A pity that, when life fades, it must rot into nothingness.’
And yet so it must, for the cycle of life to continue. So the Sinbearers and Saint Sophia say, and so I do believe.’
Indeed. So they say. So they say. But come, we must cover his face, and remain but charmed by his sad beauty.’
So it was done. The body was wrapped in a shroud, and the caretakers left it for the coming of the boatman and his assistants. They would take the body onto a boat and be carried via a secret tributary-turned-canal onto the river. When the boatman came, a man clothed in dark green who leaned on a gnarled walking stick, he motioned for his two assistants to pick up the body. It was the only one there today, and so was treated with more respect – maybe even ceremony – than was common. The body was carried along the short tunnel and placed in the boat, moored to shore and punt pole. The assistants clambered in forward, the boatman secured himself aft, then they cast off and the boatman began to punt along the hidden canal.
When they reached the river proper, the moon was hanging low in the sky, just poking its face above the ragged crests of the mountains. The water’s rumblings deadened any sound the punt pole made, and the relative peace of its movement made the scene both serene and sombre. The shrouded body seemed carried along in stately quiet, its bearers taking it to the mystical land of spirits that lay beyond the edge of the known world. But their ultimate destination was a mere two miles downstream, and the water’s speed meant that their journey took little more than twenty minutes. Their destination was a peninsula of land that had built up around a rocky promontory, a place where anonymous graves could be dug.
The two attendants used their oars to push the boat onto the peninsula. The river was wide and slow here, well away from the rapids downstream which whipped the calm waters into a stormy tempest before meeting the all-embracing ocean. Pulling the boat up on shore, the attendants picked up the body and followed the boatman to where a small black flag had been planted. Two spades were already placed there in readiness. The body was laid down, and the attendants began digging the grave. It was not deep – a mere three feet – but in this place very few would come scavenging. And if any did, none would see.
With the grave dug, the boatman signalled the attendants. Tossed into the grave, the body landed face up. As if to make sure the man was dead, the attendants first buried his covered face. When the grave was filled and firmed, they departed with tools and all. Nothing would mark the grave aside from slowly-emerging bones in years to come. But even as the boat departed, something else was approaching the peninsula from the top of the cliff which stopped all but the most determined of scavengers.
A subtle darkness in the air, so slight as to be nearly invisible, had pushed into existence there. It caused the slightest warping of the air, distorting any light falling on it. The will within that force looked upon the grave, and found its chosen target. In its eagerness, it momentarily showed its shape – a single inhuman being, neither human nor animal, neither temporal nor ethereal, neither living nor dead. After slithering down the cliff, it slid over to the grave, then reared up and dove into the dirt, sinking out of sight.
It soon found Elathan’s spirit, separating unwillingly from his corpse to enter the void, falling slowly towards the fathomless dark. In its own sight, the presence sensed his lingering fear of what lay beyond. It reached out, touched Elathan’s spirit. That spirit contorted, tried to speed its descent in vain. The presence searched the spirit’s memories, then summoned its chosen visage. The face it manifested gazed into the newcomer’s widening eyes, and if he could have fled, he would have. The presence spoke in a voice that was not of man or woman, but an unimaginable fusion of both.
Be not afraid, mortal. I come offering new life.’
Elathan shifted in the aether around him. ‘What are you?’
I have too many names to count, but only one true name that I shall share. I am Kimaris. Tell me, why have you died?’
Because...’ Elathan wanted to shield his face from that eyeless, formless gaze, ‘...because I was a spy for Sur. They knew, the Church knew, but they wanted me to give myself up. So they... they....’
If Elathan could have cried, he would have. Kimaris’s voice slid into his ears like warm oil.
I offer you life. Come. Form Concord, and be as a blade to smite your enemies, for as long as you are needed by me. Even when Concord is broken, you shall live. And perhaps find...’
Elathan tried to retreat, but Kimaris wrapped round him as the arms of a lover and would not let him go. The place where a face should have been began to manifest a solid form. As Elathan watched in terror, the face of his lover appeared there. Paimon, whole and unmarked, looked down at him, slid a hand across Elathan’s bared chest. The memories blinded Elathan’s senses.
Come.’ Kimaris’s voice came from behind the phantom’s closed lips, ‘Form Concord, and attain the gift you so wish to hold. The gift of revenge. A fair trade; your wish fulfilled in exchange for a transitory loyalty to my quest. Well?’
Part of Elathan wanted to tear himself away and dive into the void. Another wanted to accept, to kiss Paimon again even if it was just a palatable illusion created by a Power.
I...... Accept.’
Then speak your name, and receive your gift.’
I am Elathan Darius, son to Tannin Darius. Upon my name and the name of my mother, I submit to Concord.’
And I, the Power Kimaris, accept your submission and grant you my gift. Here now is your new name: Wadud.’
Before Elathan could react, Paimon’s face pushed close and kissed him, transporting him to a secret night of rapture never to return. It was then that he woke up.
The first sensation Elathan felt was a horrific shortness of breath, then the constriction of his shroud. He pushed his way up through the soil of his grave, then yanked his arms free of the bonds holding the shroud together and tore it away. He slumped forward, gasping for air, filling his collapsed lungs anew. After he had his breath back, he registered the soreness of his neck and throat, then the welts that even now faded from his wrists and legs. He felt his neck, now unblemished and intact. But this brought no joy.
The reason he had accepted death was to be with him. With Paimon. And now he was here, brought back from the void by a Power, given the ability to exact vengeance, and... Kneeling in his torn grave, naked beneath the moon, he fell onto his arms and sobbed bitterly, moaning Paimon’s name under his breath over and over. He also eventually realised that he wore no mask, and he instinctively reached to cover his face. But there was no-one to see him, so he allowed his hand to fall. He still needed clothes and a mask, and quickly.
He got up slowly and looked about him. The current was fast enough to carry even an experienced swimmer to their doom. The only way out of this place was to climb the cliff. Even as he thought this, a voice came from within him.
Yes. Climb, my wonderful partner in Concord. Climb, and free yourself of this life. In passing out of this land of death, you shall break the final chain binding you to your past, and begin your journey anew.’
He looked down at himself. ‘But I am naked. That climb... What it might do to...’
All newborns are naked. Now climb. Or would you sit upon that place until you are found and hanged again?’
Elathan paused, breathing hard. Finally, he began walking towards the cliff, staggering slightly as he found sharp rocks digging into the soft soles of his feet. Reaching the foot of the cliff, he began his long climb. Almost upon beginning, his limbs protested. Death had stiffened them and they were unwilling to move again. His hands and feet found tiny cracks and bumps in the rock face, and his skin rasped against its rough surface. When he was a third of the way up, his fingers and toes were bleeding slightly from superficial cuts, and his chest was sore and pallid from dragging against the rock. Elathan stopped, his breathing hard and his muscles screaming.
What is amiss?’ the voice was urgent, puzzled, ‘Why do you halt?’
I.... I cannot go on.’
You will go on. You must.’
How? How can I?’ his voice quivered with emotion, ‘What do I have to keep me going?’
The promise. The hope. The will to live. Now shout. Shout the sorrow in your heart as if to bring down the very firmament.’
Shout. No need for words. Shout your defiance!’
Elathan’s grip tightened on the rocks, then he reared back his head and bellowed like a beast. It was a wordless cry, echoing along the river and across the farmlands and scrubland to the seas and mountains. He slumped back against the wall, breathing shakily, then began climbing again. The pain in his limbs was still there, growing greater by the minute, but that cry had awoken a new resolve in him. Kimaris did not speak again, leaving Elathan to struggle alone up the rock face.
Finally, when he was somewhere over halfway, he glanced down. It would be so easy to loosen his grip and fall. To return to death. But... He turned back to the rock face, and sifted through his memories to find something to push him on. He wanted to reach the top, he wanted to prove himself, even as his muscles edged towards their breaking point. Finally, he fixed on something. A moment in the late evening, a moment of two bodies beneath sheets. Two lovers, their words gentle whispers.
You know what I loved seeing you do, Elathan? Before this?’
Seeing you climb the orchard wall. We slipped out and found rest in the garden, and you climbed up onto the wall so we could reach the date trees on the edge of the Cathedral Orchards. Those were the best dates I ever tasted.’
Maybe we can climb a wall again someday? Together?’
Yes, together. Tell me, what is the best thing you have ever tasted?’
You, Paimon. Only you.’
The words pained Elathan like the stings of insects. He pushed himself on, seeming to hear Paimon encouraging him to reach the top, to reach the edge where the dates grew. Time was lost, and Elathan became absorbed in a blissful dream, a dream that blocked out the pain. Finally, his hand stretched up and clapped down on a flat surface. His normal vision returned, and he scrambled up onto the top of the cliff. He dragged himself forward, then reared up on his knees and shouted out a single roar of pained victory.
When his cry faded, nothing could be heard but the slight noises of the wind, and he collapsed in utter exhaustion. His hands and feet bled, his muscles cried out for succour, and after a while he realised that tears were streaming down his face. Slowly, he crawled away from the cliff edge and rolled over onto his back. The moonlight shone down on him, illuminating his bared form. He closed his eyes and felt sleep take him. It was not peaceful, disturbed by visions of the recent past, and the prickling pains that racked him.
When he woke, the moon had passed most of the way across the sky, and the distant light of dawn was approaching. He slowly rose to his knees, then shivered and started rubbing his sore arms. He had forgotten how cold the coastal desert could be, and his nakedness left him vulnerable to more than embarrassing encounters. As he gazed around at the starkly-lit scenery, the voice came again.
You are cold?’ a pause as Elathan nodded, ‘Look behind you. You will see.’
Elathan obeyed like a child. Caught in a dead bush, flapping in the slight breeze, was a cloak. Getting up with difficulty, he went over and yanked it from the bush. It was a torn thing, chilled by the night’s wind, but it would do to at least make him descent. It tore readily into two pieces; one became his head covering, while the other became a set of underwear for his sore loins. Thus clad, he felt a sudden hunger punch his stomach with enough force to bend him double.
Time to find civilisation.’ Kimaris’s voice was both gentle and sharp, ‘If you are to survive.’
Gritting his teeth, Elathan slowly raised himself. He would make for the coastal road, where he might find food and proper clothes in the huts of fishermen and their like. Squaring his shoulders and clenching his hands into fists, he began his painful walk towards the shore.

The Leviathan Chronicle; Genesis is set for released on 3 May 2018 as a downloadable e-book and physical edition. Help support its author by pre-ordering the Kindle edition (Amazon UK, Amazon USA). The second part of the story will release before the end of the year.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Music While You Work

It's an old phrase, as old as piped music, or the people who whistled and clog-danced and fiddled in the work place. It's a necessity, it's a joy, it's a democratic right; music can help you work. And for someone like me, it can really get you in the mood for some serious ####. Okay, that was a little crude, but you know what I mean.

For each of my completed works, I've done something somewhere that's been influenced by a choice in music. Mainly I listen to music from video games. That's partly because movie or television/anime music tends to be slightly more specific than game music, classical music has different associations for me and so isn't very helpful, and popular music is just distracting. As for video game music, its great variety, prolific history and looping nature make it perfect for prolonged mood setting and general help.

Crystal and Sin proved difficult in the "finding suitable work music" department, as it's easy for a sci-fi thing to end up getting either a totally out-there score that's all its own (Blade Runner) or an orchestral score that stifles original thought (Avatar). It was tricky, but I found a few things. One of the better helping hands was the soundtrack album for Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I've got it on my shelves still. It helped evoke the themes and style I wanted much of the book to emulate. Since it's in part a tribute to those same sci-fi universes of conspiracy and tragedy, some conspiratorial and tragic music seemed appropriate.

For The Leviathan Chronicle, the medieval setting is something that can be difficult to find, as true medieval music encourages listening more than working (believe me, I've tried). So I went for some other things that would help evoke the right setting. Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story provided invaluable mood music when writing about the book's mature subject matter. Its more sacred moments were helped along with a liberal dose of Gregorian chant music from one of my father's CDs and some pieces from El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron and Shadow of the Colossus. Mostly not very ancient, but all highly emotive and somber.

For Stella: Maiden of the Dusk, an in-progress project which may or may not see the light of day, I went in a different direction. My influence drew from anime, particularly the work of Joe Hisaishi for Princess Mononoke and NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind, and the pieces created by Naoki Sato for Production I.G's Blood-C. I was actually inspired by those two anime to create something of a post-apocalyptic zombie-style tale with romance and a strong grounding in Mesoamerican and South American folklore. I also used the available musical pieces from Final Fantasy XV (nee Versus XIII), as I'd imagined my heroine as a tribute to that long-lost figure of fan fiction and dreamy-eyed nostalga Stella Nox Fleuret. Yes, I called her Stella, but then lots of heroines are called Stella, and otherwise she's nothing like Nox Fleuret. She's certainly got better tastes in shoe heels.

Other unspecified projects have had less success or are too early to mention in detail, but also needed some music to spur them along. One of them required the dulcet tones of Okami and my discs of Oriental music. Another drew some interesting inspiration from the likes of Last Ranker and  But, surprising as this may seem from those who read the above, most of my writing is done in relative silence. I've sometimes even found music a complete distraction no matter how many times it's helped me along during a difficult bit.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Alert! Crystal and Sin; Complete Edition free this coming week! (Updated)

Hi there! In celebration of the upcoming publication of my next self-published novel The Leviathan Chronicle; Genesis, I'm offering one of my older works for free this week. That work is the science fiction novel Crystal and Sin: Complete Edition. Here's the description for it;

A maiden created to be as pure as crystal; a former soldier lost in regret; an assassin torn between past and present; a man unhinged by dark tragedy; the self-proclaimed Empress of Sin. These five tales interweave to reveal the truth.

In the distant and peaceful future, the Empress of Sin begins her campaign of secret terror. After fending her off, four are chosen by the secretive Pro-Earth Committee to defend Earth’s power from outside threats: Crystal, Jirou, Danny Redfield, and Aiden Jonas. As they are sent on missions through the Solar System, it becomes clear that other powers are interested in both Crystal and the Empress. The stage is set for a showdown, where only true knowledge of the self will prevail...

Previously released in three volumes, Crystal and Sin: Complete Edition brings together the entire saga of Crystal, her friends, and their shadowy nemeses.

Originally $5.99 (£5.99) exclusively through Amazon, Crystal and Sin: Complete Edition will be free from April 16 to April 20.  The pre-order for The Leviathan Chronicle will go live shortly, but if you'd like to see samples ahead of time, the first two chapters can be found here (1) and here (2). The Leviathan Chronicle; Genesis will be releasing on May 3, 2018. The second and concluding volume will release later this year.


Sunday, 8 April 2018

Preview - The Leviathan Chronicle; Chapter 2

The following is the complete second chapter of my upcoming novel The Leviathan Chronicle; Genesis (provisional title). To see the first chapter, click this linkAs battle rages in the heartlands of  Sur, other events unfold in Yerusahyn, sacred capital of the Seraphic Church...

Chapter II
Shining Spear, Dancing Death

30th August, Yerusahyn

Sentries patrolled the highest points of the surrounding walls, at once beckoning and forbidding. These guardians clanked in their armour, several small Machina patrolled the bridge, and people coming in through the gates received both visual and hands-on inspections. This had not been the case fifty years before, but in the midst of active war, everyone needed to be checked. All had their passes ready, be they legitimate or not, and all were ready to offer up their gratitude to the Seraphic Church for safe deliverance in time of war.
Standing above the main gate, looking at the scene below, stood an imposing and yet sorrowful figure most unsuited to such a place. It was a man, perhaps crowning forty, with a thin beard spreading across the line of his chin, and long deep-crimson hair sliding down along and across his bared back like the tresses of a weeping willow. He looked to all the world like a statue, standing there and gazing out across the farmlands, but he lived. His hair moved in the wind, and his eyes looked over the land he had pledged himself to defend for what remained of his life.
Blessed Seraphim, am I worthy still of your good graces? I suppose it does not have much weight on their scales, even for a Sinbearer.’
Ask them when you are brought before their alters and the sum of your life is spoken by the Arbiter Mikhail. That is best.’
He turned. Another was approaching him from further along the wall, a woman wearing the kind of clothing many associated with male travellers. She tossed her head, shaved bare of any hair but for one long tress that ran down the back of her head and across her armoured shoulders. Such a gay gesture could not fail to raise a smile in her dour comrade. Her following comment raised a laugh.
I wish I had not shaved so recently. I could make my hair shake and sway even if there were no wind to prompt it. What think you, Grigori?’
Grigori responded in a voice lightened by her words. ‘I think, good Nuriel, that your choice in styling is your own. And if there was ever a woman who would not take the word of a man who was an equal, it is you.’
Nuriel laughed in turn. ‘A good answer! Come, maybe we should drink on that. Your shift is ending and I am sure your throat is parched.’
Indeed it is, and I would it were not so.’
The two made for one of many stairways leading back into the city. They were about to descend when Nuriel saw another very familiar figure climbing towards them. She stopped, also causing Grigori to halt, and the two watched as the man came to stand before them. Grigori knew him at once, though he had only seen him twice and he had been gone for several weeks. A man in his late twenties, with medium brown hair, now wearing a cloak over the burnished armour and cream-gold vestments of the Church. Grigori stood to attention and bowed his head.
Patriarch Cassiel. We are honoured. We did not expect you to be back so soon.’
Cassiel smiled. ‘You need not be so formal. We are not within the Grand Cathedral, or within earshot of Eremiel. You were going somewhere?’
Grigori and Nuriel looked at each other. The answer came to their faces before their mouths, and Cassiel pre-empted them.
To the taverns?’ they nodded, and Cassiel grinned. ‘There is no need to be so sheepish. You are young, you are new to our life. Well, comparatively. I was about to go for a walk along the wall, and I feel like some company. Maybe I could walk you to the next stairway? I believe that it is closer to one of the better taverns.’
We would be delighted.’ said Nuriel.
So the three began walking together. For a short time, they walked in silence, then Cassiel spoke, again in a light and casual tone.
How has the city been in my absence? Even I do not receive reports in the midst of such battles as the Shah’s forces wage.’
Very quiet.’ Nuriel all but sighed. ‘Not even any crime to speak of. There was a minor disturbance with the exposure of a spy for the Shah and his heretic Scions. He is to be executed tomorrow.’
Are any of the Sinbearers feeling their burden?’
I believe Sinbearer Uriel is.’ said Grigori. ‘She has been suffering conflicts within her heart. She even now seeks the absolution and solace granted by the Eleven-Fold Glory. I do not entirely blame her.’
Grigori.’ Nuriel’s voice sounded reproval.
No need for harshness.’ said Cassiel, ‘We should all pity those who must bear sin for the good of all. But let us leave this subject and turn to another that is bound to gladden rather than weigh on our hearts. Any changes to the Church hierarchy?’
None. All is stable, and the Grand Cathedral is packed for each Mass with the Lady Sophia. Like ancient tales when we when all knew and worshipped the blessed Seraphim.’
Such times were blessings indeed. May they come about again, when this dire war is ended. I believe this is where we must part.’
They had reached the promised stairway. Wishing him well, Grigori and Nuriel descended the steps and headed towards the tavern visible on the street corner. Cassiel watched them depart with a smile on his face and sorrow in his heart. Turning away, he continued his walk alone. Guards passed him, but they merely saluted and walked on. Church etiquette dictated who he could and could not talk with in any intimacy. So instead he walked alone in the heat of the sun, glancing out at the fields or down into the city, or even along the wall ahead.
Eventually, he stopped. He had come to a point near the Grand Cathedral, where the path along the wall stopped. The wall was built into the Cathedral, which extended out towards the sacred outcrop where Yeshua was said to have communed with the Seraphim. That outcrop was sacred, a place of pilgrimage that very few were allowed to see and none were allowed to touch. To stand within the Grand Cathedral was enough for most, to see the sacred beauty that was Sophia.
Descending the stairway, he entered the Cathedral garden through a little-used gateway. It overflowed with beautiful plants that basked and flourished in the warmth of Sur’s climate. Standing amid a large planting of Sun Lilies, her gown lost in the mass of reflective foliage, was the lady herself, holding one of the flower spikes in her hand. Cassiel stood at gaze. With the slight breeze, her perfect golden blonde hair, and the glorious intensity of her oval eyes, she seemed a being not meant for this world. Lady Sophia, living Saint of the Seraphic Church.
His staring caught her attention, and as she turned, her perfectly-arranged hair swayed and framed her face. ‘Patriarch Cassiel. I had not expected to see you today.’
It took Cassiel a few moments to regain himself. ‘Yes.... Yes indeed. I was held up by some business matters. This war with the heretics to the East is taking a toll on our people. If it were not for the Crusaders’ dedication, I feel we would have abandoned the fighting a long time ago. Even with your blessing, morale might not have held.’
My blessing only counts for so much. People must look out for their own interests. We all must. So are we taught by our fathers and mothers.’
Sophia looked down at the flower spike in her hand. She sniffed deep of the pristine flowers. She turned to Cassiel and held it out to him. Taking it, he sniffed tentatively, then quickly handed the spike back to Sophia and shielded his face let off a gigantic sneeze which agitated his hair so it was thrown about in all directions. Sophia laughed gently.
I see you are allergic to our beautiful lilies.’
Only when I am that close to their... scent.’ Cassiel sniffled and rubbed his nose, stifling another sneeze. ‘I had come in the hope that we might pray together in the Grand Cathedral since Mass has finished. I have meetings to attend with the Higher Conclave, and I would sooner experience tranquillity with Lady Sophia than disquiet with some wrinkled Conclavists.’
Sophia laughed. ‘May the Seraphim forgive you for such truthful damnations. Even if only a few are wrinkled, I will happily pray with a man who seeks salvation from disquiet. Come.’
Laying the flower spike on a small seat erected outside the lily beds, Sophia walked with Cassiel up the path towards the Cathedral’s main entrance. As they approached, they could hear singing from the higher galleries within, vague fragments of verses from the Enochian Chants. Sophia smiled with memory.
You know, when I first came here, I disliked those singers intensely.’
Indeed? I have always found the Enochian Chants soothing.’
Not when they are being sung in the middle of the night while a young and tired woman is trying to get to sleep.’
Ah. There you have me. Some members of the Lesser Conclave are perhaps overly dedicated in their devotions.’
They shared an amused nod. Entering the Cathedral, they were greeted by the sweeping architecture that had taken over a hundred years to build, and a further fifty to ornament and finish. The ceiling was painted with scenes from the Seraphic Creed, the tome that formed the basis of its teachings and beliefs. At the head of the Cathedral aisle, seated on a tall dais just behind the high alter, was the symbol of the Seraphic Church; a fish with eleven fins held suspended in a bow. It was the glorious sun held aloft by the Seraphim; the Eleven-Fold Glory.
The two knelt on the hassocks placed before the high alter, lowering their heads in prayer. The Enochian chanting continued in the background, but in their minds all was quiet and serene. They focused on the symbol in front of them so their hopes and dreams would reach and perhaps touch the wills of the Seraphim. None knew whether true physical manifestations of the Seraphim were anything but fever dreams from fanatics and heretics, but all knew that they existed and that they answered earnest prayers.
But as she knelt in silent contemplation, Sophia could have sworn that something was watching them. That a presence was slowly moving down from the higher reaches of the nave, above the entrance to the narthax. It moved along the columns, shifting from side to side like a fish in water. As it approached, or seemed to approach, Sophia felt a cold sweat break on her brow. It finally reached the arch between the nave and the high alter, reached down with some appendage no human could rightly call a hand and–
Sophia started and turned. Aside from one old Lesser Conclavist moving across from the North Transept on business of her own, momentarily halted by Sophia’s own cry, there was nothing to be see.
What is the matter?’
Cassiel had noted her distress. Even whispering, their voices’ echoes carried into the vaulted roof space.
It is nothing.’ Sophia calmed her voice with difficulty. ‘It just seemed as if something moved along the nave and almost touched me. Here.’
She reached up and felt her shoulder. There was no sign that anything had touched her, but still...
I am sure it was nothing.’ said Cassiel soothingly. ‘Maybe it was indeed a Seraph answering your prayers.’
Yes. Yes... Maybe.’
The Enochian Chant had ceased, replaced by the sounds of shuffling footsteps as the Choristers made their way down from the higher galleries. Getting up slowly, Sophia bowed and headed for the South Transept. There, a doorway led into a passage which took her to her private quarters. Cassiel watched her go, and saw her raising a hand to where she had felt whatever it was touch her. It must have been her imagination, but still... He shivered slightly and rubbed his own shoulder as if it had been touched. He then saw a familiar figure walking down the aisle. A woman wearing a long robe, with a Conclavist’s truncated mitre covering her ashen hair. This in turn framed a face too dark for standard Crusader stock.
I hope I do not intrude, Patriarch.’ her voice was soft yet pressing, ‘But the matter is urgent, and as you were alone...’
Cassiel rose and bowed respectfully. ‘Not at all, Muriel. Has the meeting of the Conclave started? I trust I will not be unduly late.’
No, not at all. I merely come to inform you that the Higher Conclave is assembling and only awaits your arrival to begin. The most pressing matter is the authorisation of extra guards for the execution tomorrow, and your seal of approval on the body’s removal to the usual burial ground.’
I thank you. I will come at once.’
Muriel bowed and departed. Cassiel looked up at the icon atop the dais, then turned and began heading back down the aisle. As he reached the junction between the nave and the two Transepts, he paused and looked about him. The original architects had created no sculptury with faces, but even so the imagery on the ceiling and the general structure made it feel as if hidden eyes were watching. Shaking off the feeling, he headed for the narthax and the passage leading off the atrium, which would take him to the separate Conclave Building. As he walked, he sighed.
My signature to two parchments, and a man’s life is both lost and forgotten by force of our faith. Such is the burden of the Sinbearers, and their Patriarch. I, who wield the Shining Spear, who lead the Higher Conclave and answer only to the Grand Pope and Cardinals.... I must bear the greatest burden of all. Alone.’

1st September, Yerusahyn Cathedral Prison

Here. Your food.’
Without ceremony, the jailer placed a plate of vegetable stew with fresh bread and a cup of good wine. The figure crouched in the darkest corner of the cell looked at it through his fingers. The food was comparatively richer than what he had been receiving before, perhaps to temper his fear and trepidation when standing on the scaffold. But he did not move from his hiding place until the door was closed. Then he slowly moved out into the shaft of light coming in through the window.
The face that appeared in the broken sunlight might have been handsome had it not been for the strange expression it held. Not fear, not sorrow, not even happiness. It was a total lack of any definable feeling. As he sat on the bench and ate his meal, he looked up at the segmented square of sky visible to him. But he did not see cloudless splendour, only what he had always dreaded he would see one day. A man’s face, looking up from his arms, blood oozing from a chest wound. An assassination, ordered by the peers of the Seraphic Church. Performed by.... her!
His task completed, the jailer returned to his little parlour, where a guard named Anders was having her own breakfast while looking through the window into the yard surrounding the scaffold. Right now it was host to the tiniest gathering of people, but come time there would be a vast throng to see the spectacle. On the further side, a special balcony for Church dignitaries would be policed, in case any aberrant citizen or foul sihr came to disrupt the event. But the yard was not devoid of morbid entertainment. There was a clunking sound as the gallows and its noose were tested. The jailer sat down and looked at Anders, shaking his head.
Come sit, woman. There is nothing to see yet. It is not as if you will be stripped of a prime view. Are you not one of the guards who will escort Elathan to his death this coming noon?’
Anders nodded and sat down. ‘It is just intriguing to watch people gather. I am always fascinated by that contradiction.’
What contradiction?’
We who strive to live are drawn to death.’
That is not a contradiction, just curiosity. We seek to view death so we might avoid it. Believe me, I have seen many die by the noose and the sword, and I know how I wish to die.’
At a good old age in my bed, after a useful life.’
Useful.’ Anders gave a singular chuckle, ‘I cannot clearly see how being a jailer to the condemned and reviled of Yerusahyn is “useful”.’
I give some kind of succour to prisoners who have lost hope. Let us face it, who else would give them kindness? Who else would ask if they wish to unburden their consciences to one of the Church before death?’
We could do that.’
The guard is the stern armoured figure who ignores their plight, Anders. The jailer is the soft intermediary that relieves it while they can.’
You have a strange view.’
Maybe. But it works. Oh a curse on that scaffold.’ another loud clunk had sounded outside, ‘Can they not make the thing quieter? And why are they doing that so early? It is hours yet before the execution.’
Why are you so agitated by it?’
It makes me think too often of botched executions. I have seen none myself, but I have heard enough tales not to wish for one.’
The reason they make that sound is so such botches do not occur. I doubt the people will come to see the noose take the man’s head off.’
At least they make sure the sword is sharp at a more proper hour when heads needed to role.’
Unless you were Aeshma, and always kept the blade dull.’
The jailer winced. ‘Aeshma was a sadist. The Church is well rid of him. I am surprised they did not make him endure one of his own executions.’
That would have been to become like him. Banishment is enough punishment for a Sinbearer. For many, compared to wandering this world without hearth or home, death would be a mercy. Even the Sinbearers have limits.’
The jailer nodded at this. The Sinbearers were the Seraphic Church’s military and covert arm. They carried out the darker side of the Church’s rule; war-related duties, assassinations, executions and the like. They took these tasks upon themselves as a lifelong duty, to spare others from the sins they would mount upon themselves. These “Bearers of sin” prayed to have their sins forgiven every day, and lived with them only in the hope that they might indeed be pardoned and granted eternal bliss for their selfless suffering. His eventual reply was as Anders had come to expect from him.
Indeed. Sinbearers do not kill people who are merely ill in the mind. On that strength, all too many must fall to their blades. But they do good works for our people. For that, we should thank them.’
Anders laughed, a bitter ripple on dark waters. ‘Yes. They are indeed blessed in their duties.’
You speak so coldly.’
I speak the truth. They are soulless beings.’
The jailer started, shocked at Ander’s near-blasphemous implication. ‘How can you say that?’
Tell me. Have you ever looked into the eyes of a Sinbearer?’
No?’ a question lay almost unspoken.
I have.’
Ten years ago, when my unit was inspected by one of them. Sinbearer Eremiel, I believe the name was. He is a Higher Conclavist now.’
What was it like?’
Anders took her time in answering. ‘It was.... like staring into the maw of the Void. Nothing lay beyond the surface of his eyes, no sign of energy or conscience. Time and the deeds for which he asks forgiveness had eroded his soul. I was so terrified that I almost dropped my weapon. That is when I decided that I would never become one of them. I never wanted to have eyes like that.’
The jailer burst into a fit of laughter. ‘You sound like some wine-addled poet. How can anyone as mighty as the Sinbearers lose their souls? They would not otherwise be entrusted with tasks so crucial to the Seraphic Church.’
I know what I saw.’ Anders was emphatic, ‘All I saw in those eyes was an empty husk, the ghost of someone destroyed by ill deeds.’
We shall agree to let this lie, otherwise we would likely argue all through the execution. By the way, when is that to happen?’
When the sun touches the tallest tower of the Grand Cathedral. Near midday.’
And where is the sun now?’
Somewhere near the first tower. Another three hours before he is due to be brought to his death.’
You know, he asked something very funny.’
He asked that the hood be put on him while he was still in the prison, or that he could wear his mask.’
What? Is he addled in the mind? Surely he would wish to address those who come to see him die.’
He cares not to see anyone. Or maybe it is... he cares not to let anyone see him.’
What do you mean by that?’
Have you not seen him? He is always crouched in the darkest corner of his cell, hiding his face from anyone who may enter. It took until a few days ago to even get a few words from him. Most of what he says to me he says in writing.’
You let him have pen and paper? Is that not dangerous? Suppose he attempts to thwart the executioner.’
No fear. He seems willing to face death, but he does not seem willing to take the step himself.’
So he should be. Self-destruction is the ultimate sin.’
In our faith. Not in his.’
Further conversation was interrupted by the approach of armoured feet, along with a softer pair. The jailer and Anders rose, and the door opened to reveal two more guards and a Sinbearer. The light shone through the window directly onto the woman’s face, and the jailer instantly saw that his companion in talk had not been speaking in fancy. The eyes that stared from her otherwise divine face were dead and hollow, as if her soul had been burnt from the inside out. Her voice was fresh and bright, but the subtle life all voices normally possessed as their heart was completely missing from her own.
Jailer, Guard Anders, I understand the prisoner will soon be ready.’
Anders started. ‘But I thought the execution–’
It has been moved forward. Patriarch Cassiel feels that it would be better for as few people as possible to see the man’s death.’
I see.’ the jailer shuffled uncomfortably, ‘He was just having his last meal when I saw him. I will go down and check his status.’
One of my guards will accompany you.’
He requested that he wear the hood from the cell onwards.’
Unusual, but not unreasonable. I have heard something about his condition. He may wear the hood. It is not as if there will be a crowd to appease.’
Thank you. And...’
May I speak to him alone? I have developed a rapport with him, and he is nervous around strangers.’
This too I understand and have heard. You may do so.’
The jailer nodded and made his way back down to the cell, one of the guards following at a discreet distance. Once he reached the cell door, the jailer peered through the observation window and saw Elathan finishing his meal. When the bowl was put down, the jailer gently tapped on the door.
He kept his eyes on the prisoner. Elathan was gently turning away, hiding his face. The jailer entered slowly, as if approaching an alarmed cat about to leap up out of reach into the higher bows of a tree.
Elathan.’ he said gently, ‘They have moved it forward. And, if this pleases you, they are willing to agree to your request.’
Elathan shifted slightly, his breathing becoming suddenly shallow, as if a sigh of relief had been quickly caught and suppressed. ‘I... That is good. The hood. Please, pass me the hood.’
He reached out, one arm still hiding his face. The jailer turned to the guard, who stood at the door holding a hood of soft black cloth. The jailer lowered it gently into Elathan’s hand. It was almost snatched away and Elathan was quick to pull it over his head. He then really did sigh in relief, uncurled himself, and rose to his feet. As might be expected, his lack of vision caused him to slip on an unseen damp cobble, and the jailer needed to steady him. The guard pushed past the jailer, pulling belts from her satchel to fasten Elathan’s wrists and arms. The guard took a firm grip on the bonds holding Elathan’s wrists, while the jailer placed a gentle hand on his shoulder and began leading him forward.
The journey up from the dungeons was unsettlingly easy, and as they passed the room where the jailer had been conversing with Anders, the Sinbearer began following them. When they were a set distance ahead, Anders decided to follow in turn. There was one momentary pause when an unevenly set step tripped Elathan and he nearly fell. The guard holding his bonds yanked him back onto his feet with enough force to cause welts in the skin beneath his restraints. As they approached the daylight, the Sinbearer abruptly turned and stared at Anders.
Do you wish to see death?’
Anders stopped, quelled by the Sinbearer’s sudden emotion. ‘I... Well...’
The emotion faded as quickly as it had come. ‘I understand. You wish to satisfy curiosity. And perhaps I will allow it. If you wish to have such visions, then follow.’
Anders realised that the Sinbearer had a point. She had never once seen or even heard the sounds of an execution, nor even used her weapons training against another living being. This would be her first sight of violent death in a human. After this minor pause, the group continued their ascent. The stairs were a special passageway connecting the dungeons to the scaffold area. It was a neat way of avoiding taking prisoners due for death through over-enthusiastic crowds who might decide to take justice upon themselves in defiance of the Church’s will.
The yard before the scaffold, colloquially known as the “Dancers’ Yard”, was very quiet. Only a very few people were there, including a figure in a dark cloak leaning against one of the gatehouse towers leading into the yard. Anders came up onto that scaffold just as the jailer went down again as quickly as decency permitted. Just the thought of the upcoming spectacle and turned his face an unsettling shade of grey-green. Anders moved to the near corner of the scaffold, where she had a sidelong view of the prisoner. He was standing erect and quite still a few paces from where the noose dangled. Despite his seeming willingness to die, a sickening fear clung like the miasma from a sewer.
The Sinbearer stood beside the lever that operated the gallows mechanism, and as she motioned, the guard who had guided Elathan gently pushed him forward to stand on the trapdoor. It was designed with one edge of the frame missing at the front, so an unbroken spectacle and warning of death was visible to all. As Elathan’s weight came down on the trap door, it creaked slightly. The noose was pulled down, then slipped around his neck and tightened. Even as this happened, Anders was disconcerted to see the briefest of shaking, and a slight dampness around Elathan’s crotch.
Additional belts were looped around Elathan’s ankles and above his knees, then the guard backed off and turned away. There was a long pause, and high above, there could be heard the scratching of claws on stone. A few doves were pecking at some grass seed that had blown up there in recent high winds. They neither knew nor cared what was about to happen. Her eyes closed and her consciousness separated from the world around her, the Sinbearer took a firm hold on the lever. Elathan’s breathing was shuddering, infused with involuntary fear. Even as her stomach twitched and lurched in protest, the Sinbearer yanked the lever back.
There was the shuttling of unseen mechanisms, the trap door fell away, and Elathan dropped the short distance the rope allowed. It was no long drop, so death would be from slow constriction. Even as Elathan was rendered unconscious and his convulsive struggles began, the Sinbearer covered her ears and jumped down from the edge of the scaffold – she began running for the side entrance to the Grand Cathedral. Anders wanted to run, but her eyes were riveted to the grotesque sight before her, even as her own bowls attempted to tie themselves into a noose to choke her heart. There was little to no sound, and after a brief period the convulsions all but ceased. He would remain there for the following half hour to make certain, but to all intents and purposes, Elathan was dead.
The doves had been startled into flight by the working of the scaffold, but now they flew back to their original perch, oblivious to the scene. The cloaked figure by the gatehouse did not stir until all movement had ceased. The face just visible beneath the hood was twisted into an unpleasant smile, cold and cynical, like someone laughing at mortality itself. It also expressed a unpleasant voyeuristic satisfaction. She had watched Elathan’s preparation for death, the Sinbearer’s actions, and Ander’s continued staring at Elathan’s dying moments. And she had enjoyed seeing the awful spectacle from a safe distance.
Satisfied, the figure turned and headed out through the gateway, passing between two Machina. They stirred but a fraction as she passed them, unaware of who she was and what power she held. All around her walked on in innocence, ignorant of her true nature. As she passed through the final gate and began crossing the great bridge linking Yerusahyn with Sur, a point where even larger Machina stood guard, she stopped and glanced down at the river below. This line of water, running across between the city into both annexed and unconquered lands, would soon be the bearer of momentous events and pitiable sights. Along that water, that very evening, a body would be brought in a nondescript boat, for burial in an unmarked grave.
But,’ she said aloud in barely a whisper, ‘no burial will take place. Nor will I be the one to forestall it. For rest assured, that reed swinging from a string on the scaffold, so broken in spirit and body, will find new life when grasped anew by the benevolent hands of... Power?’
The woman smirked, flicked away a fly that attempted to drink of her sweat, and carried on across the bridge towards the farmland tracks, aiming for the distant mountains beyond.

The Leviathan Chronicle; Genesis is set for released in Q2 2018 as a downloadable e-book and physical edition. The second part of the story will release before the end of the year.