Tag Archives: Dark

Halloween Special – Dark Waters

My turn today. I wrote Dark Waters back in 2011 and it’s an extremely dark fantasy, complete with pirates and zombies. Enjoy!

Finn is a simple priest living a life of solitude in the Temple until the night his dying father sends for him. Finn learns that, not only does he have a half-sister, but that she is a captive in the Vaults – a prison reserved for the most heinous criminals. Vowing to save her he enlists the services of the scoundrel pirate, Egan Wey. Together they set off to commit treason.

But their adventure only starts with a rescue. Across the ocean a plague is coming, dead men are walking and blood is like gold. Someone is behind this, but can they find out who in time…

This epic fantasy adventure is pulsing with adrenaline and dark humour, with swashbuckling pirates, raging zombies and copious bottles of rum…

This is a compilation of the trilogy and includes Harvest, Traitors Day and Flames and Blood in their entirety.

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Halloween Special – Scorn Kills

We had the first book in the Devil’s Due series by Suzi Albracht, today it’s Scorn Kills.

Scorn Kills is the dark, twisty story of what can happen when a man who breaks both his holy marriage vows and the contract he signed in blood.

You could ask Bill about his tale, but right now he’s got a big problem. You see, somehow, he woke up in some dead guy’s coffin, underneath someone else’s body; and now he has to worry about that crematory furnace he can hear firing up.

Scorn Kills has been called a kind of cool Twilight Zone- esque novel with unusual twists and turns. It gets into the head of the Bill Branch as he gets himself deeper, and deeper down a path of destruction. You can decide for yourself if he deserves what happens to him.

The story of Scorn Kills is unique and not like any other.

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Halloween Special – The Alastair Stone Chronicles

To spice it up here’s a little bit of urban fantasy with dark elements from R L King and his Alastair Stone Chronicles.

SAFE AS HOUSES
It’s hard enough for Alastair Stone to keep his two lives—powerful mage and mundane Occult Studies professor—separate without an old friend asking him to take on a new apprentice. Especially after a university colleague wants him to investigate a massive old house for things that go bump in the night. Still, Stone figures it’s an easy job: just turn up, put on a little show, and announce that the house is clean.

Only it isn’t. A malevolent spirit is reawakening in the basement, imprisoned between dimensions and intent on escape. If it succeeds, countless people will die. Worse, a trio of dark mages want to help it break free so they can control it for their own sinister purposes. They’ll do whatever it takes—including seducing Stone’s young apprentice and using him against his master—to get what they’re after.

With time running out, Stone has to stay alive long enough to uncover the spirit’s secrets. But even if he does, he fears that his own power won’t be enough to send it back.

“I am reminded of Jim Butcher here…” — Wulfstan, Amazon top 500 reviewer

“Somewhat reminiscent of the Dresden files but with its own distinct style.” — John W. Ranken, Amazon reviewer

“Tension throughout novel kept pulling me forward…I definitely want to see more from this author!” — Shawna Reppert, award-winning author of fantasy and steampunk

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The Unlucky Man – Halloween Special (3)

Today I’ve got the last post from The Unlucky Man and it’s an absolute cracker – if you haven’t already downloaded this book you can get it from Amazon now. Happy Halloween!

Up ahead, for a brief moment, I thought I saw a flame flare up, an orange beacon in the mist. It was fleeting, but I had the impression, just for a few moments, of a great bonfire, deep within the shifting currents of the marsh, and against it the silhouetted figures of men, dancing and gesturing in the light of the flames.

The light came again. I wasn’t sure what I was seeing, if it was the past or glimpses of somewhere else entirely, somewhere that had never been. A carved effigy in red wood stood proudly amid the flames as they licked up all around it. Strange, ugly faces leered along its length, mad eyed human features with lolling tongues and sharp, elongated teeth. A bull’s head with a ring through the nose stared balefully next to an eagle with one overgrown eye perched above its beak. Many and more there were along the length of the wood, curving sinuously in the flames until they seemed to be moving and the whole thing looked alive. The shifting light of the fire the red wood had an almost organic feel. Fish danced with wolves, lions with bears and bats and around all strange shapes and looping patterns told a story I did not have the eyes to read.

With a sudden gout of flame, the figures before the blaze were illuminated for a split second. At their head danced a wizened old man, naked but for some skirts of leathery animal skin. His face and chest were painted with some dried orange clay and adorned with circles and slashes of white paint that glowed in the firelight.

On his face was another white ornament, the full shape of a hand, palm pressed against his left cheek, fingers splaying out across the bridge of a short nose and under his eyes, thumb print stretching down to bisect his lips. His hair was caked with the same white clay and slicked back from his head and so too was the long beard that hung limp from his chin. About his head he wore a crown of antlers and feathers, sewn with wild flowers and vines.

In his hand he held a knife of sharpened bone in the shape of a crescent moon that sparkled and shone in the orange light as he danced before the pyre. His lips were moving as if in song though no sound travelled across the stinking fen to my ears.

With a silent crack, the top of the wooden statue, a great horse’s head crowned with curling ram’s horns, broke away from the main body of the carving and tumbled into the flames. Immediately the supplicants ceased their dancing as one grabbed another by the hair, forcing his head back and exposing the long line

of his neck. That wicked curved blade arched down, cutting through the smoky air and an ardent spray painted the chunk of carved burning wood atop the pyre.

The fire died away as suddenly it had sprung into life.

Then it came again, another flash of light, and now the figures were still, fixed unmoving against the rolling fire and, though distorted and far away and glimpsed only for a second, I was left with the distinct impression that they were watching, waiting. I heard a sharp intake of breath from behind me and knew that the others had seen them too.

“What are they?” Loess whispered and, in the confines of the stinking, otherworldly place, the question “what” and not “who” didn’t seem inappropriate.

“Don”t worry,” I said in answer, “They’re not-” I paused, uncertain of how to finish the statement. It wasn’t that they weren’t real, for they were, I felt sure of it, but rather that they existed in another place and time, that we were seeing them through the skin of the world to where they truly were, somewhere older and stranger by far, a place just below this one, perhaps, but close enough to be almost touching, almost becoming one.

Amid the waters another scene was playing itself out as a procession of funeral marchers made their slow and sombre way through the mire. They were big men and tall, proud women. Long braided hair hung down past their shoulders and the men’s beards were blond and knotted. All wore armour of some description, ringed mail in the main and heavy boots, leathered shields hung at their backs.

They marched in a proud solemn line and at their head four men held aloft a craft of reeds on their shoulders, within which rested the body of one of their fallen. Gold glinted at neck and knuckle where his pale hands rested atop a short sword, the pommel carved into the shape of twin crows in flight.

Gently they lowered the boat into the water, casting it off among the reads and watching in grim silence as it floated off, carried on the current. It bobbed for a long time, edging further and further away from shore until, at length, the small craft was lost to view. Only when it was fully gone did the mourners turn and walk away, in a long line, into the swirling mists. Their shapes distorted, becoming grey shadows amongst the waters before, at last, they disappeared into the smoke.

“They’re not really there,” I said, “Not exactly. They can’t touch us, I think.” And I hoped I was right.

Confused and oppressed by the clinging fog, the stink of the brackish and rotten water, the glimpses of figures half seen and half real, we continued on, following the path to its eventual conclusion, until, at last, in the bowl between two mountains we reached a point where the world dropped down into a deep yet narrow chasm. The water flowed all around us in a slow waterfall, down over the edges of the pit, disappearing into the darkness below, consumed by it.

We stared down into the shadows. This then was where it all began, the well at the top of the world.

It seemed to swallow the light.

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The Unlucky Man – Halloween Special (2)

Here’s another taster of dark thriller The Unlucky Man by H T G Hedges. Don’t scare yourself silly now.

Once, long, long ago, when the world was still young, the beast had stalked its surface and hunted beneath the heat of the sun and the cold of the moon. Its shadow had been cast long over the face of the world and it had known no boundary, its only compulsion was hunger, its only desire to consume.

And then Man came. At first the beast was wary of this new creature, so alike the other beasts it had hunted and yet so different. It watched as Man developed, became increasingly complex, increasingly able, increasingly hungry; and it saw in Man something of itself. And Man fed the beast.

Swiftly it came to realise that, in their actions, these new people could revere the beast, make it strong. With every base action, the beast was worshipped, strengthened, confirmed and it knew in Man a power like no other it had ever known before, and exulted in it.

As the years passed, many came to understand the beast and to fear it and they built fires to keep out his dark and huts to shut out the night. They daubed symbols on the walls of their caves and shunned the dark places of the world. They huddled in the light as their holy-men chanted and burned spices and wove twigs and painted their faces and did everything else they could think of in the hope of keeping it at bay.

Later, they built churches and consecrated the ground and built stronger walls of stone and slept with lights burning to keep out the cold winds of the dark on which the voice of the beast might still be heard. And some of their measures worked and some did not.

There were others though who welcomed the beast with open arms. They worshipped it, built their own churches of bone and blood in its honour, long halls of painted skulls and sharp spikes within which were carried out dark acts in its name that fed and nurtured its dark soul.

To these people the beast was generous, granting them power and dominion, bought at a price, over their peers. Many was the village sheltering in the dark forests of the old world as the shadows lengthened, shutting out the night with candles and lanterns safe behind heavy shutters and doors locked and bolted whilst the tall castles of those who had thrown in their lot with the darkness loomed terrible above them and the night echoed with the screams of those giving their lives in honour of the beast.

In this way, the beast was kept strong without the need to hunt and feed for itself and less and less did it venture abroad beneath either sun or moon and in this lay its undoing. As time passed the beast became ineffable, a thing of legend, an idea out of nightmare, out of superstition. Still fed, bloated on the

supplication of dark deeds, it crawled into the dark like a bulbous fat spider and slept, safe in the knowledge of its own never-ending superiority.

For a long, long time it slept, and when it awoke it was alone.

The world had changed, Man had changed. No longer did it worship the beast for the beast had become a part of its own consciousness. The dark acts of Man were now simply that and no longer an offering to the old dark god. No longer was it fed.

When it emerged from the dark it found it no longer had substance, could no longer rend and tear and alter the minds of men save those already disposed to hear it. For an age it crawled the surface of the earth searching for a way to return to what it once was until at last, defeated, it slunk into the deepest, darkest hole it could find and in the shadows waited sullenly in a state of hibernation for the world to change once more.

As it slept the shadows grew long and deep around it.

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The Unlucky Man – Halloween Special (1)

Now it’s time for something new. Here’s a real creepy thriller that gets darker the more you read. We’ll be featuring more of The Unlucky Man by H T G Hedges this week but if you can’t wait then download the book now from Amazon.

And then another figure emerged from the mist which, though it parted for Quinn and his team, seemed to cling to the newcomer much as it did to me, lending him an ethereal sinister aspect.

“Wychelo?” Quinn croaked as the strange eyed killer advanced on us. Somehow, despite his actions in the crash, Wychelo still looked immaculate and unruffled, as if he’d stepped from a salon rather than the burning wreck of his car. I felt a pressure building in my skull and the mist closed in even more. I was almost ready for the feeling this time as the shadow moved.

“Control wants these two alive,” Quinn said, turning towards Wychelo so that the business end of his rifle now pointed at him. A flicker of annoyance played over the killer’s previously impassive features.

“Lower your weapon,” he said evenly but, although the barrel wavered, Quinn kept his rifle raised, barrel levelled at Wychelo’s chest.

“What’s going on out here?” Quinn growled. The mist seemed to be circling him, growing thicker around him, clinging at his mouth. It was almost like he was breathing it in, being infected by its insidious tendrils.

“Lower your weapon,” Wychelo repeated as the mist rolled around him, drawing a tight circle around us all. He had, I noticed, a suppressed pistol in his hand hanging loosely, almost casually, at his side.

The blood was pounding in my ears, sweat beading on my brow and prickling down my neck. A white wall now penned our small drama in, like players on a stage. The closer Wychelo came, the stronger the tension became; it was like there was a cord running between us, stretched almost to breaking point. The sense of another world overlaying this one surfaced nauseatingly once more. For a split second I had the distinct feeling that there were figures waiting in the impenetrable mist, indistinct and intangible. I could see them when I closed my eyes, grey shapes cast against the blackness of my eyelids. Eyes opened, I could still feel their still presence.

The moment passed, but my sense of them still remained, like reality was stretching, being strained and extended like an overfilled balloon, ready to rip under the strain at any moment. Something shifted in the murk, a wet whisper of noise. By now the others could sense it too, I was sure.

“What was that?” one of the ops shouted, squinting off into the mist. Others followed, his lead, their

attention suddenly no longer locked on Corg and me.

“There’s someone in the mist,” Quinn hissed urgently, still sighting on Wychelo. He was losing it fast from the look in his wide eyes. “Someone who makes my skin crawl same as you do. How do you explain that you creepy motherfucker?” he growled, voicing the strange creeping parity between the cold eyed assassin and the encroaching white wall.

Quinn was unravelling quickly now, every breath of misted air leaving him more strung out than before, spooling his poise out like so much unwound cotton. The whispering was increasing too, a steady creeping susurration that seemed to come from all sides.

Around us, the mist was moving as if alive, coalescing and resolving itself into half-seen shapes, darker patches that flittered and moved in the corner of the eye and disappeared when you tried to look for them. Dark patches that looked almost like the shapes of people. My mouth felt full of electric and there was so much tension buzzing off Quinn and his men I expected them to sizzle and crack with each jerking movement. Quinn was breathing in heavy gulps, taking in great lungfulls of the coiling air.

I caught Corg’s eye and tried my best to convey “When this goes off, get ready to run,” without moving my face in any way. I think he got it.

Wychelo’s lips slid back revealing even, white teeth. “Put it down,” he said with deadly finality. I looked from his cold, impassive face, still with poise, to Quinn’s bunched up features, a vein pumping madly at his temple, teeth bared. There’s only one way this ends, I thought.

“What’s happening?” Quinn whispered again, desperation edging into his voice, his final plea. What followed was a complete cessation of all movement, the whispering stopped: whatever – if anything – was waiting in the mist held its breath.

“Fuck it,” Quinn breathed and I could read his intent. His fist tightened on the grip of his rifle, knuckles white and bloodless on the trigger. With a speed that seemed impossible, inhuman, Wychelo whipped up his hand and we all heard the zip as he fired, once, at close range.

There was blood in the air. Something howled.

 

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Safe Haven

Safe Haven is a story set before The Running Game. I wrote the story after I published The Running Game as a sort of companion piece, but it is also a great introduction to the feel of the series. This story is available for free from most online retailers including Amazon so if you like what you read please give the full story a go – I promise you won’t be disappointed. And don’t forget you can leave comments and feedback at the bottom of the page.

 

The world was white. So white the dark night couldn’t penetrate the layers of snow suffocating the surrounding forest. Each breath Isobel managed to push out crystallised in the air around her small mouth, sparkling under the moonlight. She pushed forward, the snow swallowing her legs to the knees in hungry gulps. Her hands and feet were numb but her thighs burned furiously with each agonising step.

It was late and she was so very tired. The last night was spent in the back of their Landrover, fighting for space on the backseat with her little sister while their Dad kept watch. It had been a cold, broken night, but Isobel would give anything to be back there now. Anything not to be walking through Red Forest in the middle of December.

She sniffed and looked behind her. Rachel was only six, three years younger than Isobel but at that moment it felt like there was a lifetime between them. Rachel didn’t understand why they were in the middle of the wilderness. She had no idea why they had to leave their mother. She had slept through their uncle running into the cottage, screaming that the army was coming. She had no idea of the danger they were in. Isobel stared at her sister as she struggled in the snow and envied every tiny, oblivious step she took.

Rachel fell and started to cry. She was sobbing for their mum, looking around the expanse of nothing for her. But Isobel knew they would never see their mother again. She took a strong heavy breath, close to tears herself. She wanted to move to help her sister but her legs refused to go back, not after the effort they had put into going forwards.

Instead she called out. “Dad!”

He was ahead of them, scoping out the safety of the forest. When he saw Rachel he hurried back, covering the ground in five easy strides. Despite the cold and fatigue Isobel broke a smile. Her father was the greatest man, he could still do anything in her eyes. Despite the snow sticking to his beard, the creases in his weather worn face, he was still her hero. He lifted Rachel effortlessly into his large arms, brushing the snow from her hair. And that’s when the gunfire started.

“Run! Isobel run!” He screamed.

He grabbed her coat as he ran past, but she stayed, looking through the trees at the erupting lights, as though the night sky had sunk to the earth.

“Isobel!” Her father shouted and she came to her senses.

They were coming! She started to run. Her feet leapt into her father’s footsteps, following his shadow as he weaved through the trees. The foliage became denser, the snow thinner. She found her feet striking firming soil, frozen dirt and icy puddles. She leapt over a ditch and her father caught her. His hand pulled her close and they huddled together into a dug out burrow off the path.

“We need to work together,” he whispered, so softly Isobel thought she was imagining them. “We’re not here,” he told them both. “Say it with me girls. We’re not here.”

Isobel closed her eyes, sinking into the warmth of her father’s wax coat. She reached for her sister’s hand and concentrated. “We’re not here,” she repeated. “We’re not here.” Over and over she focussed on the words, hearing the echo in the baritone voice of her father and the small squeak of her sister.

Time started to twist, the cold subsided and she felt herself floating against the body of her father. The explosions around her, the shouting, the danger, all started to melt away. But the power running over her wasn’t hers, it didn’t even belong to her father. The dominant voice inside her head became her sister’s, small and yet entirely commanding. She focused on it, echoing it as best she could and then she felt herself merge into nothing.

How long had they stayed like that? Isobel had no idea, but when her father broke free of their spell the militia had gone, leaving a stunned silence in their wake. The surrounding trees were torn apart with gunshot. Pieces of bark and bullet shells scattered the ground around them. It had been ferocious whatever had come their way.

“Daddy,” Rachel asked sleepily. “What’s going on?”

Isobel waited. She’d asked the question herself the night before, but she was sure her father wasn’t about to repeat his answer. How could he tell a six year old the truth? That they were caught in the middle of a civil war, insurgents and militia intent on claiming land that never belonged to them? How could he explain to her that these men didn’t care who got caught in the crossfire? That this wasn’t a fight for freedom, or liberty or any sense of lost righteousness? That this was about control and power? How could he tell his youngest daughter that she had never been in more danger, because if they found out what she was, what all three of them were, both sides would lock them away and do all kinds of experiments on them?

“We’re playing a game,” he said, stroking his younger daughter’s hair, while at the same time squeezing Isobel’s hand. “It’s called the Running Game. We have to run and hide, concentrate on not getting caught. Wherever we go, whatever we do we keep moving, counting the exits, planning our escape routes so nobody can ever find us.”

“It sounds like a stupid game,” Rachel said.

Their dad laughed softly. “It does, but you get a prize if you play it well.”

“What prize?”

“You get to live Rachel. You get to grow up, to keep running. You have to keep running baby. Always be ready to run because they’ll always be coming for you. Whatever happens, they’ll always be coming for you.”

“When will they stop Dad?” Isobel asked.

Her father held Rachel close, as though he were protecting her from the next confession.

“They’ll never stop,” he said. “Right now we need to rest. The secret to winning the game is knowing when to run and when to wait. You’re tired. You’ve done so well today. Try to sleep now, we’ll try to get out of the forest in a few hours.”

Rachel was asleep in moments and Isobel had a suspicion her father had put her to sleep using his powers. She snored quietly, looking almost peaceful.

“There’s a lot of ground to cover,” he said to Isobel. “We’re going to make our way south, to S’aven. There’s a man there. A priest called Father Darcy. He’s an old friend. We can trust him. He’ll help hide us until all this is over.”

Isobel nodded, understanding these were instructions, not reassurances. She rolled the name in her head; Father Darcy. She had to remember it.

“Your sister, her powers…” he shook his head and sighed. “If they find her it will be bad for all Reachers.” He turned to her, his eyes warming. “If they find either of you, it will be bad honey. You’re so young, this isn’t the life I wanted for you. You need to be strong now sweetheart, you need to look after your sister. I wouldn’t trust her to anyone else.” He pushed the hair from her face. “My beautiful girl, look at you, you’re so grown up already. You make me and your mum so proud.”

She felt a lump swell in her throat.

“Whatever happens you look after your sister. Can you do that Isobel?”

Her father was a good man and she would have done anything to make him happy. She stared into his dark blue eyes and the look he gave her betrayed everything that was about to come – his death, their journey, her future.

“Can you do that Isobel?”

Would he have asked if he had honestly known what it would mean – what she would do to keep her sister safe?

“Isobel?”

 

This book is available to download for FREE. Get it from Amazon Smashwords or Kobo 

And you can add your book and others in the Reacher series to your Goodreads


Cover Poll – The Unlucky Man

Never judge a book by it’s cover. But what about when that’s all you’ve got to go on? Today we are getting interactive.

Check out this cover from H T G Hedges’ debut The Unlucky Man and tell us – based on this cover alone would you buy the book? Vote below for a chance to win a copy of the book:

 

The Unlucky Man

 

Leave a comment – even a simple hello – and one of you will be chosen to WIN an e-copy of the book on Saturday! 


Other Victims

Other Victims by Rachel JanLynnette McCormick is a fictional story about the Holocaust and Rachel has very kindly prepared a character introduction for us today. So allow me to introduce Namib Mushelenga.

 

 

Namib Mushelenga is the main character of my novel, with the story revolving around her and her experiences as she tries her best to live her life in the infamous Nazi Germany. Her name is short for the African country Namibia, which her black Namibian father, Omir Mushelenga, named her after. Namib’s white German mother is named Lody Mushelenga. When Hitler comes up with the devastating Death or Divorce Law, targeting interracial couples with death in a concentration camp or divorce instead, the couple and their daughter are forced to go into hiding, living in an apartment abandoned by a Jewish family. Namib is just three-years-old at the time in 1933. Now Namib is fifteen-years-old in 1944, rather small for her age and pretty thin due to stress. Because she is not an Aryan, she cannot do a lot of the many things people tend to take for granted. She can never vote, go to school, or marry an Aryan man if she wanted to. However, Namib does go to an underground school at an undisclosed location. The fact that she has to go out of her way to go to an underground school further from her home, but cannot go to the one closer to her home shows how the Nazis did not want nonAryans to be around and live productive lives. Something as simple as looking out of the window, can be life-threatening to her, for fear someone will see her and make trouble. Because she is of mixed race, Namib must deal with Aryans who don’t like her because she is half-black and then with blacks who do not like her because they feel she is half-Aryan. Understandably, she suffers a lot emotionally, being sad about her unfair circumstances. The only few things in her life that she has to make her happy are her Jewish boyfriend named Aven Beneluz, her best friend Damara Nande who is an black, African girl from Namibia, her Polish aunt named Anka von Bon that she wishes she could see more of, her God, and the hope that she and her father will soon flee from Nazi Germany and her mother, who has been growing abusive to her. Namib learns over time to try and weather the storm of her life and country.

 

Read more about Namib here: http://www.amazon.com/Other-Victims-Historical-Experiences-Persecution/dp/1492188905/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1411047267&sr=1-1&keywords=rachael+janlynnette+mccormick

 


The Unlucky Man

Being a beta reader means I get to read a lot of great books before anybody else and then when it comes to promotion I can pick my favourite part of the book to showcase. This is a great scene from The Unlucky Man by H T G Hedges and you can download this book for free on Saturday.

 

A figure was seated at a huge, dark wood desk that curved majestically into the centre of the room, a glass decanter atop it filled with amber spirit.

“Mr. Happen,” Baldman said with deference and a strange almost half bow to the figure behind the desk before retreating to stand in the shadows behind him. I was pleased to see him remove his ridiculous sunglasses as he did so.

So this was the Make It Happen Man. He was not at all what I had expected.

He was a tall, gaunt figure, old but in no way diminished by age. Thick white curls rolled back from his brow, flowing above a face of weathered and thickly lined leather skin. His was not a kindly old face, however, but rather the unyielding countenance of a feared and respected teacher. Old ink showed on his skeletal fingers and across the backs of his hands, faded sigils and angled characters in a spreading blue green that may once have been black.

But it was his eyes that surprised me the most: one dark as oil, the other rheumy and white and surely blind, peeking like a marble from beneath a scarred and puckered lid. He smiled very slightly at Corg, a glint of sharp gold teeth catching the light cast by the oil lamp on the mammoth desk.

His voice, when he spoke, was deep and resonant, at odds with his advancing years. “Alexander,” he said, “It has been some time.” He raised a hand in a vague gesture taking in the room around us.

“Please excuse the mess, but we find ourselves living in interesting times.” He grinned a big, predatory golden grin, picking up a heavy based tumbler and swirling the liquid within. “And to what do we owe this unexpected pleasure?” He inflected the final word with enough venom to make it plain that we were far from welcome in his rotten castle. Behind him I caught Baldman’s smirk.

Corg spread his hands in an imploring gesture.

“We’re in trouble Mr. Happen,” he said earnestly, “We could use a place to lay our hats for a while, whilst the storm dies down.” His words sounded small, muffled and swallowed by the thickly scented hostile air.

From out of the shadows Baldman re-emerged, hand on the gun concealed under his dark jacket, but the stricken old man at the desk waved him back. His eyes still bore into mine, both of them, thought I had the disquieting notion that the cold marble orb was the one he was really seeing me with. Cherry red droplets dripped unnoticed from his fingertips.

“It’s you,” he rasped and the look in his eye said he recognized my face though I knew we’d never met before. “You,” he croaked, “The Unlucky Man.” His words tumbled out atonally, like those spoken in a dream and I heard them both from his pale lips and echoed in my head, drumming at my temples with every syllable.

“I knew you would come. I’ve seen it.” His skin looked suddenly thin and pale as paper. “Chaos follows you; death is in your footfalls, Unlucky Man.” He spat the words at me and, as I heard them, something shifted once more in my head and I felt the dark particle coil and flex itself, almost like an animal that recognizes its name being spoken. Happen, too, it occurred to me was touched by the same darkness.

“You should not have come here.” Mr. Happen still spoke like someone asleep but his gaze didn’t flicker from my face. “You bring chaos everywhere your crow shadow touches. It will be drawn to you.” There was pain etched in his features, a thin line of blood ran from his felt nostril. If this was a parlor trick, I thought, then it was a damn good one.

“We’ve done terrible things,” Mr Happen whispered, “And you are our reckoning. I knew you would come, I wanted to be ready.” He shut his eyes, his face creasing with an emotion I couldn’t even begin to read.

“It will be drawn to you,” he repeated in a whisper.

An enormous booming crash rocked the building. It felt like some massive object had collided with the outer walls. Everything shook, plaster drifted in torrents from the ceiling, the light flickered as the floor bucked and swayed.

“What the hell was that?” Baldman grunted as the door opened and Loess stepped into the room, white and anxious.

“Time to go,” she said urgently, a worried look on her face. The sudden cacophony seemed to have roused the Make it Happen Man from his trance as, with an effort, he pulled himself up onto his feet.

“We cannot help you,” he repeated in a whisper. “We will show you the way out and then you will go. Take your troubles with you.” Without another word or a backwards glance he limped from the room, wiping the blood from his face with the back of his hand. We followed, subsumed by his entourage, into a long austere green corridor much like the ones we had entered through, at the end of which was another door leading, I guessed, to a staircase back to ground level.

We were about halfway along the floor when the far door opened, a cluster of figures emerging from the gloom beyond. They looked at first glance for the most part like our escorts – grim, dishevelled, grimy – but there was a uniformity to their unkempt appearance that was lacking in Mr. Happen’s ragtag ensemble.

For a long, tense moment they looked at us and we looked straight back, suspended in a moment of perfect stillness. But it couldn’t last.

The first bullet took Baldman through the lens of his wraparounds. I heard the glass pop as his head cannoned backwards then his legs splayed and he went over like an unruly mannequin. Somehow, as he fell, I got a hand under his jacket, popped the clip on the holster, and brought out his pistol, firing off round after round into the shadowy gaggle of figures at the end of the hallway as more shots followed.

To my left, Loess had her weapon out and was firing too, whilst everyone else seemed frozen in icy shock. The noise was incredible in the confined space, every shot a boom of thunder, every burst as bright as lightning. Penned in the narrow confines of the doorway they never stood a chance.

The echoing silence after the last shot had fired was deafening as the door at the end of the hall quietly slid closed, cutting off the bilious tableaux beyond. Two of our group were fast cooling on the wormy carpet: Baldman and another whose name I’d never learned and never would.

Loess was the first to speak. “Come on,” she said. “We need to find another way down.” We reversed our footsteps, heading back the way we had come and taking a right into a room that must have cornered the building. A great, dirty window looked out over the desolate wasteland below.

“Who the fuck were those guys?” Corg demanded.

“No coincidences,” Happen growled. “Chaos draws chaos like a black-hole swallowing light.”

“Which way now?” Voices were raised in a clamor of differing opinions but I was no longer listening. Through the glass I could see that it had finally stopped raining, but the sky was so dark and thick with churning cloud that it could have been night once more. It was not so dark, however, that I could not see the figures moving about below. These weren’t Mr. Happen’s men, of that I was certain.

A glint of light caught from something shining for a brief moment out of the murk, a long, cylindrical object being hefted to a shoulder, its bearer kneeling awkwardly in the sticking sludge. I rubbed at the grime on the window, spreading it like green algae under my palm, squinting down, trying to make out what was going on. Suddenly it swam into focus and was only too clear.

“Shit!” I shouted, pushing away from the window. “Get out of here! Down!” But it was too late. I caught the plume of smoke through the glass, heard, or imagined I heard, the keening whistling whine of the rocket, and then everything exploded in a crunching ripple of shattered glass and crumbling masonry. Someone was screaming, maybe several someone’s, as the world went red.

And then I was falling as the ground rushed up to meet me – gray and massive – with crushing speed as, in a moment of pain and exclamation, everything melted mercifully to black.

 

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