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Release Blitz – All Who Wander Are Lost – Bruce Blake

 

ALL WHO WANDER ARE LOST

Icarus Fell series, book 2
by Bruce Blake

Genre: Urban Fantasy
If we’re good, we go to Heaven; if we’re bad we go to Hell. No one wants to go to Hell.
Except one man who wishes people would just remember to call him Ric.
In the aftermath of a serial killer’s murderous spree, souls who didn’t deserve damnation went to Hell. The archangel Michael doesn’t seem concerned, but Icarus Fell can’t bear the guilt of knowing it’s his fault they ended up there.
But how can he save them when the archangel forbids him from going and his guardian angel refuses to help?
The answer comes in the form of another beautiful, bewitching guardian angel who offers to be his guide. They travel to Hell to rescue the unjustly damned one by one, but salvation comes at a cost and the economy of Hell demands souls.
Is it a price Icarus is willing to pay?

Chapter One
When your guardian angel and her friend, the archangel Gabriel, tell you to stay put, it’s probably a good idea to listen.
I should have, but I have inexplicable difficulty with authority figures. It gets me in trouble. A lot.
An old Buick sat to the right of my motel room door looking like it hadn’t moved in a decade or so, and it certainly hadn’t budged since I checked in; a few other cars were parked in the motel’s lot but there were no people. I stepped across the threshold and closed the door behind me, the click of the lock firecracker-loud in the winter night.
I paused. Still no one around. I breathed deep and stepped away from the door, the first time I’d been outside the dingy, musty-smelling room in weeks.
A month ago, the police found a tranny prostitute named Dante Frank dead on a bed in a five-star hotel, hairy chest and hairless vagina exposed for the world to see along with the biblical references his killer carved in his flesh. Dante, whom I’d known as Danielle Francis, was the last victim of the serial killer dubbed the Revelations Reaper by the media. The police had a suspect in the string of killings: me.
I didn’t kill any of them but, if the truth be told, their deaths were on me.
Forget the angels telling me to stay indoors, the fact the local news had been flashing an unflattering picture of my face on the screen every night until a week ago should have kept me inside my seedy room. But you know what they say about common sense…it ain’t so common.
Icarus Fell: living proof.
I didn’t think that because they finally stopped plastering my face all over the six o’clock news they’d stopped looking for me. Every cop in the city likely still carried my picture like they were at war and I was their girl waiting for them back home, but after four weeks in my motel-room-prison, the prospect of remaining inside held as little appeal as being girlfriend to a bunch of cops. I’d spent every moment of the last month thinking about my role in the deaths, wishing things were different. Another minute trapped alone with my guilt might prove one too many.
I slipped away from the motel and down a side street, disappearing in shadows and down alleys wherever I could. The taste of impending snow in the early December air fortified my lungs.
As I ranged farther from the motel, the garbage strewn on the streets and graffiti tags spray-painted on walls — ‘Big Turk Wuz Hear’ and other poetic gems — became less frequent until they disappeared completely. I’d made my way to a neighborhood where people cared, a fact which should have rang alarm bells in my head and made me more careful, but the lack of hookers and drug dealers lifted my spirits and my worry ebbed taking caution along with it.
Dumb ass.
I paused at the intersection, the lights of an approaching car reflecting on the frost-rimed pavement as I waited to be sure it would obey the stop sign. Without the fresh air loosening my wits, I’d have waved him through, but freedom made my head light in the way of a non-smoker after a few drags on a cigarette. The car’s brakes squeaked as it rolled to a halt. I stepped off the curb and raised a hand in thanks, squinting against the lights, but couldn’t see the driver. Hand replaced in pocket, I continued on my way, thinking nothing of it until I heard the hum and chatter of a power window in need of repair.
“Hey, you.”
The words weren’t spoken with the timbre of someone in need of directions. The caution and worry the beautiful night had leeched from me flooded back; I quickened my pace.
“Stop.”
I broke into a run before his engine roared and tires chirped. Cutting across a well-manicured lawn, I hopped a fence, ran through a back yard dominated by an inter-locking brick patio and an in-ground pool emptied for the winter, then vaulted another fence into a rear lane, cursing my stupidity with every step.
Despite a house between us, I heard the car’s engine rev and labor as the driver gave chase. I dove through a line of tall shrubs, their branches scratching my face, and into another yard, keeping my flight to places the car couldn’t go. Ten minutes of fence-jumping and shrub-diving later, I emerged on a sporadically lit street. Familiar graffiti scrolled across the side of a building; Big Turk and his poor spelling were back. Close to my motel. My lungs labored, the cold air hurting my chest instead of refreshing it as a stitch in my side dug in and grabbed hold. I stopped to catch my breath, bent at the waist, hands grasping knees like the world’s worst marathoner run out of steam, but rest didn’t last long. A siren wailed behind me and I forced my legs back into action.
I darted into an alley and the all-too-familiar stink of garbage and piss, depression and decay hit me immediately. I’d lost so many days and nights of my youth in alleys like this, sleeping off a bottle of vodka or poking a needle in my arm. I forced the thought from my mind. This was no time to self-analyze by way of shitty memories.
Tires screeched at the mouth of the alley. I didn’t look back, my attention taken by a figure stepping out of the shadows into my path. A Carrion, I assumed–a human-shaped demon sent to collect souls and make my life difficult–but I quickly realized the silhouette was smaller and more feminine, leaving two possible people. Angels, really. I halted a few paces beyond arm’s-reach in case I was wrong.
“Hey, mister. Long time, no see.”
I recognized the voice immediately. The angel stepped into the light and I saw her gingerbread hair, glimpsed the freckled skin of her cheek.
“Gabe.”
The Archangel Gabriel is the messenger. She brings scrolls with my assignments inscribed on them: who’s scheduled to pass, where, when, and where to take them when it’s done.
I couldn’t think of a worse time for her to show up.
“Did you miss me?”
Her pure voice echoed off the alley walls and a chorus of swallows which always accompanied her, but that I couldn’t see in the dark, chirped and chittered on a fire escape overhead.
“Don’t have time right now, Gabe,” I said breathlessly and glanced over my shoulder. The alley remained empty, but it wouldn’t for much longer.
“Here.”
She offered a scroll which hadn’t been in her hand a second before.
“Really, Gabe? I don’t–” I gestured toward the alley at my back, offered a pleading look. She shook the scroll at me and raised an eyebrow.
I’d learned the hard way that harvesting wasn’t the kind of job you could slack off at; the hard way seems to be how I learn pretty much everything. I gave in without any real fight.
My finger brushed hers as I grasped the rolled parchment and an electric charge prickled the hairs on my arm, bringing with it a longing to spend time with her, to be in her presence as long as possible. I nearly forgot the man chasing me.
“Gabe, I–”
She smiled and shrugged. “You don’t have time, remember?”
Swallow wings beat the air above my head as she walked away. I stared after her for a second before pulling myself from the angel-induced stupor to look at the scroll in my hand. This was my second assignment since everything went down: the deaths, the media frenzy, the explosion at the church. What happened to souls during my seclusion? Did they make other arrangements or were they okay with everyone going to Hell for a few weeks while I got my wits about me? Great vacation for me, but kind of sucked for everyone else.
Unrolling the scroll unnerved me. After being given one inscribed with my son’s name, I couldn’t help but hold my breath. Probably would every time I did it.
Shaun Williams.

I set my captive breath free. Didn’t know him. The address scrawled on the yellowed parchment wasn’t familiar either, but I knew the city well enough to recognize it was close. I read the time of death, then checked my watch.
Two minutes from now.
The sound of shoes hammering pavement reverberated off the alley’s brick walls. I got my legs moving again and took a corner, feet tangling in a pile of garbage bags and spilling me to the pavement. My shoulder hit hard and I skidded a couple of feet along the damp ground, filth snow-plowing onto my jacket. I scrambled to my feet, glanced ahead and behind as the footsteps grew louder, and realized the futility of my flight. Facing my pursuer seemed the only option. Maybe I could talk my way out of it before my appointment came and went.

Damn it.

Bad things happen to good people when I miss appointments. And to bad people; also, the Swiss.
I backed down the alley and didn’t have to wait long for the man chasing me. He rounded the corner, avoided the garbage bags which had tripped me, and skidded to a halt in a pool of light cast by a security light mounted high overhead. The dress pants he wore looked a year or so beyond their best-before date; a long wool coat covered a rumpled dress shirt which may never have made a dry cleaner’s acquaintance. I might have noticed more but the gun in his hand distracted me.
“Mr. Fell,” he said between panted breaths. “If that’s really your name.”
“It’s the name the bastard gave me,” I muttered glancing from gun to a face I’d met a few times and seen many more on the news. The muscles in my jaw clenched and released as I silently counted the passing seconds in my head. “We seem to meet under awkward circumstances, don’t we, Detective?”
“Sometimes happens between serial killers and cops.”
“I didn’t kill anyone.”
“Right.” He leveled the gun, his eternally tired eyes unwavering. “And I’m Serena Williams. Put your hands behind your head.”
A little firework went off in my brain, interrupting my mental countdown. He obviously wasn’t Serena Williams — wrong sex, wrong skin color, and he didn’t look like much of a tennis player — so why pick her out of a thousand possible celebrities to use sarcastically? I chanced pissing him off and stole a peek at my watch: t-minus one minute. My gut wrenched one twist to the right.

If I don’t get out of here quick–

The thought cut off half-formed, bullied aside by another. The detective was the lead investigator in the Revelations Reaper case, the guy the newscasts interviewed no matter how uncomfortable he looked on camera, so I’d seen his face a hundred times on TV. And every time they showed him offering his oft-quoted ‘no comment’, they emblazoned his name on the screen in white letters.
How did I miss it?

Detective Shaun Williams.
I raised an eyebrow. “Detective Williams?”
“Yeah, that’s right. Now that we’ve been properly introduced, put your fucking hands behind your head before I shoot you.”
I peered past him, then to both sides. With his name on the scroll in my back pocket, there had to be someone waiting to ambush this man scheduled to die in about forty-five seconds.
“You need to get out of here,” I said, eyes still searching the shadows. “You’re in danger.”
“Me?” He stretched his arm toward me, pushing the barrel closer. “If you don’t get your hands up right now, you’ll never walk again.”
The seconds ticked off in my head, echoing down the hallways of my mind. I gritted my teeth, fought the compulsion to try and save him.
Not my job.

They sent me to retrieve his soul after his death, not prevent it. But so many already died because of me and my poor choices. Maybe this was an opportunity to make amends–with myself, if no one else. My eyes found his and held his gaze for a second; I didn’t have much more than that.
“You’ll thank me for this later,” I murmured and darted toward him, moving faster than he expected an out-of-shape-almost-forty guy like me could.
He squeezed the trigger but I was on him before he got the shot off. The gunshot nearly deafened me, the explosion echoing through my head, ringing in my ears. My arms encircled him, pinning his at his sides, and inertia carried me forward, driving him to the ground. Breath whooshed out of his lungs when we hit, but I didn’t let go.
“This is for your own good,” I said into his ear. His body jerked but my grip held. The last few seconds counted down in my head.
Five…four…three…two…one.

When I reached zero, I held on a few seconds longer in case my timing was off or my watch was slow. Nothing happened. No gunshot, no one jumping from the shadows; a grand piano didn’t drop from a balcony. Nothing.
I leaned back, a hand on his gun arm to prevent him from shooting me. Some thanks that would be for saving his life. I gripped his wrist expecting him to squirm away, but he didn’t. His lack of movement should have tipped me something was wrong, but I was too concerned with making sure we weren’t about to be attacked to notice. Nothing moved in the shadows, no one approached down the alley.
Could the scroll have been wrong?

Unlikely, but it happened before, when other forces manipulated events. How did I know the same wasn’t the case this time?
I didn’t.
A small movement caught my eye and I looked left to see a figure standing five yards away. Fear forced bitter, electric saliva into my mouth like I’d bitten down on a piece of aluminum foil, and I snatched the gun from Detective Williams’ hand, jerked it toward the silhouette. The man didn’t react, but simply stood watching. His presence made a knot form in my stomach which worked its way quickly into the back of my throat. The figure stepped forward into the light and the muscles in my forearm tensed, my finger brushed the trigger. It only took a second to realize he wasn’t as opaque as he should be.
This wasn’t a man, but a dislodged soul.
“What–?” I began but the lump in my throat got the better of my voice.
My brain finally registered the detective’s lack of movement and I looked from the soul to the detective’s face. His tired eyes stared up at me blankly; a dark circle of fluid spread across the grungy pavement beneath his head.
“No, I–”
The sight of his glazed eyes hit me like a spinning kick to the gut, stealing my breath and energy. My gun arm sagged, the police-issue .38 resting against my thigh, forgotten. I resisted the urge to shake him by the lapel of his wool coat or slap him awake, call out his name. I already knew what the result would be. The overhead light reflected in the pool of liquid around his head making a grisly halo.
I was responsible for another death.
I shook my head in disbelief and looked back at the spirit. There were no black bags under its eyes or worry lines at the corners of its mouth, but there was no mistaking to whom the soul belonged: except for the felt fedora tilted over the soul’s left eye like he’d stepped out of a Mickey Spillane novel, the spirit wore the same clothes.
“I didn’t–”
My words stuck again. Or maybe I didn’t want to complete the sentence because it would make what happened real. No need to worry, the ghost took care of that piece of business for me.
“You killed me.”
To some, death is the end; to others, a beginning. To Icarus Fell, it should have been a relief from a life gone seriously awry.
But death had other plans.
Icarus doesn’t believe that the man awaiting him when he wakes up in a cheap motel room is really the archangel Michael, or that God’s right hand wants him to help souls on their way to Heaven. Icarus doesn’t believe there’s a Heaven, so why should they want his help?
But the man claiming to be the archangel tempts him with an offer he can’t ignore–harvest enough souls and get back the life he wished he’d had.
It seems Icarus has nothing to lose, until he botches a harvest and the soul that went to Hell instead of Heaven comes back to make him pay by threatening to take away the life he hoped to win back.
To save the wife and son he already lost once, Icarus will have to become the man he never was. Somehow, he will have to learn to believe.
Bruce Blake lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. When pressing issues like shovelling snow and building igloos don’t take up his spare time, Bruce can be found taking the dog sled to the nearest coffee shop to work on his short stories and novels.
Actually, Victoria, B.C. is only a couple hours north of Seattle, Wash., where more rain is seen than snow. Since snow isn’t really a pressing issue, Bruce spends more time trying to remember to leave the “u” out of words like “colour” and “neighbour” than he does shovelling (and watch out for those pesky double l’s). The father of two, Bruce is also the trophy husband of a burlesque diva.
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Release Blitz – On Unfaithful Wings – Bruce Blake

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ON UNFAITHFUL WINGS

Icarus Fell series, book 1

by Bruce Blake

 

Genre: Urban Fantasy

To some, death is the end; to others, a beginning. To Icarus Fell, it should have been a relief from a life gone seriously awry.

But death had other plans.

Icarus doesn’t believe that the man awaiting him when he wakes up in a cheap motel room is really the archangel Michael, or that God’s right hand wants him to help souls on their way to Heaven. Icarus doesn’t believe there’s a Heaven, so why should they want his help?

But the man claiming to be the archangel tempts him with an offer he can’t ignore–harvest enough souls and get back the life he wished he’d had.

It seems Icarus has nothing to lose, until he botches a harvest and the soul that went to Hell instead of Heaven comes back to make him pay by threatening to take away the life he hoped to win back.

To save the wife and son he already lost once, Icarus will have to become the man he never was. Somehow, he will have to learn to believe.

I stood with my back to the church, much the way I’d lived my life.

Rain poured down the eaves, splashing my shoes. Each drop pattering against the leather felt as though it landed directly on my mood. I tugged my suit jacket tighter and glanced at my watch—almost eleven p.m. If the rain didn’t let up soon, Trevor would be in bed, his belated birthday present another day late. After letting him down again, Rae probably wouldn’t let me give him the gift, anyway. A heavy sigh drew the taste of rain on dry soil into my lungs as I suppressed the desire to call her names in my head, to blame her for everything. It wasn’t her fault.

There I stood, spirit as dampened by the April shower as my clothing, thinking I waited for the rain to stop, not knowing it was something else I waited for, something entirely different.

My death.

I shifted again and the plastic Best Buy bag hidden under my jacket to keep it dry slipped out and hit the stairs with a splash.

“Damn it.”

I stooped to retrieve the bag, feeling unremorseful for swearing outside a house of worship. There was no God to hear anyway and—with the Pope dry in the Vatican—who’d be offended? A plump drop of rain punished my Godly disdain with a direct hit to my left eye as I fetched my son’s gift from the top step.

I suspected the rain might not let up any time soon.

It probably couldn’t have happened any differently. Do we have any choice in what we do, or is it all pre-planned? I used to believe we did, but my beliefs—or lack of them—were about to be thrown into question, along with my opinion of what happens after we die.

I stepped back and shook moisture from the bag impatiently. It had been half an hour since the unexpected downpour began, its torrent catching me unprepared and forcing me from my planned path—to sneak Trevor his birthday present without Rae noticing me—to my current hiding spot at the church. This church of all churches.

See what I mean about choice?

If the rain wasn’t going to let up, I’d just have to get wet. I stepped from under the pathetic cover of the church’s eaves and my foot splashed in an unseen puddle, cold water soaking the Wal-Mart loafer on my left foot. Raindrops pelted my cheek and I bit back another curse as I jammed the Xbox game purchased for Trevor’s birthday into the pocket of my suit jacket and pulled the coat over my head. I felt like an idiot as my saturated footwear slurped with each step down the concrete path.

Halfway across the churchyard, I noticed two men blocking the path ahead. They wore jackets with hoods pulled up to hide their faces, keep the rain from their heads. At first glimpse, the sheets of rain gave them a ghostly quality, a glow, and made me doubt my eyes. My gaze flickered sideways to the graveyard beside the church, with its broken, moss-covered headstones canted at odd angles, but I quickly dismissed the thought. A trick of rain and poor light.

There’s no such thing as ghosts.

I slowed, wondering if the men could be avoided. Probably not. Living in the city my entire life taught me to be wary of men hanging out on the streets at night with their faces hidden. But this wasn’t the streets, it was a churchyard, and rain this heavy gave good reason to use a hood. Maybe they’d come for a little midnight prayer, eager for the best pew in the house.

Right.

“Good evening, gentlemen,” I ventured drawing closer to them. “Beautiful night, isn’t it?”

Apparently they didn’t think so. The man nearest me pulled a knife from under his forest-green rain slicker and jabbed it toward me, stabbing the rain between us. Hell of a reaction.

He could’ve just said ‘no’.

“Give me your money,” he growled.

I know you’re supposed to do what a mugger says: it’s your best shot at survival, but I didn’t. Maybe the rain made me hesitate, or the wetness in my shoes, or knowing the boy would be disappointed again; whichever, my brain wouldn’t let my body do what it knew it should. I stood taller than either of them, but they had the knife. All I had on them was fifteen years of poor eating and neglect.

“C’mon guys. It’s a crummy night and I’m two weeks late for my boy’s birthday. Let a guy be, will you? There must be some little old ladies running around practically begging to have their social security cheques stolen.”

“Shut up and give us your money, asshole.”

The man holding the knife remained in front of me as the other circled to my right, presumably to hinder any escape. I watched him out of the corner of my eye, saw rain bouncing off his gray raincoat, noticed that his runners didn’t match, but he quickly passed from view, blocked by the jacket held foolishly over my head, keeping my hair dry in case they killed me. Cool rain peppered my face as I dropped the coat back onto my shoulders and reached to pull my wallet from the inner pocket. The man with the knife lunged forward, brandishing the blade at my nose. My stomach jumped into my chest and I threw both hands up in the air like a good mugging victim.

“Whoa. You want my money, you need my wallet.”

The tip of the knife waggled in the air, gesturing for me to continue. I stared at the point of the blade, at the man’s fingerless glove and the way he’d chewed his fingers until they looked painful. Beyond his arm, I thought I saw a smile hidden in the darkness beneath the hood.

I sighed, a shuddering breath lamenting how little my wallet contained for them to steal as much as it did the fact they were stealing it. The man behind me snatched it away before it cleared my pocket, his nails raking my wrist, and rifled through the meager contents. He snatched the three bills it contained, made a face at the fifteen bucks, and then took the VISA card I’d fought so hard to get after ruining my credit a few years back. Joke’s on him if he uses it, they’ll probably ask for a payment first.

He showed the sparse loot to his partner.

“Fifteen bucks? That’s it?”

“Look at this.” He’d dug out my driver’s licence. I knew this would happen. “The guy’s name is Icarus Fell. Icarus, like in the Iron Maiden song”

“Yeah,” I said. “The guy who named me didn’t like me much. Call me Ric.”

“Sure, Icarus,” the guy holding the knife said in a schoolyard-bully lilt. With a name like Icarus Fell, I’d heard that tone enough to recognize it. He stepped toward me, blade extended to within an inch of my face. I wanted to take an equal step away, but knew his partner wouldn’t like that, so I stood my ground, hoping to look more brave than stupid. “What else you got?”

“Nothing. That’s it.”

“Check his pockets. He put something in his pocket.”

The man tossed my wallet onto the grass where it landed with a mucky-sounding splat. He advanced on me and this time I moved. He grabbed my arm, pulled me toward him.

“Don’t do nothing stupid.”

Why didn’t he tell me that twenty-five or thirty years ago?

He patted my pants pockets first—the most action I’d seen in a while—then moved to the pockets of my suit jacket; the right hand outer one produced a hollow, plasticky thud. I cringed.

“What’s that?”

“Nothing,” I said inching away. “A game for my kid.”

“Give it up.”

“Guys, really. What are you going to do with a video game?”

His fingers dug into my bicep. “Give it to me.”

“I already missed his birthday. Can’t you let me keep it?” I yanked against his grip knowing I shouldn’t—people got killed for less—but I couldn’t let Trevor down. Not again. “Take everything else. I won’t tell anyone.”

“There is nothing else. Give it to me,” the knife-wielder demanded.

I wondered what Rae would tell Trevor when he didn’t get a present from me again. Probably that, since someone else was his ‘real’ father, I didn’t care.

Adrenaline flooded my brain, but it didn’t heighten my senses the way they describe in books. Instead, it made me stupid. Before I realized what I was doing, I swung at the man holding my arm, my fist contacting his nose with a satisfying crunch. The move surprised both of us and he lifted his hands to his face.

It took a second to comprehend that he’d let me go. My heartbeat quickened, pulsed in my ears. I ran, or attempted to: dress shoes aren’t made for sprinting on wet grass. Both men jumped me before I got going, riding me to the ground like they were the cowboys and I was the calf. A knee pressed into my back, an elbow in my ear as my cheek sank into soggy lawn knocking breath from my lungs and hope from my heart. My clothes soaked instantly, plastering cloth to skin, the smell of wet earth filled my nose, literally.

“You stupid bastard,” one of them said, but the mud in one ear and elbow in the other precluded me from identifying which one. “Couldn’t give us the stupid game, could you?” He yanked it out of my pocket.

The pain of the knife’s tip pushing through the flesh of my lower back into my kidney hurt more than I could ever have imagined. The shock of it made me suck a mixture of cold air and dirty rain water through taut lips and expel it all in an agonized howl. The knife rose and fell again, then again, perforating my internal organs, each stab more painful than the last. Each time it pulled free, I prayed to a God I didn’t believe in that it would end, that I would get up and hurry on my way to see Trevor.

My body jerked and spasmed beneath the men straddling me, my bladder let go. After the fourth time the knife entered me, my flesh went numb. It may have pierced me a few more times, but I lost interest in counting. I gasped air in through my mouth and the breath tasted like the black crud scraped off bread left too long in the toaster. And blood.

“That’s enough. Let’s go,” one of them said, presumably the one not engaged in shredding my bowels.

Their weight lifted off my back and my mind told me to roll over and sit up, defend against further attack, but my muscles would have nothing of such a proposal, so I lay on the wet grass doing the only thing I could: bleed. Maybe I wept a little, too, but who can tell in the rain?

“I guess Icarus really did fall, didn’t he, Ric?”

Their laughter didn’t sting nearly as much as the knife, and it dissipated much more quickly as they ran off. I was used to being teased but couldn’t say the same of being knifed. After they left, my ragged breathing and the sound of rain pattering around and on me became my world. I never realized how much noise rain hitting grass made until my ear was pressed to the ground with no choice but to listen.

My stomach knotted as the gravity of my situation set in: after eleven on a Wednesday night, bleeding on the lawn outside an empty church in the kind of downpour that convinced people not to venture out for a chat with God.

Did I mention I was bleeding? A lot?

Water pooled in my ear canal until the unnaturally loud plop of rain drops splashing into the tiny pond drowned out even the sound of my breath. Not steady, metronomic drips like I imagined a water torture would be, but an uneven patter that, should I live long enough, would likely prove equally effective at driving me crazy.

“Help.”

In my head, the single word came out a scream, shaking trees and rattling windows, attracting the attention needed to save me so I could see my son again, even if it was for the last time. In reality, it was more of a peep. I closed my eyes and sucked dirty water through my nose then coughed it out my mouth. The pain it induced in my back and side hurt worse than the original stabbing, like someone stood over me with a hot poker pressed to my side, except I was cold and wet and bleeding to death, too. A hot poker didn’t sound so bad.

“Help,” I peeped.

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ALL WHO WANDER ARE LOST

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If we’re good, we go to Heaven; if we’re bad we go to Hell. No one wants to go to Hell.Except one man who wishes people would just remember to call him Ric.

In the aftermath of a serial killer’s murderous spree, souls who didn’t deserve damnation went to Hell. The archangel Michael doesn’t seem concerned, but Icarus Fell can’t bear the guilt of knowing it’s his fault they ended up there.

But how can he save them when the archangel forbids him from going and his guardian angel refuses to help?

The answer comes in the form of another beautiful, bewitching guardian angel who offers to be his guide. They travel to Hell to rescue the unjustly damned one by one, but salvation comes at a cost and the economy of Hell demands souls.Is it a price Icarus is willing to pay?

Bruce Blake lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. When pressing issues like shovelling snow and building igloos don’t take up his spare time, Bruce can be found taking the dog sled to the nearest coffee shop to work on his short stories and novels.

Actually, Victoria, B.C. is only a couple hours north of Seattle, Wash., where more rain is seen than snow. Since snow isn’t really a pressing issue, Bruce spends more time trying to remember to leave the “u” out of words like “colour” and “neighbour” than he does shovelling (and watch out for those pesky double l’s). The father of two, Bruce is also the trophy husband of a burlesque diva.

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Release Blitz – Heart of the King – Bruce Blake

HEART OF THE KING

Khirro’s Journey Book 3

by Bruce Blake

PUBLISHER: Paper Gold Publishing

GENRE: Epic Fantasy

 

It began with a vial of blood, a curse, and a quest to a haunted land.

Now, Khirro’s Journey comes to its end.

A king’s spirit. A coward’s heart. Together, a kingdom’s last hope.

Sheyndust, the Archon, desires to be Necromancer and wield dark magic the likes of which the world has never seen. For years, her deadly plan has fallen into place piece by piece, treachery by treachery, death by death. With her enemies on their knees and an army of the dead at her command, nothing stands between her and the ultimate power for which she thirsts.

Nothing except a farmer and a dead king.

The curse that bound Khirro to his task was broken when the blood of the king spilled, but the king’s spirit—a tyger of vengeful flame—burns bright within him. It pushes Khirro through hostile lands to return to his home. It pushes him to be more than he ever thought he could be despite the doubt and fear devouring him. It pushes him in a race against time to save the kingdom, a race he is bound to lose.

As the final pieces of the Archon’s plot fall into place, and her power and army grow, it looks certain that all will be lost.

Unless a coward can look inside himself and find the heart of a king.

 

Chapter One

“They’re coming.”

Therrador sat on the pile of dirty straw, elbows on his knees, head hung. He didn’t raise his head when he heard the words.

Enough days had passed for him to lose track of their number; the guards had woken him every time he appeared to doze, and brought only water enough to keep him alive, nothing more. No food, no change of clothes, no medicine. The filthy bandage wrapped around his hand reeked of infection, and the stump of thumb hidden beneath ached with numb pain, though not so much as the untended wound in his thigh.

“They’re coming.”

A woman’s voice spoke the words, so he knew it to be either hallucination or the Archon toying with him. He had no interest in either.

“They still carry the essence of the king.”

The muscles in Therrador’s back and shoulders went rigid at the last words.

“Leave me be, witch. Haven’t you punished me enough?” His voice cracked in his parched throat and its tone of defeat surprised and embarrassed him.

The temperature in the cell dropped, and the feeling of a presence beside him brought goose flesh to Therrador’s arms. He looked up into the burning green eyes of a young woman, her freckled cheeks framed by red curls, and thought she might be the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.

A trick.

“I am Elyea. I’m here to help you.”

“You’re not real,” Therrador croaked. “You’re another of the Archon’s tortures.”

“I’m not.”

She crouched in front of him and held her hand out to him. In the dim light cast by the torch in the passage outside the cell, and with his lack of strength and focus, it took a minute for Therrador to realize she held a cup.

Hallucinating like a dying man in the desert.

He stared at it but made no move to accept it. The woman didn’t move, either.

“Take it.”

Therrador considered for another moment before reaching out a weak and shaking hand. His fingers brushed the side of the clay mug, felt its solidity, its realness. Saliva rushed into his mouth at the thought the cup may contain relief from the thirst burning at the back of his throat, but he kept his eagerness carefully hidden. His fingers wrapped around the vessel’s cool surface and brought it close to his face; he peered over the lip at the liquid inside.

It looked like water.

He leaned closer to it and sniffed deeply.

No odor.

The edge of the cup touched his mouth and a splash of water lapped against his lips. Cool, tasteless. He slurped a little onto his tongue, the promise it held making his parched throat howl for more and, before he could stop himself, Therrador quaffed the water as fast as his mouth would take it. Water spilled over his chin, ran down his neck into his shirt. The cup’s supply never seemed to end allowing him to drink and drink and drink.

He drank until his belly hurt.

Energy flowed back into the king’s limbs. He pulled his mouth away from the rim of the cup and tilted his head back, drawing a satisfied breath in through his nose before gazing at the woman’s face. Her full lips tilted up at the corners in a gentle smile, her eyes shone. He didn’t know her, had never seen her before, but inexplicably felt he should trust her.

“Elyea, is it?” he whispered. “Who is coming?”

“You’ll know him when he comes, but he’ll need your help.”

Therrador scratched his stubbled cheek, felt the heat of fever burning in his head, and wondered if this woman and her words could be real. He turned the clay cup between his fingers; it felt real enough.

If the man bearing the king’s blood was coming, and he aided him, perhaps the Archon might be defeated. But this knowledge of her enemy’s inevitable arrival might also be the bargaining chip he needed to get his son back. He looked toward the cell door and saw the shadow of his undead guard beyond, so leaned toward the woman. She smelled of roses.

“When will he come?”

“Soon, and there will be a battle. That is where your help will be needed. Not even the king’s spirit can defeat the army of Kanos without help.”

Therrador nodded and stroked the long beard trailing from his chin, the braid which normally held it in place abandoned soon after he landed in the dungeon cell.

“I’ll need out of here.”

“I can’t help with that; it’s up to you. But I can help with this.”

The tips of her fingers brushed his wounded thigh. Pain flared along Therrador’s leg as if she’d touched him with a lit torch, and he sucked a breath between his clenched teeth, biting down against the agonized cry in his throat. The wound throbbed and burned, his body tensed. She pressed her palm flat against it and, a minute later, the pain settled to a tingling sensation, then finally disappeared.

The woman removed her hand and Therrador replaced her touch with his own. The flesh felt tender and sore, but the wound was gone. He raised his right hand wrapped in the stinking bandage, hoping she would do the same for the wound beneath the gray cloth. She looked at it and shook her head, then stood, and Therrador saw her form was translucent.

“You have some time, but not much.”

The imprisoned king stared as she seemed to float across the cell toward the door, feet hidden beneath her long white gown. She didn’t pause when she reached the bars, but passed through and faded from sight like a morning mist burned away by midday sun.

A ghost?

Therrador touched the back of his hand to his forehead and found his fever had broken, disappeared along with the wound to his leg. Perhaps sickness and hallucination weren’t to blame. The king had never believed in apparitions, but neither did he believe in men brought back from the dead until they laid siege to the fortress. It had been a season of oddities: the king’s blood, undead soldiers, and now a spirit come to his aid.

Is this an opportunity to save my son, or is my mind finally snapping in two?

If the ghost’s words were true, he had little time to decide which was the case and how to best use it to his advantage.

He rose from the filthy straw, joints creaking with disuse, and brushed dirt from the seat of his breeches before taking an unsteady step toward the cell door. When his previously injured leg didn’t falter beneath him, he strode across the floor, energized by the ghostly woman’s water. He reached the bars and wrapped the fingers of his good hand around the cold steel, pulled his face close. A short way down the hall, his undead guard stood motionless, staring at the blank wall ahead, as always.

It didn’t see the woman.

“Guard,” he called, his voice strong and filled with the authority bred of years commanding men. “I need to see the Archon. Now.”

 

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Blood of the KingSpirit of the King

Bruce Blake lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. When pressing issues like shovelling snow and building igloos don’t take up his spare time, Bruce can be found taking the dog sled to the nearest coffee shop to work on his short stories and novels.

Actually, Victoria, B.C. is only a couple hours north of Seattle, Wash., where more rain is seen than snow. Since snow isn’t really a pressing issue, Bruce spends more time trying to remember to leave the “u” out of words like “colour” and “neighbour” than he does shovelling (and watch out for those pesky double l’s). The father of two, Bruce is also the trophy husband of a burlesque diva.

 

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Release Blitz – Spirit of the King – Bruce Blake

SPIRIT OF THE KING

Khirro’s Journey Book 2 by Bruce Blake

GENRE: Epic Fantasy

A shattered vial. A failed journey. Two spirits joined as one.
An army of dead men led by a sorceress with an unquenchable lust for power occupies the kingdom of Erechania. The kingdom’s traitor-king seeks to redeem himself, but the sorceress has stolen his son, his last reminder of the wife he lost. Neither the king nor his enemy can know the importance of the role the child will play.
The Necromancer’s last act of magic joined a fallen king’s spirit with Khirro’s, making him the vessel carrying the kingdom’s hope. But the haunted land of Lakesh, the outlaw city of Poltghasa, and the enemy country of Kanos lie between him and his homeland. Dangerous creatures and murderous men seek to end his quest, but he is also stalked by something far deadlier:
An assassin he once loved.
The giant kicked a sheet of sand at his face; Khirro averted his eyes and dove aside, concentration broken by the club thumping the sand where he’d just stood.
“I need help here, Athryn!”
The magician answered, but Khirro didn’t hear his words as the wooden club scraped across his breast piece. He ducked and dodged. Sweat ran down his face as he searched for an opening to get to the beast without forfeiting his life in the process. The Mourning Sword cut the air with no more success than the first time, but the giant hesitated, giving Khirro a second’s respite from attack. He struck a third time, blade glancing ineffectively off the giant’s weapon, but it gave him a moment’s satisfaction for his steel having touched something.
The giant roared its ear-splitting war belch and renewed its attack, spinning Khirro about and forcing him back toward the edge of the forest. Beyond the creature and its swirling club, he glimpsed Athryn stripped to the waist, gesturing and chanting before the giant’s massive body blocked his view.
“Athryn!”
Another barely-avoided blow sent Khirro to the sand. He held the Mourning Sword up knowing he wouldn’t be able to deflect a blow, and that one direct hit would be enough to end the fight, likely his life. The giant was too strong. What a fool he’d been to think he could hold off the beast on his own.
Why isn’t Athryn helping?
The giant loomed beyond his sword’s reach, a string of saliva hanging from its lips like a dog left unfed for weeks. Khirro tensed, hoping to somehow survive the attack, but instead of raining another blow down on him, the giant stopped, listened.
Foreign words floated to Khirro on the sea breeze, words he didn’t recognize but he knew meant Athryn was casting a spell. The giant also seemed to realize what the words were for.
Khirro scrambled to stand, feet slipping in the loose sand, but the creature pushed him back with the tip of his club, knocking breath from his lungs in the process and leaving him no choice but to watch the giant set his club aside and pick up a boulder bigger than the first. It hoisted the stone above its head, bending its elbows like a living catapult.
“No,” Khirro wheezed. “Athryn.”
After all that had happened during their journey, and despite being a soldier in the King’s Army, Khirro still didn’t considered himself a warrior or think he possessed a killer’s instinct, but he realized this might be his last chance to prove to himself he could be.
As the giant heaved the boulder, Khirro leaped up, lungs desperate for air. The Mourning Sword glowed red in anticipation of the blood to come, the radiance brightening as Khirro sank the blade’s tip into the beast’s lower back. The giant howled and jerked away, sending Khirro tumbling back, but not before he’d embedded the sword to its hilt, skewering kidney and lung and heart.
Khirro dug his hands into the sand and pulled himself out of the thrashing beast’s path. The giant stumbled, reaching around in an attempt to grasp the sword’s hilt, its fingers brushing it without finding a hold. It spun a circle like a dog chasing its tail, but the damage proved too much, and the beast dropped to his knees. The ground shuddered under its weight when it pitched forward, face first into the sand, a trickle of blood seeping from the wound in its back.
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A kingdom torn by war.
A curse whispered by dying lips. A hero born against his will. Khirro never wanted to be anything more than the farmer he was born to be, but a Shaman’s curse binds him to the fallen king and his life changes forever. Driven by the Shaman’s dying words, Khirro’s journey pits him against an army of the dead, sends him through haunted lands, and thrusts him into the jaws of beasts he wouldn’t have believed existed. In one hand he carries the Shaman’s enchanted sword, a weapon he can barely use; in the other he holds a vial of the king’s blood, the hope of the kingdom. His destination: the Necromancer’s keep in the cursed land of Lakesh. Only the mysterious outlaw magician can raise the king from the dead to save them all from the undead invasion, but can Khirro live long enough to deliver the vial?
Can a coward save a kingdom?
Bruce Blake lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. When pressing issues like shovelling snow and building igloos don’t take up his spare time, Bruce can be found taking the dog sled to the nearest coffee shop to work on his short stories and novels.
Actually, Victoria, B.C. is only a couple hours north of Seattle, Wash., where more rain is seen than snow. Since snow isn’t really a pressing issue, Bruce spends more time trying to remember to leave the “u” out of words like “colour” and “neighbour” than he does shovelling (and watch out for those pesky double l’s). The father of two, Bruce is also the trophy husband of a burlesque diva.

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Promo Tour – Blood of the King – Bruce Blake

BLOOD OF THE KING

Khirro’s Journey Book 1by

Bruce Blake
GENRE: Epic Fantasy

A kingdom torn by war.
A curse whispered by dying lips. A hero born against his will. Khirro never wanted to be anything more than the farmer he was born to be, but a Shaman’s curse binds him to the fallen king and his life changes forever. Driven by the Shaman’s dying words, Khirro’s journey pits him against an army of the dead, sends him through haunted lands, and thrusts him into the jaws of beasts he wouldn’t have believed existed. In one hand he carries the Shaman’s enchanted sword, a weapon he can barely use; in the other he holds a vial of the king’s blood, the hope of the kingdom. His destination: the Necromancer’s keep in the cursed land of Lakesh. Only the mysterious outlaw magician can raise the king from the dead to save them all from the undead invasion, but can Khirro live long enough to deliver the vial?
Can a coward save a kingdom?
“Help me.”
Khirro flinched. The king’s plea came again, a breathy whisper barely audible above the sounds of battle. Chickens ran about after their heads were removed, but nothing could speak without life remaining within. Khirro shifted painfully onto his side.
“My king,” he whispered.
Braymon lay in a tangled heap, hips wrenched farther than possible, one arm pinned beneath him, the other twisted behind. Blood streamed from his shaven head onto his cheeks and into his eyes, a mask of red through which little flesh showed. He blinked clearing his vision, a slow, lethargic movement, then directed his gaze toward Khirro. A pained smile twitched his lips; it quickly turned to a grimace.
“I thought you lost, lad.”
The blood drained from Khirro’s cheeks.
“No, your highness. I… I was knocked unconscious. I’ve only just woken to find you here beside me.” The lie tasted more bitter than the coppery tang of blood on his tongue.
Braymon coughed a fine spray of bloody spittle. Khirro knew it meant something inside him was bleeding.
“I’ve not much time. I need your help.”
“I owe you my life.”
“Then you can return the favor.”
Fear lumped into a mass at the back of Khirro’s throat. “What can I do?”
“The healer will know I’ve fallen,” Braymon said coughing again, face strained with the effort. “Take me to him.”
Relief. He didn’t ask to be avenged or dragged back to the battle to die a soldier’s death. Khirro glanced at the blood pooling beneath the king’s contorted body, flowing from some unseen spot under his plate mail, and pushed himself up to kneel beside Braymon to better assess his condition. The battle raged above but no one appeared on the stair.
“You shouldn’t be moved,” Khirro said after consideration. The way the king’s body twisted upon itself made him feel sick. “It would mean your life.”
Braymon shook his head minutely. “It matters not. I must get to the healer before the warmth has left my body or all is lost.”
“I don’t think–”
“Soldier,” Braymon said with a tone of command befitting a king. “If you do this thing, all else will be forgiven.”
Khirro gaped at the king’s words. He fought to keep tears at bay as guilt siphoned the strength from his limbs. His mouth moved trying to form the words to apologize for not rejoining the fight, to beg forgiveness, to explain, but his constricted throat choked them. Instead, he nodded.
SPIRIT OF THE KING

A shattered vial. A failed journey. Two spirits joined as one.
An army of dead men led by a sorceress with an unquenchable lust for power occupies the kingdom of Erechania. The kingdom’s traitor-king seeks to redeem himself, but the sorceress has stolen his son, his last reminder of the wife he lost. Neither the king nor his enemy can know the importance of the role the child will play.
The Necromancer’s last act of magic joined a fallen king’s spirit with Khirro’s, making him the vessel carrying the kingdom’s hope. But the haunted land of Lakesh, the outlaw city of Poltghasa, and the enemy country of Kanos lie between him and his homeland. Dangerous creatures and murderous men seek to end his quest, but he is also stalked by something far deadlier:
An assassin he once loved.
HEART OF THE KING

It began with a vial of blood, a curse, and a quest to a haunted land.
It continued through a strange subterranean land and a city of the damned, where an assassin raised from the dead sought to end it all while a sorceress invaded his home.
Now, Khirro’s Journey comes to its end.
A king’s spirit. A coward’s heart. Together, a kingdom’s last hope.
Sheyndust, the Archon, desires to be Necromancer and wield dark magic the likes of which the world has never seen. For years, her deadly plan has fallen into place piece by piece, treachery by treachery, death by death. With her enemies on their knees and an army of the dead at her command, nothing stands between her and the ultimate power for which she thirsts.
Nothing except a farmer and a dead king.
The curse that bound Khirro to his task was broken when the blood of the king spilled, but the king’s spirit–a tyger of vengeful flame–burns bright within him. It pushes Khirro through hostile lands to return to his home. It pushes him to be more than he ever thought he could be despite the doubt and fear devouring him. It pushes him in a race against time to save the kingdom, a race he is bound to lose.
As the final pieces of the Archon’s plot fall into place, and her power and army grow, it looks certain that all will be lost.
Unless a coward can look inside himself and find the heart of a king.
Bruce Blake lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. When pressing issues like shovelling snow and building igloos don’t take up his spare time, Bruce can be found taking the dog sled to the nearest coffee shop to work on his short stories and novels.
Actually, Victoria, B.C. is only a couple hours north of Seattle, Wash., where more rain is seen than snow. Since snow isn’t really a pressing issue, Bruce spends more time trying to remember to leave the “u” out of words like “colour” and “neighbour” than he does shovelling (and watch out for those pesky double l’s). The father of two, Bruce is also the trophy husband of a burlesque diva. 

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Release Tour – And Night Descends – Bruce Blake

AND NIGHT DESCENDS
Book 3 of the Small Gods Series

AUTHOR: Bruce Blake

GENRE: Epic Fantasy
CONTENT WARNING: 18+

To raise the Small Gods, a Small God must die,
When stars go out, the end is nigh.
One must die to raise them all,
Should Small Gods rise, man will fall,
One can stop them, on darken’d wing,
The firstborn child of the rightful king.

WHEN SHADOWS FALL…THE DARKNESS COMES…AND NIGHT DESCENDS
The moment Teryk and Danya, the royal siblings, spoke the words inscribed on the long-forgotten scroll, they foolishly set in motion events destined to bring about the prophecy’s predictions. Teryk is the firstborn, but why do the words only make sense to his sister?
As they each launch themselves recklessly into a heroic mission to save mankind, it seems inevitable that key elements in this game of the gods would be drawn to one another and collide with frightful and yet-unfathomable consequences.
With a Small God already captured and being dragged to his death by a colossal, bloodthirsty golem, is it too late to turn back fate? Can any of them find a way to resist their destinies?
Intrigue in the court, an impenetrable veil between two worlds, escape, sacrifice, retribution and magic pull the strings of these puppets of destiny on a massive, creation-spanning chessboard hidden in shadow, veiled in darkness, lost in the night.

Prologue

Long ago, blood and anger colored his dreams red every night until the night she came to him.
In his sleep, steel glinted through the haze of crimson, pain flashed. A coppery scent stirred him in his bed, rank bile soured his tongue, and Trenan woke with sweat on his brow and agony tearing through him from an arm no longer there. Every time he awakened, he reached out with a phantom hand, expecting—hoping—for fingers to brush the rough wool blanket or touch his face. But they found nothing because they remained attached to an arm rotting in the bottom of a ditch with the rest of the dead.
“At least the rest of you isn’t down there,” Erral had said with a chuckle one day as he sat beside his bunk, struggling to articulate his appreciation.
Trenan thought lying in the ditch with the dead might be better than losing the arm meant to wield his sword.
What good is a soldier with no hand to hold his weapon?
The one-armed swordsman stared up at the dark ceiling, the muscles in his jaw clenched hard against the throb in his shoulder and the knot clogging his throat. Since the days of his childhood, his life had been based on what that arm could do with a sword. It performed feats others couldn’t, moved in ways and with speed beyond the abilities of but a few men. It took lives, saved lives, helped to put down a rebellion.
But no more. Off it came, a sacrifice to save the king from a blow meant to separate his royal head from his regal body. A more than fair trade in the kingdom’s mind, but a bitter mouthful to a master swordsman left with the wrong arm.
Trenan closed his eyes and inhaled through his nose, filling his lungs to capacity and using the air to squash regret from his chest. Sacrificing himself for the king was expected of him and an honor. But it wasn’t he who’d been sacrificed but his arm, with the rest of him left behind to cope without it.
I’d rather have died.
And they knew it; it was the reason his chambers were devoid of sharp weapons.
“Trenan?”
The whispered word didn’t startle him, but he was surprised by the timbre of the voice speaking it. The doctor assigned to his bedside like a hairy-chested wet nurse would return soon to touch his forehead to gauge his temperature, or give him more of the acrid herbs to hide a pain that would never leave, but the man charged with caring for him didn’t speak with a woman’s voice.
Trenan dragged his lids open, cocked his head. The woman perched on the chair set beside his bunk was the last person he’d have expected to find.
Her hair, which he’d only ever seen her wear up, hung loose past her shoulders in waves the color of honey tinted with a few drops of blood. Her eyes sparkled with the dim light of the taper flickering in the far corner of the swordsman’s chamber, worry plain in their set. Concern tilted the corners of the full lips of her exquisite mouth.
“My queen.”
Trenan scrambled to push himself up on his elbows, forgot he had but one, and tumbled onto his side on the mattress, jarring his wound. He gritted his teeth and pressed his lips together to keep from crying out, but when he found the queen’s hand upon him, he forgot the pain.
“Are you all right?”
He looked into the eyes of the young woman who’d seen the seasons turn eighteen times since her birth and once since she’d become wife to the king. The knot of despair that had choked him dissipated, the pain in his shoulder faded. He nodded.
“Yes, my queen.”
“Ishla,” she said and brushed his cheek with the backs of her fingers. “You poor man.”
She settled back on the edge of the chair, removing her touch from his face, but the feel of it remained with him. He struggled himself up to sitting, the wool blanket falling from his bare chest as he stretched to see past the wife of his friend. Behind her, the chamber lay empty.
“Where is Gollard?” He looked to her face, found her still gazing at him, so diverted his eyes. “Where is the doctor?”
“Do you need him?”
She stood, took a half-step toward the door and stopped, awaiting his reply. He’d have answered at once but, when she stood, he saw she’d chosen not to wear one of the elaborate dresses he’d seen her wear every other time he’d been in her presence. Instead, she wore white bed clothes with sleeve cuffs that clung to her wrists and a hem that brushed her ankles.
“N…no. I’m fine, just wondering where he’d gone.”
Ishla clasped her hands in front of her, lowered her chin to regard her intertwined fingers.
“I had him called away.”
Trenan stared at the young woman. Now her eyes weren’t upon him, he let his gaze linger, saw that the taper burning behind her cast her outline in the fine cloth. Trenan swallowed hard.
“Called away? For what?”
She raised her head, making him slip his gaze back to her face, then gestured toward the side of the bed.
“May I?”
Trenan looked from her to the bed and back, uncertain what she meant, at first. He cleared his throat and nodded.
“Of course, my quee…Ishla.”
She alighted on the edge of the mattress close enough Trenan felt her warmth. Her perfume filled his nose—not a cologne she’d put on, but the smell of her hair, the scent of her skin. Apprehension stirred in the swordsman’s chest, excitement, confusion.
Why is she here?
“I’ve come to thank you for saving the king, Trenan.”
It might have surprised him that she read his thoughts, but what else might he have been thinking? Trenan shifted away, trying to quell his excited discomfort.
“There’s no need. The king has conveyed his appreciation with the best surgeons the kingdom can offer and his promise to take care of me as long as I need.”
The words were Erral’s, but this marked the first time Trenan had spoken them aloud. They tasted of vinegar on his tongue, but the queen’s sweetness was enough to overpower the bitter morsel.
Ishla wiggled nearer, closing the distance he’d created, her lithe body making little impression on the mattress. His eyes strayed from hers, fell to her curves beneath the bed clothes before returning to find a smile beginning on her lips.
“That is Erral’s way of thanking you, not mine. And I suspect his method may be more hurtful than fulfilling.”
She lifted a hand and touched her palm to his cheek. Trenan nearly jerked away out of sense of duty to king and kingdom but didn’t for fear of offending the queen. And because he liked the way her warm flesh felt against his.
Ishla moved closer and leaned in, leaving a hand’s-breadth between the tips of their noses. Her breath touched his lips, her gaze found its way inside him.
“It is my thanks I bring tonight.”
“And Gollard?”
“Won’t be back until morning.”
“Who else knows you had him called away?”
She shook her head. “A queen can be discreet.”
Trenan licked his lips, resisted the urge to close the space between them. A plethora of furtive smiles returned to his memory. From the first time he’d seen his friend’s wife—the queen of the kingdom—they’d been there, finding their way to her lips whenever their eyes met. As much as he wanted them to be for him, about him, he’d convinced himself her nature and her youth brought them forth, convinced himself the tingle-inspiring smiles and gentle blushes weren’t meant for him.
Now he didn’t know if he should be elated he’d been wrong, or fearful.
His gaze slipped form her eyes to her mouth. He imagined his lips pressing against hers, their tongues finding each other, until the king’s angry visage intruded on his thoughts.
“Erral—”
“Is your friend,” she finished for him. “And my husband, but he isn’t here. There is you and me, and no one else knows I’m here.”
Her hand left his face, fell to rest on his upper chest. The tight thrill swirling beneath his ribs expanded, flowing into his stomach, lower, stirring other things. Ishla held his gaze but moved no more, staring into his eyes with her lips parted, her head tilted.
This is wrong.
Trenan’s mind continued to resist even as he leaned forward and their mouths came together.
***
Ishla ran the tip of her finger along the swordsman’s breast bone, tracing a line through the cooling perspiration. The ache in Trenan’s shoulder he’d forgotten as the queen expressed her appreciation crept back as though someone pressed the tip of a stick into his wound.
The queen peered at him and he held her gaze. Though neither spoke, words swam through his mind—things to say, plans never to be executed, the vision of an impossible life. He thought he saw the same shining in her eyes, hidden behind a mix of nurturing care and sadness.
After a moment, the breathtaking young woman climbed off him, her weight lifting from his hips as another palpable one settled into his chest.
“I must go before I am missed,” she said, one corner of her mouth lifting in a lopsided smile.
She bent and retrieved her nightgown from the floor. Trenan watched as she shook it out, revelling in the way her muscles moved beneath her porcelain skin, the tremor shaking her breasts. She stretched her arms toward the ceiling and slipped her hands into the sleeves, let the nightshirt fall around her like the curtain falling at the end of a masterful play.
A performance Trenan never wanted to end.
The gown fell into place and she smoothed the front with her palms. The swordsman reached out, a jolt of pain shooting along the right side of his chest, and grasped her wrist, coaxed her back toward the bed.
“When will I see you again?”
She looked at him, the smile still on her face, but he watched the sliver of sadness in her eyes overtake it. The queen said nothing in response; she didn’t need to. He’d already known the answer before his lips spoke the words—this was a dangerous game they shouldn’t play again.
Dangerous, but worth the risk.
Ishla leaned over and put her lips to his, the passion and longing of their earlier kisses usurped by regret, mourning. The touch lingered, and he thought to grab her, pull her to him, but the moment passed and she moved away. Trenan released his hold on her wrist and watched her stride across the room to the chamber door.
She let herself out without a backward glance.
***
“I’ve seen the seasons pass nearly fifteen times,” Dansil mumbled under his breath as he stalked through the castle halls. “I’ll be a man soon enough; bitch can’t tell me what to do.”
His cheek still stung in precisely the shape of his mother’s hand, but her punishments didn’t hurt like they did in his youth. Then, they’d caused him more than physical pain; it was as though she’d struck his soul.
But if something gets beaten enough times, it toughens.
He came to a corner and slowed his pace, peeked around before continuing. Getting caught wandering the halls wouldn’t get him killed, but none of the king’s men would be impressed should they discover him. Even with the red haze of anger at his mother hanging around him, he knew better than to be careless—he’d crept these halls enough times.
Dansil followed the hall and went up the next staircase, avoiding the routes the guards followed when patrolling in the evening. At the top of the stairs, he paused a second time, checking both ways along the corridor. Thick carpet in a shade of deep red covered the floor in both directions; portraits of people he neither recognized nor cared to recognize lined the walls.
On a whim, he took a right and maintained a slow but steady pace, the muscles in his thighs tight and ready to hie him away should one of the many doors lining the hall open and a visiting noble step out. He figured none would this late at night, but better ready than caught.
The end of the hall intersected another; here he stopped again and found himself rewarded for his care. Halfway along the corridor, a door opened. A woman clothed in white bedclothes emerged, the wall sconces behind her illuminating the outline of her body through the cloth.
Dansil sucked a sharp breath at the sight and his hand darted to his groin. The woman stood for a short time, hand on the door’s handle, her head hung. Her long hair caressed her arms and shoulders, the light highlighted the shape of her breasts, the curve at the small of her back. After a moment, she raised her head, glanced along the hall away from where Dansil peered around the corner, then swivelled her head toward him. The young man faded back from the corner before she saw him, a silent curse on his lips.
He waited, breath held, resisting the urge to peep around the corner again. If he did, and she was walking away, the wall sconce’s light might shine between her legs, outlining the most secret of places. But if she headed toward him, he’d be discovered.
The whisper of footsteps padding on the rug interrupted his thought.
She’s coming this way.
No time to hurry back the way he’d come; if he tried, she’d see him, even if she didn’t turn his direction. Lips squeezed hard together, he pressed himself against the wall and hoped she’d continue straight along the corridor.
A moment later, she passed by and Dansil saw her face. His eyes widened and his grip on his half-swollen man thing released.
The queen!
As she hurried down the corridor, Dansil stepped out from his hiding spot to watch her go, forgetting the possibility she might glance back and see him. She didn’t and, instead of admiring the swing of her hips, the shape of her body hidden beneath the bedclothes, the young man wondered why she’d be out alone at this time of night. When she disappeared around the far corner, he peered back toward the door she’d exited.
The curiosity was too much for Dansil. He crept along the corridor in the direction from which the queen had come, his hand extended and fingertips dragging along the rough stone wall. Every door appeared the same as the others, but he’d noted the one from which she’d emerged: the third on the left. A moment later, he stood in front of the plain wood slab, staring at the handle. After a quick survey of the empty hall, he leaned close, pressed his ear to the door, but heard no sounds within.
Excited saliva filled his mouth. He swallowed hard, raised his hand and rapped his knuckles against the wood.
The knock garnered no immediate response so Dansil assumed the chamber empty until a man’s voice spoke a single word.
“Ishla?”
The curiosity burning in his brain tingled into his chest and along his limbs. The hand he still held raised after knocking fell to the door handle, gripped it. He didn’t recognize the voice or know who might reside within, but was aware he shouldn’t enter any room in the castle without invitation. He also knew no invitation would come if he waited for one, and he’d never discover who the door concealed.
Dansil set his jaw and pushed the door open.
A musky odor filled the air in the room, one he recognized from the occasions when his mother came home with a man and sent him off to his chambers. The furnishings were sparse and a man lay upon a bed to the left, one shoulder wrapped with a pink-tinged bandage where his arm was missing. The tender expression on his face went stony when he spied the lad.
“Who are you? What are you doing here?”
“Beg your pardon, m’lord swordsman. Wrong chamber.”
Dansil backed out of the room and closed the door behind him, a wicked grin creeping onto his lips as he went. The door clicked shut; he hurried away along the hall lest the man rise and come after him.
Trenan and the queen. The king’s friend and his wife. Together.
He rounded the corner and hastened to the staircase, the path of his future falling into view.
Sometimes, one unexpected turn of events can change a boy’s life.
OF THE SMALL GODS SERIES

A hundred hundred seasons have turned since the Goddess banished the Small Gods to the sky, leaving the land to mankind alone.

For Prince Teryk, life behind the castle walls is boring and uneventful until he stumbles upon an arcane scroll in a long-forgotten chamber. The parchment speaks of Small Gods, the fall of man, and the kingdom’s savior—the firstborn child of the rightful king. It’s his opportunity to prove himself to his father, the king, and assure his place in history. All he needs to do is find the man from across the sea—a man who can’t possibly exist—and save mankind.
But ancient magic has been put in motion by a mysterious cult determined to see the Small Gods reborn. Powerful forces clash, uncaring for the lives of mortals in their struggle to prevent the return of the banished ones, or aid in their rebirth.
Named in a prophecy or not, what chance does a cocky prince who barely understands the task laid before him stand in a battle with the gods?

When shadows fall, the darkness comes…

A disgraced Goddess Mother wanders blind and alone, praying for her agony to end. When a helpful apostle finds her, could it truly be salvation, or does worse torment lie ahead?
A sister struggles to understand a prophecy that may not be meant for her while her brother fights for his life. If the firstborn child of the rightful king dies, will it spell the end for everyone?
Darkness and shadow creep across the land in the form of a fierce clay golem animated by its sculptor’s blood. It seeks a mythical creature whose sacrifice portends the return of ancient evil banished from the world long ago. With its return will come the fall of man.
As the game unfolds, the Small Gods watch from the sky, waiting for their time to come and their chance to rise again. They wait for the fall of shadows, the coming of the darkness.
They wait for night to descend.
Bruce Blake lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. When pressing issues like shovelling snow and building igloos don’t take up his spare time, Bruce can be found taking the dog sled to the nearest coffee shop to work on his short stories and novels.
Actually, Victoria, B.C. is only a couple hours north of Seattle, Wash., where more rain is seen than snow. Since snow isn’t really a pressing issue, Bruce spends more time trying to remember to leave the “u” out of words like “colour” and “neighbour” than he does shovelling (and watch out for those pesky double l’s). The father of two, Bruce is also the trophy husband of a burlesque diva.
Bruce’s first short story, “Another Man’s Shoes” was published in the Winter 2008 edition of Cemetery Moon. Another short, “Yardwork,” was made into a podcast in Oct., 2011 by Pseudopod. Bruce’s first Icarus Fell novel, “On Unfaithful Wings”, was published in Dec., 2011 while the follow up, “All Who Wander Are Lost”, came out in July, 2012. The third in the series, “Secrets of the Hanged Man”, came out in July, 2013. The first part of his Khirro’s Journey epic fantasy trilogy, “Blood of the King”, was released Sept., 2012, book 2, “Spirit of the King,” in Dec., 2012, and book 3, “Heart of the King,” in Feb., 2013.
The two books in the Small Gods series, “When Shadows Fall” and “The Darkness Comes”, were released in 2013, after which Bruce took a year out to concentrate on his family and career. Book three in the Small Gods series is Bruce Blake’s current project.
     

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Filed under Blog Tour, excerpts, Fantasy, New Release, Promo, Series

Promo Tour – Bruce Blake

Original Publication Date: January 25, 2015

glitterbase (9)

 

A hundred hundred seasons have turned since the Goddess banished the Small Gods to the sky, leaving the land to mankind alone.
For Prince Teryk, life behind the castle walls is boring and uneventful until he stumbles upon an arcane scroll in a long-forgotten chamber. The parchment speaks of Small Gods, the fall of man, and the kingdom’s savior—the firstborn child of the rightful king. It’s his opportunity to prove himself to his father, the king, and assure his place in history. All he needs to do is find the man from across the sea—a man who can’t possibly exist—and save mankind.
But ancient magic has been put in motion by a mysterious cult determined to see the Small Gods reborn. Powerful forces clash, uncaring for the lives of mortals in their struggle to prevent the return of the banished ones, or aid in their rebirth.
Named in a prophecy or not, what chance does a cocky prince who barely understands the task laid before him stand in a battle with the gods?
glitterbase (4)
“Watch out!” the priestess Rak’bana shouted, ducking behind Love—one of the granite Pillars of Life.
A ball of flame hammered into the earth with a spray of dirt and the stench of burnt grass. She covered her head, waiting for the ground to cease shaking before she peeked out from behind her arm to find her twin brother. Ine’vesi peered back at her from around the corner of the next column in the row of nine—Trust.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
The crackle of flames all but kept his voice from her ears, but they were well enough connected she knew what he’d ask without needing to hear. She nodded in response and he crept out from behind the column, the roll of parchment in his hand.
“Time is short, Vesi,” she said. “The Goddess is angry.”
Ine’vesi made no effort to hide the sneer upon his lips as he hurried across the ruined garden to her side. Before he opened his mouth to spill out the blaspheme imprinted on his brow, she raised her hand and gestured with her fingers. A thick stream of water the height of five men rose from the river and flowed across the air. It splashed into the newly lit fire with a hiss of doused flames and white steam billowing toward the sky. Another ball of fire crashed into the top edge of the nearest wall, sending chunks of stone tumbling to the ground. The twin siblings ducked their heads.
“We have to go,” she urged.
“Out of the city.” Ine’vesi brandished the roll of parchment. “Once we have inscribed the scroll, it will not be safe here. The wrong hands will find it.”
A fiery ball crashed into the base of a towering pine, its flames leaping up the trunk, spreading through its branches, jumping to the next tree like a playful squirrel, then skipping to the next. Rak’bana raised her hand again, intending to call the river and extinguish the fire to save her garden, but Ine’vesi caught her by the wrist.
“Let it burn, Bana. Let it be a testament to the unjust wrath of a jealous Goddess.”
The priestess’ eyes widened and she shook her head, unable to comprehend why he’d speak such blasphemous words. She pulled her hand free of his grip and faltered back a step toward the river.
“You are a priest, Vesi. You know as well as I that we have brought this on ourselves. Righteous anger falls from the sky, not jealousy. The Goddess gives what is deserved.”
“The—”
Another ball slammed into the pine. The great tree leaned with a creak of wood, bending slowly at first, then the trunk split with a crack louder than thunder, and the tree that had grown in the courtyard for a dozen hundred seasons toppled, spilling flame across the dry grass. The fire raced toward the siblings, fueled by a swirling fireball, then another. A third pelted the ground, the closest yet, and the impact threw Ine’vesi into his sister, his momentum carrying them both into the river.
The frigid water clung to Rak’bana as she clutched her brother, and the red rage of the Goddess’ flames shone through the shimmering river. She understood that, if they surfaced, the fire would hunt them mercilessly, never giving up until the blaze consumed them. Deserving of the Goddess’ wrath or not, the priestess could not let that happen before they’d completed their task.
She held Ine’vesi tight to her chest and swirled her free hand, manipulating the water around them to increase the river’s current. It bore them away from the garden, away from the courtyard, but the red and orange glow above them brightened and the water grew warmer, heated by the anger of the Goddess. Worry burned in Rak’bana’s chest along with her held breath—if they didn’t leave their warning, this would all happen again. They’d both seen it in their dreams.
The water shivered around them as the Pillars of Life toppled, thumping to the ground. Ine’vesi jerked in her grasp, fighting the current and the heat, but she held him and gestured again. The river flowed faster, carrying them along like autumn leaves fallen from a dying tree, dragging them on until the light disappeared.
They’d entered the channel beneath the temple.
The river cooled again, but Rak’bana held them under, allowing the raging current to carry them deep into the heart of the temple and away from the Goddess’ fury. Only when her breath threatened to explode in her lungs did she allow the river to bear them to the surface. Ine’vesi’s head emerged from the water and he gasped a ragged, angry breath.
“Are you trying to aid the Goddess in killing me?”
“I saved you, ingrate.” The priestess stroked toward the side of the channel, pulling her brother along behind. “You should thank me for not letting you burn.”
“Hmph.”
They reached the side and she hooked her arm over the edge, pulled Ine’vesi close to allow him to do the same. No light penetrated so far into the tunnel, leaving them in utter darkness, but she knew the door to be directly in front of them; she sensed it as surely as she sensed her brother at her side.
“One way or another, you were going to get me here, weren’t you?” he said, pulling himself out of the water to stand on the narrow stone path beside the channel.
“You know it must be here.” She climbed up alongside him, rested the palm of her hand against the door.
“It won’t be safe here, Bana. The scroll might fall into any hands. It must go to Teva Stavoklis.”
Rak’bana hesitated before opening the door. They’d had this discussion and thought they’d decided the matter, but it appeared Ine’vesi remained unconvinced. Her mouth opened to argue the point, but the stone of the tunnel shook minutely with an impact to the building above them, stopping her.
“Come,” she said instead, and pushed the door open.
The pristine chamber beyond gleamed, its white marble walls and soaring granite pillars flickering with the orange light shining through the high windows. Rak’bana hurried into the room and down the three steps to the floor, sparing a brief glimpse for the massive suits of armor standing guard beside each of the four columns.
“Hurry,” she said as she swept across the chamber toward her goal at the far end: a marble lectern that sprang up out of the floor as though carved of the same block of stone.
Droplets of water fell from her hair and dress, spattering on the smooth marble. The air in the room smelled old and unused, as well it should; no one had entered this room since the building of the temple. Thousands upon thousands of times the sun had risen and set, shining its light through the high windows, and the Sek’bala had stood watch beside the gray and white flecked granite columns, but no foot had touched the floor until Rak’bana’s. The immensity of it was not lost on her but, with fire falling from the sky to spread the Goddess’ punishment, no time for emotion and awe remained.
She reached the podium and glanced back across the room at her brother near the entrance. Ine’vesi stood motionless, staring at the imposing guards with their horned helmets and gleaming weapons.
“Vesi,” she cried, waving for him to join her. “Bring the parchment.”
He set one foot in front of the other and crossed the room slowly without tearing his gaze away from the Sek’bala. Outside the sanctuary, something rumbled. Rak’bana raised her eyes to the high windows, the flicker of flames shining through the narrow frames. Vesi had paused halfway to her, the roll of paper dripping as he held it out toward her.
Time is running short.
The priestess came around the lectern and jumped down the three stairs to the floor, her sandals slapping wetly on the white marble. The time for waiting and marveling had passed.
“Give it to me, Vesi.” She held out her hand, expectant. “We must speak the words to prevent this from happening again.”
Her fingers brushed the edge of the paper, felt its roughness, its power, but then it disappeared. Ine’vesi pulled it away and glared at her, his brows drawn together.
“Prevent it?” he asked, incredulous. The priest shook his head without removing his gaze from her eyes. “We must take this to Teva Stavoklis and leave instructions on how to bring us back.”
Rak’bana’s mouth fell open. How did she not see this coming? She’d heard his words bordering on sacrilege, seen his disdain toward the Goddess in this time of judgment. But her sight had been clouded by the dreams, her mind filled with visions of the gray man, the Mother, the man from across the sea. She’d neglected to think for a moment that her twin brother—the man with whom she shared the priesthood and trusted more than anyone short of the Goddess herself—could have anything but the same goal as her.
How wrong she’d been.
“We can’t let this happen again, Vesi.” She despised the desperation creeping into her voice. “The generations that come after us must know.”
Another rumble echoed through the chamber, this one louder than the last. Ine’vesi sneered. “We are in agreement, sister. This cannot happen again. The Goddess cannot be allowed to treat her loyal subjects in this manner. They must be given a way to prevent it, and bringing us back is the way.”
“No. We deserve it. The Goddess never intended us to live this way. We—”
The priest took a step back and her gaze fell to the parchment he held in his right hand, out of her reach. The visions that visited her dreams meant nothing if she did not set them to words on the scroll, left them to be found when the time they were needed came. If she didn’t, she’d have failed the Goddess.
“The scroll will go to Teva Stavoklis, to be used when the Goddess again over-steps her bounds. To ensure her subjects are never again punished for being human.”
Rak’bana narrowed her eyes. “We are no longer human, Vesi.”
“No, I suppose not,” he conceded and took another step back. “We are closer to gods, aren’t we? Small gods, perhaps.”
She bit down hard and fought against the oncoming tears choking her throat. A louder rumble, and this time the walls trembled. The long pike of one of the Sek’bala warriors shivered in its hand, the metal shaft rattling against its gauntleted fingers. Rak’bana directed her gaze toward the massive suit of plate, lowered her chin and raised her hand. She wiggled her fingers the way she did when she called the water to her bidding and her brother realized her intent. Ine’vesi’s head snapped to the side, eyes wide as he looked to the Sek’bala, expecting it to come to life.
Rak’bana leaped toward him and snatched at the roll of parchment, her fingers grasping the edge. It took only an instant for Ine’vesi to realize she’d tricked him. The priest danced back two steps, but she’d gotten a grip on the scroll and it unrolled between them. They both stared at its blank surface as another ball of fire struck the building and a shower of sparks spilled through one of the high windows.
They raised their heads; their eyes met.
“Bana,” he said, voice calm and even, though his eyes reflected different emotions. “Don’t do—”
“When days of peace approach their end.”
“Rak’bana.”
“And wounds inflicted are too deep to mend.” Fear and disappointment surged through her, but she forced herself to speak clearly, drawing out the words to their full power, ensuring the parchment heard her over the reverberating impacts shuddering the walls. “A sign shall come, a lock with no key.”
“Stop, Bana!”
“Borne by a man from across the sea.”
The wavering light of the flames licking the world flashed on Ine’vesi’s blade. Rak’bana had an instant to recognize the slender knife before he jerked her toward him and plunged the tip between her ribs.
The wicked point tore through her flesh, found its way between the bones, and pressed against her heart. The agony of the wound stole her breath, but the anguish of her brother’s betrayal crushed her soul. He pulled her close, the loose parchment folding between them, and a fresh wave of pain crashed through her, transported along her veins to the tips of her fingers.
“I am sorry, Bana, but it must be this way” he said, his tone quiet amongst the thunder of the Goddess’ judgment. “We are gods.”
Unable to do anything more, she stared, open-mouthed, at her twin brother, the priest to her priestess, the man for whom she’d always thought she’d give her life if necessary, and now he’d taken it.
Ine’vesi pressed harder on the stiletto and the point pricked her heart. The priestess gasped; her skin went cold as hoarfrost. Her brother pulled the knife out and jerked away, attempting to wrench the parchment’s edge from her grasp, but her fingers held fast. The paper stretched, then tore, the sound of it ripping echoing through the marble chamber. Ine’vesi stumbled back, caught his balance, and advanced on her, his expression pulled into an angry shape that made him nearly unrecognizable to her.
Another fireball struck the temple. Then another, and another. The armor of the Sek’bala shivered and rattled, their weapons clattered in their grips. Ine’vesi glanced away from his sister at the towering guards, the sparks cascading through the high widows, and stopped, the anger on his face melting to fear.
He brandished the half of the parchment he still held. “This is all I need,” he said, backing toward the door.
“Vesi.” Rak’bana reached her hand out toward her brother. “Please.”
The priest stopped short of the doorway, gazed back at his sister. For a second, his expression appeared regretful, and she thought he might return to her, help her complete what must be done. Instead, he shook his head.
“This wasn’t what I dreamed, Bana. I saw a world where we can be what we are, and not be judged by a jealous Goddess. I dreamed of becoming the Small Gods we are meant to be.”
He hesitated a second before disappearing through the doorway and into the channel beneath the temple. Rak’bana stared after him, her belly clenching at the thought of losing him, but soon, it would no longer matter. Soon, they’d all be gone, but she had one last task to perform before the end.
She glanced at the red stain spreading across the front of her dress, the droplets falling to the white marble floor, running along its veins, filling them. The temple shuddered under the Goddess’ wrath and the priestess raised her head, gazed toward the lectern.
It seemed so far away.
Rak’bana put her left hand on the wound in her chest, felt her life force pulsing out of it, making her fingers sticky. With careful, plodding steps, she crossed the smooth floor, smearing her blood behind her as she went. It spread out along the stone, coloring it red; the Sek’bala watched, unconcerned.
A few paces from the goal, the fingers of her left hand tingled briefly, and then she lost feeling in them. The tingling climbed up her arm, racing toward her chest. Her breath shortened, cold sweat fell like winter dew on her brow, her knees trembled. She stumbled the last few steps, caught herself on the lectern’s edge before her legs gave way and spilled her to the floor.
The priestess spread the parchment across the podium, holding one edge with shaking fingers, weighing the other down with her dead hand. The blood of her heart smeared across the paper, sticking in its texture. Thunder shook the walls, lightning flashed, tears streaked paths along her cheeks. Rak’bana drew her dry tongue across her icy lips and spoke the words given her by the Goddess in her dreams.
“When days of peace approach their end,
And wounds inflicted are too deep to mend,
A sign shall come, a lock with no key,
Borne by a man from across the sea.
A barren Mother, the seed of life,
Living statue, treacherous knife.
To raise the Small Gods, a Small God must die,
When the stars go out, the end is nigh.”
She paused to draw a weak breath and watched her blood etching the cursive lines of her words across the paper. The walls shook and she raised her gaze for an instant to see the marble had gone red with the life dripping from her heart. She returned her attention to the final stanza required on the scroll.
“One must die to raise them all,
Should Small Gods rise, man will fall.
One can stop them, on darken’d wing,
The firstborn child of the rightful king.”
As the last word crossed her lips, a wind carrying swirling flames howled through the high windows. Rak’bana titled her head back, watched the fire snake toward her and closed her eyes, waiting for the Goddess to cleanse her and free her from her sorrow and pain.
And the flames consumed her.
glitterbase12
Original Publication Date: February 16, 2015
glitterbase (9)
When shadows fall, the darkness comes…
A disgraced Goddess Mother wanders blind and alone, praying for her agony to end. When a helpful apostle finds her, could it truly be salvation, or does worse torment lie ahead?
A sister struggles to understand a prophecy that may not be meant for her while her brother fights for his life. If the firstborn child of the rightful king dies, will it spell the end for everyone?
Darkness and shadow creep across the land in the form of a fierce clay golem animated by its sculptor’s blood. It seeks a mythical creature whose sacrifice portends the return of ancient evil banished from the world long ago. With its return will come the fall of man.
As the game unfolds, the Small Gods watch from the sky, waiting for their time to come and their chance to rise again. They wait for the fall of shadows, the coming of the darkness.
They wait for night to descend.
glitterbase (4)
Am I ready to kill?
A cloud of swirling mist sighed out between Kuneprius’ lips, rising into the night to smear the glow of the winter moon. He watched it dissipate, then exhaled another long plume, blowing it out the way he’d seen the Brothers do when they smoked their pipes filled with sweetweed. Instead of swirling like the wreaths he’d watched them create, his breath came out a ragged column.
“Shh.”
Kuneprius cocked his head toward the urgent sound, an apology teetering on the tip of his tongue. At the last instant, he remembered himself and said nothing, pressing himself flatter against the side of the hill. Fildrian lay less than ten man-lengths away, but the Brother’s black hood and robe hid him in the darkness; despite his proximity, empty loneliness ached in Kuneprius’ chest.
The lad grasped the short sword’s hilt tighter, testing its uncomfortable weight. Though he’d seen the seasons turn but twelve times, he’d trained with this very sword for six of them. The temple blacksmith formed it with him in mind, the grip molded to the shape of his fingers. Its length and weight had proved too much for him when he first held it, but he’d grown into it, its size ideal for a boy of his age. He shifted minutely, searching for comfort and understanding that the prospect of swinging the weapon to wound rather than in practice caused his unease, not the sword itself.
Will I be able to wield it when the time comes? Can I kill if I need to?
He’d never been sent on a hunt, so the sword’s edge hadn’t tasted blood other than his own when he got clumsy or distracted while sharpening the blade. He shifted his grip on the leather-wrapped hilt, hand slipping with the slickness of the sweat on his palm. For so many seasons, he’d trained for this moment; he knew he’d kill if the need arose.
I hope it doesn’t.
The rattle-clunk of wooden wheels on dirt track rolled along the shallow valley and up the hill to Kuneprius’ ears. Soon, he’d need wonder no more.
The apprentice angled his head to peer down the weed-clogged road, squinting as he attempted to pick out the wagons in the darkness. The lanterns hanging at the front of each, bobbing and swinging with the horses’ gaits, made it easy. He counted them silently.
One, two, three…four?
His heart lurched. Brother Fildrian had said to expect three—two carts and a covered wagon. Kuneprius’ gaze flickered to the spot where he expected to find the expedition leader’s dark shape, but he saw nothing. He glanced back to the track, the horse-drawn vehicles drawing closer and, in the glow of their lanterns, he counted two covered wagons.
Which one?
A horse nickered and a high-pitched voice spoke words to calm the animal, their meaning lost in the rumble of the wheels, but the intent clear in their timbre. This must be the tone of a woman’s voice, the first he’d heard.
Kuneprius wiped his slick palm on the front of his coat, hand pressing against the hard, smooth surface of the leather chest piece hidden beneath. When he breathed in through his nose, he inhaled the tang of the oil used to keep it supple.
“Psst.”
Brother Fildrian faced Kuneprius, his pale cheek a faint smudge beneath the dark hood. Moving precisely, carefully, the expedition leader stood and gestured for the apprentice to do the same. Kuneprius obeyed. Around them, cloth stirred against skin and sandals scuffed in frozen grass as the others rose, as well.
Fildrian descended the hill deftly, traversing from one narrow tree trunk to the next, leaving Kuneprius to wait as the other Brothers followed. A thrill of fearful excitement stirred in his gut. He tightened his grip on the short sword’s hilt, licked his lips, and swallowed the excess of saliva flooding his mouth.
Tonight I become a Brother. Tonight I become a man.
When the last of the ten robed men passed him, Kuneprius followed, concentrating on the placement of his feet, moving with the stealth he’d learned from Fildrian during training. Truthfully, the racket made by the clatter of horses’ hooves and wheels on stones and dirt would have hidden the tuneless din should he break into song and dance a jig. He’d do neither, but the thought made him stifle a nervous chuckle.
Brother Fildrian arrived at the bottom of the hill and crouched in the tall weeds beside the cart track. The others arrayed themselves on either side of the leader and Kuneprius stopped well back, secreted behind a tree. He hefted the sword, ready to fulfill his role to catch any who got through his companions in an attempt to flee.
But which wagon contains our prize?
He shouldn’t concern himself—Fildrian knew. Twelve turns of the seasons before, the expedition leader had been involved in the raid which brought Kuneprius himself into the Fatherhood; one of many times he’d liberated male children from a Goddess’ caravan. If anyone knew the ways of the Mothers, Brother Fildrian did. Kuneprius passed the time by counting his heartbeats.
Eight. Nine. Ten.
The lead cart drew close enough for him to see the sleek lines of the horse pulling it. Beyond the animal, the lantern hanging beside the cart’s driver shone on her face, reflecting in the woman’s eyes and outlining her features in its warm glow. Kuneprius swallowed hard.
He didn’t expect a woman to be so different from men.
Her hair—the deep red-brown of a chestnut in the moonlight—hung well past her shoulders in a manner not permitted of a Brother. Many of the apprentices, like Kuneprius himself, wore their hair longer, but not so long as hers. Small nose, smooth skin, full lips. The sight of her caused a flutter in the lad’s gut he’d never experienced.
What’s wrong with me?
His inexplicably dry lips parted and his sandpaper tongue brushed their surface. As he gazed upon the woman—girl, really; she didn’t appear many turns older than Kuneprius—the stirring in his gut spread. It spilled into his chest, speeding his breath, and crept into his loins. His man-thing began to harden, the way it often was when he woke in the mornings, prepared to make his offering to the Small Gods. He glanced at his breeches, then back at the girl, who was closer now, and noticed gentle curves hidden beneath her smock. His confused feelings grew. He crossed his legs to hide his confusion, but doing so increased his discomfort.
The girl’s cart rumbled past the spot where Brother Fildrian and the others hid, and the men remained secreted in the tall grass, waiting. The wheels of the first covered wagon clattered past; the second drew even with them. Brother Fildrian raised his hand, signaling the attack party, and they sprang out of the weeds.
Horses whinnied, one of the drivers screamed—not a shriek of fear, but a signal, Kuneprius realized. At the sound of her call, two armed warriors of the Goddess burst out of the first covered wagon, four more out of the second, catching the Fatherhood’s raiders by surprise.
Kuneprius’ eyes widened as he watched the women pounce on his companions. Metal clanged against metal, horses pranced and neighed. A tall Goddess warrior with a shaved head knocked Brother Imir’s sword from his hand, then skewered him. She pulled her blade free and a gout of dark blood spilled from the young man’s gut before he slumped to the dirt.
Hand gripping his sword’s hilt tighter than it should, Kuneprius took one step toward the fight, then hesitated. In his head, he heard Fildrian’s instructions: guard the flank; let no one pass; do not desert your post. But did he foresee the women bearing weapons? Was this the way it always happened?
Kuneprius slid forward another step. A woman screamed and fell, a gash on her leg; Brother Xeoru swung his sword two-handed and split her skull. Kuneprius flinched and looked away, found the cart driver’s gaze upon him. She climbed out of her seat, pulled a long dagger from a fold in her smock.
Panicked, Kuneprius returned his attention to the fight and realized the other drivers had abandoned their seats, too. Weapons filled their hands as they stalked toward the skirmish. Their addition to the warriors of the Goddess evened the numbers, swung favor away from the Brothers and squarely to the middle.
Until an axe separated Brother Xeoru’s head from his shoulders and a spear poked a hole through Brother Ategar’s chest.
For a space of heartbeats he forgot to count, Kuneprius watched, feet acting as though frozen to the ground. Blood spilled on the frosted dirt, painted the weeds beside the track the color of rust. One after another the fighters fell, Brothers and women alike, until three remained: Brother Fildrian; the tall, bald warrior woman; and the pretty cart driver.
The two Sisters stalked Fildrian, spinning him in a tight circle. One lunged, setting him off balance. He flailed and the tip of his sword caught the young one, opening a slash across her forearm. Kuneprius gasped. The girl dropped her dagger and clutched the wound, a pained expression creasing her smooth brow.
Finally, Kuneprius wrested control of his feet back from the grip of fear. He took a step toward the fray as Fildrian engaged the bald woman, his back turned toward the injured cart driver.
The warriors’ swords met, the clang of their blades reverberating in the chill night air. Kuneprius forced himself another pace, his sandal-clad feet whispering in the tall grass. His heart pulsed in his ears, loud and painful, distracting. He blinked hard to dispel the discomfort. When his eyes opened, the cart driver had retrieved a sword from the ground and crept up behind Brother Fildrian.
“Brother,” Kuneprius called, but his voice caught in his dry throat, cracked and fell to pieces.
Fildrian parried an attack from the warrior and lunged, running his blade through her gut. They stood frozen for a heartbeat, the two combatants staring into each other’s eyes as though sharing a final moment, a sliver of respect, then he wrenched his sword free with a twist. The woman’s knees buckled, spilling her to the ground. Fildrian turned, a smile on his lips.
And the cart driver slashed his throat.
“No!”
Kuneprius rushed forward, realizing he’d waited too long. When he needed it most, his courage failed him, and now ten Brothers lay dead with no one to blame but him. He gritted his teeth and growled in the back of his throat as he raced for the girl, using anger to drown his fear.
She spun at the sound of his approach, Fildrian’s blood dripping from her borrowed blade. Kuneprius swung for her head, driving her back, and the girl’s feet tangled. She stumbled, heel catching on dead Brother Ategar’s arm, and she went to the ground.
Kuneprius growled again, the end of it fading to a squeak of sorrow and loss. The girl scrambled away, hands and feet digging furrows in the dirt track, but the bodies cluttering the road trapped her from getting far. The young lad caught up to her, put the point of his short sword to her throat. Staring up at him, she froze, the fear of death shining in her eyes.
He hesitated, blinked. A tear ran along his cheek and he sniffed back the snot threatening to spill out of his nose.
“You killed him.”
“Please,” the girl said. It surprised him she spoke the same language as he did, though he knew of no reason for her to speak any other. “Please.”
The point of the short sword wavered and Kuneprius struggled to keep it from drooping. The anger burning within him after watching Fildrian, Ategar, and the others die melted away, dissolved by the blue of her eyes, the smoothness of her pink cheeks. Kuneprius’ mind flashed away, wondering why Brothers were permitted only to spill their seed on the ground when such beauty existed in the world. An out-of-place sound brought him back to the moment.
They both heard it—a mewling from within the first covered wagon. The girl’s eyes flickered toward it; Kuneprius raised his head. The small sound grew—a whimper to a whine, then to the full-throated cry of a tiny mouth that reminded Kuneprius why he was there.
A yell broke from the girl’s lips and she swung the sword tainted with Fildrian’s blood. Her grip slipped, the weapon twisted. The flat of the blade bounced off the leather chest piece hidden beneath the apprentice’s robe.
Time stopped for an instant, the baby’s siren cry filling the night. They stared at each other, each knowing what must come next. Kuneprius gulped around a lump solidifying in his throat and leaned forward on his sword. The tip sank into the girl’s neck.
She gasped, coughed. Blood burbled over her lips, ran along her cheek and into her ear. Her eyes found the young lad’s, a last plea shining in them, quickly fading. He turned away, unable to gaze upon her sorrow.
When her body went limp, he released his grip on the sword and stumbled away to retch on the ground beside the covered wagon. The baby wailed, beseeching him to come to it, take care of it. Kuneprius knew he needed to do just that, but his heaving gut and clenching throat prevented him.
Bent at the waist and breathing hard, he leaned against the wagon wheel. Sweat and snot and tears dripped from his nose and cheeks, the droplets pattering on the frozen dirt the same way as the blood of the Brothers as they lost their lives.
I should have aided them.
He coughed and spat bitter chunks of spew, wished for water to wash the horrid flavor off his tongue. The baby’s crying continued, assaulting his ears and rattling in his head until he could bear it no longer. With a shuddering breath, he forced himself upright and dragged his aching body to the back of the wagon.
Kuneprius pushed the flap aside a crack and peeked inside.
The babe lay on the wagon’s floor, a blanket tucked under its chin. Alone.
He clambered up, arms and legs exhausted as though he’d crawled here from the temple. On his second attempt, he struggled his way in and flopped on the deck beside the child. The baby ceased bellowing, eyes wide with wonder finding him. A few seconds passed as Kuneprius stared at the child’s tear-stained cheeks, its plump lips, and thin wisps of hair, then the wailing began anew.
Kuneprius wrestled himself to his knees and pulled the blanket off the baby, revealing a cloth wrapped around its groin and tied on either side. He fumbled with the knots, his numb fingers slipping until one knot came undone. If it wasn’t the right child, Fildrian and the others had sacrificed themselves for nothing. The thought weighing on him, Kuneprius hesitated a half-dozen heartbeats before pulling the diaper aside.
The stink of the baby’s soiled cloth made him gag. He raised his arm to cover his nose and undid the other knot. Beneath, he saw the baby’s tiny man-thing, and Kuneprius breathed a sigh of relief.
The Brothers were dead, but he’d accomplished what they’d come for: the babe was his.
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Bruce Blake lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. When pressing issues like shovelling snow and building igloos don’t take up his spare time, Bruce can be found taking the dog sled to the nearest coffee shop to work on his short stories and novels.
Actually, Victoria, B.C. is only a couple hours north of Seattle, Wash., where more rain is seen than snow. Since snow isn’t really a pressing issue, Bruce spends more time trying to remember to leave the “u” out of words like “colour” and “neighbour” than he does shovelling (and watch out for those pesky double l’s). The father of two, Bruce is also the trophy husband of a burlesque diva.
Bruce’s first short story, “Another Man’s Shoes” was published in the Winter 2008 edition of Cemetery Moon. Another short, “Yardwork,” was made into a podcast in Oct., 2011 by Pseudopod. Bruce’s first Icarus Fell novel, “On Unfaithful Wings”, was published in Dec., 2011 while the follow up, “All Who Wander Are Lost”, came out in July, 2012. The third in the series, “Secrets of the Hanged Man”, came out in July, 2013. The first part of his Khirro’s Journey epic fantasy trilogy, “Blood of the King”, was released Sept., 2012, book 2, “Spirit of the King,” in Dec., 2012, and book 3, “Heart of the King,” in Feb., 2013.
The two books in the Small Gods series, “When Shadows Fall” and “The Darkness Comes”, were released in 2013, after which Bruce took a year out to concentrate on his family and career. Book three in the Small Gods series is Bruce Blake’s current project.
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