Friday 26 August 2011

Godstorm pt. 3: Blood Rain

Where to begin: Godstorm part 1: Clouds like Murder
And then: Godstorm part 2: Wailing Winds
And now... Part 3: Blood Rain

In their entire history the dryads of the great forest Hath have created only one weapon. The Warhammer of Hath contains the corrupt spirit of the nymph queen, Hathsett, killed with great sorrow whilst she was possessed by demon magic and trying to poison the Father Oak. The heavy warhammer is made of enchanted jade and forever drips Hathsett’s blood, which has become the very antithesis of life and health.

That is the weapon Ephea sees in the godqueen’s right hand as he enters the armoury. She is facing off against the traitor god Khao but the young god’s entrance has distracted her and Khao chooses that moment to leap, swinging a great golden sword at her. Ephea’s mind races, he snatches at a weapon but he knows he is too far away, too slow, to reach her before Khao lands his blow. And Khao is merciless, he has killed gods in a single strike before.

The godqueen, Elenor, is one of the Starborn. Those gods not born of gods but what came before. She was more than wife to Kraius, more than just the mother of his children. She was most trusted of his warriors, by his side or at his back in every battle, with him for every victory, soaked in the same blood as he was as they overthrew the Star Lords and crushed the demon uprising. She is no unblooded squire. Her distraction is but a feint.

Khao is set in his attack, his momentum carries him through the air in an inexorable arc and he can do nothing as Elenor shifts and curls backwards. She has judged him perfectly and slips just beneath his sword, then uses the motion born of her twisting dodge to swing the warhammer upwards with a scream of fury, intercepting Khao. The weapon smashes into his chest and his back explodes under the pressure. Black blood splashes across the room and he is launched upwards into the ceiling with bone-crunching impact.

Khao drops facedown to the floor and before he can reach for his sword, before he can try to stand, before he can even take a breath, the warrior godqueen slams the warhammer onto his head in a blow that cracks the floor beneath. Khao’s skull bursts. More black blood splatters violently, lumpy with torn flesh and shards of broken bone.

“Traitor,” the queen spits on his corpse, “your death has been a long time coming.”

She rounds on Ephea, her eyes alive with rage. Godking Kraius may have been his father but Elenor was not his mother. He stands before her, stupefied; a salvaged mace hangs loosely from his hand, its magically-flaming head flickering softly. She could crush him with barely a thought.

He drops the weapon and falls to his knees.

“My queen.”

Ephea keeps his head down but he hears her take a step towards him, hears the rush of displaced air as she raises the warhammer sharply. The godqueen screams and Ephea jumps as the room quakes with the impact of the thrown weapon. He risks a glance and sees that the plinth upon which Thunder and Lightning should sit is broken, cracked in two by the thrown weapon.

“Rise, Ephea.”

Ephea stands. The godqueen’s frost-white skin contrasts sharply with the black blood dripping from her. She stretches her wings as much as the room will allow and takes a deep breath. When she speaks Ephea isn’t sure if she is speaking to him or to herself; he just knows he dare not interrupt.

“Kraius, my king, my lord, my husband, my love, warned me there was a storm coming. Now Thunder and Lightning are missing; the Blackling, Khao, has returned,” she casts a dark glance at the broken corpse, “and Kraius is dead.

“All the gods must be summoned. Foreign gods and human lords must be brought to Vallya for the funeral. There is worse here than one fallen god’s revenge.”

She pauses for a moment, in thought.

“At the funeral I shall announce there will be no godking to replace Kraius; that the godqueen shall rule alone. And then we shall see what twisted heart crawls forth to dispute me. We shall see our enemy.

“Be prepared, young Ephea. You showed bravery to even think of fighting Khao, and you may yet need it. I do not understand why he chose you to serve him, but I trust he had a reason. You will stand by my side at the funeral, as you have stood by his. And after you have served him to the very end, I shall give you your freedom.”

Next week... you are invited to attend the funeral of a god. Part 4: Dark Thunder.

Friday 19 August 2011

Godstorm pt. 2: Wailing Winds

But wait! Have you read Godstorm pt.1: Clouds like Murder?

Ephea, god, servant, is on his knees in his king’s bedchamber. Before him lies Kraius, the godking, run through with a writhing sword of blackest, churning smoke. The sword is as long as Ephea is tall and as it twists and shifts it tears the flesh it is embedded in, spraying blood in cruel, crimson spurts. Kraius twitches, his mouth gasping in a silent scream, and then he is still.

The godking is dead.

Even through the thick walls Ephea can still hear the high-pitched clamouring of the black shrikes. Kraius’ tower is the tallest in the city and the whirling, tornadoing flock runs the height of it; there must be every shrike in Vallya drawn by the death. They only gather when lifeblood is spilt and they have been gathering since before Ephea began climbing the stairs. He dare not imagine what it has been like for the godking, his father, to have lain here, dying violently, for all that time.

Ephea realises he can hear other sounds too. From inside the tower. He gets to his feet and shakily steps back into the corridor. The doors at the end, to the armoury, are open.

Ephea has never been in the armoury. The closest he came was only a week earlier, when Kraius had bid him wait outside. The godking had returned with a short sword in a rigid scabbard of mottled white. He had presented it to Ephea with a simple statement.

“This is a gift I do not give lightly. This is no practice sword. This sword you wear only at ceremony or war; you draw only when life is to be taken.”

Ephea had nodded dumbly. Kraius had made him the only god who was a servant, a grand insult, and yet had then given him a sword, from his own armoury no less, an unwarranted honour. Ephea wishes he had the sword with him now, but he is permitted no weapons in his daily duties.

He forces himself to approach the open doors and look inside.

The walls of the armoury are lined with weapon racks; the only other feature in the room is a stone plinth at the far end with a stand for holding two swords, one above the other; the stand is empty. Many of the weapons are out of their racks, knocked down or taken down.

In the room two gods face each other. The godqueen, Elenor, stands with her back to Ephea, she is crouched in a defensive stance, her white wings drawn up tight onto her back; this is too enclosed a space for her to fight as she might otherwise choose. He can see she has a jade warhammer in her right hand; the head of the hammer exudes moss-green droplets that evaporate before ever reaching the floor. Nearby he can see the singing spear Valkyrie, the queen’s spear, but the haft has been shattered and something like blood oozes from the remains.

Opposite her is a cobalt-skinned god with bone-plate armour and eyes like burning coals. Ephea can see that the black bones of the armour are the god’s own bones, torn out through his blue skin, and from his forehead thrust two jagged, curving horns. Ephea has never met this god before but he recognises him. This is the dark god Khao who sided with the demons and re-shaped himself in their image.

The demons are all dead, but Khao, it seems, survived the great war. Khao’s voice is angry, guttural, and black spittle sprays across the room with every word.

“Where is my reward, bitch queen? Where are my swords?”

The queen’s voice in reply is steely, strong.

“Your reward will be death, Khao. Just tell me why, before I kill you.”

“For Thunder and Lightning. For the new godking that will emerge from the coming storm.”

“You, Khao? Vallya will never take you back.”

He laughs. “Not me, but I will return to Vallya to stand by the new king’s side, and I will wield the twin swords.”

They eye each other warily, calculating, looking for an opening.

“You have been lied to, Khao. Thunder and Lightning will only accept the hand of a Starborn. You could never wield them.”

Thunder and Lightning: Kraius’ twin swords. The swords Kraius destroyed the Star Father with and bested the Archon with; the swords he was wielding when he cut the twin demon princes down, both in a single move. The two swords missing from the stand at the far end.

Ephea edges into the room, looking for a weapon, hoping Khao is distracted.

“There are more Starborn than you know, whore. And you, whelp, don’t think I can’t see you.”

The queen turns to look at Ephea and Khao leaps at her, snagging a golden long sword from the floor in the same fluid movement. The Queen’s eyes widen as she hears Khao’s attack, and she twists back, reacting. Ephea grabs desperately for the nearest weapon, fumbling it in his haste. He knows he is too far away.

Khao is a fearsome warrior with a dark reputation amongst gods. He is called Demonlord, Betrayer of Anjels’ Gate, Blackling, Traitor. He is fast and he is brutal. And for his actions, for the sheer scale of the atrocities committed against his own kind, he is known by another name: Godslayer.

Come back next week for Godstorm pt.3: Blood Rain

In the mean time... some recommended reading:

Illumination by Chrysoula Tzavelas. Serialised urban fantasy. Well-written and well-paced and always leaves me wanting more (in a good way).

iRapture by Jason Sullivan. The title kind of says it all... the digital revelation is here... ;)

Friday 12 August 2011

Godstorm pt.1: Clouds like Murder

The black shrikes are shrieking. They flock around the celestial towers in raucous, rushing waves. They only get this way when blood is in the air. Death has come to Vallya, the city of the gods.

Ephea cowers and ducks as he hurries across the courtyard to the central tower, trying not to spill fruit from the golden tray he carries, or wine from the goblet. The shrikes will not attack him but when they get in their death frenzy they are mindless and fly blindly into things, like walls or trees or careless servants, god or no. And he is a god; son of Kraius, the godking, though his mother is not Queen Elenor and he is far down the list of bastards.

Safely inside the tower, Ephea pauses to catch his breath. He wonders vaguely who has died. Not some inept servant, surely? The black shrikes seem mighty worked up for a mere mortal’s demise. Maybe, then, the frictions between the lower houses have escalated to the death of some minor godling. Serious times.

The circular tower is perhaps a hundred yards across, and a wide, ivory staircase travels around the inner wall. Rising up through the centre of the tower is the First Tree, from which all other trees fell; it is long dead, but preserved and still impressive to behold. Some say that when it falls, Vallya will fall with it. Because of the tree, there are no floors below Kraius’ throne room at the top and, above that, his chambers.

At the foot of the pale stairs Vorka and Haftagg stand guard. Gods of light, their gleaming skin imbues the ivory steps behind them with a translucent luminescence. In abrupt contrast their spears have hafts of raven oak, so black it hurts to look at them, as if a piece of the world is missing.

“Hey, Godska,” Vorka booms, “scared of the birdies?”

Godska, they call him. The god who is a slave.

“Maybe Godska is afraid they are here for him.” Haftagg says, “Maybe he is afraid that today will be the day we kill him.”

Ephea knows they will not harm him, they dare not defy Kraius, but they threaten him every day. He has not quite grown used to it.

No other god is a servant; that is what mortals are for. But one day Kraius presented him to the court and declared that this godling bastard of his was to be his personal servant. In truth, Ephea remembers little before that, flashes of brightness; firm hands holding him, shaping him; a deep voice counselling patience. Ephea does not remember his mother, and no one has ever told him her name.

He steps between Vorka and Haftagg, not looking at either of them, holding his head high, swelling his chest to show them how ineffective their taunts are. He fools nobody. As soon as the two gods are out of sight below him Ephea lets out the breath he has been holding. He trembles slightly.

It is not a short journey to the top of the tower.

At the doors to the throne room, Shin and So stand guard. Foreign gods from the Eastern Isles, Ephea would like to think of their silence as a kindness, but in truth it scares him almost as much as Vorka and Haftagg’s jibes. They are taller than any god in Vallya except Kraius himself, and more slender. Ephea has seen them sparring, and they move like liquid, like dragons, dancing and flowing sinuously around each other.

They have skin like mahogany with darker whorls carved into the surface and they wear nothing but blank masks of bone with shadowy eye slits. They are so unmoving at their post, and so different, that for the longest time Ephea had thought them statues; before his lessons began and he learnt of the world beyond Vallya.

This early, before court is assembled, the throne room is eerie. Such a vast space, so obviously meant to be peopled, so empty. The throne though, even unoccupied, is imposing; it throbs with a vast power. It is all that remains of the Star Father’s heart after Kraius ripped it from his chest, a constant reminder of the godking’s unmatched power.

Ephea remembers his lessons. Of the Star Father, Kraius kept the heart for his throne; the bright eye he set circling the world, giving warmth and light to all and the blind eye he slung into the sky so that night might not always be so dark; from the bones he built Vallya, to house the gods, and the flesh he consumed in a year-long orgy of feasting, blood and sex.

Behind the dais and the throne is a doorway which leads to a smaller staircase circling upwards to the royal chambers. This archway is unguarded, anyone passing through it but the King and Queen or Ephea would find it leads not to a staircase but instead transports them to the pit of the Archon, Lord of the Dragons, prisoner of the gods.

Unlike the main staircase there are windows in this last stretch and Ephea can see the black shrikes outside: a dark, frantic cloud. The air is thick with them, more than he has ever seen before. This is where they are focussed. Their shrieks are a terrible wail and Ephea feels a deep dread land on him like a suffocating shroud. He runs then, not even turning back for the apple that tumbles from his tray and thumps softly down the steps behind him.

He bursts into Kraius’ sleeping chambers and the tray and goblet fall from his hands, forgotten, as he stumbles and crashes to his knees. Glistening, perfect fruits roll across the floor and a pool of red washes out from the golden goblet but Ephea sees only one thing: Kraius, mighty godking, pinned through his broad chest by a sword of writhing, black smoke.

Godstorm pt.2: Wailing Winds.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Spare Parts

Welcome to the second year of the Xeroverse...

Across the darkened land, hooded conspirators raise flickering torches and structures of seemingly cold, grey stone begin to glimmer with secret, internal light. In deepest space, old technology sparks once more. Priests chant arcane chord structures and scientists calculate timed discordance.

Chaos and Order grind against each other and in the friction of Truth and Untruth power blooms; energy lashes upwards and outwards as planets become mere waypoints in a greater chain. Gods, futurists, science giants, heroes, villains, dragons, darklings and more... everyone looks to the crackling, tumescent skies as space itself quakes and begins to settle to bright points: shining moments, smaller than stars, in space and on land... gateways, points of ingress.

The gates have re-opened, the Xeroverse is alive.

Please excuse the theatrics... ;)

Welcome to chapter 3, Spare Parts. So called because it will consist entirely of serialised flash fictions. This is new territory for me, pushing the limits of my comfort zone, so feedback, as ever, is encouraged... from story, plot and character, to language and imagery; from structure of an individual flash, to the greater structure of the overall arc. Or whether you just like it, or dislike it. It’s always nice just to know you’re reading. =)

I’m going to try a slight change of schedule too, new flash fiction will be posted here on Fridays now, to fit in with the #FridayFlash schedule (and to try and not bore people too much with continual re-promotion of the same flash).

I am also way beyond happy that while I’ve been away I have been awarded, um... awards by some of my fellow bloggers and fictioneers.

You can see them over here, on my other blog, as I pass them on to a few of my favourite writers and bloggers. Please go check them out, if you’re not already following my nominees then I highly recommend them all. =)

The beacons are alight, the Xeroverse is set spinning again.

Join me this Friday for Clouds like Murder, part 1 of Godstorm.