Featured Excerpt: Legends of the Exiles by Jesse Teller

 

Legends of the Exiles by Jesse Teller:

 

The isolated barbarians of Neather have deep ancestry and strict traditions. Four resilient women defy tribal customs as they fight to overcome their own tragedies. Abuse. Addiction. Assault. Grief. What struggles can they endure to defend their hopes and their hearts?

Helena seeks a love as bold as she, yet finds the men of her village lacking.

Jocelyn fears her strange visions and sacrifices a life with the man she loves for the one her destiny demands.

Torn apart by abuse and grief, Ellen is a brilliant woman who must focus her intellect on finding reasons to persevere.

Rachel, a brash girl of noble heritage, dares all men to challenge her and longs for one who will.

In this set of four interwoven novellas, award-winning author Jesse Teller challenges assumptions and showcases the strength of feminine resolve.

 

Excerpt from Book One: Dreadful Desires

 

Her head hurt. She kept running. She was hungry and hadn’t eaten in days. She kept running. This was much farther out than her father had ever taken her hunting. But the image of her mother screaming with reddened face, slapping and clawing at the floor as she struggled to get to her, Helena needed to run. She needed away. This time she was not coming back. This time, she would stay in the woods until Father got home. For this time, her mother actually wanted to kill her.

Helena ran for another mile before she collapsed in a heap, gasping for breath. The dry ground beneath her puffed as her lungs worked like Tennen’s bellows. She rolled over and looked at the sunrise coming over the mountain. She stared, her vision pumping and pulsing like her heart, as darkness slipped away and day came, bringing with it sanity and misery.

Helena scowled at the tuber she had grabbed as she ran out the door. Sweat from her palm had scrubbed the root clean. It was twisted and yellow, thin, and she well knew, bitter. She had been running all night with the thing in her hand, and now that she was out of her mother’s reach with no inkling where she was, she realized this potato would have to take her far. She was far from the pastures of the village, far from the sanity of the Flurryfist tribe, and she screwed up her face at the only food she had. If her mother had made bread the last few days, then Helena would have grabbed that before dashing away. Mother had done nothing since Father left but drink and curse. Her mother’s anger, her mother’s rage, her mother’s insanity had chased Helena out here, and now all she had was a dumb tuber.

She stomped her foot and growled as she leaned back and threw the potato as far as she could.

Helena sat. She knew that was a dumb thing. She had just thrown away her breakfast—and perhaps her next meal, too. But tubers were stupid anyway, and ugly, and no one should have to eat them.

Her hands trembled and she curled them into fists. If she was older, she could handle her mother. If she was more than seven, she could stand up when her mother hit and cursed at her. Helena cursed her age, and she cursed every tuber, swearing to the Seven she would never eat another.

Then she heard a snort. She froze. A large, gusting exhale, and she knew the thing that made that sound was huge. Helena’s eyes shot to every corner of the wood, and she quickly found a fallen tree. She crawled there, ducking under it. She peered out at the wilderness around her and fought to slow her heart.

She had just run for the duration of the night. She was in perfect shape, but she could not control her frantic breathing. Her heart hammered, her forehead beading sweat, and she covered her mouth from a scream as she saw the most terrifying thing she had ever seen.

It was a small, red ball of fur, no higher off the ground than two feet. Its tiny paws dug at the ground, and its perfect, cute face peered around it for any sign of a meal. It was a baby bear, and its mother was close. Helena again heard the snort of a massive animal. She slowly panicked. Every nugget of truth her father had told her about bears fired through her head, and she cried as the mother bear looked up at her and roared.

The massive beast burst into a run, bellowing as it came. Helena shoved her feet back, pressing herself deeper under the tree. She screamed, and the bear snapped and pawed at her as it roared.

“I don’t want your baby!” she yelled. “I don’t want your baby!”

The beast could not be reasoned with. Helena shrieked as the thick paw reached her and swiped, clawing at her leg. The bear put its front paws on the top of the tree and shoved with all its weight. The tree bucked and snapped above her. Helena wailed in abject fear.

The bear screamed.

It spun and roared, running away from her. Helena turned to paw at the ground and dig deeper under the tree, deeper into the safety of the ground. Whatever was out there would be dead soon, and that monster would turn its attention back to her. She clawed with both hands as the bear wailed in agony behind her, and she kept digging.

The bear roared. She could hear its terrible jaws snapping wood before it screamed again. Helena wondered what was killing the bear, and what it would do to her. She kept digging. The bear raged one more time before it fell silent.

Helena spun, facing the new threat, reaching around for any weapon to defend herself. She found a small, sharp stone, and held it out before her.

“Leave me alone. I will kill you if you come closer!” She hoped she sounded frightening, but she was sure she didn’t. She saw the bear twenty yards downhill, with a small spear driven into its shoulder and another in its throat. It heaved one breath.

Helena stared at the beast, terrified as it shuddered.

A naked boy covered in dung and mud stepped into her view. He was barefoot, his body covered in tiny scrapes and cuts, his chest and right flank coated in blood. He swiped a bloody hand through his sty of blond hair then climbed on the bear as if it were a rock. He gripped his spear with both hands, and with a savage, wet rip, tore the weapon free.

The spear was long for his size, with a head of stone, covered in bear blood and fur. He lifted it once over his head before slamming it deep with all his might into the bear’s back. One great surge, a yelp of pain, and the beast was dead.

The boy turned with a blood-covered, mud-smeared face and looked at her as if she were a great mystery.

Helena had never been afraid of a boy before, and she was not going to let now be any different. She crawled out of her hole. The boy pulled back. She stepped closer, and he turned to run.

“No, you little beast boy, you don’t run! You stay, you stay right now!” She stomped her foot, and the boy crouched. He pulled his spear around and drove the butt into the ground. He cocked his head and stared at her. She stepped forward.

She pointed at the bear. “How did you kill that bear?” She looked around the wood surrounding them, but did not see the child’s father. Nor did she see the rest of his hunting party. She looked at him and pointed at the bear again. “Did you kill that thing by yourself?”

The boy grunted.

She grunted back and shook her head. “What was that? Did you grunt at me? What kind of way is that to talk to a lady?”

He barked out a laugh.

She looked at herself and the torn, muddy dress she wore, her filthy hands and mud-sprayed legs. She reached up to touch sweaty, tangled hair, and she stomped her foot. “Well, I might be a mess, but what are you? Half animal, I say.”

“At least half,” the boy answered.

She smiled. “Got a name, beast boy?”

“My father called me Betten before he died.” The boy picked his nose and rubbed it on his leg.

Helena screwed her face up. “You’re gross,” she said.

“You’re funny.” He walked to a filthy, bloody bag and reached into it. He pulled her little yellow tuber out of his bag and tossed it to her.

“These don’t grow in Bloodblade land,” he said. “You’re far from home.”

Helena started and looked around in fear. “Is that where I am? Are we in Bloodblade lands? Bloodblades are bad people. They started a war with my king chief.” She gasped in horror. “Are you a Bloodblade?” She decided if he was, she was going to try to kill him with her tuber.

“Bloodblades aren’t bad people. Just bad hunters.” He chuckled as if he had made the funniest joke ever, and she rolled her eyes. “We are in Bloodblade lands. You left the Ragoth nation. You didn’t seem to know where you were going so—”

“So, you followed me?” Outrage swelled within her, and she stomped her foot.

“I did. Didn’t want you to get lost.”

“I can take care of myself,” she said. She fought real hard not to look at the bear.

“I know you can. You’re Helena Dreadheart. You’re Bestic’s daughter.”

“Well, you’re naked and dirty.” She walked over to the bear and held her hand out to Betten.

“What do you want?” he asked.

“Betten, I am hungry and am making myself some breakfast. Give me your knife so I can butcher this foul thing and get us some meat.”

He laughed and handed her his blade. She looked at it for a while, puzzled. It was perfectly clean.

 

He wore a loincloth just for her, though he scratched often, and she knew it was uncomfortable for him. He seemed only able to talk about two things: hunting and Flak Redfist. Flak was a boy Betten had met when he had run through Fendis land, looking for the out-world. Betten had, of course, wanted to know if there was good hunting out there, and he had run into the boy. Betten swore the boy was a Redfist.

“How are you supposed to know if that is true? Any boy can say he is a Redfist. The boys in my village say it all the time. Their dad’s dad was a quarter Redfist, or their grandmother’s father once rubbed a stone a Redfist man had sat on, or some such nonsense. Everyone says the name Redfist. I don’t know what all the fuss is about. They are just men.”

“You will know one when you see them. I did. When he looked at me and told me his name, I believed him,” Betten said. “I’m gonna go serve him when I get older. For now, though, he wants me to learn the mountain as well as I can.”

“Why?” Helena asked. They were an hour from her house, and she knew Betten would be running off soon. The brief time she had spent with him told her he was not going to enter the village with her.

Betten looked as if he were smiling at a god when he said, “He told me to learn the mountain good so one day I could lead him back here.”

A chill ran up her spine. Helena decided she wanted to meet this Flak Redfist. She wanted to stand before him and see if he was enough of a man that she could bow to.

Helena had never bowed to a man in her life. She was sure no Redfist would change that.

 

Buy Link:

 

 

About Jesse Teller:

 

Jesse Teller fell in love with fantasy when he was five years old and played his first game of Dungeons & Dragons. The game gave him the ability to create stories and characters from a young age. He started consuming fantasy in every form and, by nine, was obsessed with the genre. As a young adult, he knew he wanted to make his life about fantasy. From exploring the relationship between man and woman, to studying the qualities of a leader or a tyrant, Jesse Teller uses his stories and settings to study real-world themes and issues.

 

Author Links:

Website
Facebook
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Goodreads
Amazon

 

 

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Featured Excerpt: Death and the Crone (Lucky Devil #3) by Megan Mackie

 

Death and the Crone: Book Three of the Lucky Devil Series

 

 

Why should the sexy immortal guy always go for the sixteen-year-old?

Margaret has given up on life. In her late sixties, homeless and unwanted by society, it seemed a logical thing to go with this rich, handsome stranger back to his expensive apartment. Sure, it probably would mean her death, but what did she have to lose anyway? But instead of finding her death, Margaret learns that nothing in her savior’s world is what it seems, including herself.

Set in the magical, technologically-advanced Chicago of The Lucky Devil series, this spin-off story can be enjoyed by both existing and new fans of the series

 

 

Excerpt from Chapter One:

 

The young man unlocked the metal door and let it swing open, leading the old, homeless woman inside. She stood on the threshold, a small wizened thing, wearing clothes that were never hers and stinking to high heaven of her own and others’ filth. “You are one crazy kid, you know that?” she told the young man standing next to her, as he struggled a moment to remove the high-tech key that never-quite-fit-the-lock from his door. The young man flashed his youthful smile at her, tossing his newly freed keys and his umbrella onto the glass coffee table in the open living room. Without a further response, he walked past the island—that was the only thing separating the kitchen from the living room—to a refrigerator that shone dull silver in the dim light. She stood still in the doorway, clinging onto the frame to fight her instincts to run. The room would have been less scary if it had been filled with torture equipment. Instead, there was a dark-wood dining room set and tall, throne-like chairs stood just a few feet from the doorway. To the left was a dark, leather couch with the clear, glass coffee table. Both pieces of furniture faced a wide flat-screen TV mounted on the wall. The couch sat on beige carpet while the dining room set sat on wide square blocks of smooth stone-like tile with no wall in between to separate the two rooms, like a sane person would expect. It was pure, uncomfortable luxury.

The extreme contrast of her to the world in which she now stood, was so keen even she was embarrassed by it. The feeling went all the way through her hardened shell that told the world she didn’t care what it thought of her, to touch the gentle, little girl she had once been, and in some ways still was, underneath. “Come in, shut the door,” the kid said from the kitchen. He seemed to be fetching two glasses and a bottle of something from his chrome fridge, setting all three on the island counter. Three red-topped stools waited on the opposite side for some glamorous woman in a too-short, little black dress and heels to sit upon it. Not a woman dressed in rags, old enough to be his grandmother.
When she didn’t move, he left the kitchen to come to her once more. He smiled his gentle smile, the one that convinced her to take him up on his offer in the first damn place. As the smile washed over her, it made her insides melt into warmth. Most people would shun her at first sight, try to keep upwind and at least five feet away—more if possible. It had been like that for too many years. This kid, instead, had come up to less than a foot beside her, both in the alley and now as she hovered in his doorway. Gently, he touched her shoulder to guide her inside and shut the door behind her.
“Would you like some water?” he asked. With a sense of doomed finality, he locked the door behind her.
“Whatever,” she answered and proceeded further inside. If he didn’t care about the crud on her tattered shoes staining his pretty carpet, then she didn’t give a rat’s ass either. She set her old body down onto one of the stools, which seemed to satisfy him, and he continued with that angelic smile as he poured out two glasses of bubbly water from the fancy bottle. While he did that, she studied him again in the light coming down from the three hanging lamps over the island counter.
He was beautiful. Too beautiful in her mind. Tall and thin without being gangly. The word lithe floated through her mind. He wore dark clothes, a fine black button up shirt that was open at the top, and matching black slacks with dark, square-toed shoes she had seen models wear in magazines. His hair was the longish-style that only beautiful men could pull off without it looking like a mullet. The hair itself was dark, framing a perfect, chiseled face with nice cheekbones and a sharp chin. His eyes were dark blue, so dark the pupils were hard to see. They were as equally hypnotic as his smile. To her, they seemed like eyes that had seen too much, full of understanding instead of judgment. He had long fingers that handled the bottle of water expertly and she imagined for a minute those hands wrapping around her throat, choking the life out of her while she got to look up into those dark, dark eyes. She snorted at the image.
“Look, kid, I know this has to be a part of some ritual for you or something, but you don’t have to play nice with me before you do whatever the fuck it is you plan on doing to me. I don’t really give a damn,” she said, defensively.
“I understand,” he said and slid the glass of water over to her on its own fancy-schmancy coaster made of cork. “Drink that up, we have all night and you’ll need it.”
“What is this bullshit?” she grumbled but picked up the water anyway and stared down into it. “Probably drugged anyway,” she said. Before she could take a sip, he plucked it back out of her hands with those long fingers and took a healthy gulp instead.
“What the fuck? You fucking with me?” she snapped. “Some sort of power trip you ass…”
“See, not drugged,” he said and held it back out to her to take. She eyed him and the glass with hateful suspicion for several minutes. The last thing she wanted was to reach out for it and be made a fool again. She had known several so-called men who would think yanking it out of her grasp the height of hilarity.
“I reach for that you will just snatch it back again,” she concluded bitterly.
Nodding again with those damn understanding eyes, he set the water back on its coaster and picked up his own to drink. He leaned against the far counter, putting himself out of snatching distance and watched to see what she would do.
She ignored the water. “Don’t like feeling like a goddamn lab rat,” she grumbled again. “You’ve got me up here, kid. Now, what do you want with an old bitch like me?”
“I told you, I’m interested in you. I want to help you,” he answered and sipped his water, his eyes roving her being. God knows what he could be looking at. The old woman stared down at her wrinkled, scarred hands; the skin had gone thin so that her bones showed underneath. She hated looking down at her hands; she never recognized them. Over most of her body, she wore an old, burnt-orange jacket that was made for a man three times her size and went down to her knees. She liked it because it kept her warm on cold nights like this one if she tucked her knees into it. Dirty, white sneakers that were falling apart held her feet. On her legs were three pairs of sweatpants layered over each other. She had just as many layers of shirt under the jacket and her mess of gray, dirty, greasy hair was stuffed up under an old, black, knitted hat that she hadn’t taken off for a long, long while. It was probably fused to her head by now. She hadn’t seen herself in a mirror in years. She didn’t have to. God knew how bad and ugly and old she looked, and this dumb fool just kept smiling at her as if she was…. she was…. what?
“What the fuck are you looking at, you freak?” she snapped again, with the old reliable defensiveness that was meant to keep her safe and away from harm.
He laughed, out loud. Genuinely laughed as if she had just told the world’s greatest joke. There was no malice in it, and it left her stunned. “I’m looking at you, of course,” he said, in that cryptic way that he had been doing for the last hour. Never quite answering her questions. He had picked her up in the alley only a few streets away. She had been digging through garbage when he came up beside her, an umbrella over his head to keep the light, cold drizzle of late fall from coming down onto his beautiful self.
“You want to come home with me?” he had asked after he had stared at her for a few minutes. She was hurting, hurting for another fix or another drink, anything to keep the demons away. The need was so great that her instinct to protect herself gave way to the addiction, much as it had most of the years of her adult life. She would have followed Lucifer himself if he had come a-calling.
“Why am I here?” she finally asked when the silence between them became annoying.
“Why do you think you are here?” he asked back.
“Because you either want to fuck an old cunt because you’re sick in the head or something, or you want to murder me in some horrible way because who would miss street trash? So, whichever it’s going to be, can we just get on with it?!” she shouted and swiped the glass of water off the counter. It made a satisfying, wet crash on the floor. “Because it don’t much matter to me either way. I’m done with living.”
He didn’t move when she threw away his hospitality water. Didn’t get angry either; just studied her, then slid his own glass of water across the counter to replace it and waited. She shot him an angry, black look, then picked it up. For a moment, she almost threw it after the other. It would have been satisfying, but she didn’t. This time she stared at the crystal-clear liquid with its tiny bubbles and started to drink it. It actually tasted so good in her dry mouth. She couldn’t remember the last time she had simply drunk water. As she gulped it down, she had to resist the urge to slosh it all over her face as well.
“How old are you?” he asked after she came up for air.
“Too damn old. Should have died years ago,” she answered.
“Especially after all of the drugs you’ve done,” he stated simply. Again, no judgment, just facts. She still reacted as if he was judging her anyway.
“You been spying on me, you fucking animal?”
He held up his right hand, letting the sleeve fall back to show his right wrist. He tapped the wrist with the finger of his left hand. “You’ve got scars. I bet they go all the way up, don’t they?” he said.
“Everyone’s got fucking scars.” She drank the last dregs of the water. It tasted so good, she didn’t realize it was gone until she had tried to keep drinking after it had turned to air.
“Do you like doing it?” he asked. He retrieved the glass after she set it down and refilled it from a new bottle.
“What? Drugs? No. Who the fuck does? But the demon’s gotta be fed. I owe him that much,” she answered. “What’s with the questions?”
“What demon?”
“What?”
“You said the demon’s gotta be fed, you owe him. Owe him what?”
She set the glass gently onto the counter, becoming hyperaware of the shake in her hands, her eyes drifting away to the other place. The place long in the past, the place where the demon had made its home and cried with a baby’s voice. “I owe him for keeping the pain away.”
Buy Links:
Preorder Death and the Crone: Book Three of the Lucky Devil Series here –
The Finder of the Lucky Devil: (The Lucky Devil Series Book 1)
The Saint of Liars: Book Two of the Lucky Devil Series
About Megan Mackie:
Megan is an author and playwright from Chicago. Originally an indie author, she was picked up last year and republished by Crossroads Press. Her current work is called the Lucky Devil series. She is also a contributing writer for Onyx Path Roleplaying games, currently working on their new title Legendlore RPG. She is easily identified by her nice leather hat.

New Release: The Complete Rhenwars Saga: An Epic Fantasy Pentalogy by M.L. Spencer

Includes all five books of The Rhenwars Saga!

 

There Is No Mercy for the Merciless.

 

The Well of Tears was created to save magic. Now the Well unleashes only destruction. There is only one mage left who can seal it — a man just as corrupt as the evil he opposes.

 


The Well of Tears was created to harness the power of the Netherworld to prevent a magical apocalypse. Now, Darien Lauchlin is the last surviving mage capable of reversing the destruction the Well unleashed. Darien will be forced to sacrifice everything of himself and everyone around him—all to preserve a nation of people who despise him.

The Rhenwars Saga is a sprawling epic set in a morally gray world where there is no clear distinction between hero and villain. Download this Special Edition Box Set to experience epic battles, flawed heroes, and a brutal struggle where the triumph of good over evil is never guaranteed.

If you enjoy the dark, sprawling world of Steven Erikson, the awe-inspiring magic of The Wheel of Time, and the compelling antiheroes of C.S. Friedman, then you’ll love The Rhenwars Saga.

 

IRDA Award for Fantasy

 

Semifinalist in Mark Lawrence’s SPFBO

 

Finalist in BookNest’s Fantasy Awards

 

★★★★★ “One of the best fantasy stories I’ve read this decade.” BookNest

★★★★★ “Betrayal, lies and destruction follow across every page.” Grimdark Magazine

★★★★★ “Shines in its damaged characters.” Fantasy Faction

★★★★★ “Some of the deepest and most polarizing characters I have read to date.” Goodreads

 

QUOTES:

 

“One of the best fantasy stories I’ve read this decade” -BookNest

“Betrayal, lies and destruction follow across every page” -Grimdark Magazine

“Shines in its damaged characters” -Fantasy Faction

“ML Spencer is a fresh new voice to the scene.” -Fantasy Book Review

“An amazingly entertaining read” -Manhattan Book Review

“Packs a strong punch” -Kitty G

“A thrilling read, fast-paced, and bitingly entertaining” -San Diego Book Review

“Dark and Thrilling” -The Fantasy Inn

“A magnificent novel” -Pumpkin and Egg

“A complete, dark, anything-goes fantasy.” -West Coast Book Reviews

“An engaging and heart wrenching tale of love, loss, deceit and desperation” -Readers’ Favorite

“I don’t believe I shall ever read another story that will test the moral compass in such a beautifully epic fashion.” -Goodreads Review

“Some of the deepest and most polarizing characters I have read to date.” -Goodreads Review

 

BUY LINKS:

 

Featured Excerpt: Crown by Jesse Teller

Brody Bedlam, immortal source of chaos, has taken over the crime network of the oldest city in the nation, holding the mayor in his pocket and the citizens in fear. Rayph and his Manhunters move to usurp him, but the street war brings casualties Rayph cannot justify. With his crew unraveling and pressure mounting from the unsatisfied king, will this mission be Rayph’s end?

Rayph stared at the most terrifying building in the whole of Lorinth. He turned to Smear and Trysliana. “He is in there, and we are going to get him out.” His anger ruptured and ran like an infected wound, filling his heart and edging him ever closer to his temper snapping and his mind letting loose of all the power at his command.

“There will be many people in our path,” Trysliana said. “This is going to get bloody.”

“How are we going to deal with the soldiers in there and the apothecaries?” Smear added.

“We are going to kill them all,” Rayph growled.

“Well, we can’t do that,” Smear said.

“Then go home. Go back to Ironfall and the Stalwart Dreark abandoned. Go back to your ranch and the cheese. Go back to—”

“Watch who you are talking to, Rayph. That was not fair,” Smear said.

“I’m going in,” Rayph said. “Follow me or go home.”

Rayph took one last look at the Crown and fought back the shudder that threatened to overtake him. Prison, asylum, hospital, and harborer of the darkness of Lorinth, in this place Phomax had hidden all his terrible secrets. This was the dark heart of the nation. Here, hunkered into the shadows of the building, hid those still loyal to the dead king. Still, they did his work, and they had one of Rayph’s friends.

Rayph spoke a word, and the air above his hand ripped open. He whistled and a pocket of air beside him spat out a creature of stone. It was canine in shape and bore little resemblance to a dog, save its body and its stone jaws. It snapped its maw shut, and Rayph stepped forward. His hound howled, and he jumped the high wall to the Crown and landed in the courtyard.

A blaring alarm ripped out over the air and doors shot open all over the building, purging soldiers like a sick beast vomiting filth. Rayph pointed at the main door, and his hound burst forth in a run. Its stone paws tore up flagstones as it ran. An instant before it collided with the door, it lowered its head to strike with the flat of its skull. The door rattled on its hinges and the wood split. Rayph turned to face the coming onslaught, grinning as two figures leapt from beyond the wall and clung to the structure with all four limbs. Smear and Trysliana crawled the towers like insects invading a corpse. Rayph spun, letting loose his first wave of terror.

He waved a hand in the direction of the coming surge and, with a word, their flesh ripped and tore into shreds of blood and muscle. The rest of the soldiers pulled back, and Rayph spun from his macabre spectacle to address them all.

“Your judgment has come for you. Too long have you preyed on the downtrodden and the sick. This place, I condemn for treachery. Drop to your knees and lay your weapons at your feet, or I will crush you all to bone and tendon.”

Every man of them dropped. Rayph held a hand up, and their weapons lifted into the air to collide with his hand. He held them all, a hundred or more weapons attracted to his hand like a great magnet before he swung his hand behind him and tossed the arsenal away and out of reach of the soldiers.

He spoke a word and stone hands erupted to grip all their thighs, pinning them to the ground. He turned to his hound. The beast nearly had the door open. Rayph passed the defeated men and climbed the stairs to the main door, tapping the fetish on his chest to communicate with his crew.

“How is it progressing?” he asked.

“I have three of my scanners placed,” Trysliana replied.

“Four more to go,” Smear added.

“We will know where they have him soon,” Trysliana said.

“Good,” Rayph said, his hand gripping the fetish. “I’m almost in.”

“Rayph,” Smear said.

“Yes?”

“Mercy is a virtue to rise to.”

“I will exercise mercy when I have Cosmo back. Until then, I know only wrath.” The door split right down the middle, falling into two halves and booming through the entire courtyard. Rayph stepped into the Crown, his sword high, his hound gnashing beside him.

Rayph met all aggressors with fire and steel. His spells were muted here. His potency curbed to light magic and lesser powers. Truly devastating spells dissipated in the air as he fought to cast them, but he had a few powerful items at his command. He reached the bottom of a long row of twisting staircases, and he stopped. Seven staircases squirmed before him like a set of stone serpents, each rising to a different tower, each of differing ages and stabilities. Rayph knew not which rise to take, so he waited. The alarm screamed, more and more soldiers rushing to meet him. He patted his hound, and the next wave of enemies hit him. He cast as they collided with him, and an invisible wall sprang out in both directions, leaving a thin narrow corridor for them to get through. He stood in the breach, chopping and firing until Smear sounded off in his head.

“He is in the decrepit tower, the Stone Snake. You must be careful, Rayph. It is falling apart.”

“Meet me there. Trysliana, find me an escape point. Set the charges and get out of the way. I’m headed to the Viper.”

He tossed his sword and the air zipped closed around it. He spoke a word, his bow dropping into his hands. He pulled at a pocket of air above his shoulder and drew a long arrow boasting an ivory-colored fist where an arrowhead should have been. He pointed it at the most degraded of the flights of stairs and grinned when the fist opened and gripped the stone. A flaming cord trailed from the arrow’s wake. Rayph gripped it tight and spoke a word. The flaming cord pulled tight, and Rayph flew into the air. He screamed out to his hound to keep fighting. He whipped through the air until he reached the doorway at the top of the stairs leading to the Stone Snake. He entered the darkness and stowed his bow, calling once again for his sword and enjoying the way it felt in his grip. He stepped onto the staircase that would take him to the top of the tower, bracing himself for the climb.

 

From: Crown, The Manhunters Book Three

 

Links:

 

 

CROWN pre-order is now available !

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FC9FBZ3/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40126457-crown

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Website: https://jesseteller.com/

Monthly Newsletter: https://landing.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/q1h1k4

 

About the Author:

 

 

Jesse Teller fell in love with fantasy when he was five years old and played his first game of Dungeons & Dragons. The game gave him the ability to create stories and characters from a young age. He started consuming fantasy in every form and, by nine, was obsessed with the genre. As a young adult, he knew he wanted to make his life about fantasy. From exploring the relationship between man and woman, to studying the qualities of a leader or a tyrant, Jesse Teller uses his stories and settings to study real-world themes and issues. He lives with his supportive wife, Rebekah, and his two inspiring children, Rayph and Tobin.

Featured Excerpt: Kill Switch by Sean E. Britten

‘Slayerz’, it’s America of the not-too-distant future’s favourite bloodsport. Fifteen pairs of criminals taken from either death row or a life sentence enter the arena and only one team leaves. Each team of two are linked together by a device called a ‘kill switch’. If one contestant dies they’ll take the other with them, forcing the pairs of ultra-violent odd couples to work together or perish.

The following is an excerpt from Kill Switch by Sean E. Britten

 

“Slayerz is brought to you by the following sponsors!”

A small, dark-skinned child sits down heavily in the dirt outside a wooden hut, looking dazed. A pear-shaped potbelly protrudes from his waist while the rest of his body is nothing but a badly put together collection of skin and bones. Clusters of flies gather around the corners of the child’s mouth and eyes, suckling at the moisture. There is a third, spindly arm emerging from a knot of flesh in the centre of the boy’s chest, and this third arm slaps weakly at the insects.

“Little Cayuga is one of thousands of children born with various mutations and abandoned by their parents as a result of the African Bio-Wars. Every day, Cayuga walks six miles in the desert sun in order to find drinking water that isn’t dangerously irradiated. Along the way he faces threats from wild animals, other, dangerous mutants, and Abominations.”

“For less than the price of a cup of synth-coffee a day, you can get Cayuga the food and water that he needs, send him to school, have the arm-shaped tumorous growth on his chest removed and help his village build a steel-reinforced concrete bunker where they can hide from the Abominations at night. Please give generously, for every child you save the Abominations get that much weaker and might one day be contained. Press the button on your screen to donate now.”

 

Meanwhile, in another part of The Gauntlet, the team of Odie King and Gabriella Gigi had been hurrying down the path set out for them. Odie had the old-fashioned Type 69 rocket launcher that he’d been given cocked over his shoulder, although he had no idea how to operate it. His head was tucked in low and he moved from shipping container to shipping container like a mouse. He knew, although no one had come out and said it, that the two of them were expected to have no chance once they entered the arena and had to go up against the other teams. They would make easy prey, even with the powerful rocket launcher, and might as well have targets painted on their backs for any of the contestants looking to make an easy kill. If she was aware of any of it, however, Gigi seemed curiously unbothered at the thought of dying. She sauntered along behind Odie, the MP5K submachine gun she’d been given dangling off her shoulder on its strap.

“What did you say your name was again?” Gigi asked, airily.

Odie tried to shush her, scanning the ground for booby-traps, “Odie, my name is Odie.” He said, “Weren’t you paying any attention when they introduced us?”

“That’s a dog’s name.” Gigi said.

“I know! Shut up!” Odie said, looking toward the camera drones that were bobbing along behind them. He idly wondered how many people he had known back in high school were watching right now.

“Say it, say ‘I hate Mondays’.” Gigi said, as they continued down the path.

“That’s not the dog, that’s the cat.” Odie replied.

“Well, how am I supposed to know? Those movies are like a hundred years old.” Gigi said, “Did your parents give you that name?”

“Yes.” Odie said, stopping and checking their surroundings at the next corner before continuing onward.

“Is that why you killed them?” Gigi said.

“So you were paying attention.” Odie said, smiling grimly, “Do you even realise what’s happening to us, here? We’re being hunted!”

“I know.” Gigi replied.

“We’ve got no hope against most of those guys once we get out in the arena!” Odie said, “The best thing we can do is lay low and try to stay out of the fight, which is going to be easier said than done once these shitty things on our wrists start telling everybody where we are every half an hour! Just-, just stay close to me and we’ll keep moving, constantly, and ignore any of the food or weapon packages that they drop, or they’ll just lure us in!”

Just as Odie finished speaking they heard the loud clunking noise that reverberated throughout The Gauntlet, “What’s that?” Gigi said, and pointed.

Odie turned to see one of the enormous cranes that had seemingly just appeared around The Gauntlet. With its powerful electromagnet it was carrying a shipping container by one end, the doors at the other end dangling open. Moments later the container dropped and went plummeting to earth with a ground-shaking smash in some other section of the arena.

“Oh, shit! We’ve got to get out of here!” Odie said.

Another crane passed overhead, low over the walls, and the magnet suddenly became active. Gigi’s SMG swung upright on the end of its strap and she almost lost it, while Odie felt the magnet try to tear the Type 69 rocket launcher out of his hands. It lowered itself onto one of the walls and pulled it sideways so the stack of shipping containers came crashing down, annihilating the section of path that the two of them had just walked down.

“How can this get any worse?” Odie said, literally hugging the rocket launcher to his chest as the crane pulled away and attached itself to another giant crate.

“What do we have here? Two little ponies, Applefeather and Sparkletush!” A deep voice carried over the sound of the metallic chaos that had engulfed The Gauntlet. Two figures emerged through the cloud of dust over the tumbled wall, “Gosh, they’ve fallen afoul of the big, bad Cannibal King, stay tuned, folks!”

“Fuck me, it’s Maneater!” Odie said.

The towering black man climbed on top of one of the shipping containers, holding his flamethrower. A small tongue of fire licked around the muzzle as Maneater laughed. Simpering, his partner Han Chow hung at the huge man’s hip, hunkered down as he too climbed onto the shipping container.

“Come on, little ponies, I won’t hurt you! Your power of friendship has melted my heart, and we’ll skip away together to the land of lollypops and veal cutlets!” He said and he squeezed his trigger, a long streak of orange flame cutting through the air toward Odie and Gigi.

Gigi shoved Odie by the shoulder, “Move your sweet ass, honey!” She said, and the two of them dived around the nearest corner. Fire licked the edge of the shipping container and the two of them felt the heat of the flamethrower as they sprawled in the dirt.

Maneater climbed over the shipping containers after the pair. Odie scrambled with the body of his rocket launcher, trying to figure out the safety, “Come on!” Odie said, and then he slung the Type 69 launcher to his shoulder. Odie edged around the shipping container, aiming the rocket at Maneater, as the maze was still shaking with destruction. Han Chow fell over backwards trying to get away but Maneater only stood there laughing as Odie fired.

The olive rocket exploded from the muzzle of the launcher, leaving a long, white streak of smoke behind it. It arrowed toward Maneater but then veered suddenly upward. The crane had come back, hovering overhead and holding onto another container. The RPG was attracted to the powerful electromagnet and pulled off course. Hissing white smoke, the rocket wound around the floating shipping container like a vine and plunged into the magnet. There was a massive explosion over their heads, an orange fireball that consumed the top of the shopping container. The explosion ripped apart the mounting of the electromagnet and it broke away from the crane, plunging to the earth. With a tremendous crash the container and pieces of the crane came down between the two teams, of Odie and Gigi, and Maneater and Chow. The middle of the container crumpled up, blocking the path, and a huge gust of dirt erupted outward.

 

From: Kill Switch from Sean E. Britten 

 

Aavailable now on Amazon. A sequel, Kill Switch: Serial Escalation is coming July 2018.

 

 

About the author:

 

 

Sean E. Britten is an author and radio presenter from Sydney, Australia. An avid consumer of everything from classic literature to pulpy paperbacks, Sean channels his love of horror, serial killers and things that go bump in the night into writing in an attempt to stave off the dark mutterings at the back of his mind, to varying degrees of success. He is also the host of the American news and politics-centric podcast “U.S. of Ed”.

 

 

Links:

 

Author Website: https://seanebritten.wordpress.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/seanebrittenauthor/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SeanEBritten

Kill Switch on Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Kill-Switch-Sean-Britten/dp/1540346471

Kill Switch on Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kill-Switch-Sean-Britten-ebook/dp/B01N05XZ5F

Kill Switch on Amazon Aus: https://www.amazon.com.au/Kill-Switch-Sean-Britten-ebook/dp/B01N05XZ5F

 

Featured Excerpt: Light Dawning by Ty Arthur

2 (Eastern Ward, Border District, Eventide)

Beneath a squat, stone building not far away in the heart of the doomed city, another victim of the occupation also felt death nearing. The whispers in Tala’s head were like tolling bells, and she knew the time was at hand.

She felt their spidery presence across the dome of her skull more strongly than usual, while fighting off the panic and trying to bring about calm through force of will. The act itself of trying to enforce calm made the effort futile, the whispers gaining ground inch by inch as she tried and failed to stave off growing desperation. Something was coming that would bring her world to an end, and there was no way to stop its rapid approach.

The surging fear wasn’t for herself, but for the rest of the inhabitants of Cestia. She didn’t know what would happen in that last final instant if she lost control. Every moment of her life was a struggle against a rising flood only barely contained and kept down with hard-earned focus. That battle was finally about to be lost for the first time. Shortly she would feel those things breach the gates and spill through, the long-overdue deluge about to consume everyone else along with her.

She tried to keep the shield in place while the big one held her down, fixating on anything in her surroundings that might keep the calm from shattering. His breath was unpleasant and made gorge rise in her throat, distracting from the all-important task, and his rough hands only brought on pointed, piercing hate.

It would have to be his eyes then, a detail to converge on that could be disassociated from the man himself. Unlike most of the invaders she’d seen out on patrols, his eyes were soft and multi-hued, one a dark blue and the other a light green.

For a moment Tala slipped quietly back behind the shield, ignoring what was happening to her body and maintaining the balance that kept Cestia safe from what the whispers heralded.

It was the laughter of the other two off to the side of the room, taunting that they’d be going next, that allowed the anger to slice through that carefully crafted defense. Those insistent whispers, there her whole life but never able to be heard clearly, finally found the one weak point and made just the tiniest crack.

That single minute fracture was all it took.

The sob that burst from her seemed to excite them, prompting the soldier holding her down to increase the urgency of his thrusts, which only made the anger inside grow further. The shield’s crack widened and the constant dull roar finally came up to the forefront of her mind in a clear voice. It was all over for the soldiers, and they had no idea this particular act of inhumanity, one drop in a sea of violence, would be their last.

She felt it all slow down in that moment and desperately tried to repair the breach, to return stability to her mind and force the crack closed somehow. Even while making the attempt, she knew it would be too late to stop something from reaching through. Like a waking night terror with no control, they would cavort and scream while she remained helpless. They would tell her all those secrets about reality she didn’t want to know in that one agonizing eternal second it would take to re-establish the shield.

The moment dragged on so long she didn’t even realize her tormentor was nearly finished. The knight grunted twice in rapid succession, again forcing that stench into her nostrils, and it was over. He was spent and immediately uninterested in his conquest, not knowing what was already growing there under the maligned influence of the whispering voices.

He had become a father through forces he couldn’t possibly comprehend, and he’d terribly regret it until the moment he died.

When the soldier took to his feet, not sparing even a look down at what damage he’d caused now that he was done, she softly begged them to leave while they still could. Tala pleaded for them to flee in quick, choking sobs through the tears now flowing freely. The knights ignored her appeals; having heard them delivered hundreds of ways in the preceding years of the occupation. Their ignorance was a fatal mistake, not realizing she was trying to save them from the repercussions of their actions.

The soon-to-be father laughed while buckling his breeches, calling out to the other two to take their turns before they returned to the street above and finished off their patrol of this run-down ward. They shared in his mirth, conversing like old friends engaged in a cherished pastime, oblivious to whatever pain they might be causing or what horror was stirring unnoticed nearby. This area of the city was a slum no one wanted to be assigned to, but they could still find some fun with the locals before returning to tearing apart yet another home in a search that everyone knew was futile.

Tala felt the whispers quiet down when the moment approached, all of the voices in rapt, silent attention for what was to come. The moment that would change everything was heralded by an unpleasant stirring sensation inside, dull at first and then sharp and violent as the first contraction rippled from within. Pain blossomed into full bloom while something was rapidly taking shape and gaining form, pressing against the thin breach of the wall.

She tried to push back but couldn’t stop its advance through where the crack had briefly appeared in that one moment when all her careful control had finally broken. In a last ditch effort to stave off the coming storm, Tala mercilessly berated herself, screaming every profanity and insult she could think of across the back of her skull.

With no other means available, she hoped the force of her self-loathing could hold it off. She slipped back easily to all those years of screams and beatings when the cruel men in the robes had taught her never to slip up, not even for a single moment.

She cried out in agony and clutched her stomach, rolling over and tightening into a ball as all those thoughts scattered and fled before the whispered onslaught. The second soldier struck her across the face without bothering to remove his gauntlet first, thinking she meant to deny him his prize. His desire was the last thing on her mind when she rolled back over and spread her legs apart, not even bothering to worry about the bleeding split in her lip or the bruise spreading across her cheek.

The soldier’s excitement rapidly turned to confusion and then disgust when the birthing began. From echoing silence to jubilant cries of exultation, the whispers spoke to her in their discordant miasma, feeding her the knowledge of how to bring her child from their realm to hers. Something jet black and dripping obsidian afterbirth struggled out from beneath her skirt, a single protruding limb of the thing that escaped when her lapse of control fractured the veil between here and there.

Tala screamed again, more forcefully this time, when the first joint of the spidery leg worked its way out of her, followed by the sopping ovoid bulk of her bastard child. The whispers went from insane cavorting to soothing croons, warping the fabric of her form and allowing something that should not be. What should have torn her body in two instead contorted in lunatic ways that no physical thing should have been capable of achieving. A terrible kind of sense was found in those whispered ministrations, and she allowed herself to wrap around and through those secret truths denied to others, briefly accepting them for the first time.

The final limb tore through, slipping in the pool of blood gathered around the exhausted new mother as it sought to acclimate itself to this alien reality. Four multi-jointed and barbed legs sprouted out from the thing, glistening with the dampness of its birth. Its center was a sagging mass of flesh barely formed; bearing a dissolved face that ran like wax, crying out hideously to its mother.

Looking closer, she saw it clearly cried out to its horrified father as well, seeing now that beneath all the moist viscera he too bore one eye shining a dark emerald and the other a dull, dark sapphire. From leg to leg her offspring was nearly as long across as a man was tall. She let her thoughts float above the recognition of the insanity of that realization, pushing down that part of her that screamed no such thing could have come from her.

Tala should have been sickened, but couldn’t bring herself to be, finding the whispers offered entirely new ways of viewing the world around her if she followed their calls. Looking at what she had brought out of nonexistence and into the meat of solid space, she recognized something of herself inside it, and knew then that she truly loved this thing, no matter how vile it appeared or how bizarre its inception.

Those spindly legs protruding from its massive center bulk seemed unsteady and fragile, as if wouldn’t be capable of even remaining upright, let along moving at all. In a burst of surprising speed it skittered at its father, breaking the stunned motionlessness of the room and forcing the knights into action.

Unable to see the beauty in his own child, the unintentional father brought his mace crushing down, the curved points on its bottom edge slicing through the creature’s middle segment. It’s already ruined features smashed down against the dirt, crushed between the floor and the force of the blow. With no pity to spare for the wretched thing, the soldier pressed his boot against its back legs and viciously pulled upward, ripping the spiked mace out and rearing back for another blow.

He never got the chance to land it, as some twisted parody of a maternal instinct kicked in. Seeing the bloody remnants of her first child being smashed to death, Tala was on the knight in an instant. Not expecting any sort of assault from a woman who appeared to be half dead, the couple crashed to the ground. Keenly aware that his armor was strewn across the floor, removed to facilitate his desires against the mad woman whose name he’d never even heard, the knight struggled to reclaim his weapon and defend himself.

His hands immediately ceased their searching and shot up towards his assailant when Tala’s fingers sunk into the soft vulnerable eyes that had nearly prevented all this madness. She didn’t relent when the first shockingly painful blow to her temple came, or when the next desperate punch struck her side. The whispers told her where to apply the pressure and how hard to push down, and she didn’t intend to disappoint them. She kept shoving relentlessly inward, even when she felt something sharp jab the side of her thumb, followed by the sudden giving way of a sticky surface.

Something content sighed across the back of her skull when his screams reached their crescendo, echoing her own not long ago when she birthed their unexpected child, followed by a bright burst of light behind her own eyes.

Forgetting the spasming form of her unwanted lover beneath and shaking the bright stars from her vision, Tala rushed up to fend off the other two soldiers. Not trusting what her sight told her, she found one already lying unmoving just where she herself had been on her back moments before when reality still made sense. While no blood pooled around the body, he had clearly been pierced through to the bone a dozen or more times. Short, jagged wounds gaped open across his body, all filled with a viscous black fluid.

In the corner of the room she spied her next quarry, on his knees and looking down in mute shock at the razor sharp end of a segmented leg piercing his sternum. When it retracted back the third soldier collapsed, trying but failing to bring out some words of denial that would return the world to the way it had been earlier, back when he thought that easy prey would provide a momentary diversion.

With the knights down, Tala could finally reach her child, which was now pulled up tightly against the basement’s corner, feebly jabbing its one remaining solid leg out against any other assailants. When its mother approached, that segmented appendage folded up tightly against the newborn’s body. It seemed to lose the strength born of self-preservation then, sagging down and succumbing to the devastating nature of its crushing wounds.

She gathered it up in her arms, heedless of the slashing spines and razor sharp bottoms of its limbs, and whispered soft words to her dying infant. This time the whispers were her own.

 

From: Light Dawning by Ty Arthur

 

Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/Light-Dawning-Ty-Arthur-ebook/dp/B0722FJ3ZB

Goodreads link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38356416-light-dawning

Official website: https://tyarthur.wordpress.com/

 

About the author:

 

 

The author of sci-fi / horror novella Empty and full-length grimdark novel Light Dawning, Ty Arthur gets to meld his passions with his work while freelancing for the likes of Metalunderground and GameSkinny. He writes to exorcise his demons and lives in the cold, dark north with his amazing wife Megan and infant son Gannicus Picard. Many more dark tales are still to come soon, exploring every facet of the bleaker aspects of human existence.

 

Featured Excerpt: Hag’s Breath by S.P. Oldham

The following is an excerpt from ‘The Wolf Witch,’ one of five short stories from ‘Hag’s Breath: A Collection of Witchcraft and Wickedness’ by S P Oldham.

‘“I’ll tell you what, huntsman; I’ll make it fair, shall I? I’ll give you a head start; a chance to run before I hobble you. What do you say? More than you were willing to give my wolves today, yes?”

“Your wolves?” Henrik asked stupidly, his mind anchoring on the word she had just threatened him with, too afraid to ask what she meant by ‘hobble him.’

“My wolves,” she agreed, the words firm and definite on her lips, her voice low, “Now, huntsman; run!”

All of Henrik’s instincts told him to obey. He did not dare to push past her but turned and retraced his footsteps to the back of the hut. He rounded the corner and ran blindly, keeping his hand on the hut wall to be sure he was going the right way.

He sagged with relief when he felt the rough wooden logs come to an end as he reached the corner of the hut. He was almost at the steps, inhaling to shout a warning to the men inside, when a searing pain sliced into his left ankle.

Henrik shrieked in pain, dropping to the snowy ground, immobile. He fell onto his back, writhing in agony, able to do nothing more than clutch at his leg uselessly, aware that he was bleeding.

“The Achilles tendon,” came her soft, assured voice from behind him, “I understand that the pain of having that sliced through is almost unbearable,”

Henrik could not reply. Snow was falling onto his face, filling his mouth. Despite its relentlessness, it did nothing to ease the burning, consuming pain in his leg. He realised he was sobbing but could do nothing to stop it. He began to pray fervently that Terje or Nils would open the damn hut door and wonder what was taking him so long.

“It is enough to cripple a man, just as it is enough to cripple a wolf,” she added cryptically, standing over him and sending a weird shadow looming. She looked up at the hut door, drawing back her lips to bare her teeth in a lupine snarl.

“You’ll keep,” she said, already forgetting him.

She always preferred to restrict the use of magic to the absolute minimum necessary. She tucked the stiletto back up her sleeve, concealing it from view. Man-made, utilitarian and spiteful, the blade was keen and needle sharp, the handle worn smooth through much use. She knew the knife like an extension of her own hand. She would not need her magic; not just yet.

She opened the door, knowing it would take the men inside a moment to react, expecting it to be their companion returning. Then they would waste precious time trying to understand what they were seeing. Then they would react; but then it would be too late.

She opened the door and stepped inside.

Nils was sound asleep, a beer bottle cradled in the hand resting on the table, the other hanging loosely at his side. He had rocked the chair backwards, resting it on only two legs as it leaned against the wall.

Terje, still ensconced beside the fire, did not even look up. This was going to be so much easier than she had thought.

 

From: Hag’s Breath: A Collection of Witchcraft and Wickedness by S.P. Oldham

 

Official Website for S P Oldham – So Lost in Words – https://solostinwords.com/ 

Hag’s Breath on Amazon U.S – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01M4JMXMA

Hag’s Breath on Amazon U.K – https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=x_gr_w_bb?tag=x_gr_w_bb_uk-21&index=books&keyword=Hag%27s+Breath 

Amazon Author Page – https://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B01N2LSUMX 

S P Oldham on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/solostinwords/ 

Twitter – https://twitter.com/dogskidssmiles

 

About the author:

 

 

S.P. Oldham is 48 years old and happily married to Adam for the last 28 of those years. Together they have two grown up sons and a spoiled Cocker Spaniel. They live in the Sirhowy Valley in South Wales. She writes primarily but not exclusively in the Horror and Speculative Fiction/ Supernatural genre and currently has four horror fiction books available on Amazon and is in the process of writing a fifth. She also has another horror collection, ‘Wakeful Children’ available in paperback from Troubador, Amazon and all good book stores.