Another excerpt from Beneath the Broken Moon. Book One of the upcoming post-apocalyptic fantasy, Shattered Worlds, by Patrick Todoroff.
Eresh’s Chimney looked like a mud castle made by a giant. A mish-mash of crude bricks, rough boulders, and hewn beams the thickness of tree trunks, the spire gnarled its way skyward, knobby, crooked, and enormous.
There was a single entrance at the ground level, two massive doors of stone. They were the color of storm clouds and seemed to take forever to open.
The sun had started its drop toward the western edge of the horizon when Levi, Gibs and Addas watched Snat delicately unwrap a leather bundle of long wire instruments and with a wink, get to work on the mechanism. “Have us in before you can say ‘Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.'”
Twenty minutes later, he was still fussing with it with his tools, but muttering in goblin under his breath.
Levi steeped up behind him and peered down over his shoulder as he worked. “Legend has it that lock was fashioned by Völundr himself, sort of a payback to Eresh for helping him escape an island where he’d been imprisoned. Cunning genius that he was, I’ve read the smith crafted such things looking in a mirror. That way, spying eyes would be hard pressed to understand, let alone copy the secrets of his trade. Perhaps if you imagined yourself inside the lock—”
“Credentialed in gobermouch before the Shattering, were you?” the goblin snapped. “Cause you’re a bit mouthy to have been a picklock.”
“Ah, it’s just we should gain entrance before the sun sets. While there’s still light, you see.”
“I see.” The goblin gritted his teeth, put one pointed ear against the lock plate. “If you’d quite yammering. I’m—” A grin. A soft click. “There!” He tugged gently. The massive stone door whispered open.
Snat knelt and wrapped his tools back up. “In you go,” he nodded. “While it’s still light.”
Finished edits on part one of The Shattered Worlds and decided to play around in GIMP. I like the way this turned out. I think people are going to enjoy this story.
Someone asked about ‘Dead Saints’ the other day. Well, it’s on the back burner until the election is over. It’s been a stop and go project from the beginning, with the first scenes and outline sitting on my computer for several years. The current delay is due in part by my malaise and general frustration as well as an eerie resemblance between the current political situation and several key plot points.
For example, the story’s antagonist is a corrupt politician demonically inspired to boost their career trajectory toward the White House by deliberately allowing a terrorist attack and then playing the hero in the aftermath. Evidence of this conspiracy is contained in emails thought deleted by the politician’s staff but uncovered by the protagonist while battling both natural (terrorist) and supernatural (demonic) forces in an attempt to stop the imminent terrorist threat.
And here I was, making stuff up.
Have a good weekend.
Ursula Le Guin laying the smack down.
Art or Profit: I have to ask myself which is the ultimate engine that drives my work? Does it need a tune-up, an overhaul, or to be re-ignited?
The annual SFF Writer’s Workshop, that is.
One week on Martha’s Vineyard with other writers, select SFF authors, and several editors focusing on nothing but genre writing. I discovered VP when I first started writing fiction back in 2010, checked up on it yearly, but always had a dozen things that kept me from applying. This year however I clamped down, submitted the first 5,000 words of my next project, and was accepted. Looks like a great opportunity and not that I want summer to go any faster than usual, but I’m looking forward to it.
Now to press on with the first draft and keep saving my pennies.
Have a safe and happy Fourth.
WHO CAN YOU TRUST WHEN THE GODS BETRAY YOU?
Tagline for my next novel right there.
So the initial outline is complete and I’m 15K into the first draft. To explain, The Grim Fall is a post-apocalyptic quest story set in a desolate, shattered fantasy world. The Gods managed to murder each other in their final cosmic battle before they could destroy all creation, allowing for a post to this particular Apocalypse.
My goal is Lord of the Rings meets The Road. To chain High Fantasy to a cement truck and drag it through Chernobyl for a while. I’m busting with ideas on what that looks like, and what fantasy world survivors would morph into to survive in such a place.
Worldview-wise, it’s my examination into/dramatization of people’s reactions to religion’s disappointments, failures, even treacheries. (Kinda the ultimate betrayal if the ultimate thing you trust throws you under the bus.) Like the tag line asks, who can you trust when your own gods let you down? Do you trust anyone or anything ever again? Can you find authentic faith in the ruins of a scorned, broken world?
On a practical note, while letting my imagination run, I’ve had to constantly rein in The Grim Fall because the story wants to escape into the bad lands and mutate in magical irradiated solitude into something rabid and monstrous. Methinks this is gonna be one huge novel, or maybe even a three-parter. I’ll know more as I write more, so that’s a decision for later. In the meantime, I’ll keep plugging away. I plan on contacting my cover artist soon. I need some visuals to prop up the increasing page count. I’ll post excerpts as I can.
Thanks for stopping by and have a great apocalypse-free day.
The Black Sands was a beggarly name for an Orc settlement. Before the Grim Fall, a war-horde thundering out of the Unaka Mountains would shake the earth and chill the blood of every king within five-hundred leagues. Now the scraps of the Unaka greenskins eked out an existence in an old iron mine bored in the flank of Mount Geichak. No more Blood Tusk, Gate Smashers, or Gruumsh’s Fist; the place was named after the mounds of tailing swathed on the mountain’s slopes.
When the end started, orcs and goblins all over the region sought refuge in the mine’s twisty dark. As the heavens convulsed and continued to vomit ruin across the land, hundreds of refugees like Addas – greenskin or otherwise – streamed up to the headlands begging food, shelter, the slightest respite from the devastation. Thousands crammed into the mine, the swelling numbers spurring frantic excavation. Spent shafts were re-opened, cramped caves chiseled out, propped with scree and dry-rot timber. Desperate survivors clawed out miles of new tunnel, all twisted, looping, jumbled as a mass of chicken guts. The old mine grew into an underground city; a precarious warren of dark, foul-aired safety that offered a mountain of rock between them and the ruinous skies.
The ancient cliff-side forge was fortified, walls heaped ever thicker and higher with fresh rubble until the ledge around the mine entrance bristled with squat towers, crude bastions and craggy ramparts. Orks known more for tearing down than building, the defenses were thick, ugly things of black stone and slopped mortar. But they stood. In fact, walls of the Black Sands were one of the few barriers between the fragments of the old world and the ravenous brutality of this shattered new one.
Wind knifing into his back, Addas trudged down to the main gate and pounded on the iron-clad beams. It lurched open just wide enough for him to squeeze through, the tower guards spitting their welcome as he passed below their windows. Those orcs huddled around the braziers sneered, but made no move to stop him; the sledge was loaded. Addas figured contempt was the softest cruelty. First dibs on his kills guaranteed they left it at that – most of the time. Or perhaps it was just too cold to give up their spot near the coals.
When he reached the center of the yard, Addas drew the sledge around in front of him, slyly tugging the canvas back to reveal carcass’ meaty flanks. It was a ritual, like a whore hitching up her skirt, he realized. Then he plastered a dumb look on his face and carefully wrapped himself away.
The mine’s entrance gaped low and round like a mouth moaning in the dark cliff face. Warm, rancid air rushed out bearing traces of cooking oil and roasted meat, the musk of livestock, wood smoke, and hundreds of unwashed orks and their goblin-kin. The scent of loss, desperation, starvation, cruelty… the scent of home.
The unicorn horn was suddenly heavy between his shoulder blades. He’d snugged it alongside the javelin, out of sight. A search would turn it up straight off, but with any luck, Ogol and Igmut would only have eyes for steak.
‘Ow many times I have to say it boy? Chalk’s voice rasped in his memory. No luck left ‘cept what you make.
To name is to call; no sooner had Addas thought of them, two orc brutes lumbered out of the shadows. Addas would have prayed if there had been anyone listening. Instead, he averted his eyes and hunched slightly as they drew near.
Ogol twirled a thick studded club in his gloved hands while Igmut swaggered ahead with his thumbs in his belt. A warg’s claws had left Ogol with a milky eye and the lopsided stitched face of a rag doll, while Igmut’s jaw and right tusk caught a Dwarf war hammer in a skirmish before the treaties were signed. Twice as stupid as they were ugly, Snat had labeled them ‘Dim and Dimmer’, the little goblin claiming they didn’t have enough brains between them to organize a hump in a brothel.
Before the Fall, Ogol and Igmut were foot soldiers in the Unaka mob. Hearing opportunity knocking in the apocalypse’s thunder, they started calling themselves ‘captains’, riveting shiny bits to their armor and demanding salutes. Now watch commanders, they spent their days bellowing orders and lurking at the mouth of the mine where the air was cleaner but still warm from the depths. Where they could pinch a bit of everything that came in or out.
Ogol’s beefy hand thumped Addas in the chest. Igmut circled behind.
‘Wha’chu got there, runt?” Ogol demanded.
Addas kept his eyes down. “Horse.”
“‘orse, he says.” Ogol smacked his lips. “Rare find, runt. Horse is good eatin’.”
“Where’d you find ‘orse ’round ‘ere, piglet?” Igmut grunted over his shoulder.
“South of the ridge,” Addas lied. “Near the old road from Dumovaar.”
Ogol flung back the tarp and smiled all teeth. He swallowed hungrily and took a step forward, but then his one good eye narrowed. He stopped, looked Addas up and down. “What happed to its ‘ead?”
Addas shrugged, tried to sound tough. “Fecker kicked me. So I bashed him with a rock. Made him stop.”
Igmut had come around to stand beside Ogol. “That’ll do it,” he chuckled nastily. He slapped his partner’s shoulder. “C’mon. Cooks need to see this.”
But Ogol was on the scent. He took another step, thick muscles sliding under his green skin. “So how’d ya get that gash?” He pointed to Addas’ chest. “Hoofs don’t do that.”
Addas flushed. He hoped it looked like shame. “I slipped,” he stammered. “I tracked it through the Razors. I was creeping over the karst like I seen you do when ice took my feet right out from under me. Damn near cut my own head off. Chased him two miles after that.”
Ogol shoved Addas, sent him backward onto the frozen dirt. “Clumsy git.” Laughter erupted from the gate.
Igmut hawked up a gob and spat at Addas’ feet. “That’s cause you’re only half orc, runt,” he belched out. “Pink little piglet like you will never be good as us.”
Ogol loomed over Addas and hauled him to his feet. He pulled him up until his warty, tusked face was inches away. “Fecking weak is what you are,” the orc growled. “Useless. Can’t hardly kill a mangy ‘orse.”
Addas hung his head. Play the part, he thought. Let them see what they want.
“Piglet and the ‘orse,” Igmut guffawed. “Now there’s a battle, eh?”
Ogol pushed Addas aside, bent and hefted the corpse over his shoulder. “We’ll get this to the cooks for you, runt.”
Igmut on the other hand, rummaged around in his trousers and started pissing on the sledge. When the last drops spattered out, he gave Addas lopsided leer. “Cleaned some of the blood off for you, piglet. See to the rest of it straight away.”
“Will do.” Addas saluted, then watched the two of them disappear into the cave.
Behind him, the tower guards sniggered. An ice chunk bounced off his shoulder. More laughter. Without a word, Addas stooped for the ropes, straightened the load on his back, and followed after.
*No sooner do I decide my next writing project, my work schedule fills up with serious commissions. Ah well, “The best laid plans…” Too much work is a nice problem to have, particularly for an artist.
Here’s chapter two of the Post Apocalyptic fantasy, currently titled “The Grim Fall.”
The snow stopped on the way back to Black Sands. Hunched against the cold, dragging the sledge, Addas was too busy not breaking a leg to notice the exact when. The ridge trail though the pass was treacherous at the best of times, but the storm had draped a coat of ice slick as lies over every rock and hole. Each step was a wager. Wasn’t until a huge shadow skimmed the ground, something long-tailed and jagged, that he looked up.
It was vanished in a blink, swooping behind snow-piled crags, its screech shattering the brittle air behind it. Addas threw down the ropes and abandoned the sled, floundering through drifts to the nearest ledge. He tucked himself as far back as he could, shivering against ice-ribbed granite, craning his neck, javelin ready. The bloody carcass lay in the open thirty paces away like bait, or an offering. Depending…
All manner of things roamed these mountains now. It was six kinds of stupid to stand and see what turned up. Hide and peek was the smart game, fear the key to staying alive.
Near the end, when Chalk was wheezing, hacking up bits of lung, he would yell at Addas to pack a big dose of it whenever he went outside. The world had turned a darker shade of murderous, the old orc snorted; fear would keep him breathing better than anything else.
Addas was the only scavenger past the gate today. Two leagues distant, he’d get no help in a real fight.
But he was used to that. So Addas studied the grimy vault of the sky while his teeth chattered out a hundred count.
The storm had hammered the clouds into a blanket of dirty wool stretched over the peaks as far as he could see. In the west, a pale sun oozed behind them like a wound under gauze, its sick light bruising their edges purple and yellow. The dark stone scarps of the Unakas rose like walls all around him, a north wind moaning off their peaks. Other than the creak of snowfields on the mountainsides, the uplands felt as still as a crypt.
Not that quiet was ever a sign of safety – usually the opposite – but with no second shriek, no new slice of shadow, Addas finally thrashed his way back to the sledge, warily took up the ropes and shouldered on.
Two hours later, he stood bone-tired and shaking in the ruins of Gruumsh’s Henge, overlooking the settlement. Down slope – five hundred paces to be exact- squatted the thick walls and mawing cave, the entrance to the Black Sands. Addas could see the second watch crowded around glowing braziers, weapons stacked, their thick armored shapes bunched like cattle. He watched them as he flexed warmth back into his hands, almost feeling the delicious burn of the coals, smelling the singed hair, the baked iron and body stink. At this hour, cooking smells would be wafting up out of the mine tunnels. Smells of home.
“Home. ” He spit out the word.
Truth was there was nowhere else to go. The thought of going down the slope, through the gate and descending into mouth of the cave chilled him. Addas almost felt safer here, in the big outside, in the freezing rubble. Almost.
At least out here he could catch his breath with no one jeering, booting, shoving him into the next filthy job. Privacy like this, moments alone were rare as eggs, and Addas snatched them whenever he could. He soaked them in, squirreled them away like the memory of sunshine against the dark.
Addas had discovered this refuge by accident years before, in the wretched, blighted weeks of the Grim Fall. The world tearing itself apart, he’d been thrust from despair and confusion straight into Chalk’s cruelty and the orc clan’s contempt. Refugees were boot-scum and a plague; more mouths to feed, strangers who took up space. Anyone not blood-bound to the clan was kicked, lashed, abused. He and the other fugitives fought dogs for scraps and a place to lie down. Only those who worked could stay. Being youngest and a half-breed at that, when Chalk wasn’t beating lessons into him, Addas emptied the shit pits, two buckets at a time.
He studied the calluses on his palms and kicked a lump of brown ice. It skittered and smashed against a stump of carved granite. Two rows of them, broken pillars, lined either side of the hilltop. Gruumsh’s Henge had been the heart of greenskin power for centuries, the orc deity’s stone colossus bellowing perpetual defiance from its sacred plateau across the circle of the world. Hordes of pilgrims would gather every year for his bloody, brutal festivals, pledging blood, strength and eternal fealty.
Part citadel, part arena, part temple… it was one of the first casualties in the war, smashed like an egg by some Elvish godling’s wrath.
The temple’s massive stones had been heaped into walls around the settlement’s entrance, but the feet were rooted too deep, too solid to break apart.
Out of sight, out of the biting wind, ankle deep in filthy slush, Addas squatted in the lee of the Boots, two gigantic mounds of marble – all that remained of Gruumsh One-Eye’s great statue. The Black Sands clan dumped their filth there now. And Addas had brought most of it up the slope two buckets at a time.
The wind bit into his skin and the shadows were lengthening on the mountains. Addas sighed, turned to pick up the ropes. Then he spotted the tracks.
They came straight up the valley, made a wide path churned by riders. Lots of riders. Whoever it was had scuffed through the icy crust down to the mud; a shit-stain on a swathe of frozen linen, arrowing right toward the main gate.
Caravan wasn’t due for another month, Addas mused. Raiders then?
He crept out of the stones’ shadow to peer down at the walls again. Cocked his head for screams and ringing steel, but the only thing drifting on the air was oily smoke off the fires. Everything was business as usual.
Not raiders. Then who?
Forewarned is forearmed, he remembered Chalk saying. Addas coiled the sledge’s ropes, set them down, then slid down the reverse slope out of sight of the walls and crouched beside the trail.
He traced a deep print with his finger. Not paws, so it wasn’t wargs. Not that there were many of the giant hyenadons left alive, but a few had survived with the orcs and goblins who fled underground. They were reserved for clan chiefs and favored warriors.
The tracks weren’t split-toe great boars either, so it wasn’t Orcs from the Craters either. Weather this time of year ruled them out anyway. No, the hard crescent imprint meant shod hooves, which meant ponies. And ponies meant Dwarves, and Dwarves meant trouble. Graspy, bearded little feckers.
Dwarves any day set the Orc Chief on edge. Large bunch of stunties pounding at the gate unannounced would make him nastier than usual. And seeing as slop runs downhill, the Chief would vent his spleen on the clan, and the clan would take it out on him.
“Shit and shit again,” Addas spat.
He almost turned around right then. Almost.
Chalk had told him about his ‘bolt hole’ the week before he died; a tiny hollow on the western cliffs. There was enough kindling and unicorn to hold him a while, providing he was sparse about it.
Addas looked up at the sky and wondered how much daylight was left. Enough to reach the cave before night? Time ran strange these days, sometimes greasy fast, other times the sun seemed nailed in place. Freezing was better than a beating any day.
But if the Chief sent anyone to round him up and they found him, not only would the beating be worse, but he’d lose a good hiding spot. And maybe get kicked out for good.
Between the sword and the cliff, ain’t you? Chalk sniggered in his head.
“Even dead, you don’t leave me be,” Addas muttered.
The wind dragged a wheezing cackle off into the crags. Resigned, Addas clambered up and shouldered the ropes.
Maybe Snat would have something up his sleeve, he thought as he started downhill.