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ANNOUNCEMENT: Death’s White Hands, by Steve Jones

Death's White Hands - SR Jones

QSFer S R Jones has a new queer fantasy book out:

The iylmin people cower beneath eternally clouded skies, living in fear of shards of dark stone that hurtle down from on high. These are the Falls, and each one bears the seeds of madness and death. The nightmare creatures born from these poisoned rocks would devour anyone that crosses their path- but not every iylmin they chase is willing to be the prey.

Under the endless grey, a traveller moves from city to city, wandering the lonely country paths between sparse pockets of civilisation, hunting the unclean things born from the cursed heavens.

Death’s White Hands is an episodic novel of horror and adventure, which incorporates the 11,400 word short story of the same name (which was briefly published as a stand-alone work in 2015). This full novel will be released via Smashwords and Amazon on October 31st 2018.

Aegis Immemorial Book One

Amazon | Amazon UK | Smashwords | Goodreads


Giveaway

S R is offering two books for free:

offering both my short stories ‘The Corpseriders’ and ‘Mari’s Dance’ for free via Amazon and smashwords too:

The Corpseriders:

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0772QFC7T/

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/756407

Mari’s Dance:

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B078JLC3WW/

US: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B078JLC3WW/

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/770463


Excerpt

“Did you see how big it was?” she asked. Cal made a strange whimpering sound, scrambled to his feet and fled.  Dan heard him skitter past the wagons, then crash through the leafless bushes and into the forest.  She assumed that it had been big, then, but not big enough to be seen from wherever it had landed.  She saw no glow on the horizon, nor signs of a fire breaking out among the trees, and the air was not filled with falling sparks and burned out cinders.  Her hand found the hilt of her sword, rubbed restlessly at the pommel stone, then stretched nervous fingers along the handle, ready to grasp it.

“What’s to do?” Garyth asked the big man, then: “Somebody aught to get Cal before the trees have him,”

“Saks- go get your damn brother back,” the man growled.

A greasy-haired woman slipped from one of the wagons, the stripe in her hair starting to match the blue-white glow in her eyes as she slipped away into the night, calling her brother’s name.  Dan doubted that she would find him before he tripped and broke something, but the trees probably made him safer than the rest of them.  Instinct kept pulling her eyes upwards, towards the deep folds of the clouds.

“We should take cover,” she said to nobody in particular.  The big man eyed her.

“What’d you say?” he asked, but did not wait for a reply. “Cilea- get this fire out.  Let’s start hitching up, people!”

“I said take cover- forget the wagons and the fire, just get under something and hide!” Dan snapped at him.

“That was a big Fall, lady, and we’ve got to get clear before it births something,” he replied.  “We leave now and we move fast, and we might get clear of the forest by dawn,”

“It landed on the other side of the river, Eamon,” said Garyth. Dan was impressed that he’d noticed its trajectory; perhaps he had seen something that eluded her, or perhaps he just had a good ear for directional sounds.  The big man shrugged.

“Doesn’t matter.  We need to get to the plains, where we can move quickly.  We’ve got a good day, day and a half before something comes- we can clear it if we leave now,”

“No.  It’s already coming,” she corrected him.  He rounded on her, his pale face taught with anger and fear.

“What’d you say, Jomach?”  He loomed over her, his words practically spat into her face.  Dan met his gaze, neither phased by his anger, nor afraid of his height and presence.  If it came to violence, he would go down like cut corn under her blade.

“You heard me, Cober,” she said.  “I said it’s coming now, and if you piss away your time hitching wagons and going the wrong way, then it’ll kill you all before you even know it’s hit you,”

“That was a Fall.  Falls take time to grow, you dumb-”

Dan cut him off.

“Dry ones do,” she said, speaking firmly and loud enough to drown out his words without needing to shout.  “They hit hard, and loud, and they burn- and everything around them burns too.  The wet ones, though- they start on the way down, and the heat speeds them up.  They don’t hit as loudly, Eamon, and they don’t burn the land.”  She leaned in a little, practically getting up on the tips of her toes so that she could get as close to his face as possible.  “Do you see any fire around here, other than ours?  Are your ears bleeding from the sound of that crash?” He said nothing, his faintly glowing eyes wide- partly from fear of the Fall, and partly, she hoped, in fear of her. “That bastard’s coming now,”

A hand touched her shoulder lightly, and she broke the stare-off to glance to her side.  Cilea was beside her, her son tucked up in her shirt, turning the clothing into a make-shift sling to carry him in.

“To the forest?” she asked, and Dan nodded.  “And we’ll be safe there?”

“Safer than out here,” she confirmed.

“Damn,” Garyth laughed.  The three of them- Dan, Cilea and Eamon- all stared at him, either repulsed or perplexed by his reaction.  He shrugged.  “First time Cal’s ever had the right idea about anything in his life,” he explained, then turned on his heel, waving a hand at the others, and calling to them, passing on the new instruction to drop everything and hide.

“My brother, people,” Cilea muttered, then turned to Eamon, pushing him away with the same light touch that she had used on Dan.  “Come on- we have to get everybody away from the fire,”

Dan knew that was the truth of it, and perhaps the most important thing that they could do.  Fire was what the creatures looked for: light was always how they found their prey. Despite that, she marched towards the circle of rocks that the traders had laid out to contain their bonfire. As she walked she drew her short sword, hiking it out of its sheath and testing its weight in her hand, just as she always did when it was time to use it.  Somebody had doused the flames in water, trying to kill them, and the red light of the dying embers played along the blade.  It was not a fancy sword, nor was its length marked by arcane etchings, or inlaid with gems.  Even so, there was a fluidity to the metal and a clean elegance to the way it moved in her hand, twisting lightly with each turn of her wrist.  It had been forged to kill, and there was a special kind of beauty in the simplicity of its purpose.

Once, her blade had been a longsword, but another’s hand had shattered it on the toughened shell of an ancient evil.  The blade had been remade, reforged into its shorter self, but there had been no waste: its twin children, each one a four inch dagger, sat snugly in their hidden sheaths on the inside of Dan’s belt, one on each side of the buckle.  Their weight was reassuring, reminding her that even when the sword was out of reach, she was not alone.  The three of them had served her well, and she knew that it would not be long before they proved their worth again.

Her eyes scanned the sky once more.  She still saw nothing but the boiling darkness, the deep clouds now heavy enough to obscure even the lingering light of the moon.  All around her, the Cober scattered, grabbing what they could and fleeing towards the trees.  Children sobbed as they were yanked from their beds; some of the adults were weeping too, their tears lit light jewels by the faint blue-white glow of their eyes.  Even those were darker now, downcast and dimmed to be as unseen as possible while still allowing clear sight in the forest.  Twigs snapped and fallen leaves rustled under scampering foot-falls. Horses, unhitched from their night moorings, whinnied and shied nervously, blindly following their masters and unable to produce their own light to see by.  Dan was grateful that none of them were greys or dapples: those bastards could light up as clearly as any ilymin, and did so liberally when they were spooked.  Traders never used them much anyway, and nights like this was the reason why.

Something snapped, but it was a deeper sound than a twig or a tree branch.  It sounded like a sail pulling taut in a gale.  Dan’s gut dropped inside of her.  She had been hoping that her instinct might be wrong, but for the briefest instant her eyes picked out a darker shape against the pre-storm skies. It vanished as quickly as she saw it, however, and she strained her ears for the next beat of its wings.  It was still distant, most likely circling somewhere near the ridge of the hills, looking for something appetising to home in on. Dan hoped that the interlocking branches would hide the faint glimmering of the traders’ eyes, but why leave it to chance?

She took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, and felt the soft rush of fluid seeping into the pale patches beneath her eyes.  Her hands tingled, the skin swelling slightly as it was perfused. Light began to bloom, starting as a soft blue glow and rapidly growing to a startling brilliance.  Her hands pulsed, each wave growing stronger until the palest parts of her skin were stark white against the night.  She flexed her fingers on her sword hilt, raised the blade up, ready to strike, and began to turn in a slow circle.

Something darted past a cloud, and her head turned quickly to follow it.  She lost sight of it, but when the next snap of leathery skin rang out against the wind, she knew exactly where it would be.  It was circling closer, drawn in by the decoy of her lambent hands and the brilliant spots of white beneath her eyes.  Her pupils constricted to match the glow, but her light did not blind her: she was built to use it, to see where it fell and pick up its reflection in the darkness, much like an animal might use an echo to map out a cave.  The world became a pattern of deep black shadows and sparkling particulars, and everywhere she looked she saw details that had been hidden from her previously: an abandoned boot, the toe tip highlighted by her glow. A cup beside the fire, still half full, probably with alcohol.  A pale face under a wagon, huge eyes unlit but glimmering with un-shed tears. Spilled coins near the bridge. She took them all in, seeing them clearly, but never let her focus stray too far from the sky.

A wing-beat cracked like thunder.  A low, angry bellow followed, and Dan trained her gaze on it, finally picking out the shape of her opponent.

It dropped from the sky, black wings folding close to its half-formed body so that gravity would lend it an unholy turn of speed.  Dan was ready for it, but even as she began to swing her sword she knew that it was going to wind her: there was simply no other way that the collision could go.

Cold steel slashed into flesh like putrid jelly, sending globs of protoplasmic ooze splattering across the camp site.  The creature’s weight barrelled into her, slamming her backwards even as she cut into it.  She struggled to dislodge it, gasping for air against the bulk pressing down on her and gagging on the sulphurous stench that seemed to cling to its form.  Her sword was lodged in its shoulder; flaps of leathery membrane flopped uselessly, leaking black blood that evaporated before it even touched the earth.  She had crippled it, but teeth were snapping at her face, a giant maw dripping saliva onto her skin as the creature sought to bite off her head.  She had managed to get her off-hand up to block it, her forearm pressed against the creature’s throat, but it was strong- stronger than she was- and the teeth were getting closer.

With a deep grunt, Dan managed to twister her sword, turning the blade in the monster’s shoulder and forcing it to lean away from her or risk losing its arm.  It roared- a sound that was shrill as well as deep, and that sent a reverberating shudder through her body.  She managed to get one knee up, pressed it into the still-congealing muscles of its belly, and kicked it away.  It did not go far, just rolled to the side that she was forcing it towards.  She managed to yank her sword free as it went, then rolled herself, moving towards it, her blade arching downwards to try and cut off its head before it had a chance to recover.


Author Bio

S R Jones

S R Jones is a writer of science fiction and fantasy. Born in London, England, he was raised on the Welsh borders and is now more or less settled in the Midlands. He currently shares his living space with four corn snakes, to whom he reads all his work prior to publication. So far, none of the snakes have left any reviews, so it’s impossible to know whether or not they appreciate this. 

S R has been writing since childhood, and has recently started to self publish his work after his first novel, Death’s White Hands, was a finalist in Hodderscape’s 2015 Open Submissions contest.  Since then the book has been heavily polished and revised, and is due to be released on Halloween 2018.

Twitter: @AegisImmemorial
Website: www.aegisimmemorial.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/AegisImmemorial/
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