Glacially (#3)

The Sea-hag

Part II

Her slender bare feet were light upon the hard-packed earth of the cabin floor, and her feminine laughter tinkled like a silver fountain into the brisk air outside. A summer chill had descended upon the Blackmill, but there was a warmth in the room unmatched even by the long-burning fire in the rust-studded wood stove.

“Is that what you think, Alyss?” The young woman asked between sympathetic giggles, her fine lips curved into an affectionate smile. “That you’ll never see me again?”

The girl nodded her head in somber assent.

“Don’t be a silly child! I’ll only be in the next village over – Fange Point. You remember the Fange, do you not?”

“Yes,” Alyss responded, wiping the tears that had carved salty rivulets into her flour-stained cheeks. “Where we’d swim in the hot springs, when papa had business in the village.”

“That’s right!” She cooed, taking Alyss lightly by the shoulders and pulling her to her aproned chest. The girl’s wild blond hair hung in thick curls from her head, and it tickled the young woman’s nose as she nuzzled her close. She laughed fully, looking down into her deep blue eyes. Two more girls, both elder to the child, stood at her back, an expression equal parts bemused and affectionate on their youthful faces.

“Alyss,” one spoke, whose glittering blue eyes twinkled like sapphire – one of the several features the girls inherited from their late mother. “Adelyne will always be your biggest sister. Just ’cause she’s marryin’ off doesn’t mean you won’t see her anymore.”

“Marie is right,” Adelyne reassured, gently wiping the tear-caked flour from the girl’s face. “I’ll always be ‘big Addy’, and neither time nor distance will change that.”

Alyss sniffled, comforted by the simplicity of a promise made in earnest, and flashed a broad, childish smile. “Okay,” she agreed, then squealed in delight, twittering madly as her sisters tickled her only partly by accident as they brushed the flour from her face, hair, and dress.

“Goodness, girl, what a mess you make of bread!” Faye, the next eldest, spluttered between heaves of laughter. She wore her thick blonde hair in two intricate braids that lay across her breast, and her moon-pale cheeks were rosier even than usual, caught in a wide and flushing grin. “We ought put you in the oven for good measure!”

The girls laughed together, and their voices echoed through the modest cabin and into the frigid air beyond, which clung to their huddled home buried deep in the green-heathered hillside. Some length southward, the ocean crashed on the town’s rocky shore, but the black water – normally visible from their lofty perch – was hidden from view by a thicker-than-usual summer fog. Adelyne turned from her sisters’ frolicking and stared nervously into the mist, in the direction of the ocean. The almost subconscious countdown that started like the plucking of petals from a flower some nine short months prior had become loud as a ticking clock of late, and she wrung her hands anxiously as the fog streamed indifferently past. Seeking to steady their trembling, she snatched up a cloth and set to drying the dishes from which she had just cleaned the stubborn remnants of bread dough.

Presently, the sound of a bell in the obscure distance rattled against the frigid window pane, and a sensation like fingers of ice stilled the beating of her warm, young heart. The bread bowl – a simple clay dish handmade by her long-departed father, and older even than she – crashed to the floor and shattered like a dream. Three short screams issued from the girls, shaking them with the violence of a physical blow from the escape of their gambol. They stood shoulder to shoulder, their faces a twist of shock and confusion, staring bewilderedly at Adelyne, whose back was turned to them. Several moments of confused silence passed, where only the crackling of logs engulfed in flame could be heard, though their heat did little to chase the sudden chill from the room. Her shoulders shook with soft sobs that she neglected to suppress. Alyss stepped slowly forward and reached for her sister’s hand as the bell’s toll, echoing from the mist-shrouded shore, landed upon her small, unknowing ears.

Glacially (#2)

The Sea-hag

Part I

The summer fog was dense and cold as the aged galley creaked atop the black water and slipped into the moody bay, plowing cautiously through small, choppy waves. Rough seas were ever-present obstacles in even those navigable quarters so that the bay, as the great ocean that fed it, was restless and ever in motion, like a shark: each wave-crest a dorsal, each trough a gaping maw. Even here it held treasures unguessed in its deep, icy embrace.

Upon the sun-weathered deck stood Rath Halden, dark, curly locks thrust carelessly beneath a brown rough-spun hat, stubbled face spread in a wide and anxious grin. Nine long months did Rath spend aboard the Mirthless Mother, a simple, two-masted affair with salt-yellowed sails and a nasty proclivity for pitching and rolling in even the fairest following seas. As second-mate he ranged far into warm southern waters, largely on missions of commerce, though many were the adventures he had over the better part of that year; the seas, as much as the lands punctuating them, were alive with promise and peril alike.

Now, however, as the Mother dove clumsily into his home port, his mind was here, for here he always came. Later, he thought, he would have such tales of his travels to tell – yarns to spin, ales to quaff, fat to chew – but for now, his eagerness to place his feet on land was equal only to that to leave again. Thus was his nature, ever in motion, a man of the sea in more than fact.

The deck of the Mother, itself a living thing when putting into port, was unusually subdued and refrained, for its part. What oft boiled with action, abound with commands and oaths was, in relation, quieted, as the men who populated its length sensed innately the dour disposition of this dark and jagged coast. Their commands were muted and oaths sworn into their beards, withered and swallowed by the sharp, icy wind that dragged the sullen, clinging fog over the ceaseless water. Even the gulls’ voices were still, their existence announced only by the soft rasping of their feathered wings on the great grey sky. Presently, a clanging bell interrupted the melancholy, and the hands upon deck were – without their conscious knowing – apprehensive at the sound that rudely split the insistent silence, though it rang heedlessly on. The melody lilted across the frigid air, and skin prickled and crawled, before it fell upon some fog-shrouded, shore-bound ear, which hailed its author with a shout. The ship slowed forward, and presently soft, orange orbs pierced the mists ahead of its bow and a dark mass hove into view, floating just above the black water. As the vessel drew nearer, the bleary shapes took form: flickering torches upon a gnarled but sturdy wooden dock. Men stood upon its surface, awaiting the heave of mooring lines from the ship’s crew. All was hushed, and every man was acutely aware of it, though none ventured to speak, and so it maintained its eerie hold.

With a wet thud, lines were thrown over the gunwales and to waiting hands, which grasped and swiftly made fast the moorings. Rath watched the proceedings with passing disinterest, having seen the near-mechanical precision unfold innumerable times, both at this very port and those of distant lands and faraway seas. Singular in his mind was that of his welcoming, which was always warm and bristling with excitement among his core group of followers: a throng of young men (and several disreputable women) dismissed about town as cringers, hangers-on, and debauchers. Such perceptions mattered little to Rath Halden, however; his concern lay with their attention to his tales, and their generosity of refreshments. Though the Blackmill was his home, he never set down roots in its loamy, chilly soil; instead, he stood apart, as he had from birth.

Rath Halden was intertwined inextricably with strife, his life one prolonged hardship, from the moment of his first breath and very likely to the second of his last. His mother had died during his birth, a bloody, tragic affair that long dampened the already moody hamlet, and had been a black mark over the awkward and ungainly boy that it had produced. Even today, yammering lips jested cruelly – and furtively – that Rath himself was to blame, owing to his unusually large size.

The man was huge – that was the first impression of those new to the hulking mass of granite bone and iron muscle that was Rath Halden. His shoulders were wide as a door frame, and he stood so tall that he need stoop to enter one. He was clean-limbed, his lily-white flesh baked to a copper glow beneath the warm southern sun, and he bore a countenance that was wide, strong, and grimly set, though always there flickered a puerile, boyish play in his deep black eyes. That light, however, was extinguished like a flame in deluge when the killing lust possessed him, as it often does a man of his cachet. In Rath’s world, it was strike or be struck, kill or be killed; if your opponent was merciful, that is. Not particularly quick-witted, he had earned his hold on the Mirthless Mother through might and blood alone, the same tokens by which he retained it.

He was roused from the dark thoughts that ever clouded his homecomings by the clatter of the gangplank on the dock, and he strode quickly along the deck, pushing aside shipmates like a schoolboy jostling for head of the line. Swiftly he was upon the creaking boards, and moving with the ease and familiarity of the native, he marched, beaming pridefully, toward the rugged shore. The darkness was gone from his mind, for the present, drowned in vainglorious expectations of a hero’s welcome. Here he came upon yet another dusky shape looming in the mist ahead; as he drew closer, it called in a jovial, booming voice: “Doth mine eyes deceive me? Is it the Black Wolf himself who stalks my port?”

Rath swelled at the greeting, and he inflated his massive chest and bellowed a response. “Who quoth mine name?” he feigned oblivious, drawing a sun-bronzed, calloused hand – the likes of which had never seen a glove – flat and wide above his eyes as though squinting into the sun.

The two men approached each other quickly now, the thick fog swirling about their bulky forms, until they met chest-to-chest with the force of storm clouds, raining thunderous claps on each other’s sturdy backs and radiating a vitality that itself was enough to dispel the misty clutches around them. The man wrapped in Rath’s embrace presently wrenched free of the bear-like arms – large though he was, such was a task not easily accomplished – and held him at arm’s length, inspecting him as one might a counterfeit coin.

“By Mishra, it’s you in the flesh, ya big damned fool!”

They laughed raucously, defiant of the grayness that smothered the dark and dreary coast.

“Thought for sure they’d be sendin’ ya home on yer back this time!”

More laughter erupted from the men: a din of booming, roaring glee, and each man’s face wore a delighted grin almost child-like in its sincerity.

“You won’t be rid of me that easy, Daven, you ugly gasser!”

“Well, come on, then!” Daven insisted, beaming at the specious abuse, for he was widely regarded as exceedingly handsome, if not intolerably boastful. “The lads are waiting for ya at the Oyster.”

“Oh!” Rath exclaimed, his voice resounding across the docks, his mouth forming a wide and exaggerated O. “I’ve many tales for the lads!”

“I expected as much, you crusty sea-dog! Come! Let’s not keep ’em a moment longer!”

The Savage Queen (#3)

Part II

The Black Tower rose high into the night sky, and against the inky dusk of the primordial dark it was darker still. Limned in starlight, it was of such obsidian blackness that its stately silhouette appeared a slash on the ebon flesh of night, a wound revealing the even darker, infinite void that ever lurks within and beyond it. And yet, despite this omnipresent and imposing figure, the peoples of the ancient City of Bast had all but forgotten its conspicuous existence. It did not concern them, and therefore, they did not concern themselves with it: their lives were separate and distant from its meaning – or so they believed. I often ponder the implication of this indifference, but quickly am I made aware of its familiarity, for deeply familiar it is.

These peoples – men, women, and children of every living race that has carved out an existence in this strange and timeless realm – are not the first, nor will they be the last, to parade across the urban sprawl likes ants over the undulating dunes. The dark basaltic walls of Bast have housed the husks of many an ancient man – and other, even older beings – and the threads of time that run like warp and weft stretch forward and backward across and abroad this patchwork of space, often all at once; in my dream-fugue, I run blind fingers across this tapestry, feeling little and losing more, but in that way, snatch glimpses of a story that is at once past, present, and future. But the dense mists of time envelope the even more ancient tower, whose coal-black walls fairly radiate with a distant and forgotten energy as it climbs to the stars like a lighthouse broadcasting this rocky cosmic shore to empyrean travelers, pioneers of fantastic technologies inconceivable to our own narrow ken. Its place in the arras of time is missing, edges raw and split, threads dangling in empty space. There is more to this edifice than I know – than I am able to know, and I am unsatisfied in my helpless ignorance, a mere observer of anomalies still undreamed by the men of our world. But to see it… ah, to see it: a fortune and a curse, and I may yet suffer a madness beyond eternity at the entry-less feet of its black walls for what I have observed. Oh, what I have – and what have I – observed!

Perched atop the Black Tower was a solitary room, forever opened and exposed to the elements, yet unaffected by sun or rain, wind or weathering. Thick black columns supported a geodesic dome of singular magnificence, carved with a skill now lost – or perhaps yet to be gained – from an immense, glittering stone of crystal-clear transparency. Its surface was crisscrossed with wrought iron shapes, intersecting and overlapping, depicting a strange and complex celestial scene through which a sect of mysterious men – long known in this land simply as Astronomers – deciphered the future from the language of the stars. It is in this place that two men stood in silence: one wizened with age, the other lean like a graying wolf; one cloaked in the rich blue robes of the Astronomers of Bast, the other in the plain black kaftan of the outland tribes. The men eyed each other carefully in this juncture of anxious quietude. The Astronomer studied the other’s lean, hawkish features intently: his face an inscrutable mask of dark, sun-baked flesh; his single eye a black pool of sunless water, deep and impenetrable; his body wiry yet powerful, rangy and steely like a coiled spring, ever-tense with explosive energy. The wolfish man returned the studious gaze coolly, his eye piercing and probing in a way that unsettled the old man.

“You alone can achieve this task,” Spoke the old man, finally breaking the tense stillness.

“Such was my suspicion,” the outlander replied, a cool smirk curving across his thin lips. “Else an Astronomer would never deign to ask the aid of a man like myself.”

“Indeed.” A touch of bitterness edged his wavering voice, emboldening the outlander, and he seized on the sentiment.

“And yet, this thing you ask of me… you are not convinced that it can be accomplished?”

“If any man can accomplish it, it is you.”

The outlander absently inspected the front and back of his weathered hands, exaggerating his air of casual disinterest. “Indeed,” he echoed. “Such things are beyond dispute. The fact remains, however, that mayhap no man can. It is said she sees that which is unseen. That she bears a third eye,” and he held a hand in the shape of a circle to his forehead. “And through it sees into men’s souls, and beyond.”

The old man, his nerves on a knife’s edge, fought the compulsion to tear at his beard, instead wringing his gnarled hands beneath the silk folds of his robe; and though hidden they were, it was as blood in the air for the desert-wolf: the scent of fear – its attendant reek of salt and adrenaline – was thick in the free night air. He pressed on.

“It is well known throughout the land that the Astronomers of Bast are an ambitious association, given to scheming and conspiring, weaving plots like spiders weave threads in the night. What assurance have I that my order is not to be entangled in one such a web?”

“Because you are already bound, though your bonds are not of our making. Here I offer you an opportunity to free yourself – and your order – from them.”

He smiled, bemused – as he often was – and his lightness of spirit under such precarious circumstances both angered and unnerved the Astronomer.

“Please,” The man gestured broadly before him. “Go on.”

“The Queen acts on her own plot, long planned, to purge again her court. The dissent has grown too rank, and she has been loathe to ignore it all these cycles. There exists no other action for the likes of us – we are each and all men of numbered hours, should your task prove impossible.”

“Speak for yourself, Astronomer. I am an outlander; I have no part in your petty politics.”

“Do not act as if you and your people have not been victims of the Queen’s furies. Outlanders, perhaps, but very much a threat to her reign nonetheless, for your people – just as mine – possess The Gift.”

The man hissed with exasperation. “And yet, through this Gift, my order has seen nothing of the conspiracy you assure me is to come.”

At this, the Astronomer smiled, though the expression looked alien to his grave and timeworn face, and the man silently cursed his miscalculation.

“Do not bluff me, outlander. I know that your people’s Gift is limited only to that which makes you such effective killers.”

The outlander laughed earnestly, though his casual mien riled the Astronomer all the same. He turned his back to the old man and stared into the endless black of the night sky, rough hands resting on the smooth stone rail separating the two men from the abyss. At this moment, drinking in the cool night air and the icy scintillant stars, was he for the first time aware of the nature of this tower: there existed not a joint about the entire structure. The railings melted seamlessly into ornate balustrades supporting them, which in turn grew from the black stone floor like an appendage. This sable citadel seemed to be one solid, contiguous mass of rock, though the notion – and its attendant implications – defied the man’s understanding of the very fabric of his reality. He returned his gaze to the robed man, observing at once the ease with which he fit the scene, like a tree in the forest, or a boulder on the mountain. A wizard, perhaps, but of a singular kind the likes of which existed no where else in this world. There was no whimsy about him, only grim sobriety, and the flicker of light that lurks behind the eyes of every living man was instead a black fire that burned with the heat of a thousand black suns.

“It is true – my powers of precognition are constrained to where the blade will strike or the blow will land, but it is not such a limitation as you might expect. Indeed, I am not alone in my limitations.

The Astronomer raised an eyebrow inquisitively.


“Quite. Would you agree that the flow of time is like that of a river?”

The old man nodded his agreement apprehensively, unsure of the point to be made.

“Then you will understand when I say that you are like a man standing at the cliff’s edge, watching the river of time wind and wend far below. You see, from this lofty vantage, it rush from its headwaters, fed by melting ice from the frozen mountains, across its rocky bed, and into its delta and to the great, wide ocean beyond. And you believe that this is all the river is.”

He paused and searched the astronomer’s face, and a tigerish smile crept across his lips before continuing.

“But I am immersed in this river: I know its currents, its rapids, its falls. I am engulfed by its waters, and feel the terrible, deadly power that courses through its icy body. I see rocks that would dash me to a bloody pulp, eddies that would drag me to a watery grave, feel the frigid chill that would turn my muscles to stone. Though I may not see around the river’s bend, with great clarity do I see what is before me. You may see to the ocean, Astronomer, but the ocean it not all there is to see.”

The old man’s face was unchanged – immotile and undecipherable – but his eyes flared, impatient with the insolence of the assassin who indulged his self-importance at the feet of a brotherhood as old as Bast itself.

“Enough of this,” he snapped intolerantly. “Do you accept the task before you?”

The man’s smile had spread into a wholly amused snarl, animated with a cat-like casual cruelty.

“I know not – do I accept?”

“Black Gods take your soul, man! I have not the patience for your games. Is it death that you fear?”

“I fear very little, and death I fear not at all – it is unbecoming a man of my trade.” He sighed, and his smile faded as he took several soundless steps to lean against a black column. He craned his neck upward, eye tracing the alien geometry that framed the glittering stars in so many cryptic conformations. “In truth, I too tire of this exchange, so allow my bluntness: What does the future hold?”

The astronomer joined the man in gazing through the crystal dome, clasping his hands behind his back in a thoughtful pose.

“For all living memory, no man not of the Astronomers has stared through this lens. It is important that you understand the peculiar situation in which we find ourselves.”

The man flashed a small, bitter smile, his singular eye still fixed on the black sky beyond.

“Shall I take that to mean that you know as well as I the outcome – that is, not at all?”

The Astronomer nodded silently, his grey beard bobbing with each slow affirmation.

“The business of divination is one of irreducible complexity. Part science, part art, yet simultaneously neither: A series of secrets passed down, an amalgam of words – many ancient, their meaning long lost – and motions, smoke and elixir, blood and bones, stars and leaves. But this,” he said, gesturing reverently with two hands to the crystal dome above their heads. “This represents an advancement so exceptional that it can hardly be considered the same phenomenon. With the discovery of this technology, our eyes were opened wide to the presence of matter that still defies our comprehension today. For this reason, it has remained hidden, the secret of its existence closely guarded by the walls-within-walls of this city. This element is in itself a foundational part of the fabric of our universe, and those beyond: The very material with which the tapestry is woven.

“And I tell you this with the solemn hope that such power may persist beyond me and my kin. Such power as resides in this black obelisk would be consumed entirely by the Queen, should it fall under her control; for she, too, possesses an artifact of equal dynamism that, were not this element in constant conflict with itself – for reasons that even today defy our most diligent attempts to fathom – it would reveal to her this plot as it has unwound so many threads of her demise. In short, it is our only defense against her vast and ever-growing prescience, for indeed it would seem there exists a power greater than that of future-seeing: the ability to conceal it from those who would otherwise witness. For this reason, we are unable to discern her plot, and she ours, in spite of the foreknowledge that we both possess. We must resort to the cunning of old: the cloak and the dagger, as it were.

“I say, man, the hours wane – by design, little time has been left for error or detection, for her spies are as numerous as grains of sand on the Dunes of Erathor. What would you do? Unseat the tyrant ever lapping up your borders – for you know too well of the raids she commands against your desert-kin – or stand idly by as she snatches from the Astronomers – from the people – a power of magnitude absolute? The choice is yours alone.”

A weird light shimmered over the grim countenance of the outland man, casting black shadows across the scars that seamed his weathered flesh. He grinned, his face a beastly mask devoid of malice or mirth, and his thin lips revealed a snarl like a dog loosed to the hunt.

“I shall slay for you the Savage Queen.”

Glacially (#1)

The Land of Glacia (Introduction)

There exists today a planet so distant from our own that its life-giving sun can be glimpsed only dimly, a mere pin-prick of ancient light scarcely visible in even the darkest of night skies. So unremarkable is this infinitesimal glow that you may have seen it without knowing it; more likely, though, you could spend your entire life searching for it and never even look in the right direction. Upon the surface of this planet that basks in this star’s clement glow is a land of deep mystery – deeper even than the sunken cities and extinguished races of our own Earth – that is steeped in histories both cherished by its peoples and lost to the dim mists of epochs long passed. This land comprises the farthest northern reaches of this planet, so hidden away from this sun that its rays reach it only icily. Here, there is light, mostly, but never warmth; here is the Land of Glacia

A world in itself, so removed from the evolution of its host planet, Glacia holds wonders beyond comprehension – both to us and to the race of men who call this planet Wolfic. Of this race of men, little need be said, for their features and mannerisms are nearly identical to our own; so alike are they, in fact, that you or I could hardly distinguish one from the other. You may ask, “Why should this be? That men from an alien planet of unfathomable distance from our own should look and act and advance like us?” You are right to wonder. I have no answers, save for the supremacy of our design, itself a marvel of organic engineering. Perhaps it is that very few designs are permitted to survive in the harsh and merciless conditions to which life has been endlessly subjected, and that even fewer may thrive, for have we often thrived at the expense of creatures less equipped than ourselves.

Or perhaps it is that we are, after all, made in the image of some divine creator, and that we are not his or her only creations. And of this creator we may ask, is he a father or a master? Is she a mother or a mistress? Are these distant men our brothers, or our oppressors? Long have these questions dwelt in the minds of men, and longer still shall they continue, with no answer on even the remotest horizon.

Such missives aside, these men have dispersed across Wolfic much in the same way as ourselves on Earth, inhabiting at this juncture virtually every corner of the wide and wild world, living sometimes in lavish abundance, but most times barely subsisting; occasionally carving their names into the crumbling stone tablets of history, but more often disappearing forever from the minds of men. The latter is particularly true of the land called Glacia, where great riches lie trapped beneath its mantle of ice and stone, and most perish – or worse – in their pursuit of it. In this search, however, stories unfold whose themes we Earth-bound beings readily recognize: adventure & danger; magic & monsters; love & loss.

It is these stories that the Glacially series seeks to tell, from the mythic to the forgotten, the eponymous to the anonymous. Along the way, a hidden, parallel history will unfold, and its revelations will permanently change the face of Glacia… again.

“Hushed in silence, we lose our way in the dark…” – Yuki Chikudate

The title of this series was taken from the beautiful Asobi Seksu song of the same name.

The Savage Queen (#2)

Part I

I see it now, in my own mind, as clearly as a memory belonging to me.

I see her slumbering deeply in a dim, subterranean hall, full figure stretched cat-like across an ink-black throne. Constructed in a forgotten epoch by hands unknown to accommodate an alien form of unusual and inhuman proportions, it was smooth and glimmering like glass yet hard and cold as steel. Composed of some arcane alloy and wrought by now-lost technique, it towered like a mountain-shadow in the sweeping dark of the dusky marble hall. The woman – whose lithe, feminine body was draped contented and careless atop it – was at once muscular yet delicate, iron-thewed yet supple. Her insouciant repose, easily mistaken for languor, concealed the deep witch-sleep in which she was immersed nigh entirely. Raven hair spilled like black water from her head, framing in wild curls and murky locks a soft, elegant face as pale and flawless as mountain snow. At the peak of this dark cascade, casually crooked, sat a gleaming black crown, sparkling darkly with all manner of richly-colored, nameless jewels: bloody red, malachite green, and inky purple cabochons, smooth as her porcelain skin, yet for all their allure just a fraction as beautiful. They caught the dim light like the eyes of a nocturnal beast, glittering with lust and suffused with malice and mystery.

She was a portrait of serenity, and yet, in this exquisite slumber, something savage stirred behind her gentle countenance, betrayed in the rapid fluttering of eyes beneath lily-white lids and thick black lashes: unconscious and fervent as a predator’s restless dream. Her ivory chest found scant restraint in the deep plunge of a rich black dress trimmed in gilt silk and freckled with flecks of pure gold, and her generous bosom rose and fell with each deep, perfumed breath. A decorative slash in the skirt revealed a milky-white leg to the thigh: Thick and comely but electric with the violent power of a striking viper.

All of this was bared freely and without reservation to the watchful eye: and a watchful eye there was. Hidden in the shadows of an ancient passage – a black labyrinth-within-a-labyrinth, whose existence was known only to the keepers of secrets ancient, the Astronomers of Baast – this singular eye was set in a hook-nosed, saturnine face, covered in portion by a tangled, unkempt black beard split by a wide, hateful grin. Where there should have been a second eye was only a mangled mass of thick scar tissue, long since healed from the price its former owner had chosen to pay. The man’s ghoulish face was framed proudly in a sun-faded black turban, the wraps of which covered his ears and throat, thus emphasizing the hideous ferocity of his scarred and scored aspect. Through a narrow slit in the smoke-gray marbled wall, he watched from the pitch-blackness, observing carefully, hungrily, the unconscious form, consuming its beauty and danger in equal parts, and sated by neither. From her noble face to ample chest, her slender waist to tender bare feet, he watched with a nervous, voyeuristic excitement, his weathered hand absently fingering the hilt of a wicked dagger stowed at his belt.

In this long stretch of silence so deep and stark as to madden the average man,  the two did dwell: his eye, bloodshot and predatory, feasting greedily upon her and seeking opportunity; her eye, spectral and wide, reaching into the benighted ether of both past and future, seeking something and somewhen else. In this way, though not only this way, were the two alike – man and woman, beast and beauty – for with a single eye did they each see the most.

Upon her aberrant throne, this spectral sight was magnified, thrust upon the attendant with such phantasmal force as to stop beating hearts and still pumping blood. The arcane power surging beneath its placid surface exceeded that which could be comprehended, let alone wielded, by mortal ken, though in the beginning, that stopped not ambitious men who sought power above all else. In those days, these war-like men of iron fist and adamantine will, the likes of which exist no longer, found immeasurable power coursing through the cosmos-black construct, and seated upon it rose to titanic heights, and ended – without fail or exception – in even greater ruin.

For centuries after the last great king met his destruction, the throne stood untouched. Indeed, it seemed in itself to refuse contact, and the few who tried met an agonizing and grisly end, their bodies burned and blackened as by lightning; never once did even a mote of dust come to rest upon its surface. The machinations of man continued on, and in the grave dark of the underearth its power and terror was nigh forgotten. In that intervening span, the City of Baast surrendered its achievements and glories to corruption, decadence, and degeneracy: as is the fate of all worlds of men across all spans of creation. And so it was, until this woman – a savage, an outlander – swarmed the gates with her great barbarian hordes and seized the City of Baast for her own, putting accused loyalists to the sword without reservation or mercy. For six long, black days did the basalt streets run red with the tide of slaughter, until this queen among savages sought the Hall of the Black Throne, buried, nigh forgotten, beneath immeasurable tons of black, stony earth.

The scant remainder of the court watched in somber, treacherous silence as she climbed to the throne, their bloodlust whetted by a racial hatred and their own primitive impulses of self-preservation, awaiting the empyrean justice of that accursed object. Her slim, muscular figure slipped nobly into the seat, assuming the mantle as though it were hers by birth right, but a strange and new madness glittered in her smoldering blue eyes. She opened her mouth, her parted lips lingering sumptuously, until not a torrent of blood, as the duplicitous throng expected, but words cut the air.

“At long last, I have taken what is mine,” her voice lilted, feminine, mocking, limned by a metallic ring, like that of keen blue steel.

Years had passed since then, and she used the brobdingnagian powers of the throne to great effect, ruling the City of Baast as a tyrannical child might dominate a playground: coldly, cruelly, jealously. In spite of such brutal autocracy – or perhaps because of it – she was at once loved and feared, perceived as a goddess-mother dispelling abasement and depravity like shadows before the high-noon sun. Under her supreme iron rule, Baast rose to a glint of its former glory, a time so long past that living memory barely recalled it ever having existed. Her rule was without fault, her direction unwavering, and in time, she could do no wrong before the eyes of her people: no nobleman’s head belonged upon his shoulders if she should wish it otherwise. This suited not the power structures of Baast, hidden as they were, who had learned to profit from decay and debauchment, growing avaricious, sadistic on the miseries of man. These institutions worked tirelessly to oppose her, though she seemed to sense their every move, thwarting their shadowy statecraft as the gusting wind thwarts the flickering flame.

Though her own mind was overfull with cunningness and guile, it was due largely to the precognizant power of the throne that she perceived the complex webs that had been woven around her, intended to snare and bind her at every step. And so she sought these dreams of the future again, as she did frequently, though this time, she did so with a sense of urgency heretofore unknown to this she-wolf among sheep. Her keen, pantherish instincts stirred; she sensed danger lurking at the periphery of her rule.

Now, seeing with her mind’s eye, she strode across time and space like pebbles beneath an unshod foot, seeking to know that which was beyond knowing, to see all which was, will be, and never shall. Across this black abyssal plain she walked without walking, her fine, bare feet following the infinite paths trod across space and time by man and beast alike, all of which wind and splinter and splay like roots running in the loam, and every one of which ends, at some point. On this pilgrimage athwart time and space, she beheld in the dim, electric-black haze a ladder: the rungs of which were planets, the top of which an entrance into a house of many secrets, above the firmament of reality, but more real than life and death itself. She climbed this Jacob’s ladder while upon the strange throne did her body sleep restfully, clawing with her astral essence up the sheer and dizzying height. Below her loomed the ashen mountains and black valleys of yet unraveled space-time, and higher she strove, until at last a glow of light that could not be seen, only felt, caressed her with its radiance.

Though it was not seen, it was perceived, and the heat grew nigh intolerable as she swiftly ascended the celestial ladder, a black sun boring a hole in her mind’s mind as the house of secrets basked in its unlight just a finger’s reach away. But ere her nimble hands could reach the threshold, a booming voice resounded across the cosmos, shaking the planetary ladder as though it were spider’s silk in a gust of hot summer wind.

“No,” it commanded: Not harshly, but with the stern resonance of a father’s scolding. “It is not thy time; thy purpose remains unfulfilled.” The words hung in the black sky, idle clouds of murky enigma. “Ye must return.”

She opened her mouth to protest, to entreat with this intrusion, speak reason unto the madness flitting like moths against the electric glow of her bewildered brain, but the words froze in her throat: She was stunned, bewitched into silence, as such only a mighty force may cause a woman to be. Here in this house, the bulk of which loomed just beyond her sight, dwelt a primitive consciousness – it could have been the throbbing, thrumming heart at the center of the universe, for all she knew. She was awash in the unseen light of its black sun, under which her white skin wilted like a lily in the merciless desert heat. Her fierceness, imbued by blood and battle and ruthless ambition, paled, and she was at once a girl again. The sensation shook her, and she was seized by an action not entirely her own. Before she could apprehend it, she released the rungs of the ladder and plummeted through the endless black stretch of space like a star from the night sky.

She woke with a shock – an uncontrollable jolt, as an unprepared submersion into ice-water. Her eyes snapped open, glossy black pupils dilated from the high of her dream-fugue, which presently yielded to the blazing blue crystals that ringed them like ice-fire. In the gray light of the Hall of the Black Throne, she came dimly to consciousness, and at that moment was acutely aware of a shadow leering over her, cold steel glinting bluely in its raised hand.

The Savage Queen (#1)

Visions (Introduction)

It was another world, the World of the Savage Queen. To you or I, it would be barely distinguishable from a dream, for so much like a dream it was, and so alien to our senses, so foreign to our comprehension it remains. It was without time, stolen away in some hidden fold or secret pocket of the infinite Cosmos. The space which comprised it shifted and metamorphosed in this shadowy womb, swelling and rising and falling in and over itself, lapping its ever-changing borders at the edge of the cosmic shore, whereupon so many stars glittered like grains of sand beneath the sun.

And like a dream, it lurked on the periphery of consciousness, glimpsed but never grasped, conceived but never comprehended. Yet, more than a dream, it existed, formless as water and weightless as air, as real and tangible as the dusty red surface of Mars, or the suns of distant, clement worlds.

Of this world, I have known visions of arresting and breathtaking detail, exotic and incongruous fantasy, where beneath the lithe hand of a cruel and beautiful tyrant, bizarre and aberrant theaters of life, death, undeath, and beyond unfold before my captivated mind’s eye.

These visions have come to me, and me alone, stretching across the icy maw of time and space to reveal a tale that was old when the universe was young, a saga of a time before time, and the Savage Queen who at once ruled the everything and nothing within its boundless bounds.

I deliver this to you, asking nothing in return, save that you fill your head with these dreams:

Breath deeply of Her perfumed breath, lay your head upon Her molten breast.

Her heart beats like the drums of war, lungs swell like sails in raging storm.

Sow into your consciousness this seed and let it take root: such fruits line the path to your eye unseen. The memories exist within you, forgotten but ancestral, and within you, the Queen – fierce and grim, supple and raven-haired, brimming with burning passion and smiting scorn – will live and breathe again, again, again…

Introducing: Free Savage World

Free Savage World is home to the tales of the Savage World, a collection of pulpy stories, two-fisted sagas, and Appendix N-inspired fiction. Herein you will find hard-as-nails heroes and vicious villains, hack-and-slash heroines and vile villainesses, swordsmen and sorcerers, warrior queens and wizard kings, and their adventures across, beneath, and between mind-bending fantasy lands both bizarre and breathtaking, equal parts waking dream and living nightmare.

Many of these stories exist only in fragments and outlines, making Free Savage World something of a self-imposed challenge to bring to life the otherwise dusty and discarded vagaries of my imagination. At least once a week, I intend to post a chapter, part, or segment of these stories-in-progress, with the goal of eventually amassing a collection large enough to edit and compile into a free ebook.

Free Savage World comes from a desire to entertain and be entertained. Reading and writing are a fundamental form of communication, and communication is a fundamental source of entertainment. It is the wellspring from which all amusement is drawn, and we drink of it thirstily. As I take, so too would I like to give.

All words on Free Savage World by me.