Read chapters 1-6 of The Zi'veyn, first of The Devoted trilogy, for free right here!
I'm also on Patreon!

Thursday, 15 July 2021

Patreon-Exclusive Character Origin Stories

   Over the next month, I'm sharing the origin stories for the lead characters of The Devoted trilogy on my Patreon, exclusively for all tiers. These are short stories that I wrote before starting any work on The Zi'veyn, and were written for several reasons: first, to pick my skills back up; second, to get to know the world and the characters so they'd all be consistent, and third, to develop some of the backstories.

   None of them are spoilers, I'd decided way back in 2014 to be careful about that in case I decided to share them (I was of the mentality back then that everything I wrote had to be shared; today I know that's not true, but I do want to share these).

   All seven stories have been edited to bring them up to my current skill rather than how they were seven years ago, and I'm really excited to share them!

   My Patreon has two tiers - the Library Moth ($1/mo) and Archivist ($3/mo), but these short stories are special exceptions and will be available to both  tiers as soon as they're available. I won't be sharing them here, however, as I think it's about time my patrons got some truly exclusive content.

   If you're interested, all pledges are collected on the first of every month (with exception to your first pledge, which is taken immediately), and you immediately gain access to all past content, including exclusive snippets from Veysuul pre-release. Pledges can be made in Euros, GBP or USD, and by card or PayPal. I receive 95% of all pledges, with the rest going to keep Patreon running. The pledges help to buy reference and research books for future works, as well as advertising for my books and proof copies!

Tuesday, 6 July 2021

The World Changes At Night

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Excerpt from Professor Jaeger's 'Analysing Controversies and Speculation over the Oro-Empirical and Pre-Dansk Psychological Treatise; Death, Magic and Allies', published 1295, Leid Press.

    The dark is a frightening place. All logic and rationality crumbles, tensions hike, and we jump and flinch at the faintest things, even when we know it can't possibly be anything more than a creak of a contracting floorboard. We know this. In daylight, we know this. But at night, in the could it possibly be that simple?

    But what triggers this betrayal of the mind? Is it chemical? Is it because we're diurnal creatures, and our bodies can't handle cortisol when, by all biological rights, we're supposed to be asleep? Or is it more basic than that - that we rely so much on sight that we cease functioning when it's taken away from us? But in that case, what about the blind? Or does it come down to some primordial instinct etched into our DNA from a time before locked doors, still trying to keep us safe from the wolves and bears that can no longer reach us?
    Take your pick. They're all reasonable enough. But the dwarfs of the Chyrzonmarch present a fourth option - one that, in daylight, I'm sure you'll scoff at. One that, in daylight, I admit makes no sense at all. But it's one that I have researched, weighed and now present to you all the same.
    The world around us changes at night. It gets dark. The usual day-to-day creatures sleep, and others you've never caught more than a passing glimpse of awake. The calls of one beast or another shred the black silence, those awful, blood-curdling screams you've heard in the spring. Why should an animal make a noise like that unless it was being killed by something worse?
    Well, why shouldn't it? It's going about its business in its world. And, when the sun sets and the moon rises, we are no longer a part of it. The world...changes.
    There are all kinds of stories about the night - werewolves, midnight wraiths, vampires... All kinds of strange things are said to wander the darkness. Stories that, in the light of day...well. I've said it already: they don't make sense. But it's more than just fanciful musing by idle writers, isn't it? What about the things you imagine? The grinning, disembodied faces; the claws reaching up from beneath the bed to seize a hanging foot; the big, black, red-eyed dogs staring at you from the edge of the dark when you turn around in bed; half-rotten skeletons with wide grins and necks three feet too long peering through the window; the slow, scraping tap at the door...
    Why do these images not come to us in daylight? Why only in the dark? What spell are we under?
    What spell indeed. And are they just images? We are in that strange world for half of our lives, and conscious for less than thirty percent of it. How much can you recall from your childhood but largely fogged fragments of things that, in hindsight, couldn't have happened? Perhaps it's the same phenomenon. I have never held a spiny-tailed tarantula in my life, and yet the image of one in my hand is far too vivid, and far too old, to be untrue. Why would it remain with me if there weren't some truth to it? Or is there a difference between truth and fact? I suspect there is, but that, dear reader, is a matter for another time.

    I put it to you: the fear we feel at night, it's real. Our hearts race. We sweat. Our eyes flick around. We're convinced something's happening that is worth getting riled up about. It's not a sensation we feel without good reason during the day, and yet it occurs so much more readily at night. And perhaps it's there for good reason, too. Perhaps, what seems foolish in daylight, is peril in the dark. Perhaps, it's all real.
    After all: the world changes at night...

This story is not to be copied or reproduced without my written permission. 
Copyright © 2021 Kim Wedlock

Thursday, 1 July 2021

Veysuul Now Open For Pre-Orders!

   Veysuul is now open for Kindle pre-orders! Paperbacks will follow on release date - August 1st.
   The pre-order is a promotional price and will increase on release day, so be sure to purchase your copy through July!

Here are the most common pre-order links - or you can search 'Veysuul' on your preferred Amazon.

US   UK   DE   NL   AU

Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Casting Runes

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
     The mocking cackle of crows drawled hollow through the leaden air. Its breath ruffled ashen leaves, stirring the iron scent of blood through banners that hung silent in glory and horror. The smell of smoke moved stiffly behind it; burned trees, burned flesh; corpses caught by the last wandering flames.
     A warrior, painted with blood, gilded with wounds, cast his eyes over the sun-bathed fields. Even now he could hear female voices raised in warsong. But where once they'd thrummed like a pulse in his ears, now they were soft, and as golden as the moor.
     Motion dragged his listless gaze up towards the sun.
     Dark shapes were circling.
     They grew larger as he watched them, descending, angling through the updrafts like silver eagles. Timeless sun glinted from low steel helms.
     Then an awesome, strangling terror dragged him suddenly to his knees, and his gaze crashed to the ground.
     With a clatter, a shadow fell.
     The air stiffened. The silence beneath the rattle of armour was deafening, beneath the sure and measured steps of booted feet. It grew worse as they ceased, at the clunk of a weapon butt striking the blood-spattered ground before him.
     Foolish curiosity lifted his gaze. The same primal horror cast it right back down.
     The valkyrie's presence pressed heavily upon him as she tucked away her vast, steel-tipped wings. "Cunning," her voice was a terrible melody, "restraint, patience; you have exercised experience and demonstrated great wisdom. This has brought you victory, and with it a glorious death. Rise, Viskhugr. You are being summoned."
     The warrior's eyes tore up to her in shock. Her own were concealed beneath her visor, but her round lips were passive. "This battle is not worthy of my death," he dared. "There is no glory in this worthy of Valhalla! There is more I can yet do! Do not insult me - let me earn my place in blood and true glory, not through pity or spite!"
     Beautiful lips pulled back in a snarl, as promising of swift injury as a wolf's. "We do not open the way to Valhalla through pity or spite. If we pitied you, you would be left to struggle and die in your bed. If we felt spite, we would strip you of your weapons and set you back upon the field. You would join Hel - or worse, the ranks of haugbui or draugr. It is through our graces that you are here in this moment. You have earned this honour, your place in Valhalla, through blood and through wisdom."
     A ruffle of wings drew his eye. Twenty-one ravens had gathered, perching upon axe, shield and rock around him. Not one of them picked at the bodies with the crows. Their abyssal black eyes fixed him astutely.
     "Glory," her voice rose again, "is delivered by more than axe alone."
     But he could only shake his head. "...No." His gaze returned to her, wild and desperate. "No. Not like this."
     She didn't move. Her lips didn't curl. Instead, she waited. Another gust of blood-tinged breeze stirred the grass. Her tone was steel when she finally spoke.
     "You vowed to bring your clan to greatness. You vowed to rise, yourself, to the einherjar, to die in blood and glory. That same heart drove this battle; its path to victory was shaped by the same determination - your own planning and forward thinking. You enforced your ideas, set them into action. You have made no blind, blustering declarations; you have not led your clan heedlessly with naught but a rallying cry into the edges of axes.
     "You used your enemies' habits against them. You trusted in their flaws, used your intuition in the absense of theirs. They wouldn't presume you would emerge from the forest, themselves so fearful of its denizens, nor that you should offer tribute to these denizens and use the world around you rather than steel or fire alone.
     "Despite the unorthodox approach, your clan trusted in your leadership as they would in a father, though but three are your own blood. Because you had proven yourself before, completed your rite of passage and set others out on their own. You have overseen your people, guided by axe, and by wisdom, and by the will of the All-Father. None could doubt in your plans."
     "That is not enough," he blustered, but her lips didn't change.
     "No? You have brought harmony to five clans, turning to bloodshed only when needed. Your actions are considered. For that, your own people remain safe, fed and unchallenged, and you have won the loyalty of the rest. You fight the wondrous compulsion of battle and bloodshed when it will not bring victory, mastering your own willpower, while at all times moving forwards, trampling your enemies even in passivity. You have mastered your strength, of body and mind.
     "You retained faith in your own ideas, even while the enemy turned the tide and your warriors sought to return to the bear-headed tactics they learned in the womb. You held fast. And your clan rallied - for their trust, even in the stirrings of a slipping victory, was unbreakable. They trusted your confidence."
     "We should have failed. We only gained the upper hand because of--"
     "Wind. It shifted and dragged a sheet of smoke from the forests the vaesen permitted to be burned."
     "My plan failed. It was luck."
     "And yet many accept that luck is a foundation of life. Fate. Change. Reward. Punishment."
     "Luck is meaningless!"
     "Only because you fear that you could not alter it. No man has control over every aspect of his life. Those who believe otherwise exercise it poorly. These, who disregard fortune, fate, who take everything into their own hands, for their own gain - they are always dealt with." A smile of amusement vaguely touched her lips. "Do not look so frightened. You led your people into this glorious battle because it was necessary. And when luck favoured you, you embraced it. You chose this battle - so did your people - and they followed you away from practiced tactics, into new dangers and risks, and succeeded. You embraced its necessity, and made a wondrous thing of it, knowing that death and change would strike harder if you resisted. You did not succumb to fear. You did not succumb to the arrogance of past victories. You stayed true to yourself, and your clan stayed true to you.
     "The arrival of these heretics would break your world. Upon this, you understood, did you not, that there was more to fight for than land, wealth, food and retribution? That is what led you to this battlefield. This battle was not an effort to reach Valhalla. This was an effort to retain your people's identity. And so, my sisters and I have come. To deliver you, Viskhugr, and others, to Valhalla."
     But the warrior said nothing. Axe clutched tightly in his hands, his eyes roved over the crimson earth as though searching for options - answers, or a way out.
     The valkyrie saw this through an impenetrable visor. She hefted her battlespear, and the ring of fine steel blades sang through the stillness as her magnificent wings unfolded. "Still you reject it." Her tone was unchanging; stubborn and patient. "Do not forget your lessons of life in death. The beating of your heart is fleeting; the wisdom of ages that has shaped your identity - that is carved in stone. Your life and its trials were leading to this moment. To this judgement. Do not shun it through pride, through blind conviction of power, or because it did not fit your expectations. Were these not also lessons that you learned?"
     Slowly, his eyes lifted, darkened by shame. Her chin followed in satisfaction.
     With a graceful sweep of her outstretched wings, she rose up above him. Every gust from their powerful beats stirred red dust into the dying smoke. "Trust your soul to me. Abandon fear, and embrace your reward. You have been judged and called. This is what you have been seeking. Now you have found it. Rise."
     The sunlight dulled.
     Winged figures, eternally glinting, launched into the air from across the battlefield, whipping plumes of smoke and embers in their wake. Banners snapped in the gusts. Heat dulled the glint of shields. Crows cawed. Their mockery was lost in the roar of warsong.
     His fingers tightened about the axe hilt.
     Another plume erupted as he stood up on his feet.

This story is not to be copied or reproduced without my written permission. 
Copyright © 2021 Kim Wedlock

Friday, 4 June 2021

Veysuul - Book Cover Reveal

It's cover reveal day!

     I'm so excited about this cover. I'm always excited about them, but this was ambitious, and suits the final installment of a trilogy that I've poured the vast majority of my time into over the past seven years. I've had help and guidance from the wonderful Frenone on readability, and have come out with something I'm genuinely proud of, and I hope does the trilogy justice.

     The gold and embroidery were some of my favourite things to paint, and the hands easily the worst. But I learned a lot through the project - and through writing it, too - and that in itself is always a win. I really hope you all like it!


Veysuul will be available for Kindle pre-order on July 1st
and will be released with paperback on August 1st 2021.

Monday, 10 May 2021

The Hagfish

Estimated read time: 12 minutes

    The waves don't lap. There is no movement. The sea is dead. The water is haunted.

     The songs of whales and a thousand dead voices were the girl's only company beneath the waves. She was young when it happened, a wee merbairn, and the memories she carried from that hazy time didn't make very much sense. But, young as she was, she didn't try to understand their shapes, shadows or colours, and instead she grew, played and thrived as any other merbairn would have, making do with the whale calves, the shoals, the turtles and the kelp in the absence of anyone else, and wove her young magic into the currents to better their games. She was adored and cared for by every creature in the sea, and none more so than the elder whales. When they knocked and drummed their warnings, they were as much for her as for each other, and they dove as one into the depths while the long, sleek shadows cut rigidly across the waves far above.
     But as much as they loved her, she learned quickly that she was different. The calves weren't as small or as agile, they ate more than she did, and they didn't have to carry a drum to communicate. They also slept more than she did, which often left her alone in the cold, quiet dark of the sea, with voices and memories that she knew in her heart were not really her own. It was in those lonely moments that she would lift the small box that hung around her neck, open up its lid, and peer inside at the never-ending darkness with a curiosity that hurt her soul. And when the voices inside began to sing, she would bang the small drum at her side in tandem, and her own voice would lift with them, the most bleak and heartbroken of them all. Because it was then, with the music box open in the palm of her webbed hand, that those tangled memories started to take on some kind of shape.
     But the darkness never held her for long. An elder would always soon appear, drawn by the solemn call of her drum, and gently nudge her stumpy horns before luring her away to brighter waters with a playful jet of bubbles. Then, the calves would wake, and the wonderful games would distract her all over again.

     Over the years, the merbairn grew into a kind and cheerful young maiden, with fins and a tail of deep-ocean indigo, horns that rivalled the sea dragons', and a beauty that outshone the moon. She'd also become an agile hunter, a fast thinker, and her magic could spin hordes of the whales' shrimp into a feeding whirlpool.
     But a compulsion had grown with her. She still followed the whales' commands when the shadows cut through the surface, she still braided the kelp and teased the calves with her spells, she still played in the elders' jets of bubbles. But the voices in her music box had begun to speak to her in the quiet, even when the lid was closed. Not even her dreams were an escape. And when they grew too loud, she lifted the lid despite herself, and her voice rose with their keening song while her heart sank only deeper.
     And so it was that on one warm spring day, when the box was open in her hand and those shadows passed overhead, trailing their great nets and streaming their colours through the dry azure far above, all reason fled her. The whales dove, they drummed their call, but she wouldn't hear them. With a sharp flick of her tail and an understanding that lay out of her reach, she abandoned her kelp-tangled home and darted after those colossal shadows instead.
     Miles she swam, until her fins were ragged, her heart pulsed in her throat, and the voices fell strangely silent. Here, at the sudden edge of the sea, the shadows numbered in the dozens. The water, too, had changed, its life diminished, and the taste of something familiar yet forgotten laced the funnelling current.
     But it wasn't that which consumed her attention, nor the huge, impossibly smooth and straight-sided rock interrupting the waves that turned her blood cold, nor the nets of fish being dragged out of the water that stoked her horror.
     As if snared on a hook themselves, her black eyes followed the slow, downward drift of the glittering fish scales as they sank to settle among the broken corals, shattered stone, and strange, smooth, grinning rocks.
     The moment her gaze touched them, the voices erupted inside the box, and the shapes, shadows and colours crashed into place.
     Water rushed from her gills.

     A sea teeming with fish, whales, seals and gannets.
     People like herself, and people with two rigid fins, smiling and trading through the water, exchanging silks and metals and fish.
     The people like her guiding those long, sleek shadows safely around reefs, saving the homes inside them.
     Her people leaving the waters, swimming through a narrow inlet to a greater, warmer place, to return home later by tradition.
     Smiles fade when the Mer return, with more twin-finned people trading for fish. Concern among the Mer, they can't keep up with their needs.
     Nets full of fish, many shadows, no smiles between Mer and Landfolk.
     Reefs destroyed, homes lost to careless clumsy shadows.
     The Mer migrate again, reluctantly.
     They return to more growth of Landfolk.
     Scowls and mistrust, Mer in seclusion, Mer in fear. Would their world last much longer? Would it still stand after the next migration?
     Talk along the currents: perhaps, this time, they wouldn't return at all.
     They gather. They leave.
     Landfolk waiting at the straits. The Mer taken by surprise.
     Harpoons. Blood. Pain.
     The Mer's magic was too late.
     All dead, or fled. None would ever return to the Kazimiri Sea.

     But one had been left behind.

     Her body shook. Her fins tremored. Her fists and jaw clenched. Her fury threatened to boil the water around her as she stared, unblinking, at those many skulls. But the voices still shrieked. And they had grown; voices she'd never heard before chimed now through the clamour. Voices that had never spoken - or voices that had never been with her to begin with.
     And more voices from above.
     Her black, seething eyes flashed towards the surface, where shapes and shadows darted around, and she watched them, impotent, while they multiplied. A tell-tale click; instinct lurched her to the side as a harpoon cut through the water.
     A wretched roar tore just as readily from her throat, throbbing through the straits, just as another harpoon broke through, and another, and another. None hit her; she was far too fast. But she didn't wait for them to get a lucky shot. Her magic whipped the water up into a clumsy spout and scattered the gathering figures. She fled in the chaos. Fury carried her away.
     Her muscles shook as she swam, her jaw knotted, her sharp teeth were grit. Her black eyes stared ahead, blinded and stained by hatred.
     Her compulsion was satisfied; she had her answers, and she had her memories - and others'. The Mer were the Keepers of Memory. Of time, truth and understanding. Of heart and story. Of forgiveness and repair. Of grudges and vengeance.
     Her future was decided for her in that moment. And she would bide her time over years to achieve it.

     A thick mist hung over the water as the fishermen hauled in their nets, and low hearts only sank deeper at the sight of them. The catches were failing, and superstitions were already being muttered on the wind: old tales, old mistakes, and old fortunes being repaid. Not everyone believed it; 'a turn in the currents', or 'a shift in the wind.' "All will be well next season."
     But it was not these who suffered the correction. Nor was it the superstitious who suffered their imagination. The strike was as real and indiscriminate as the waves.
     Every soul on board heard the knock and drum of gray whales while the sea fell eerily still. Every eye watched the fog dissipate and a fine rain fall upwards. Every hand gripped the rails while they watched the kelp twist and spin far below, as if in the grip of a rising maelstrom.
     And every heart froze at the black eyes set in a beautifully fearsome face staring back at them from the centre, while the crying song of a charnel choir spiked and trembled the water.
     Fear crashed over them like a wave. Orders were barked, the harpoons were manned, the sails unfurled, and every free hand was put to the oars. But not one soul survived the crushing descent of the boat. And no stories or warnings returned for the rest.
     When the ship failed to return, the superstitions grew; tales of kraken, of whale gods, of serpents and drowned spirits circulated while more ships set out, only to vanish to those unnatural clutches. It took time before they learned and finally sailed out in groups of three. The carnage didn't stop, but at least now there were witnesses, all baring matching stories of whale song summoning a multi-headed guardian, at whose hands the sea came to life, and from whose many mouths sang a saline lullaby of death.
     Hungrier than they were fearful, the people gathered, they organised, and they set out in search of the drumming of whales to lay their cunning traps.

     The mermaid found and destroyed the clumsy traps with ease, tripping them without a catch and freeing whatever wasn't so lucky, right beneath the ships' very hulls. With water itself as her cloak, she was as good as invisible; it perfectly hid the long, flowing drape of her midnight-blue tail and mane, the moonlight shine of her skin, and the strong, black, curling horns that crowned her regal head. And when she let herself be seen, with the music box about her neck, drum on her hip, corset of bones and string of jaws along her waist, the open mouths of her own crying people, she was a vision of terror.
     But that vision wasn't enough. She continued to hunt the Landfolk, she continued to follow in their shadows as they moved, blind in their own arrogance. And the sea became violent. Before long, death tainted the water. For every ship she destroyed, more creatures were killed in response - anything that could have been her. As she hunted through the reefs, she found squid and octopus dismembered and discarded. Tracking through open water, she found jellyfish harpooned or tangled. Recovering in the shallows, she found sharks and dolphins gutted. And in the sanctuary of the kelp-tangled waters she'd grown up in, while her people lay dead leagues away, she found the whales who had adopted her floating belly-up, mouths agape, and the currents deathly silent.
     The sound of blood rushing furiously through her veins granted only a thin trickle of mercy, and rage rose fast enough to obliterate paralysis.
     The water thickened around her, it tremored and boiled, then compressed and twisted in her wake as she spun from the massacre and sped like a wretched harpoon through the water, while a cataclysmic bellow tore from her fair mouth, and every voice of memory in her care roared along with her.

     The people gathered in silence along the coast, staring out to the horizon. The screaming - they'd each heard it, or heard of it, but never within range of the shore. Looks were exchanged, between fishermen and wives, apprentices and merchants. Then came the drumming. The knock and bellow of whales. But they'd killed all the whales, just like their fathers had killed all the Mer. It couldn't be...
     The docks burst to life, and panic spread to the town. All scrambled for nets, leapt onto ships and loaded the harpoons, reached for their spears. Then a call rose up: "a swell in the water!" and all wide eyes tore back out to sea.
     The bulge was surging towards them. The ships rocked with the draw of the water, and the shore shrank away from the coast. Harpoons were turned and aimed; knuckles over spears turned white. Lumps formed in throats. They readied themselves, even as they watched the wave rise higher than the highest mast, and stop against its own momentum.
     They stared aghast into that waiting wall of water, watching mindlessly while kelp like a hundred tentacles shook and knotted inside it, enchanted by fear as the giant, fish-tailed woman of black and white, surrounded by bones and a tempest of dark hair, howled and bellowed with every spirit lost to the sea, each crying out in their own pain and blame.
     And they wept as the edge of their senses returned, and the hagfish smiled a sharp-toothed grin, one twisted by rage, heartache and madness.
     The people could do nothing but stare and sob as she spread her arms and crashed the sea upon them.

     The waves don't lap. There is no movement. The sea is dead. The water is haunted, by distant rain over open water, the knocks of gray whales, and the songs of a thousand dead voices. 

This story is not to be copied or reproduced without my written permission. 
Copyright © 2021 Kim Wedlock

Monday, 19 April 2021

Drown In Sorrow

 This short story is a collaboration piece with MischiArt

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes


      Long, withered fingers closed slowly around the decrepit battle standard. With a deathly tug, it was dragged it down into the bog. The surface barely rippled as it vanished.

     There, down below, in the deep murk of the dead, stagnant water, six inhuman pupils contracted over the stained and ragged banner. The fabric shifted lifelessly in her blighted grip, and those fingers traced the broad, branching tree emblem stitched in rotten thread with unearthly care.
     Then, her touch hesitated.
     Rain pattered steadily over the water surface above. M'lok sank deeper.
     Her chest felt heavy as she stared at the decaying weave. Something was moving beneath her ribs, through fluid, through algae, through reanimated bone - something that shouldn't have touched her in the safety of her waters, yet seized her all the tighter for it: her muscles stiffened, a pit yawned open in her gut, and a chill ran over her torn and withered skin. And above it all, bleak shadows formed and flickered in her mind, dredged up from somewhere long since drowned and severed. And she found she had no power to stop it.
     M'lok clutched the banner tight enough to tear it, while her triple-irised eyes burned into that emblem with strength enough to set it alight. Something intense screamed inside her, commanding her to shred it, to throw it away, to spare herself the noxious confusion that choked her heart. But her fingers wouldn't open.
     The colours, the shapes...every lost banner, every shred of humanity discarded at the edge of her bog had power. Power enough to boil her blood, tighten her jaw and grit her teeth. To make her lip tremble and her body curl up like shrivelled moss. And, once in a while, to make her feel so small, aching and desperate that she wished she could vanish entirely for lack of any clue of how to make it stop. Never once had she understood why. And never once had those shapes given her the strength to find out.
     Again, she willed her fingers to open and discard the banner. And again, they ignored her.
     In a ragged heartbeat, she wrapped it around herself with the others instead.
     The longing passed rapidly, and anger oozed into its place. She welcomed it. It was easier to handle.
     She cast a festering look around herself, and watched the bog seethe with her; snakes and larvae wriggled through the mire and brushed over her skin, the rain above swelled the waters and spread her reach, and she could see the grey tail of a great crocodile on the nearest bank: Gortythe sitting ever-watchful in the drizzle. She could feel every tendril of life, just as they could feel hers. The turtles, the frogs, the eels; the leeches, the nymphs, the mosquitoes; the flytraps, the fungi, the moss...everything was connected, and she connected to it.
     And so the nervous footsteps of the trespasser in the eastern reaches shuddered its way through all life in the bog in seconds to tremble in her waters.
     A smile skittered across her face, and that brief desperation sparked once again into something irrational and blistering. She wouldn't wait. This time, she would hunt.
     The water clung to her as she rose, slowly sliding over her skin as she broke the surface without a sound. The earth shifted just as silently beneath her feet, moving with her stride. And the white, ghostly fungal mass of drooping lion's mane clinging to a misshapen log in the centre of the water pointed a long, crooked arm to the east.
     Gortythe turned and ambled forwards, and M'lok's tongueless snarl gripped her once-beautiful face.
     They would regret ignoring the old warnings.
     They would drown in her sorrows.

     Mischi makes wonderful illustrations, and is creating equally wonderful and immensely evocative colouring books, Contested Canvas, featuring battle maidens fighting one another for their place among the Battleborne. There are two available - Recruitment, and Adversaries - with a third, Battle Aria, on the way. Follow her on twitter and on Patreon, and find her colouring books and individual colouring page downloads on Etsy!
Character and concept by MischiArt, words by Kim Wedlock.
No part of this may be reproduced without both of our written permission.
Copyright © 2021 Kim Wedlock  

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Locks and Boxes

Estimated read time: 11 minutes
     "You know what She'll do if She catches--"
     "She won't catch us, Arta." Medea muttered a curse and steadied herself against a bookshelf as the library tilted to one side. She glanced out through the window on reflex, but it was impossible to get any bearings. The shifting, purple-wisped world outside could've been flowing in either direction, if anything was even moving at all.
     She sighed and turned back to the arcane library while Arta anxiously wrung her hands behind her. The room was poorly-lit, which, Medea noted with a purse to her lips, made no sense at all, and what little light there was was caught and scattered by a thousand jangling keys swinging across the wall beside her. They offered nothing at all but confusion - and the smell didn't help. It was the sweet, subtle, tantalising smell of a promise she didn't want fulfilled; belladonna, monkshood, hemlock, mandrake, and other plants so poisonous they could probably kill in a glance, all hung dried across a rail or sat in pots, growing bitterly in the dark.
     She swallowed slowly while her fingers traced absently down her throat.
     With a moment of effort, she shook it off, strode decisively towards the far wall, the coarse disciple's robe shifting about her legs, and began rummaging through the shelves, drawers and clutter. The owner would probably have said there was a method in the madness, but she couldn't see it for the life of her.
     A small, nervous noise behind snatched her attention briefly over her shoulder. "You don't need to be here, Arta."
     "It's a bit late for that now," she said tightly, pulling her wide eyes onto her from the door. "Just exactly what is it you're looking for? You know what She'll do--"
     "She won't catch us," Medea repeated, turning back to her frenzied search. "And I'm looking for a key."
     "...Have you looked behind you?"
     She shook her tanned head as she caught a toppling candlestick and stood it haphazardly back on the desk. "It's none of those. It's in a box."
     "A box?"
     "Yes, a box." She ignored the empty candlestick as it fell again. "Small, about the size of a book, red, with the thing etched onto it, that thing, the round thing--"
     "The strophalos?!" Arta hissed; Medea winced. "What are you--"
     "Shh! Stop panicking! Either leave or help me look!" She didn't glance back to watch Arta's indecision. She continued shoving, lifting and tossing things aside while the younger disciple hesitated behind her, until she heard her tut, mutter, then move up alongside to rummage through the neighbouring cabinet.
     For the thousand keys adorning that back wall, Medea knew hers wasn't among them. Not one of those was a key of consequence - nor indeed were any of them the Key of Consequence. But that one was a prize for another time.
     Whatever the case, nothing so important would be left so easily accessible, if such a term could be used in this strange, ever-moving place; they'd all be locked away themselves, behind even more complex systems. But she had a means of breaking through this one. She'd researched it. She'd experimented. And, if all else failed, she had allies. She just needed the box.
     ''Just need the box'. As if it's that easy... Ugh. One step at a time, lass. One step at a time.'
     She hadn't thought this through as well as she'd have liked, and she was big enough to admit that; just what she'd do once she'd gotten into Tartarus and found what she was after, she still wasn't sure. But she would work it out. She had to. Because, for all the necessity driving her - and never mind what the others might say - even she wasn't unaware of the danger.
     The thought of what the goddess of boundaries, ghosts and witchcraft really would do if She caught her sent a shiver over her skin and a numb dread through her muscles.
     She steeled herself and moved along to another cabinet. But she couldn't help sending the nervous, rummaging girl beside her a brief glance. She really shouldn't have stayed. In fact, she should probably make her leave...
     But: four eyes were better than two.
     Medea shrugged it off, then a lurch in her stomach told her the library had sped up along the ethereal tracks.
     "It's not like you to get travel-sick," Arta said as Medea heaved.
     She waved her away while she fought to settle herself, and steadied against the wood with another weary curse as the library tilted again. "I wish She'd stop this bloody thing once in a while," she muttered.
     "What was that?"
     "Nothing at all." Medea dug her way through boxes and trinkets into the dark of the unnaturally deep cabinet, where the smell of  musk tickled her nose and sent a spinning jolt through precisely one third of her head. She recoiled immediately, then squealed in disorientated fright as a polecat leapt out from the black. She narrowed her eyes at it as it bounced and squeaked its little war dance around her knees, until she batted the angry little menace aside. It soon scurried away to find somewhere else to sleep - and undoubtedly somewhere else she'd end up disturbing it.
     "That was unlike Gale," Arta frowned. "She usually loves you."
     "She must be coming into heat," Medea grunted through the curl of her lip, then returned her attention to the search. Between the two of them, they'd be done all the sooner.
     For a library, there was an awful lot of junk. Tomes lined the walls, certainly - and, in some cases, constructed the cabinets themselves - and inkstained leaves were scattered over most surfaces. But beyond the books, the keys and the plants were seashells of glistening turquoise and deepest black, skrimshaw bones, and shards of black glass that looked remarkably like fragments of brain. There were skeins of hair, dried animal feet, small vials of life fluids; there were golden things, platinum things and one or two tools made from whole pieces of opal. And there were other, stranger things she couldn't place the use of: rods, rings, wires, tongs and calipers, some imbued with so much power that they physically hummed when her hand passed near. And, of course, there were boxes: green ones, black ones, oak; some bare of carvings and others absolutely overrun with them.
     But not one of them was red, and not one bore the strophalos.
     With every failing moment, Medea's patience thinned. She barely managed to bite back the foetid curse when the library lurched again and cast her forehead into the edge of the concealed cupboard she'd moved on to. Books rained down on her head.
     "We're slowing down..." Arta turned wide eyes onto her. "Medea--"
     "I know; keep looking." She grit her teeth and ignored the throb in her skull, but despite the panic clawing its way up her own back, she didn't slow down. Even when the latent magic of the place tugged and shifted around her, and the mind-bending, lung-bursting traps she'd thought she'd muffled her presence against began at last to react.
     She managed to keep her heart behind her ribs and warded against them as subtly as she could. A brief glance towards Arta revealed she hadn't noticed. She was still searching shoulder-deep in a bejewelled chest with an expression torn between terror and determination.
     Medea didn't let herself breathe her relief. And, as it turned out, she'd have had no chance to finish even if she'd started.
     A presence spun her towards the door at the back, the movement startling a squeak out of Arta, just as the handle turned and a dog-headed figure burst in. His eyes were wild, jowls lifted, bone-crushing teeth bared and two savage-looking daggers in his hands. But he didn't attack, and Medea didn't move.
     "Disciples," he rumbled as ferocity passed to surprise in his eyes. "What are you doing in here?"
     Medea spun quickly back to the library and resumed her rummaging. "There was a thief," she replied hurriedly. "Overrode the traps, somehow, and vanished through the wall." She turned a brief look over her shoulder. "Go! Catch them! Quickly! Or it'll be all of our heads! Or worse!"
     He'd already started through for the wall she'd nodded towards. "What did they take?!"
     "I don't know! But it's best we get it back before She finds out! Go, we'll tidy up in here - hopefully She won't notice..."
     The dog-headed guardian ran, shimmered, and passed through the wall and on into the next wandering room.
     "What are you doing?!" Arta hissed from close beside her.
     "If you want to call him back and tell him the truth, be my guest." She cast her a look as the girl bit her lip, then shortly disregarded her. But the moment she reached to move aside the inexplicable stone-cut ladel, a charge and flash of light leapt from it and hit her hand away. And while she cursed and attempted to disarm this next trap, the sand and shale amphora beside it picked itself up and shifted away. She blinked at it. Then watched the smoking blackwood bell beside it equally skitter out of her reach.
     In that moment, the entire cabinet seemed to come to life.
     The bitter curse broke through her lips this time, and she watched in a panic as the contents scrambled blindly over one another and the dreadful thought coalesced like a thundercloud in her mind: what if she'd already come past it, and it had already run away from her?
     She cursed again, draining the blood from Arta's face with her imagination. Then, as if she'd spoken some obscure magic word, she spotted it: the book-sized, red, wooden box with the labyrinthine strophalos engraved on the lid, running mindlessly into the corner over and over and over again.
     She wasted no moment to think on her luck; she snatched for it and all but glued her fingers to the grain with her grip. Just as the magic around them changed again.
     This time, for one long, chilling moment, she had no control at all over her response. Terror gripped her tightly and wiped her mind clean. It was chance alone that she noticed the change in her skin: all colour and plump of life vanished, leaving her arm thin, grey and familiar.
     The spell was wearing off.
     She quickly tugged her sleeve down and pulled the box from the cabinet, wrapping it up in her robes. But when she turned towards Arta to tell her to flee, she found the girl staring at her in confusion instead.
     "Medea, your skin, your eyes, you're--"
     She watched Arta's expression slacken slowly in understanding, her gaze drop from her own pure-white eyes to her grey, almost inhuman face, then to the bony arms that shielded the box and prepared, if they had to, to weave another spell.
     "You're not Medea..."
     She had no chance to reply. The library screeched and tilted over the rails as it sped up through the realm again, and the baying of nearby hounds froze the both of them in place. Then, slowly, a red cast bled its way into the room.
     "No..." Arta trembled where she stood. "No, no, no..."
     Hekate was coming.
     The unmasked realm-walker cursed again and forced life back into her body. She had no choice. Arta shouldn't have been there. She should've made an excuse, sent the girl away. But she hadn't. Because she'd grown fond of her over the last week. And for that, the girl would pay. And it was her fault.
     No. She had no choice at all.
     The door flew open with a breath-snatching burst of wind. Thunder cracked, lightning flashed, leaves swirled in and every sentient item fell from its shelf and crawled forwards as if called by its master.
     The realm-walker clenched her small teeth, snatched Arta's wrist, and the pair vanished with the box before Hekate could step inside through the storm of fury incarnate.

This story is not to be copied or reproduced without my written permission. 
Copyright © 2021 Kim Wedlock

Thursday, 4 March 2021

Ardeyn's Shine

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
     Ardeyn cocked his head while a frown flickered over his brow.
     The tiny light glowed back at him.
     A curious hum lilted in his throat. Carefully, he raised the sheet of bark to eye-level, watching the silver speck hover and pulse just above the map like a firefly, and ever so slowly crept his hand in above it. But it didn't shrink away. He teased his fingers through it as it flickered, and his teal eyes narrowed with the purse of his lips.
     He tipped the map sharply. It still didn't move. Then he shook it, but aside from loosening a few flakes of lichen, nothing else happened. The light hung devotedly over the bark, just above the long, winding etching of the river.
     A curious smile wandered over Ardeyn's face.
     With a satisfied twitch of his ears, the faun rose to his hooves, held the map open in front of him, and meandered off through the black of the night's trees, soft earth squelching beneath his steps and the damp, green, pattering smell of the forest tickling his nose. He wove among the dense tangle of trunks, past the foxfire and fireflies, beneath the ancient arcing roots, between the moss-covered rocks and through the draping curtains of ivy and tanglers, until the forest suddenly broke open and the thick air eased. Only feet from the edge did the sound of trundling water lace through the night.
     But he didn't sigh and throw himself down on the soft, grassy banks like he usually would. Instead, he crept closer to the edge of the black, tranquil water, his doe eyes widening at the spot that was simply impossible to miss: a single silver glow hanging below the jet-black surface, right where the light said it would be.
     His long, red braid trailed through the lazy current as he knelt over the edge, his orcein-painted reflection peering back at him, and he watched it glimmer and shine. Slowly, his fingers slipped through the water, but this light didn't flee, either. Then, they closed around it.
     His heart sang with the sudden pulse, hum and flicker of its warmth, and he pulled it out and cradled it against his chest.
     "What a marvellous thing," he murmured, "but you are not mine to keep. You wanted rescuing, and I have rescued you." He turned, then, and carried it a safe ways back from the bank, where he scooped a hole in the soil and planted it. "Be one with the earth again."
     Then he wandered off with a smile on his face, following the smell of rain.

     The glow Ardeyn buried soon sprouted, and when he wandered by again, following the trail of a sparrow, he found the thin, wispy reed towering twice his height, with drops of pure silver glinting from the tips of its sparse leaves. And when his curious hand reached out towards them, they dropped willingly into his palm.
     His wide eyes drifted back to the river, ears twitching, eyebrows shifting crooked, and he hummed a question to himself. Slowly, he wandered to the edge and dropped one of the silvers in. It broke the surface with the faintest plop, sank to the bed, and glowed all the brighter. And when the others in his hand tinkled with delight, he smiled and scattered them out in a wide arc to join it. The water shone with the tiny lights, glittering like diamonds in the flow, and Ardeyn breathed a marvelling little sigh.
     He stepped back to the plant before he moved along, and peered down at its tapered leaves. There were already more drops glinting at their stem.
     "What a marvellous thing..." And he trotted off after the sparrow.

     Ardeyn returned to the river many times as he matured, and the reed sprawled and branched in tandem. Every few months, he collected and scattered the drops along the water, and the night soon shone with flecks of silver. It wasn't long before others came to notice its brilliance, and they charmed Ecine's eye in particular, a woman so beautiful that Ardeyn felt his heart flutter high enough to escape with the butterflies every time he saw her.
     But for all his desperation, he couldn't find the words to speak to her.
     So he embraced another method instead.
     He visited the stem and gathered its drops more often after that. But rather than scatter them as freely as he used to, for the waters were already perfectly speckled, he arranged them into pictures beneath the surface; tales and stories written in light to capture her heart. And they worked a wonder.
     The dimensions of his art grew with the passing of the seasons, and glowed brighter with the depth of their love. And the day she agreed to join with him, he ran joyously along the riverbank, trailing them in a great, long, dusty streak beside him. The sun shone even brighter on his life.
     But the clouds soon rolled in.
     Ecine fell ill some years later, and he consumed himself with finding a cure. He asked the birds, the foxes, the trees, the rocks, but nothing worked. And when she passed into peace, the stories and images Ardeyn had so meticulously created for her crumbled to a halt. He became listless, wandering his sylvan charge blindly instead, and the forests, the rivers, the stones and the sky wept as he mourned in a cloud.
     But the power with which he tried to forget, to shield his heart and wall his mind, seeped into the world around him. And it rose with the summer heat.
     The sky and the river conspired; one night, the lights in the water shone back from the black expanse above, illuminating the world with his love for her. And when Ardeyn looked up into that mirror from his lonely riverbank, he smiled for the first time in a year. A single tear fell and stirred the twinkling waters.
     The lights have shone every night ever since.

This story is not to be copied or reproduced without my written permission. 
Copyright © 2021 Kim Wedlock

Saturday, 6 February 2021

An Oath Unbroken

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
     With every step, the moonlight shrinks away behind me, and the dark of the tunnel closes in. It's a different dark from the night, a different dark from an unlit home; there's nothing familiar or reasonable about it, and the only thing that shatters its smothering grip is the echo of my own footsteps clattering across the walls, ricocheting from one side to the other and crashing back upon me like a shadow-born beast. But despite the race of my heart, I keep going. I have a question that needs to be answered.
     The musty air thickens the deeper into the crypt I go. The wind hasn't touched it in decades. Only one evening, the same evening every year for the past fifty, does anything stir the dust that drifts here like rain in the afterlife.
      Suddenly, I swear my own footsteps are chasing me.
     Now the tunnel descends, stone steps with edges so crisp they could've been cut just yesterday. But it's been a century, at least. A century...and yet I can hear something in the distance...
      Only one evening, the same evening every year...
     A meagre glow breaks the darkness up ahead, a smudge of green in the black. And I can smell something burning on the air.
     My footsteps slow; the noise ahead grows louder. I can hear it now, a dull thrumming, rough-throated voices, and a soft, rhythmic banging...
     My heart is in my throat, and I stop just shy of the end of the tunnel. The crypt opens out beyond, and the flickering light, shining across ancient glass, casts a green hue through the chamber. Green; a symbol of nature, yet it seems more sickly here. Almost putrid.
     Then a shadow moves.
     My breath catches, and I shrink back into the dark. Suddenly, I come to my senses. I shouldn't be here. I don't want to know the truth of these old tales. I don't want to know if the dead truly rise here at the call of ancient arts. What good will it ever do me to know?
     But even as the lump rises higher in my throat, my hands shake and the itch at the back of my mind tells me to turn and flee from this wretched place, the tremor in my knees keeps me in place. And sheer lunacy compels me to take another step.
     But that one step was too much. The leak of the acrid smoke beyond burns my eyes and lungs. Yet two figures kneel before the small white flames at the centre of the chamber, shrouded in cloaks, tainted by the stain of the glass, hidden as spectres in the light's poor reach, towered over by the four stone statues of Fate Weavers.
     But these two figures live. As does the third, standing on the far side of the crypt, just as shadowed and facing my way.
     I panic and shrink back again, but none of them make any motion towards me. As poor as the light is, it's still enough to blind them, and they're too focused on their guttural chants and deep-bellied murmurings to notice my stifled choking.
     Two others stand to one side, their wrinkles obvious even in the weak glow, plain-clothed and anxious as they look on. But these, the three know are present. And they seem to be welcome. Somehow, that only tightens my nerves even more.
     The two kneeling figures rise and throw something else into the flames. They sputter and flare for a moment, belching another hot, acrid haze into the ancient space. I find myself in another battle to keep from choking.
     It's only in my struggle that I finally spot the source of the constant, rhythmic banging: a staff or something in one of the cowled's hands. It's too difficult to make out, but its vibrations are shaking through the chamber with power. Unnatural power.
     Just as my eyes begin to work it out, the rough words grow louder; words I can't catch, or spoken in a tongue too foreign, bleak and charnel to follow. I find myself torn between straining to decipher them and trying desperately to render myself deaf. Neither effort works.
     And now my heart is hammering in time with the staff. Dust falls with its pulse, trails of crumbling stone trickling with every bassy hum. Then the rhythm changes. What was steady has become a heated, rapid clatter - bang, bang-bang-bang. Bang, bang-bang-bang. Bang-bang. Bang-bang. Bang, bang-bang-bang.
     I can feel it taking over my blood. I want to flee, I desperately want to flee!
     And yet, damn it all, I remain, my breath catching in my throat, if I'd even been breathing at all, and I will myself to become part of the tunnel's shadows instead.
     The air all around has changed, expanded, almost, as though a door somewhere has been opened, and yet it's become denser at the same time, as if another crypt is occupying exactly the same space and time...
     Then, from nowhere, I can hear something else - almost. A sound I feel inside my skull, on the back of my neck, rather than truly hear; something greater than the three voices, greater than the frantic clattering of the staff. Something dragged from the darkness of the Underworld itself.
     But the chanters, and the two by-standers, don't seem to feel it.
     Another sheaf of something is thrown onto the flames, and the smoke thickens. It's moving into coils now, drifting around the chanters with more consciousness than smoke ever should, as if searching for something, or being led. Influenced, whatever the case...
     And the sound is getting louder; rapidly sharpening from a tremor inside my skull to a howling against my ears, still distant yet surging closer, louder, deafening. My hands clamp over my ears, fingernails dig into my skin, and I grit my teeth hard enough to crack my jaw. But it penetrates every effort.
     My heart races. My bones shudder. The chanting rises in pitch and fervour, the smoke thickens and gathers, the staff thunders. The coils tighten.
     A hand reaches out from the murk.
     Then another, clawing desperately out towards the first.
     I feel my blood freeze solid in my veins as two arms emerge, and two hazy bodies follow.
     Then, silence. A dull, deafening, boiling silence. The staff stills. The voices cease. The smoke curls, spins and scatters.
     The three chanters step back, the two observers smile, and as the two lovelorn spirits embrace, all living turn with neither look nor word to the others and make straight towards the stairs. None of them seem to notice me as they walk by. And as I watch the spirits of Monsieur and Madame Alleaume begin a slow waltz, I'm too stunned to follow.

This story is not to be copied or reproduced without my written permission. 
Copyright © 2021 Kim Wedlock