My seventh Winter's Riddle release is now live on the Kindle store.
The Smoke Monster tells the story of an amnesiac who awakens into a game of power played by two sisters across a decaying glacial valley. Yet this noble caprice is overshadowed by a hazy blight of smoke which roils down the mountains with a life of its own. Possessed of a troublesome heart the Forgetful Man seeks out his past and discovers that there is a certain peace in forgetting. Yet, perhaps peace is nothing more than capitulation to the most monstrous aspects of the Riddle of Winter.
Trying to release a new ebook every month and this one puts me past the halfway mark.
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Saturday, July 28, 2012
The Smoke Monster concerns an amnesiac swordsman and the dual kingdom he find himself in. Regaining his memories may just be the the beginning of his troubles, the full scope of which lie shrouded in the mystic smoke haunting that place.
The second book in the "A Gathering Beauty" series of Winter's Riddle should be out soon and here is the cover. It's great looking back at my original, primitive covers and see how far I've come with Justin M. Lewis.
Thursday, July 26, 2012
Winter revolves in a play of white and black, life and death, twin binaries orbiting the experiencing mind so that it seems the whole world vibrates, in danger of shaking apart. In old Ruin there is civilization and barbarism, holding hands, exchanging gifts, blood, whatever else might make for an economy of opposites, while bold exponents raise their victories so their ribbons might ply the air to determine the winners and losers of the Riddle. All their drive and ambition achieves nothing against the backdrop of endless snow. They crouch in dust and wish at being the lost gods, only then would the proportions be right.
White and Black, the game of words, of thoughts scribbled, with either pale chalk or dark ink, marks a difference in contrast against the other, the open page, the blank slate. We hunt for opposites in relief because it frees us from mystery’s court. Look, see the play of stars on the field of the night sky, know there is something other than darkness.
There is no end to the snow and cold, the white expanse of Winter’s shroud. It is not death, but many do die; it is not always, for there was once the warm times. Gliding over the frozen skin the sun casts a thousand kinds of shadow across the textured surface. Colors spring up, topaz, periwinkle, azure and aquamarine. A multitude of plants grow, the snow lily with its sylph hair roots; the tolem tuber carving out a place in the frozen ground. And cunning peoples find their way too, such as the Fencer and the Trumpeter. Theirs is the compromise of adaptation.
The duality of White and Black fragments into a thousand shades, colors erupting, bright or muted, the total spectrum of experience growing. It is as if Winter’s Riddle can’t abide the notion of the binary, of opposites which would compel a simple framework for experience. The meaning of the ice age hides in the many, ignoring Summer, freezing the past, conjuring chaos and then holding it fast into adamantine still-life.
Lumnos’s talent was that he could read the play of White and Black, but like all expression it was an artifice, a tool used, a process. He too was a blank slate, filling himself with ink where his memory once was. Now he read this on the book before him, watching the letters vanish as they had from the mind of the man who stepped in from the darkened room, when the Uplifting had come and erased what had once been.
“When I was hungry I would climb to the upper city and hunt for rich food sometimes. Corpses were our proper fare, but I felt a dull ache come over me when I ate the dead flesh. Sensing my unease my fellows laughed and jeered at this squeamishness. So I would flee the animal stares of the Rot, as much to get away from the eyes as to fill my belly with what I could steal from rubbish bins and gutters.
Near the edge of the pit there was this odd house made from dead plant flesh—wood as I discovered—and in it lived a strange man who would feed us tough, dry scraps from time to time. He carried himself like he was from another world and rarely left his house. He always seemed disappointed.
One night, after hearing enough cannibalistic babble, I ventured above, cautious for the metal sounds of Magpies and the violent swagger of the palace-braves; both enjoyed the sport of killing us Rotties who clambered up from our natural habitat. The sky was clear and the second moon turned everything pale blue.
Down below I had left my scribblings on the tunnel wall, yet even though I couldn’t see them they followed me, in my brain. Where do these things come from, these shapes and characters? They are something like those we find on the leafy things the strange man gives us—those pages—but to me they mean the world. If I do not make the marks on the wall I will go insane.
Tonight my madness took me up again, but I found I wasn’t hungry, or really my hunger had taken on a new and alien aspect.
The door would not work, so I broke open the window and set about my task. Following some urge I raced down a narrow passage between two shelves. At the far end there was a latch behind a certain book. Opening this I knew my desire pulsed beneath the floorboards. The lock on the safe spoke to me and it opened. There was my heart, the one not in my body. Taking it I ran from the dwelling and opened it and there on the blank pages words took form, and I knew these and they were mine.”
“It had not been so long since I was at my games of power. The world was colder, a ruin, like the city whose name even I had no recollection of. My upper estate lies as bones jutting furtively to the sky, my lower holdings long gone to abandonment, a place where fractured sewers dribble down the offal and detritus of the broken metropolis I had shepherded from its earliest beginnings. Beyond my second palace my nous chimes silently in black light glory, awaiting my return.”
“Yet I am changed. My mask is gone and now I wear a child of flesh. We are one. Through my ancient contingencies I have been reborn, but this corpse boy is stunted and full of heavy resonance, the kind which pulls the nous into a strange and terrible place. We are full to the brim with the energies of the Black Lattice.
This holy grotto beyond the Palace of Chimes resounds with human darkness, its glory perverted by the natural order and the Riddle. It has spoken to me and its waves and emanations are now mine. Bodies dance. I am set free. Now that the others are gone who can stand against…whatever I have become?
These have been the thoughts written across my soul, just as I write across this nameless boy, a fusion of space and substance, emptiness and order. I slosh about and am more than one and together we will both get our say. As predicted opponents arrive with magic hidden in the seams, assassins of circumstance. I must speak my heart, it is a flood of ink and I will write my will across the ice so that all will know.
The funny man has opened the book. Their swords and magics, these I could defeat, but now they know and my heart is unwritten.”
Lumnos once again stood at the body-strewn base of the ruin, beyond which lay the pit which would one day be called the Rot. Smoke and cloud cast a world in late afternoon grey. Surrounded by dead doubles Sol, the red demon, the architect of the Uplifting, sat at the summit and considered his problems.
Great stress brought the wordseller out of time, his mind filled with what he read, the words piling up into a horizon of significance. Under such duress he witnessed the past in greater detail, these first memories as vivid as the childhood he could only imagine.
Now he noticed the smoldering figures here and there, ashen statues in the shape of defeated mages, their fear and rage writ large across each face. Here was Sysyn, Theb, Zoxx and the rest who chose to follow pride into that last conflagration with the red demon. He knew them well from their carven legacies, but there were others who remained secret from his studies. One wore a mask. Now he saw them, now he didn’t, as they crumbled into motes and the motes into nothingness.
There was something else Lumnos noticed for the first time as Sol pulled up the strange magics from within the pit. For an instant he wore a smile on his face, an enigmatic amusement, something unethical, like laughing at another’s misfortune. It lasted for a flicker and then the crimson-robed man was gone.
This memory hung, moving and yet still, the way a page can remain unturned, the words breaking the linear line of action to conjure up the past in a frieze of expression. Several tons of history connected like a puzzle. There was Zeklos and the Ink, the Argent Lord and Sol’s actions on the mountain of clones, the blank ice of Winter and the Black Lattice, meeting together at odd angles as the pages in the Alabaster Palimpsest lost the last words.
The struggle in the Lattice room descended into madness. Cast brightly in prismatic light from the reborn crystals Laxa and the Fencer fought against Loce. The fusion of mage and strange matter interposed before the Inky Child, the cause of so much death and destruction, and warded him from the assault.
Where their weapons struck the Phyox’s flesh rippled into hexagonal scales, hardening to armor then fading back to a normal semi-liquid state. They fought with the rage of those who have lost their goal and were lashing out, desperately trying for the blood of the child. A certain inertia kept them at it, a downhill momentum which had led them through the haunted catacombs and mines to this place and time.
Loce struck out at Laxa, who nimbly sidestepped, running her blade along the arm. Strange sparks showered out as blues and purples. The Fencer blocked a similar attack from the clawed other limb, but instead of taking advantage of the opening, kept his blade pressed against the otherworldly skin. Frost screamed across the surface and the magus smashed the swordsman away, opening up red along the man’s arm.
This was a changed being they faced in Loce. A willingness to use violence was now evident, made all that more dangerous by the strange strength lent him by the Phyox. He could shatter bone or toss a grown man with ease. He was quick too, muscles moving with a harmony and grace the icebound couldn’t match. All they had was their experience, hard won from Winter’s harsh environs, and a strange tool in the shape of Dhala’s nightmare edge.
Like a whisper Laxa ducked under the next swing and ran her blade along the line of eyes, which sealed over with protective hexagons, as predicted and anticipated. At that moment the Fencer swung for Loce’s neck. A hand grew out and clutched the blade which cut through into the white limb even as that flesh crystallized into some adamantine substance. With a scream ice immediately began to envelope the changed magus in a sculpture of inky frost.
“Fencer stop,” said the Trumpeter. “Stop!”
“Look at the boy!” shouted Lumnos, who had closed the book.
The swordsman didn’t stop, but did glance over. There the Inky Child, the Necromancer, was bound fast in some kind of solid cube of light. It was both physical and luminous, a block of richly tailored magics. The boy lay in stasis, his form obscured by the hazy stuff, symmetric limbs drifting. The Fencer stopped his attack, but not for anything either man said.
“He is not who we took him to be,” said the wordseller. “Not anymore.”
Loce broke free in a shower of ice and the fighters amongst them grew wary, raising their blades, uncertain of a future which might contain their own blood.
“The book cast him in that shade of dark magic,” explained Lumnos, distilling the purest essence of what he had learned in his reading. “The book wrote that spirit upon him, a Rottie born with the power of the Art. An old mage broken by the coming of Sol did this to him through some history left written in this text. The tome itself holds much knowledge, but it is also a pen, and this strange troublesome stuff the ink.”
Lumnos grew pained, trying to express what it was he had understood from the many disparate elements laid out before him, which for a second had come together to form a mosaic truth. Now he found his words halting, as if the medium for what he wanted to say did not exist. Like the ritual the boy had carved into the very skein of reality, there was something here, complex, nuanced, which even time might not unravel.
“It is said that magicians may be reborn. Perhaps this one wished to retain memory and somehow survive with his pride knowing he might fail against red Sol and his Summer dream. Perhaps the boy is the reincarnation of such a mage, or maybe the Palimpsest’s provided some vector of possession, in either case the results are the same. Yet the old magician did not overwrite the Rottie, the two splashed into each other and by the power they found in this crystalline chamber, or conjured from the dead, felt such a thing that they marched their heart upon the city of Ruin, for sins past, present and yet to come. The book you see, it holds memory, conjures the stuff up for each reader.”
“Now Summer comes,” said Loce, a mouth forming on his smooth face.
“There is tell of the floating world vanishing whole towns to take a single witch away,” said Laxa grimly. “From all the noise this boy has caused we are doomed by wonder rather than evil.”
The Fencer strode over to the wordseller and took the book from the man’s hands. Opening the Alabaster Palimpsest he achieved his heart, the reason for coming to Ruin, for accosting Lumnos and engaging in this whole mad endeavor.
“Fencer,” said the Trumpeter, fighting a battle for sense which had already been won by a trophy, “The boy, he’s still.”
Concern played across the musician’s usually manic face. The many parts of the scene weighed upon him and he twisted the Trumpet around in his hands.
“Why did you aid the Rottie?” the Trumpeter demanded of the Abjurist with a surprising sternness.
“Because I have changed,” said Loce.
“That isn’t a full reason.”
“I have no love of violence and the child is already defeated. He too is changed, as am I, but change is often compromise rather than a flipping of opposites and so now he goes to the place made for us.”
“Summer,” mused the Trumpeter. “But is it a heaven or a hell?”
“I’m not so certain anymore,” smiled Loce.
“What was the purpose of all this?” asked Laxa, breaking into the discussion. “To find some book?”
“You cannot understand how many lives you have saved this day,” explained the stained man. “By stripping his power, even temporarily, you opened him up to Crow’s Eye. If Zeklos still drove the hordes above or had finished his ritual of expression then this understanding light would be replaced by a single terrible spell. This spell would fall upon Ruin like a cloud without warning. Heavier than air it would resist the wind for hours and then blow away, leaving nothing but a forlorn remnant. Even the bodies would be forgotten. And this is only their opening salvo against the chaos which a single unbound mage might cause.”
Lumnos stood quiet, soaking up all the words like a blank page. He had scores of questions but he waited, willing to see where the strange play of characters would take them next.
“Now we go to the place set aside for us by Sol,” continued Loce, gauging the block of pure light encapsulating the child for signs which only he could understand. “For my part I will tell them nothing of your sword, your trumpet, your part in these events. There is little care for the icebound, but I am the last person who should be telling you that.”
“What of the place itself?” Obsession showed through the Trumpeter’s words.
Loce considered this, changed as he was it was difficult to read his expressions.
“I’m certain anymore,” he said at last. “Summer is strangeness, where the mind makes their own heaven or hell, and through power or conspiracy inflicts these things on others. I suppose this is the violence I realized, what I assumed was the Black was really the binary distortion between unflinching equals. He will have to make a compromised decision, as I have done.”
“But what of the horrors?” demanded Laxa. “He is a nightmare and walks, has blood on his hands, and the powers of Summer will let him play as he wants?”
“It is a strange place,” was all Loce said.
He made to go, to vanish as he had before, but Lumnos started up, stuttering.
“A question,” he blurted. “Whether originating from the book, or from his soul, that nous which I’ve learned of late, who was the boy before?”
“He wore a silver mask once,” Loce replied thoughtfully. “Though that is a truth I have only just realized.”
Thursday, July 19, 2012
Illuminated, Lumnos saw a word hidden in the plainness of things, set at an angle invisible to most, which he only witnessed now in the light which spilled through the caverns, bleaching the ancient rock, showing the Black Lattice as a written thing. That was how he saw onto the World Stage, though he had no name to recognize it by. It was a legendarily objective view of reality which only those with the talent could perceive, and even then only through the proper initiatory meditations.
From this vantage Lumnos saw more words, parts of a concept, radiating out from this place of crystallization, arranged according to some geometry left unmentioned in his lost tomes. Fragments lay in the past, in moments he had witnessed, but was at the time too taken by violence and excitement to note, until now. Now he remembered them as moments where he felt a slight, liminal disruption, though he was unable to see through the dark mystery of the prosaic.
The words themselves had no meaning as written. Instead they had intent as vehicles for a feeling. Separated, they were mere sounds, many difficult or impossible to pronounce. This was the way of magic, some sorts at least. To a magus language was a tool, or more exactly an instrument, with which the Lattice was manipulated, causing reality to reorder itself according to the will. It was important that the words had no meaning, that they carried the will alone. The vessels which the wordseller beheld were nothing apart, but together brought an increasing sense of unease.
In Loce’s renewed light the scene around the Lattice room was revealed. The Fencer and the Trumpeter were recovered. The swordsman placed his blade against the pulsing dark magics clinging to him. The hex froze and he broke free, then went to help the Trumpeter who had a mouth full of the stuff while Laxa twitched on the cold stones and the air died and certain things were noticed out of the corner of the eye and the inky child, who was the Necromancer, who was a nameless Rottie, who was a blank page with too much ink regarded the notion of Summer like an alien device.
The light dimmed and Lumnos was left with a growing conclusion. The spell he had seen written was the boy’s grand expression, inked by the Black Lattice but penned by the mutant’s hand. Through it all of Ruin would know the world as he knew it, his heart would be theirs. This was a nightmare shared. It was justice, in a way, but most horrible, indiscriminate, juvenile in the breadth of its spite. The legions of the dead were messengers, nightmares sent out to roam, carrying the black words. The boy knew that the wordseller knew.
“A trick,” said the Inky Child, whose madness was of a mage reborn. He turned on Loce, mouth smiling a black hole. “You I remember, by elimination. Not many noted you in life, and fewer after their death, but the reflections I have conjured up to teach me of the world gone by note Loce the Abjurist on occasion, a man living in fear of his own shadow.”
“I guess I deserve that,” replied Loce.
“How shall we conduct ourselves in this next matter?” asked the boy.
“That is up to you,” sighed the Abjurist.
The Fencer had to wrestle the Trumpeter but at last he froze the awful stuff suffocating the musician. The liquid turned to brittle obsidian and with his mouth clear flooded the world with obscenities. The two magicians paid no attention, as was their way and their ignorance.
“I have you as a new man,” said the boy. “Now you make war, now you defend the icebound. The Loce I knew of, second hand in my circles, would take no part in such things. To act was a kind of violence, producing bad energies, what were those again? Oh. The Black.”
“I’ve changed,” Loce said, pulling the grey fur cloak about him more fully with his right hand, the left he kept hidden.
He was a terrible liar, Lumnos thought, but Loce had the Inky Child by the tongue. The boy, this magic nightmare from years past, was so bent towards his expression that he cared not for the obvious truth behind the Abjurist’s words. He was lost in his own mystery, the very thing he wished to drag all others down into.
“Dueling is a pleasant game,” sneered the Necromancer. “These icebound will throw themselves at me almost without care, and you won’t lift a finger to help them?”
Loce began to answer, as the Fencer moved to attack and the Trumpeter pursed his lips and even Lumnos readied the Phyox blade, but they were interrupted. The Necromancer stepped back and tapped the Black Lattice. A sound came forth, low, almost indiscernible, but the Phyox heard. The white thing boiled in the wordseller’s hands and with a gasp he dropped the blade.
It sprang up, stretching into a humanoid form much like they had seen worn by Loce. It was lean and lanky, long talons dripped from each hand, the face a blank mask crowned with numerous jutting spires. Two columns of eyes ran down its middle, all the way to the chin. The white flesh boiled to black and it lunged for its creator piping words full of its new master’s meaning.
The moment broke in a wave of ink. Through the gloom Dhala’s crimson eyes swept in with a terrible chill, blurring to streaks as the Fencer attacked the boy. In answer a wall of jagged black crystal bisected the room, placing the Fencer, Loce and the Phyox near the exit, and trapping the rest with the master of the dark.
Speaking Silver the Trumpeter aimed his instrument towards the Black Lattice. In response the child thing flooded the crystal with power, but the musician instantly changed course and sent a blast of noise upon the obsidian wall. The Fencer was caught in mid swing as beyond Loce wrestled with the corrupt Phyox. Shards went flying, pelting Lumnos as he struggled away from the violence. He felt that all he could do was watch, a bystander in this drama, huddling from the mighty actors.
Then he saw Laxa there, half buried in the rubble. He dashed out across the room. In a frenzy the Fencer charged again and the Trumpeter moved closer to the boy, muttering to himself to work up the nerve. Lumnos reached the girl and pulled her from the heap, dragging her to the far side of the room for some reason which buzzed at the back of his head. She had numerous cuts from the obsidian shards, as did he, little crosses all over.
The Fencer and the Trumpeter fought with cunning hard-won from the vicissitudes of Winter. Whatever knowledge the swordsman possessed was augmented by an innate wildness. He loosened up when faced with danger, playing the blade freely, without adherence to style. Yet at times these very instincts appeared to hobble him, as if he was acting on knowledge which he was only able to utilize in part.
The Trumpeter was a different kind, cowardly, but unpredictable. He played the foil, making noise with his silver trumpet to gain attention so that the Fencer might lunge in for the kill, then hiding, only to pop back into the action as if he was some unwilling satellite drawn in by the irresistible gravity of violence.
The Inky Child’s magic towered over them. He avoided the touch of the nightmare blade, where he simply shrugged off the hollow bludgeon of the Trumpet. With his Art he painted the world with ribbons of darkness, tangling up the sword so that it was kept far too busy to reach the Necromancer’s flesh. All this time the black spell he wrote upon the unseen expanse of the world drew close to finish and all felt the dark ready to crown itself with victory.
Cutting through the cloying shadows, the Fencer lunged at the boy’s unguarded form. An ovoid screen of darkness winked open in reaction and from this portal a mass of dead flesh spilled, marrowmere and doad fused together into a single body of grasping, pain-crazed limbs, flowing like liquid and howling like hell. Dhala clove through the form which plopped out from the gate, drawn from some secret place in the caves. The bloated thing split down the middle, jaws divided, skulls riven apart. It died a second, quick death, but this bought a world for the Necromancer as he readied a more deadly spell.
Then a noise played, sharp and ear-splitting. Lumnos watched as the blasting sonics drove the very flesh from the boy’s form. Yet just as quickly the nightmare boiled back, rebounding when the Trumpeter ran out of breath. The Inky Child wore a smile as his skin returned, for he was at play in the mysteries. It seemed little could be done without Loce.
The Abjurist tumbled with his creation, hands locked, palm to palm, fingers intertwined with sleek claws. Lumnos noted the remade hand of starry sky but this provided no confidence. All the white magics Loce could muster were harmlessly absorbed by the strange matter being. Unable to destroy his second skin Loce fought a stalemate battle, and was losing. The Phyox had been his mask and his body, it was larger, stronger, faster than he, but now had all the viciousness of the Necromancer painting its actions. It tossed him back and whipped out with a claw, opening up his inner arm along the length, dividing the black hand, adding another wound to the many it had scored.
Lumnos huddled on the side of history, pulling Laxa close not so much to protect her but to hold onto someone else. Semiconscious, she moaned with pain and moved an arm to scratch at the brands burning her flesh. The limb failed and dropped to her side. Following that hand the wordseller noticed the thing which had tickled his brain the moment he had opened up his eyes to the room, something which had almost been lost in the swell of information.
A lone book lay wedged in a cleft of rock, the opening rounded by the work of ancient hands. Pulling it free Lumnos found that it had a blank white cover of some unknown resin or similar material. Opening it revealed a story.
The Necromancer stopped, a spell dripping from his hands, the darkness written on his skin receding slightly. In all he took on the air of a child, confused and hurt. The Fencer readied a deathblow.
“Stop!” said Lumnos, halting the attack. “I’ve found the thing you seek!”
He held up the book and the Fencer grew a look which was all confusion and anger.
“We can be leaving then,” said the Trumpeter, who then fluidly turned and sent a shuddering blast against the Black Lattice with every gasp of air in his lungs.
The splay of crystal resonated and burst apart with the music of chimes missing from the Argent Lord’s palace. The black stuff shattered, leaving glowing prism behind. The magic here had never been of either binary end, neither Black nor White but had become colored in such a mode. Through the transcendent stuff of the Lattice radiations of all spectrums played out in all colors seen and unseen, imaginary and hyper real.
In the noise they saw nothing of Loce’s end struggle with the Phyox. Sensing loss, he plunged his one good hand into the thing’s chest, each finger finding home in an eye. Its form boiled once more, as did Loce’s. Ink and ashen skin merged and flowed like a quickly changing mind.
Even as Lumnos set to read the tome the writing began to vanish, as if his eyes wiped clean what had seemed perfectly set. He was a canny reader though, and bounced ahead, skimming, soaking in a paragraph here and there. The tale began as crude drawings and hatch-marks but progressed into a flowing script of perfect penmanship. This progress showed a life.
Laxa stirred and instinctively sought a weapon. With a piece of jagged obsidian she scrambled to her feet and braved the prismatic air to seek the Necromancer’s heart. Shaking his head, the Fencer followed. Their barbarous minds were set on the simplicity of the end, exemplified by death, a thing the child wore on his menagerie suit of memories. The boy waited for the blades, his strength taken, as if he was losing the words by which he named the Art. The pain of what he couldn’t say was written across his face.
The weapons struck and echoed away. Laxa’s makeshift weapon shattered while Dhala shook with all the might the Fencer had put behind the swing. In front of the boy stood Loce, who was also the Phyox. They had come to terms and each was now the other, a being split between darkness and light. At the shoreline where the two selves met white circles and black circles played in the realm of the other, strange flecks of color shimmering around the difference. Eyes peaked out from this line running from one shoulder to the opposite hip, watching with silver irises. The missing hand was replaced by the long claws of the strange matter entity, while his face was remade into the Phyox mask, expressive, but also sleek, inhuman. He was whole again.
The Abjurist, or whatever he had become, seemed ready to sell himself to protect the boy. He had been overcome by the boy’s darkness written over his being.