Tag Archives: writing

The Augurwraith by Craig Comer – Part IV

With a curt nod, she spun and marched away. Lucendes followed, guiding her with occasional grunts as they left the Tanner’s District and entered the Cupper’s Warren. There, the ringing of hammers filled the alleys and the smoke of stoking fires billowed in the streets, increasing the afternoon heat.

blog_treeSaja spoke of her father, of his trading caravans, and of the life that had been hers. She told him of the raiders who’d burned an entire shipment of oak bark and slain the dozen guards who accompanied it. How the loss had crushed her father and forced him into debt, and how losing a few contracts through ill luck had caused that debt to swell.

And last, she told him of Tarim. “Those my father owed forced him to sell his apprentice to the Kitame, in order to recover their losses,” she said, straining to keep her voice as flat as possible. “My father sold Tarim like he would any of the goods from his caravans.”

“He became an augurwraith, a bodyguard for one of the royal blood,” said Lucendes. “Such horrors the privileged deliver upon the poor. It is a blessing the Sultan outlaws the practice except to a certain few.”

Nodding, Saja dropped her gaze. “They came for him one day. We knew it meant his death, and still he went willingly, to become a creature of the spirit world, bound to one of the Kitame.” She blinked back the tears welling at her eyes. “One day he was as a son to my father; the next he was gone.”

Lucendes studied her. “You cared strongly for this Tarim,” he mused. Pursing his lips, his eyes flickered to the sky. Then he grinned and turned to Saja. “After you have eaten, we shall go to see a friend of mine. He may be able to help us.”

Saja started to protest, but Lucendes cut in. “Did you know it was possible to speak with an augurwraith? Even one not bound to you?”

Saja’s heart thumped. Speak with Tarim again? What would she say? What would he? The bustling of the city around her faded, and she allowed herself to be led away as if lost in a dream.

“That is,” Lucendes continued, “if you have the right kind of friends.”

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Her belly full, Saja followed as Lucendes approached the hovel of his friends. It was perched between a slaughtering pen and a grain house, with a flat roof that buckled in its center. The thief halted at the slatted wood door, but instead of knocking, he slipped his dagger through the crack formed at its frame. The door creaked as he pushed it taut against its latch, scraping his blade up and down, searching for the release.

Saja’s gawked at the blatant thievery. She scanned the near empty street, wondering if anyone watched, when the latch suddenly clicked free, and the door swung open.

A man with shoulders as wide as a bull’s stood within. “You!” he cursed at Lucendes. He wore no shirt under his vest, and Saja could see his muscles flare.

“Me,” said Lucendes, ducking low and throwing his shoulder into the man’s gut. Both stumbled backward, spilling into a room filled with the scent of burning incense. Heavy tapestries hung on the walls, blocking the outside light, and a heap of overlapping rugs covered the earthen floor.

Another man, small and plump, sat at a table in the far corner. His robe was finely cut, something Saja’s father would’ve worn. He bolted to his feet, sucking in a tight breath and eyeing the open door, the only exit Saja could see.

The larger brute swiped at Lucendes’ head, but the thief ducked under the blow. He caught the underside of the brute’s arm and used it as leverage, slamming his knee into the man’s side.

The brute grunted. He clutched his ribs and bent over. But instead of attacking, Lucendes leapt out of the man’s reach.

“You think I’d not remember that ruse, Raj?” he asked. Raj glowered, standing upright. The pair circled, Raj in a crouch with his hands raised before him, Lucendes springing lightly upon his toes.

With a deft flick of his wrist, Lucendes sent his dagger sailing at the other man’s head. He rushed after it, chasing the toss that flew wide and clattered against one of the tapestries.

Raj didn’t flinch as the blade spun past. Instead, he stepped forward into Lucendes’ path. The thief tried to swerve, but his foot caught in one of the thick rugs. He stumbled, and Raj’s arms seemed to swallow him in a crushing embrace.

“I remember, too,” the brute said.

Lucendes squirmed, trying to loosen the larger man’s grip. His face turned red from the strain. He kicked his legs out and battered his head against Raj’s chest, but neither were effective.

Saja realized her knuckles had grown white from clutching her dress. She released her grip and glanced down the street again. She could run. What were the promises of a thief, anyway? These obviously weren’t his friends. But he’d fed her, as he said he would, and rescued her from the tanners. Thoughts of the roasted pigeon and beets caused her stomach to gurgle in contentment.

And the chance to speak with Tarim again. Even to discover the fate of her father. The boon was worth a small amount of hope.

…to be continued

Originally published in Pulp Empire Volume IV.

© Craig Comer

The Augurwraith by Craig Comer – Part III

Saja winced, but instead of a death blow, the thief stepped back and allowed the other guildsmen to regain their companion. They did so with wary eyes that never left their assailant, gathering the tanner between them, and backing away.

Once they had fled the alley, the thief turned to Saja. Run! a voice shouted within her, but her feet remained still. His face was fair, except for a scar that ran along his nose like a dividing line between his cheeks. Dark locks fell almost to his shoulders, and the black trousers he wore were for a much larger man.

He smiled at her. “I suppose asking for a kiss as reward would defeat the whole noble gesture,” he said. “But perhaps you would give me your name? Such a detail will make for a better tale, when I tell my friends of your rescue.”

Saja started. The anger she’d felt earlier welled up again. “Rescue? After what you’ve done, no guildsman will show me kindness! No proper work! No food!” She knew she sounded ridiculous and ungrateful, but she was tired of men pretending to be her savior only to leave her desperate and alone.

“They wouldn’t have helped you before. Their kind is… let’s say, less than honorable.” The thief glanced at his bloodied dagger. He quickly wiped it clean and tucked it into his boot.

“I am called Lucendes,” he said. At Saja’s reaction, he added, “I am from the southern march of Maeldon, though I’ve lived in the Immortal City for many years.”

“My father trades with the Maeldonese. He says they are desert rats of impure blood, who scurry about hoping for the Sultan’s favor.”

“Then I can see he knows them well,” said Lucendes, widening his grin. Saja huffed and turned to leave, but Lucendes fell in beside her. “A moment, Saja,” he said, placing a hand upon her arm. “I did not just chance upon you. I have come to add my blade and wits to your formidable quest.”

Blinking, Saja stammered, “You know my name?”

“You wish to save your father, but the Tanner’s Guild won’t help you. So you are caught in the winds, without friend or family.”

“You knew? But then why did you ask?”

Lucendes shrugged sheepishly. “I may have overhead some of your argument with the guildsmen. Your voice held such misery, I could not rip my ears away. It is a fault of mine, this burden of altruism.”

“I didn’t see you,” said Saja. She frowned, trying to recollect the thief’s face from earlier, then shook her head. It didn’t matter. “But you are mistaken. I have no quest, only a need for food and work.” She swiped his hand from her arm and added, “Honest work.”

This time it was Lucendes who frowned, if only for a fleeting moment. She had caught him off-guard. Good, she thought.

“But what of your father?” he asked. “Wouldn’t his freedom answer all of your problems?”

Saja shook her head. “He’s a drunk, and he owes money to many people. He could be a captive of the Sect of Raast or the Horned Man, or perhaps dead.”

“To have such debts, he must’ve been a mighty man once. And maybe not so long ago? Tell me of him, and I will find you a warm meal.”

“Why?” Saja asked.

“Perhaps I like to help people. Perhaps your father owes me money, too.” Lucendes’ knowing grin returned. “Perhaps I desire you. Does it really matter why?”

Saja stared at the thief. Of course it mattered. But she couldn’t ignore her stomach for another passing of the sun, and the thought of food for so simple a price was too tempting. She didn’t care if it meant soiling her father’s name further. He’d vanished only a few days ago, but he’d disappeared long before.

…to be continued

Originally published in Pulp Empire Volume IV.

© Craig Comer

The Augurwraith by Craig Comer – Part II

As she spoke, two other men emerged from the guildhall. They wore the simple vests of craftsmen, and the mark of the Tanner’s Guild emblazoned their arms in red ink—a scraping blade resting upon a stretched rawhide. The first tanner mumbled some rude comment, and the others laughed.

Saja seethed. She silently cursed her father again, and the Tanner’s Guild, and the Sultan, who allowed lechers to prey upon the desperate. She felt a chunk of sandstone under her palm and grasped it, eyeing the three men. She pictured the tanner clutching his nose and howling in pain, but then thought better of hurling the stone. She could perhaps outrun two, but three certainly pressed her luck. Besides, she still held a small hope the guild would take her in. Maybe if she came again later and spoke with someone else.

The tanner saw the stone as she dropped it, and his eyes went cold. Saja did her best to ignore him. Rising, she scraped off the silt and muck that clung to her dress. In the Tanner’s District, buckets were kept to collect the leavings from animal and man alike, for use in the tanning process, but the slop of refuse still soiled the ground. And in the air, baking under the noonday sun, the stench of the vats hung thick.

As Saja strode away from the guildhall, she passed a few peddlers hawking pottery and craftsmen’s tools from the backs of their carts, while wagons of fresh skins and rawhides trundled along. She dodged one of the wagons and almost collided with a beggar who shuffled by with his arms tucked into his robes, mumbling to himself. She heard giggling from a shadowed corner between two squat buildings, and spied a pair of harlots watching her. They wore sheer linen dresses, with paint caked upon their eyes and cheeks. They know, Saja thought with a shiver. They can see I will soon be one of them. The notion plunged her heart into her gut, and her eyes welled.

A year ago, she’d been in love with Tarim, her father’s apprentice. A year ago, she thought she’d never dream of another man. Her entire life lay before her, scripted like the sweet tales from a mummer’s stage. But then the winds had changed, and her father stole her future.

One of the harlots stepped forward, but the other caught her arm and flicked her gaze at something behind Saja. The first altered her step into a graceful pivot, so that her back faced the street. Saja frowned. She peered over her shoulder and gasped. The tanner and craftsmen followed her, trailing only a few dozen paces away.

For a moment, she only stared. An icy hand of fear gripped her spine and wouldn’t let go. Then, with a gasp, her knees buckled and she lurched forward. Weaving through the street, she quickened her pace, her mind racing with what the men would do to her if they reached her. When she glanced backward again, the tanner gave her a mocking grin.

She stumbled in a wagon rut and heard the two craftsmen laugh. She was only sport to them, she told herself, something to pass the afternoon. Soon they would tire of their chase. She just needed to keep moving.

But she felt them edging closer. The hot sun melded with the imagined heat of their breath upon her neck. The gentle breeze was their fingers reaching out to clutch her dress.

The street forked, and Saja darted down an alley pressed between a salting house and a dyer’s shack. The footsteps slapping the dirt behind her echoed louder, coming closer until they seemed like they were her own.

As she broke into a run, a shadow flittered across the corner of her vision. Only it was higher than it should’ve been, as if a giant hawk had suddenly swooped down beside her. A loud grunt sounded, followed by a thud.

Saja heard the tanner curse, then the shriek of another man. She stopped and spun around, shocked at what she found. A lithe man in a shirt of green silk had his back toward her, blocking the alley. He balanced on his toes like a dancer, with a dagger held in one hand. Even Saja could tell the man was dangerous.

One of the craftsmen clutched at his arm, blood weeping through his fingers. The other was crumpled upon the ground, moaning softly.

The tanner sneered and brought his hands up in fists. “This is unwise, thief,” he said. “We are guildsmen. We are protected. The Horned Man will hear of this and string you from your toes!”

The silk-shirted man shifted his dagger so it pointed toward the ground but remained silent. The tanner lunged at him. To Saja, the punch was as quick as an asp’s strike, but the thief danced to one side and brought the butt of his dagger into the man’s temple. The tanner grunted and was struck again. This time he fell to his knees.

…to be continued

Originally published in Pulp Empire Volume IV.

© Craig Comer

The Augurwraith by Craig Comer – Part I

Saja gagged as the tanner’s breath washed over her in warm huffs that reeked of fish and ale. The man leaned forward from his perch upon the stoop of the guildhall, and pulled her close, his hands fumbling along her waist and rump.

She considered for a moment to let him have his way. Her father had left her with few choices, and almost all ended with her lying upon her back. She cursed her father for the thousandth time that day, wishing him dead, and at the same time wondering if he still lived. She hadn’t seen him for three days, since the Feast of Raast, where the denizens of Kuthahaar had celebrated those of the Sultan’s royal blood, the Kitame, the Children of Light.

blog_treeThe tanner forced his mouth to her neck, and its warmth broke her from her stupor. She shoved at the man’s chest. He raised a hand to strike her, and she quickly lowered her head, staring at his sandaled feet in meek submission.

“Please,” she said. “My father’s always been loyal to the guild. It is said you protect your own.”

The tanner smirked, revealing rotted teeth that pointed like daggers. “But your father’s not in the guild, no more than the boys who collect dung for the vats.”

“He sells you oak bark and lye, gathered from across the Seas of Abthinar. You need him!”

“Phaw, forget that doddering fool. There are a dozen others who would give us as fair a price for their bark and lye, and they wouldn’t squander it all in cups at the taverns.” The tanner rose. His eyes roamed her body. “Come inside, and we’ll find work for you.”

He grabbed her arm, and she slapped it away. Staring up at his leering face, she knew whatever work the tanner would offer, it was his bed he wanted her in. She took a step back, and his smile dropped.

Jerking forward, he snatched her close again. His fingers dug into her shoulders; his chin crushed down on the top of her head. She shrieked and tried to bat him away. He growled and threw her to the ground.

“Leave, then!” he barked.

Saja glanced about, but though the street was busy, no one stared at her. No one cared. The Immortal City of Kuthahaar was never kind to those without wealth or power, and less so to those without family or guild to protect them. Despair bubbled in her gut again, but she pushed it down. Her father had always taught her that panic during a negotiation produced only two effects: a spoiled stomach and an empty purse.

She settled her shoulders and drew her face blank. “I will find him,” she said, though the words brought little comfort.

…to be continued

Originally published in Pulp Empire Volume IV.

© Craig Comer

The Fey Matter continues…

Happy Halloween, everyone! It’s been a great October for The Fey Matter. Edits from City Owl Press are almost complete and we’ve started discussing a cover design for the book.

I’ve started writing the second book in the series, and the rough draft of the first chapter is already complete. I can’t wait until readers are able to follow Effie on her adventures!

For now, here is a rough sketch of Effie done by my friend (and INCREDIBLE artist) Ben Thornton.

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Last, if you haven’t already, the Bards & Sages poll is open until the end of the month. Head on over and vote for your favorite story! (click here) My short story, “The Tomb of Jorem’bel”, is in the January issue.

Shaolin vs Vikings: an anthology of weird fiction!

Want awesome stories of high fantasy, steampunk, and horror? Want them for FREE? Then check out this collection from Ahimsa Kerp!

…from a steampunk world where the Burmese Empire still rules most of Asia, to Japanese death dogs, from the real reason no writings of Socrates exist, to an ancient Sumerian sage corrupted by the modern world stalking the fjords of Oslo, from a town full of women eagerly desperate to avoid sacrifice to a Dragon, to a German cat who really just wants to play a DJ set at the local Techno Festival, these stories span the breadth of the speculative fiction field.

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#FF – The Machine Stops

I thought I’d do a little #FF here, though technically it’s a few hours until Friday. If you’re looking for some great mash-ups of fantasy, steampunk, horror, and sci-fi you should head over to The Machine Stops, the blog of author Garrett Calcaterra. He’s best known for his Dreamwielder series (the ebook of vol 1 is on sale through Sept 13th) but his recently released anthology, Dreamrush, is equally worth checking out. It has tales of air pirates raiding the California coast during the Gold Rush, a tie-in story set in the Dreamwielder ‘verse, and other weird pulp adventures.

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THE FEY MATTER finds a home with City Owl Press!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here, but I’m happy to return with the exciting news that City Owl Press has agreed to publish my new alternate history / gaslamp fantasy novel, THE FEY MATTER!

Set against the backdrop of 1882 Scotland, the novel follows a young, orphaned fey as she eludes the crown’s minions, matches wits against greedy lords, and battles an auld enemy of her people.

I’m super stoked to be working with City Owl Press and their great staff! More details to come, but now it is time for a happy dance!

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