It seems like forever since I last posted on this blog and that’s because it’s been nearly a half a year. Well, for what it’s worth, I’m back and I don’t intend to go anywhere. After some serious financial hardship, it looks like we’ll be attempting to get the book off the ground once again. Right now, we’re editing a few sequels, making sure the cover art is correct and after all that’s done, we should have a product people will actually feel warm and fuzzy inside about purchasing. In the meantime, I will be posted additional updates on the progress of the book, more short stories to whet the appetites of you avid readers and will be giving additional details about the world of New Earth and the Dark Tapestry. Stay tuned!
Due to the fact that most eBooks are going for substantially lower than what I had originally priced A Dark Apotheosis, I have changed the price of the eBook from 9.99 to the much lower 2.99. This allows for greater affordability and will make it much more friendly-looking to potential buyers. Thank you to those who have already purchased a copy and I apologize for having priced it so high; I was unaware of the price of most other eBooks at the time.
Secondly, the physical copy will be ready to order – and I’m aware that I keep saying this – in about a week or so if all goes as it should. This book will be priced according to what books it’s size and composition are usually priced on Amazon.com and sites such as that sort and will have the same cover art you can see on this site. Furthermore, I’d like to remind everyone that if you want to keep up with my posts on this sight, you can do so by going to the link indicated below. The administrator of the group will be happy to add you. Everything I post here will show up there less than 24 hours later.
Thanks and keep reading!
Hey guys, haven’t posted anything for a while and that’s mainly because there’s been no news. But all that changed recently. I have two pieces of news today and one of them is that for all intents and purposes, the physical copy – published by Amazon – will be available for order from Amazon.com within two week’s time. That’s confirmed. I’ve had a metric ton of people tell me that they would love to read Dark Apotheosis but it’s all about being able to hold a physical copy. Well to those people I say, the times draws nigh.
Second is that some other people have expressed a desire to join a mailing list. Now currently, there is no mailing list but there is a way you can follow the blog and get news on a fairly reliable basis and that’s by joining the Army of Shashka group on facebook. The link is given below. Some fans of mine formed the group to keep up to date on developments and the like. You will have to be confirmed but a dedicated moderator is working near tirelessly to make sure everyone is well appraised. That being said, a new video blog should be coming up soon as I’ve been getting in a few questions here and there about my world, my style and the writing process as a whole. Thank you all for being patient!
As it turns out, nothing ever comes easy. We were in the process of putting out the physical copy of “A Dark Apotheosis” for order on Amazon.com when both computers we were using to do so decided to stop working at the exact same time. Long story short, we’re in the process of getting said computers repaired and as soon as we do, we’ll be getting back to work on putting the book up for sale and out on shelves. At current, we don’t know who we’ll be going with to put them out on shelves but we’re leaning toward a group I’ve worked with before and plugged in at least one of my video blogs – Lulu.com. They were able to turn out a passible volume last time and it’s my hope that since I have a better cover, a far better editor and better content that It’ll be a better experience this time around as opposed to last time.
On another note, I’m looking for someone who has read “A Dark Apotheosis” to write an unbiased review based on your own personal level of enjoyment. I want you to be brutally honest in this review so if anyone wants to do as much, and write about a five paragraph review, then I would be eternally greatful. You can contact me through this site if you have written such a review and I’ll see about putting it on the site. Either way, good or bad, you have my thanks.
Well here it is. A Dark Apotheosis is now available on ebook format for PC, Kindle or Smart Phone and downloadable from Amazon.com. For those interested in learning more about the books themselves or about what in to their creation, be sure to leave a question on the forum section of this site or contact me directly. Your question will probably be answered on the forum itself but might very well be mentioned in one of upcoming video blogs and podcasts. Estimated time of arrival for the physical books – and yes, they will be hitting shelves all across America – should be a week or three. Until that time, if you can’t bring yourself to wait that long, feel free to download the book on Amazon.com from the link found below:
Set some four hundred years after A Dark Apotheosis, Sally Rag Picker is the story of Galen, a contract killer and ‘troubleshooter’ who works for the criminal organization known only as the Faceless Union. Cloaked and mired in secrecy, he goes about his business in the dark, circumventing the law of the land and serving Boss Blis, the criminal kingpin of Shide’Hennock. But Galen knows that the city is old, old enough to harbor secrets best left alone. When he comes face to face with one of those legends, he must finally come to terms with the mind-bending reality of it all.
Sally Rag Picker
Fact is, the city is old. No one knows how many times it’s been built over and, despite a few footnotes in history; no one knows why it was built. Shide’Hennock is one of those places where the old world and the new one come together, sometimes meshing well and sometimes causing something of a fuss. According to what we know, it is one of the last remaining Atlantian cities, far too old to think about and something of a feather in the Emperor’s hat. “The Imperial Jewel” they call it. Well, that’s all fine and good, but no one stops to think that we’re living in what pretty much amounts to a refurbished ruin; a graveyard that’s been tarted up to look like a presentable city. The bones of untold thousands of men litter the tunnels below, but most folk don’t want to think about that. They just want to live in their own little world.
Toward the center of the city, wherein the Imperial Palace resides, folks got it good. They wallow in affluence and pat themselves on the back about how civilized they are; how cultured and refined. Patrols of the city guard, looking gaudy in their black and silver cloaks, patrol the inner city at night, lighting lamp posts and shooing away all the beggars and ne’er do wells. You can scarcely watch a dog piss in the street without it being kicked in the chops by one of the guards. I guess that’s how it works though. The good folk of the Imperial City have to have the illusion that things are well and good. As for us?
The further you get away from the inner ring of the city, the worse things get. The middle ring, just outside the one that holds the palace and a few other exclusive buildings, that’s where the majority of people squat. They’ve got it relatively good too, homes or apartments of their own with good steady jobs and some coin to go jingle in their pockets. Most don’t have to worry about a bloke coming up to draw a pistol on ‘em and threaten to exchange lead for courtly. That’s how it works though, right? Some folk have it good and some folks have it bad.
And there’s me. My name is Henry Cornelius Galen. Despite the heavy name, I’m no noble. I’m about as far away from being a noble as possible. Every single day, if you can imagine this, I wake up before the sun rises in the east; I spent most of the day, every single drop of sunlight in the Frostheart months, working at a factory mill making steel for the barrels of guns. I come home smelling like smith acid every night – a not too pleasant smell – and looking like I fell into some stinking bog somewhere. But it’s good courtly, right?
I come home to a small, one room tenement which ain’t really mine. I pay just enough to keep the landlord off my back – at least for the most part – and I like the place well enough. It’s not much, but its mine, right? All in all, I suppose I’m just like everyone one else here in Shide’Hennock, just trying to make their way.
Most people would accept that illusion on face value, thinking that I’m just the usual bloke who makes just enough to survive. Well, for the most part that’s true, but when I wake up in the morning, I don’t go to no ruddy factory; I go to the Union House. The whole factory thing’s just my cover; a somewhat rudimentary disguise to mask my true activities, that of a thief, a thug and a killer. I work for the Faceless Union, a criminal enterprise that pretty much spans the whole width of the Empire and then some. We have places in all the major cities; Chordilane, Ivydale, Hightower, you name ‘em. Me, I work under Big Boss Blis. Despite being from Chordilane, he has it where it counts.
Sure, I could be better off. Some higher ups have some pretty good covers, some as merchants and even some lesser nobles. They’re rolling in the silver and got no reason to elevate such as me to that same station. So I work, thieving what I can and killin’ who they tell me all in the name of rising above these filthy streets – moving into the interior of the city being the master plan. That’s me and it’s who I am? You don’t like it, you can go fuck yerself. I’m not ashamed of what I am…and I’m damned good at it.
I woke up one fine Heartfire morning and I washed my face in the basin. Lukewarm and stagnant water banished some of the dirt from my face, but some of the more tenacious stain kept my face a shade of sooty black; making me look as if I needed a good shave. The mirror was cracked glass, throwing three distinct reflections back at me although I only gave the one. When I found my clothes – tossed down on the floor the night before – I retrieved the tools of my trade. Armor, slick black leather armor thin and comfortable enough to wear beneath my jerkin was the first order of business. It wouldn’t stop a bullet, but it would sure as hells stop a knife or a sword if the user was clumsy enough. Next came the knife, removed from its sheath and inspected in the low-light of my apartment. The knife had been fire blackened to prevent glint; a sure thing that could give you away when hiding in the shadows. Then came my most prized possession of all; a double-barreled dwarven made pistol that had been gifted to me by Blis for a job well done. I had enough shot to fire the weapon about six times. Not much, but it was something.
Never really sure just how the magnificent weapons worked; dwarven pistols – they called them Gundemelef – were miracles of modern mechanics. It had been explained to me once or twice that they worked on a principle of magnetics; two lodestones pushing against one another or something of the like. I checked the weapon, threw open the breach to make sure it was loaded, and then sank it down in the holster at my belt. That was when I headed off for the day.
Shide’Hennock in the morning was a mixture of smells that was not for the faint of heart. The good, the bad and the utterly unidentifiable all came to mingle together in what was nothing less than a pungent bouquet of stinks and odors that either you got used to, or you found it more convenient to cut your nose off rather than draw another whiff. That was the city for you…good to the very last drop.
I would begin my day by visiting the Union House. Although the place would have never been recognized as being as such, the Union House was a guild house just like all the rest. It wasn’t as cozy or refined as say the Guild House of Healers or the various Arcane Chapels that seem to encroach more and more into our everyday lives, but it was ours and its where we went to if trouble came knocking. From there, we could get our supplies, our information and we would be handed out our jobs. All of that was cleverly disguised as nothing more than a somewhat largish inn called “The Bloated Bastard.”
All right, before you go whining about the name, know that I had nothin’ to do with calling it that. That name was slapped onto that poor inn a long time ago and there ain’t nothin’ no one can do about it now. Suffice to say, it was an ugly little structure with no merit aside from the fact that it was located well away from the prying eyes of the city guard. No one would come poking around or asking dumb questions.
When I entered the Bastard, I knew already that something was up. There’s a certain mood to a room; a mood that only shows its ugly face when a juicy little secret was swimmin’ through the air. A couple of the lads near the door were closed in so tight that I could have knocked their heads together if I had a mind to do it. When I passed, they shut up and didn’t say word one about what they were whispering about. That set my nerves on edge, but I don’t tussle unless it’s absolutely the thing to do. Jus’ cause they were being quiet, don’t mean they were talking about me, right?
It’s then that I approached Big Boss Blis. Despite his name, Blis is a scrawny little lad who, if it weren’t for his fierce reputation in business and in pleasure, could have been called a shy bitch. But Blis wasn’t like that; not at all. You don’t get anywhere in the Union by being meek. He looked at me; his eyes narrow as he dismissed some of my fellows and bid me to sit at his table. I did just that.
“What’s the word on the streets, boss?”
“Fuckin’ black murder,” Blis said, taking up his pewter flagon and gulping down a few healthy pulls. A little known fact was that Blis was a hell of a drinker. He could sip most men under the table and because of that; he had often gotten some women under the table as well, but through entirely different means.
“Well, just tell me about ‘em. I’ll make it so.”
“You aren’t getting it, Henry. I don’t want nobody dead – leastwise not tonight – but there was murder in the streets last night just as sure as I sit here talkin’ to ya.”
I was interested now. There were generally two kinds of killers in Shide’Hennock. One was the contract killer, like me. They tended to keep to shadows, work quietly and efficiently; and without too many people noticing the deed. Then there were the others; psychopaths and lunatics who not only killed in a most grizzly fashion but wanted everyone to see their handiwork as well; sometimes letting bodies lay in the streets, pecked on by crows, pigeons and other winged vermin. Pretty generally, those second kind were bad for business and if the Constabulary didn’t pick ‘em up in a day or so, they simply went missing; courtesy of yours truly.
“One of our lads or just some unlucky sod?”
“One of the Velvet kids,” Blis answered, staring at me over the rim of his flagon. He must have known what kind of effect those words would have on me; and staring at him as he was staring at me, I could tell he wanted them to sink in.
The ‘Velvet Kids’ was our name for the Black Velvet Band, a gang of all women thieves who, while in direct competition with us, didn’t really cross swords with us too often. We had the might, and they knew that. We had trained killers amongst us and enough alley bashers to make it so they had a real bad day. They didn’t bother us and we didn’t bother them. But still, Blis must have mentioned it for a reason.
“You want I should slot him?”
“Wouldn’t do any good to go after him, Henry. We don’t know where the fucker is. That,” he said as he gave a deep shrug, gulping down the last of his beer, “and it ain’t our problem is it? I just thought you’d want to know. With a loony in town, the guard and even the Constabulary’s gonna want to take him down. I don’t want you killing anyone for the time being; or else it’ll implicate us in the crime, eh?”
“Good thinking, Boss,” I said, and it was. As much I had a soft spot in my heart for the Velvet Girls, most of them would just as soon as cut my throat than ride my prick. That’s a good a reason as any to leave ‘em alone.
“Now onto your job,” Blis leaned forward, clasping his hands together. “There’s a contract that came in from a merchant who lives in the city core; one that done got himself in a bit of a twist. This merchant has an enemy; a rival or a brother, not sure which, who needs to be hurt, kicked directly in the coin purse. That was the deal and he’s paying good courtly.”
“Sure Boss,” I said, unsure of what to say.
“His merchant’s rival has a girl, a waif of a thing who’s just past the age where she would know better than to mix with the likes of those bastards. She’s known for takin’ walks down through the merchant quarter at night; finds the bridges pretty perhaps, who knows. Anyway, I want you and Conroy to kidnap the little bitch and deliver her into the hands of this merchant who calls himself ‘Scribonius’ before midnight tonight. Can you do it?”
I tried not to wince at the name ‘Conroy.’ I had done this song and dance before; a lot of times before I started killing for the Union. A good kidnapping could fetch a hefty ransom if it was done right. If not…well, I had only been a part of one of those botched jobs once, and I was the only one that made it out alive. The guard had killed the rest for ‘resisting arrest.’
“Sure boss, what’s the pay?”
Blis canted his head to the side, sniffing hard. “You can read, can’t you Henry?”
“You know I can, boss.” And I could, having taught myself at an early age. Even back then, I knew that no one gets anywhere without knowing how to read and write. I weren’t good at it, but I was good enough to pass.
Producing a large parchment envelope, Blis slid it across the table so that it came to rest in front of me. Without hesitation, I snapped it up, broke the seal and peered inside. There was another sheet of parchment and a small piece of vellum. The vellum turned out to be a letter of credit, made out to me and redeemable at the Third Street House of Accounting. As for the slip of parchment, that was the detailed description of the poor lass, directions on how to find her and a place wherein the ingredients for a good hard knock-out poison could be found. I looked up and gave a steady nod.
“Looks in good order, Boss…”
“Good,” Blis said, coughing into his balled fist. “Get you gone and return back here when it starts to get dark. Do whatever you like, but make certain you’re sober for the job. The watch will be doubled tonight and you’ll need your wits about you if you want to pull this caper. As always, if you get snagged, you aren’t any concern of ours, got it?”
Aye, I got it alright. That’s how things worked amongst the Union. Oh, things were all fine and good while you were at large and on top. But pull one bad caper and get yourself caught, you would find yourself shitting yourself on the gallows just before a short drop down a long hole. Unlike other guilds, we didn’t help each other when the law got involved. There wouldn’t be any state-purchased lawyers for us; nope, only a pair of boots to help wade us through the bullshit. But I would do the job. I always did.
The two of us waited there, Conroy and me, all the while given over to the cover of the dark. Night had come and with it, so did the job. You remember when I mentioned Conroy before? If so, you’ll remember that I cringed when I heard his name. That’s mainly because Conroy is perhaps the most mean, black-hearted little git I think I’ve ever seen. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t count myself as the finest of human beings, but for me, killing and kidnapping is just business. To Conroy…well, he’s one of those blokes as takes pleasure in it.
I had worked with Conroy before and it had been a fuckin’ bloodbath. We had cased the smallest garrison along the north wall, trying to steal a chest of courtly that was meant to be pay for the 11th Legion. Well, we cased the joint but when it came time to steal the courtly, it went sour quick. Conroy killed a man; a clerk who had no business being killed. We could have knocked the bastard out and in doing so; we could have remained relatively on top. The way it was, we would have just been thieves. The way it became, we were murderers and not only that, but ones who had killed an Imperial official. There was only one punishment for that crime.
Boss Blis couldn’t say much. He didn’t much like how things went down, but he couldn’t argue with the results neither. Since then, I’ve tried to steer clear from Conroy; figuring that one day he was gonna land himself in trouble. I didn’t want to be anywhere nearby when it happened. But when a Union Boss tells you to do somethin’ and who to do it with, you tend not to argue. If I was lucky, I would get through the night without a single drop of blood. After all, even Conroy would figure it was best not to kill the girl, right?
“Son of a bitch…” I swore, leaning against the far wall of the alley. Conroy was crouching at the entrance of the alley, a crossbow cradled against his knees. The bolt had already been set but in the place a normal arrow like you’d use, we had something special. The bolt had a tip on it that was needle thin and barely an inch long. It wasn’t likely to do much damage, but the poison it was coated in would put our quarry out right quick.
Conroy snorted and spat. “What’s your problem, Galen?” he said, calling me by my surname. “This ain’t the first time we’ve worked together, right. You and I, we work well together. Remember that time with the Legion?”
Oh, that I did. I wish I hadn’t. I shifted my weight from one leg to another, doing my best to keep from getting a cramp. “Just shut up and have eyes forward. She’ll be around at any moment now.”
“Right,” he said, craning his neck in a stretch. “I wonder if it’s true what they say about the little bitch…you know,” he said, taking on an unwholesome smile, one of half-rotted teeth and stinking breath.
I blinked. I no doubt looked puzzled. “Conroy, what the hells are you talking about?
“The file,” he said, urging me on. “You read her file, I know you can read and I sure as hells didn’t get no details on this caper aside from what you told me. So tell me,” he said, grinning like a wild man. “Is she a nice piece of ass?”
“She ain’t but a child, Conroy. Keep your mind on your business.”
“She’s seventeen winters,” he said, giving a shrug. “I reckon that’s old enough and so does the law; otherwise she wouldn’t be courting this merchant, would she? I think the little bitch owes us for not killing her.”
“Conroy…you touch that girl, and I’ll kill you myself.” And I meant it too. I didn’t know if I could take a man as large as Conroy – those from the Willem Valley are some big blokes – but I was willin’ to try if it came down to it.
“Oh get off your high horse, Galen. Don’t you know a little rape is just part of the fun?”
I knew there was a reason I didn’t like Conroy. Aside from being a maniac and an idiot, always a pleasant combination, he was also a rapist. I didn’t like that. I might be a criminal, but even amongst criminals and thugs, some things are sacred. Two rules that I always live by: Don’t insult the gods and don’t hurt a woman unless she does somethin’ to you first. Conroy had broken one rule and I was sure if I gave him enough time, he would break the other.
“Conroy…” I said, trying to sound as menacing as possible. “Shut the fuck up.”
For a little while, there was blessed silence. We watched a few people pass; but most of them flew through the streets as if afraid to stride across the flagstone streets for too long. They would cross from building to building like Greencloaks runnin’ from cover to cover. At midnight, a troupe of city crossed before us, probably looking for the one who killed one of the Velvet Girls. They left us untroubled…mainly because we weren’t seen.
“She’s late,” I murmured.
“Yeah,” Conroy said, nodding like an idiot. For a second, I thought I heard his brain rattling around inside his skull. “I think it’s ‘cause o’ all the patrols hereabout. If it’s known that there’s a lady killer out there, she might not have thought to take a walk tonight; might have thought better of it.”
I couldn’t fault his logic. “What did you hear about that?
“About the killings, Conroy…stay with me.”
“Sorry,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m a bit unclear tonight. I stayed up late with a lady friend of mine.” Even as he said it, I felt sorry for whoever that lady may be. “I heard a few things. Some people were talking at the Union Hall and they said that the Velvet Girls got themselves killed by some legend or some fuckin’ thing.”
Scrunching up my nose, I couldn’t hold in the question. “A legend? What are you talkin’ about?”
“Well,” Conroy said, shifting so that the crossbow was not supported on his opposite knee, “According to Leonard and Etienne, some of the girls went out one night to pull a caper. They was trying to steal some damn big jewel that one of the local merchants planned to chop up and sell so it’s easier to push, you know?”
I nodded, trying to keep an eye on the street.
“Well, they get into the shop, steal the bauble and they were about to make a good clean split when they turn the corner, and they saw somethin’ that made the two of them just about die of fright. Now you know the Velvet Girls; they’re a brave sort. What do you think could do that to one of them?”
I reasoned for a moment. The Velvet Girls were skilled; the best damn gang of thieves there ever was and none of us, even amongst the Union, had any illusions as to that fact. Still, they were human and they were women. They can get scared just as well as the rest of us.
“About the same sort of thing that could kill one of ‘em. What was it?”
“They ‘ave a legend,” Conroy snorted, giving a short bark of a cough into his balled fist. “A long fuckin’ time ago there was Velvet Girl who went totally batty. Her name was Sally Rag Picker and apparently, the Velvet Girls think they ran into ‘er the other night.”
I didn’t know if Conroy was jesting or not; he could have just been pulling my leg and I wouldn’t put it past him. But something about the way he said it; I could swear that he was telling the truth.
“If this Sally Rag Picker lived so damned long ago, how do they think she was walking the streets the other night?”
Conroy shrugged. “Got me…but you know how it is, about this city. Every stone you tread has a story, every building a tale. The city is real old, Galen; I’m talkin’ ancient. A lot of folks whisper about legends here and there, about things that go ‘bump’ in the night. Hells, we got our own “Bunny Man” whose supposed to haunt the south quarter bridge. It’s only natural the Velvet Girls should have theirs too, eh?”
I supposed he was right. After all, there were a lot of odd things out on the streets. I myself had seen a rat bolt across the street that, I swear even onto this day, was as big as a miniature poodle. Just as pretty too. I was about to tell him what I thought when a bit of movement caught my eye. I reached over to slap Conroy on his shoulder. I pointed at our quarry, a lovely young woman wearing a rather fine gown, walking across the street.
Conroy licked his chapped lips and drew up the crossbow to eye-level. He reached up to wipe some of the hair out of his eyes and braced the stock of the crossbow against his shoulder. He pressed the release and the bolt soared, hitting the girl stock on her side. The girl yelped but the effect of the poison – Liquid Blasphemy – was almost immediate. Her eyelids sagged and she dropped to the ground; completely senseless.
“Got that bitch,” Conroy grunted.
“Good shot,” I said, rising and taking a step out into the street. No one was in sight and so I waved Conroy out. For once, he was cautious, slinging the crossbow over his shoulder by way of a leather strap. He strode out into the street and as I drew my pistol, ready to shoot at and scare the shit out anyone who happened to look out their window that moment, he stooped down, picked the waif up and tossed her over his shoulder.
“Get the wagon,” he said, tipping his chin in the direction of the alley. That was it then, another job well done. I silently wished the girl well and she was no enemy of mine. This was nothing personal of course, just business.
A few days passed and I got paid. Me and Conroy went our separate ways again and as far as I was concerned, that’s how it would stay. I went about my business the next day, looking like I hadn’t slept of course, as per usual. Everything was going all right until I had the idea of crossing through the merchant square. See, the merchant square ain’t really a square; it’s more like a ring that goes ‘round the center of the city. This is where the Velvet Girls go, either posing as prostitutes or respectable ladies; or if they’re the younger ones, trying to pick a pocket or two.
Remember when I said I had a soft spot for the Velvet Girls? Well, before I got to be a Union Man, one of the girls, her name was Svetlana, caught my eye. She and I retired to a local inn where, once the morning had come, I discovered I had been robbed of just about everything but my small clothes. I didn’t begrudge her that. After all, if I had her gifts, I’d likely use them for the same thing. We’re both thieves at heart; just one of us had a different way of going about it. That didn’t mean I wanted to see her again, though. Unfortunately for me, I saw her quite a bit.
There she was, as I passed a booth selling exotic fruits from Tygia, beautiful as the day is long. She was tall for a woman, nearly as tall as me and her hair was the color of leaves during the Frostheart eve, on the cusp of turning orange and brittle. Her skin was pale and riddled with freckles; a series of fun little spots that ran the whole way down her body; believe me, I know. She wore a strip of black velvet around her neck, a jewel of sapphire dangling from it like a fishing lure.
“Svetlana…you’re lookin’ lovely.”
“I wish I could say the same for you, Galen. You look like you ain’t slept. Late night?”
She had the kind of voice that could sooth just about any hurt, mind and body. Because of that reason, perhaps, I had allowed myself to be soundly under her spell. Sex with her was perhaps the best experience of my life. I would have gladly let all my worldly possessions go to experience that again – she need only ask me.
“A caper,” I said, and that explained everything.
“Uh huh…” she said, looking quizzical. “Got yourself a good haul, did you?”
I chuckled. “You know I can’t talk about Union business. That stuff is our business only. But yeah, we had a good haul. Heard about your girl, that’s a right shame.”
Svetlana nodded, moving to let a gaggle of children swarm by. I had my suspicions that one of those waifs was one of her girls and I patted myself down out of mere habit. One can never be too careful around the Velvet Girls. I went and scooped up an apple from the nearby cart, knowing I would settle up with the shop-keeper afore long. He knew it too. I bit deep into the fruit and smiled.
“You got the right of it all right. Rebecca was a new girl, hardly got her courses yet. We sent her and Silvia out and only Silvia came back. We don’t usually loose a lot of our girls like you Union blokes. We take it more personally, I think.”
“You got the jewel, though, right?”
“Yeah,” Svetlana said, her Chordilane accent coming through in her speech. “It was a big ole’ thing about the size of your fist; I’d rather just have Rebecca back, though. She was far too young to have met with that fate.”
“Svetlana…just what the hells happened?”
She was uncomfortable, that much I could tell. It was easy to read a woman, once you had seen her in bed. They had some secret tells that no man could know otherwise; things they did like scratching their ear or tussling their hair. She shifted her weight and sighed, crossing her arms before her beautiful breasts.
“It was Sally Rag Picker…she got herself another girl.”
I hadn’t ever heard the name until Conroy spoke it, but it sounded innocent enough. Everyone knew of the rag pickers; good honest folk who went around and collected discarded clothing and sold them back to the poor for a small fee. But I didn’t ever hear of any particular rag picker that was worth mentioning.
“This girl Sally, she’s a dangerous one?”
Svetlana rolled her dark eyes. “Obviously, you ain’t heard of her. Sally Rag Picker is somethin’ of a legend amongst us in the Black Velvet Band. She was a rag-picker that must’a lived two or three hundred years ago. She was taunted and killed by a group of urchins one night; her throat cut in the night. Now she walks the street, lookin’ for revenge. She preys on children. Rebecca was close to not counting as one…to bad Sally got her first.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Had Conroy been right? Was there been some legend stalking the streets at night? I shook my head and forced a laugh. “Oh come on, Svetlana. You expect me to believe there’s an age-old horror stalkin’ the streets? You and Conroy should get together; start tellin’ the tale in the taverns at night. You’d make yourself a fair bit o’ coin.”
Svetlana looked insulted. “You don’t believe me.”
“Look,” I said, chuckling low. “I know you two probably saw something last night, but I doubt it was some woman that should have been in the grave for only the gods know how long. Your girl Rebecca was probably killed by a third party. I could even buy that it was one of the crazies we get around here from time to time. But not this Sally Rag Picker.”
“You believe how you will,” she said, quirking a brow in a way that told me volumes about how displeased she was with me. That don’t matter none, though. She’s been much angrier at me before.
“I will…but I ain’t gonna believe in no bogey-man.”
“What about you,” she said, shoving her hands onto her hips and giving me a first-class glare. “You all in the Union believe in the Bunny Man well enough; you know him what haunts the south quarter bridge, right?”
All right, I suppose I should explain just who – or rather what – the Bunny Man is. I don’t usually like to talk about it, bad luck and all, but I think now’s a good a time as any. The Bunny Man is one of the crazies I keep talking about, a loony who somehow escaped from the Bridge Watch Asylum some years ago and, according to some of the locals, lives beneath the south quarter bridge. May be that it’s true; as there have been more killin’ there over the years than anywhere else in the city. They call him the Bunny Man because he snags rabbits from the nearby city park and eats ‘em afore leaving the bones out for display.
“Eh,” I said, shrugging my shoulders and trying my best to look as if I didn’t believe in the fabled lunatic. Either way, she wasn’t buying it.
“Right, Galen, right…just you watch your backside. I rather like the look of it and it’d be a shame of something ruined it, all right? You’re probably safe anyway. Sally Rag Picker don’t bother to kill us grown folk; only children.”
The two of us parted ways then, she going about her business and me going about mine. I had the day to myself so I spent it in orderly fashion; getting my weapon cleaned, going to see one of my frequented girls, and heading to the Bloated Bastard to wash away my cares. Not that I had many to wash away, but that’s the expression ain’t it?
The place was in a way when I arrived, all up in arms with rumors about the murder. Conroy was there, his gaggle of idiots and thugs up his arse like a collie dog. Big Boss Blis was tucked nice and tight into the corner, his back against the wall, and a table full of his personal guard nice and close. You could always tell that lot from the normal Union Men – all quiet, well dressed and all of ‘em toting pistols. All in all the place was lively; drink flowin’ and tongues waggin’. I drank my fill and, once my tab had been paid up, I headed back out into the night, toward my tenement. By the time my feet were on the flagstones, I had forgotten all about my conversation with Svetlana and all about Sally Rag Picker.
Do you ever say something and find yourself regretting it later? Well, it happened to me. That same night, as I was headin’ home to flop for the night, I turned the corner of Atlantine Street and Emperor’s Way when there stood, or rather crouched, somethin’ that done come straight out of the underworld. Almost immediately, I put a little note in my head to apologize to Svetlana when next I saw her…if I saw her.
If Sally Rag Picker had ever been a real woman, she weren’t one no longer. At first what I thought to be a pile of rags and tatters rose up from the street; the movement fluid and smooth like runnin’ water. I didn’t see a face, no discernible features that I could report to the City Guard, none of that; just a mass o’ rags and torn cloth that hung down in filthy, grime-soaked strips; dangling down almost to the street. Two ghastly gray arms, about the size of a woman’s but too long and tipped with pointed nails jutted out from the rags. A hood that had been fashioned from the scraps hid her face; or maybe she didn’t have one, I don’t know. All I was worried about, at that very moment was getting there hells out of there.
I don’t know if any of you have ever had the misfortune of being drunk and scared shitless at the same time, but it ain’t a good time and it sobers you up right quick! It’s a terrible waste of spirits but better sober than dead, I say. I turned on my heels and ran. The thing behind me didn’t make a sound, ghostly quiet as it rose up and floated – aye I said floated – right after me, hot on my heels. I don’t know why Sally Rag Picker picked me to fuck with that night, but I weren’t no child, that’s for sure. Maybe I had pissed her off by saying she weren’t real; who knows. I did what anyone would do, I ran.
The sheer irony of what I was doing struck me like a brick ‘cross the head. I was actually lookin’ for the city watch. It’s the first time I’ve ever done something like that and it’s the last time I ever would again, but I’ll get to that later. Sally Rag Picker was chasing on my tail and I had just the one option. I couldn’t run forever so I did what any good Union man would do, I turned around and kicked it in the chops.
I spun about, drew my pistol and leveled at the thing even as its terrible arms splayed wide, that blackness beneath its hood still hiding its face. I peered down the barrel and pulled the trigger. The magnetics sprung to life and sent a bullet barreling the way of Sally Rag Picker. It was a good shot and the bullet struck home; a plume of dust and other unknown quantities blasting away from the point of impact. The thing staggered and teetered as if close to falling. Its arms fell several inches and it turned and floated away, back down the darkened street that she had chased me through.
Alive enough to tell you this story, I had escaped from Sally Rag Picker. But there are consequences for firing a pistol in the middle of the Merchant Quarter. The city watch – those ass-hats that never seem to be where you want ‘em to be – converged on me as quick as sharks smellin’ blood in the water. I had to stash my pistol, but the damage was done. The took me in that night and I said before, you don’t get much help from the Union after you’re snagged.
I sat out a couple days in the local constabulary and played the part of a drunken idiot which, unfortunately, wasn’t far from the truth at the time. I told them I was walking home that night when I heard a weapon discharge. I don’t know where it came from, of course. They checked my background, checked with my landlord, and thankfully my cover stood up against scrutiny. Eventually, after they had wrung all the questions they thought I could answer out of me, they let me go.
Thankfully, Boss Blis didn’t ask too many questions as quite honestly, I don’t know how I would ‘a answered ‘em. I’m still not sure if what I saw was the result of being way too damn drunk or actually encountering the Velvet Girl’s most reviled bogey-man…or bogey-woman. I was telling you earlier that no one knows the whole city, not how many times its been built over, not all the legends or mysteries. Just you mind the idea that you might be wrong in yer thinking, that everything you know could be wrong. I made that same mistake and it nearly cost me my ass. So there, that’s my story. I hope it helps.
The more and more I think about it, I seem to be approaching the situation – that is the publishing of Dark Apotheosis – with a very large grain of salt. Whereas with my previous attempts at publishing; at least two of which were hellish experiences, I can’t bring myself to be very excited or overly ‘revved up’ about what might ultimately fail. So instead I approach with a cautious optimism that others around me seem to find annoying. Whether this is because of their own excitement actually eclipsing my own or because I’m not excited enough to suit them well; who knows. All I know is this – I’m damned glad to finally have a place to write about it. This blog is something of a personal journal for me. But the added perk here is that those who read it, presumably fans of my work, will be able to get a good hard look at the inner workings of my mind. Watch out, you might get more than you bargained for.
That being said, I often wonder what went wrong in the past. Some of my mistakes are identifiable and others exist in that nebulous cloud of self-doubt and uncertainty where it was apparently nothing really went drastically wrong but rather a lot of little things stopped working at around the same time. My first real attempt at publishing was a joke. I decided to go with a vanity publishing company calling themselves “Publish America.” Well, this should serve a lesson out there for all you aspiring writers. Always check the companies credentials before you agree to publish with them. As it turned out, not only did this company want all but a tiny portion of your profits but also had a clause in their contract to where you could only publish your book with them for a period of a few years. On a hunch, I decided to check them out and start asking questions. Good thing I did or I might have lost most of what makes my book my own.
Other attempts followed. Before I really understood the value of editing, I blundered into publishing a book before this one. This book, while filled with relatively good short stories, wasn’t my best hour as an author. Completely unedited thanks to the fact that let my largely incompetent (at least when it came to literary matters) ex-girlfriend make an attempt at editing it, the book went to actual bookshelves, in actual book stores, while still in its rough draft form. Since then, I’ve been a little more choosy about who I left handle my editing and it’s paid off. Finding someone who knows how to use a semi-colon is a good idea. So you can see why, with all of these false starts, that I would be a little leery about the upcoming publishing of this book. In a few days, Dark Apotheosis goes on sale in its electronic form, available as a PDF for kindle, smart phone and PC. A few days or weeks after that, it can be ordered as a hard back and a soft cover. I only hope that it has more success than my previous attempts. I want to see my world live…for people to read it and want to read it. I want to see it in the shelves and know that it belongs there with the rest of those fine volumes. Wish me luck.