Thanks to Sam Sykes, here's an extract from his latest, Black Halo. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe. And to learn more about the author and his novels, check out Sykes' official website.
Here's the blurb:
THE TOME OF THE UNDERGATES HAS BEEN RECOVERED...
...and the gates of hell remain closed. Lenk and his five companions set sail to bring the accursed relic away from the demonic reach of Ulbecetonth, the Kraken Queen. But after weeks at sea, tensions amidst the adventurers are rising. Their troubles are only beginning when their ship crashes upon an island made of the bones left behind from a war long dead.
And it appears that bloodthirsty alien warrior women, fanatical beasts from the deep, and heretic-hunting wizards are the least of their concerns. Haunted by their pasts, plagued by their gods, tormented by their own people, and gripped by madness personal and peculiar, their greatest foes may yet be themselves.
The reach of Ulbecetonth is longer than hell can hold.
Lenk had never truly been in a position to appreciate nature before. It was always something to be overcome: endless plains and hills, relentless storms and ice, burning seas of trees, sand, salt and marsh. Nature was a foe.
Kataria had always chided him for that.
Kataria was gone now.
And Lenk wasn’t any closer to appreciating nature because of it. The moonlight peered through the dense foliage above, undeterred by the trees’ attempts to keep it out. The babbling brook that snaked through the forest floor became a serpent of quicksilver, slithering under roots, over tiny waterfalls, to empty out somewhere he simply did not care.
When he had found it and drank, he had thanked whatever god he had sent from it. When he used it to soothe his filthy wound, promises of conversion and martyrdom had followed.
Now, the stream was one more endless shriek in the forest’s thousand screaming symphonies. His joy had lasted less than an hour before he had began to curse the gods for abandoning him in a soft green hell.
It was murderous, noisy war in the trees: the birds, decrepit winged felons pitting their wailing night songs against the howling and shaking of trees against their hatred rivals, the monkeys.
His eyes darted amongst the trees, searching for one of them, any of the disgusting little things. His sword rested in his lap, twitching in time with his eyelids as he swept his gaze back and forth, back and forth like a pendulum.
None of them ever emerged. He saw not a hair, not a feather. They might not even be there, he thought, what if it’s all just a dream, a hallucination before Gevrauch claims me? A shrill cry punctured his ears. Or could I ever hope to be that lucky?
He clenched his scavenged tuber like a weapon, assaulting his mouth with it. It was the only way he could convince himself to eat the foul-tasting fibrous matter. Kataria had taught him basic foraging, in between moments of regaling him how shicts were capable of laying out a feast from what they found in mud.
She could have found something else here, he thought. She could have found some delicious plant. “Eat it,” she would have said, “it’ll help your bowel movements.” Always with everyone’s bowel movements…
No, he stared down at the floor, always with my bowel movements.
He wasn’t sure why that thought made him despair.
“But she’s dead now. They all are.”
The voice came and went in a fleeting whisper, rising from the gooseflesh on his arm. It had grown fainter through the fevered veil that swaddled his brain, coming as a slinking hush that coiled around his brain before slithering into silence.
He supposed he ought to have been thankful. He had long wished to be free of the voice, of its cruel commands and horrific demands. Now, as he sat alone under the canopy, he silently wished that it might linger for a moment, if only to give him someone to talk to preserve his sanity.
He paused mid-chew, considering the lunacy of that thought.
He grumbled, continuing to chew. It’s not as though you could ever preserve your sanity talking to the others, either. If anything talking to Kat would only drive you madder in short order.
“It matters not,” the voice whispered, “she’s drowned, claimed by the deep. They all have. They all float in reefs of flesh and bone, they all drift on tides of blood and salt.”
Lenk had never recalled the voice being quite so specific before, but it slithered away before he could inquire. In its wake, fever creased his brows, sent his brain boiling.
That isn’t right, he told himself. The voice made him cold, not hot. It was the fever, no doubt, twisting his mind, making him thoughts deranged. Of course, your thoughts couldn’t have been too clear to begin with.
There was a rustle in the leaves overhead, a creak of a sinewy branch as something rolled itself out of the canopy to level a beady, glossy stare at him. It hung from a long, feathery tail, tiny human-like hands and feet dangling under its squat body. Its head rolled from side to side, rubbery black lips peeling back in what appeared to be a smile as its skull swayed on its neck in time with its tail.
Back and forth, back and forth…
It’s mocking me, Lenk thought, his eyelid twitching, the monkey is mocking me. He put a hand to his brow, felt it burn. Keep it together. Monkeys can’t mock. They don’t have the sense of social propriety necessary to upsetting it in the first place. That makes sense, doesn’t it? Of course it does. Monkeys have no sense of comedic timing. It’s not in their nature…
He stared up, found his tongue creeping unbidden to his cracked lips.
Their juicy…meaty nature.
His sword was in his hands unbidden, glimmering with the same hungry intent as his fever-boiled eyes, licking its steel lips with the same ideas as he licked his own rawhide mouth.
The monkey swung tantalizingly back and forth, back and forth, bidding him to rise, stalk closer to the tiny beast, his sword hanging heavily. It wasn’t until he was close enough to spit on it that the thing looked at him with wariness.
“Don’t look at me like that,” he growled. “This is nature. You sit there and swing like a little morsel on a string, I bash your ugly little face open and slurp your delicious monkey brains off the ground.”
The beast looked at him and smiled a human smile.
“Now, doesn’t that seem a bit hypocritical?” it asked in a clear baritone.
Lenk paused. “How do you figure?”
“Are you not aware of how close the families of beasts and man are?” the monkey asked, holding up its little paws. “Look at our hands. They both suggest something, don’t they? The same fleeting, insignificant, inconsequential lifespan through us both…”
“We are not close, you little feces-flinger. Mankind was created by the gods.”
“That sort of renders your point about ‘nature’ a bit moot, doesn’t it? Gods or nature?” The monkey waggled a finger. “Which is it?”
“That isn’t what I meant and you know it!” Lenk snarled, jabbing a finger at the monkey. “Look, don’t argue with me. Monkeys should not argue. That’s a rule.”
“Somewhere, I don’t know.”
“What is the desire to be shackled by rules, Lenk? Why did mankind create them? Was the burden of freedom too much to bear?”
“And if monkeys shouldn’t argue,” Lenk snarled, “they damn well shouldn’t make philosophical inquiries.”
“The truth is,” the monkey continued unabated, “that freedom is just too much. Freedom is twisting, nebulous; what one man considers it, another does not. It’s impossible to live when no one can agree what living is.”
“Thusly, mankind created rules. Or, if you choose to believe, had them handed down to them by gods. This wasn’t for the sake of any divine creation, of course, but only to make the thought of life less unbearable, so that these thoughts of freedom didn’t cripple them with fear.”
“Shut up!” Lenk roared, clutching his head.
“We both know why you want me to be silent. You’ve already seen this theory of freedom in action, haven’t you? When a man is free, truly free, he can’t be trusted to do what’s right. The last time you saw someone that was free…”
“I said…” Lenk pulled his sword from the ground. “Shut up…“
“He attacked a giant sea serpent and caused it to sink your boat, killing everyone aboard and leaving you alone.”
Lenk’s swing bit nothing but air, its metal song drowned out by the chattering screeches and laughter of the creatures above. He swung his gaze up with his weapon, sweeping it cautiously across the branches, searching for his hidden opponent.
Back and forth, back and forth…
“It’s very bad form to give up the argument when someone presents a counterpoint,” Lenk snarled. “Are you afraid to engage in further discourse?” He shrieked, attacked a low-hanging branch and sent its leaves spilling to the earth. “You’re too good to come down and fight me, is that it?”
“Now,” they asked from the trees, “why is it that you solve everything with violence, Lenk? It never works.”