Neverland's Library: Fantasy Anthology

Neverland's Library: Fantasy Anthology

Paperback

$19.95

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780990390909
Publisher: Ragnarok Publications
Publication date: 04/01/2014
Pages: 444
Product dimensions: 8.90(w) x 5.90(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Mark Lawrence is married with four children, one of whom is severely disabled. His day job is as a research scientist focused on various rather intractable problems in the field of artificial intelligence. He has held secret level clearance with both US and UK governments. At one point he was qualified to say "this isn't rocket science...oh wait, it actually is". Between work and caring for his disabled child, Mark spends his time writing, playing computer games, tending an allotment, brewing beer, and avoiding DIY.

Read an Excerpt

Neverland's Library


By Roger Bellini

Ragnarok Publications

Copyright © 2014 Roger Bellini
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-941987-01-8



CHAPTER 1

Deception

Mark Lawrence


"IT WAS THIS BIG!" Jak threw his arms wide. "I swear. I was so close to catching it."

Dain glanced up from his rock. He lay flat, with his chin over the edge so he could see the water, just two feet below. "Go away. You'll scare off my fish."

"But I almost caught one," Jak said. "A lefid. It must have been a yard long. I —"

"Yes, I believe you," Dain said. He returned his gaze to the lake.

Jak felt his lip begin to quiver. His brother lay immobile, as though his tanned flesh were part of the rock.

"I did!" Jak shouted. He felt Dain's accusation like cold fingers reaching into his chest. He turned and ran, following the lakeshore.

The smaller rocks he leapt, the larger ones he scrambled over, careless of the grazes.

The lefid-spear lay where Jak had left it, on his fishing rock. He sat by the spear, hugging knees to chest, no sound but the labor of his breath, the rock warm beneath his feet. The lake spread before him in endless sparkles. I did almost catch it, he thought. It was a yard long. Nearly. I don't lie.

No-one believed Jak these days. Not since he saw the Maker. Not even his older brother. He heaved in a breath, half pant, half sob. He'd been so excited then. So excited that he'd not waited to tell father, but rushed into Chant-Meet and shouted out the news.

"A Maker! I saw a Maker!"

Once more Jak saw the looks the town-folk exchanged. His eyes stung and the sparkles on the lake blurred behind tears. He remembered the people were awkward at first, as if they wished he'd shut up. But then, when he said the Maker was naked, they laughed. They seized on that, and suddenly it was a joke. They could sweep it all away.

I saw him! I didn't dream him.

Priest Roth told Jak he'd dreamed it. Helpless before church orders, Jak's parents had delivered him to the rectory. A slow walk to the dark manse that dominated the town. A servant took him to Roth's study. He remembered the carpet, soft and thick, the crystal glasses in the cabinet, the golden chess pieces, and the priest in contemplation as the servant led him in.

The priest had held him with pinching hands and cold eyes. "You dreamed it, Jakimo. Say it. Say it. If you didn't dream him then you must be lying, and the Makers have fires to burn liars on."

Sometimes he wondered if it was a dream. The Maker looked so like the stained-glass picture in the Chant-Hall. He could have stepped from that window above the altar-stone. Ten foot tall, overtopped by eagle wings, perfection glowing golden in each limb, hair like spun silver.

Jak sniffed and picked up his lefid-spear. They made us in their image, he thought, but I wish they'd given us their wings too. I'd fly above the clouds and find him again. Make him tell everyone I wasn't lying.

A dark shape flickered by, impossibly large, impossibly fast. The surface of the lake exploded and the first wave took Jak from his rock with a cold slap. Through the spray, he saw stones fly from the beach as the object surged from the water. Several trees fell. Jak heard them splintering. Then silence.

"Jak! Jak!" Dain's voice. His shouts came closer.

Jak tried to answer. He couldn't find his words. The wave had dropped him in a spiny hawthorn to the side of his fishing rock.

"Jak!" The cries held an edge of desperation.

Then Dain was bending over him, dark against the sun, his golden hair a halo. "Thank the Makers! What happened? Are you alright? Can you stand?"

Jak let Dain haul him to his feet, still spilling questions in relief. He wiped the water from his face and shook his brother off. The jagged stump of a pine-oak stood out from tangled undergrowth. The smell of its sap reached him, sharp but somehow sweet. He stepped toward it.

"Jak, don't." Dain reached for him, but too slow.

As he got closer Jak could see the furrow ploughed up the beach, and the path torn into the trees. He half imagined some giant had thrown a rock from the far shore, falling just short of crossing the lake.

He took another step and almost tripped on a fallen pineoak. At the broken end, the trunk looked pulverized. The shards dripped crimson. For a moment Jak didn't understand why a tree would bleed. Then he saw the hand. Golden fingers, motionless and curled in the dirt. A fist as big as his head.

"Jak!" Dain called. He seemed very distant.

The brambles cut Jak's hands when he pulled them clear. He didn't feel it. The Maker's eyes were all he saw, gold and molten. It seemed that they only shared a moment, but when Jak turned, Dain was nearly out of sight.

"Dain!" Jak shouted, knowing he wouldn't be heard. "Don't tell them! Don't tell!" But Dain had gone, lost among the beech and elm on the steep slopes up to Cutter Pass.

Jak shouted once more and turned away. He'd wished for proof and now it lay before him. But somehow he didn't want the priest here, or the town-folk, it didn't seem right. And besides, if the Maker left, then Dain would be a liar too.


* * *

Dain returned with their father and nine other men, including Hender the blacksmith and the elder Priest, Roth.

Roth came first, sweeping the bushes aside with his staff. The brambles caught at his robes and he tore free. Jak could see anger in the set of the priest's mouth and in the thinness of his lips. The others followed with proper deference.

He should be happy, Jak thought.

Jak's father caught him in his arms and swept him up. Dain stood close by, looking at his shoes. Everyone else stopped before the Maker, just staring.

In his hours with the Maker, Jak had no word from him. He'd checked the Maker's injuries. Both wings were shattered in the fall, broken close to the shoulder, stocks of pale bone jutting from torn flesh. The rest of him looked relatively unhurt, no bruises, but deep gashes here and there. The Maker seemed to have no skin, as though he were made from clay, and the blood that filled his wounds was the scarlet of stained glass.

The Maker hadn't spoken to Jak, but he didn't feel ignored. The Maker watched him, and those golden eyes held communion.

Now the Maker spoke.

Into the silence of their amazement he spoke words so deep and fluid that at first they thought it song.

"I have escaped the vaults of heaven to bring you a truth," the Maker said.

Roth clutched his staff for support. Jak looked at the priest's hands; bony claws on the wood. He remembered the cruelty in their pinching.

The Maker swept his gaze across the men before him. The blacksmith met the Maker's molten eyes, the others looked away. Roth bent his head, then his knee. Jak wondered why the priest scowled so. The others fell to their knees, Ronnan the butcher, then Greyton Jone in his ragged smock. Only Hender remained standing, a smile on his broad face.

At last Roth found his voice. "What is your truth, oh messenger of Heaven?" the priest asked.

The Maker heaved himself into a sitting position. His broken wings trailed through the bushes. Jak found himself wincing, but no trace of discomfort crossed the Maker's face.

"You call me 'Maker', but we did not make you. That is the truth I bring. For this I have broken the Covenant of Heaven, and been cast down," the Maker said.

Nobody spoke.

"I have set you free. You waste your lives in worship of beings that do not need or want such sacrifice," the Maker said.

Silence.

Jak spoke. "The Makers didn't say that I must be a farmer? Can I learn my letters? Is it a false law that says I can't read?" He felt it, he felt the chains breaking inside him.

"There is no Maker who has laid such a law," the Maker said. "We have but one law, and I have broken it. I have spoken with you."

"No laws?" Jak felt like laughing. He looked up among the dizzying vaults of the forest. Blue sky could be glimpsed above the leaves. "Can we fly?"

The Maker smiled and every nerve in Jak sang. "If you can find a way," he said.

"You were cast down?" Priest Roth's voice cut across them. He levered himself to his feet. "Thrown from Heaven?"

The Maker nodded.

The priest straightened himself and his face grew hard. "You are Fallen. You are the father of lies. Your sin has denied you grace, and now you try to turn men from the true Makers.

"Look! The Makers have stripped you for your sin and sent you naked to the earth!"

The Maker frowned at this last part, as if puzzled.

"I bring truth," he said. "A gift."

Priest Roth stepped forward. He swung his staff and struck the Maker full in the face. The wood broke with a loud crack. The Maker blinked, regarding Roth in silence.

"No one will speak of this!" Priest Roth said. "To contaminate the township with such lies would be a crime worthy of the strongest censure."

Jak had seen the priests' strongest censure before. The Silenced rarely came to town, but he'd seen them at the Horse-fair in Merrith. They cut the fingers from the ones who could write, but only the tongues from the peasants.

"Hender and Greyton will stay to guard the beast. The rest of us will return to town. We'll fetch chains for Hender to shackle it with. The trial will take place here so the evil will not spread. We'll stake it by the lake and burn it there once sentence is passed," Roth said.

The priest set off immediately, as if the Maker's presence scorched him. He didn't look back, sure in his authority. The men fell in behind him. Jak's father pulling him along.

"If it tries to escape, Hender, kill it," Roth said.


* * *

No-one spoke on the long climb to Cutter Pass. The path grew steep and the ground treacherous. Town-folk never spoke easy before a priest, but it seemed to Jak that each man carried a new burden of silence. He looked from one grim face to the next. Even Dain would not meet his gaze.

The Maker spoke true, I know it. Jak couldn't let the words out, yet they grew inside him, demanding release.

From the height of the pass Jak saw Hopetown in the distance. The shadow of the hills reached out across the plain for the cluster of tiny roofs. The men strung out behind Priest Roth now, as if unwilling to be drawn into his plans. They trudged one behind the other, ever more isolated, never looking back.

At the rear of the column Jak stopped walking.

The Maker spoke true, and I won't let them kill him!

A last glance at his father's back, and Jak turned to run. He ran until his lungs hurt, and then he ran some more. He crested the pass once more. Loose stones scattered beneath his heels as Jak rounded a corner above a precipitous fall. For the second time that day he began the descent toward the lake.

Half a dozen times Jak came within inches of death. He leapt small gorges where the melt-water tumbled to the valley below. He sprinted on crumbled edges, high above jagged rock. Once, after a stumble, he thanked the Makers for watching over him.

"But they didn't make us." He only mouthed the words, he had no breath for speaking.

The sun burned crimson just above the lake by the time Jak reached the woods. He caught glimpses of the water through the trees as he ran. It looked like blood.

Close by the clearing he forced himself to stop and find his wind. It took forever. Quiet as quiet he crept toward the Maker and his guards.

"Run. I'm telling you, run. Your legs ain't broke. We'll say you escaped." Jak recognized Hender's voice. He sounded close to tears.

"If I run, I deny my words," the Maker answered. He sounded kindly, like tutor Borse explaining to the little ones why two plus two doesn't make five.

The priests found out about the 'secret tutor' two summers ago, and he never came back to the farms.

"Run anyway," Greyton said. "They're going to burn you."

"They will," said the Maker. "And if I had made them would I not unmake them, to stop their fire?"

"We believe you already, Oros," Hender said. "You don't have to die to prove it."

Jak edged closer, through the laurel, brushing the leaves aside. The Maker sat propped against a large pine-oak, thicker than the ones he had broken in his fall. His wings, white splashed with scarlet, lay in ruin around him.

"I don't have to die, but die I will, if that is the required proof. The truth I have planted is a single seed in a forest of lies. It may be that I must water it with my blood." The Maker sighed and closed his eyes.

"No." Jak pulled free of the laurel bushes. "There must be another way." He felt the tears roll down his cheeks, salty on his lips.

"Jak!" Hender moved toward him.

"Oh hell! Roth will be heading back now," Greyton said.

Oros opened his eyes. "There is another way," he said. "A hard way."

The two men turned toward him. "What must we do, Oros?" Greyton asked.

Jak wondered at Greyton. He'd always known Hender was a good man, someone to run to. But Greyton? Oros had woken something in the man.

"Not you," Oros said. "The boy."

"I'll do it," Jak said.

The Maker shook his head. "It's a hard path. A high price. If I could fly back to the Heavens. If I could take my place again, before your priest. Then the truth of my words would be sealed."

"But your wings ..." Hender said.

"May be healed," Oros replied. "It would take a Gift though. It would take sixty years. And only one here has sixty years to give."

"No!" Hender and Greyton said it together.

The Maker raised one hand, large as a shield. The men's voices grew dim, the sounds of the forest fell to nothing. "Jak?"

Sixty years? I'd be ancient. Old as priest Roth. I'd be an old man. But we'd be free.

"Yes," Jak said.

Oros leaned forward, his muscles corded. "It needs more than a word, Jak. You have to mean it. You have to mean it body and soul. Will you give me your youth, freely?" His molten gaze felt hot on Jak's skin now.

"For the truth," Jak said.

Oros sighed and fell back, somehow shrunken. "Put your hands on my chest."

A distant crashing reached Jak. Men running through the undergrowth. Priest Roth and the others!

Jak hesitated. I'll be old. He thought of Borse, the secret tutor. He was an old man. An old man who cared enough to teach the children. The priests took Borse from them, with his truths. The sound of tearing bushes and cracking branches grew louder, reaching him even through the blanket of silence.

"Jakimo!" You must have dreamed it. Burn the lie.

He thought of the Silenced. And he reached out.

The Maker's flesh seethed beneath his palms. Golden eyes turned red as the sunset waters. Red as blood. For a moment Oros looked gaunt, a feral cast to his features. Jak held his hands there, though the pain seared into him.

And, from one heartbeat to the next, Oros stood whole. Golden and glorious. No gentle healing, just suddenly complete, pure white wings spread wide.

"No! Jak!" Hender's shouts filled his ears.

Jak looked at his hands. They were the same. He touched his face. Unmarked.

"You said ... sixty years?" he whispered.

"I need the Gift, Jak." The deep voice folded him in honey. "I needed the act, not the sacrifice."

The Maker smiled at Jak, and the shadows of dusk lit like day. With a single beat of his wings, the Maker took to the sky. Jak turned to see the priest, standing open-mouthed. Behind Roth stood father, Dain, and the rest of the men, their faces golden with reflected light. The seed of truth would flower now. The secret would be known.

You're with me still, Oros' voice rang in Jak's head. Because you gave the Gift.

And Jak was. He closed his eyes and saw what the Maker saw. He soared above the woods, above the lake, lit by the last glimmer of a dying sun.

You found a way to fly, Jak. You found a way to fly.

They stood in silence and watched as Oros dwindled to a golden point and became lost in the clouds. Jak's visions of flying faded; the connection frayed.

He felt a warm hand on his shoulder. "Come on home, lad."

Father led him away, not waiting for the priest's leave. Dain followed, almost dancing. "Did you see? Did you see him fly?"

Hender walked along behind, grinning from ear to ear. "They didn't make us. Now ain't that a thing." He drew level with Jak's father. "I've a mind to build that seed-drill you know. I'm sure it would work, no matter what old Rothy and his lot say ..."

They climbed the slope in darkness, until the moon rose to hint the way.

As they reached the pass, Jak heard a whisper at the back of his mind. The faintest ghost of Oros' voice, and another, fainter still.

"Welcome back. It is done?"

"Yes," said Oros.

"You broke the only law?"

"I did," said Oros. "I broke the truth."

"You told Man we did not make him?"

Oros sighed. "With a lie, I set them free."

CHAPTER 2

Shadow Dust

J.M. Martin

THE GUARDS ADMITTED the servitor into the mess hall. He was a bald man lacking feeling, bereft of spirit, tall and lean and hook-faced. Shay knew him as First Deputy Hawthorne, one of the Technocrat's faithful couriers, and Shay watched as Hawthorne wordlessly handed the floor sergeant a slip of brown parchment. The sergeant unfolded it, nodded, nodded again to the station keeper up on the mezzanine. The keeper nodded in reply and stepped out of sight, returned a halfminute later with a phosphor-tipped activator rod.

Shay stopped chewing the all but elastic wurst-meat. He held it in his cheek as he looked up, watched stone-faced as his gaze tracked the keeper to the gaslight array. The rod's tip flared white hot. The keeper extended it, and one of the lamps shone with a blue flame; the rest remained unlit.

The floor sergeant bellowed, "New York! You're up. Ten minutes to Depot Twenty-Three!"

Shay finished grinding the gristle with his molars, swallowed, and swigged some brackish water from his flask. He didn't show even an echo of emotion from being called to duty. Nothing. He knew Hawthorne was watching and, therefore, so was the Technocrat.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Neverland's Library by Roger Bellini. Copyright © 2014 Roger Bellini. Excerpted by permission of Ragnarok Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

Introduction – Tad Williams,
Deception – Mark Lawrence,
Shadow Dust – J.M. Martin,
Dead Ox Falls - Brian Staveley,
Redemption at Knife's Edge – Tim Marquitz,
A Soul in Hand – Marsheila Rockwell and Jeffrey Mariotte,
The Machine – Kenny Soward,
Season of the Soulless – Betsy Dornbusch,
Redfern's Slipper – Stephen McQuiggan,
Fire Walker – Keith Gouveia,
The Height of Our Fathers – Jeff Salyards,
The Last Magician – William Meikle,
Restoring the Magic – Ian Creasey,
Charlotte and the Demon Who Swam Through the Grass – Mercedes M. Yardley,
On the Far Side of the Apocalypse – Peter Rawlik,
The Stump and the Spire – Joseph Lallo,
Love, Crystal, and Stone – Teresa Frohock,
A Tune from Long, Long Ago – Don Webb,
An Equity in Dust – R.S. Belcher,
Centuries of Kings – Marie Brennan,
Renaissance – Miles Cameron,
About the Authors,
Acknowledgments,

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