Thursday, February 2, 2012

"Deeds in Dark Places" by A. S. Warwick (Novelettes)

Genre:  Sword & Sorcery Fantasy

Type of Short Story:  Novelette Collection

Summary:   In a world ancient with civilisations, where ruins and mysteries and monsters abound, the adventurous thrive.

Sell-swords, mercenaries, corsairs and more, Fianna and Carse of the Red Blade have been all of these. Better known to many as Peregrine and Blade, they are a most unusual pairing. Fianna, a sword-maiden of the wild Aedring hill clans, and Carse, the urbane, educated man of the civilised cities, a dabbler in the Mysteries and sometimes assassin, are a far cry from one another.

Assassins, sorcerers, the undead and other dangers, all are but a few of the obstacles they face in their search for wealth and glory. Success is hard won, and oft times fleeting.


The turquoise waters of the lagoon were a crystal mirror, still and unsullied. Beneath the surface, the rippled sands stood out sharp under the bright burning sun. Small shoals of vividly coloured fish darted amongst long strands of wavering weeds, while small crabs scuttled to and fro through the shoals. Above, gulls lazily drifted in the silent, breathless air. A furnace of humid heat blanketed the region, the air thick with it, suffocating in its intensity.

White sands that dazzled blindingly in the sunlight bounded the lagoon, a narrow band of beach between the water and the dense, emerald growth of a wild and vibrant jungle, thick with tall palms, dangling vines and bushes heavy with the intense colours of flowers. Through the jungle, a stream cut its way, running across the sand of the beach to feed the lagoon.

A sandy breakwater ringed much of the lagoon, sheltering it from the seas beyond. Out there, small islands dotted the horizon; steep sided and crowded with growth, part of a veritable maze of hidden shoals and reefs, jagged rocks and islands. They were but a fraction of an archipelago strung out along the western seaboard, ranging from the windswept, chilled north were floating ice was as much a danger as shoals, all the way to the far, burning south.

Dipping oars marred the mirrored surface of the lagoon, ripples echoing out across it as three small boats rowed in from the open sea, making for the beach. Anchored just off shore sat a twin-masted lateen-sailed ship, its oars stowed away. Of the type the men of Metsheput labelled a xebec, the corsairs and cut-throats that plagued the shipping lines of the southern islands, the Sevinian Isles, much favoured it.

The three small boats were each packed with a score of men, hailing from a dozen lands. There were pale skinned men from the far north, and ebon men from the jungles of the south. There were those that hailed from the great cities of the plains, from ancient Metsheputi and from the feuding western kingdoms.

The first ashore as the boats drew near to the beach, leaping with the grace and caginess of a wolf, came a striking auburn haired woman, a heavy cutlass in hand. With bare feet and breeches of loose crimson silk, she waded through the water up onto the sands. A broad green sash wrapped about her waist, into which a long dirk had been thrust, while over a loose white shirt she wore a leather vest. Her hazel eyes were sharp as she studied the beach and the jungle, and she moved with the caution of a wild beast.

Others spilled out behind her once the boats touched the beach. Quickly the boats were pulled up out of the water. The group were a rough looking, motley crew, men and women both, clad in an assortment of clothing, from the drab to the elaborately flamboyant, no two alike in appearance. Corsairs and cut-throats drawn from the dregs of nations, still none of them could match the air of barely suppressed danger that lurked about the auburn haired woman. A lioness among jackals she was compared to them, a primal, untamed force of nature such as can only come from being born to it.

The crew of cut-throats spread out along the white sands of the beach as the woman stalked closer to the trees, her eyes guardedly intent upon them. Two others followed after her. A tall man was one of them, though in comparison he appeared slender and soft, a creature of the cities rather than a true corsair. A long and languid face beneath dark hair and pale skin gave him a look of culture and refinement. He wore a silk shirt of dark scarlet, well tailored, and embroidered with delicate detail in golden thread, while a slender rapier hung from a baldric slung across his chest.

The other was a big man, not merely in height, but in the girth of his paunch, though despite that he walked with the light, rolling gait of a man born to the seas. His dark hair and beard were thick and coarse, while a patch across his left eye gave his dark complexion a menacing aspect. Silver rings adorned his ears, and his fingers, and a broad hat with a red feathered plume rested jauntily upon his head.

"This is the place?" he asked, his voice gruff and weathered while his one good dark eye narrowed as he stared at the jungle ahead, an entanglement so thick that barely a yard could be seen into it.

"All indications point to it being so, Vaspari," the other man told him.

"I had wished it were otherwise, Carse," Vaspari stated. "This place is Xaotolan, once part of the vast and malevolent empire of the Xoacana, before the oceans swallowed it up in ages past. They may have walked as men, but the Xoacana were devils in human form, necromancers of the darkest type. A black curse still lingers on this place so that few will darerisk even setting foot upon it."

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