that someday is today

In June of 2012, a couple months after publishing Martuk the Holy, I found myself still haunted by those people in the pages. Having created monsters, I really wanted to strip them of their cruelty and discover their humanity. Figure out the Whys to their Whats. See who they were before they became nightmares.

So, with my own life at the time incredibly dark and difficult, I sat down and, giving voice to that darkness, wrote The Wounded King, the first in what I hoped would be an ongoing series of short fiction. Though unspoken at the time, my ultimate goal was to someday, hopefully, compile these books into a collection.

Today, with the release of The Martuk Series, Vol. 1, A Collection of Short Fiction, that someday is today.

And that’s kinda cool.

“Powerful and brutally honest. Assassin’s Creed meets a darker and more ancient mythology. Winn sees the world like no other author I’ve ever read.” – Joe Mynhardt, Publisher/Founder, award-winning Crystal Lake Publishing

“Equal parts deceptive beauty, haunting darkness and shocking brutality. Jonathan Winn’s prose drags you, the reader, through a gauntlet of experiences. It’s a horror reader’s nightmare come true.” – Zakk, The Eyes of Madness

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a free king

From now until the 22nd The Wounded King – “a character study in evil” and the first story in The Martuk Series, Vol. 1 – is FREE over on Amazon.

You can go ahead and click HERE for an excerpt.

And how about a look at the cover?

The Wounded King Final - cover

 

the shivering of bare flesh

A quick excerpt from THE TALL PRIEST, the fourth book in The Martuk Series, Vol. 1, A Collection of Short Fiction (available now for pre-order):

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I was blood.

The taste of it raced ‘round my teeth and flooded my throat. The warmth of it fell from my eyes and stained my cheeks. The red of it dripped off my chin to wander along my neck and down my chest.

I’ll give you my son, she’d said, the Seer from the Mountains. Leave me here to do what must be done and I’ll give you my son.

Her words the darkest of shadows clouding my calm, I’d returned to Uruk that morning, the Seer’s son, an unexpected charge, in hand. Soon I’d stood in the Temple, my explanations useless, The Elder’s rage quiet and terrifying. Moments later, I, a powerful priest in a land of powerful priests, had been dragged across the stone to face my fate.

Now I kneeled, a powerless man in a prison of wood and stone, broken and bloodied in the dead of night.

By morning I’d be a corpse.

I’ll give you my son.

Those words, heavy with heartbreak, had come from the Water first.

Days ago in a small room hidden far beneath the Temple, I’d stood with my beloved, The Elder, as the shimmering pool had whispered

Blinded…

Silent…

Bleeding…

“Don’t. Please,” The Elder said as I’d waited, gripping the edge of hollowed stone, my face dipped low as I silently called to the Gods.

The Veil…

The Darkness…

It comes…

the Water whispered, answering me, the words caressing my cheeks.

He’d begged and pleaded, the Elder, this most powerful man in a city of powerful men. Implored me to turn away. Allow the Water to hold its tongue. Keep its secrets. “It’s dangerous and I can’t bear to lose you,” he said, his voice thick.

“I need to speak with the Gods,” I said, braced with uncommon courage. And I’d ignored him, leaning forward, blade in hand, to slice, to watch, to see. To listen and hear, the blood dripping from my wrist the key unlocking my fate.

And the Seer from the Mountains had appeared in the shallow bowl, the words

Take my son

falling from her lips.

These words, these three syllables, soon to be spoken a three nights walk from Uruk where she, the Seer, and I would stand, watching, under the shade of trees.

Take my son

Hearing her, I’d pause.

For that the guards put me in chains.

More words would be spoken on that path a three nights’ walk from Uruk, a darkening sky above. Of dangerous shadows and ravenous demons. Of monsters and magic. Of battles being fought and wars being lost. Here. Now. Unseen yet all around.

My heart, my gut, trusting her, I’d listen.

For that I lost my eyes.

Days later, now days ago, the tears wetting her cheeks as she stood, silent and waiting, her story at an end, my heart heard

my son

and, against logic and reason and rules, braced with yet more uncommon courage, I’d relent.

For that the guards cut out my tongue.

Learning I’d heard and listened and trusted, my secret beloved, The Elder, had grown dangerously quiet. Discovering I’d acted against logic and reason and his rules, he betrayed me. In response to my misplaced courage, he ripped out my tongue, robbing me of my words, my knowledge, my secrets. And then, my eyes dug out and tossed to the hounds, those two words

my son

finally took from me the pleasure of seeing the sun, the moon. The once-adored face of the love who betrayed me.

The Water in a small, secret room far below the Temple had spoken of that, too.

As had the sky, the earth, the forest, the stones…

Days ago.

Now I turned. My long legs tucked under, I rested on my knees, the cold stone of the cell burning my shins. In the dark of blindness, I heard them. Other prisoners. Their sighs and whimpers, tears and whispers. Heard the shuffling of thin fabric and the shivering of bare flesh. Felt the Silent Other, a stranger to me, waiting, watching. Drawing near, slow and patient, from the other end of the earthen hall.

A Silent Other I’d glimpsed when my eyes could still see, though I stood in the shade of trees under the gathering grey of relentless clouds. He haunted me still, this Silent Other, this stranger. His dishonest smile cutting through the terrifying darkness. The leather cloak falling from his shoulders hemmed with the clattering clank of tiny bones.

I swallowed the memory away, the blood from the still-bleeding root creeping down my throat. It still stung, that stolen tongue, though the burn in my missing eyes had given way to an exhausted thump, thump, thump.

Had I tears, I would have wept. For all I’d lost. All I’d never have. For mistakes and regrets. Lies. Betrayal. The ache of a broken spirit.

For my stupid willingness to abandon reason and peer into an endless wall of black.

But I’d been warned.

Days ago.

Silence

the earth had whispered.

Darkness

the trees had echoed.

Death

the sky had promised.

I’d been warned.

###

Available June 20th

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a pale skull shadowed in starlight

An excerpt from THE ELDER, the second book in The Martuk Series, Vol. 1, A Collection of Short Fiction (available June 20th; pre-order now):

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It sat behind tattered woolen.

The body bent and broken, silhouetted and silent, the orange and yellow and white of the small fire crackling and snapping at its feet.

Pulling the red and gold of my robes against the chill in the air, I paused.

It lifted its head, The Seer, listened, the unusually large skull turning on a neck too slender, too thin. The shoulders tilted as it sensed me near.

The Child waiting before me, her delicate limbs held to the ground of the cave with crude, braided rope, snapped her head up with a small cry.

The Seer’s mouth opened slowly, the silhouette of its large teeth pointed and sharp.

The Child’s mouth opened slowly, bloody gaps where tender teeth had once been.

The Seer lifted and straightened its back.

The Child lifted and straightened her back.

The Seer’s fingers flexed, stretching open like the branches of a great tree.

The bones popped and snapped as The Child’s fingers stretched wide.

She wept, the little girl, the sobs caught in her throat as tears stained her cheeks, the ground below her knees soaked in a rush of urine.

The Seer sighed.

The Child gasped.

I knelt.

The Seer craned its neck, the pointed chin lifting in the air.

It paused.

The Child spoke.

Her mouth opened wide. The jaw popped and cracked. The soft skin of her cheek stretched.

The word wouldn’t come, the sound lost in a strangled sob.

She fought, then, The Child. Pushed it away. Forced this power, this strength, out of her, the tiny fists clenched as her eyes squeezed shut.

And then they opened, these eyes, and found mine. Trapped, afraid, powerless, she silently implored me to help.

I waited, on my knees, my long legs tucked beneath me, eager for her to speak.

Her fists unclenched, her shoulders dropped, the tears came again.

The Seer arched its back. The thin legs stretched and then curled back, folding in on themselves. Like an insect this infamous Seer was, all limbs and head and neck.

Shoulder blades pointed like wings. Thin, matted hair which fell to the ground. The pale skin leathery and rough and stained with a thick film of rancid sweat.

I had walked for two moons, leaving Uruk and the Temple under the cover of night.

Traveled without guards, without my brethren, without the company of the Tall Priest. Left the security of power and the comfort of my position. Left behind the death of the King and the rise of his brother, the Wounded King.

And then the death of their Mother, the Queen, a woman who gave herself to the Darkness only to fall in the heat of flames called by the power of a silver-haired Ancient.

I traveled to escape, my mind unable to comprehend what I’d seen as the Gods ate our sun and the Wounded King ascended the throne and Dark Gods rose to smite powerful Queens. All of this led to questions. Many questions. Questions without answers. Questions only one could answer.

So I left everything to search for this cave unlike any other. The one rising higher than most. Round and smooth unlike its neighbors, the great stone a pale skull shadowed in starlight, its dark entrance guarded by thick trees with branches that bent low when strangers approached.

And up the winding trail I had climbed, into the night, into the cold air of the mountains, to find a creature so old it was now neither man nor woman.

“It is wise,” the Tall Priest had said days ago as the sun warmed our skin. “Able to see the truth in the lie.”

“It is more ancient than those Ancients who linger here among us,” insisted another Priest, this one short and fat, the bread all but falling from his slobbering lips.

“If you seek answers,” another Elder, a man older than I, whispered in the dark of a massive hall of polished stone, “then you must go.”

“You will have to give much to gain what you seek,” warned the Ancient, a man older still, as he nodded and closed his eyes, the turning of his back an end to our brief conversation.

Yes, there were many questions for this beast that lurked behind tattered woolen.

Would the Wounded King step Beyond the Veil? Would his death be the final gift for the Darkness? And with this, would I be given Life Everlasting? Would I rule for countless generations and be revered as a God?

I came to the cave, the entrance hidden behind a thicket of heavy branches.

The trail beneath my feet scarred red with symbols and signs and pleas from those who had come before, I paused and readied myself to open the way.

With my blood.

The blade sliced my wrist and I knelt, my finger dipped into the warm liquid.

And as I guided the crimson, the tip of my finger stained red, the dirt drawing deep as it drank the words from The Time Before the Moon, the trees shifted their roots and lifted their branches, the blanket of leaves rustled and snapped, and the vines slithered back into the earth, the path clear.

A gift had been given.

The way was opened.

They came, the Whispers. Restless ones who spoke and clawed and scratched from their prison Beyond the Veil.

Priest …

Elder …

King …

I ignored them as I navigated down the steep stairs which hugged the slippery stone of the damp wall. Useless, powerless, they could bring me no harm, even here in a black darker than the darkest night.

The stairs gave way to solid ground, a wide circular space opening before me.

Smooth rock on all sides, blackness above. The smell of a water that drip, drip, dripped mingled with the scent of earth and stone and age and death, the glow of the small fire as it flickered behind woolen to the side, away, out of reach.

The Seer hidden behind the crumbling fabric.

And The Child who sat before me. A girl having seen only six or seven summers, her head low, her hair the color of a bright sun. Everything about her so delicate. Her arms slight, her wrists thin, her slender legs and feet bare. The torn sheath of soiled linen which hung from her slender shoulders and fell to her scraped and dirty knees.

Sweet, innocent, powerless.

Trapped.

Surrounded by bones.

Small skulls. Slender ribs. Tiny fingers and toes and the short thickness of undersized thighs.

Children. All children.

Scattered, the skeletons leaned against the large rocks or lay nestled in the crevices between, the shadow near the walls littered with shards of white.

Yes, here I stood two moons from Uruk in the dark of a cave surrounded by skulls waiting for The Seer to speak.

It would not.

But The Child would.

The word came again, lost in the earth as she lay on the ground. Fistfuls of dirt clutched in her tiny fists, her neck rolled, tender bones popping while The Seer nodded its head and the mouth open and closed, open and closed.

The Child stopped and rose, crouched on hands and knees.

“Man … ” She fell to the ground. Her back arched, then released only to snap back into another arch, the head once again low.

“From the …” the words came, her face hidden behind her golden hair.

She collapsed.

The Seer ducked its chin to its flat chest, its large, long hands dropping to its side.

The tears came then as she wept, The Child. Her body convulsed with sobs, with hiccups. She tried to crawl away, slipped on the urine soaked ground, trapped by the rope around her wrists.

I leaned forward and reached my hand out. But not close enough to touch, to intrude.

“Man from the …?” I asked. “From the mountains?”

Whispers.

No …

Speak …

Silence …

The Seer raised its head, the long fingers splayed wide as they stretched and reached and grabbed the air, pushing away the Voices.

The tears stopped as The Child moaned and then grew quiet.

She abruptly rose to her knees, her back straight, arms to her side and her chin to her chest, the mouth now open as drool leaked from her lips.

“From the mountains?” I asked.

It gasped, The Seer, its head back, the fingers quiet and still, the ribs rising and falling as it fought for breath.

The Child lifted into the air.

Her knees left the ground, her shins dropping to hang as she rose. The tiny feet dangled as she lifted higher and higher, her chin in her chest, her face still buried under a sheath of shining hair.

She stopped, waiting, suspended.

I paused, waiting.

“Elder … Priest … King,” she said, the voice low as it echoed the Whispers.

“Yes.” My voice sounded weak. “Yes,” I said again, stronger.

The head rose and the hair fell away from the sweet face. Her mouth stretched wide as she tried to speak, the jaw again a series of pops and cracks as it opened and closed, opened and closed.

“Yes,” I repeated.

She stopped, trapped in midair, the jaw frozen in a silent scream as The Seer attempted to speak through her.

And then she began to bleed.

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Available June 20th

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the flesh lit from within

Two books dropping in the next four months? Yep. The Magi (May) and then a collection of all five Martuk Series shorts (July/August). Cover reveals soon.

Can’t say I haven’t been busy. 😁

Here’s a taste from The Wounded King, Book One in the series.

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And now back to work on Eidolon Two. 👍