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Milos Burden
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ISBN-10: 1-77115-293-1
Genre: Fantasy/SF/Fiction/Adventure
eBook Length: 224 Pages
Published: March 2016

From inside the flap

In Milo’s Burden, A wooden carving is brought to life by the ancient and forgotten Lifefire. But the new-born woman, Malissa, has a terrible flaw: her only emotion is rage. It feeds the power that surges through her and will not let her rest until she holds the entire world in a vicious death grip. The crew of the Pride and the inhabitants of mythical Uamh struggle to thwart her plans. In a bloody battle, Captain Oprum is taken prisoner and all else is put aside to rescue him.

Milo, the young boy who animated Malissa, has inadvertently upset the forces of Lifefire and sundered its delicate balance. With his sister and her friend, and an old man and his mangy dog, he must travel deep within the mountains to discover the secrets of Lifefire before rage rules the world.

Milos Burden (Excerpt)

Chapter 01

A blanket of stale smoke hung over the event like a foul-smelling fog. Revulsion and excitement danced back and forth on the faces of the crowd that had somehow congealed into a single blurred mass. Fear and sweat thickened the air and mingled with the odour of overcooked sausages and onions from the food vendors to form a truly disgusting concoction.

Jon took a deep breath and erupted in a spasm of coughs. He shook his head to clear it and noticed the blank sheets of parchment forgotten in his lap. He groaned. He was here to record what he saw and had not written a single word.

It seemed a lifetime ago that Jon had been given this assignment, thinking that the new event added to the monthly market was some sort of sports contest. His work so far as an Apprentice Historian had mostly consisted of rewriting some ancient, boring story into current language. He could deal with that. Or, sometimes, he would be asked to attend a Council meeting accompanied by other Apprentices. They would all diligently record what transpired, then return to a classroom to critique each other's work. Theoretically. The critique was more like a free-for-all where his so-called colleagues would gleefully tear his work to small pieces. He could deal with that too. But this assignment was like something from a nightmare and for the first time he wasn't certain that he could accomplish his task.

Jon would never have imagined-and he thought he had a pretty good imagination-the loathsome struggles he witnessed today. He gritted his teeth, summoning his determination to deliver an accurate account. His reputation as a budding Historian rested on how well he did. He knew that many in the School expected him to fail, students and teachers alike. He was, after all, a dock rat skulking among his betters. His dormitory mates had tried to torment him into quitting from the moment he walked through the door but they were no match for the abuse he had survived at the hands of the bully-boy gangs along the waterfront. Jon had learned when to hide, when to run, and when to fight. His slim frame hid a tough, wiry body and more than once, one of his much larger tormentors at the School had limped away from a fast and vicious lesson that Jon had administered, however reluctantly.

The blaring horns announced the final contest. He gave fervent thanks that this was the last one in a morning that seemed to never end.

The pair of monstrosities stood motionless, each a few paces beyond the sturdy gate through which it had been unceremoniously shoved. In a well-practised motion, the beast handlers used small crossbows to embed barbed darts into their hides. Agitated, the beasts began to move towards each other.

They were 450 pounds each, the weighing-in made certain of that, but any other resemblance ended there. The many-legged creature with the red paint smeared on its back stood no more than two feet high at the shoulder. Its scaled head rose to a crest that covered half its body. At the front and to either side of the head were its primary fighting tools: three cavernous mouths each equipped with razor sharp sets of teeth, extendable downwards to hold its prey and outwards to stab or slice. Its six stout legs ended in claws that glinted dully where the light caught them. It had no eyes, no ears, no tail, no visible genitalia.

Its opponent, with blue streaks of paint down its upper limbs, appeared emaciated by comparison. It stood over seven feet tall, the legs easily two-thirds of that, but most of its weight was in the massive arms that twitched and quivered with tension. It bounced more than walked on the two stick legs, and above a small but heavily muscled torso was a head from nightmares. A horny beak with a serpent's tongue flicked black slime that sizzled where it fell. A single orb protruded from its skull just above the beak. Maggot-coloured tendrils hissed and waved where feathers or hair or scales should have been.

With blinding speed, Red plunged at Blue's spindly legs to topple it closer to the thrashing mouths that slavered in anticipation. At the last instant, Blue sprang into the air with the help of tiny wings that opened on its back. The crowd roared in surprise and surged closer to the action.

Red's headlong rush sent it crashing into the retaining wall and it lurched about, dazed from the impact. Blue raised a delicate leg over Red and matched its opponent's movements so that they seemed to perform a macabre mating dance. An instant later, Blue dropped onto Red's back and powerful arms locked around the crested head.

Red gouged and tore, ripping chunks of flesh from the thing that tormented it. Beak and tendrils whipped back and forth at the flashing mouths, and black threads of liquid spurted into the throng. The mindless frenzy in the ring was pierced by shrieks of agony as the spittle seared the exposed flesh of unlucky spectators. With one last surge of strength, Red lay broken in the dirt, its body convulsing in death. Blue swayed above its prey, spouting ichor from its wounds, then began pecking at the open, lolling mouths.

Occupied as it was, a beast handler had no difficulty releasing a much larger crossbow barb with precision into Blue's eye. It slowly toppled to the gore-strewn ground. Workers rushed in, some struggling to remove the dead bodies and others attempting to clean the ring.

Jon stared at the blank parchment beneath his hand, stylus frozen in mid-air. Nausea roiled in his guts. His mind flashed to the dock bullies raining blows on him as he lay helpless in the dirt, their taunts of 'cripple toy' ringing in his ears. His uncle had never, ever touched him, and Uncle Kory had not been born a cripple. But the bully boys didn't care much for explanations; all they saw was someone they could make suffer. Someone they could terrify until he heaved up his meagre breakfast, then laugh as they sauntered away. These creatures in the fight ring were as helpless as he had been; they, too, had been forced into something in which they wanted no part.

Compelled by a dark fascination, his eyes moved of their own accord back to the ring, back to the dark smudges off to one side. This can't be right. Anger overcame the sick feeling in his stomach. The creatures had been ugly and vicious and he certainly would never want to encounter them in their own territory high on the northern plateau wastes, but they had their own lives to live and far more noble ways to die. To be forced to kill each other for entertainment's sake was just wrong. To no longer have control over one's fate, to be vulnerable before something more powerful, to feel the deep frustration and humiliation of helplessness...

He tore his gaze from the carnage to where the Members of Council sat along with their Advisors and a retinue of clerks and runners. They were here to witness the first of these events and some had actually watched the battles, but most were far more interested in the results at the betting windows. Their runners scurried back and forth with demands for information. The Council would receive a part of the proceeds. But what remained unclear to Jon and, he suspected, to the majority of the population of Alba was exactly how big that part was. 'To cover costs and provide funds for essential projects' Jon had been told as he was brusquely ushered from the choice vantage point where the Members sat. He wondered what that lot would consider essential-something to do with exotic foods and fine silks most likely.

In the crowd, Jon spotted Vern Hanking from the docks, and there was Delilah from the candle shop. People he knew, people he liked, people who had been transformed before his eyes into part of a shrieking mob intent on blood.

The sharp crack of the stylus snapping in two between his taut fingers jolted him back to his duty, and to the black ink that dripped down his fingers and soaked the parchment. Damn!

He found another stylus at the bottom of his ratty canvas supply bag and while the crowd wended its way out through the doors of the arena, he wrote a few sketchy notes finishing with 'and they shoved the poor creatures into the ring and prodded them to attack each other.' Sighing, he knew he would have to rewrite more than that last bit.

When the throng finally thinned, Jon gathered his writing tools and trudged back to the Apprentice Quarters and to his worktable, giving the dining hall a wide berth. The sour queasiness in his stomach confirmed that food was not an option.