Read Black Halo Online

Authors: Sam Sykes

Black Halo

BLACK HALO
Sam Sykes
GOLLANCZ
LONDON
Contents
 

Cover

Title

Also by Sam Sykes from Gollancz

Prologue

Act One: The Stew of Mankind

 

One: Stealing the Sunrise

Two: To Murder the Ocean

Three: One Thousand Paper Wings

Four: The Pristine Madness

Five: White Trees

Six: Cheating Life

Seven: Honest Afflictions

Eight: The Naturalist

Nine: Pests

Ten: Dreaming in Shrieks

Eleven: The Inopportune Conscience

Twelve: Instinctual Shame

Thirteen: Scorn

Fourteen: The Many Corpses

Fifteen: Preferable Delusions

Sixteen: The Sin of Memory

Act Two: Island of Hope and Death

 

Seventeen: Better Off Ignorant

Eighteen: The Benefits of Swaying Genitals

Nineteen: Men of Virtue and the Nooses they Sway From

Twenty: The Sound of Sickness

Twenty-One: The King of Teji

Twenty-Two: Wise Men Remember to Stomp Faces Twice

Twenty-Three: Questions of a Visceral Nature

Twenty-Four: Naming the Sin

Twenty-Five: Confessional Violence

Act Three: Feast among the Bones

 

Twenty-Six: Whispers in Dark Places

Twenty-Seven: An Invitation with Fists

Twenty-Eight: Besides the Obvious Internal Bleeding

Twenty-Nine: The Scent of Memory

Thirty: Buried in Skin

Thirty-One: Subtlety is for the Dead

Thirty-Two: Mercy is for the Dense

Thirty-Three: To Our People

Thirty-Four: Mother and Child

Thirty-Five: The Sins in the Stone

Thirty-Six: A Settling of Debts

Thirty-Seven: Remorse

Thirty-Eight: The Dead, Honoured and Impotent

Thirty-Nine: The Kindest of Poisons

Forty: Broken Promises

Forty-One: Compulsory Treason

Forty-Two: The Ice Speaks True

Epilogue: The Stirring in The Sea

 

Acknowledgements

Copyright

Also by Sam Sykes from Gollancz:
Tome of the Undergates
Prologue
 

The Aeons’ Gate

The Sea of Buradan … somewhere …

Summer, getting later all the time

What’s truly wrong with the world is that it seems so dauntingly complex at a glance and so despairingly simple upon close examination. Forget what elders, kings and politicians say otherwise, this is the one truth of life. Any endeavour so noble and gracious, any scheme so cruel and remorseless, can be boiled down like cheap stew. Good intentions and ambitions rise to the surface in thick, sloppy chunks and leave behind only the base instincts at the bottom of the pot
.

Granted, I’m not sure what philosophical aspect represents the broth, but this metaphor only came to me just now. That’s beside the point. For the moment, I’m dubbing this ‘Lenk’s Greater Imbecile Theory
’.

I offer up myself as an example. I began by taking orders without question from a priest; a priest of Talanas, the Healer, no less. If that weren’t impressive enough, he, one Miron Evenhands, also served as Lord Emissary for the church itself. He signed the services of myself and my companions to help him find a relic, one Aeons’ Gate, to communicate with the very heavens
.

It seemed simple enough, if a bit mad, right up until the demons attacked
.

From there, the services became a bit more … complicated should be the word for it, but it doesn’t quite do justice to describe the kind of fish-headed preachers that came aboard the vessel carrying us and stole a book, one
Tome of the Undergates.
After our services were required to retrieve this – this collection of scriptures wrought by hellbeasts that were, until a few days ago, stories used to frighten coins into the collection plates – to say that further complications arose seems rather disingenuous
.

Regardless, at the behest of said priest and on behalf of his god, we set out to retrieve this tome and snatch it back from the clutches of the aforementioned hellbeasts
.

To those reading who enjoy stories that end with noble goals reached, lofty morals upheld and mankind left a little better for the experience, I would suggest closing this journal now, should you have stumbled upon it long after it separated from my corpse
.

It only gets worse from here
.

I neglected to mention what it was that drove such glorious endeavours to be accomplished. Gold. One thousand pieces. The meat of the stew, bobbing at the top
.

The book is mine now, in my possession, along with a severed head that screams and a very handy sword. When I hand over the book to Miron, he will hand over the money. That is what is left at the bottom of this pot: no great quest to save humanity, no communication with the Gods, no uniting people hand in hand through trials of adversity and noble blood spilled. Only money. Only me
.

This is, after all, adventure
.

Not that the job has been all head-eating demons and babbling seagulls, mind. I’ve also been collecting epiphanies, such as the one written above. A man tends to find them bobbing on the very waves when he’s sitting cramped in a tiny boat
.

With six other people
.

Whom he hates
.

One of whom farts in her sleep
.

I suppose I also neglected to mention that I haven’t been alone in this endeavour. No, much of the credit goes to my companions: a monster, a heathen, a thug, a zealot and a savage. I offer these titles with the utmost respect, of course. Rest assured that, while they are undoubtedly handy to have around in a fight, time spent in close quarters with them tends to wear on one’s nerves rather swiftly
.

All the same … I don’t suppose I could have done it without them. ‘It’ being described below, short as I can make it and ending with a shict’s ass pointed at me like a weapon as she slumbers
.

The importance of the book is nothing worth noting unless it is also noted who had the book. In this case, after Miron, the new owners were the Abysmyths: giant, emaciated demons with the heads of fish who drown men on dry land. Fittingly enough, their leader, the Deepshriek, was even more horrendous. I suppose if I were a huge man-thing with a fish-head, I would follow a huge fish-thing with three man-heads
.

Or woman-heads, in this case, I’m sorry. Apologies again; two woman-heads. The third rests comfortably at my side, blindfolded and gagged. It does have the tendency to scream all on its own
.

Still, one can’t honestly recount the trouble surrounding this book if one neglects to mention the netherlings. I never saw one alive, but unless they change colour when they die, they appear to be very powerful, very purple women. All muscle and iron, I’m told by my less fortunate companions who fought them, that they fight like demented rams and follow short, effeminate men in dresses
.

As bad as things got, however, it’s all behind us now. Despite the fact that the Deepshriek escaped with two of its heads, despite the fact that the netherlings’ commander, a rather massive woman with sword to match escaped, despite the fact that we are currently becalmed with one day left until the man sent to pick us up from the middle of the sea decides we’re dead and leaves and we
really
die shortly after and our corpses rot in the noonday sun as gulls form polite conversation over whether my eyeballs or my stones are the more tasty part of me …

One moment, I’m not quite sure where I intended to go with that statement
.

I wish I could be at ease, really I do. But it’s not quite that easy. The adventurer’s constant woe is that the adventure never ends with the corpse and the loot. After the blood is spilled and the deed is done, there’s always people coming for revenge, all manner of diseases acquired and the fact that a rich adventurer is only a particularly talented and temporarily wealthy kind of scum
.

Still … that’s not what plagues me. Not to the extent of the voice in my head, at least
.

I tried to ignore it, at first. I tried to tell myself that it wasn’t speaking in my head, that it was only high exhaustion and low morale wearing on my mind. I tried to tell myself that …

And it told me otherwise
.

It’s getting worse now. I hear it all the time. It hears me all the time. What I think, it knows. What I know, it casts doubt on. It tells me all sorts of horrible things, tells me to do worse things, commands me to hurt, to kill, to strike back. It gets so loud, so loud lately that I want to … that I just—

Pardon
.

The issue is that I can make the voice stop. I can get a few moments respite from it … but only by opening the tome
.

Miron told me not to. Common sense told me again. But I did it, anyway. The book is more awful than I could imagine. At first, it didn’t even seem to say anything: its pages were just filled with nonsensical symbols and pages of people being eviscerated, decapitated, manipulated and masticated at the hands, minds and jaws of various creatures too awful to re-create in my journal
.

As I read on, however … it began to make more sense. I could read the words, understand what they were saying, what they were suggesting. And when I flip back to the pages I couldn’t read before, I can see them all over again. The images are no less awful, but the voice … the voice stops. It no longer tells me things. It no longer commands me
.

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