Excerpt: ‘We, the Ravens of Bai Gao Lou’ by Russell Hemmell

 

I’d like to share another excerpt from Insignia: Asian Birds & Beasts. This one is a bird story from returning author, Russell Hemmell.

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WE, THE RAVENS OF BAI GAO LOU

 

I can’t avert my gaze from her, while she stands in front of the iron portal—her neck fierce and erect, her eyes shut not in fear but in refusal. Waiting to enter without reclining her head, knowing too well it’s going to be a one-way movement. But not a sound comes out from that mouth so many have desired to kiss. Pale lips with a suave smile, the queen looks at me, and her irises shine like a thousand moons in a winter night.

They push her forward, and she walks inside. Without a lament.

The Traitor’s Gate closes behind her.

She is lost! my winged siblings scream while circling in the sky. Nobody comes back from the Bai Gao Lou, the Mighty White Tower.

Nor will you, green-eyed queen from a far-away land.

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I approach again, flitting around the rooftop, peering inside the minuscule windows. They’re made in ways that prevent a comfortable view of the court, those windows, and she needs to stand in an uncomfortable position to reach them. She can’t see me, either.

It’s a cold and nasty place, her secluded house in the Tower. The rags on the floor and tapestry on the walls that should keep it warm have all been taken away. There are organic pigment and insects mixed with blood in the old frescoes, to suggest unspoken horrors and weaken her resolve.

And today, they have put severed heads on the Traitor’s Gate, like pieces of Sunday roast on a spike. Them. Them, she can see.

I fly lower, to glimpse at the queen. Her eyes are transfixed; she looks outside, at a point in the horizon—at those short, happy days of her realm, of unbound extravaganza, unbridled lust, glimmering revelries.

Her heyday lasted just that, a day.

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Russell Hemmell is a statistician and social scientist from Scotland, passionate about astrophysics and speculative fiction. Recent publications in Aurealis, The Grievous Angel, Third Flatiron, and others. Find her online at her blog earthianhivemind.net and on Twitter @SPBianchini and @RxHemmell.

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Add on Goodreads

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Excerpt: ‘Reborn’ by Nidhi Singh

Hi everyone! This weekend I’d like to share a few excerpts from stories in our latest anthology,  Insignia: Asian Birds & Beasts.

‘Reborn’ is Nidhi Singh’s third story with The Insignia Series, and is set in the jungles of India. It might change how you feel about snakes…..

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‘Reborn’ by Nidhi Singh

Excerpt:

A couple of pale flabby tents, damp with the rain, had been pitched in a clearing. A tall bearded man, attired in the dress of a Shikari, a hunter, stood still near the entrance to the campsite. He smoked nonchalantly, with one foot propped on a black boulder. A double-barreled gun of exceptional length, probably an old flintlock, leaned against his other leg.

He pressed some tobacco leaves in Kasyapa’s hand: a customary welcome of the Gond tribals. The Shikari, called Manjhi, was about fifty years of age, tall and sinewy, with a singularly mild face, and a long, scrawny neck, deeply seamed with many scars. His meager form was arrayed in a sort of hunting shirt of greenish brown, belted at the waist with sambar leather. Around his head was a small, tightly twisted turban of the same hue as the rest of his garments. At his belt he carried a long machete, a horn of powder, and a small wallet containing bullets, flint, and steel.

He and his ancestors before him enjoyed a fearsome reputation, of having shot dead man-eaters here, wrestled bison barehanded there, and cut down many an attacking leopards and beasts of prey with their formidable daggers.

“Welcome, to the land of Sher Khan,” he said, pumping Kasyapa’s hand in his giant, calloused grip. “I’ll be your guide.” He smiled, showing a strong row of broad white teeth.

The Shikari led Kasyapa to where some easy chairs and a camp table, covered with tea and toast and fruit, had been laid out. Kasyapa sank into one of the chairs, stretched out his legs, and closed his eyes with a sigh of intense satisfaction. Meanwhile, a flustered campsite host with a clipboard and fluttering papers shepherded the bellowing children into their tents.

“What are you keen on?” the Shikari asked after tea had been served in earthen bowls.

“The usual suspects,” Kasyapa replied. “How are the sightings?”

“Fair. Usually near the watering holes—plenty of cheetal and sambar here for the king of the jungle.”

“How do we go in?”

“By jeeps, obviously. Elephant rides are also available, but not for the kids without supervision. We’ll leave in batches—mornings and afternoons. You and I could ride an elephant, though. An elephant can strike out into the heart of the jungle. He makes his own road.”

“Okay, what else? We’re here for a week thereabouts.”

“There is a tribal arts center. The kids will like the wood and clay playthings. You could take home some trinkets for the missus? The camp guys have organized a boat ride down the Pench river too. You will see alligators—hundreds of them lounging on the white sands on its banks, and beautiful islands. And the camp guys usually throw in a campfire on the last day.”

Kasyapa nodded and looked away into the thickening mists as they began to settle on the treetops. “Don’t you ever go out on foot?” he suddenly asked. “What about these National Geography guys?”

The Shikari slapped his thighs. “I knew you were not the normal babu who looks for comfort or textbook adventures. You look fit enough to me. But the jungle—are you quite up to it?”

“What about the kids?”

“Don’t worry, there is a guide on each vehicle. The staff knows how to handle the rowdiest of them.”

“Just for the record, we’ll accompany them on the safaris and boat rides, and when they’re in the camp, we could strike out.”

“Sure. There is a cost, though. And there are dangers; slippery tracks could land you in bottomless ravines, there are bears, panthers, snakebites, and if you’re lucky, Sher Khan.”

“I am okay with that. Are you?”

The Shikari sniggered. “I fear no tiger now. They fall before me like the mango at which the boy throws his stick.”

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Nidhi Singh’s Author Page

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AVAILABLE FROM:

| Smashwords | B & N | kobo |

| Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon CA |

| Amazon DE | Amazon FR | Amazon ES |

| Amazon IT | Amazon NL | Amazon JP | Amazon BR |

| Amazon MX | Amazon IN |

 ~~~

Add on Goodreads

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Interested in writing for us?

A new submission call opens Sept 1st. Full details are on our Submissions Page.

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Excerpt: ‘Horse Feet’ by Celestine Trinidad

We’re very excited about the release of Insignia: Southeast Asian Fantasy, the third anthology in The Insignia Series. As a preview, we’ll be sharing excerpts from all the stories over the next few days, beginning with ‘Horse Feet’, a paranormal mystery by Filipino author, Celestine Trinidad.

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‘Horse Feet’ by Celestine Trinidad

Maria stood before the large black horse bound to one of the trees, feeling a sudden and completely uncharacteristic pang of pity for the creature. A circle of salt had been drawn on the ground, keeping the tikbalang enclosed within its borders. Someone had thrown salt at the creature itself as well –crystals glimmered in its mane, and the portions of its skin where the salt had touched it looked raw and red, like fresh burn marks.

“He’s been like that since we caught him, Lady Sinukuan,” the man standing behind her said. Kapitan Alfredo, the captain of the village of Wakas, Tayabas, was a short and stocky man, his bald head only reaching up to Maria’s shoulders. “He hasn’t said anything, except when he asked for you.”

“That is unusual, indeed,” Maria said. “Most of the time I have trouble just getting him to shut up.”

“He said that he was under your protection, My Lady. Was he speaking the truth?”

“Well, in a manner of speaking, I suppose he is,” Maria replied.

“How do you know him?”

“He is—” Maria was about to say, ‘a suitor’, but stopped herself in time. That was what she thought he was in the beginning, indeed, just one out of the many suitors who sought the hand of the guardian diwata of Arayat in marriage. But—as much as she loathed to admit it—he turned out to be more than that, unsolicited though his help had been. Under the circumstances, she felt that she should acknowledge him this time. “He has been of great assistance to me in some of my other cases.” She hoped he really was unconscious, for if he had heard speak like this, she would never hear the end of it. “What has he done, Kapitan, for him to deserve a death sentence?”

“Murder,” Kapitan Alfredo said bluntly.

“Murder?”

“One of my servants, Ernesto, had been missing since dinner last night,” Kapitan Alfredo explained. “My son Felipe went to look for him, and he found Ernesto’s body in the forest. And then he saw this creature running away from the scene.”

Maria’s eyebrows furrowed as she considered the matter. “And how was Ernesto killed?”

“Trampled to death, it looked like.  I saw the body myself. There were all these bruises in the shape of a horse’s hooves all over his body. Exactly how a tikbalang would kill a human.”

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Celestine Trinidad’s Profile Page

Insignia: Southeast Asian Fantasy Page

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Want to write for the next Insignia anthology?

See our new Submissions Page

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More Excerpts:

‘Horse Feet’ by Celestine Trinidad

‘The Third Eye’ by Sheenah Freitas

‘Interlude’ by Eve Shi

‘The Island’ by Melvin Yong

‘Running from Shadows’ by Joyce Chng

‘Never Seen’ by Kelly Matsuura

‘Spirit of Regret’ by Eliza Chan

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Excerpt: ‘Black Smoke and Water Lilies’ by David Jon Fuller

Here is an excerpt from the new story, ‘Black Smoke and Water Lilies’ by David Jon Fuller. We love this story, and are very excited to have a new author join the Insignia Series. Welcome David!!

 

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‘Black Smoke and Water Lilies’ by David Jon Fuller

 

I am born in the Valley of the Forest Monastery. It is a time of invasion.

I am five years old. My name is Quick Stream. I sit on the fence that pens our pigs while my father and mother work in the fields. The mud stinks a familiar stench; earth and slop and excrement. The sun is bright; it is summer. The mountains surrounding the valley still have snow covering the tops. My father has told me to keep an eye on the pigs, but to face away from the sun and watch the pass to the west. It is called the Way of Black Sorrow.

At seventeen years old, I remember watching the Way at five and tremble, for once again smoke blows through from the far side of the mountains; the marauders have returned. At seventeen I am safe behind the walls of the monastery, but I tremble nonetheless.

I am eleven years old. I live with my father’s sister and her husband. He is unwilling to share his home. I am old enough to work but not to be asked to leave. When the harvests are poor, he yells at me. Perhaps he thinks it is my fault. I don’t know what to say, so I leave until he has tired and gone to sleep. The trees are not thick around the foot of the mountains, but many evergreens grow higher up. The woods whisper in the wind. The sound is soothing, and it helps one to forget. At times, I see young monks wandering silently between the trees—they are holy men; they tread softly on the earth, listening to the whispers. They are men of peace, but all know they have trained long to defend their monastery. At eleven I have heard that they are fearsome in battle, as flowing in their movements as the sapling in the wind, but hard as oak when they strike. I hide and wait, and watch one as he passes. He does not look up; he gives no sign of noticing me; and yet it seems he expects me to be here. At eleven I do not understand how he can know this.

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David Jon Fuller’s Profile Page

Insignia: Chinese Fantasy Stories Page

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Want to write for the next Insignia anthology?

See our new Submissions Page

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If you already own a copy of Insignia: Chinese Fantasy Stories, you should be able to get an updated file for FREE from your ebook distributor. Please check your account/library for this option.

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Excerpt: ‘The Great Qilin’ by Kelly Matsuura

Here’s a short excerpt from the new anthology, Insignia: Chinese Fantasy Stories. The Great Qilin is a Young Adult piece, one of three in this anthology.

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THE GREAT QILIN

I dreamed of a most strange beast; part-dragon, part-horse, part-lion. It flew down from the evening sky, trailing a blaze of fire behind it and landed with surprising grace before me.

In my vision-state I was still dressed in my favorite pink pajamas; my feet bare and chilled by the damp lawn where I stood behind my house. I was not physically present, but I felt the wind, blinked at the bright moon, and smelled the subtle musky scent of the visiting creature.
“Ting Sun,” the beast spoke my name.

I trembled, in awe, not fear. I had the gift to communicate with earthly animals, and they sometimes spoke to me in visions, but it was my first experience with one of the three heavenly creatures: dragon, phoenix, and qilin.
“I am,” I answered with a parched throat. I straightened my back and neck, preparing to receive an important message or task.
“Ting Sun, I request your assistance on a simple, yet important matter.” The qilin rose on all four hooved-feet and turned sideways. “Please sit on my back and we will leave now.”
Me? Ride a qilin? I had never heard of such a quest, but it filled me with excitement.

We traveled through the starry sky, soaring over the land and waters of Yunnan province, heading north. I gripped the qilin’s mane with one hand, the other I trailed through its flaming fire. It didn’t burn at all and I thrilled at the multitude of colors trapped in each thread of flame. I examined the qilin’s body with great interest. The size of a large lion, it was, however, covered in the scales of a dragon. Beautiful, pearl-like scales in the lightest shade of blue. Its thin mane was a darker blue and finished at the top of its shoulders like a horse’s does. Two horns of smooth black ivory curled outwards and up, resembling those of an ox.

Below me, mountains and deserts passed by. Where were we going exactly? We were still in China as far as I could tell, but I had never before left Yunnan so was unfamiliar with the landscape we crossed.

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Thank you for reading! Please visit the Insignia Vol.2 page for more details and to-buy links.

More Excerpts:

Looking for Trouble by Joyce Chng