Monthly Archives: April 2022
No Gods, Only Monsters – Chapter 1
My new book, No Gods, Only Monsters is out on 1st May 2022, so I thought some of you might like to read the opening chapter.
Links to be able to pre-order are going to be at the bottom of the post, and please do remember that pre-orders really do help an author out. Thanks.
Diana, the Roman Goddess of the hunt, lives alone on the far edge of the Roman Empire. When an old friend arrives looking for help, Diana finds herself thrust back into her old life, and old problems.
With innocent lives caught in the crossfire, Diana realizes that the only way to ensure the safety of her friends and loved ones is to do what she does best: hunt her enemies down.
There’s no escaping the Roman Empire. For centuries, they’ve moved across the world like some damnable plague, seizing and consuming all before them. Cutting down anyone too weak or stupid to not take precautions.
It wasn’t like I could just blame the Romans for that particular lifestyle choice. The Greeks, Spartans, Egyptians, Carthaginians, hell, even the Sea People. They all conquered and took what they wanted. Sometimes I think that humanity is just about war and will never be satisfied. Sometimes I get drunk and try to forget about it.
Today was the latter.
The jug was empty. It wasn’t the first, although it was the first that annoyed me enough to throw it down the hill with as much strength as I could muster. The pot shattered in the darkness, followed by the yelp of an animal of some kind. Wild boar probably. They were in abundance around the hillside.
I sat outside my home on a wooden chair and looked up at the night sky. The stars twinkled with possibility. I didn’t know what stars were, but I was pretty sure they weren’t the gods looking down on us. I’d met the gods, I used to be one of them. ‘Used to’.
I picked up another jug of wine and proceeded to drink.
The darkness did little to diminish my eyesight, and a few moments later an irritated boar shot over the path a few feet ahead. The smell would have given it away if I hadn’t seen it. I considered going after it; it had been a while since I’d had boar, but I was too drunk and I was pretty certain if I stood up, I’d fall down, which would be embarrassing—for me. There wasn’t another living human, or human-shaped thing within an hour ride from here. That had been sort of the point of building my home here. The point of living here.
The two young mares I’d purchased from a dealer in Troas a few years ago, were safely locked in the small stables that sat a little way from my home. Celeritas and Robur had been the majority of my company since I’d gotten them.
The lights from the town of Troas lit up the countryside in the far distance, like a smudged glow. I’d been here over two centuries ago, just passing through when the town had been little more than a hamlet with delusions of grandeur. But the Romans arrived and turned it into a bustling city; a port linking the eastern and western parts of the vast Roman Empire.
I drained the last of the jug and discovered I’d drunk the lot. Five jugs. Next time I’d buy seven.
I hadn’t intended to drink it all, but it was coming up to the anniversary of my moving to Troas, and it brought back nothing but bad memories. Occasionally, I wondered if I was becoming a drunk. Five jugs would probably kill a human, but within the hour I’d probably be back to sobriety. The half werebear side of me could heal wounds in minutes that would kill a human, but it didn’t let me stay drunk for long either. And even when I was drunk, I didn’t forget. Never forgot. Another great thing about being almost immortal. You have a lot longer to remember all the shitty things you did and saw.
With a long, protracted sigh, I leaned back in the comfortable chair as the first drops of rain fell on my head. “Go away,” I shouted at the sky, just in case one of the bastard gods was actually listening.
My home was a modest two-storey affair, with the lower floor containing a table and few chairs, while the upper had a bed. I didn’t need much. There had been a leak in the red tiled roof earlier, and I was glad I’d gotten up there and fixed it or I’d be sleeping in a puddle of water.
The rain began to fall harder, so I gave up and went back inside, taking myself upstairs as the wind whipped through the balcony entrance, knocking over a plain wooden shield I’d propped up against the wall. I’d been meaning to decorate it but hadn’t decided how, and now it was going to need to dry out.
The bed was inviting, and I sat for a moment, meaning to stay awake until I’d sobered up, but instead found myself lying down, and not long after, falling into a deep sleep.
I woke to find it still raining, although one of the rays of sunlight that peeked through the cloud caught me in the eyes making me blink and try to bat it away. I’d have to punch Helios in his stupid face the next time I saw him. I knew he didn’t really pull the sun every morning, but Helios was a dick, so he usually needed punching for something.
It was a short walk to the nearby mountain summit, and looking down into the deep waters of Lake Egeria, I dove from the top of the cliff, hitting the water in an almost perfect motion. I continued on under the crystal-clear water toward the bank on the other side.
“Diana,” a voice called.
I raised my arm to block out the sun, but I couldn’t figure out who the voice belonged to from sight alone. I sniffed the air. “I’m not interested,” I shouted and went back to swimming.
“Diana,” she called again as I resurfaced, running my hands through my shoulder-length dark hair and turning my neck until it audibly cracked.
“Not interested,” I shouted, diving back under the water. She wasn’t going to go away; they never bloody well did. Far too stubborn, far too petulant. I touched the rock on the bottom of the lake, and wondered how long I could hold my breath. I’d counted to a thousand once, then had to surface because a shark had tried to eat me. Turns out sharks don’t taste that great.
The second my head broke the surface, it was filled with the same voice. “Will you please get out of the water.”
I half sighed, half snorted, and swam over to the bank, pulling myself up and out with ease.
“You’re naked,” she said.
I looked down at my body, the water still dripping off it, joined by the increasingly heavy rain as the last vestiges of the sunlight vanished behind fast moving black clouds. “Who swims clothed, Artemis?”
Artemis was almost the same height as me, but her hair was blonde and was currently tied in exquisite plaits that contained several coloured feathers. I didn’t know why she’d spent so long getting her hair done, but there was a lot about Artemis I didn’t understand.
Some believers of the Roman gods said Artemis and I are the same person, something I’ve found to be exceptionally strange. Artemis’ skin was similar to my own olive tone, and she had green eyes, she was open and honest and, quite frankly, annoying. She didn’t like to rock the boat, didn’t like to get into confrontations, which considering her prowess as a hunter and fighter wasn’t something you’d think she would be concerned about. Of all the Greek Pantheon, Artemis was one of a handful I actually didn’t want to actively hurt after just being in their company. Didn’t mean I was happy to see her.
“Are you going to get dressed?” Artemis asked me.
“You’re a goddess,” I said, ignoring her question. “You’re a goddess who works with Zeus. I’m pretty sure you’ve seen more naked people than just… well, anyone ever.”
“Yes, but they don’t all look so…” she didn’t finish the point.
“Awesome?” I asked for her.
Artemis rolled her eyes.
“Buxom?” I asked as Artemis turned and headed away with an audible sigh. “Effervescent? Tantalising?” I continued as I followed.
“Stop it,” Artemis called out without turning around.
“Glorious,” I suggested. “Spectacular.”
Artemis spun back to me as we reached the bottom of the pathway that led up the cliff. “Seriously, Diana. Stop it.” There was no playfulness in her tone.
I nodded in apology. “I meant nothing by it.”
“I know,” Artemis said and started off again.
Artemis and I had been a little more than just friends on a number of occasions, but she devoted herself to becoming the best hunter, the best fighter, the best warrior that she could, and didn’t have time for flights of fancy as she called it. Sometimes she accepted my teasing and flirting, but occasionally, when something was important, she shut it down fast. I used to feel bad for her, that she didn’t allow herself to get into relationships, but honestly, she seemed happier alone, and if that was what made her happy, then I was all for it.
“Why are you here?” I asked when we reached my home.
“Dress first,” Artemis said, pointing to the house. “Talk later.”
She didn’t look at me when I walked past, and I found a leather-armour skirt and top, taking time to put on my sandals before I attached my sheath on my back and slung my double-bladed axe to it.
I found Artemis stood outside the house still, looking off into the distance, down toward the ocean. “Troy was there,” she said almost wistfully.
I followed her gaze. “I know.”
“Did you ever see it?” She asked as I stood beside her. She looked over at me and I saw the sadness in her eyes.
I shook my head.
“It was magnificent,” she said softly. “So many people, so many sights and sounds. And men destroyed it for… pride and revenge.”
“The gods helped,” I said.
Artemis looked over to me. “Yes, we did.” She didn’t sound all that happy about it.
“Hera especially wanted Troy gone.”
“It was the beginning of the end of Hera being happy with the power she had,” Artemis said. “The beginning of the end of Demeter being neutral too. She hated that Hades and Persephone were together, but she didn’t support Hera either. I think Troy ruined the gods as much as the gods ruined Troy.”
“You didn’t come here to discuss history,” I said as Artemis once again looked off to where the magnificent city had once stood. “Ancient history at that.”
Artemis shook her head and seemed to find herself again. “No, we have more important matters.”
“Should I say I’m not interested now? Or wait until you’re done?”
“You were always… petulant,” Artemis said. “I need your help.”
“Why not ask your Pantheon? I don’t do the god stuff anymore.”
“I can’t ask them,” she said, clearly not wanting to discuss the matter further.
I sat on the ground near the entrance to my home as the wind tugged at the wooden door, threatening to throw it open. “I don’t do god stuff,” I repeated. “Not now.”
“This isn’t god stuff,” she said. “This is me asking you for help.”
“How’d you even find me?”
“I’m quite literally the god of hunting,” Artemis said with a flourish of her hands. “It’s sort of my job.”
I narrowed my eyes, got to my feet, stretched, and entered my home, with Artemis following close behind.
“The boar you lobbed a jug at told me,” she said. “The birds had been telling me for a while now. I imagine you saw more above than usual.”
There had been an unusually large number of sea birds above. “How long have you been tracking me?”
“A few years,” Artemis said. “I wanted to check you were okay.”
“You could have just come and asked,” I said with a slight shake of my head.
“You wanted to be alone,” Artemis said sadly. “I didn’t know how you would take my interference. But this is too important to ignore. I need your help, Diana. Please.”
It was the please that hit me hardest. Artemis didn’t ask for help, she didn’t need it, and on the odd occasion she did, she’d have asked Persephone or Apollo before anyone else. The fact that she bypassed them to come to me did not bode well for whatever shitty thing she was about to ask.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
There was a knock at the door, and I motioned for Artemis to wait a second as I got to my feet and opened it, ready to tell whoever was there that I wasn’t interested. There was a dwarf there. A Norse dwarf to be exact. He was five feet tall, so well over a head shorter than me, and wore dark grey metal armour. He was carrying a metal helmet under one arm, and a large battle-axe was sheathed on his back, much like my own, but he had two more hand axes hanging from either side of his waist. Also, a sword. Several daggers. And what looked like a short bow slung over one shoulder. He looked like he should be invading countries.
He smoothed his long, ginger beard and cleared his voice. “Have you told her yet?” he asked Artemis, speaking in Latin while looking behind me.
I turned back to Artemis. “Why is there a Norse dwarf at my door?”
“You know it’s fuckin’ raining out here, right?” the dwarf said.
I turned back to him. “You worried you might get all that nice armour rusty?”
He laughed, although there was no humour in it. “Aren’t you the fuckin’ witty one?” he said sarcastically before looking beyond me to Artemis. “I see why you like her; she must be a hoot with the rest of the Roman Pantheon.”
“You want to come in?” I asked, looking at the multitude of tattooed runes that covered his face and backs of his hands.
“Ah, what a fuckin’ splendid idea.” He stepped into the house and placed his belongings beside the door, taking time and care with the weapons until he shrugged off his drenched chainmail shirt. I’d seen them before on dwarves, but rarely on humans, and I’d never worn one myself. They looked cumbersome.
He removed his soaked linen shirt, revealing even more tattoos over his torso. “Anywhere I can put this?”
“By the fire is fine,” I said, watching as he hung his tunic over a wooden bar close to the flames. “Most people who strip in my home have to give me their name.”
He looked back at me, embarrassed for the first time. “Ah, sorry.” He removed his huge leather gloves and offered me his hand; it was calloused, and the strength in it was easy to feel. “Skost.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said, turning to Artemis. “I know you told me to wait, but it’s not the weather for sitting outside under a tree. Anyway, there are people in Troas who I think might not be happy to see me.”
Artemis, looking out of the nearby window, asked, “Were you followed?”
“I’m not new at this,” Skost said.
Artemis looked back at him, the question still in the air.
“No, I wasn’t followed,” Skost said with a sigh. “Although, I don’t think it’ll take long for someone to come here and ask questions.”
“Why would anyone be coming here?” I asked, getting slightly annoyed at being in a conversation where I had no idea what anyone was talking about. “Artemis.”
“You’re going to want to sit down,” she said.
“What did Zeus do?” I asked, taking a seat.
“Oh, nothing,” Artemis said. “Not on this occasion anyway.”
“I’ll keep watch,” Skost said. “I saw a balcony above, that’ll be good enough.” He walked off without another word.
“Artemis,” I said, my tone hard now.
“Okay, about a year ago there was a notion to move the Minotaurs,” Artemis began.
“Why?” I asked before I could stop myself.
“Long story,” Artemis said. “Basically, their compound on Crete became no longer usable. We moved them toward Northern Dalmatia where there’s a realm gate to Niflheim.
“The city in Helheim?” I asked, thinking of the massive city in the realm ruled by Hel.
“No, different place,” Artemis said. “That’s Niflhel, this is Niflheim.”
I stared at her. “They did a superb job with the naming stuff part.”
Artemis sighed. “I think we may be getting off track.”
“Minotaurs to Niflheim,” I said, trying to remember if I knew something about the place. “It’s a land of ice.”
“It was,” Artemis said. “Some of it still is, but it’s a huge place and nothing lives there except a few cities of humans. It’s a peaceful place. It’s a good place for Minotaurs to not be hunted or thought of as demonic.”
The anger in Artemis’ words showed her concern for the Minotaurs. No one had been happy with what had happened to them—except maybe Ares and Hera, but no one I cared about gave two shits what either of them thought.
“Nearly all of the Minotaurs were moved successfully,” Artemis said. “We were moving the last half dozen when we were attacked. It happened as we landed in Macedonia. A group of people in black and red, a deep red silhouette of a flying bird as emblems.”
“You know it?” I asked.
“Never seen it before,” she said. “They killed several guards, and the rest scattered. The Minotaurs vanished into the forests there.”
“You couldn’t hunt them,” I said.
“No one can hunt them unless…”
“It’s the blood of the one who created them,” I said. “Yeah, I’ve heard before. You need a Gorgon then.”
“Hera and Poseidon helped create the Minotaurs to punish people, but they turned into a species on their own,” Artemis said. “They used the blood of a Gorgon to do it. Only Gorgons can track them.”
“You want me to find a Gorgon?” I asked.
Artemis nodded. “I need you to find a Gorgon. And I can’t do it.”
Artemis looked away. “Because I can’t. Don’t ask more. Please.”
“Why can’t the dwarf do it?”
“Because the dwarves are angry enough that several of their own were murdered by these assassins, and are looking for a reason to come here en masse.”
“The dwarves are itching for a fight,” I said. “What a shock.”
“I can hear you,” Skost said from the room above.
“A few questions,” I said. “One: where’s the Gorgon? Two: why didn’t you go to Apollo or Persephone for help, or anyone who isn’t me?”
“The Gorgon is on Corsiae,” Artemis said.
“That’s some distance south of here,” I said. “A few days ride. Maybe less by sail, but this time of year the storms aren’t fun, and they arrive quickly. And a long way to go back to Macedonia after.”
“It can’t be helped,” Artemis said.
“And question two?”
“I can’t ask them for help because I’m pretty sure that members of the Greek Pantheon are behind the attack,” Artemis said. “I don’t know who to trust.”
“Ladies,” Skost said practically jumping down the stairs. “I see horses coming this way.”
“If they are working with the people who attacked us, we can’t be found,” Artemis said. “The location of the Gorgon is known only to a few. If they should get to her before us…”
I looked out of the window at the closing riders. I turned, and moved a rune inscribed rug off the floor, revealing a hatch beneath it and lifting it. “Take the steps down to the tunnels below, I’ll join you after.”
“That’s some nice work,” Skost said, looking down the hole. “Really well maintained.”
“Can we discuss architecture when we know if people haven’t come to kill you?” I asked, passing Skost all of his weaponry as he descended the ladder after Artemis.
I closed the hatch, replacing the rune inscribed rug. It cut off the senses, making it harder to track people hidden beneath. It had been a present from the last time I’d dealt with the Norse dwarves.
I glanced out of the window as the riders neared. It was still raining and windy outside, but I picked up my axe and walked out of my home to confront the riders.
And there you go, I hope you enjoyed it.