Steel, Blood & Fire Immortal Treachery Book 1 by Allan Batchelder Genre: Dark Fantasy
His awestruck opponents call him The Reaper, an iron-willed man with no memory of his past, a ruthless champion who has risen to the level of death incarnate.
But The Reaper has collected a legion of enemies as he cut a bloody swath through the greatest of heroes and villains. And these dogs have finally had their day, exacting a revenge both cruel and creative.
Wandering lost, horribly disfigured and unable to fight, Vykers stumbles across the bones of a half-buried skeleton that can transform his ruined body in an inconceivable way. But first he must make a devil’s pact with…
A secretive, ghostly sorceress with ambitions of her own. If Vykers wants to wield a sword again, he must surrender to Arune that which he holds most dear. But can he trust this ethereal enchantress to hold up her end of their dangerous bargain?
Vykers has few good choices, and he must make them quickly, for an impossibly talented and savage wizard has arisen to threaten all of humanity…
THE END OF ALL THINGS
Once an autistic boy hardly able to speak, The End has evolved into a supernatural terror bent on extinguishing all life. A fearsome and unequaled tactician, The End is the only person who doesn’t fear “The Reaper.”
To have any hope of defeating this bloodthirsty mage, Vykers must gather the strangest, most dangerous cohort of killers ever assembled. Then he must seek out the only weapon that can defeat this terrible adversary…
THE EPIC BATTLE
Behold the greatest clash of men, monsters, and Fey that the kingdom has ever known. Vykers, at the head of his outnumbered contingent, launches a desperate attack against The End, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.
But The End is a creature worthy of his name. He has forged a secret weapon, a wicked and terrible instrument that will break through Vykers’ defenses and exact a devastating toll.
Only one thing is certain, this extraordinary battle will end in a way that no one could have predicted!
The beatings and abuse continued without pause, without end, due in no small part to the efforts of the two A’Shea on either side of him, who had surely foresworn their sacred trust in prolonging his misery. He had hoped for – even expected – death, by the end of his first day. But the Duke, the people of the Reaches and his healers would not be satisfied until the last victim had exacted his just measure of vengeance. An all-too familiar speech interrupted his reverie.
“You may strike him once,” one of the guards told the next in line, “however you like. If your blow’s the one kills him, though, you’ll be whipped on this same post. Do you understand?”
Of course. They all understood; they were artists of understanding by now. And so he’d been punched, slapped, scratched, kicked, stabbed with needles in non-vital areas, spat upon, burned and had various things thrown on him, from rotten blood, to urine, feces, vomit and offal. He was a masterpiece of the people’s understanding. And still, death would not come, nor the lines of peasants abate. He could endure the physical torture – what choice did he have? – but the constant insults and taunting were harder to ignore. He’d been a proud man. Once. Worse than the beatings and the verbal abuse, however, were the flies. There must, he concluded, have been one for each person he’d killed over the years. Perhaps these flies were even the shades of those unhappy dead, come back to join in the festivities. They made him itch something fierce. The only accidental mercy he enjoyed was that he’d been hung up facing west, and for the brief few minutes that sunset was in his eyes, he could see nothing.
But perhaps blindness had put him here in the first place.
One morning, he was awakened – shocking enough that he’d been asleep – with a crash of salt water, the cold of it practically stopping his heart, and the salt burning his countless wounds like hellfire. Miraculously, he found himself alone. Or nearly so.
“You look like shit, Vykers. Smell like it, too.” It was Captain Brandt again, backed by a number of silent soldiers. “’Course, most of it probably is shit, but you get my meaning.”
The best the Reaper could manage was to grunt in reply.
“I guess we all thought you’d be dead by now.”
Vykers was silent this time. No need to respond to such an obvious truth.
“There’s no good news, there, though. His Lordship says you’re to live…after a fashion.”
Brandt was setting him up. Vykers wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.
“We’re taking your feet and hands, Reaper, and then we’re dumping you in the woods.”
Vykers looked up, inquiringly.
Brandt shrugged. “His Lordship thinks there may come a day when someone will have need of your…talents. If you’re still alive, that is.”
Finally, Vykers spoke. “That’s bad strategy.”
“No shit. And I told him so. But he’s convinced you’ll be tractable.” The captain reached over and unlocked the mechanism holding Vykers in place.
Slowly, the prisoner stood up.
“Enjoy it, Vykers. You won’t be so tall in a few moments’ time.”
The odd sensation in his gut was fear, he realized. The first he’d felt in ages. He simply couldn’t – or didn’t want to – imagine life without hands or feet. His Lordship had finally accomplished what thousands of angry peasants could not: he had made Vykers feel something.
The actual taking of his hands and feet was more psychologically painful than physically so. The terror as the axe swooped down and parted his flesh was unlike anything he’d ever known. The pain was less significant, for a while. This time, the healers took no special care to sustain him, beyond cauterizing and wrapping his wounds. Watching them gather his hands and feet into a bucket and carry them off, Vykers felt unspeakable loss.
He spent the entire journey into the wilds in a semi-conscious fog, in the back of an old wagon that must once have been used to transport pickled herring. The smell and the rough jostling made him violently ill and, along with the weakness, fever and pain he was already feeling, he again found himself wishing, yearning, for death. This was immeasurably harder to endure than those days of beatings and insults in the public square. He almost laughed at the thought of it. Almost.
He must have lost consciousness, because the next thing he knew, he was crashing to the ground in a dark forest. The shadow of a fat man stood between him and the last of the day’s light.
“See you in hell, Vykers.”
“Oh, you’ll be there, too?”
A moment of angry silence, and then Vykers felt a boot to his face. He might’ve lost a tooth. Another one. There was a bit of rustling, and then he felt hot liquid pouring onto his head.
The fat man laughed.
Vykers shut him out and went back to sleep.
As Flies to Wanton Boys Immortal Treachery Book 2
Three years have passed since Tarmun Vykers’ victory over the mad sorcerer who called himself the End-of-All-Things. But they’ve been three long years, confined to a sick bed with a grievous wound that will not heal, cannot be healed by any means known to man. And then something unthinkable happens, and Vykers is summoned once again to save the kingdom.
This same mysterious event ensnares Long Pete and his companions, reuniting them for a mission whose consequences none can anticipate and not all will survive. Will Vykers master his wound, or will it finally end him? Can Long Pete serve both his Queen and his family? And what of the A’Shea, Aoife, who finds herself torn between her faith and her powerful attraction to the Reaper? In a world in which the gods play with the fates of men as mischievous boys torture insects, nothing but strife is certain.
Vykers once killed some of the Emperor’s soldiers; now, the Emperor has crossed the sea with all his legions to exact a revenge that will impact not only the Reaper, but Kittins, Spirk, Eoman, and even the Virgin Queen herself. Meanwhile, pieces to the puzzle of Vykers’ origins begin to fall into place, revealing people and purposes both unexpected and heretofore unimaginable. And then there is the long-suffering Long Pete, who must now contend with an utterly reshaped reality that threatens his very existence.
Tarmun Vykers, the Reaper, has battled his way across time and two continents, toppling kingdoms and empires alike and killing untold thousands in the process. And he has never really known why.
But he’s about to find out.
And with this new knowledge must come a reckoning—with the Queen, who has manipulated Vykers every step of the way, with the Emperor, who would take what is rightfully the Reaper’s, and even with the gods themselves.
It is time for the Reaper to do what he does best.
Allan is a professional actor, educator and former stand-up comedian. In addition to Steel, Blood & Fire, he's also written plays, screenplays, online articles, dialogue for computer games, greeting card sentiments and more. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in acting from the National Theatre Conservatory and a Master's in Teaching from Seattle Pacific University. He is a huge fan of Shakespeare, Steven Erikson, Joe Abercrombie, Glen Cook, George R.R. Martin, Tad Williams, and R. Scott Bakker. Allan lives in Seattle with his wife and son, where he enjoys walks on the beach, reading in the garden and puttering around on his computer. Oh, and naps. He LOVES naps.
When Allan Batchelder isn't writing, he is thinking about how to bring fantasy worlds with epic battles and flawed heroes to life through his writing. Something he is quite good at, judging by his book, Steel, Blood and Fire. As our author of the day, Batchelder talks about his love of Shakespeare, sentient swords and why his heroes are not all that good.
Please give us a short introduction to Steel, Blood and Fire
It’s a stand-alone book, but also the first in a five-book series. I wanted to do my own take on a rather classic theme in the fantasy genre, which I won’t spoil here. But the protagonist, Tarmun Vykers, is as much Clint Eastwood’s “Man-with-No-Name” as he is Conan the Barbarian, a very rough-edged “hero” who must battle an insane and powerful villain.
Tell us about Tarmun Vykers. How did you come up with his character and what makes him so extraordinary?
On my website, www.immortaltreachey.com, I have a slideshow of all the characters who’ve inspired Vykers, from Yojimbo to Achilles, and from Beowulf to Muhammad Ali. He’s arrogant, like Odysseus, and mercurial, like any of Bruce Lee’s characters. I wanted a hero who could go toe-to-toe with the gods, but who also possessed serious flaws and more than a little ambiguity.
How has your work as an actor and teacher influenced your writing?
One of the earliest reviews I got was that Steel, Blood & Fire read like a movie, because it was rather heavy on dialogue. I’ve tried to balance things out in the subsequent books, but dialogue is just something I “hear” constantly. My characters are always chattering away with each other (and me) in my mind. I’ve really enjoyed sharing that part of their make-up.
There is also a character who’s an actor, so there’s quite a bit of acting-related humor. Finally, as you suggest later, all of my books are full of little references to Shakespeare. They are also chock full of other literary Easter eggs that no one ever mentions. Now, that’s curious!
As for teaching, well, I’ve had to pull a few of my punches with regard to sex or violence because I need to keep my day job! I want to be able to talk to my students as someone who knows a bit about writing and publishing, but I don’t want to put too much attention on my books. When they graduate, they’re welcome to dive in!
What inspired you to include the Sword with No Name in your story?
Sentient swords have been a part of the fantasy genre since the beginning. But I have been particularly inspired by the way Steven Erikson writes about his characters’ various swords. They are not all gaudy, opulent or rune-etched, but they are all entities with sometimes unknowable agendas.
Do you have a set of rules for your world? Is there a process you go through that helps define these?
I do, but I don’t want to give too many away here, as revealing them through the narrative is part of the fun. I think most fantasy fans understand, though, that magic (for example) has to have rules, otherwise it’s impossible to accept. In Tarmun Vykers’ world, magic has a definite cost.
How do you go about creating such epic battle scenes?
The first time I saw Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies, I said, “Yes, that’s it!” He really captured what epic battles should be -- and are, in the books of Glen Cook, Steven Erikson and others. And, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, Shakespeare’s a genius at massive battle scenes. Check out his history plays and see if I’m wrong.
Your book contains several Shakespeare references. Why?
When I was eleven, my dad took me to see Henry V at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I was regularly dragged to the opera, so I wasn’t hopeful. But we had seats in the third row, center, and when Powers Booth came out on stage, I was sold for life. The swordfights, the canon fire, the sprawling, larger-than-life quality of it, wow!
Of the rich cast of characters in your book, which did you find the most challenging to create?
I feel like I’ve spent my life surrounded by women – my mother, my three sisters (I call them “The Weird Sisters”), and my wife. And you might think that gives me some special insight into women, but, no, I find them impossibly complex. I struggle and strive to do them justice through Aoife, Arune, Mardine and others, but I’m never comfortable. Maybe no writer is every comfortable, anyway. But I do take some solace in the fact that each of my female characters is someone’s favorite!
In Steel, Blood and Fire, the heroes are not all that good (Tarmun would have been a villain in any other book) and the bad guys aren't pure evil either. Why did you pick this approach?
I can’t pinpoint the book or author, but sometime in the past thirty years or so, fantasy grew up, evolved from offering binary worlds of absolutes in which characters are one thing or another to giving us deeper, more nuanced characters. Jaime Lannister of Game of Thrones fame is a perfect example. When we first meet him, we despise him. But George R. R. Martin makes it impossible for us to maintain that hatred for long, and eventually we might even come to admire Jaime.
Tell us a bit about your writing habits. Do you have a favorite writing spot? Do you prefer writing during the day or night? Pen or computer?
I do most of my writing on my PC at home. There’s a window just to the left of my monitor, and I spend a shameful amount of time staring at the sunset’s reflection on the western wall of the church up the block. I typically try – and often fail – to write five hundred words a night. But I fall behind and have to put in a few thousand on the weekend, if possible. And yes, night is my favorite time to write. The day’s concerns are past, and I’m free to imagine.
Did you work out the entire plot of your book before you started to write?
When I first started, I quickly learned there were “Planners,” like J.K. Rowling, and “Pantsers,” like Lois Lowry (by her own admission). I’m a Pantser. I know the overall plot, and I know the beginning and ending and several of the show-stopping bits, but a lot of things come to me spontaneously as I write. Spirk’s magic stone, for instance, popped into my head out of nowhere and quickly became one of my favorite parts of Steel, Blood & Fire.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
Well, I’m an actor. Nowadays, I mostly stick with commercials, but I’d love to return to the stage if a) I could find the time, and b) the right role came along. I was also a stand-up comedian for nine years, but it’s really a young person’s game, with all the travel, bar food, and bad motel cable.
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