Fantasy author Ty Johnston’s blog tour 2011 is running from November 1 through November 30. His novels include City of Rogues, Bayne’s Climb and More than Kin, all of which are available for the Kindle (http://www.amazon.com/Ty-Johnston/e/B002MCBQRU/ ), the Nook (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/ty-johnston ) and online at Smashwords (http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/darkbow ). His latest epic fantasy novel, Ghosts of the Asylum, is now available. To find out more, follow him at his blog tyjohnston.blogspot.com.
Below is an excerpt from his newest novel, Ghosts of the Asylum:
Taljintus shuffled down a slime-covered step and raised his torch high, staring into the blackness beyond, the bottom of the stairs ending in water as dark as ink.
He couldn’t help but grimace as the outline of a body floating face-down glided into view at the edges of the torch’s light. The corpse was that of a man, as all of them would be, this one still wearing the river-soaked garb of one of the guards.
Not for the first time, Taljintus asked himself if he truly needed this job. Unfortunately the answer was always ‘yes.’ He hadn’t traveled all the way from Trode after losing his young wife to the pox just to wallow in misery and indebtedness. He had sought a new beginning in the city of Bond far from his homeland, and being an experienced stonemason he had hoped to find steady work here in the West. But he had arrived in the middle of Winter, during the off season for construction. Tough months had followed, the stonemason forced to scrounge as a day laborer just to survive.
Now the Spring had arrived, and Taljintus had put in a bid on the first major job he could find. Fortune had been with him and he had landed the bid.
But standing there in the cold and dark, one hand rubbing at the last dark curls surrounding his balding head, he was beginning to wonder if he should have passed on this project.
Wincing, he stepped down into the black water, the cold soaking through his thin moccasins and chilling his flesh to the bone. Another step brought the water up to his shins, and the Trodan shivered as the cold ate away at him.
Taljintus cursed at not having the coin to purchase a proper pair of oil-cloth boots, or perhaps even waders layered by the gum of a rubber plant from a southern clime. He promised to add that to his list of needed tools and other items he would purchase as soon as he received his first full payment for this job.
Stepping down further, he came to the floor of the dark tunnel extending before him. The water now rose to his knees.
Taljintus continued to shiver, though he could not be sure if it was the cold water which caused him to do so or the body gently bobbing up and down ahead.
He had known there would be corpses, perhaps lots of corpses. Some kind of magical accident had apparently occurred here last Summer, flooding the Asylum with river water. Other than city workers dragging away the dead on the ground level above, no one had yet to clean the place nor get it into working order. The news Taljintus had managed to overhear on the street was that ownership of the Asylum had changed hands several times during the Winter months, none of the owners seemingly interested in spending the gold it would take to bring the main building and the basement level back to a working condition.
The current owner was of a different mind, and had wanted the Asylum restored to its former state.
The short Trodan grimaced further as he waded nearer the body. He continued to quiver, but now it was at thoughts of the Asylum’s current owner. The young man had eyes as dark and foreboding as the water leaking into Taljintus’s leggings. At least he had promised to pay well, and his down payment had been enough to secure the stonemason a place of residence in the Swamps for the next few months as well as enough money for daily needs.
But was it worth it? Growing closer to the floating dead man, the Trodan’s feelings on the matter were beginning to shift. Yes, he needed the coin, but there had to be other jobs available. Right?
“Stop it,” Taljintus whispered to himself. It’s just a job, like any other job.
Except there were dead bodies, perhaps as many as a hundred or more if the rumors were true.
Why couldn’t there have been a nice church that needed a new cathedral? Or a new building for the university on the east side of town?
Taljintus shook his head, driving away all negative thoughts. It was a job. He was being paid well, enough to hire a sizable crew and keep himself in business at least through the Summer. Clearing out the basement level, of water and bodies, was simply part of the job. Then there would be the new roof that had to be constructed for the Asylum, then the main floor had to be rebuilt and --
The Trodan’s face turned white.
There was another body. Floating ahead there. Just beyond the dead man he was almost touching.
The new body wore no clothes, its naked skin wrinkled and as pale as a dead fish’s gullet. The corpse floated on its back. A pair of dead, white, flat eyes stared up at the bricked ceiling of the basement tunnel.
Taljintus stopped moving. He had come down to the lower level to take in what kind of damage the river water had caused, and to see the extent of the dead, but he had seen enough. His new crew could take care of the bodies. That was part of their job. Taljintus had other things to do, like beginning the drawings for the new roof.
Yes, the new roof. He would get started on that. Let the laborers clean up the mess down here.
He turned to leave.
A wind sprang up from the direction of the steps leading above, a wind so strong tears sprang to the stonemason’s eyes and he was forced to blink.
During one of those blinks, his torch died.
Taljintus almost panicked. Almost.
Here he was, stranded in near pitch blackness with the corpses of dead man floating about him. It was not a good place. It was not a place he wanted to be.
At least there was some little light ahead of him there, from the stairwell. A touch of the sun’s glow had worked its way through the large hole in the Asylum’s roof and had found its way to the top of the stairs. Taljintus could just make out the bottom of the landing above his eye level.
Now all he had to do was work his way over there.
As his feet began to slowly, agonizingly slide along the slick bricks of the tunnel toward the stairwell, the stonemason’s own mind began to play tricks on him. Had he just heard something move behind him? And how had any wind down here been powerful enough to knock out his torch?
A strong chill grew over the Trodan’s skin, raising bumps on his flesh. For a moment he even believed he had seen his breath misting before the light of the steps.
“Stop it,” he repeated to himself. No reason to spook myself. I need this job. What with my own problems and the riots and --
Taljintus paused. That had definitely been something in the water behind him.
Though not a superstitious man, the Trodan had had enough of snooping around in the dark and the wet with dead bodies. He plunged toward the exit.
And slipped on the floor, falling face-first into the water.
For a moment there was nothing but blackness, even the light from above being denied to the stonemason. He couldn’t breath. He tried to suck in air, but murky, muddy water flooded his mouth. Then Taljintus panicked. He could help it no longer.
He thrust up his arms, reaching for the air, and found cold, cold, cold. It was a cold so icy it caused the wet joints of his fingers to ache.
Then his feet found the bottom once more and Taljintus pushed, launching himself with a splash above the water level.
He spit out nasty muck and inhaled, glad to feel the cool breaths rushing down his throat to drive away the burning sensation in his lungs.
That had been close. He had nearly drowned himself, and why? Because of fear and impatience.
Taljintus rubbed at the black little mustache beneath his bulbous nose and leaned against the wall to rest for a moment. He had to get a grip on himself. Whatever noise he had heard, it had probably been a rat, nothing more. In his line of work, he had run across many a rat. Nothing of which to be afraid.
Okay. His breathing normal again despite the chill that had invaded the tunnel, Taljintus pushed off the wall and slowly made his way toward the exit. Yes, let the workers come down here in the dark and clean up the mess.
His right foot touched the bottom step, and he could see daylight flooding into the hallway above, when the skin beneath the Trodan’s collar felt as if it were standing up, as if someone had breathed an arctic, bitter mist down his back.
His eyes went wide.
But still, he did not panic again.
Until the cold, wet, clammy flesh of claw-like fingers grasped at the back of his neck.