Self-publishing is madness I tell you, madness!
Some very fine people have been hard at work on this novel and I think it’s now time to share the results.
The Cover Art: John Anthony Di Giovanni (http://www.jadillustrated.com/) did an awesome job at capturing the insanity that is The Mirror’s Truth. If you’re looking for a scary talented artist, this is your dude.
The Typography: As soon as I saw Shawn T. King’s typography on John’s cover art I knew I’d gone to the right guy. And he’s fantastic to work with, very understanding and patient.
The Editing: Kristopher Neidecker edited this beast. He found holes I’d missed and pointed out scenes that didn’t move the plot. His dedication and belief in this project kept me going when I wanted to crawl under a rock and hide.
The Copy-Editing: Tim Marquitz was the scalpel man. He made fun of my punctuation and murdered about 98% of my semicolons. I left a couple in for Kristy Mika cuz she knows how sexy they are.
And the full thingy, front cover, back cover, and spine!
THE MIRROR’S TRUTH: CHAPTER ONE
The mirror ever lies.
—Auflauernder Spiegel, Mirrorist
A monstrous old man, hewn and scarred from a long life of battles won—and lost—stepped through the floor to ceiling mirror.
A huge double-bladed axe hung in one fist, the tattered remains of mismatched chain and leather armour draped loose in places and stretched tight in others. The left hand, missing the last two fingers, opened and closed with the wet pop of ageing knuckles.
Three men looked up from the table at which they diced. They didn’t look surprised, which was bad. The old man swept his gaze across the room, taking in the clean but minimal furnishings, glancing at the single door. The men, all dressed in white, were in between him and the way out.
“Boys,” said Bedeckt. “Are you three alive or dead?”
As they stared, a young woman in her early twenties stepped from the mirror behind him. “Wütend. Geborene,” Zukunft said, glancing back at the mirror. “I can see it now.”
“That would have been handy to know earlier,” said Bedeckt.
The Mirrorist shrugged slim shoulders, apparently unconcerned.
Hopefully that means I don’t die in the next few moments, thought Bedeckt.
Zukunft saw something in the mirror and said, “Oh. Don’t break the—”
Screaming insensate rage, the three men rose from the table, working themselves into a blood-lust frenzy, drowning out her last words. Bedeckt—himself never far from a killing rage—stepped close, hacking his axe through the nearest man’s shoulder and deep into his chest. Eyes, one moment lit by flames of fury, opened wide in stunned disbelief.
No one ever thinks their time will come.
Bedeckt kicked the corpse free of his axe. Wütend, shite. He hated these psychotic berserkers; they felt no pain, always fought to the death. If he killed them before they reached full-blown blood lust, he’d have a chance of walking out of this room in one piece and not missing more fingers or teeth.
The second man, already frothing at the mouth, scrambled to climb the table. He’d dropped his weapon, lost to the madness. Hurling himself at Bedeckt, he wrapped himself about the big warrior, biting and tearing at his armoured throat with gnashing teeth.
Bedeckt staggered under the weight. If he went down, he was done. They’d tear him apart—and this close, his axe was useless against the man grappling him. Dropping the axe, he hooked an elbow under his opponent’s throat, struggling to create room. The third man, he saw, had caught sight of Zukunft and chased after her. She fled, racing to keep the table between them.
Zukunft spun as she danced away from her pursuer, her skirts flaring to show a long expanse of thigh Bedeckt didn’t have the time to be noticing. She laughed, taunting.
She’s keeping him busy. If she remained calm while being chased by a blood-lusted Wütend, she was more dangerous than he’d thought. Or crazier. Neither was good.
Clawing fingers pulled at his armour, fighting to open a gap for sharp teeth. Damned woman was a distraction. She’d get him killed. Bedeckt drew a knife with his half-hand and drove it into his assailant’s soft belly, stabbing over and over until the clutching finger and snapping teeth lost their urgency and became weak pawing. Bedeckt dropped the man, pristine white robes now splashed crimson, to the floor. Seeing Zukunft still alive, still laughing and dancing, Bedeckt stomped his opponent’s head.
Back popping like a damp twig on a fire, he bent to retrieve his axe. He stood, arthritic knees creaking and grinding, broad chest heaving as he sucked breath. Movement caught his attention and he saw a twisted shape cavorting and applauding in the mirror, its attention fixed on Zukunft.
Her Reflection? It looked nothing like her. Shorter, its hair was darker. The shape was all wrong; it had none of her woman’s curves.
Glancing at the Mirrorist, he saw she’d ceased her dance and stood transfixed, staring at the mirror. The remaining Wütend, flailing his sword like a club, rushed after Zukunft.
Bedeckt had an instant to react and Zukunft stood between himself and the Wütend. If she died, his plan died.
He hurled his axe through the mirror.
Glass shattered and Zukunft blinked, only seeing the Wütend as he landed on her, crushing her slight frame to the floor under his greater weight.
Cursing, Bedeckt dove over the table, toppling it, and landing atop the two. The air rushed from Zukunft’s lungs as his added weight crashed down upon her. She made a noise like that frog he’d stomped as a child, her mouth wide and gaping, incapable of drawing breath. The Wütend, ignoring Bedeckt like only someone manically fixated on murdering another can, head-butted her, his forehead crashing into her cheek and bouncing her skull off the floor. Rearing back, the man bared his teeth in a mad snarl. Bedeckt wrapped an arm around the Wütend’s neck and fought to keep him from leaning close enough to bite out the stunned girl’s throat. Snapping teeth cracked so loud Bedeckt thought they might shatter under the impact.
The mad man, driven by psychosis-fuelled strength, leaned ever closer to the soft, exposed skin; Bedeckt couldn’t hold him back. Changing tactics, he threw his weight behind the Wütend, driving the man’s head down and redirecting it just enough to smash it into the floor beside Zukunft’s throat. Head met stone with a wet crunch. Lifting the man’s head, he heard the mad snapping of teeth. Damned Wütend never gave up. Fighting the man’s downward motion for a moment, he then once again added his weight to it. Half a dozen times Bedeckt smashed the man’s skull against the stone floor before the Wütend finally went limp. Dragging the corpse from Zukunft, he dropped it at her side. She stared at Bedeckt, numb with shock, face spattered in blood and bits of the Wütend’s shattered teeth.
With the killing done, Bedeckt knelt over Zukunft, uncomfortably aware of her proximity. He sucked wheezing breaths, waiting for his heart to slow. Gone was the day he’d kill four times as many without being winded. He turned his grizzled head, a mass of scars, the left ear a misshapen lump, listening. He heard nothing but the drip of blood, and his own shuddering breathing. Squinting, he dipped a blunt finger into the blood pooling on the floor. Raising the finger to his face he stared at the bright stain and grinned.
It was red. Real gutted pig red. Not some faded grey red of the Afterdeath, but the deep red of sundered life.
“Hells yes,” he whispered, eyes bright with fierce joy. “We did it,” he said to Zukunft.
She blinked up at him, eyes finally focussing. “By we you mean me,” she said. “I lead you to Rückkehr, the one Mirrorist whose mirror joined the world of the living to the Afterdeath.”
“I convinced him to send us back.”
“You threatened to kill him,” she said, touching fingers to the bruise already appearing on her cheek.
“That’s what I said.”
Zukunft sat, straightening her shirt where it had fallen to expose the pale flesh of her shoulder. Her skirt, bunched around shapely hips, left her long legs bare.
Bedeckt grunted and looked elsewhere. He heard her laugh, soft breaths through her perfect little nose.
“Been a while, old man?” she asked, taunting.
Stehlen, the hideous Kleptic. In an alley. Rutting like drunken teens. Well, the drunk part was accurate at least.
Bedeckt stood, nodding to the shattered mirror. “I saw a girl in there,” he said, as much to distract her as from real curiosity.
“Yes,” she said, looking away.
When she said nothing more he let it go. “Where are we?”
“Shite.” They’d been in Neidrig when they stepped into the mirror in the Afterdeath. He’d assumed they’d exit in Neidrig as well and sent Wichtig and Stehlen off to Selbsthass to give him a chance to escape. Why hadn’t Rückkehr mentioned this would happen? Had he not known? Damned Mirrorists. Another thought occurred to Bedeckt. “Why didn’t you warn me about the Wütend?”
“I didn’t know,” she said. “When we were in the Afterdeath, I could never see beyond the moment we crossed over.”
“She showed me a little of the future,” she said.
She? Mirrorists were an odd bunch. “And?”
“I only saw as far as the moment you threw your axe into the mirror.”
Zukunft stood in one lithe movement, unbending like a cat. Bedeckt looked everywhere but at her. No matter what her body said, she was a damned child. Though his definition of child seemed to change the older he got. Wouldn’t be long until everyone under thirty seemed like a kid.
“Were they waiting for us?” asked Bedeckt. “Does Morgen know?”
“I’m hardly the only Mirrorist who glimpses the future.” Zukunft shrugged. She didn’t look worried. “Maybe Morgen’s own Reflections told him. Maybe he can see into the future. He is a god.”
Bedeckt didn’t want to think about that. His whole plan relied on Zukunft’s admittedly limited ability to see into the future. Her delusion would keep him one step ahead of everyone else.
I can undo the damage I did killing the boy.
No, not just a boy, but a boy god.
Too late, Bedeckt had seen how broken the child was, how damaged by his experiences. Morgen, the Geborene godling, was dangerously insane.
The boy thinks he can make the world perfect and clean. And he was willing to drown the world in war and blood to make it so.
I played my part in making him what he is. He’d make it right.
Morgen had his obsession with cleanliness before meeting Bedeckt. But Bedeckt and his group of deranged criminal friends had taught the lad darker truths. They taught him lies and distrust. They showed him the effectiveness of violence. He’d witnessed their broken interaction and learned from it.
We poisoned him.
Now, Morgen’s perfect world had no place for Bedeckt, no place for his friends.
And I…I killed him.
He never should have strayed from his list of things he wouldn’t do. He remembered sliding Stehlen’s knife into Morgen’s chest. The boy had been tortured and burned and, at the time, Bedeckt had told himself it was a mercy, that he was killing the lad to free him from pain. But the truth was he’d planned on using the boy-god once in the Afterdeath. Knowing that he, too, was dying, Bedeckt had seen how the future would play out. He’d killed the boy for purely selfish reasons and damned himself to a hellish Afterdeath. Not everyone suffered the same fate—there were special Afterdeaths for people like him.
Dying and being there, existing in a flat world of grey death, had shown him the truth. His choices, all the choices of his life, had led him there.
And new choices, different choices, would take him somewhere else. The first step had been escaping his past, and Wichtig and Stehlen were a part of that. He had to leave them behind. Madness and violence followed them everywhere.
Maybe redemption lay beyond his reach, but if he undid the damage he’d done in killing Morgen, in straying from his list, perhaps the next time he died he might find himself in another Afterdeath. He was an old man. Death was never far off.
In the Afterdeath the Warrior’s Credo—those whom you slay must serve—gave Bedeckt control over the boy. He couldn’t do it. Using and harming children had been one of the few things his list and straying from that list had gotten him killed. Straying from that list had started everything. He wouldn’t do it again.
In leaving the Afterdeath and returning to life, Bedeckt had lost all control over the boy. There was nothing but Bedeckt’s mad plan to curb the lad’s obsession. If Morgen saw the future, all bets were off. If he knew Bedeckt had returned to life intent on stopping his quest to remake the world, he’d turn the might of the Geborene church against him.
You give yourself too much credit.
Even with the Mirrorist’s help, Bedeckt wasn’t sure if he could stop Morgen. Only Zukunft’s insistence that she saw a future where the godling was defeated—and her promise that her Reflection would lead him there—gave Bedeckt any hope.
Bedeckt smacked himself in the forehead. I am such an idiot. “Shite.”
“What?” Zukunft asked.
“You just told me you couldn’t see past the moment we left the Afterdeath.”
“In the Afterdeath you promised you’d show me how to stop Morgen.”
“You lied. You have no idea—”
“No.” Zukunft stared at the blood pooling on the floor, watching it spread toward her. “She told me she knows how.”
She again. “But—”
“I believe her.”
A Mirrorist should know better than to trust Reflections. Just as the manifestations of a Doppelgangist or Mehrere inevitably turned on their creator in a bid to become the original—to become real—a Mirrorist’s Reflections were equally dangerous.
It was too damned late for second guessing. This girl and her delusion was his only chance.
Bedeckt thought it over. If Morgen had a clear glimpse of the future, he would have left more than three Wütend waiting for them. Mirrorists always said the future wasn’t fixed. Perhaps Morgen put these men here to cover one possible eventuality. I suppose we could have come through any large mirror. The boy-god probably had people stationed at mirrors all over the city. Why didn’t he break all the mirrors but one, thereby controlling where we appeared? Bedeckt couldn’t answer that. Were the Geborene priests nothing more than a coincidence? Maybe they lived here. Three Wütend living together? It seemed unlikely, but stranger things had happened.
Her legs no longer exposed, Bedeckt could once again look at Zukunft. In the Afterdeath, her eyes had looked lifeless and grey. Now green shot with shards of gold and rust, they peered at him through a curtain of dark hair, watching him watching her. Heart shaped lips quirked in the slightest hint of a knowing smile.
“Yes?” she asked, lifting a dark eyebrow.
“Where should we go? How long before Morgen sends Stehlen and Wichtig after us?”
“The plan,” she said, “and perhaps you’ve forgotten because you’re a senile old bastard, was for me to use that mirror to see the next couple of days.” She nodded at the broken frame and shattered glass littering the floor.
“You broke the mirror, even after I told you not to.”
Bedeckt stomped to the shattered mirror, stooped with a groan, and collected a shard. He straightened, rubbing his lower back, and held the shard out in offering. “Use this.”
“Has to be an unbroken mirror,” she said.
“A shard…her heart…” Zukunft looked away. “Reasons.”
Damned Geisteskranken. He heard Stehlen’s voice in his head: Already your plan is going to shite, old man. Stehlen would hate Zukunft the instant she saw her.
Bedeckt stifled a laugh. The ugly Kleptic would want to kill him when she found out he’d left her behind. He pushed thoughts of Stehlen aside. She was a problem for later.
“Once we get you a new mirror you can tell me what direction we should be travelling, and what I need to do next?”
Zukunft watched him, eyes measuring. “You can still change your mind. We could go anywhere.”
We? Gods knew what was going on in the mad girl’s mind. “Does it matter how big it is?”
“The bigger the better,” she said, again raising an eyebrow.
Bedeckt ignored the innuendo. “Of course.” No way could he carry a floor-to-ceiling mirror around the city-states without breaking it. “Doesn’t effect how far you see?”
She shook her head, dark hair sweeping across her shoulders. “No. I can never see beyond three days, no matter how big the mirror.”
“What about something this big?” Bedeckt help up his hands making a circle with his fingers about the size of her face.
Zukunft shrugged, uncaring. “Good enough.”
He stared at the fragments of broken glass scattered about the floor. “How about a steel mirror, one that won’t break?”
Green eyes narrowed. “Has to be glass.”
A reflection is a reflection. “Why?”
“Because…” She closed her eyes and bit her bottom lip. “Because glass is sharp when it breaks.” She drew short breaths, her chest rising and falling quickly and Bedeckt was glad she couldn’t see him watching her. “Glass cuts.”
“Fine,” Bedeckt said, dragging his eyes away. Damned Geisteskranken. “Let’s go.”
Approaching the only door in the room, Bedeckt hesitated. He wanted to know what was out there before he opened it. The entire plan relied on Zukunft keeping him a step ahead of everyone and already he was walking blind. Leaning forward he listened, hearing the sounds of a busy street beyond. Selbsthass City. The heart of the Geborene Theocracy. The last place he wanted to be.
Just survive long enough to get her a damned mirror. Whoever these Wütend were, whoever they worked for, they had failed. He was still alive.
“You know,” said Zukunft, leaving the sentence hanging.
“Breaking a mirror is seven days bad luck.”
Bedeckt laughed, a humourless grunt. “If we live four days, I’d say we’re doing well.”
Zukunft’s jaw tightened, her fists clenched.
Was it something I said? He gestured at the corpses. “Search them for money.
She stared at him, face an unreadable mask. “How about you search them.”
“There’s already blood on your dress,” he said.
“And if I get any more blood on it I’ll be taking it off all together.”
The dress, a green no doubt selected to match her eyes—though how she’d managed that in the greyness of the Afterdeath he couldn’t imagine—hung and clung in all the right places. Bedeckt turned his attention to the dead. Rather look at them than her, would you, old man?
No, and that was the problem. “I’ll search the bodies.”
Bedeckt hunted through blood-soaked pockets and money pouches without much luck.
“You’re afraid of me, aren’t you?” said Zukunft, watching him.
He straightened from the last corpse. It was a good thing he’d brought some coin with him. And having been out of Stehlen’s Kleptic presence for a week there was some chance he still had it. “Hardly,” he said. “I could crush you.” He made a fist with his whole hand, knuckles crunching.
“You’re afraid to look at me.”
He laughed, a derisive snort, and didn’t look at her.
“I remind you of someone? A daughter?”
“Gods, no.” Bedeckt returned to the door. “Let’s go.”
“A lady friend from a really, really, really long time ago?” Zukunft asked.
This time he turned to give her a dark scowl.
“Is that it? A lover from—”
“Do I seem the type to have lovers?”
“Some women like big men. You’re scarred and a right mess, but not ugly.” She tilted her head, examining him. “Not completely ugly,” she corrected.
“Thanks.” Bedeckt returned his attention to the door. The street beyond sounded utterly normal. Hopefully that meant there wasn’t an army out there waiting for him.
“So what is it?” she asked.
“You’re a child.”
“A child? Hardly. I’m—”
“When you’re my age you’ll understand.”
“That’s not going to happen,” she said, voice cracking. “I’m Geisteskranken. I’ve died once already and I’m only twenty. I won’t see half your age.”
Was she crying? He dared not look. His time with Stehlen and Wichtig hadn’t prepared him for tears. Even Morgen, the Geborene godling, hadn’t cried. “I…” Bedeckt didn’t know what to say. She wasn’t wrong.
“And so I’ll live each and every day I have. If my time is short, at least I’ll have used it well.”
Then what the hells are you doing here with me? For that matter, how had she ended up in the Afterdeath at such a tender age? She hadn’t appeared to be bound by the Warrior’s Credo either. How had she managed that? Suicide? He hadn’t asked and he never would. He prayed she wouldn’t tell him. “Fine,” he said, still facing the door. “You’re all grown up.”
“Ah, sarcasm. The defence of cowards.”
“Cowards?” he said, pretending to listen to the street beyond. “If you had any idea what I’ve—”
“You haven’t answered my question.”
“When you forget, you look at me like I’m a woman. But mostly you’re afraid to look at me at all. Are you missing more than an ear and some fingers?”
He heard the teasing tone but still said, “No,” and was annoyed at how defensive he sounded. Gods, she played him better than Wichtig ever had. Was she Comorbidic, Gefahrgeist as well as Mirrorist? That could be a bad combination; a self-centred psychotic who knew the future. She’d see the outcome of her manipulations.
“Then why?” she asked, voice soft, pleading.
It’s an act. It had to be an act. “I have a list,” said Bedeckt, in spite of himself.
“Of things I won’t do.” He laughed. “It’s easier than listing the crimes I am willing to perpetrate.”
“Sometimes you don’t talk like the kind of man who slams another man’s head against the floor until his skull breaks.”
What did you say to something like that? Thanks?
“Looking at women is on your list?” she asked.
“Then look at me.”
Bedeckt turned to face her with a growl. “We have things to do. We need horses and supplies.”
“Why am I on your list?”
“I don’t hurt children.” He swallowed, remembering the feel of sliding Stehlen’s knife into Morgen heart. Liar. But lying wasn’t on the list.
Zukunft opened and closed her mouth, changing her mind about whatever she had first thought to say. Though he’d never before explained his list, she knew he’d killed Morgen and knew they were here to undo the damage he’d done. In truth, he’d shared next to nothing of his reasons and his past, and she’d seemed fine with that. Seemed to prefer it even.
She looked at him like she thought he was crazy. Or was that pity?
Bedeckt swung the door open and stepped into the street and a crush of pedestrian traffic, pushing and shoving on their way to wherever the hell people who had lives not involving theft and murder went.
Bedeckt stopped and stood rooted. Selbsthass City in the Afterdeath had been different from the Selbsthass City he and his murderous companions had stolen Morgen from, but this was different again. The streets had always been clean and straight, but now they were pristine, gleaming white. He blinked at the stones beneath his feet. Had they been white-washed, or replaced with white stones mined from wherever white stone came from? He remembered the people being softer and happier looking than any city-state he’d previously visited, the bankers’ quarter of Geldangelegenheiten being the one possible exception. But these people, the crowd streaming past him, glowed with health. They were clean in a way no one was ever clean, their clothes crisp. He caught the scent of harsh soap and remembered Morgen’s obsession with cleanliness. These stupid bastards had no idea what they’d created in their designed god.
“Stay close,” Bedeckt called over his shoulder.
Zukunft, right behind him, put a hand on his shoulder, gripping it tight. Glancing back, he saw fear in her eyes and said nothing. Was it the city, the press of people, or something else? Perhaps returning to life was scary for some folks. Certainly it wasn’t something anyone ever expected to do.
Bedeckt pushed his way into the crowd. Zukunft followed, gripping even harder, her nails digging into the meat of his shoulder even through his chain armour. Everywhere he looked he saw Geborene priests, immaculate white livery worn over bright chain hauberk, swords, polished bright, hanging at hips. In the distance a massive wall towering ten times the height of a man surrounded the city. Men, white little dots, patrolled the top of the wall.
“This is impossible. I wasn’t dead more than two weeks.”
“What is it?” asked Zukunft, releasing her hold on him.
“I was here—I mean in this city, the living version—not more than two weeks ago.” He waved his partial hand, trying to encompass the entire city and its population. “Morgen couldn’t have built that wall and armed and armoured his priests in two weeks.”
“He’s a god,” said Zukunft.
Bedeckt eyed the people around them. No one seemed surprised or impressed by the city they walked through. This wasn’t something new for them, they’d had time to become accustomed to the changes. Or Morgen had somehow changed them too.
If he can do this in two weeks, nothing I can do will stop him.
Zukunft increased her pace until she walked at his side, long legs carrying her in a smooth stride, swinging her hips in a confident strut. Gone was the terrified girl who’d clung to him a moment ago. Was this bravado?
“What’s your thing?” she asked.
“Delusion. What kind of Geisteskranken are you?”
Bedeckt shot her another dark scowl and once again she ignored it. “I’m sane.”
“Right. Your friends, Wichtig and Stehlen—”
“They’re not my friends.”
“—were both Geisteskranken. You surround yourself with the delusional. Sane people don’t do that.”
“Horse shite. I know how to make use of them, that’s all.”
“Sane people avoid Gefahrgeist for fear of being manipulated.”
“Wichtig is a minor Gefahrgeist at best,” said Bedeckt, increasing his pace.
Zukunft stubbornly kept up. “And Stehlen? Minor Kleptic?” she asked, knowing the answer. “How did you ever keep money?”
Realizing Zukunft had no trouble matching his pace, and that he’d tire long before she, Bedeckt slowed to a more comfortable walk.
“I don’t believe you’re sane either,” she said. Bedeckt saw her examining him from the corner of his eye. “And then there’s me.”
“You’re useful. Part of the plan.”
“And that’s it?” she asked. “Just part of the plan. No other reason to bring me along?”
She grunted doubt. “And your choices—”
“What about my choices?”
“People don’t escape the Afterdeath.”
“I have to stop Morgen. I…I killed him. My choices made him what he is.”
She ignored this, shrugging it away like it was irrelevant. “Sane people don’t plan to have their friends chase them, intent on murder.”
“Them chasing me isn’t part of the plan. Knowing Morgen might send them is. Wichtig I can handle, but Stehlen will kill me for leaving her.”
“You abandoned her.” She said it like the word meant something special, something he didn’t understand.
Is she angry I left Stehlen behind? Why would she care? “Whatever you want to call it. You’ll keep me ahead of them.” Thinking he could avoid Stehlen forever was purest madness and if Bedeckt was one thing, it was sane. “With you seeing the future, I can decide when and where we meet.” He hoped it would be enough. And maybe the boy-god wouldn’t send Wichtig and Stehlen to kill him. Maybe Morgen had no idea Bedeckt had fled the Afterdeath intent on stopping his insane plan to cleanse the world of imperfection. And maybe Wichtig will learn wisdom and Stehlen will forgive herself for whatever the hells she did.
“Still,” said Zukunft, “your choices are insane.”
“Don’t mistake stupid for insane,” said Bedeckt.