Black Halo - By Sam Sykes

Also by Sam Sykes from Gollancz:

Tome of the Undergates


The Aeons’ Gate

The Sea of Buradan … somewhere …

Summer, getting later all the time

What’s truly wrong with the world is that it seems so dauntingly complex at a glance and so despairingly simple upon close examination. Forget what elders, kings and politicians say otherwise, this is the one truth of life. Any endeavour so noble and gracious, any scheme so cruel and remorseless, can be boiled down like cheap stew. Good intentions and ambitions rise to the surface in thick, sloppy chunks and leave behind only the base instincts at the bottom of the pot.

Granted, I’m not sure what philosophical aspect represents the broth, but this metaphor only came to me just now. That’s beside the point. For the moment, I’m dubbing this ‘Lenk’s Greater Imbecile Theory’.

I offer up myself as an example. I began by taking orders without question from a priest; a priest of Talanas, the Healer, no less. If that weren’t impressive enough, he, one Miron Evenhands, also served as Lord Emissary for the church itself. He signed the services of myself and my companions to help him find a relic, one Aeons’ Gate, to communicate with the very heavens.

It seemed simple enough, if a bit mad, right up until the demons attacked.

From there, the services became a bit more … complicated should be the word for it, but it doesn’t quite do justice to describe the kind of fish-headed preachers that came aboard the vessel carrying us and stole a book, one Tome of the Undergates. After our services were required to retrieve this – this collection of scriptures wrought by hellbeasts that were, until a few days ago, stories used to frighten coins into the collection plates – to say that further complications arose seems rather disingenuous.

Regardless, at the behest of said priest and on behalf of his god, we set out to retrieve this tome and snatch it back from the clutches of the aforementioned hellbeasts.

To those reading who enjoy stories that end with noble goals reached, lofty morals upheld and mankind left a little better for the experience, I would suggest closing this journal now, should you have stumbled upon it long after it separated from my corpse.

It only gets worse from here.

I neglected to mention what it was that drove such glorious endeavours to be accomplished. Gold. One thousand pieces. The meat of the stew, bobbing at the top.

The book is mine now, in my possession, along with a severed head that screams and a very handy sword. When I hand over the book to Miron, he will hand over the money. That is what is left at the bottom of this pot: no great quest to save humanity, no communication with the Gods, no uniting people hand in hand through trials of adversity and noble blood spilled. Only money. Only me.

This is, after all, adventure.

Not that the job has been all head-eating demons and babbling seagulls, mind. I’ve also been collecting epiphanies, such as the one written above. A man tends to find them bobbing on the very waves when he’s sitting cramped in a tiny boat.

With six other people.

Whom he hates.

One of whom farts in her sleep.

I suppose I also neglected to mention that I haven’t been alone in this endeavour. No, much of the credit goes to my companions: a monster, a heathen, a thug, a zealot and a savage. I offer these titles with the utmost respect, of course. Rest assured that, while they are undoubtedly handy to have around in a fight, time spent in close quarters with them tends to wear on one’s nerves rather swiftly.

All the same … I don’t suppose I could have done it without them. ‘It’ being described below, short as I can make it and ending with a shict’s ass pointed at me like a weapon as she slumbers.

The importance of the book is nothing worth noting unless it is also noted who had the book. In this case, after Miron, the new owners were the Abysmyths: giant, emaciated demons with the heads of fish who drown men on dry land. Fittingly enough, their leader, the Deepshriek, was even more horrendous. I suppose if I were a huge man-thing with a fish-head, I would follow a huge fish-thing with three man-heads.

Or woman-heads, in this case, I’m sorry. Apologies again; two woman-heads. The third rests comfortably at my side, blindfolded and gagged. It does have the tendency to scream all on its own.

Still, one can’t