Thanks for Lib for your love, support, ideas, and insight. I would be lost without you.
Thanks to Jen and Alan for your friendship and support.
Thanks to Barry for a totally kick-ass cover.
And thanks to my parents for believing in me, and for raising me to always do my best.
CROWN OF ASH
He looks out from the void.
He is nothing. A ghost presence. A phantom.
Trapped in a land of whispering voices.
He has been there for so very long.
The world is saturated in darkness. It slithers down the trees like rain.
Years have passed since he first arrived in that dismal place. His face is leathery and rough, and he wears a thick beard. His hair is long and unkempt. His skin has gone dark, saturated by the soot atmosphere. His lips are dry and his eyes sting from the dark grit that constantly lashes the landscape.
Everything is black and cold. The land, the trees, even the other inhabitants of that cloying realm are suffused with shadow. It drips from every pore.
The sky is a frozen slate of perpetual dusk. Light shines from just over the horizon and drenches everything in an eye-numbing glaze. The freezing wind smells of rot.
He’s come to know this land of torn red mud and black ooze. There are few cities, all of them in ruins. He travels past briny pools of black water and dark trees with branches weighed down by deathly pale fruit. He avoids reptiles that breathe caustic slime and carnivorous plants that fan and pulsate like living organs. He circumvents blood swamps and fields of moldered bones.