Today on the site we have an excerpt from A Broken Winter by Kale Night, an adult dystopian with an all-queer main cast releasing from NineStar Press on November 25th! Here’s the blurb:
General Auryn Tyrus is tired of serving an emperor who turns political dissidents into expensive steak and claims to have swallowed Ankari’s sun. He is fed up with pretending not to know Emperor Haken is buying biological weapons and collecting taxes for a war that doesn’t exist. Auryn’s role in the entire mirage leads him to drastic choices, but unexpected news halts his plans. Seven-year-old Keita Kaneko, the son of a former lover, is captured by the emperor’s special forces. Auryn secretly intervenes and spares Keita from execution.
Keita changes everything. Instead of feeling helpless and oppressed by a self-proclaimed living god, Auryn works to expose the emperor as a fraud. But he knows exactly what will happen if he’s discovered, and the extent of Emperor Haken’s lies is worse than anticipated. If Auryn expects anyone to believe the truth, he’s going to need proof. And a lot of help.
And here’s the excerpt!
“Before you go in, there’s something you should know. Your roommate is a bit eccentric. Last guy he shared a room with had to be taken away in a straitjacket.”
“Thanks for the warning, but I’m sure I can handle it.” Auryn’s curiosity overrode any concern. He’d heard Reisen Kaneko could be difficult—stubborn and highly irrational—but this was what he’d trained for. He was ready.
Auryn opened the door. An overhead sprinkler was triggered, soaking everything. Reisen sat in the middle of it all, wearing a white lab coat. Dark, circular sunglasses shielded his eyes from view. Red hair stuck to him in wet tendrils. A large pair of white headphones crowned his head.
Auryn stepped into the room, closing the door behind him. Reisen didn’t appear to notice he had company. He approached cautiously, making no sudden movements.
“What are you listening to?” He wasn’t sure if Reisen could hear him.
Reisen glanced up. “Ludwig Van Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy.’ It sounds like something the God of Rain would listen to at high volume to ward off a panic attack, attempting to anchor in a sea of anxiety, exhaling thunder and inhaling lighting.”
“I’m not familiar with it.”
“I didn’t expect you to be. I have the only copy.”
Auryn was already soaked, water pooling at his feet. “My name is Colonel Auryn Tyrus. I’m the new chaplain.”
“Dr. Reisen Kaneko. Pleasure to meet you, Colonel Tyrus. Does our darling emperor think you’ll be a good influence? Help keep me on my best behaviour?”
“His Holiness knows you’d never stray far from the Light. This was the only bunk available.”
“How convenient.” Reisen removed his headphones, offering them. “Want to listen?”
Auryn put the headphones on, sceptical. “I never thought of gods as having a use for music.”
“How else would you expect them to maintain their sanity?” Reisen let the song play for several minutes, then paused it to inform Auryn, “This is my favourite part.”
The song was appropriately named. He’d never heard anything so joyful. It wasn’t anything like the music Emperor Haken allowed to play on the radio—all boring, one-dimensional noise devoid of personality. Mostly bland piano arrangements with an occasional harp accompaniment. This was triumphant yet vulnerable, encapsulating a range of human emotion over the span of numerous carefully crafted notes. He wanted to listen over and over again. Fortunately, Reisen was happy to share.
Reisen’s generous, considerate nature vexed him. Reisen was eccentric, not crazy. Honest, not a pathological manipulator. Humble, not arrogant. Worst of all, he was easy to get along with. Too easy.
It made his mission much harder than anticipated.
“You’re lucky they let you grow your hair so long. Doesn’t it get in the way?” asked Auryn.
Auryn and Reisen sat in their room, drinking tea in the dark. It was late at night, long after everyone was supposed to be asleep.
“Sometimes,” replied Reisen, lighting a cigarette. “But I’ve had long hair as long as I can remember. I hate cutting it. Feels too much like self-mutilation.”
“For your sake, I hope no one takes issue with it.”
“My mother punched someone who told her it was inappropriate for a young man to look like a little girl. Anger management wasn’t her strong suit.”
Auryn took a swig of tea, peering over the rim of the cup to watch Reisen’s cigarette cling to the corner of his mouth, trying not to stare. His gaze lingered too long on the man’s features, compulsively tracing them, memorising them like flight formulas. “I don’t remember my parents.” Sometimes he ransacked his memory for any trace of life before arriving at the orphanage. He never found anything but isolated crumbs—someone with rough hands, skin dry and cracked, the nauseating smell of rotten meat. The urge to shed his skin. A woman in a green sweater, her face blurred by time, sleeves too long.
“Orphanage kid, eh? What was it like being raised by the government?”
“Everything revolved around discipline and duty. Doing what’s best for Terasyn, not for ourselves.”
Reisen shook his head. “A fine sentiment for programming robots. Raising children, not so much.”
“It was okay. Every now and then Emperor Haken stopped by. I used to play games with Prince Elia.”
“Did they involve pulling intestines out of someone’s rectum?” Auryn stared at Reisen in horror. To speak of a member of the royal family in such a way was heresy. Reisen grinned crookedly. “Sorry. Elia is a creep.”
“Mortals are in no position to criticise the divine.”
“I can see why they let you run the chapel, Colonel.” Reisen confused him in every way imaginable. “But I’m afraid I disagree. Mortals are obligated to criticise the divine. To question everything. Otherwise we’re no better than sheep.”
“We’re not qualified to think for ourselves,” countered Auryn. “We don’t know what’s best for us. We are no better than sheep, and we can’t afford to reject the guidance of a competent shepherd.”
“Abused sheep have warped ideas of what constitutes a competent shepherd.”
Auryn watched Reisen’s blasphemous lips move, excited and cursed. He wanted to kiss him, even if it meant damnation, losing everything. “Come with me to the chapel. Pray with me. The gods will give you strength.”
“No, thanks, Chaplain. I’m good.”
Auryn sighed in frustration, standing. “It’s late, anyway. We should sleep.” Idle minds produced dangerous thoughts. They crawled back into their bunks. Auryn closed his eyes, trying to get comfortable, tense all over. “Reisen… Did you really drive your last roommate crazy?”
“Nah. You’re giving me way more credit than I deserve. He wigged out on his own. I’m just a convenient scapegoat. General Mordha doesn’t like me much, I’m afraid. Maybe it’s the hair.”
* * *
Kale currently resides outside a small town in northern Alberta, where she works in a library. She’s an avid reader with an English degree from the University of Calgary. In her spare time Kale loves playing video games, making chain maille, watching anime, and cultivating a steadily expanding bonsai collection.