Friday, November 20, 2015

Blog Tour #giveaway: Cursed ~Black Swan~ by Ryan T. McFadden

Cursed Black Swan
A Fixer Novel
By- Ryan T. McFadden
Genre- Fantasy/Dark Fantasy
Published By- Dragon Moon Press
Publication Date-October 30th

"Let's get one thing straight—I'm a fixer. You need someone murdered? Then hire an assassin. You need something stolen? Call a thief. But if there's something no one else can do, or a job that no one else wants, then you talk to me."

Nathaniel specializes in the strange, the weird, and the dangerous. But no matter how far he runs, he can't leave behind his bloody past, nor the ghosts that chase him.

His latest job was supposed to be simple—recover the sword Black Swan. Except there's no such thing as a simple job. When the operation goes bad, the Crucifiers, the Crooked Hand, assassins, and Crusaders are all hot on Nathaniel's trail...for a sword he doesn't even have. All he has to do to get it back and set his world right is to find the woman of his dreams...and kill her.


Crossbows and Bureaucracy (the opening)
We lay naked in the candlelight of her apartment. Rain thrummed on the baked clay roof, muting the night sounds of Havencastle. Amber ran her finger along the straight pink-and-white scar under my left nipple. “How’d you get this one?” she asked.
“Hugo the Hellion stuck his knife in me.”
“I heard Hugo was dead.”
“He was after he stuck his knife in me.”
She looked at me with a tightened expression. “I was there when Hugo and his attack dogs plundered the Fjords near Oldbank. His sword was so great it took two slaves to carry. You’re telling me that you brought down the Scourge of the Succession?”
 “A man has to defend his honour.”
“I didn’t...well, I didn’t think you had honour.”
“It wasn’t my honour. He caught me cheating at dice and stabbed me. You remember O’Meara? With me bleeding on the floor, he went into a rage and brutally beat Hugo. The sawbones sewed me up but there wasn’t much they could do for Hugo.”
“That’s quite a friend you have.”
“O’Meara? He didn’t do it out of friendship. He did it because I owed him money. He owes me. Instead of jailing him for murder, the Bronze appointed him the Sherriff of Havencastle.”
She tucked a loose strand of auburn hair behind her ear. She was attractive, her skin soft, her earlobes delicate and flowing into a perfect line of her pronounced neck. She regarded me thoughtfully, her grey eyes dark in the meagre candlelight.
“And this one?” Her fingers played at the edges of a messy puckering of tissue along my side.
“A rhino.”
She slapped my stomach, a little too hard. “Now you’re mocking me.”
“I’m not,” I protested. “You’ve heard of the Grand Violence?”
The Grand Violence?”
They were the most famous, and most dangerous, performance troupe in the Succession. “I joined them in DunGhūl. They were the perfect cover when I needed to blackmail the Merchant of Maul.”
“You’re an acrobat?”
“No, and that was the problem. The whole debacle ended with a rhino loose during the performance. The rhino gored me and trampled the Merchant.” I smiled fondly at the memory. “The rhino rampaged across DunGhūl for three days before the City Watch were finally able to chase it over a cliff. After my performance, the Grand Violence was able to double their admission price.”
She asked about my scars and I explained each of them: shark, molten gold, cedar tree, razor-tipped sawfish. Finally, exhausted of stories, we fell into a relaxed silence. As I was drifting to sleep she asked, “Who were you running from tonight?” When I didn’t answer, she added, “They would’ve done far more than give you scars if I hadn’t hidden you, I suspect.”
It was her way of saying that I owed her. I guess I did.
“The Crucifers. They want me for questioning.” Being questioned by the Crucifiers involved being strapped to one of their stone tables and dissected slowly. From what I’d heard, sometimes they didn’t ask questions at all.
“There must be a sizable bounty to bring you in.” Her voice had taken on a darker and more ominous tone. Dammit. No longer were we talking about past adventures—this sounded more like business. I was a wanted man in nearly every city in the Succession. You don’t get an inventory of scars from molten gold, rhinos, and razor-tipped sawfish from living a quiet life.
“Perils of the trade,” I replied. I had tucked my hand crossbow safely under my pillow and I estimated the time to throw her from the bed, grab my weapon, and shoot. Realistically I doubted shooting her would do any good at this point. Whatever Amber had planned was already in motion. Maybe she intended to drug or poison me. She could’ve slipped something into my drink earlier, or loaded her lips with a two-part poison. Or maybe it was even contact venom smeared on her breasts.
Amber and I went way back. Maybe that was what worried me so much. I didn’t have friends—life was less complicated that way. I just had people like Amber who I could count on occasionally to not screw me over. I wasn’t sure this was one of those times. And yet, I was here cuddled with her naked in the dark because she was hiding me from my pursuers.
“I heard about the DragonRoot job.” She gazed up at me, resting her head on the backs of her hands folded on my chest.
The DragonRoot job had been my most recent heist, though heist made it sound like I had succeeded. The job had been a resounding failure, complete with shattered wagons and burning buildings.
“Next time don’t drug your camels,” she said.
My gaze flickered to the exit points of her darkened apartment. There was the wooden door fastened with four sets of locks, and a shuttered window. I had come in through the door but I suspected I’d be leaving through the window.
She must’ve noticed me stiffening because she slapped me playfully. “Relax, we go back too far for me to screw you over for a few brine.”
I was worth a whole lot more than a few brine. I knew how much I was worth in every city in the Succession. Such knowledge kept me alive because once I knew my worth, it was a simple equation to determine how desperate people would be to capture me. Would they risk their lives? Would they risk the lives of others?
I came here to this hellhole of a city thinking I was staying ahead of the bounties on my head. Then, a day ago, I spotted the Crucifiers, which wasn’t usually too difficult considering all their armour and shields and squires. Regardless, they almost got the drop on me at the Dog and Mustard Pot. I hadn’t expected them to make a move this far from home and that carelessness was how a man could find himself strapped to one of their interrogation tables.
Once outside the Mustard Pot, they pursued me in numbers. They had hunting dogs too—big slavering beasts with muscles like heavy ropes and jaws that could crush a man’s skull. I was forced to the rooftops so they’d lose my scent. Still, the net was tightening.
That was when I remembered Amber. I had gotten her out of a jam a year earlier. She had been on a pleasure barge on the White Gravel River attempting to swindle Lord Hayminch out of a small portion of his fortune when her cover was blown. If it hadn’t been for me, Hayminch would’ve cut out her tongue. She had a talented tongue, both in spinning lies and in the bedroom. I wasn’t sure which skill he wanted to punish—maybe both.
She owed me.
 “What happened to the five crates of DragonRoot?” Her hand wandered down my stomach and between my legs. Despite myself, I hardened under her touch. I resisted giving in fully, as I had to be careful lest she trap me in one of her games.
“I attempted to steal five crates of DragonRoot. Like you heard—it went bad.”
“I thought you weren’t a thief,” she said, stroking me softly.
“If I were a thief, I would’ve stolen five crates of DragonRoot. I’m a fixer. Big difference.” I tried to stay focused but she was manipulating me with a professional touch.
“So they’re not stashed somewhere?”
“Is that your angle? You want some of the action?” I moved her hand off me. She made a soft mew of protest.
“I’m just curious,” she pouted. “I just don’t know how you ended up in bed...with the Crucifiers.”
“I didn’t end up in bed with them,” I replied tersely. “It was a job.”
She moved from the bed gracefully, her body curving in all the right ways. Despite my arousal, I reached under my pillow to retrieve my hand crossbow. Except it wasn’t there. Had I forgotten to put it under the pillow in our rush to strip ourselves of clothing last night? Never. I’d never forget to put it in its proper place. Carelessness like that could get a man killed. Of course, falling into bed with a woman selling you out could also get you killed.
She opened the shutters. It was still dark outside, a heavy rain falling. Before I protested and told her to shut them, a man plunged through the opening. He landed gracefully, rolled, and was on his feet. I should’ve been doing something: lunging from bed, trying to get dressed, running for my life. Something. His face was hidden behind a great tuft of hair that I took to be a mask. I didn’t react, however, because I was still trying to figure out why someone had just tumbled into the room. We were on the top floor of the inn, thirty feet above the street, high enough that people don’t jump through your window. I hated to admit it but he caught me, literally, with my pants down.
For a brief, irrational second, I thought that maybe she was reuniting me with the Grand Violence troupe. That ridiculous idea was dispelled when someone pounded on our door, followed by muffled yelling. Another man, this one wearing a white mask, tumbled through the window. Amber was backed up against the wall watching the scene unfold. When I caught her gaze she shrugged guiltily.
I jumped from bed naked, not sure how the hell I was going to get out of this mess. Two were already in the room and another plunged through the window. Odds were getting worse, and the longer I stuck around, the worse it was getting.
“You owed me!” I yelled at Amber, though it didn’t matter now. The situation was out of her control once she’d opened the shutters. “I saved you from Lord Hayminch cutting out your tongue!”
“You’re the one who blew my cover,” she snapped.
Details, details.
Something big and heavy hammered on the other side of the door. Once, twice, and the third time the wood gave way and splinters flew. I turned to Amber to implore her to give me something to defend myself. The first man’s fist cracked across my jaw, turning my world grey before reality snapped back. At least he hadn’t shot me—which meant they were planning on taking me alive.
The door failed, a ruin of splinters and snapped wood. The killers flooded the room. Too many. They swarmed me. A bad scene. Someone kicked me in the gut. Of all the places to die, I hadn’t wanted it to be in this craphole called Havencastle.
“You shouldn’t have crossed us, Nathaniel.”
He punched me in the gut and I couldn’t breathe.
“You think it’s funny now?”
“You know those five crates of DragonRoot you stole are worth more than you’ll see in a lifetime?” a jester bellowed. Another punch, this one aimed at my lower back, and my legs went numb and I collapsed.
“Bring him,” a calm, soft voice said. They hefted me by my armpits, my head lolling.
They carried me through the broken door, down the stairs, and into the tavern. These weren’t the Crucifiers. They wouldn’t have bothered coming in through the window. I realized that they weren’t wearing masks at all—those were their real faces. Which made these the Pariahs—the guild I had tried to steal the DragonRoot from.
Amber had hidden me from the Crucifiers because she was selling me to the Pariahs. Better than the other way around. The Pariahs used crude interrogation methods like whips and chains, but they wouldn’t get too barbaric. The Crucifiers, now they would’ve cut me up right good.
My smile dripped blood. I could get out of this. The odds would be high, but the challenge didn’t scare me. Then the bag went over my head. Not good. My vision exploded in bursts of white, followed by nothing.


About the Author
Ryan T. McFadden is a writer of fantasy and horror, with short stories and novellas published through Dragon Moon Press, Edge SF & F, and Absolute X-Press. In 2014, his novella Ghost in the Machine won the Aurora Award (Canada's most prestigious award for SF&F) for Short Fiction.

His motley past involved such dangerous work as database administration, ice cream flavouring (seriously, that's a thing), hockey league administration, screen printing, web design, furniture building, and home renovations.

He lives in London, Ontario, with his two beautiful, but sometimes diabolical daughters, who he is sure are plotting to one day overthrow him.


*** Giveaway ***

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