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S. A. Hunt is a U.S. veteran, speculative fiction author, and Winner of Reddit.com/r/Fantasy's "Independent Novel of the Year" Award. He lives in Petoskey, Michigan, with the love of his life Jessi and their noble dog-son Jake the greyhound.

The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree by S. A. Hunt

From award-winning author S. A. Hunt comes a blockbuster fantasy tale inspired by such old-school fantasy classics as Stephen King's The Dark Tower, C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, and Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time.

After coming home from a stint in Afghanistan, veteran Ross Brigham learns that his father has passed away. Dearly departed Dad was a famous fantasy novelist, and the 300 fans that show up for the funeral demand that Ross finish E. R. Brigham's long-running magnum opus.

Ross and two of the author's devotees investigate his untimely death and discover that he might have been murdered...and the time-bending gunslingers of Dad's steampunk novels might be real.

As they try to acclimate to the arid deserts of the author's fantasy world, the three damaged heroes become pawns in a war for humanity's survival. The Muses have grown tired of immortality and now incite atrocities on Earth, trying to lure down a leviathan from the stars.

Can Ross and his new friends stop the scheming satyrs before both worlds are eaten?

CURATOR'S NOTE

One of the promises of indie fiction is that it can bring us stories that just don't fit into conventional molds, but how often do you find one in practice? Well this is one of the books that actually delivers on that promise, and in fact, was the very first book I read that convinced me that indie authors could go toe-to-toe with the majors. When I later started the IOD Reports, I had to disqualify Whirlwind, because how could I test a book objectively when I already knew that I loved it? But with this bundle I'm able to give it the place it deserves, and declare it an honorary IOD Survivor. If you're looking for a bold new world of fantastical adventure that harks back to Lovecraft and L'Amour rather than Tolkien, then this is the two-fisted, gunpowder smackdown that will take you there. – Jefferson Smith

 

REVIEWS

  • "Can easily become an epic for our time."

    – KMT, Amazon.com
  • "Superb... captivating."

    – M. Brown, Amazon.com
  • "If you are a fan of the Dark Tower series, this is a must-read!"

    – Lynda, Amazon.com
  • "A quality that I only expect to see from upper-echelon, traditionally published authors."

    – Jefferson Smith, Immerse or Die
  • "Very descriptive, very dreamy and above all else, very good."

    – Richard M., Authonomy.com
 

BOOK PREVIEW

Excerpt

Prologue

THE ASSASSIN CREPT TOWARD the house through cold blue beams, moonlight dancing across the forest floor in a handful of silver coins.

It was a small house, a two-story half-timber cottage set back deep in the trees, up the hill from the main grounds. If you weren't looking for it, you wouldn't even realize it was there. A small wooden platform served as the front porch roof, accessible by a door that opened in the middle. Next to the front door was a small table, and on that table was a wooden game board.

The man had never heard of the game before the house's occupant had foisted it on him fifteen years ago, on one of their few meetings. The rules were labyrinthine and the pace was nerve-wracking. They would sometimes go days between moves.

He climbed the front porch, careful to avoid the always-creaky second step, and tested the doorknob. It was locked.

He was never one for picking locks. He went back out into the front yard and looked up at the widow's-walk on the second story, sizing it up with a veteran eye. He rubbed his hands together and leaned on his knees, gauging and making mental calculations.

With four quick steps, he ran at the house and stepped on one of the columns holding up the platform, launching himself up at the ledge. It was a challenging jump, three meters at least. He caught the ledge with his fingertips and flexed his arms, kicking both feet up as he did so, and pulled himself onto the widow's-walk. The railing became a ladder that he heaved himself up and over.

The night was a living thing out here in the wilderness, crawling and crying with a thousand creatures. The man paused and listened to the nightingales, squatting next to the door to avoid being seen, to make sure he hadn't woken up the man inside.

He listened to the frogsong and the fiddling of the insects, his heartbeat settling. Still water. A telescope bolted to the railing focused a speck of moonlight onto the boards.

Satisfied he hadn't been heard, he tried the door and found it unlocked. He eased it open, slipped inside, and pushed it against the jamb.

He crouched there in the darkness of the bedroom as his eyes adjusted to the grainy, colorless environment. Some enormous sort of artwork dangled from the ceiling, a giant paper tube that coiled around the room once. If he hadn't entered on his haunches, he would have ran right into it.

The owner of the house lay asleep on the bed in the middle of the room, snoring softly. The intruder lingered in the shadows, watching him sleep. He didn't think the fat bastard was faking it, but he knew better than to trust such a canny son of a bitch.

He crouched there for a long time, twenty minutes maybe, long enough for the sleeper to get bored of pretending and look to see what was going on.

Nope. He went on snoring, oblivious to his fate.

The man stood up and drew his pistol from the leather jackass rig under his jacket. It was a well-polished seven-shot breaktop revolver, too big to qualify as a hidden piece. He was only wearing the jacket to muffle the holster's tack.

"I'm sorry," the man murmured, and fired a slug at the back of Ed's head.

At first, he thought the round had vaporized the sleeping man. The instant the pistol had discharged, the muzzle-flash lit up the room and icepicked his eardrums, and Ed had vanished.

He didn't get up and run, he simply ceased to exist, and his assassin couldn't understand what had happened. In a strange fit of pique, he had the bizarre notion that he'd popped Ed like a balloon. Ed was a big guy, almost three hundred pounds. Maybe all that flab was nothing but hot air. The killer stood there, the gun still pointed at the bed, trying to wrap his head around the results of his premeditated murder, when snow began to fall from the ceiling.

Great big goosedown flakes waltzed to and fro as they fell, twirling in the air. Still bewildered, he looked up and opened his other hand, catching one of the flakes in his glove. It was a feather from the mattress.

A tearing, a deafening pain whipped across his mind and he dropped the pistol on the duvet, sinking to his knees, his fists over his temples. Both ears were ringing and he felt like all the blood had drained out of his skull, leaving him wall-eyed and out of breath. The room centrifuged like a zoetrope.

"Guhh," he said, his forehead ground against the intricate carpet. His brainpan felt like it was being emptied and washed out. "Nnnnggghhh, ffffggg…leave me be, for the love of the gods. I've done your deed."

The man floundered on the floor, his fingertips twitching, searching. He found the bedpost and hauled himself to his feet. His cheeks were cold; he touched them and realized that he was weeping. He picked up the smoking revolver and put it back in its holster, and sat down on the hope chest at the end of the bed to collect himself.

"No," he said. "I don't want to do for you no more, devil."

His downcast eyes swept over the familiar shape at his feet. He leaned over and picked up the gunbelt that had been lying at the foot of the bedpost. It was empty of all but the rounds.

A cursory search uncovered the pistols lying on the nightstand, in easy reach of the bed. The man picked them up, put them in the gunbelt, and slung the gunbelt over his shoulder like a gentlemen's jacket. It was an easy, jaunty look, but he felt sick to his stomach and not at all jaunty.

On the way downstairs and out the front door, he paused at the typewriter sitting on the desk and typed a few meaningful words, then walked out onto the porch where he half-expected to see a squad of lawmen waiting to gun him down as he left the house.

There was no one. A surge of grief and anger filled him up and burned away quickly, leaving only regret in its place, tempered by shame. Perhaps he only wanted there to be someone there to punish him for what he'd done.

He raked the pieces from the game board and stormed away.

_______

The sound of the assassin's gunfire startled him awake, but instead of his bed, Ed found himself underwater. A dark and subtle landscape of undulating blue, red, and green materialized from the nothing. The cold water threatened to take his breath away.

Ed pushed the slimy stones with heavy hands and rose against the water's surface, feeling it glass smooth and round over the top of his head. It seemed to happen in slow-motion. He couldn't get enough air into his burning chest, the water wouldn't stream out of his beard fast enough. It clung to his face like melting ice and blurred his eyes.

He gazed, bewildered, at the dead fingers of the evening forest through a curtain of crystal.

He was on Earth. How did he get to Earth?

Then the water was gone and he fell away from it, collapsing on his back at the stream's edge as it coursed over his numbing feet. He sat up and barked a gout of water from his lungs, panting in ragged gasps, the pain sawing at his throat with every breath.

In that clarity which is so common to the dying, he looked down and marveled with grim eyes at the little sores all over his naked shins, calves, and feet. The diabetes was eating his legs, but today, today was the last day he'd ever have to worry about it again.

Out of the chilling rush of the autumn water, the bullet-hole howled anew and Ed fell back again onto his elbows, growling.

(get to the house)

His head felt like it was wrapped in foam. As he had done so many times before, for so many years before, for so long to his benefit, Ed heeded the raspy words in his head.

He rolled onto his side and pushed himself up again, struggling to his feet. The world swam again, as if he were underwater once more, and dimmed, and he bent over and grasped his knees until he could regain his faculties. He took one step, then another staggering lurch, then stood a bit straighter and continued onto the house.

It waited, lurking huge and fat in the forest, a rundown old white plantation house in the middle of ten thousand winter-stripped trees.

He made it to the back door, and leaned against the splintery rail at the bottom of the stoop to muster up another round of fortitude. He snatched the door open and ordered himself inside.

When he got into the kitchen, he heard someone tapping an impatient foot on the linoleum, but when he looked around in confusion he realized that what he was hearing was the sound of his blood dripping on the floor. The sight of it astounded him, made him reel again. He leaned on the island as he passed it, and started toward the living room.

His shirt, already filthy and soaked through, began to greedily drink up the crimson leaking out of the shredded hole in his neck, spreading it across his chest and shoulder, letting it run down his coarse-haired back.

He couldn't stand anymore. He went to his knees with a thunderous weight that made the dishes in the sink clatter, and fell over onto his side, causing the grill shelf inside the oven to buzz. Ed lay on his back in his own kitchen, his gray eyes staring up at the horrid popcorn ceiling and the overhead light that had stopped working when his boy was still in diapers.

This isn't how it was supposed to go, the old man thought, and he could feel the life running out of him from second to second. This isn't how it was written.

Silent feet approached him from a dark corner of the room and someone knelt over him. "Where is it? What did you do with it?"

With what? Oh, I know what you want. Ed's mouth worked, but he couldn't get the words out of his throat. The world was falling away, he was dropping, dropping through a trapdoor into oblivion, looking up at his oldest friend's face as it dwindled to a point high above. He could hear the soft rustle of arrow-shafts in a quiver.

I'm sorry, old friend. He'll find it. He'll do the right thing.

"Where did you put the key?"

Your turn, kid, thought Ed, as the world came to an end, narrowing to a bright point like an old television.

Good luck. You're gonna need it.