Here’s a sample from the newly re-drafted fifth chapter, for your reading pleasure. I’m never going to show off the original draft as, well, it’s awful by comparison. It truly was the book’s weakest chapter, but now it’s one of the novel’s most-pivotal sections. The below sample does not include spoilers however. You can read it without fear of having anything ruined.
Enjoy, and please do excuse the weird formatting. WordPress doesn’t seem to like the proper book format.
An almighty roar erupted throughout Seventh Circle’s cavernous shooting range as a salvo of high calibre sniper rounds ripped through the centre of a distant, hanging target. Sasha looked up from the eyepiece of her long-range rifle to observe her handiwork as the weapon’s barrel hissed and smoked. She stood and looked at what remained of her paper victim for a moment before starting the process over with a fresh target. It had been five months since she first arrived at Barman’s doorstep.
Most of Sasha’s evenings were spent in the rebellion’s underground bunker, honing her aim and steeling herself through rigorous exercise. It was a way of siphoning out the anger caused by her husband Eric’s betrayal, but every night as she slept in her rough, creaky bunk bed, memories of that terrible New Years Eve returned. She’d often wake in a cold sweat as visions of his bloodied face and hollow, dead eyes came into focus.
Shooting had become akin to meditation, and few things could match the rush she felt as those cross-hairs zeroed in on their mark, followed by the quick, excited intake of breath as she realised the kill-shot was hers. It had become pleasurable, and Sasha knew that one day, whether she wanted it or not, cutting apart paper targets wasn’t going to satisfy her thirst for violence. She wanted to hit the streets and stalk greater prey.
Barman could see that fire building inside her, and it troubled him to a degree. but he knew if he could counsel her she would become a valuable asset to the rebellion. He would often come down at night to lock up the range to find her slumped against a wall asleep, clutching a heavy sniper rifle like it was a plush toy. One time he asked why she slept there, and was stunned to hear her say that it was the only place she could sleep without suffering nightmares. He never asked that question again, but vowed to help her as best he could.
On this particular night, Barman entered the range just as Sasha tore into another stack of targets. Her right forearm trembled against the weapon’s stock as the shell screamed forward, yet it refused to yield under the force of the blast. He hung back for a moment to watch her in action, handling the savage firearm without a hint of intimidation or trepidation. She had tamed it through tireless effort and dedication, two qualities Barman had always encouraged in his people.
“Shit girl, you frighten me something fierce at times, you know that?” he said as he approached Sasha and handed her a chilled bottle of water. “I came down here to see if you wanted to join us for a beer upstairs, but I can already guess the answer just by looking at you.”
Her face was smeared with gun grease and her brow glistened with sweat, while her brilliant blonde hair was tied back in a ponytail and concealed beneath a black wool hat. It was hard to believe that not even half a year ago she was admiring herself in her white party dress, and now there she was looking dangerous in a grey vest and combat trousers. She was too angry and laser-focused to see the transformation for herself, but it was clear that her days as a meek, trusting doormat were over.
“You know we’re going to need a sniper once we put our play for the Big Four in motion right?” Barman said as he admired and fiddled with his own long-range rifle.
“Yeah,” she replied as she squinted through her scope to line up another shot, “I heard.”
She emptied her lungs to stabilise the trajectory before unloading a perfect headshot that sent the target erupting with force.
“Don’t you want in on that?” Barman continued. “I’m not going to dance around it, you’re the best marksman we have and you’d do us proud out there, I just know it.”
Frustrated, Sasha lowered her weapon and set it down on the range counter before turning to her mentor.
“I don’t know,” she sighed. “I owe you for so much; for giving me a place to stay, for giving me a reason to live again, and well, I’m just frustrated, you know? I thought I had it all back on Earth, but then all of that turned out to be a lie, and I’m worried that everything’s just going to collapse like it did before. Getting invested isn’t something I want to take lightly. Not again, not ever.”
Barman nodded and walked up to Sasha, placing a hand on her shoulder.
“Except you’re already invested aren’t you?”
“Boss?” she said, puzzled.
“In this,” Barman replied lifting up Sasha’s rifle. “In the kill, that feeling you can only get by ending a life. I never ask my people to give up what they did in the last life to deserve damnation, but I’m guessing you already know how it feels to take a life, to see it fizzle out and fade into silence in your hands. You don’t have to tell me that I’m right, but trust me when I say this; I understand.”
Barman rested her weapon on the counter as Sasha looked down at the floor half in embarrassment at being read so easily, and through coming to terms with her own blood-lust. She took a moment to fight back the welling in her eyes and brushed Barman’s hand off her shoulder.
“Yeah, fine, I admit it. All I see when I pull that fucking trigger are the faces of my lying bastard of a husband and his whore. You know what I see after the rounds have left their chamber?”
“No?” Barman whispered, feeling slightly taken aback by her rant.
“Nothing. Not a god damn thing, and that’s the way I like it.”
Barman sized Sasha up for a moment before pointing to the biggest rifle on the gun rack that sat against the cavern’s wall.
“Hand me the .50 cal will you?”
“Just, come on. Please.”
Sasha obliged, wincing under the weapon’s weight and dropping it into Barman’s arms.
“This is actually my rifle,” He said, inspecting its steel contours and features. “It was the first piece I ever stole from one of those Demon convoys that roll in and out of town. They bring gun caches from Dis and sell them in Acheron.”
“Yeah, it’s the closest thing the Demons have to a home her in our half of the city. You should see it, really, it’s something else. It may not be as ruined and decayed as our little slice of Hell here, but it’s infested with corrupted Fallen who’d rather stab our kind in the back for a meal and some ‘D’ than fight for their own freedom.”
“Is this story going somewhere?”
Barman ignored Sasha and went on, “So one night me and a few of the first Seventh Circle rebels went onto Acheron pretending to be Demons looking to score some crank and guns, only back then we were uneducated about life over the wall. The meeting was arranged in a warehouse off the corner of Wendigo and Baal, a big operation of Murdoch’s, except we thought it was run by two-bit goons and gear peddlers.”
“They smelt us out, literally. We sat down with a Demon ambassador to talk deal, and he started sniffing the air like something just died in the room. He looked at me and the boys one by one and stared me out before speaking. I swear that room was a silent as they come. No body dared say a word.”
Sasha simply stood and waited for Barman to continue, hanging on his every word.
“He said, ‘I know what you are’, before ordering all my men killed. I fought back, breaking an arm here and shooting a face off there, and by the time all of the noise and blood stopped had it was only me and him in the room, both out of bullets and ready to fight to the death. He stood down and told me that I didn’t belong here, in the Fallen district, and that I was a traitor before using some kind of Ark to return back to Dis.”
“Who was he?”
“That was the first and only time I met Carcer, Murdoch’s right hand. I loaded up our van with weapons, including this rifle, and rode back to the bar exhausted, angry and thirsty for more blood, just like you. But I found another way to get my revenge.”
“What was it?”
“You’re standing in it,” he said, looking around the room.
“Seventh Circle went quiet after that, and I vowed never to rush into anything that could get me or my people killed ever again. I told myself that next time I’d be ready, prepared and properly equipped to get the job done. If I ever wanted to gut the pig that turned my lover to stone, I had to focus.”
Barman handed his rifle over to Sasha. She looked down at the handle to see a series of six tally marks engraved into the metal.
“A mark for each of my friends who died that day, and helped me realise a better revolution for our people. It belongs to you now.”
Sasha swallowed hard and accepted the rifle with a nod before resting it on the range surface and lining up a headshot on another target.
“Go on,” Barman whispered in her ear, “show me some magic.”
Sasha tensed up and slammed into the bullseye with a precision burst of shots.