Gonji: Dark Ventures

Gonji: Dark Ventures

by T.C. Rypel


Publisher Wildside Press

Published in Science Fiction & Fantasy, Science Fiction & Fantasy/Fantasy, Literature & Fiction

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Book Description

Now a GOLDEN QUILL Reader's Choice Award FINALIST!


Sixth book in the classic, recently re-issued GONJI series. But the first NEW book in years, and the perfect entry point for new readers---

* Two NEW novellas---"Reflections in Ice" and "Dark Venture"

* Definitive series creation/publishing history

* Teaser excerpt for the coming Gonji origin epic, BORN OF FLAME AND STEEL

Sample Chapter


"God of Necrosis"

Time passed, an unmarked interval—minutes? hours of living

death?—as no more attacks came. The sickly gray, noxious air admitted

neither light of day nor bracing night from the world out of

which the Dark Venture had been torn.

At length, men on the waist and quarterdeck, and clinging apelike

in the rigging, lost heart to hear the rising yammer and wail

of their fellows’ pitiful suffering in those pustular cysts. The crew

began, in epidemic panic and despair, to roar and curse their gods

and throw their hands over their ears at the agonies of de Groot and

Crooq. Their torture was ungodly protracted, as if the creature fed

off their pain as well as their flesh.

Gonji winced, seeing Mori and Iwata scowl. No bushi would

surrender to shameful, pathetic high-pitched screaming, whatever

his pain of torture. Wordlessly, a grim Masao Mori moved to the

stern castle hatchway that led to crew quarters and below deck.

About that time, one by one, all on deck gradually saw and fell

under the whispery spell of the vision to starboard.


A pale orange or golden luminescence had formed in the dispersing

mist, its distance indeterminate. Yet it limned what now

appeared to be some sort of a shoreline. In deeper veils of the white

fog, still too dense for the eye to penetrate, there appeared to be a

structure, an outcropping of columns, with flat roofs, and broken

sections of risers or plinths within the columns.


And now the pale topaz light formed a figure, arguably a face,

pulsing as if alive, but displaying indescribable features. The crewmen

gasped and averted their eyes whenever the pale apparition

seemed to…regard them. A sense of being studied was apprehended

by all aboard.


Beyond the formless visage, there was a jungle shoreline, Gonji was sure.

Yet like that supernatural face, the ruin-like structure,

and the ensnaring living slime itself, the jungle shore seemed…

unfi nished, still fixing itself in space, in form and purpose. The

whole setting appeared primitive and abandoned.


Chillingly, the tortured, slowly digested men in their living

cells began to make obeisance to the distant, amorphous floating



“Please, my lord! Take my agony away—ooooooohhhh!”


Masao Mori returned from the belly of the ship, with his bow

and quiver. Gonji nodded to him, knowing his intent. Mori nocked

a shaft, took up a solid position and slowly drew overhead, rotating



But it was the thickly muscled crewman Mabenga who ended

de Groot’s suffering with a whickering bowshot through the substance

that pierced the man’s neck, the mercy stroke instantly killing

de Groot inside his pulsing, gelatinous hell. Watchers hissed to

see the spurt of pale blood within the suddenly quivering cyst on

its supporting tentacle.


“Stupid black ape!” bosun van Laar yelled. “While it fed on de

Groot the rest of us were safe! Between these Afrikaaner low-men

and this preening Jappo, we’ll be slaughtered like sheep!”


Mabenga said something in reply, but he was not looking at

van Laar.


“What?” the bosun demanded. But a Portuguese deck hand in a

shredded vest and bloody tunic held him back and translated.


“No—it’s, eh…one of the black tongues of the coast…he says

something like…‘No man should suffer past his…ability to forbear’…

something.” He shrugged.


The dull bronze apparition above the ruins morphed into a

shape—a monstrous eye. It glowered, glinting suddenly like a

falling headsman’s axe. They could feel a rising red anger. Heat

and humidity swelled at once like the opening of an oven, and a

renewed stink of the charnel house rolled into the men’s nostrils,

shriveling their tongues.


Abruptly the second monstrous slime-cell thickened in evanescent

layers of living, sluicing light and jelly, a fresh integument.

So the following mercy arrow, fired by Mori, failed to penetrate to

the still-keening Crooq. His entrapping cyst churned and squished,

darkening around the upside-down victim, as if the process were

accelerated, fresh layers of scum surging up from the main mass to

collect hungrily, protectively about its prey.


From aport, a new gelatinous spout burst from the viscous mass

that held the ship—her hull trembled—and began to slam down on

the deck like a colossal, angry fist. But there was purpose to its

fury. Its hollowed snout-end kept flaring and flowering to display

a cavernous aperture before each strike. And, as if it bore invisible

eyes, the blob-like horror targeted the offending warrior, Mabenga.


The muscular African averted its descent. Twisting away defensively,

he cut into that fleshy living viscera with his tulwar, taking

a corrosive burn on his elbow from fending off its bubbling

surface cankers. Gonji bolted to his aid and thrust a gaff into the

mass. Iwata and Turotai followed suit with more boathooks, their

combined leverage turning aside the descent of the man-eating

maw of slime. Others joined in with polearms, everyone on board

roaring with defiance or sheer madness, taking burns, as Gonji

and Bosch exhorted them. Even Malveira and his followers at last

joined in.


“Fire!” Gonji shouted over his shoulder, scrambling after a

lamp, crab-crawling sideways on the slanted deck. “Fire the thing!”


He seized the green-fire lamp and hurled it at the swaying, glutinous

tentacle. The fish oil splashed alight, and viridescent flame

raced along the appendage’s length. It swayed and slammed against

the port hull, crashed through a spritsail, and then wriggled back

down into the morass that held fast the armada of haunted hulks.


A few shouts of triumph, and then men were scrambling to

start fires in braziers and cooking pans hastily provided by Marquerink.

Gonji constructed a torch. Others followed.


“You’ll set off the ship!” Captain Malveira railed. “Have a care



They hurled torches overboard into the living, viscous mass.

The surface rippled and puckered with eerie yellow-green smoke.

But at the last it sucked down all the torches, extinguishing them,

its surface discolored and seething as if with mindless anger. But it

seemed forestalled in its attack.


The men were momentarily galvanized, grunting and cursing

vigorously as they kept deck fires aflame along the rails. But it was

the pilot who ultimately drowned their spirits, voicing what they

all could see.


“Alas, no water beneath this creature, even if we burn it

through,” Bosch said glumly. “Just a matter of time…”


Yet Gonji found reason to exult. He leaped atop a rail and spat

into the festering nightmare. His father would have urged impassivity,

the calm of inner control. As for his Viking shieldmaiden



“No! We’ve sent it into retreat—fetid scum! Hah!”


Gonji leapt back to the deck and gazed across the bobbing,

bearded faces that sucked at breath in the fume, feeling the heaviness

in his own chest, knowing they were being slowly poisoned,

or perhaps paralyzed for easy feasting. But he would not die quietly,

nor would he permit these Europeans to quit on him, to deny

him honorable death.


Then Mori was standing beside him, his square battle-hardened

face an unreadable mask. He didn’t look at Gonji, only staring at

the others as he spoke calmly, quietly in Japanese.


“Your skill is a mystery between you and the Great Kami. How

you became shiki-nin at your age is a legend. But…you are young,

and you must learn the virtue of a calm spirit, in victory and defeat.

Don’t wear your feelings on your vambraces. Keep your vulnerable

parts beneath your armor.”


“So I’ve been censured before,” Gonji replied softly. Mori

bowed curtly and moved off.


Another flying manta ray swooped out of the fog, slashed over

the Dark Venture and tore through the mizzen lateen sail, reducing

it to ribbons. A second, then a third—crisscrossing low over the

deck and shearing ratlines and shrouds. The men scattered downhill,

toward the stern castle, swinging their weapons overhead



“Where the hell do they go? Into the slime?” someone howled.


Then a Portuguese sailor screamed from the riggings overhead.

He had perhaps sought high refuge from ingurgitation by the sucking

beast. But now a great funnel of the living mucous creature

twisted upward from its surface and fluted high above the burning

blazes set along the rails. It hovered over him, puckering and bubbling

in anticipation. Though he slashed valiantly with his cutlass,

the man was sucked head-first into the pseudopod, even as Gonji

and others scampered up the ropes and masts to his aid.


Gonji, Mabenga and Malveira were foremost among the aggressors.

The scrawny Jogo, yammering to drown his own terror,

attacked the column of slime with weak thrusts of a polearm before

spinning away with failed courage. This time even the imposing

Gorgulho found the doughtiness to match his bulk. He joined

the men at the starboard gunwale—the passive giant acting, at

last—but it was no use.


Van Laar yelled, “He’s gone! Get away from that thing lest it

gobble you, too!”


The jellied tentacle lofted skyward and swayed with the kicking,

struggling form of its victim. Rolls of viscous matter seemed

to pulse upward within it, in a horrid dance of excitation or the

rhythmic actions of a gigantic gullet. And the sailor was swallowed

upside-down into his translucent hell, head first, to be wretchedly

digested. His silhouette struggled in pain-wracked, sluggish motion,

a spider drifting down through molasses.


But this time the monster showed less patience. The gelatinous

cylinder pulsed and squished noisily around the jerking, encysted

seaman. In moments it seemed to have eaten through his outer

flesh. There came an abrupt burst of pinkish redness around his

entire form—


The gory victim ceased to move, like a squashed tick.


Gonji panted for breath with the others, all goggle-eyed, their

faces twisted at the sight of the unspeakable fate that must surely

await them all.


“You see…” Gonji rasped, “…this is why my people…shun

the sea.”


Gonji dropped to one knee and steeled himself resolutely. He

was kneeling beside the massive Gorgulho. They eyed each other

uncertainly, neither speaking, if indeed the big man could. Gonji

tried not to project how he marveled at the knotted and bunched

display of perfect muscle under Gorgulho’s torn shirt. His flesh

seemed everywhere as baby-smooth as his bald skull and hairless

face, as if bulging sinews had stretched the skin enough to dislodge

the man’s hair follicles. And Gonji was sure that he could hear the

throbbing of the amplified heart that powered Gorgulho’s towering



The two Africans abruptly joined them, Mabenga addressing

Gonji in halting Portuguese, as Gonji’s bodyguards eased closer.

They surveyed the gathering armed survivors warily.


“Not friend. But not enemy—believe or no,” Mabenga said to



Gonji bowed stiffly. “That will suffice for now—allies.” Gonji

accepted the hand clasps of Mabenga and Turotai, Mori and Iwata

also exchanging bows with the black men.


Gorgulho seemed curious about these new allegiances, finally

nodding approvingly at the little cabal of allies. But he would not

accept any hand proffered in friendship, moving off to gaze out

toward the sentient, malevolent presence that glowed with beguiling

serenity, and the still solidifying ruins—for such they now appeared

with certainty—on the distant shore.


Gonji asked Mabenga, “You koku-jin—you are free-men of

Africa? Do your coasts know such dark sorcery as this?”


But it was Turotai, proving the better Portuguese speaker, who

replied, “There is no such festering evil anywhere on our coasts,

but for that in the hearts of men.”


“Keen eye for those axe-headed devilfish!” Bosch shouted

from the fo’c’sle. But now no one seemed to care.


An eerie, stunned despair, whether from the horrors they’d suffered

or the pall of the noxious fog, now gripped the ship’s company.

Men began to vomit and weep softly, as they collapsed on

the deck or slumped beside the green fires at the gunwales, no longer

in denial but now having accepted the hell that had taken them

in the full roar of robust life. Captain Malveira ordered some to

quarters, below decks, for safety until he might determine a plan.

Gonji objected to this spiritless display, stopping one man after

another as they pushed past him, blank-eyed, faces draped in despair,

oblivious to his appeals to stout hearts and honorable death.

One by one, they drifted aft and below, like languorous ghosts, to

collapse on bunks or swing listlessly in their hammocks, drained

of any will to live.


Marquerink brought out some salted pork and bananas, but

few had the stomach for it. Some took water, others swigging at

rum and wineskins, though they could hardly deepen their present

sensory numbness. Then they simply slumped away to the quarterdeck’s

hatchways, like condemned men to the gallows.


And now Malveira was eyeing the coast hatefully. The captain’s

lips trembled and his brow furrowed. He nodded his head

somberly, as if forming some resolution. And all the while, Gonji

thought, Gorgulho kept looking from the captain to the phantasmagorical

ruins that languidly summoned substance on the jungle

shore, as if the giant would crush Malveira for having steered them

all here.


But would Gorgulho instead be bringing his great ogre’s bulk

in fury against Gonji, if what the samurai suspected proved true?

He absently plucked at the leather thong under his shirt as he ambled

up beside the captain, wary of sorcerous attack all the while,

his right hand gripping the sharkskin hilt of his low-angled sword.

Malveira nervously tapped his own leg with the flat of a bloodcaked

cutlass, gazing at the mystically wavering ruins on the ominous

jungle shore.


They both stood in the smoke of an oily jade fire, pale grime

etching their facial creases.


“So?” Gonji advanced.


“This is my burden. You know nothing of it,” Captain Malveira

said cryptically. They turned to each other and glared over bared

steel again, but they didn’t cross blades.


“Ah, so desu ka? Yet you do nothing about it,” Gonji charged.


“Nothing can be done. I have seen this magic before,” Malveira

shot back. “We must wait it out. It may even disperse with the



Gonji hacked out a scoffing sound, coughing in the heavy,

sweltering air. “You still refuse to accept it. Gomen nasai, but it

has been foretold. This hell-haunter has been set upon my path by

powers that seek to stop me from unearthing their secrets. You,

fool, will see us all devoured. I intend to act!”


Their blades came to rasping engagement.


But the hulking Gorgulho suddenly loomed closer, halting

them, speaking for the first time Gonji could remember:


“No more killing,” the passive giant said in a peculiar, littleboyish

voice. “Every man may be needed later.”


Both men paused to hear the oddly high pitch emanating from

this huge sailor. And Gonji realized now that even Malveira must

have hitherto assumed the man to be mute. It was as if Gorgulho

was some young phenomenon of nature, incredible in size and

symmetry, but somehow immature…a giant man-boy for which

the world was unprepared. Such unlucky manifestations seldom

fared well in a world that feared and hated the odd prodigious singularity.


In this single resonance Gonji thought he could slightly identify

with the enormous Gorgulho. Yet he thought the bare-skulled

giant’s sentiment rang hollow, and he wondered about the worth

of the man’s fighting heart. Some possessed valor only when they

borrowed it from braver souls. This powerful man may have drifted

through life untested in battle, by virtue of his fearsome appearance.


Malveira glumly withdrew toward his forward cabin, glaring

down into the sickly morass beyond the ship’s hull. Gorgulho presently

moved off without another word.


“Our own dark hearts have brought us to this. It is the blackest

magic,” a hunched sailor, slumping on the deck, snuffled through

hitching sobs. “We’re never leaving here…God in Heaven, save

my soul…”


Dr. Lasca came up from behind him, swigging rum from a cup.

“There is no black magic,” he snarled thickly. “Such things are superstition.

There are many things beyond our puny ken.” He went

on, after a bit, slurry but solemn. “We are entering a new Age of

Reason, pilgrims. One day all man’s questions will be answered,

systematically. Get a grip on yourselves and use your brains. Read

Copernicus and Vesalius, young Japones!” This last he directed at

Gonji, with an expansive sweep of his arm. “If you want to pray,

pray for some rational ‘spirit’ to come down, or up, or sideways

and talk reasonably about the unreasonable burden of human suffering.

Then send him to my cabin. I’ll have a few choice gripes

for him.”


The surgeon glared at Gonji, who tilted expressions with him a

moment before gazing again, sulkily, into the foul gelatinous sea.

The young warlord cast piercing eyes on the lambently glowing

death-holes in the skulls that festooned the dead ships surrounding



Skinny Jogo, with his narrow twitchy face, like that of a

wounded fox, slumped against the stern castle bulkhead, clutching

his Monmouth cap in a ball and striking his temple with it, over

and over.


“Meu pai—my father,” he said to Gonji plaintively, as if needing

a sympathetic ear for confession, “he gifted me with a fine,

strong filly when I was thirteen. When she filled out to sturdy

mare, I rode off and left my father alone at the plow—him with an

old man’s heart. I never even thanked him. O meu pai…I fear he’s

cursed me.”


Gonji listened, then cuffed the man’s shoulder reproachfully.

“Hey…by fighting to survive you repay him with honor tenfold,

nanban-jin. Don’t shame him.”


But fingering the hard warmth of the stone depending from the

thong under his shirt, Gonji, too, was transported back to wayward


Excerpted from "Gonji: Dark Ventures" by T.C. Rypel. Copyright © 2017 by T.C. Rypel. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

T.C. Rypel

T.C. Rypel

T.C. RYPEL—“Ted,” to all who admit to knowing him—is a writer who has divided most of his existence between northeast Ohio and the darker regions of his imagination. He has tilted with the fantastic, in fiction and non-fiction, in most forms that wouldn’t surprise you—novels, film criticism, screenplays—but some which surprise even him. (Would you believe 34 Irish drinking ballad stanzas for a Guinness Book of World Records endeavor?)

View full Profile of T.C. Rypel

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