An excerpt from Bite Back book 5

Very slight spoilers…

I generally feel with these quiet parts of the Bite Back books that I’m going overboard. Readers generally come back and tell me I’m not. Anyway, I’m going to try out a short section on this blog that hasn’t even been seen by the beta readers yet…

How in such a complex, structured society as the Athanate, could you win an argument? The issue under discussion is this: when the paranormal races reveal themselves to humans, should they agree to abide by human law, or should there be a separate law for them? A very intricate sort of problem and one on which a great deal hangs in the balance.

The Empire of Heaven (China and most of south-east Asia) stood aside from the first Athanate Assembly when it was invoked in the 1920s. The Empire of Heaven is the largest group after the two main creeds of the Assembly, Panethus and Basilikos. As the parameters of the new Assembly are being hammered out in book 5, the Empire arrives at the meeting, in the person of their Emperor’s own Diakon, Xun Huang. What side of the debate will he come down on?

This is a small part, a quiet interlude in the usual rush.

This is Huang’s speech to the Athanate. He may have been influenced by Maya Angelou (paraphrased here): “They may forget what you said but they will never forget what you made them feel.”


Huang walked to the center of the floor and stood still, waiting until the silence spread.

When he did speak, his voice was so quiet everyone had to lean forward to hear.

I didn’t know what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t what came.

“I am old, even as we Athanate count it,” he said.

His words were slow and formal, with a rhythm that seemed to carry me along.

“Many, many years ago, I buried my father in an unmarked grave, beneath a solitary Linden tree on a south facing hillside, near a quiet river. In the heat of summer, the Linden’s leaves are thick and dark and green. They take the shape of hearts, and beneath their shade, the ground is always cool; the air always holds the scent of limes. As winter nears, those leaves turn and fall like a harvest of the richest gold, and make a crown to rest upon my father’s head.

Between the wars that tore our land, I would return there, and lie on that hillside. It eased my soul, and restored my strength in a time of great turmoil.

Then, beside my father, I buried my sons and my daughters, their youthful faces as yet half-formed, unblemished by age.”

Huang paused and looked up and down the ranks of Athanate, and we were silent. The whole auditorium had unconsciously synced their heartbeats with their neighbors’, until we were a creature with a single pulse, waiting, listening.

“No man should bear that sorrow,” Huang continued. “No woman either, and my wife joined them before the leaves had fallen again. I planted the trees that were their only marker.

From that moment,  I slept only when exhaustion took me, because on waking, for a moment it was as if I could turn and see my wife again, only for that dream to fade, and the nightmare of life to begin again.

When the Emperor found me, I sought death every day in the face of the enemy. What prize could he offer me, in my despair, that would make me want to become immortal? What reward to become Athanate, and know that sorrow for eternity?

He spoke to me; simple words, words he told me he first heard from the lips of the Kumemnon herself, her own words: This is the gift and the sorrow of the Athanate; to see your loves pass before you like the days of summer, while your heart still beats. To keep your vigil in the shadows, and rise again with every sun.

That part you all know. Many carve it above doors to their hidden sanctuaries, to remind them that as there is light, there must be darkness, and the world turns regardless.

But the Lamentation of Arunne goes on: To be bound upon the wheel of heaven; to toil and toil and never be done. To love without reserve forever, and rise again with every sun.

He paused, and in the depths of the auditorium the Athanate shivered as the words touched us.

Huang went on.

“That is what he said to me, and I bared my neck to him.

On that hillside now, beside the quiet river, there grows a forest, such that I may not find my family’s trees among those that mark my kin. I return there sometimes for a night. To sleep, to dream, and rise again with the sun.

The war took away my family, and my Emperor replaced it with duty. He offered me no soft consolation, no comforting lies. As one who passes from childhood must put away the easy refuges of youth, to become Athanate is to shoulder a greater destiny. And to achieve that, one may not live as a man or woman may live, under the strictures of their society.

The Athanate people must retain their own laws and customs.”




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About Mark Henwick

I was born in Africa and left out in the sun too often. An early interest in philosophy and psychology was adequately exorcised by tending bars. And while trying to enroll in a class to read Science Fiction full time, I ended up taking an engineering degree which splendidly qualified me to move into marketing. That in turn spawned a late onset career in creative writing. When not working, I get high by the slightly less conventional means of a small light aircraft. My first books are available on Amazon at

15 responses to “An excerpt from Bite Back book 5”

  1. Sally says :

    Very powerful prose. Beautifully presenting the need for a separate but higher standard, not like the Basilikos who see no value in others, and hence no need to put themselves out for mere humans. Rather the duty to be beyond the level of humans in terms of the standards set of themselves. Bravo

  2. leveke says :

    I like it a lot. The prose is beautiful and the conflict just got more complex. Not just Emergence versus Hidden path anymore. This brings the important question into play how a society with known supernatural beings would look like.

  3. Jon.Gray says :

    This isn’t a spoiler as much as it is a teaser…more please.

  4. Sarah L says :

    Absolutely stunning. As always thought provoking and complex, and I am very excited for more. The layers upon layers in your work is what draws me in.

  5. Mark Henwick says :

    Thank you Sally, Leveke, Jon and Sarah.

    Yes, Huang is calling for a higher standard, but there’s a sting in the tail here – his speech puts him on the same side of the argument as Basilikos. 🙂

    One of the main arcs of the series is Emergence, and I hope I haven’t picked too difficult a topic, because it is a most difficult and tricky question as to how humans and supernats would live side by side.

    More soon, Jon.

    I love laying on the layers. This book removes some of them as well, if not I’d be tying myself in knots. 🙂

    • Richard says :

      I don’t see this as putting him on the side of Basilikos, I see this as him reminding everyone of who and what they are. To believe you can assimilate fully into human society when your psychological and physiological make-up are no longer human is immature.

      Basilikos believes humans don’t rate as equal beings, Panethus believes that equality exists. Everyone intellectually knows that emergence will happen, “one way or the other”. He is reminding everyone of a simple fact, “We are not the same!” , our laws and customs exist for a reason and these issues cannot be ignored. Athanate are Athanate and will never be human again.

      co-existence is possible but not assimilation.

  6. Jason says :

    Dang you, I finally hear from the Empire of Heaven and you twist me up some more, I love the scene and can’t wait to hear more. Please unravel some of those layers, but on the other hand you keep me guessing. Oh well, just keep on writing my friend.

  7. Justin says :

    Epic speech there sir, very we done

  8. bretthumphrey says :

    As usual you have done a great job in just a few words. I appreciate the way you captured his sorrow as well as his resolve to continue. I look forward to seeing how this plays out.
    Dang, now I’m impatient to get the next section from you 😀

  9. Mark Henwick says :

    Thank you Jason, Justin and Brett.

    The Empire of Heaven has loomed in my mind for some time. I wanted to work them into Cool Hand, but couldn’t find the space. Well, they’re here now!

    Next section still bubbling…

    Don’t for one minute forget there are still the Carpathians and the Midnight Empire out there! 🙂

  10. Deborah Jay says :

    I’m not so far into the books yet to comment on the various groups, but this is a powerful piece, and most certainly not what I would call a ‘quiet part’.
    It may not be action, but it still packs an emotional punch.
    Good luck with the huge theme you are exploring – it’s always interesting to see speculation on how such things might turn out.
    And BTW, I was so wrapped up in my own promo that I didn’t get time to say THANK YOU SO MUCH for your lovely review of Sprite Night – I’m so glad you enjoyed it 😀

  11. XK says :

    Great stuff there, Mark! Without the quiet moments, the loud ones would have far less impact.

  12. Mark Henwick says :

    Thank you, Deborah and XK.

    I love creating the contrast of quiet and loud, deep and ‘shallow’, but I love it more after I finish and can get a feeling for how it all hangs together. 🙂

    For the whole series, it is a huge, complex theme and I’m exploring it using an action adventure story as the medium – maybe not the most felicitous combination! Lol.

  13. Patience says :

    Eloquence, they name is Mark Henwick.

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