Posts Tagged With: novel

Zack Jackson & The Cult of Athos Excerpt

In this excerpt from Zack Jackson & The Cult of Athos, Zack meets his Junior Ranger squad before departing for Bestic, 260 light years from Earth.

Cabin 576 consisted of four seats not unlike those on board the Pan-Galactic Gamma Ray. They looked comfortable with familiar three-point seatbelts. There was a door marked “Lavatory” and a couple of cabinets. The chairs were arranged with two side by side facing the other two. There was just enough space in between them that they could recline fully, becoming small beds.

Zack’s eyes almost bugged out of his head when he saw with whom he would be sharing the cabin. A girl with almond-shaped eyes and tan skin stared at him. Her dark hair was arranged in braids and tucked into her shoulder belts to keep from floating.

Across from the girl, gnawing on what looked like a meaty leg was a stocky, furry creature. His muzzle was topped with a dark twitching nose, and two green eyes regarded Zack with suspicion. Long braids floated around his head like a nest of hair frozen in a windstorm. He grunted, ripping a piece of meat from the bone. Flecks of skin and fat floated in the air around him. From pictures he’d seen, Zack knew he was an Ersidian.

Next to the Ersidian was an eight-legged creature that resembled a cross between a grasshopper and a praying mantis. It was currently using its first four legs as arms. Its brown carapace had dark stripes encircling it, and it clicked as it tried to fasten itself in the seat. Zack recognized it as a Valtraxian from stories he heard from his father. It looked over as Zack started to enter the cabin.

“Greetings! Human spawn, I am Ixilchitil. Many of your kind call me ‘Ix’.” The Valtraxian’s mouthparts clicked together not-quite-in-time to the voice coming out of its translator. It held one of its arms out to him. “In the custom of your species, I offer you my arm in greetings.”

Fortunately, the clicks were barely audible under the voice coming from Ix’s translator. Zack reached out and fist-bumped the Valtraxian. Its carapace was cool and hard. Ix nodded in acceptance and resumed its attempt to fasten its straps. Zack pushed himself over to the empty seat, bumping into the girl.

“Watch it!” She shoved him away. The way she pronounced “it” as “eat” was unfamiliar to him. Zack put his hand out to keep his head from hitting the cabinet.

“Sorry, I’m still getting the hang of this.”

The girl shook her head. He heard her mutter under her breath, “Earther.”

Zack managed to strap himself in and looked over his cabin mates. They all wore variations of the Junior Ranger uniform. The Ersidian’s looked like some form of leather or leather-substitute and had packed all of his many pockets to the point of bulging. He had a patch indicating he was a Scout, the next rank above Zack. The girl, also a Scout, appeared uncomfortable in her uniform and kept fidgeting with it. The Valtraxian wore only a simple harness, covered in merit badges, which currently it was adjusting to keep it from getting entangled with seat belts. It was a Guide, the next rank above Scout. Apparently, it was the leader and most experienced of the bunch, though it appeared to be having a great deal of trouble strapping itself in.

“I’m Zack Jackson, from Wyoming.” He smiled and tried to adopt a friendly expression. “On Earth.” He added, in case they didn’t know where Wyoming was.

“We know where Wyoming is.” The girl sounded annoyed that Zack spoke.

“I do not know Wyoming. I know Earth.” Ix tilted its head and looked at Zack. Zack was already hearing past the clicks of Ix’s mouthparts as it spoke.

“Ix already introduced itself. I’m Mungaborrarius Tonnarvassas, son of Goreborrarius Tonnarvassas, First Warrior of Clan…”

The girl cut him off. “He doesn’t need your family history.”

“Can it, Jen-Jen. Don’t interrupt my name.” The Ersidian tossed the remnant of the animal leg he was eating at her. She caught it and stuffed it down the refuse chute.

“Don’t call me zat.”

“Miss Sunshine over there is Jen-Jen. She’s mad that ‘Daddy’ couldn’t get her a cabin all to herself.”

Zack looked over at Jen-Jen. She stared at the wall as she shook her head. “Am not. I just don’t like you.”

“So, you’re Mungaboringness…” Zack struggled to say his name properly.

“Ugh, no. If you can’t say it, just call me ‘Mungus’.”

“Short names are easier.” Ix’s carapace clattered as it shuffled in his seat attempting to find a comfortable position.

“As I was saying, I am Mungaborrarius Tonnarvassas, son of Gore…”

The cabin intercom cut Mungus off. “Attention Junior Rangers. We will be departing Goddard Habitat in approximately thirty minutes. The last of you are boarding now. Please do not use the ‘Attendant Call Button’ except in the case of emergency. Those who do will be given extra KP.”

“KP” was old Earth army slang for “kitchen patrol.” Basically, it was punishment consisting of cleaning dishes at the campsite, something most of the kids hated. Mungus slammed his fist into the speaker.

“Stop! Interrupting! Me!”

Mungus nursed his sore hand while Ix clicked at him. “It is unlikely you possess sufficient strength to damage a military-grade intercom speaker.”

“Umm…” Zack watched Mungus suck on his injured hand for a moment. “Where are you from, Jen-Jen?”

“I said don’t call me zat.”

“Sorry. What should I call you?”

“Je m’appelle–I mean, my name is Jennifer Genevieve DuBois. My parent thought it was clever to give me two names that mean the same thing.” Her face twisted into a scowl. Apparently, she thought it was anything but clever.

“So, Jennifer, then?”

“Or Jenny.” She pointed at Mungus. “But not, Jen-Jen, you overstuffed teddy bear.”

Mungus growled at her, gleaming white canine teeth flashing in the light from the cabin. Ix clicked at both of them, clearly agitated, but its translator remained silent. Zack decided to try to change the subject.

“So where are you from, Jenny? You talk funny, so I’m guessing you’re not from Wyoming, or even San Angeles.”

She affixed her glare on Zack. He felt an overwhelming desire to hide in the lavatory. “Perhaps it is you who speaks funny! I am from Messier Habitat, Earther. We speak the purist human language: French.”

Messier Habitat was a small, but well known habitat sharing Mars’s orbit. It housed about half the people Goddard Station did, but they were all very proud of their independence.

“You’re Martian?”

Jenny huffed and looked away. “I am not Martian. I am from Messier. Martians are not fit to drink our water.”

Though Zack didn’t know why, a lot of people held low opinions of Martians. He thought it would be cool to live on Mars. It was like the Ancient West of North American mythology; a rugged frontier.

“Wow, I guess I’m the only one here from Earth, huh?” Zack felt very alone in that moment.

“Looks that way, Twinkie.”

He looked up at Mungus. The Ersidian grinned at him, picking his teeth with a clawed finger.

“Why did you call me that?”

Mungus shrugged. “Gotta call you something. You humans are soft and spongy.”

Now it was Zack’s turn to glare at Mungus. Well, if this is the way the whole trip is going to be, this is going to suck. He crossed his arms and stared at the floor. The four shared and uncomfortable silence, broken only by occasional untranslated clicks from Ix. Eventually, the intercom spoke again, announcing their imminent departure from Goddard Station.

“All systems online. Crosschecks complete. Docking clamps secured. Gangways retracted.”

“Hey, open the window. I wanna watch.” Zack looked around for something might open a window. Mungus laughed at him.

“There’s no window, Twinkie. Once we get going, there won’t be anything to see anyway. That whole wall functions as a video screen, but that’s it.”

“Well, can’t we turn it on to see where we’re going? Or where we’ve been?”

“No.”

Zack sighed. Jenny started murmuring beside him. Her eyes were unfocused. She looked like she was talking to herself. She saw him staring at her and turned to face the wall. Reaching into his pocket, he grabbed his C7. Skip reminded him he had a vid message waiting. Only people obsessed with the archaic wrote letters; most people sent video recordings of themselves: vids. He activated it, and a small hologram of his parents appeared. He double-checked his settings; the audio would go only to his earpieces.

“Hi honey!” Miniature holographic Mom and Dad waved at him. “We know you’re probably just getting underway, but we received a message for you when we got home and had to pass on the good news: you’ve been accepted at Cytherian Academy! You start in the fall! Oh, we’re so proud of you, honey. We love you!” They were positively beaming. He felt a broad grin spread across his face. Cytherian Academy was one of the premier schools in the EAC. It was an aerostat, or floating city, high in the clouds of Venus, in the small zone where the temperatures and pressures were comfortable for humans.

Ix clicked and cocked its head, looking at Zack. “News from your breeders?”

Zack looked up as he closed the message. “My what?”

“Parents. Humans call them parents, Ix.” Mungus rapped his knuckled on Ix’s carapace.

“Apologies. News from your parents?”

“Yeah, I just got accepted to Cytherian Academy.”

Ix responded with a fast series of clicks, bobbing its head up and down. Even Mungus seemed impressed, though he was quick to mask it. Jenny looked at him, her mask of dispassion slipping.

“You’re going to Cytherian Academy? When?”

Zack nodded, almost bouncing in his seat. “I start next semester.”

“I go to Cytherian Academy, too. I live in Anahita dormitory. Perhaps we will see each other.” Zack thought he recognized the name as one of the seven dormitories, all named for the mythical goddesses of love. He wasn’t sure why the staff decided to use those names, instead of cool ones like Ares or Zeus.

“Well, aren’t you two Twinkies a pair.”

Zack was starting not to like Mungus much. He opened his mouth to say something, but the intercom interrupted him.

“Good afternoon, Junior Rangers!” It was their troop leader. “We have departed Goddard Stationand are preparing to accelerate. For those of you for whom this is a first trip, you’ll notice some pressure. Just stay in your seats, and stay strapped in. Your cabins will automatically orient themselves so that the floor will be perpendicular to the direction of acceleration. In other words, you’ll be able to walk around soon. We’ll let you know when. The Captain informs me that we have about eight hours until the Translation Point, so sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.”

Ships like the Baden-Powell technically could not exceed the speed of light. Nothing could. Technically. However, about fifteen hundred years ago, scientists figured out a way to cross the vast interstellar distances nearly instantly. If a ship traveled far enough away from a star’s gravity well, you reached what they called the “Translation Point.”

The way Zack’s dad explained it to him was this: if you took a really tight sheet and placed a heavy ball in the center, it would sink. That’s sort of what space did around stars and planets; it bent around them because of gravity. The hole in which a star or planet sat was called a gravity well. If you got far enough away from the center of a gravity well and you applied the right kind of energy, you could fold space and cross huge distances in what seemed like no time at all if you were on the ship.

It was like taking two points on opposite ends of a piece of paper. If you drew a line between them, it was very long. But if you folded the paper, you could make the two points touch, which is like what the hyperdrive engines on modern starships did, sort of. The science behind it was way beyond Zack’s ability to either explain or comprehend, but he understood that it basically let ships cross huge interstellar distances in a short enough amount of time that interstellar travel became practical.

Jenny clucked her tongue and sighed. “We’re going to be losing the Hypernet soon.”

“How do you know?” Zack looked over and didn’t see her using a compad.

She tapped her head. “I can see the signal.”

“You have implants? You have to be sixteen for those. You’re not sixteen!” She didn’t look sixteen to Zack. “Are you?”

“Sixteen for you Earthers. We are not afraid of using technology on Messier Habitat. I got my implants before we left. They still hurt.” As if to illustrate her point, she rubbed her temples. Zack heard implants could be uncomfortable at first. He wondered what kind of implants she had. Jenny pointed at his C7.

“Hand-held units are so forty-second century. Only babies use them.”

Zack scowled at her. Mungus laughed. “I think you have the right idea, Twinkie. Implants are for people too weak to use what their bodies grow.” He thumped his chest. “No implants here. Never gonna have them, either.”

“What about you, Ix? Have any implants?” Zack looked over at the Valtraxian who seemed to be following the conversation with interest.

“Of course. We have enhancements performed almost from the day we are hatched.”

Over the next several hours, Ix told Zack about its culture. Valtraxians were divided into four genders: male, female, drone, and incubator. Ix was one of nearly a hundred children hatched to the current Queen of Valtra: a drone. As a drone, it had no official status, no duties, was neither male nor female, and was given a choice: serve the hive or seek its own fortune in the galaxy. Ix chose to go into the galactic civilization and make its own way. Before it left the hive, it acquired several implants: ocular implants to enhance its vision, allowing it to see the ultraviolet, visual, and infrared portions of the electromagnetic spectrum; auditory implants for improved hearing; an integrated personal digital assistant including a back-up drive; a translator module; and an enhanced digestive system making it able to extract nutrients from most organic matter.

One of the hazards of interstellar travel was not finding the types of foods to which one was accustomed. Without digestive implants, a Valtraxian would die if it ate most foods from Earth, Devorus, or even Ersid; its bio-chemistry wasn’t compatible. With the implant, unless it suffered an allergic reaction, the worst outcome from eating something unfamiliar would be indigestion.

Zack thought trying foods from other civilizations without having to worry about possible adverse reactions sounded pretty cool and added digestive implants to his mental wish list. Maybe this trip won’t be so bad after all.

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Zack Jackson & The Cult of Athos – Second Draft Done!

I finally finished revisions on my manuscript of Zack Jackson & The Cult of Athos. Based on feedback from Beta Readers (mostly children of the age group for whom the book is intended), the second draft is complete! Of course, it’s still not ready to be sold. It now will go to the first of my two editors for the heavy-duty stuff. In the meantime, I’ll work on my next fantasy novel, but the official announcement of that title is another blog post…

 

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Iron Fist of the Oroqs

Iron Fist of the Oroqs is all but complete. I’m working on my final read-through now, just one final check of continuity and glaring errors, and I will be ready to publish it. I expect to have it available for sale in a week or two, so keep watching for that announcement.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on the cover. This is probably NOT the final version (particularly the blurb and the colors). I welcome your feedback.

 

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Iron Fist of the Oroqs Sneak Peek – Meeting Aeryn

The following is an excerpt from my third draft of Iron Fist of the Oroqs, the sequel to Wings of Twilight. In it, you meet Aeryn, a young woman in search of her brother: Strom Lightbringer.

The beast knew hunger. The beast also knew allowing that hunger to run rampant was dangerous, particularly when humans were nearby. They did not understand the beast. They feared it. As well they should. The beast was bloodthirsty. The beast was a curse.

Aeryn hated the beast, but it was a part of her. She had no choice but to live with it. Fortunately, thanks to the ministrations of a kind elf, Aeryn was able to control the beast within. She never found out why the elf helped her, only that she nursed Aeryn back to health and helped her learn to control the beast. The only explanation the elf gave Aeryn was that the she couldn’t let her die.

Since then, Aeryn hunted only animals. The beast within her would not be allowed to kill other people or to pass its curse onto a new generation. She left her home in Hodge’s Mill shortly after the elf declared her fully healed. Aeryn thought if she tracked down and found her brother Strom, a knight who called himself Lord Lightbringer, he might be able to help seek a cure for her curse. It was certainly the type of cause of which he fancied himself a champion. At least she hoped it was. He was not known for being the tolerant sort, but she was his kin. She hoped that would make a difference.

Running over the rolling plains and farmland of Cardoba, Aeryn took in the sights and smells that surrounded her. She had to admit the beast form in which she now spent most of her time certainly had its advantages, of which one was speed. As she skipped through the tall grasses, her paws could feel every bent blade and every pebble they touched. Wildflowers bloomed, their floral scent filling her nostrils as she ran. Not far to her left, an antelope lay hidden hoping predators, particularly the one running past just now, would not notice him. Aeryn ignored the antelope. Feeding was not her immediate goal.

Getting to Hogs Wallow was.

Throughout the day and into the night, she ran. The rig she created to securely hold her pack, bow, and sword onto her back stayed in place, a mandatory concession to her beast form. She had no clothing or armor that would fit properly while she was in that form, though she could stand upright and use weapons. Aeryn would change into human form at will, however, which was a necessity when dealing with other humans.

As the light of dawn infused the horizon with a soft, pink glow, Aeryn could no longer ignore the rumbling in her stomach, the call of the beast within to feed. Stopping at the crest of a hill, she could see an inn past the next rise: Hogs Wallow. She sniffed the air, catching the unmistakable scent of sheep in the wind.

Trotting toward the scent, she soon heard the sheep vocalizing and another unwelcome sound. A shepherd was with them, attempting to coax them where he wanted to go.

Removing her pack, Aeryn left it under a bush with fire-red berries downwind from the sheep. She knew she could locate it again by its scent after she fed. The sheep were close enough that she could hear them moving around in the grass. The smell of the shepherd was distinct from the sheep.

She hunkered down and crept toward her prey: a lone sheep, munching on some ground cover. It was a straggler, and the entire flock stood between them and the shepherd.

Aeryn cursed silently as the wind shifted. The sheep looked up, eyes wide. It could smell her. She took off sprinting, charging the animal. Precisely as it turned to run, Aeryn tackled it, digging her claws into its body and dragged it to the ground. The frightened animal struggled to escape, bleating in terror. Aeryn heard the rest of the flock bleat in response, moving away as a group as fast as they could.

The shepherd cried out, fighting to move through the flock toward the distressed animal. Clamping her jaws around the sheep’s throat, Aeryn repositioned herself and bit down, relishing the gush of hot blood that rushed into her mouth. The sheep’s bleating turned into a wet gurgle as blood flooded its vocal cords. Her claws raked at its belly as she disemboweled it.

As the sheep’s struggle came to an end, the shepherd finally found the source of the commotion. Aeryn looked up at him, jaws dripping. The sheep’s flesh dangled from her fangs. He yelled in alarm. Growling, Aeryn swiped at him, sure that he was still too far away for her to actually make contact. The shepherd stumbled backward and ran off in terror, chasing after his flock.

Aeryn smiled to herself and resumed feeding.

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Iron Fist of the Oroqs Sneak Peek – Meeting Terrick

The following is an excerpt from my third draft of Iron Fist of the Oroqs, the sequel to Wings of Twilight. In it, you meet Terrick the Grey, a Bonelord of Aita, goddess of death.

The ashen snow falling in Celtangate did not faze Terrick. The big man simply pulled a handkerchief from his pouch, covered his nose and mouth, and continued to his destination. As far as he was concerned, it was just something else that happened, no more concerning than if a butterfly crossed his path.

Arriving at his destination, he surveyed the building briefly, a habit he picked up from the war. There was no real danger to him in Celtangate, but most veterans of the Wars of the Witch Queen tended to be a little paranoid. Survivors of that war all carried scars which would never heal. She was defeated, but at a terrible price to the psyches of all who watched their fallen comrades rise from the grave and turn against their former allies. Terrick was forced to destroy no fewer than a dozen of his own friends, still wearing the wounds that killed them.

Rapping soundly on the door, he waited. The ash continued to coat his dark skin, and stuck to his black armor and cloak.

An elf opened the door, squinting in the light. He noticed the ash falling from the sky and cocked an eyebrow. “A harbinger of your arrival?”

“Hardly.” Terrick pushed past the elf who announced his arrival to the other occupant of the house.

“The Bonelord is here.”

Terrick cringed. While the title was technically correct, he hated the appellation. It made him sound like a fearsome beast, when he was but a simple servant of Aita, goddess of death. To most, that branded him a necromancer, or worse. In truth, he recognized only that death was a necessary part of the natural cycle of life. His job was not to bring about death. Rather, it was to help those who lingered or who suffered cross over. To the true faithful of Aita, death was not to be feared, and undead were an abomination to be destroyed. To mourn was a natural result, but to fight death off indefinitely was something at which no one could be successful, not even the Witch Queen.

The elf led Terrick into the bedroom. There two other elves knelt at a bed occupied by an emaciated creature so gaunt, Terrick wouldn’t have believed it was an elf without her family’s assurances. One of the kneeling elves stood as Terrick entered, turned to him and bowed.

“Ah, Bonelord, we appreciate your attention.”

The top of the elf’s head barely reached Terrick’s chest. His build was slight enough that Terrick estimated the elf to be about half his own weight. He supposed the size difference alone was intimidating enough without having to call him “Bonelord.”

Terrick held up his hand, “Please, just Terrick will do. ‘Bonelord’ makes me sound more fearsome than I am.”

The elf looked surprised. “Very well.” He gestured to the elf in the bed. “The healers say there is nothing more they can do. The sickness eats Feralia from within, yet she lingers, suffering. We—” the words caught in his throat. The elf swallowed and continued, “We hoped there was something you could do.”

“I am no healer; I can only end her suffering if that is what she desires.”

The elf gestured for Terrick to attend the bed-ridden elf. Detaching his mace from his belt, he set it on the ground beside him as he knelt alongside Feralia’s head. He pulled off his glove and placed his hand on her forehead, his ebony skin contrasting against the elf’s pale, yellowish-green complexion. So frail she was, her skin felt like paper to his touch. Her dark hair was matted to her head, and she burned with a fever that was almost uncomfortable to Terrick to touch. She turned to meet his eyes.

Terrick strained to hear the whisper that emerged from Feralia’s lips. She spoke in elvish, a language he now regretted never learning.

“She says she’s afraid.” The elf beside him reached and took her hand.

“Feralia is so young, yet look at how this sickness has ravaged her!” The elf behind Terrick sobbed, while the one who opened the door crowded in closer.

Clearing his throat, Terrick decided it was too crowded in the small bedroom. “Leave us.” He looked back at the two standing elves. “I will let the other stay to translate.”

The two elves glanced at each other uncertainly. The one kneeling with Terrick at the bed nodded at them. They left the room, pulling a curtain across the doorway as they left. Feralia whispered something again.

“She says she’s too young to leave this world.”

Terrick nodded. It was not an uncommon sentiment. He dared not venture a guess how young Feralia was; particularly virulent diseases took their toll in many ways.

“Age has little to do with death, Feralia.” Terrick looked into her eyes. They were glassy and red-rimmed, but Terrick could tell she still had her wits about her. The elf beside him translated quietly.

“Aita calls all to her, eventually. Sometimes, they do not feel it is their time. But ultimately, that is not for us to decide.”

Feralia closed her eyes and nodded. Terrick listened as she spoke at length. Her translator was careful not to talk over her.

“I’ve heard what our afterlife is like, but I wonder: is it true? What if death confines us to oblivion? Never to know again. Never to love. Just nothing. What if I never see my husband again? My brothers and sisters? Never again taste the morning dew on budding roses? Never again smell the hydrangeas in the garden, or hear the laughter of children?”

Terrick moved his hand to Feralia’s shoulder. “I have felt the power of Aita personally. I have heard her words. The gods exist. They exist; therefore, so must our afterlife. I do not know what awaits elves after they die, but I do not believe you face oblivion. Have you lived a good life?”

Again he waited as the elf beside him translated and Feralia answered. Her answers were slow; she fought to summon the strength to form the words.

“I fear how I will be judged. The Mother might reject me. Some of my actions as a youth were not respectful.”

“I do not know what sins you carry,” Terrick thought how best to assuage her fears, “but I know the Earth Mother is compassionate. The folly of youth is a common attribute to all of us. Making mistakes is how we learn. Learning from those mistakes is one way of atoning. Aita and Gaia are very close. They are family.”

Many people were not aware of the familial bonds between the Earth Mother and the Princess of Death. Aita was married to Nethuns, god of the oceans, the son of Gaia. Aita swore an oath to her mother-in-law that those who came from the earth would always return to the earth.

Terrick continued, “I can feel the disease that ravages you. Fighting it will only prolong the pain. I can take away the pain, but you must be ready to pass over into Aita’s embrace. It will be cold at first, but she will return you to the Mother.” Looking deeply into Feralia’s eyes, Terrick placed his hand over her heart. He could feel her ribs through her paper-thin skin. “This I promise you.”

“I am ready.”

Nodding, Terrick bade the elf to re-admit the two he sent outside. Picking up his mace he held it between himself and Feralia and placed her hands on its haft. Closing his eyes, he reached out with his mind. He heard the elves in the room gasp, the usual reaction when the flanged head of his mace transformed into a blood red skull. Calling on the power Aita granted him as one of her Bonelords, he touched Feralia’s mind. He saw her as she was, a beautiful young elf woman. Her skin was the color of fresh clover, and her eyes sparkled like golden topaz. Ebony hair hung in ringlets around her face, and as she smiled at him, the corners of her eyes crinkled. They stood together on an infinitely featureless plain, a place Terrick knew well.

You do not fear this place? Few Terrick brought here smiled at him.

I am with you. I do not fear what you will show me.

It was an unusual answer. Most of the people Terrick brought here were still afraid, and had to be guided by hand.

Why? Terrick wished to know more about this elf.

My family brought you to me. I know they wished only to relieve my suffering. Besides, she reached up and touched his face, our minds are as one. I can feel your suffering. My own is nothing compared to that. You have freed me, and for that, I am grateful. I can find the way on my own now. I hope, in time, you find relief from your pain.

Terrick’s eyes snapped open. Feralia was still; her hands still clutching the mace, now reverted to its more mundane appearance. The elves around him wept. No one ever reached into his mind as he eased their passing. His hands shook as he relaxed Feralia’s grip on his mace and reattached the weapon to his belt.

His pain was his own. He did not speak of it to anyone, and he hoped the words exchanged between him and Feralia remained silent. The elves showed no reaction to him, so he suspected the conversation occurred in his head. The pain of having murdered his wife and children was still his alone to bear.

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Iron Fist of the Oroqs Sneak Peek – Meeting Edie

The following is an excerpt from my third draft of Iron Fist of the Oroqs, the sequel to Wings of Twilight. In it, you meet Edwinna Bouldercrusher, a dwarven trader from Ironkrag who crosses paths with Delilah and plays an important part in the future of the draks and minotaurs living under Sarvesh.

The dwarf looked up as a rumble shook the ground under her feet. Her eyes searched the sky as she walked up the path toward Ironkrag’s main gate. Smoke was pouring out of Bloodplume, the nearby volcano, and she could see spurts of lava. Edie Bouldercrusher shrugged; Bloodplume was two days away by foot and never proved a threat to Ironkrag in the past; the inhabitants, on the other hand, almost always caused trouble.

She hoped the volcano incinerated every godless inhabitant of the so-called Twilight Dungeon. Edie didn’t know if the denizens of Twilight Dungeon were actually godless, but she knew for certain that they often raided trade caravans carrying ale. In fact, she noted they seemed solely to target caravans with ale. Maybe they were thirsty, or mean. She always thought it strange that oroqs, whom she heard were led by a fearsome demon, should be so concerned with stealing ale.

Her mule brayed in fear, eyes rolling white. The beast tugged at the rope, and Edie tugged back. Bad enough the volcano’s eruptin’. Now I gotta deal with this dumb mule, too. She dug her heels into the gravel and yanked on the rope, whipping the mule’s head around.

“Come on, now. It ain’t gonna hurt us. Let’s just get to the gates, yeah?”

Edie wrapped the rope around one hand, and she dug around in her pouch for a bribe. Producing a carrot, she waved it under the mule’s nose. Keeping it barely out of reach as the mule snapped for it, she led the beast up the mountain.

Dwarven guards decked out in dark plate armor stood at Ironkrag’s main gate. Over their armor, they wore tabards with a chevron set over two gauntlets clasping hands in front of a tower on a background of a green and white gyronny shield–Ironkrag’s coat of arms. They all watched the volcano’s fury with trepidation and held their halberds at the ready, as if that would stave off any dangers from the volcano. Edie approached the twin guard towers with her mule, clearing her throat to get the guards’ attention. They ignored her until she stepped back and kicked her heel up in to the mule’s belly, causing him to bray in protest.

“Oy, Edwinna! You see old Bloodplume?” While she was well-known to the guards, they insisted on calling her by her full name. She gave up trying to convince them to use the short form of her name, as they had silently ignored her requests for the past couple of years. One of the guards walked over to Edie’s mule and gave the packs a cursory inspection, patting them lightly. The guards never gave her any grief over her imports and exports.

Nodding, the trader pressed a talon into the guard’s palm. “The bastard’s belching up a storm today. Hopefully, it’ll burn all those oroqs to a crisp.”

The guard slipped the coin into his pouch. “With any luck. Hopefully, whatever else is in there dies, too. You hear about that elf and that human who came out of there last year?”

Edie shook her head. “I didn’t know anyone ever came out of there, other than the oroqs stealin’ our beer.”

“About this time, last year, five of ’em went in. Four humans and an elf. Only the human female and the elf came back out. Said they lived only ’cause they swore a sacred vow to never speak of what they saw. Then they skipped their merry way back down toward Celtangate.”

“Odd lot, those surfacers.” Edie tugged at her mule’s rope and walked toward the gate.

“Welcome home, Edwinna.” The guard returned to his post to watch the erupting volcano with his peers.

Edie grunted a reply and led her mule through the gate. It took her many months to train the mule to go into the underground city, but it was a hell of a lot easier than carrying all her goods by herself. Traders without mules were set up near the gates, hawking their wares.

Winking at a dwarven merchant who offered decorative trinkets for hair and beards, Edie promised she would be back soon to peruse his wares. Of course, she didn’t need trinkets, and those weren’t the sort of wares in which she would be interested anyway. She didn’t expect much from the merchant, though. He was probably married, but the game was fun, nonetheless.

The city’s trade guild hall was down the main road from the gate. Edie made her way there, noticing that even within the protective caverns of Ironkrag, she could feel Bloodplume loose its fury upon the world. It was the first time in her lifetime the volcano did anything more than vent steam and sulfurous fumes, but she supposed these things had to happen from time to time. The winds would keep the fumes from the eruption from reaching Ironkrag, and the terrain would protect the dwarven city from the lava flows.

The trade guild master greeted Edie as she entered the hall. “Ho there, Edwinna!”

Edie grunted in reply and dug her log book out from one of the mule’s pouches. She handed it to the guild master.
Flipping through the log book, the guild master grinned at Edie. “You see what’s going on outside? I haven’t felt this much motion since the bed shook on my wedding night!”

“Bloodplume is blowing its top,” Edie dug around in her belt pouch. Producing a hard candy she procured in Celtangate, she began sucking on it.

“Hmm…I’d say ‘good riddance’, but it might clog up Deep Road. It’d be a shame to have to dig all that out again.”

“Aye,” Edie nodded. “Still, if it got rid of all the oroqs, no price would be too steep, eh?”

“You’ve obviously never been a digger, Edwinna. By the way, your name came up.”

“For what?”

“Soul Forge. Then Deep Road Patrol.” The guild master grinned at Edie.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Edie tugged on her braids in frustration. Every able-bodied citizen of Ironkrag was required to spend time each year serving in the city’s militia. For some, that meant guard duty, for others, patrols. The most dreaded assignment was Soul Forge.

Ironkrag was a city powered by magic. Dwarves practiced a different type of magic than surfacers. Connected to the earth by ancient, powerful magics, dwarves changed as they aged. They became more and more rock-like until they died. Their bodies resembled stone so closely, many surfacers mistook them for statues, which, of course, they weren’t. After death, the bodies would be taken to the settlement’s Soul Forge, where the bodies would be burned and the souls released to go dwell with their ancestors and gods. It was an honorable assignment, but was taxing for those who did it. Most dwarves were only assigned Soul Forge duty for one or two days out of the year.

Soul Forge duty was always difficult, while Deep Road Patrol meant days on end of slogging up and down a portion of Deep Road, a vast underground thoroughfare connecting Ironkrag with other underground settlements. For Edie, the combined duties of both meant at least a week without profit.

“You’ve been out in the surface world so long, you don’t think you’ve gone soft. Do you? Think you can still handle it?”

The dwarf shrugged. The guild master signed the log book and handed it back to Edie. Traders like Edie didn’t have to actually sell their wares. They brought them to the trade guild, and the goods thus imported were distributed to the purveyors of that particular type of merchandise. The guild would then disburse profits to the traders, minus a small percentage for the guild, of course. The guild master pulled a small coffer out of his desk. Opening it, he counted out several dozen silver coins, talons, and gave them to Edie.

Edie ignored the guild master’s question and weighed the coins in her hand, “Pretty good cut this time.”

“You keep bringing in the good stuff, and the money will keep flowing, my friend.” The guild master put away his coffer. Edie nodded her thanks and led her mule over to the storage area. As she unloaded her mule’s packs, she smiled. Maybe I’ll buy something from that merchant after all.

Categories: Iron Fist of the Oroqs, Writing | Tags: , | Leave a comment

My Fantasy Fiction Line

All of my fantasy fiction (at least, for now) will take place in the same fantasy world. Since I don’t have a contract with a company that has a shared world for which I can write, I had to come up with my own world: the World of Calliome. I’ve been working on bits and pieces of this world for probably twenty years now, though a lot of it has changed since I started. Each novel set on the World of Calliome will reveal a little more about the world, particularly about the little corner in which each story is set. The good thing about having my world is that I don’t have to worry about someone else writing a world shattering event that totally screws up my plans.

I have a lot of notes. Hopefully, this will help give a sense of continuity to my stories and a sense that there’s a history and more going on in the world that just what you’re reading about at that moment. Not all the stories will be directly related to each other, but it is my hope that by throwing in nods and references here and there, it’ll help it all seem more real.

Logo by Gwyneth Ravenscraft. Her professional website isn’t active yet, but it will be within a month or so, I’m told. The logo went from rough concept to completion over the course of a weekend; she does quick work and I’m thrilled with the results. It’s like my mock-up, only, you know, GOOD.

Categories: Calliome, Publishing | Tags: , , | 6 Comments

Character Sneak Preview! Kale & Delilah

Kale and Delilah are siblings. Twins, in fact. Kale is a talented engineer and trapsmith. Delilah is a sorceress with a particular fondness for boggins (small furry balls of hunger and pointy teeth generally considered to be nuisances).

What makes them special among draks is their striped scales. Stripes are very rare among the draks and considered a good omen. So good, in fact, that many drak clans call striped draks “Children of Destiny.” Cynics will tell you prophecies hold no water, but there are still some dreamers in the world. Kale and Delilah’s clan have mixed feelings about the twins, though. Being striped is very good, being twins born of the same egg, that’s considered a bad omen. Normally, twins are exposed; left to die in the harsh reality of the world before they’re old enough to fend for themselves. They were reluctant to do that to Kale and Delilah, though, due to their stripes, so they were raised in the clan until they were of age, then exiled. Now they live and work in Twilight Dungeon, looking up to Sarvesh and Soterios as sort of older brothers and protectors.

Artwork by Char Reed.

Categories: Wings of Twilight | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Character Sneak Preview! Soterios

One of many minotaurs living in a labyrinth within Twilight Dungeon, Soterios is Marshall Sarvesh’s second in command. He worries about others more than he should and is known to hit the bottle far too often. Still, he is loyal to Sarvesh and his duties as a Twilight Defender.

Artwork by Char Reed.

Categories: Wings of Twilight | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Wings of Twilight Update

There hasn’t been much to report lately. Wings of Twilight is with the Beta Readers, so there’s no point in me monkeying with the manuscript. I was contacted today by my cover artist, however. I made my 50% upfront payment, so my cover art is officially underway! My cartographer should be able to start soon, too. Soon, the finishing touches will be all that’s left, then I can release this thing into the wild for your reading pleasure!

Categories: Publishing, Wings of Twilight | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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