Looking for writing-related posts? Check out my new writing blog, www.larrykollar.com!

Thursday, December 26, 2013 5 comments

Stocking Your eReader Sale!

So Santa brought you a new Kindle, or an Amazon gift card, or both, and you want to get the most reading for the money? The authors at Green Envy Press, and several friends, have got you covered:

All eBooks are 99¢ or free, so you can get a lot of reading for a little money! There’s also giveaway for a Kindle HDX, so click on the pretty picture to see all the details… and come back every day through the end of the year for more books and more prizes!

Christmas might be over, but we’re still giving stuff away…

Thursday, December 19, 2013 10 comments

Writing Wibbles: Looking Back

This will be the last Writing Wibbles of 2013, so I think it’s a good time to look back on what-all happened in my personal writing world.

It was a grueling year, production-wise. I started the year with a lot of stories completed or nearly completed, and ended up launching seven titles. That doesn’t count the books I edited or proofread for the co-op. The pace forced me to examine how I did things after the editor sent back those last changes, and I did manage to streamline a lot of the processes. Part of that was making checklists, so I didn’t forget something important.

That was the supply, what about demand?

In a nutshell: I was blessed. I didn’t make nearly enough to quit my day job, let alone rack up sales like Amanda Hocking or Hugh Howey, but I did a lot better than others. I haven’t dug up exact numbers for how many books sold (let alone how many of each), but most of the books sold were 99¢ each, giving me a royalty of 35¢ give or take. I have a reasonable handle on income and expenses. Being in a co-op, where we all help each other out, I didn’t have production-related expenses like editing or cover design (but I paid by editing and formatting other books). There were other expenses… so, here’s the round numbers:

Income: $3000

Promotional expenses (giveways): ($150)

Nook HD (for verifying EPUBs): ($180)

So while I didn’t pay off the mortgage or anything (rats), I was able to afford a badly-needed replacement for my ailing Civic, which died about a month after I came home with the Miata. Writing made a difference for me this year, an important difference, both financially and emotionally.

And for that, I’m grateful. With any luck, it will make more of a difference next year. I don’t plan to have such an aggressive release schedule, but maybe I’ll have more time for promotion and for rolling out paperbacks. That’s going to be interesting, especially once I automate the conversion from EPUB to typesetting markup. Stay tuned…

Saturday, December 14, 2013 2 comments

The Sorcerer's Daughter has Launched!

And… there's the Launch Cannon! Now, how about a blurb?

As Bailar and his apprentices help the Conclave prepare for conflict with the rogue sorcerers, Sura learns that she is a descendant of a noble House in the Alliance. But when she discovers the price of her history, it may be too late.

If you haven’t got it yet, there are links to stores that carry it on my eBooks page. Amazon and Smashwords have it now, more to come. There’s a bonus flash story that only members of the mailing list have seen otherwise, and excerpts from Angela Kulig’s Heroes and Vallenez and Tony Noland’s Verbosity’s Vengeance.

Around the blogosphere, check out these posts:
Happy reading, and happy holidays!

Sunday, December 08, 2013 8 comments

This Isn't the Future We Were Promised

Image source: openclipart.org
When I was little, I ate up all the stories about the future: flying cars, moon colonies, cruises to Saturn’s rings, robots doing all the work, and an end to poverty and racism.

What we got was: none of the above, plus the Internet, and powerful computers that we can carry around in a shirt pocket. And texts like this:

Daughter Dearest: Will you bring me some toilet paper?

Can I exchange this future for the one I actually bought?

Friday, December 06, 2013 13 comments

Wolf in the Night (#FridayFlash)

This was supposed to be much less serious than it turned out to be.

Image source: openclipart.org
Once upon a time, in the Strange Lands north of Aht-Lann-Tah, a wolf harassed a certain village in the Rival Kingdom. They would hear the wolf howl on dark nights, and livestock was always missing the next morning. King Tightfisted offered a reward for anyone who would bring in the wolf’s hide, but none thought the meager sum worth the risk.

Finally, one day, a poor boy’s hunger spoke louder than fear. He sat quietly in their tiny house, wrapped in his blankets, until his father’s drunken snoring shook the walls. (His mother had fled to Aht-Lann-Tah some time ago, with the butcher’s brother.) The boy took his father’s hunting spear, covered in dust from long disuse, and slipped away into the evening.

It was a new moon night, and the boy reckoned that the wolf would choose this night for its depredations. He walked the dusty street, until accosted by the watch guard at the edge of town.

“It’s past curfew, boy,” said the guard. “What do you here?”

“I’m wolf hunting,” the boy replied.

“Eh. Your funeral.” The guard waved him through.

After a few minutes, the boy reached a copse near a large chicken farm. Wolves have a keen nose, but standing downwind of chickens would do to a wolf’s nose what looking into the sun did for one’s sight. He wandered into the trees, hefting his spear, and waited, hoping to catch the wolf by surprise.

He heard a voice growl behind him: “Drop the spear, boy.”

The boy jumped, but did as he was told. He turned, hands raised. “I was just—”

Before him crouched the wolf, teeth bared! “Just what?” the wolf snarled.

“Just—I—I was—waiting for someone,” he stammered.

“Oh, really? Were you waiting for Lupé?”

“Who is Loop-pay?”

“I am Lupé,” said the wolf. “Why would you be waiting for me with a spear, eh?”

“We’re poor. It’s hard enough to live, when the wolf is taking our food. Why would you do such a thing?”

Lupé sat and scratched behind one ear. “Follow me, boy, and you will see.”

The boy thought. If the wolf was going to eat him, he’d already be dead. Curiosity overcame fear, for in fact the boy was rather brave, and he followed Lupé through the copse.

Presently, they reached the edge of the copse. Before them stood the fences of Baron Griid’s large farm. Guards walked the perimeter.

“What are we doing here?” the boy whispered.

“Watch and see. Do not move or call out,” said Lupé, and the wolf eased into the tall grass. The guards walked by, and Lupé charged, bounding through the grass and leaping high into the air—over the fence, and disappearing into the night.

The boy did not have long to wait. Lupé again jumped over the fence once the guards had passed, and slunk into the copse, carrying a dead chicken. The wolf trotted into the trees again, and the boy hastened to follow. They worked their way around the village to a tiny croft in the shelter of a grassy knoll. Here, Lupé left the chicken on the doorstep, then returned to where the boy crouched on top of the knoll, and loosed a mournful howl.

The door opened, and an old lady looked toward the knoll before picking up the gift. “Oh, Lupé,” the boy heard her tell the darkness, “I say again, run free. Do not worry for me. I will be all right.” She brushed a hand across her face, then closed the door.

“Why did you do that?” the boy asked.

“She is alone,” said Lupé. “There is no one to take care of her. She cannot tend her garden on her own. So I take care of her, as best I can, since she took care of me when I was a lost pup.”

The boy thought. “I can take care of her,” he said. “At least, I can work her garden. It would be a better life than the one I have now.”

“Perhaps.” Lupé cocked an ear to the wind. “And perhaps there is something I can do for you. Let us fetch your spear.”

Again, Lupé led them through the night, until the boy could hear cries for help, and yelping and snarling. Before them stood a coyote, leaping at a tree and foaming from the mouth. On a branch stood two people, just out of reach of those dripping fangs. “Go collect your reward, but remember your promise,” said Lupé, and disappeared into the night.

The boy slunk forward, spear in hand. He spitted the rabid coyote, which thrashed in the grass then lie still.

“He has killed the wolf!” one of the people in the tree shouted, leaping down to embrace the boy. “Let the entire village rejoice!”

Before the boy could drag the carcass back to the village, all the people turned out to meet him. They raised him on their shoulders and made merry until dawn.

The boy kept his promise and took care of the old woman. The reward money bought them a milk-cow, and food enough until the garden was producing. In time, the old woman died, and left her croft to the boy.

As he stood in the garden, soon after the funeral, he heard a voice behind him. “What will you do now?”

“I once thought to sell the croft, and find my destiny in Aht-Lann-Tah,” he told Lupé. “But I have found my destiny here.”

“You, and perhaps another.” A tiny wolf-pup ambled around Lupé’s still form. “He is a runt, as I was,” Lupé explained. “Take care of him, and he will take care of you.”

The pup hopped to the boy’s waiting hands, and Lupé loped away. Boy and wolf grew together, and not all their days were happy, but they had each other. And it was enough.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013 6 comments

An Impromptu Launch

The Launch Cannon? Not the exploding pen graphic? That must mean there’s a new book out, right?

It’s true. But it’s not The Sorcerer’s Daughter, which I have nearly finished beating into shape and hope to have ready in the next two weeks. This was a spur of the moment kind of thing. 'Tis the season, and I had a few Christmas-themed short stories laying around, so I had +Angela Kulig find me a suitable cover image and started formatting. And thus…

The Christmas Guardians (and Other Stories of the Season) was born!

This mini-anthology brings five short, and somewhat off-beat, stories to both Amazon and Smashwords. As with all my shorter works, Christmas Guardians is 99¢. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 03, 2013 2 comments

Green Tuesday Sale!

Save a tree, buy an eBook: it’s Green Tuesday!

My co-op, Green Envy Press, is running the show. I’m happy to be one of ten authors (not all of whom are in the co-op, mind you) offering twenty Kindle books for 99¢ or (even better) free, today. Go check out the sale page: http://www.angelakulig.com/2013/12/the-green-tuesday-sale-is-here-many.html On Twitter, follow the hashtag #GreenTuesday to join the festivities.

The sale runs until midnight PST (3 a.m. EST, or 0800Z).

Go forth, and load up your Kindle!

Thursday, November 28, 2013 4 comments

Home for the Holiday

Home, home again
I like to be here, when I can
— Pink Floyd

I took the three days off work that the office was open this week, but it wasn’t even a staycation.

Last week, the wife went into the doc’s about her knee. Over the years, it never really recovered from the car wreck that brought Daughter Dearest into the world a month early, and a chicken house accident certainly doesn’t improve anything. It finally gave up about a month ago. The doc suggested trying this and that, which weren’t likely to be a permanent fix if they worked at all. The wife said, “Let’s cut to the chase, not mess with stuff that isn’t going to work, and just replace it. Because that’s what’s going to happen after these other things don’t work anyway.”

That hardware is going
to be around for a while
The “system,” usually glacial when it comes to elective surgery, got its act together more quickly than expected, and she went in for a new knee on Tuesday. Yup, that was how I spent my birthday: dragging myself out of bed at way-too-early-thirty, taking her to the hospital, playing solitaire on my phone in the waiting room, then joining her in her new room. The operation itself was a breeze, but the recovery will take a while.

Lots of people have said to tell her to make sure she does her therapy. No problem there—she’s been trying to get ahead of the curve, trying to flex her leg a little a few hours out of the operating room. Her actual first therapy session went well, with her gimping around the bed on a walker.

With Thanksgiving looming, Daughter Dearest and I wondered about the timing. Still, there was plenty of dinner on the table, including the rolls I made from Grandma’s secret recipe. We didn’t have any shortening, but I found online that coconut oil is an acceptable substitute and we do have some of that. They turned out just fine. She called me in the morning, and told me to pick her up after I ate.

So it was off to the hospital, wheelchair to walker to van, then down to the in-laws to join the rest of the crowd for the second round of face-stuffing. There were jokes about her and Big V having a walker race, but Big V has more experience. I thought that “Two Gimpy Sisters” would be a fine name for a punk rock band.

So there’s a few things to be thankful for this year: thousands of copies of Accidental Sorcerers sold, Mason started pre-K, wife is going to be able to walk well for the first time in years… and Daughter Dearest is more like her old self than she has been in a while.

Saturday, November 23, 2013 6 comments

The Many (goofy) Faces of Mason

When Mason takes selfies, he goes all out:

So the wife, daughter, and I were all laughing about this, and Mason came to see what was so funny. I showed him, and he said…

“That’s not funny at all.”

Which was even more hilarious, of course.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013 5 comments

Writing Wibbles

Sometimes, when the first, second, and third opinions are unsatisfactory, the fourth opinion is the charm.

I’ve had some trepidation about The Sorcerer’s Daughter, knowing something needed fixing but unable to put my finger on what. Beta readers have been helpful with various details, and it’s definitely better than it was a couple months ago, but something was still nagging me. As I’ve worried about some of my #FridayFlash, and the pieces were well-received in the end, I finally decided it could be just me. I gave it to the editor and crossed my fingers.

Tonight, I heard back from the redoubtable Mrs. Harris. Yes, there are problems, but I have a handle on them now. One of them is that I shoved in one sub-plot too many for a novella-sized work. I can either double the size (30,000 words right now), or replace a sub-plot with some other details. I got my work cut out for me, but now I know what to do.

And I’m wrapping up the first draft of the fourth Accidental Sorcerers story, Into the Icebound. I don’t think there will be many problems with this one; it’s a straightforward action/adventure in a fantasy setting. Can’t go too far wrong there. The first three books have brought them to the point where we can have some real fun…

I’m going to include a quick link here, but it deserves (and will get) its own blog post. My co-op, Green Envy Press, is sponsoring a Green Tuesday Sale! “Save trees, buy 99¢ eBooks!” If you’re an author, you don’t have to be part of the co-op to join in—just hit the sign-up link and add your books to the list. If you’re a reader, be sure to come back on December 3; there will be plenty of selections.

Sunday, November 17, 2013 6 comments

Uncovering "The Sorcerer's Daughter" …

Uncovering the cover, anyway. Uncovering Sura might be the express lane to a messy and very painful demise. Things do get a little messy in this story:
In the third Accidental Sorcerers story, as Bailar and his apprentices help the Conclave prepare for conflict with the rogue sorcerers, Sura learns that she is a descendant of a noble House in the Alliance. But when she discovers the price of her history, it may be too late.
Now I’m sure you all expect that Sura, Mik, and Bailar will just shrug and accept fate, right? Hahahaha!!!

It has been a grueling year—this will be the sixth story of mine launched this year! It’s with the editor now, and (OK, let’s be realistic) we’re looking at firing the Launch Cannon some time in early December. This story has quite a bit of action, especially toward the end, but I don’t want to give it away just yet.

As usual, +Angela Kulig provided the cover art, and there’s been a lot of ooh-ing and aah-ing over it by members of the mailing list. (You’re not on my mailing list? You really should be. You’d have gotten a first peek early this week.)

Stop yakking and show us the cover already!

Oh, right… here it is.

I’m just not sure how Angela’s going to top this one. I’m already pounding away at the fourth story, Into the Icebound, and the first draft is so close to being done I can taste it! (Uh… I jutht put my tongue on a glathier…)

Feel free to reblog this, share it on Google+, or whatever you like. +Patricia Lynne has a companion reveal post on her blog, with a mini-interview—go check it out!

Thursday, November 14, 2013 9 comments

The Guard Tree (#FridayFlash)

Mason’s like my personal prompt machine these days, especially for light horror. His original appears at the end.

Image source: openclipart.org
The woods were quiet, just as Bubba had hoped. The weekend hunters would be out here tomorrow; but on an early Thursday morning, he had it all to himself.

He drove past the spot, then found a place to turn his pickup and trailer around. “Not like I’m poachin’ a deer,” he muttered, “just a dang tree.” He was barely keeping up with the payments on the single-wide and the boat; he couldn’t afford to buy any firewood or use the gas furnace.

Bubba parked the truck a safe distance back, topped up the chainsaw’s fuel and oil, and hiked over to the tree he’d found during Monday’s hunting. “Perfect size, perfect location,” he said, walking around the trunk. “Drop it right along the track here, cut it up, toss it on the trailer.” It was even leaning in the right direction. This was going to be easy.

Those stupid safety and whatever regulations aside, the silencer came in handy. Bubba started the saw and revved it; even standing right at it, it sounded a long ways off. With any luck, nobody else would hear the thing. He checked his angles one more time, then got to work.

It took only a couple minutes to cut the notch, despite the acorns raining down on him. But it came loose, and he knocked it away and threw it toward the truck. He turned off the saw and listened for a moment: nothing. No motors, nobody tramping through the woods, and even the acorns stopped dropping.

Now for the main event. Bubba went to the other side of the trunk, and started cutting at an angle, down toward the notch. More acorns rained down, and a dead limb landed a few feet away. He never used a spotter, but wouldn’t have for cutting a tree in the state forest anyway.

He heard that first snap above the muffled chainsaw motor, and took a step back, letting the saw idle down. Above him, the treetop swayed, dropping more acorns and limbs—

“Whoa!” For a moment, he thought the tree had a face, glaring down at him. But then he heard that ripping crack that said the trunk was splitting up the middle. Always a bad sign; the tree could buck backwards, then roll sideways. He turned, and tripped on a root that hadn’t been sticking up just a minute ago. Trying to keep his balance, he let the saw tumble away, then scrambled to his feet. He ran until the snapping sounds died back, then turned.

The tree had split up the middle, all right, but instead of falling, the whole thing seemed to step forward, away from the stump. Then, to Bubba’s horror, the trunk still attached to the stump twisted. Back and forth it went, until it broke free and stood on its own on what looked like two legs.

“I’m seein’ this, but I ain’t believin’ it,” he whispered. Then that face turned toward him, looking angry. The tree raised one leg, half its trunk, and stomped Bubba’s chainsaw. Then it turned and ran. Ran! “Not my truck!” he yelled, but breaking glass and groaning metal told Bubba the worst. Not thinking, he ran to see.

“Oh, man,” he groaned. “How the hell am I gonna explain that?” The truck and trailer were flattened—just like a tree fell on it, he thought hysterically—but only a few splinters and acorns were on it. At least he only had liability on the truck; it wasn’t like a ’92 F-150 was worth anything.

Hard fingers wrapped around Bubba before he could think, and the tree yanked him into the air. It lifted him level with that face, scowling at him. Before he could even think to plead for his life, he heard a voice in his head: I am the Guard Tree. None shall disturb the peace of this place again. It lowered him to the ground and let him go, before it ran into the woods and disappeared.

And as always, Mason’s original:

Once upon a time, there was a tree. A man cut it down. And this is the scary part: it had a ghost face on it. Then it jumped up and ran through the forest, because it was a Guard Tree, and smashed a car!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013 6 comments

Indie Life / Writing Wibbles

Welcome, Indie Lifers, to the free-range insane asylum! Don’t forget to hit the linky at the end, and see what other indies have to say about their travails, triumphs, and tips this month.

The Almighty Checklist

As all indies know, there’s more to publishing than writing the book. Covers, editing, formatting, publicity… it can get overwhelming, especially if you have several projects in various stages.

The good news is, each book needs the same things to happen before you hit that Upload button. At a former workplace, where we produced technical documentation (that’s my day job), we had a similar situation. To track our progress, and make sure nothing important was dropped, we created a “pre-publication checklist.” It was a good reminder of all the little details that had to be addressed before we were ready to say a manual was complete and ready to go to the printer.

When you have several projects going, in various stages, it’s easy to forget a detail. It has really helped me to have a blank “Prepub Checklist” template in +Evernote. When I get finish that first draft, I create a copy of the checklist in the appropriate notebook:

The “master” checklist has the templates tag, so I can find it immediately. After copying, I rename the checklist, tag it with the project name, and start filling in checkboxes as I go:

So now, I can pull up the checklist for any active project, and see what I need to do. In this case, I need to get serious about starting promotional efforts for the upcoming release of my third Accidental Sorcerers story while I’m waiting on the editor to get back to me. ;-)

Now it’s your turn: How do you keep track of your own projects?

Thanks for reading, and check out some of the other Indie Life writers this week!

Friday, November 08, 2013 14 comments

The Smells of Death (#FridayFlash)

I was going to use this last week, but didn’t get it written down until Saturday. So you get it this week instead. ;-)

Image source: openclipart.org
Odors were part of the job. Fever-sweat, stale urine, incontinence, rotten breath, all were honest smells. That stink of fear, though, that was the smell the Grim Reaper hated. And it was all over this one.

“Please,” the man gasped. “Not yet. Not yet.”

The Reaper sniffed and took out his tablet. “David Farnsworth, age 51, lung cancer.”

“Don’t kill me. Please. Not yet.”

“I won’t kill you.” The Reaper spoke quickly, overriding that look of relief. “That’s not my job. You just die, is all. If I got to kill you, I’d have done it twenty years ago.”


The Reaper opened the stylish black cover and flicked at the tablet’s screen. “Your doctors have been on your ass since you were… nineteen. So you’ve been getting the ‘quit smoking’ message for thirty-two years. If you didn’t want to die tonight, you should have listened. Instead of telling them everybody’s gotta die of something.” He glowered. “And flicking your damned butts out your car window, treating the earth like your personal f— freaking ashtray… if it were up to me, I’d have blown one of those back into your car, set your crotch on fire, and had you go off the road and slam into a bridge support.”

“Jeez. That’s harsh.”

“Whatever. I’m not the one who gets to kill you, in any case. You killed yourself. My job is to collect your sorry shade, and take you to Soul Court.”

“Soul Court? What’s that?”

“That’s where you’re judged. Yeah, you’re lucky I don’t have anything to do with that. They’re pretty lenient. If you haven’t made life Hell for people around you, worst that’s gonna happen is they’ll send you back for another go-around.”

“Like reincarnation? Ow. Ow.” Farnsworth gasped. “It hurts!”

“Yeah. Not as much as it ought to. But yeah, I figure they’ll give you a second chance. Don’t blow it.”

“Ah… ah… dammit, not now… oh.” Farnsworth looked down at the body on the bed. “Shit.”

The Reaper gave him a sardonic smile. “Two… one… yup.”

“Ewwww. Why did I have to do that?”

“You all do. Some don’t wait until they’re dead. Let’s go. You stink enough already.”

Saturday, October 26, 2013 8 comments

Weekend Roundup: Sliding into Fall

Last night brought frost to FAR Manor, the first October frost in three years. It’s all downhill from here:

I committed myself to write reviews for three books I’ve read in the last few weeks, so I wrapped those up last night. Links go to Goodreads:

They’re all good, go check 'em out!

In my own writing endeavors, I’ve finished up the first part of The Lost Years. I need to get cranking on the next part, which is sort of plotted out in my head, but The Sorcerer’s Daughter is the priority at the moment. I’m going through +Helen Howell’s beta comments, which were more encouraging than I thought. I figured I’d have to rewrite all of Chapter 2, but Helen said it was the first half of the chapter that needed work. So if I can get that fixed in the next few days, maybe the editor can get it back to me and I’ll still be good for that November launch.

And, this song has been stuck in my head on auto-repeat all week:

I bought the album so I could play the song at will, because that usually kills the earworm, but this one is a little tougher to shake loose.

My shoulder is getting better, finally. I need it to be 100% NOW, though, since it’s firewood season. I have to remember to bring in wood with my right arm and use my left for opening doors, the opposite of how I usually do things, to not hurt it. And I’m nowhere near ready to sling a chainsaw around for an entire afternoon. I started to hit a depression last week, but I think it passed. I don’t need that on top of everything else.

Monday, October 21, 2013 6 comments

The Lost Years: Season 1, Ep. 11

Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3 | Episode 4 | Episode 5 | Episode 6 | Episode 7 | Episode 8 | Episode 9 | Episode 10

Credit: Roy Lathwell

Several soldiers peered around the corner, while the rest listened to the Imperial Keep’s collapse, then flinched back. “It’s gone,” one said. “The walls buckled, and one—” Stones tumbled and bounced by, showering the sheltered expedition with small debris.

“We need to go back,” one of the Strikers said. “Acrom jumped. If nothing else, we need to recover his remains.”

“Why?” Anlayt demanded.

“He was the one bitten by the walking dead,” the Striker explained. “One of the men tells me Acrom was growing sick. Acrom told him he would die but once, then when the wall fell away, he dived out. Head first.”

“Likely a fruitless pursuit to find him,” said Phylok, “as with this entire expedition so far. But we should at last make the attempt.”

As expected, Acrom’s body was buried under the rubble that was once the Imperial Keep. They sang his name at the place they guessed the stairwell had been, offering his soul to Heaven and beseeching the Creator that his body lie still, then returned to Harbor Street and marched west.

Passing through a poorer part of the city, Jira thought of her namesake, Jira the Brown. That Jira had come from such a neighborhood, perhaps this one. She and her friend Pyanya had become Thurun’s apprentices, so legend went, after they stole his staff. Pyanya the White was the more noted, a Protector revered as the Lady of Isenbund in the North. But the original Jira had done well enough for herself, a strong sorcerer and enchanter by all accounts. I will be happy, Jira thought, if they say of me that I was able to keep a remnant of the Empire alive.

The Western Gate was destroyed, and they clambered over the remains to reach the Western Road. “Looks almost normal out here,” one soldier grunted.

“If you don’t look behind you,” said another.

Indeed, for those who only faced west, it could have been an unusually quiet afternoon outside the capital. Grasses and brambleberries grew wild, but the clear zone around the city walls was allowed to grow and seed itself. Two years ago, the poor would have been gleaning the seeds and fruits, or tending small garden plots granted by the crown. The nearest villa was beyond the first rise, where the road disappeared on its long journey to Westmark.

“Patrol formation,” Anlayt ordered. “Captains on point.” The Bronze Circle formed around Jira once again. After what they had seen in the last few hours, she found the protective ring a small comfort. “For Camac… forward!”

The Captains called a halt before they topped the hill. Phylok sent two scouts forward; they slipped through the tall grass and returned after a short time. “The villa is damaged, but inhabited,” they said. “Windows are boarded up. There’s debris piled around the perimeter, and gardens inside. We saw the smoke of a cookfire.”

“Did you see anyone?”


“They must be there,” said Phylok. “I would venture that the noise of our difficulties in Camac carried outside the city here, and the inhabitants are hiding. Perhaps watching us, while they gauge our intentions.”

“Strikers, form a defensive perimeter,” Anlayt ordered. “Protector, can you scry about us? Can you locate these residents?”

Jira nodded, and sent her vision outward. “There are no ambushes,” she said, her voice distant. “Nobody stands between us and their makeshift ramparts.”

“Are they in the villa?”

After a long silence, Jira smiled. “In an upper room. They appear to be having a heated argument. One woman is watching from the window, but as engaged as any.”

“How many?” Phylok asked.

“Eight… eleven. They do not carry weapons, but I saw crossbows in the receiving room. Implements that can be used as weapons: axes, scythes. A few hunting spears.” She came back to herself. “A young man looked around as I scryed the upper room,” she warned. “I would assume he is a sorcerer, but I don’t remember him from my earlier visits.”

“I am sure that Protector Jira is more than equal to any mage they have,” said Phylok. “I suggest we form up, and request a parley.” He nodded toward the bugler.

“I have no better idea,” said Anlayt.

The soldiers lined up along the Western Road, staggered formation, so that arrows or other missiles could only strike one at a time. The Captains stood before the villa’s makeshift gate, with a few of the Bronze Circle shielding Jira; she in turn covered them with a fender.

The bugler winded his horn, sounding the “parley” signal. Minutes passed, with no response from the villa.

“Give them another,” Phylok suggested, and the bugler blew again.

After a long minute, the front door cracked open. The Captains felt, rather than saw, eyes upon them.

“Citizens of Camac!” Anlayt bellowed. “Come forth, in all peace and harmony! We seek only survivors and information!”

Finally, the door opened. “Nine,” said Jira. “I expect the other two are covering us with crossbows.”

“Who are you, and what do you want?” It was the young man that Jira had noted during her scrying.

“I am Protector Jira, of the North,” she replied. “With me are Captain Phylok of Isenbund, and Captain Anlayt of Koyr, and four strikes of Camac’s army. We hoped to find other authority here.”

“Protector.” The young man bowed, hand to forehead, in the salute to a superior; Jira and the Captains noted how the others shed their wariness. “I am Arbul the Blue, of the Camac Conclave, until the recent trouble. Fortunately, I earned my sash before all that happened.”

“Are you all that is left of the population of Camac, then?” Anlayt asked.

“Indeed, sir. Many others fled the city, by road and by sea, so they may live on. You had no refugees arrive in Koyr?”

Anlayt frowned. “Neither by road, nor by sea, mage,” he said at last.


“So there is no authority,” said Phylok.

“We are the emperor!” An older man twisted free, and pranced forward. Arbul and several others gave each other exasperated looks. “Grand and glorious Camac lives on, so long as ourself!”

Arbul stepped forward, close enough to whisper, “Forgive him, notables. The others say he was mad long before The Madness, imagining himself to be His Sublime Majesty.”

The mad “emperor” joined them. “Good Captains, worthy Protector,” he purred. “Together, we shall conquer the other half of the world, then all will know the benevolent rule of glorious Camac. My court shall accompany us on this grand quest, and all will sing our praises.”

“Majesty,” said another, gently tugging the madman back, “your servants have just returned from an expedition on your behalf. Let them find their barracks, and take the rest they have earned, before sending them forth anew.”

“Wise counsel,” said the man who would be emperor. “Go, in all peace and harmony. Captains, your men have earned extended leave with pay. See that they reacquaint themselves with their… with their families.” He paused, looking confused. “You are all that… no.” He turned and stalked back to the villa, muttering all the way.

“Authority,” said Arbul. “I did not think to see this many sane people in one place, ever again. Let alone any remnants of governance.”

“Do you know who awakened the Cave Wyrm that was under the Keep?” Jira asked.

“No. I presume it was Nisodarun, or perhaps another mage gone mad.”

“Whoever awakened it, had control of her faculties,” Jira countered. “It told me that it swallowed Nisodarun by his own request, then allowed me to dispel it as commanded by the one who awoke it. The Wyrm, I presume, undermined the Keep. It collapsed.”

“That’s what we heard, then. I hope you did not unseal the Library.”

Anlayt grimaced, and Jira nodded. “We did. The walking dead are no more, but I did re-seal the entrance.”

“One of the mages was bitten,” said Arbul, his face twisting. “He lured the remaining walking dead into the Library, then I sealed them all together. If you released him, then… then I thank you. He was a dear friend.”

“He, and the others, are at peace,” Jira assured him.

“Protector,” said Anlayt, looking at the sky. “If we march now, we can reach the pier before sunset. I suggest we do not spend the night in the open, nor in the city.”

“And we would be an undue burden on the villa,” Phylok agreed.

“Arbul, you and your companions are welcome to come with us,” Jira offered. “North Keep has plenty of room.”

“As does Ak’koyr,” Anlayt insisted.

“And Isenbund,” said Phylok, “although you may not want to go that far.”

Arbul looked at his companions, then turned back to Jira and the Captains. “We will stay here,” he said. “For better or worse, Camac is our home. Our gardens, and the gleaning fields, are sufficient to feed us. We did rescue some livestock as well.”

“Arbul, I name you Protector of Camac,” said Jira. “I charge you to keep the peace, to train those who have Talent, and defend your home.”

“I…” Arbul fought to control his emotions. “On the name of Her Sublime Majesty, I do swear to these things. And, come winter, we shall bury the dead and clear the rubble. Perhaps, by next summer, the living will again dwell within Camac’s walls.”

“Strikers, marching formation,” Anlayt ordered. “For Camac… to the pier, then home!”

Here ends Season 1. Season 2, “Dissolution,” will begin soon.

Friday, October 18, 2013 12 comments

The Battle of Hallowe'en (#FridayFlash)

Image source: openclipart.org
“Sir,” the elf scout barked, “no sign of the enemy anywhere.”

“They retreated?” the elf general cocked one bushy eyebrow.

“It appears so, sir.”

“Well,” the general told his staff, “that was one disappointing turkey shoot.” A ripple of high-pitched chuckles went around the tent. “But the Big Guy won’t care. We’ve seized Thanksgiving, with almost no casualties. With the former occupants deserting, we won’t have any trouble anywhere in November.” He paced in front of the staff, mostly for effect. “You know what that means, gentlemen?”

“We accelerate the timetable?” one of the elf colonels asked.

“Exactly. Hallowe’en won’t be an easy nut to crack, but now we can deploy our full force. No worries about supply lines or occupation. Once we take October, Labor Day will be a cakewalk. From there, the other holidays will surrender, and the Big Guy will have the gift he always wanted!”

Christmas year-round!” the staff shouted. The forces of Christmas got back to work.

The general extended his brass spyglass and looked at the border. It was as dark and gloomy as the scouts said, and it gave him a shiver. Bah, he thought. Kids dressed up as spooks, and decorations, is all it is. Still, he wished the Big Guy had changed his mind about keeping the Nine close to home. Rudolph’s schnozz would have come in handy when they went in, not to mention possibilities for aerial recon. But you go to war with what the Big Guy gives you…

“Units, report,” he said into his handset.

“Infantry One, ready.” “Infantry Two, ready.” “Cavalry One, ready.” One by one, each unit signaled its readiness. The cavalry, mounted on prancing reindeer, armed with barbed branches. Infantry, carrying glass ornaments and dazzler tree toppers.

“Any word from the scouts?” a colonel asked.

“Not yet. They’re overdue.”

“How much longer do you plan to wait?”

“Not long. I have to assume they’ve been captured or incapacitated.” He lifted the handset again. “Units, move out, Plan A,” he ordered. “Have the troops keep an eye out for our scouts.”

The infantry marched forward, lighting their dazzlers. Cavalry hovered on the flanks, ready to charge in if needed. Infantry Unit One slipped across the border and into the gloomy trees. The major sounded tense. “Enemy sighted. Sort of. They’re staying just close enough where we can see movement—hold your fire!” A brief pause. “Some of the troops are a little eager, sir. No engagement yet… look out!” The transmission cut off.

“Cavalry, go!” the general shouted into his handset. Shouting battle-cries, the elves urged their reindeer forward, faster, faster, disappearing into Hallowe’en territory. The noise of battle carried back into November, and it sounded fierce. “Units, report at will.”

“Infantry Two— it’s— ohnoAHHHHHHGH!”

“Something’s wrong,” the general said, then riderless reindeer came bounding out of Hallowe’en. Eyes rolling, they dashed through the staging area and kept going, probably all the way to Christmas Eve.

“All units, retreat!” the general barked. “Regroup at the staging area!” He heard horns blowing the retreat signal, and stunned elves finally bolted from the spooky woods and into the staging area. Not a terribly orderly retreat, but not quite a rout.

The news was bad. Half the troops were still in the woods, presumed killed or captured, three-fourths of the surviving cavalry had lost their mounts, and the survivors were too shaken to give coherent reports. The only thing he could get out of them was something most said: we have to fall back before it gets dark.

“Sleigh bells, what a debacle,” the general muttered. Maybe the Big Guy hadn’t taken this as seriously as he thought. They’d done well with Thanksgiving, but it was one brief skirmish and then the inhabitants deserted. He always knew Hallowe’en would be the real test, and… well. “Form ranks!” he bellowed across the staging area! “Orderly march up-calendar! Fall back to Thanksgiving!”

Shouts and screams drew his attention to the border. The general stopped and gaped at the sight of zombie turkeys and pilgrims shambling forward. The dazzlers seemed to have no effect, and ornament grenades only stopped them when they took off the heads.

“They went Hallowe’en!” a colonel gasped. “What’s next?”

“Flying barbecue forks from Labor Day?” the general suggested. “I don’t think we want to find out.” He lifted the handset again. “Full retreat,” he said, deflated. “Back to December, elves. We’re beat.”

“Sir,” the colonel said. “If the Big Guy would loan us a couple of the Nine, maybe we could drop beachheads down-calendar. Something like ‘Christmas in July.’ If we get them established, we could come back and hit the We’eners from two fronts.”

“We’re not done for good,” the general said, “just for now. We’ll look into that idea, colonel. Or you will. When we get home, I figure myself for the scapegoat.”

Zombies by day, vampires by night, harassed the forces of Christmas all the way back to December. Only a few returned to tell the tale.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013 3 comments

The Lost Years: Season 1, Ep. 10

Previous: Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3 | Episode 4 | Episode 5 | Episode 6 | Episode 7 | Episode 8 | Episode 9

Credit: Roy Lathwell
“Cave Wyrm!” Jira shouted. She dimly remembered a chamber, down in the foundations of the Keep, where the bones of a Cave Wyrm had lay waiting for a time of need. She worked a spell of binding—not the proper spell to bind an Elemental Dragon, but there was no time to prepare that one—and the Wyrm hung in place, not quite frozen but not moving toward them. “I’ll try to hold it! Go! Get to the ships! It won’t come for you through water!”

Who are you, mage? Everyone heard that voice of grinding boulders, even the first strike clattering down the stairs.

“I am Protector Jira, of the Northern provinces,” she replied. The Bronze Circle parted before her, but the strike flanked her, retreating no further. Brave soldiers, she thought, knowing that the Cave Wyrm could blast the skin from their bones in an eyeblink.

What is your purpose here?

“We seek the Eye of Byula that was in the keeping of the First Protector. If we find the remains of the First Protector, we will mourn him and lay him to rest.”

What you seek is gone. The Eye I swallowed, along with the First Protector, when the mad fool demanded I do so. Now dispell me, mage, if you would save yourself and your companions. I will respect your weak binding while you do your work, in accordance with the commands of the one who awakened me.

Jira bit back the questions she had, as the dragon was unlikely to answer them. A little searching along the Cave Wyrm’s flanks turned up a darker splash of brown, the dried blood of the mage who had awakened it. “A cloth, and water,” she commanded the Bronze Circle, and they were brought. Awakening an Elemental Dragon was simple enough—even a fresh apprentice could do it, given good Talent—but the binding spells, needed to keep the dragon from killing the mage and rampaging about, were more complex. It was said that pure motives were as effective as binding, but who had those?

Nevertheless, the Principle of Closure held. Blood and intent awakened an Elemental Dragon, and removing that blood dispelled it. Jira took the wet cloth, wiped the blood from the rocky skin, and the Cave Wyrm dissolved into a pile of stone and sand. Still, the floor swayed; the Cave Wyrm’s growth had come at the cost of the Keep’s foundations.

“Quickly.” Jira followed the Captains, following the Bronze Circle, down the long staircase. Their footing became more stable as they descended, but the rumbling continued.

“Will the building hold together much longer?” Anlayt shouted above the noise. Below them, soldiers shouted as a piece of the outer wall fell away.

“I have bound the stairs, from here to the ground,” said Jira. “We will reach the ground. After that, if the Keep falls, it falls where it will.”

Soldiers, men and women, spilled from the stairs and onto the ground floor. Strikers urged them forward, urged themselves by the Captains.

The Captains burst into daylight, then whirled about. “Protector Jira!” Phylok shouted. “Captain Anlayt, get the others away from here!” He bolted back into the crumbling Keep as Anlayt gave orders.

“Protector!” Phylok bellowed.

“Here!” Jira pelted over the rubble. Above her, rubble fell over but not upon her—she had raised a fender, a spell of protection. “Phylok, go!”

A large stone glanced off Phylok’s helm; he shook his head to clear it and stumbled toward the light. He felt a hand on his arm, pulling him forward, a voice urging him to move, move. Dim changed to bright, yet the hand and the voice pulled and pushed. He shook his head again, quickly, and lucidity returned. “Which way did they go?” Jira asked.

Phylok shook her arm away, but smiled and pointed. “That way. Protector, what happened?”

“I was rescuing an important piece of our history,” she said. “It has no power like the Eyes, but we need to remember a time when Camac and magic were both thought omnipotent.” She showed him the faded painting, of a man standing atop a vast monolith, itself hovering above a waterfront. Ancient script read: When Protector Thurun bringeth the Great Pier to Camac Harbor. MCLGPE.

“What’s that last part?” Phylok pointed at the letters.

“The apprentice closed his message the same way,” she said. “May the Creator and the Lesser Gods Preserve the Empire.” She sighed. “And we’ll need all their aid, I fear.”


Friday, October 11, 2013 17 comments

Sssssslither! (#FridayFlash)

Here’s another one of Mason’s stories that I embellished. The original follows…

Image source: openclipart.org
Lee hung up and poked his head into the front office. “Kate?” he asked. “You up for a field trip?” He paused. “You have a problem with snakes?”

“Yes to the first, no to the second.” Kate was already up and moving. Business had been good lately, and Lee hired Kate after the thing with the ants. She was a biology major at the local college, and did a fine job keeping the front office going. In between certain kinds of calls.

“You think this is another anomaly,” she said, as Lee followed the GPS’s directions. “Did they tell you what kind?” She reached to the dashboard to stroke the shellacked ant, as long as Lee’s forearm. It was already their good luck charm.

“They never do,” said Lee. “They’re afraid I’ll think they’re nuts and hang up. But you can hear it in their voices.”

Kate nodded and poked at her cellphone. “I’m putting the department on alert,” she explained. “What did they tell you?”

“She. There’s a bunch of snakes under her house. They’re either blue, or silver-gray. She didn’t hang around to get a closer look. But they’re nesting under her house. I told her to keep children and pets inside. I don’t think they’re poisonous, but it’s always best to be safe.” A few minutes later, he stopped the truck in front of a suburban house. “Gear up. Let’s do this.”

The nervous woman led the suited exterminators around the back of the house, to an opening in the foundation. “It’s in there,” she said.

“Okay,” said Lee. “You can go on inside. We’ll take it from here. We’ll let you know when we’re done.” The woman looked like she wanted to say something else, but nodded and bounded onto the porch and through the back door.

Lee set the cage off to the side, and extended the grabber. “Lights, camera, action,” he said, deadpan. They turned on their head-mounted lights and video cameras, then knelt in front of the opening.

“There,” said Kate, pointing. “Looks like a bunch of snakes, all right. Nothing anomalous… what the hell?” The entire group advanced, some rearing up, others slithering. “I’ve never seen behavior like that.”

“Makes it easy, though,” said Lee. “Come to papa… gotcha!” The grabber bucked and twitched in his hands, but held.

“They’re all striking the grabber!” Kate gasped. “I’ve never seen a group work together like that!”

“They’re all coming out at once, too,” Lee grunted. “With any luck, they’ll all hang on until I’ve got ‘em in the cage—what the…”

“It’s one snake! It’s one snake! Seven, eight… how many heads does that thing have?”

“Are you sure? The heads are all different sizes!”

“Look at it!” Kate yelled. “Never mind, you’ll see it in a second. I hope these cameras are working.”

Lee withdrew the writhing body and angry heads, and shoved the entire thing into the cage before letting go. He pushed the hatch closed and slid the grabber out, but the snake stayed well back. “Eight… ten heads. My God.”

“You caught it?” the homeowner poked her head out the door. “Thank God. Have you ever seen a seven-headed snake?”

“It has ten heads,” said Kate. “I hope there’s not another one under there.” She crawled in to look, grabber in hand.

“I don’t think so.” The woman gasped. “Ten heads? It had eight! My husband cut off one of its heads with a shovel, though.”

“Oh, great,” Lee groaned. “Cut off one head, and it grows three back? Kate and her profs are gonna have a party.”

“I don’t see another one under here,” Kate called. “But here’s the nest. There’s eggs!”

“Gather them,” Lee replied. “Your professors will want to see them.”

Kate came out and pulled the hood off her suit. She wore a big grin. “I’ll get a container out of the truck,” she said. “God, I love this job.”

And Mason’s version: “There was a snake under the house with ten heads! I chopped one of the heads off, and three more grew back!” (I’m trying to figure out where he gets his material, I could use more of it myself.)

Wednesday, October 09, 2013 7 comments

Indie Life / Writing Wibbles

Welcome, Indie Lifers, to the free-range insane asylum! Don’t forget to hit the linky at the end, and see what other indies have to say about their travails, triumphs, and tips this month.

Muddle in the Middle

Let’s pretend a shiny new writing idea just happens to come by when you don’t have any other pressing projects going on—or maybe you’re just burned out on your current WIP and need to pound on something else for a while. A pivotal scene, perhaps the climax, is just itching to get out of your head and into your computer or notebook.

You start working on this new project, and a couple weeks later it’s taking shape. The beginning looks good, and the ending is awesome! If only that big gap in the middle would magically fill itself in… and now, the real work begins.

This happens to me enough that I have a name for it: the muddle in the middle. If I plotted out the whole thing to start with, I have a series of blank scenes in Scrivener with a title and maybe a paragraph or two describing what's supposed to happen in one or two of them. If I pants it… same hole, different (or no) name.

Usually, logic and time (and persistence) are enough to straighten out the muddle and get a story finished. Logic is a great tool to keep handy—simply ask yourself how does your hero get from Point A to Point B? and remember that very few paths are arrow-straight. It’s not only the journey that’s important, it’s how your hero grows on that journey. There’s a central conflict to win, after all. Even if the hero has what’s needed to begin with, like Dorothy’s ruby slippers in The Wizard of Oz (the movie), she still has to learn the how or why.

Time is another helpful tool, especially if you aren’t on a deadline. Sometimes, just closing the project window and walking away is the best thing you can do for a story. Let your subconscious chew on the plot, and sooner or later you’ll know what to do.

Now it’s your turn.
How do you work through that muddle in the middle?

Thanks for reading, and check out some of the other Indie Life writers this week!

Tuesday, October 08, 2013 4 comments

The Lost Years: Season 1, Ep. 9

Previous: Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3 | Episode 4 | Episode 5 | Episode 6 | Episode 7 | Episode 8

Credit: Roy Lathwell
The throne room had the appropriate grandeur for an empire that spanned half the world. Phylok thought, with some irreverence, remove the rubble and rotted corpses, and it would look almost right.

“There.” Anlayt pointed across the room, to where pieces of the throne lay scattered. “Go and see if I am right.” He looked pale.

Jira, accompanied by some of her honor guard, crossed the room. She too, remembered what this place once looked like, and her mind kept trying to superimpose the was over the is. She saw a dismembered corpse among the rubble—Her Sublime Majesty, greeting her from the Pearl Throne—shreds of red and gold strewn across the dais—the robe of state—a hand outstretched in welcome, wearing the Three-Gem Ring—a dried hand on the dais, the Three-Gem Ring dangling from one finger—

“Oh gods,” Jira gasped, staring at the torn hand. She turned to the others. “What happened here?”

“Speculation is unhelpful, at this moment,” said Anlayt, but without his usual force. “Protector, do you verify that those are the remains of Her Sublime Majesty?”

In a year of difficulties, Jira would later write, the most difficult moment of all was this one, the hardest thing was to keep the tears from her eyes and the sob from her voice. “I do,” she said, letting her voice echo through the ruined chamber.

“Then let us gather her remains,” Anlayt suggested. “We can lay her in the tombs. Then, we can see about finding a successor.”

“A dim hope, that,” said Phylok. “But the attempt must be made.”

“And so, to the Western Road? Protector?”

Jira hesitated. “I wish to visit the Imperial Keep first. It’s a slim hope, but perhaps the Eye of Byula, that was in Nisodarun’s keeping, is still there. Having two Eyes, this one and Kontir’s, would let us hold together what is left.”

The Imperial Keep was another place where Jira’s memories kept trying to impose themselves over the present reality. That it was High Summer now, the time she had always come to share wisdom with the other Protectors (as other mages gathered in Stolevan), did not make it easier. A musty smell, the odor of disuse, had long replaced the familiar scents of tea, sweaty apprentices, and that storm-like smell of Air magic in use. She thought about sharing tea in the sumptuous Meeting Hall with her peers, laughing over a forgotten trifle, and a wistful smile came to her.

“Protector?” Phylok brought her back to the present. “Lead the way.”

“Where should we look first?” Anlayt asked.

“The First Protector’s private chambers,” said Jira. “I know not where Nisodarun kept the Eye, but his work area would be the logical place to start looking. Protector Kontir likely spoke to him regularly, as he has an Eye. That is the place to start.”

Unfortunately, those chambers were up ten flights of stairs. They set a marching order, Jira behind the Captains to guide, and began the climb. As they reached the first landing, Jira laughed.

“What about this situation is amusing?” Anlayt scowled.

“The First Protector used to run up this staircase, at least once a day,” said Jira. “He said it kept him young and fit. Indeed he was fit, for a man past his sixtieth summer.” On the other hand, a year of heavy burdens had left Jira and the others fit as well. So they marched, stopping halfway up for a brief breather, until they reached the final landing.

“This entire floor is—was—the First Protector’s chambers,” Jira explained, gesturing at the overturned furniture. The dented remains of a tea service lay heaped in one corner. As with most other places here, it smelled of disuse and decay. “This first room is a public receiving area. I only visited his work area once, but I doubt he moved it.”

“What should we look for?”

“A small box, about a span each direction.” Jira frowned, thinking. “I don’t think it’s ornate.”

“Could you not just scry for the Eye?” Anlayt asked.

Jira gave a sad laugh. “One would think so,” she said. “But the Eyes only find by magic. They cannot be found by magic. Odd, but powerful enchantments often include such oddities. Not always by design.”

“What was that?” a soldier asked.

“A tremor,” said Anlayt. “Perhaps the foundations have been undermined. Let us find what we came for.”

“This way,” said Jira, leading them through wide doors. “Oh!” She stopped, as a stronger tremor shook the Keep. “Captains, I suggest you lead your strikes down and into the street. I can protect myself if—” The tremors became a constant shaking. Tumbled furniture slid across the floor, tapestries swayed. “Captains, go!”

Too late—the floor in front of them burst upward in a shower of rubble. Something that looked like a maw of pointed teeth, at the end of a ridged tube, reared above them.


Monday, September 30, 2013 6 comments

The Lost Years: Season 1, Ep. 8

Previous: Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3 | Episode 4 | Episode 5 | Episode 6 | Episode 7

Credit: Roy Lathwell
Captain Phylok pulled Jira back into the Bronze Circle, then hustled to Captain Anlayt’s side. “What—oh, gods.”

The stench of death, familiar to all who had survived The Madness, preceded the horror that congested the entrance. Worse than madfolk was an entire cohort of living dead, many still wearing recognizable parts of soldiers’ uniforms. Where clothes did not cover flesh, it hung loose and rotten, or was gone entirely. They choked the doorway, all trying to get out at once.

“Stop that noise!” Anlayt barked; several soldiers were keening a deathsong, mourning their impending deaths. “Stand like soldiers of Camac!”

“Retreat, you fool!” Jira snapped. “Draw them into the street!”

“Who is the fool?” Anlayt retorted. “If we bottle them up at the entrance, we need not fight them all at once! Perhaps you have forgotten how to count, woman? We are likely outnumbered more than two to one!”

“It’s not likely that our enemy has a functioning mage among them!” Jira bellowed. “Phylok! Captains, to me!”

Phylok hesitated. He trusted Jira, who as a Protector was part of the military, but was not sure why she intended such a tactical blunder. Still, she was the Protector. He turned and signaled an orderly retreat, and the Strikers obeyed. Anlayt, in turn, had the choice of facing the walking dead on his own or joining the retreat. He hustled to join the others.

“Strikers,” said Jira, “tell your archers to aim for the knees. Crawling dead are a less formidable enemy.”

“What is your plan?” Phylok asked her.

“Incapacitate as many as possible. Draw them as far as possible from the Library. Then set them afire.”

“Why could you not—ah.” Phylok nodded. “If there is anything to preserve inside, we don’t want it burning.”

By twos and threes, the archers found their marks. Walking dead, their knees wrecked by arrows, limped, fell, and pulled themselves along with gangrenous hands. The ambulatory skirted or clambered over the lame, driven by hunger for living flesh.

“What caused this?” Anlayt asked, cocking a crossbow.

“Perhaps a priest gone mad?” Jira answered with her own question. “Who knows?”

Once the last crawlers were a good fifty reaches from the entrance, Jira acted. Fire magic rode her intent across the short distance, and the crawling dead became crawling torches. Heedless, painless, they lurched onward. At last, cleansing fire undid the last shreds of ligaments and evil, and the charred corpses fell twitching to the pavement. The soldiers continued to retreat, keeping as much distance as possible, until there were only the living and dead.

“Well done, Protector,” said Phylok.

“I hope you do not intend that we wrap and mourn these as well,” said Anlayt.

“No,” said Jira. “We need not trouble these further. Their souls left them long ago.”

• • •

Above ground, among broken windows and the walking dead, the contents of the Library had not fared well. Underground was better; there was some water damage, but the drainage system still functioned. Jira was elated.

“Protector?” Anlayt asked, looking down one long row of shelves. “What of this would you bring back with us?”

“All of it,” said Jira. “North Keep has plenty of empty rooms. Who knows what someone will need to know, a century or two from now?”

“We don’t have—”

“Arms!” Phylok barked, drawing his sword. A strike of archers hustled forward to flank the Captains. Four more of the walking dead shambled toward them.

“Do you need my help?” Jira asked, as the Bronze Circle again tightened around her.

“If this is all that is left, no,” said Anlayt. Archers lamed the approaching undead, until they fell to crawl mindlessly toward the living.

“Spears!” Phylok shouted, and two strikes moved forward. Mindful of clutching bony fingers and snapping jagged teeth, the soldiers came in spearpoint-first. Several of them looked pale; fighting a pack of mythical walking dead was an exercise, a drill, in defeating an opponent without being wounded. Facing real examples, little more than a year ago, would have been as unthinkable as… as Camac being utterly destroyed.

Nevertheless, their training held. The lead soldiers rammed their spears into the open mouths of each crawling opponent, then stood on the shafts to pin the abominations to the floor by their own jaws. Others stood on or speared flailing arms, then waited for a Captain to strike off the head.

Jira whirled at a shout and scream from behind. Taking advantage of the distraction up front, one more had shuffled in and taken a soldier from the rear. It fastened its decayed teeth on the soldier’s arm, trying to tear away a piece of flesh.

Without thinking, the soldier punched the thing in the forehead. Its teeth tore back a piece of his arm, then it let go and the soldier jerked away. In his panic, he swung a beefy fist, and caught it in the temple as it came in for another taste. With a snap, its head jerked sideways, and it fell. A quick-thinking woman stomped hard on the broken neck, snapping the last shreds of skin and tendons, and the head tumbled away. The body twitched for a moment, then was still.

“Let that bleed,” one of the others said, pointing to the torn flap of bloody skin on the wounded soldier’s arm. “Flush out the poison. Maybe he’ll live.”

“Not if we let him bleed out,” said another.

The wounded soldier looked at Captain Anlayt in pale-faced appeal. “Is it true, Captain? Will I become one of them, now?”

“Just a fable, soldier.”

“So were they.” The soldier shuddered and fainted, as the others bound up the wounded arm.

Jira and Phylok conferred, as Anlayt berated the other soldiers for inattention in a combat situation. “Do you truly intend to bring all these books back?” Phylok asked.

“There was a ketch floating in the harbor,” said Jira. “If nothing else, I will fill it with books and call the wind to sail it home. By myself, if necessary.”

“Things have just become a little more complex,” Phylok pointed out, nodding to the wounded man in the rear. “We need to know there’s no more of those things in there, especially since we’ve left the exit clear.”

“I’m trying to imagine how they ended up in the Library,” Jira mused. “Did someone volunteer to become bait, to draw them inside? And who sealed the entrance? There were three or four sorcerers here, besides the First Protector, who were strong enough to do that. If one of them is still alive, there are several vacancies among the Protectors.”

“We need to vacate this place,” said Anlayt, joining them. In the rear, two soldiers helped their wounded fellow to his feet. “Immediately.”

“Counter,” said Phylok. “We need to make sure there’s no more of those things left. If the legends are true, I’m surprised we faced only a cohort rather than a legion.”

“Perhaps the mad ones saved us from that fate,” said Jira. “But Captain Phylok is correct. Let us clear the Library of walking dead, then I will seal the entrance again. The books can stay, for now. I will come for them later.”

“Well, it is good,” said Phylok. “We know that the important parts of the Library are largely intact. We have laid to rest a goodly number of undead. Let us proceed to the Palace, then to the Western Road.”


Friday, September 27, 2013 6 comments

Warmonger's Way (2/2) (#FridayFlash)

Last week: Warmonger and Jaguar broke into Bea’s Jewelers, grabbing raw gold and loose stones. But as they slipped outside, they were accosted! Who’s behind that alluring voice? …

Warmonger, who prided himself on self-control, snapped his head to a halt halfway around. Not the worst-case, he thought, but close enough. Only the Masked Warriors, the coolest customers of all, would be worse than Miss Siles. Warmonger was a meticulous planner (DeVine just called him “anal”), and he had contingencies for all the known quantities. He hoped Jaguar had followed orders, which for this case were run like hell. But that voice… that was something HNN didn’t mention. His lizard brain screamed Look! It was taking all his concentration and self-discipline to not just turn around and stare. If he couldn’t run, Jag was toast.

“Cute, babe,” he said, pulling the balaclava over his eyes to obscure his vision further. “Now make me a sandwich.”

He felt only a twinge of anger, not enough to use. That line always worked on Ultra Woman; but she was in Hollywood, filming a documentary. Warmonger thought quickly, and realized that this was likely Miss Siles’s first encounter with a supervillain. The only intel on her was what they’d shown on HNN, and he didn’t like being the one to acquire more. She’s a rookie, he thought, I can’t go down to a rookie. He thought quickly, doing his best to ignore the lizard brain. The slap rounds in his .45 were meant to take out any alarm sirens without making a lot of noise themselves. They wouldn’t kill, even if the target had no body armor, but they could bruise…

He gave in to the lizard brain, and turned to face Miss Siles, but drew his weapon. All he could focus on was that gigantic chest, but that was his target anyway, and he squeezed off three shots.

He had just enough time to think Damn, she’s fast. Miss Siles twisted, not enough to dodge the slap rounds, but enough to deflect them, then those huge knockers came around and slammed him across the side of the head. Taking that blow used up all his remaining energy, and he staggered backwards. His gun had gone flying, but there was nothing to do about that.

His vision was blurry, but he could see how Miss Siles stood gaping. He grinned. “That’s all you got?” he taunted. “You thought you could take the Warmonger out with one shot? Kid, you’re up way past your bedtime. You’re good, but this is the big leagues.”

This shot went home; he felt that surge of red anger. Ahhhh. It wasn’t enough to fill the tank, but it was enough. He averted his eyes just as his vision cleared.

“I’ll make you a sandwich!” she growled, and charged in.

Warmonger shouted down the lizard brain again, forced himself to move, and used his augmented strength to leap straight up, a good fifteen feet, to the roof of Bea’s Jewelers. He landed within reach of Jaguar, whose eyes were locked on Miss Siles. His hands strangled a piece of conduit. He looked toward Miss Siles, who glared up at them. “Catch ya in the funnies, kid!” he said, tasting another generous draught of anger, and dragged Jaguar out of sight.

It took a little shaking and a few ungentle slaps to snap Jag out of it, but he finally held up a hand. “I’m… I’m all right,” he said. “How did you stay… jeez.”

“I’m the Warmonger. I ain’t gonna let some artillery take me down. C’mon.” They leaped from building to building, Jaguar’s favorite way to cover ground, until Warmonger’s energy ran low. Having lost Miss Siles at last, they climbed down and went their ways.

“Jeez, boss!” Nick gasped, looking at the bruise covering half of Ward’s face. “You okay?”

“Nothing I couldn’t handle.” Or would like to handle, his lizard brain chittered. “Where’s the Jack?”

Nick slid him a glass and a bottle, and Ward poured a generous helping of whisky. That was too close, he thought. A rookie, and she almost took me out. We’re gonna be hurtin’ in a year, if we can’t come up with a counter. He tried to think, but the damned lizard brain kept going on about those… humongous…

“Hey boss,” Nick sipped at a mug of beer he’d poured for himself. Employees got free beer, off the clock. It kept them loyal. “You up to hear a pitch?”

Ward downed his glass, and poured another. “Fire away.”

“I was thinkin’. Maybe once a month, maybe the Saturday before a full moon, we could have a Ladies Fight Night. Get the baddest babes in town goin’ at it. I think it would pack the place.”

“Hmmm.” Ward usually dismissed suggestions right away, then came up with a justification, but this one… ah. “We could try it, maybe next month. Give us a little time to, you know, put the word out.” He discussed details with his employee with half his brain. The other half thought, and maybe I can recruit some of the winners. I bet Miss Siles don’t have that effect on other women. Meanwhile, the lizard brain kept up the running commentary. It would take a long time to shut it up, nearly as long as it took for the bruise to fade.

If you liked this story, there’s more of the Skyscraper City universe, including the supervillain Pulse and the arrival of Miss Siles on the scene. Or if you like superhero stories, but aren’t thrilled with mine, you can always give Tony Noland’s novel Verbosity’s Vengeance a shot!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013 3 comments

The Drumbeat of Life

Sometimes, instead of writing wibbles, you just need to put on your ear protection, pick up the sticks, and have at it:

A lot of stuff has happened this month, and somehow I managed to not blog about it. Mason’s 4th birthday was earlier this month, a day that kicked off our vacation at the retreat near Helen. This time, The Boy came, new girlfriend in tow. She and Mason hit it off pretty well, and her family has a racing team. (Mason approves.) One of the highlights: The Boy wanted to go tubing, so we piled in the van. Well before we got to Helen, Mason was asleep. “You guys can go,” I said. “Just call me when you’re done.” Then the tubing places were closed. Oh well, it never really got hot this summer, so that water was pretty chilly. Mason ran his hand in it the next day, and was glad he didn’t try to go tubing.

The proper tool needs
to be the proper size.
Then there was the steps project. The manor came with this little brick-lined walkway going from the driveway into the back yard. It has eroded a little, and Mason has always had trouble taking that big step down. Wife has been poking me about building some steps there, and I tackled it. First, we dug out the step-down, which was easier than usual because it has been so rainy this summer (making the ground nice and soft). We have a shovel that’s a perfect size for Mason, so of course he got into the act. And he actually helped. He scooped up loose dirt and tossed it into the wheelbarrow.

I poured a concrete footing, which involved horking 80lb bags of concrete down to the worksite. My brilliant idea was to lay a board across where I wanted it to stop, dump the dry concrete in, and add water. It worked, but it took a lot more water than I’d expected. But after a lot of raking and stirring and hosing, I got all the stuff wet, then smoothed it out. Then, I stacked the concrete blocks I was using for steps in the wet concrete, using more to glue the layers together.

As I was working on the last of it, my left shoulder decided it had had far more than enough, and went on strike. I worked through it, carrying the last bag with one arm—I was like 90% done, and I couldn’t walk away being that close to finishing (defined as being able to walk up and down ugly steps, the esthetics can wait until I’m better). It slowly improved, but I went to the doctor just to make sure I didn’t have a torn rotator cuff or something equally bad. She opined that it’s a tendon, and gave me a round of steroids. In some ways, it’s worse now because it’s better—I can use it for light duty, and it wants to instinctively reach for things that I’d usually use my left hand for, so at bedtime it’s aching quite a bit. I might end up going in for physical therapy… depends on what the doc says when I go in for my usual 6-month checkup today [UPDATE: yes, physical therapy].

Oh, and Mason has started pre-school. He’s in the 4yo class, despite still being 3 when he actually started. The teacher listened to him talk and what he talked about, and said “he belongs with the 4 year olds.” So he’s going to have some regular interaction with a lot of other kids, for the first time in like ever. He should get to really like it in a few weeks. Right now, he’s in a contrary phase, which for the in-laws is constant. I hope it’s just a phase with him.

Monday, September 23, 2013 5 comments

The Lost Years: Season 1, Ep. 7

Previous: Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3 | Episode 4 | Episode 5 | Episode 6

Credit: Roy Lathwell

It was nearly High Summer, but the wind felt cold through Camac’s empty streets. Harbor Street, the thoroughfare that led to the Western Road, was strewn with litter and the occasional corpse. Many of the latter showed broken bones, and some bore marks of scavengers at work. Jira sent soldiers into dwellings to find blankets and linens to wrap the corpses; some of them came out shaken at the evidence of what had happened indoors.

“Do you think we’ll find anyone alive here, let alone an heir?” Phylok asked Anlayt. The two of them were the vanguard of the march.

“It is possible,” Anlayt ventured. “Any heir to the throne may well be waiting for us in the palace. Or what is left of it. If not, I think any survivors might retire to one of the villas outside the city. There may be crops to harvest, and the granaries were along the Western Road.” He turned to Jira, who had Lifted a corpse to make it easier for two soldiers to wrap. “Protector, how do you intend to put these—these citizens to their final rest? We do not have time to dig graves, and firewood is scarce.”

“We attended to many more than these in the Northern Reach,” said Jira. “Where mundane means are insufficient, magic will serve.”

The iron gates that once protected the Inner City were thrown down, and great holes riddled the walls. “Look,” said Jira, “the rubble is outside.” She pointed to the nearest hole.

“So the walls were breached from inside,” said Phylok, watching as much as he could. “But what did that?”

Jira gasped at a sudden mental image. She saw First Protector Nisodarun, screaming in pain, or anger, or both. He called Earth magic, that had been his primary element, sending it against the walls to tear them open.

“Protector?” one of the honor guard inquired.

“Magic.” Jira forced herself into the present and gave the soldier a reassuring look. “A vision, of sorts. A sorcerer, suffering from The Madness, could have done this. Perhaps the First Protector himself.”

“You have said often that the First Protector fell to The Madness,” said Anlayt. “How do you know this?”

Jira glared at the caption. “I received a message via falcon: The capital is in chaos. Over half the folk have gone mad, all at once, and they are destroying everything. The First Protector is one of them. May the Creator and the lesser gods preserve the empire. A senior apprentice sent it. The local Conclave here did what they could to keep order, but one may as well hold back the tide with a shovel and pail. Shortly after the falcon arrived, the chaos came to the Northern Reach as well.”

“You used these falcons to communicate with Protector Kontir, in Stolevan?”

“No. Protector Kontir has one of the Eyes of Byula. Another was here in Camac, at the Imperial Keep, in the keeping of the First Protector. Three were given to the Protectors in the East, so we could react quickly in case of rebellion. The sixth was in the South Sea Islands. The North was both near to the capital, and loyal in any case. The Protectors stationed in the Land of the Dawn Greeters and the Spine watched over peaceful territory, as well.”

“That tells us little,” said Anlayt.

“I am now coming to the point, Captain,” Jira growled. “The Eyes of Byula lend its holders many powers of an Oracle, including the ability to scry over any distance and to communicate with one who holds another Eye. It also allows a holder to speak to the mind of any other sorcerer, over any distance, which can also be done when two strong Talents share an emotional bond. But suffice to say, Kontir has kept me apprised of events in the south. I have not been able to tell him that we intend to visit the south, nor why, but he will find out soon enough.”

“The Library,” said Phylok, putting a welcome end to the discussion.

The Imperial Library was a complex of several grand buildings, all much the worse for wear after The Madness. Jira grimaced at the remains of books, old and new, strewn about the grounds. Nothing outside, after initial abuse and a winter of neglect, was worth salvaging.

“The most important works were kept in the basement of the main building,” she told them. “I hope most of them remain intact. In any case, we should see.”

To their surprise, the entrance to the main building was blocked. “If I didn’t know better,” said Phylok, looking over the huge stones and smaller rubble choking the portico, “I’d say that was deliberate.”

“I hope you’re right,” said Jira, brightening for the first time. “That means someone thought there was something worth preserving inside.”

“And I presume you can clear the way?” Anlayt asked.

“Of course.” Jira waved the others back. Performing magic before folk always involved unnecessary drama, and long habit reigned. She raised her arms, and called a light wind to toss her hair, then invoked the Earth magic actually needed to do the work. The rubble fell away, the great stones heaved. More stones fell to fill the gap, but Jira’s Earth magic moved those as well. In seconds, the entrance was open.

“Forward, my strikes—hoy!” Anlayt began, then recoiled. “Archers!”



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