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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!”


Pigments of My Imagination Blog Tour

All aboard!

When I first ran across Angela Kulig a few years ago, she had posted an excerpt to her novel in progress on her blog. A girl starting art school stumbles across a boy painting swans in a pond. But the water in his painting ripples, and the swans swim and fly. I was captivated by this sample, and figured (given a sufficient amount of justice) Pigments of My Imagination would be a hit.

Time went by. Angela got picked up by Red Iris, rewrote Pigments of My Imagination to suit the darker tone of their titles, split with the publisher, rewrote it back to something closer to the original. She founded a co-op, I was invited to join, and most of the other members fell away, leaving the two of us having each others’ backs. As she puts it, I make the insides look good (editing, formatting), she makes the outsides look good (cover art, marketing). We spend a lot of time IM’ing each other.

But Pigments of My Imagination was still “coming.” It went through yet another rewrite. I’d poke her about it every once in a while. Be careful what you ask for… she got me to edit and format it. I wasn’t the only one waiting for the finished product, and never expected that I would be a major part of it getting finished.

But it’s done. It’s out.

And it delivers. And I get to be the first stop on the blog tour!

Here’s the synopsis:

From the moment Lucia steps into Bayside Art Academy, she is fed a steady stream of lies, but it’s not until she meets William that she begins to question the people she trusts. Unraveling fact from fabrication seems impossible until Lucia finds her first painting, and discovers the dead do not lie—at least not to her.

A dozen lifetimes ago, Lucia started a war. Not a war with armies or guns, but a bloody war nonetheless. The path leading Lucia to the truth is hidden within lovely art that spans the ages. In this life, however, Lucia doesn’t know where to look. Lost, she turns to the one thing she knows with certainty—she is in love with Leo, and has been before.

Of the Green Envy Press titles, this is the first to have both eBook and paperback editions! To celebrate, Angela has a Goodreads giveaway of two paperback editions. Go forth and enter!

There’s also a Rafflecopter—win a Kindle Fire and other cool stuff:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

If you want a better shot at winning the raffle, follow Angela so you can get to the next stop on the tour:
And if you can’t wait, you can grab an eBook (or paperback!) at Amazon, B&N, or Kobo.

Friday, September 20, 2013 10 comments

Warmonger's Way (1/2) (#FridayFlash)

If it was under 1200 words, I’d just post the whole thing. But this one runs over 1400 words, and there's a convenient break right at the halfway point…

Warmonger’s Way

“General” Lee Ward dabbed a little iodine on a cut over the customer’s left eye. The customer flinched and hissed, and released a little anger, a final taste from the weekly feast.

“God, it reeks in here,” the customer said. He was right; the little closet where Ward gave first aid held the commingled funk that two dozen brawlers had left behind. Ward, the secret identity of the supervillain Warmonger, believed in taking care of business. Especially when the business took good care of him.

“Yeah, I know,” said Ward. “Hold still. If you want one more, there’s still five minutes to last call.” The customer huffed, but tried not to move, and Ward pinched the cut closed with one hand and slipped a butterfly bandage across it with the other. Just another night at Warmonger’s Tavern.

“Last beer’s on the house,” he told the brawler as they emerged into the bar. “You want a shooter or a shot, that’s your dime.” The customer nodded, gave him a small lopsided smile, and picked up a bar stool to sit on. It hung together, which was good.

“That was the last one, boss,” Nick told him, sliding a mug to Ward and another to the customer. “Quite a night, huh?”

“Always is, on Saturday night.” Ward glanced across the last few customers and toward the small ring off to the side. Saturday was Fight Night. Most of the fights were drawn from a hat, but there was always room on the card for a grudge match. Patrons placed bets on the outcome, and often got angry when their guy lost. Often, as it did tonight, that anger could fuel a full-scale brawl. Warmonger fed on anger, giving him superhuman strength. He usually waded into the brawl himself, both to blow off excess energy and to break it up. Ambulance companies had learned to keep a unit nearby on Saturdays for the worst injuries; Warmonger himself patched up the others and kept a van to carry those needing more than first aid to the nearest doc-in-a-box.

“Last call!” Ward bellowed. “Taps shut off in three minutes, closing in thirty! Tell the barkeep if you need a cab!” The last dozen patrons, seated at wobbly tables or standing along the gut-high shelf around the wall, either nodded or ambled up to the bar. Two of the employees were fixing broken tables; Ward himself had designed a cheap breakaway system out of PVC plumbing parts that saved tons of money on nights like this.

“Nick, go ahead and close the place down,” said Ward. “I need a little air.” Nick nodded—good employee, that one, he never asked questions—and Ward slipped into the back room. He changed quickly, all black from balaclava to boots, and Warmonger stepped into the alley.

“You ready?” he asked the air.

Jaguar dropped down, a safe distance away. “Ready.”

Warmonger said nothing, but jogged away. Jaguar followed, fast and silent.

Bea’s Jewelry was well-lit, even the sidewalks outside were bright. They had reconnoitered the two blocks surrounding—nobody on standby, cops or heroes—and Pulse had located the alarm points a week ago.

Warmonger focused. Instead of breaking a window and setting off all the alarms for sure, he punched a hole in the wall. The force of that blow used a lot of stored energy, but he had plenty in reserve. He widened the hole, enough for Jaguar and him to slip inside. They wanted the back room; Bea’s specialized in custom work, and raw materials were much harder to trace. They filled several small bags with gold and rocks, a few hundred grand each if they fenced it a little at a time, and slipped outside—

“Hello boys,” an alluring voice said behind them. “Are you buying me a ring?”


Monday, September 16, 2013 4 comments

The Lost Years: Season 1, Ep. 6

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

Credit: Roy Lathwell
“Protector,” the runner stood panting at the door to Jira’s chambers. “The regular dispatch from Isenbund has been spotted, escorted by two fastboats.”

“Thank you, runner,” said Jira. “You are dismissed. Take a meal and rest in the guest chambers. You are familiar with the locations?”

“Indeed, Protector.” The runner saluted. “I presume you have no further message?”

“Oh. I do. Take this message to Hundred Perin, at the garrison: Captain Phylok is landing shortly. Please provide him with an honor guard. Have the runner at the garrison accompany the escort, and inform me when Phylok is ready to receive visitors. That is all. When you have spoken to Perin, you are on leave the rest of the day and all of tomorrow.”

“By your command, Protector.” The runner saluted and headed down the hallway.

“Captain? I trust your journey was uneventful?”

“Indeed, Protector.” Phylok saluted, then smiled. “Anlayt’s suggestion, to search Camac for an heir, was most interesting. I wonder what his ulterior motive is.”

“I believe it a gamble on his part,” said Jira. “If we can find a surviving, legitimate heir to the Pearl Throne, I expect that he will try to exert undue influence as an advisor.”

“That makes sense. I presume we depart for Ak’koyr in the morning?”

“As soon as feasible. I had left orders for Hundred Perin to dispatch the falcon when you arrived, so Anlayt will be expecting us.”

About a week later, one Protector and two Captains—the only surviving parts of a once-vast government apparatus—stood on the prow of the caravel Joy Beneath the Northern Stars, anchored in Camac harbor. Jira felt heartsore at the destruction of the beautiful capital, a place she had visited often, but resolved to show none of it to Anlayt.

Phylok, through lack of either pride or desire, was not so reticent. His voice caught. “This—this. You can hear of something, but to see it with your own eyes…” He turned away.

“This is bad,” said Anlayt, more subdued than Jira expected. “It is worse when you stand in the midst of it. I shed tears of my own at the things I saw.”

“Is there a single soul among the living here?” Jira sounded skeptical. “Can a sane one live among this rubble, knowing what a glorious city this was not two years ago?”

Anlayt shrugged. “I saw nobody among the living, when I made my survey at winter’s end. Unless you count the last few starveling mad wretches as ‘living.’ No, I did not order them slain, although that would have been a mercy. If one had been Her Sublime Majesty, or an heir…” he shuddered.

“The Imperial Library?” Jira asked. “I presume it too is rubble?”

“The entire Inner City, as all of Camac, was a ruin,” Anlayt sighed.

“But if we can reach the Inner City, we should search the Library,” Jira insisted. “Perhaps there is something worth preserving.”

The Great Pier was a solid single stone, said to have been laid in Camac’s harbor by the legendary Thurun himself. Some said that Thurun was a Maker, and Made the pier in place rather than transporting it from some other location. Jira wondered if the painting in the Imperial Keep, showing Thurun lowering the huge stone into the harbor, was still intact. She had always made a point of viewing the painting when she had visited the First Protector. Another stop on the tour, she thought.

But whether the painting survived or not, the pier itself was impervious to such trifles as the destruction of an empire. The caravel anchored in the harbor, and the landing party boarded two fastboats. They rowed to the Great Pier and made fast. One of the more agile sailors scrambled up the rough wall of the pier, then fastened a rope ladder up top for the rest of the party. “Have a care,” she called. “There are bodies on the pier.” She cocked a crossbow and kept vigil as the others joined her on the pier.

Jira reached out with her magic as Anlayt and Phylok set the marching order. She allowed the traditional Bronze Circle to form around her, protecting the mage, but she sensed no danger on the pier. Nor do I expect much in the city proper, she thought, beyond falling rubble. Four strikes coming ashore, and the greatest danger was likely to be overwhelming grief.

“On the way back,” Jira spoke as they passed the first of several corpses, long dead, “we shall wrap and mourn these. No sense in letting their shades add to the rubble.”

“Protector, we could spend a year or more, doing nothing but that,” Anlayt protested. “Besides, is that truly necessary? The souls in question departed the mad folk right away, no?”

“How do you know that?” Anlayt shook his head, and Jira continued. “A ruin it may be, but this is Camac. We will follow her laws. We need not scour the city, but those we find we shall treat with the respect demanded by law.”

“Look around you,” said Anlayt. “This is Camac. Are the laws not also in shambles?”

“If that is so,” Jira replied, “then why are we searching for an heir to Her Sublime Majesty?”

Anlayt scowled, but many soldiers nodded and a few grunted agreement. Phylok gave the “forward” whistle, and the expedition marched across the pier and into the ruined capital.


Thursday, September 12, 2013 11 comments

How to Kill an Elder God (#FridayFlash)

Image source: openclipart.org
“How did you find me?” the elderly priest asked.

The youths shrugged. “Google.”

“And you modern youths, with your modern technology, think you discovered and awoke Tilgoth, am I correct?” They nodded. “Then how did you escape? I know all acolytes in my order, especially the ones skilled enough to bind Tilgoth, and you three certainly are not among them.”

“We don’t know!” another offered. “We were running like hell, with that thing coming up on us yelling FEED ME, and I threw down my backpack so I could run faster! Then it stopped and made all these weird-ass noises, like it was gagging on something, and we just kept running.”

The priest frowned in thought. “What was in there?”

“Spare batteries for my flashlight. A sandwich and a Coke. Some rope.” The kid smirked. “Maybe he got a shower when he opened the Coke. I know it was really shook up.”

“A sandwich.” The priest stared into the distance, long enough for the boys to start fidgeting. “Could it be that simple? Boy, tell me about the sandwich.”

“My name’s Jeff. It was just baloney and Velveeta, with a little mayo.”

“Jeff. You and your friends may take a seat. I must consult some of our most ancient manuscripts. I will have an acolyte bring you meat and drink.”

It took the priest two long hours to find the manuscript he wanted, his aging eyes driving him to concede to the vulgarity of spectacles and a battery-powered flashlight. When he returned to the reception chamber, he found the acolyte glaring askance at the three boys. The wine had made them merry indeed.

He dismissed the acolyte, then turned to the boys. “You three are uncultured, ignorant… and extremely lucky,” he said. “The key to Tilgoth’s destruction has been in our possession for over six thousand years, but you have uncovered it and placed it in our hands this day.” To his amused surprise, the boys stopped snickering and paid attention. “Let me read this passage to you.”

“Sure.” “No prob.” The third yawned, but nodded.

“Hear what was written: In the last days of the land that was called Bochim, where dwelt the abomination Tilgoth, the priest-king Hoat’goth ascended to the throne. In those days, a curse spread across the land, blinding many cattle. So many were blinded, indeed, that the yearly sacrifice to Tilgoth demanded all the remaining breeding stock.

“And so Hoat’goth consulted the priests beneath him, who said ‘demand from the land of Gograh a tribute sufficient for the sacrifice, and if they will not give the tribute, arise and conquer them.’ But these words were not pleasing unto Hoat’goth, and he thought to himself, ‘If Tilgoth could not preserve sufficient cattle, may he share our suffering.’ Seeing that Hoat’goth had determined to do this thing, and would suffer no objection, the priests shut their mouths and said nothing. But one priest raised his voice, saying, ‘do this not, for it will bring down destruction upon us all.’ Then he fled, before Hoat’goth could order him slain.

“Thus, on the day of the sacrifice, Hoat’goth gathered blinded cattle in sufficient number for the sacrifice, and slew them before Tilgoth on the altar. But when Tilgoth ate the impure sacrifice, he vomited upon Hoat’goth, and the vomit dissolved him. Such was the illness brought upon Tilgoth by the blinded cattle, that he rose and vomited across all the land.

“Now when the king of Gograh heard of trouble in Bochim, he arose to plunder what he could. But when he came to Bochim, he found only death and ruin. Only the priest who had spoken true, and fled the wrath of Hoat’goth, remained. He sat upon a stone and told the king of Gograh, ‘The god Tilgoth has cursed this land for three generations, and withdrawn to sleep in the uttermost west. Now slay me, for my purpose is complete. When your descendants see fire in the sky, south to north, then the curse is lifted and they may claim this land as their own.’” He looked at the boys. “Our order followed civilization ever westward, until we found Tilgoth.”

“Whoa,” said Jeff, “a blind cow made him sick? He must have totally puked on a baloney sandwich, then!”

“Oh, I totally know what’ll kill that thing, then!” Jamal piped up. “I’ll tell, but you gotta take us with you.”

“Indeed.” The priest met their grins with a small smile. “It was you who awakened Tilgoth, so it is only fitting that you help with its final destruction.”

“Bring forth the sacrifice,” the priest whispered, and Jamal dug the gallon zip-lock bag out of his backpack. “Now, carefully, boys. Be ready to run, as you did before.”

“You got it,” Jeff replied. They crept forward to the altar, where they had ignorantly sat to take a breather.

“Lay the sacrifice on the altar,” the priest said, “then back away quickly.”

Jamal nodded, opened the bag, and tipped the misshapen ball onto the altar.

As before, Tilgoth awoke quickly, evidenced by the rumbling and hissing they both heard and felt. The priest shouted something in an unknown language, then hustled away to join the boys at what they hoped was a safe distance.

A roar became a retching noise, then a sound that none of them could ever describe. Other sounds, screeching, pounding, vomiting, gasping, followed them up the cave as they ran.

“What was that, anyway?” the priest asked.

“The ultimate weapon for killing a god,” said Jamal. “Spam, rolled in Monsanto genetically-modified grain, all covered in high-fructose corn syrup. My uncle says that would kill just about anything that wasn’t born in Texas.”

The priest chuckled. “The purpose of my order has been fulfilled, and I will soon send the acolytes home. Or perhaps we could become your acolytes. Will you teach us the ways of Google, that we may yet serve?”

Wednesday, September 11, 2013 6 comments

Writing Wibbles

It’s vacation week, and the writing is easy. Or has been, so far. The Boy did his share, taking care of Mason, and I have to walk over to the clubhouse to get online. So I have fewer distractions. I’ve had plenty of other kinds of distractions, some fun, some painful, over the last week or two. More about that in another post.

Most of my writing energies have been expended in two places through much of the last couple weeks: working on The Lost Years and helping +Angela Kulig (my co-op partner) get her magnum opus Pigments of My Imagination (POMI) ready to go. I’m making pretty good headway on both; I’m working on Episode 9 of The Lost Years and we’ve got ARCs of POMI out to friendly faces. The wrinkle for the latter is that Angela is trying to get a paperback out alongside the eBooks. I’m not quite ready with the “automated extract eBook to typesetter” script, but it shouldn’t take too long. Since this is going to be a limited first edition, I just extracted the HTML from the EPUB and brought it into LibreOffice. Set up a few styles, with the fonts the way we want them, and (like the eBooks) we just need to include some boilerplate.

I’m still going through The Sorcerer’s Daughter, and hope to have it done very soon. I need to get it to the editor, etc., soon after. We’re talking about bundling the first three Accidental Sorcerers books into a single paperback, once the eBooks are out.

If I ever get to write fiction for a living, I’ll try not to write on vacation…

Monday, September 09, 2013 4 comments

The Lost Years: Season 1, Ep. 5

Don’t worry about me running out of steam… I’m working on Episode 9 now. I think Episode 10 will conclude the first season, but it might run a little farther. Just depends.

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

Credit: Roy Lathwell
“I have often thought Captain Anlayt a pompous fool,” said Jira, “but this?” She shook the dispatch, as if trying to jar some sense into it. “Now I wonder if he has contracted a slightly milder form of The Madness.”

“Until recently,” Perin replied, “I did not travel in the circles of Captains and Protectors. But as a Striker, I once overheard Captain Ruslem speak of him. His description of Captain Anlayt was, shall we say, not flattering.”

“Perhaps I should consult our codes and laws. There must be some good reason to remove him from office.”

“If Ak’koyr will allow it. Would you risk a civil war between two of Camac’s three remnants?”

“Four, if you count the southern coast.” Jira grimaced. “But they are so far removed, that there may as well be only three.”

“I find it interesting, that the good Captain would not spare so much as a ketch for carrying regular dispatches,” said Perin, “but he is willing to raise a small fleet to make war on the East.”

“Not only a fool, but a bloody-minded fool.” Jira thought of their visit, and of Anlayt’s off-hand admission; he had ordered Koyr’s mad slain, their corpses thrown into the harbor. Koyr will be haunted for centuries for that injustice, she thought. Perhaps eternally. Camac’s laws demanded that even the corpses of enemy soldiers be treated with respect, and Jira had followed those laws through the long year of rampaging mad folk as much as possible. She pushed aside the indignities of burial pits and mass cremations, and focused on the positive. They had wrapped each corpse, had sung names where they were known, and mourned each death. And they had done so once again, for forty-odd Eastern men who died in a needless raid. Perhaps it would be enough. If the Northern Reach stayed free of unhappy shades, if they could cling to some final shreds of civilized conduct…

• • •

Later, in her chambers, Jira began a reply.
Captain Anlayt, of Ak’koyr:

I have received your dispatch. I am truly glad to hear that you were able to deal with the raiders, especially with a day’s warning. The names of your four fallen soldiers were honored here in the Northern Reach, as is proper. But sinking five ships, with all 150 on board, seems excessive. Some of them may have become willing forced laborers in exchange for food, as are the eight Eastern raiders we captured here, not to mention the possibility for further intelligence.

Our Eastern captives tell us of food shortages, and of inequalities of distribution, at least in Ryddast and other nearby former provinces. The old provincial governors, or the “lords” who have replaced them, will be glad to send hordes of half-starved men to their deaths. They will be twice glad if it is enough to repel your force with heavy losses on both sides. Perhaps you yourself should offer their lords a duel to the death, winner take all.

There has been enough death in the last year. If you have the resources to mount a “punitive expedition to the East,” you certainly have the resources to keep the Royal Road open, at least between Koyr and this garrison. The cohort remaining here, and the folk, are willing to do their part. Keeping order and maintaining trade routes are the primary duties of Protectors and Captains in a general crisis. You have succeeded in the first part. We might debate methods, but in the end you have kept order and preserved a valuable resource.

Now for the second part. Captain Phylok tells me that the spring fishing near Isenbund has been excellent so far, and they are sending us much of their surplus of pickled glacierfish. We are sending them casks of wine in turn; a fairly recent vintage, but good table wine by all counts. There is plenty of both wine and fish, and both we and Isenbund would be glad to trade for salted beef and preserved orchard fruit.

Finally, there is the matter of the southern coast. Protector Kontir tells me that several cities are in reasonable order, and in no need of aid. This is fortunate, because we must assume that the provisioning stops, including Gran Isle and Westmark, are no longer functioning. Neither the cities under Kontir nor we can provide timely aid to the other. Therefore, I am of a mind to sever our ties, in as friendly a manner as possible, and allow them to determine their own fate. Have you any advice in this matter?

Signed, Protector Jira, Acting Governor, Northern and Gulf Provinces
Perin read the draft, and laughed at Jira’s strikethrough. “I note that you did not mention the aid packet we plan to send to Ryddast,” he said.

“If only there was a way to see that it gets to the folk, instead of their ‘lord’ or whatever he wants to call himself,” Jira grumbled.

“Perhaps there is a way. You know of the sea caves?”

Jira smiled. “Ahh. You suggest we land at the sea caves, and transport the aid packet overland to Ryddast’s border?”


“I promoted you for good reason, Perin. Who are you assigning to the mission?”

“Mostly former Easterners. Striker Nars, of course. He was born in Pyrlast, not Ryddast, but an Easterner leading the way will perhaps meet a… a less-unfriendly reception. They will take one of the prisoners, as a guide, so that our aid reaches those who need it.”

“Good thinking. But if he escapes?”

“Then our soldiers will leave the aid package where the Eastern folk will find it, and retreat with all haste.” Perin looked at her. “Protector, do you think he would try to escape? They all seem content with their lot.”

“So close to home? He might forget.”

“They use the term wol’it much.”

Jira raised an eyebrow. “Woldt? I know a little Eastern, but not that word.”

Wol’it. Striker Nars says it describes a sense that anything has to be better than the present circumstance.” Perin chuckled. “It was used ironically, before, to mock one who was emotionally overwrought, but now? They use it in a literal sense. Better to be a well-fed slave than starving and supposedly free, they say.”

“Perin…” Jira grinned. “It occurs to me that we can do more—much more—than dropping a single aid packet. Send food, yes, but also send directions to follow the Eastrim Mountain Road to the plains. Anlayt said the cattle still roam free. They can hunt or herd, as they see fit.”

“Will Anlayt approve?”

“Anlayt is too focused on his own little fiefdom. If any settlers avoid the coast, he will never know.”


Monday, September 02, 2013 7 comments

The Lost Years: Season 1, Ep. 4

Previous: Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3

Credit: Roy Lathwell
Jira and Perin watched as the last fastboat, riding low in the water with its load of surviving raiders, rowed slowly away. Around them, on the breakwater and the harbor, the soldiers quietly performed their post-skirmish duties: securing the eight raiders who came ashore to surrender; towing the last floating fastboat into the harbor; and—worst of all—bringing in floating bodies and laying out the half-dozen of their own who fell to lightning or arrows.

“They look pale,” Jira whispered to Perin. “None of them have ever seen battle?”

“The hazards of a long peacetime,” Perin replied. “Unless you would call attempting to subdue a pack of the mad a battle. They have done much of that in the last year.”

Jira grimaced. “Our prisoners look half-starved,” she said. “If a cohort fights with its stomach, then it’s no wonder we gained the upper hand so quickly.”

“We did have the advantages of preparation, as well as superior arms and magic,” Perin reminded her. “And, of course, our force is well-fed. Although I suspect that many will go hungry tonight, by choice.”

“Hundred.” A runner joined them on the breakwater. “I was told to report to you, as you had a message to be carried.”

“Indeed,” said Perin. “Write this out formally. To Captain Anlayt, of Ak’koyr: We were set upon by four fastboats from the East. The cohort here repelled them successfully, sinking two and capturing a third, with light losses. However, the watchers spotted four more fastboats moving south toward the Straits. They will have likely reached you before this message—”

“Hundred,” said Jira, “I have a captive falcon. Let us send the message that way, to give Ak’koyr time to prepare.”

“In that case, we have the luxury of time. Runner, you are dismissed for now. Let us question the captives. Perhaps they will tell us what their fellows intend.”

• • •

The captives were indeed Eastern, by their looks and refusal to speak the language of Camac. They marched silently, hands bound behind them and legs roped together, across the breakwater and into the small detention area. It most recently had housed the least violent of the mad, until all finally succumbed to whatever it was that The Madness did to them.

Perin summoned Striker Nars, who himself was Eastern, to speak to the prisoners. He gave other orders, which lightened the hearts of the soldiers receiving them. “They’ll talk, one way or the other,” he told Protector Jira with a smirk.

Striker Nars looked at the eight raiders, then put his right arm across his chest and lowered his head in the traditional Eastern salute. One of the captives began speaking rapidly, but Nars cut him off. “I am not your brother!” he hissed in the Eastern tongue. “You attacked us with no provocation, and your mage killed several soldiers under my command!”

“Apologies, sir—” one of the raiders began, speaking in Camac’s language, then stopped. His fellows glared, but said nothing.

“Good,” said Nars. “We have established that you do speak the language of our nation—your former nation, as I understand it.” Two soldiers rolled a cart, covered with a large cloth, up to the cell. They saluted and departed. “Do you know what this is?” he asked them.

“Torture us all you will, barbarians,” another Easterner snarled. “We will die proudly, as soldiers of Ryddast.”

“I hope there is no need for that,” Nars said mildly. He whipped the cloth off the cart with a flourish, incidentally wafting the scent of roasted meat and fresh bread their way. He smiled, watching the wide-eyed prisoners trying not to lick their lips. “Answer a few questions, and then we’ll roll this cart in there. All of you look like you could use a decent meal. So tell me, what was your purpose?”

The Easterners looked at each other. “Food,” one said.

“After you answer my questions.”

“Eh? No, that’s why we came. The madmen. They destroyed much of our harvest last fall. Your Captain, the one who made his tour before the equinox, he and his crew looked well-fed.”

“Why not ask for aid, instead of throwing aside your allegiance?” Jira asked. “It was ever Camac’s tradition to see to the needs of our folk. Were we all that is left of Camac, we could have done at least a little.”

“Our lord is fond of asking, Why swear allegiance to a city of rubble?

“And…” another looked at his comrades, scowled, then continued. “If we die, we die. That many less mouths to feed at home. Those who have the lord’s favor have what they need. Others…” he shrugged. Two of the others nodded.

“What of the other fastboats?” Perin prompted. “Where are they going?”

“Koyr. Their under-hill granaries should be intact. They will capture a larger ship and bring home what they can carry.”

Perin and Jira looked at each other for a moment, but Perin continued the questioning. “And the your fastboat, the one that retreated?”

“They will not return home, if that is your hope,” said one.

“As heavy-laden as they are, if they row hard, they could catch up with the others,” said another. “Are you finished with your questions?” This one stared pointedly at the food cart.

“One more question,” said Jira. “Why is your force all men?”

“It was always the tradition in the East to nurture and protect our women from harm,” one Easterner said piously. “Your crown has forced us to consider women little different from men, over the years, but we have regained more than our independence. We have regained our culture.”

A flock of harsh rejoinders came to mind, but Jira suppressed them. Waste not your words on those who will not hear, the saying went.

Perin nodded, and Nars opened the cell long enough to roll the cart in. The eight Easterners wasted no time setting to. “A fine last meal,” said one around a mouthful of meat.

“I would rather not see anyone executed, when so few are left,” said Jira. “You shall become laborers. Your first task, after you have eaten, is to name and lament your fallen comrades.” And you will be nurtured and protected yourselves, she thought sourly. And, like Eastern women, little more than property in time.



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