Storm Raiders – Snippet #4

This is the fourth and final snippet from STORM RAIDERS. If you haven’t read the other installments, start at the beginning here. Enough preamble. Let’s get to the story!

Abbey carried another armload of helmets to the cart at the front of the shop. All of them were crafted in the popular style with the bit of metal that extended down over the nose. Abbey never liked that style. It seemed to her the metal would obstruct vision on the battlefield, and if you couldn’t see in a battle, what good were you? The Storm Captains kept ordering them, though, so maybe things played out differently in battles than she imagined.

Not that she’d ever find out. No Storm Captain would ever hire her, no matter her skill with a sword. It wasn’t that she was a woman; in Holdgate, men and women alike were expected to be trained in the ways of war. But she was an Arcadian, an outsider from the rich, soft south. That disqualified her from employment on a ship.

She put the helmets into the cart and then walked back to the rear of the shop where Benjamin was hammering a piece of iron into shape, humming a happy tune as he worked.

He’d been in a pleasant mood since her sword fight with Olaf an hour earlier. They had both been. Abbey knew there was nothing that put Benjamin in a good mood like watching her do what she did best.

Benjamin set down his hammer and inspected the iron. He glanced at the forge, then, instead of walking over to it, he raised his right hand. His eyes turned black, and a fireball the size of an apple appeared, floating a few inches above his hand. He held the fireball to the iron.

“You know, if you worked as hard at learning my other lessons as you do at the sword, you’d be quite the magician by now.”

Abbey sighed. This again. He was always trying to get her to practice his form of magic. “If it comes to a fight, I prefer a sword.”

It wasn’t that she couldn’t do any magic. She could create a fireball, though she couldn’t control it with the finesse her father was demonstrating now. She could move objects with her magic. She could even make her sword glow with a terrifying green flame if she really concentrated. But she didn’t enjoy the way it made her feel. It drained her somehow.

But that wasn’t the primary reason she didn’t focus on developing her magic skills.

She was enough of an outsider already. Her father’s form of physical magic was so different than the storm magic used here in Holdgate. The last thing she wanted was another thing to make her different.

She respected her father’s skill. He’d trained under some of the best magicians in the world at the Academy in Arcadia, and the things he could do left her in awe, even after growing up with him. But admiration was quite different than the dedication it would take to master those skills herself.

Benjamin held the fireball in his left hand and picked up the hammer with his right. As the fire heated the iron, he began working it with the hammer. He spoke over the clang of the metal. “Swordplay and magic aren’t that different.”

Abbey gathered another armload of helmets and headed toward the cart. “Really? You could have fooled me. One of those things lets me beat up smug bullies, and the other turns my eyeballs black.”

“They both require focus. They both channel your anger into physical force.” He set the hammer down and dispelled the fireball. “In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a bit of magic behind some of those sword strikes at the end of the fight.”

She paused. “Hang on, are you accusing me of cheating?”

“Not at all. When you know how to use magic, sometimes it comes out in unexpected ways. It was the same with your mother. She didn’t have any formal training, just a few tricks her uncle showed her, yet her magic manifested itself when she didn’t mean for it to happen.”

Abbey felt her cheeks growing hot. “Olaf has the skill of a boar. If you’re saying I couldn’t beat that idiot without magic—”

“I’m not. I’m just saying that he’s much stronger than you, and you were batting his sword away like he was a child at the end there.” He gave her a serious look. “Abbey, magic is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s part of you, same as your skill with a sword. If a bit of it comes out in a fight, that’s not cheating. It’s using every tool you have to win.”

She started toward the cart again. “I still say I didn’t use magic. I could have beaten Olaf with one hand, let alone without magic.

“Fine,” her father said with a smile. “What do I know? I’m just a graduate of the Academy in Arcadia. Chancellor Adrien himself once complimented by magitech work. But I’m sure you know better.”

“Trust me, Dad, around here that isn’t something to brag about.”

****

Abbey pushed the cart through the streets of Holdgate. Every bump in the road made the helmets loudly clank together, and there were plenty of bumps. It felt good to be out of the shop. The sun shone brightly in the clear sky, warming her as she walked. It was summer, which in Holdgate meant long days. Abbey tried to cherish these times of abundant sunlight. Things would be different in the winter, when the sun only showed itself for a few short hours, and even that did little to stave off the bitter cold.

The streets were crowded, and Abbey had to weave her cart around the people milling about. A fair number of the stormships were in the harbor, as were many of the hunters and fishermen who rarely came to the city. They were all there for the festival.

Still, Abbey kept moving. Captain Stephen was waiting for these helmets, and in Holdgate, it was never a good idea to keep a Storm Captain waiting.

Sick of the crowd in the street, Abbey cut down an alley. She headed toward the beach, hoping to find more space to guide her cart down under the docks where there would be fewer tourists. From there, it would be a straight shot to Captain Roy’s ship.

She pushed her cart along the beach. The rocky ground was even worse here, and she had to keep a firm grip on her cart to keep it from toppling over. But it was still worth it to get away from the crowd. Some might have said it wasn’t a good idea for a young woman to be walking alone under the shadowy docks, especially on a festival day, but Abbey had her sword on her hip. She wasn’t worried. If someone wanted trouble, she’d be more than happy to give it to them.

The sea seemed especially rough this afternoon, especially for such a day when the wind was so calm. She looked out at the choppy water… and she saw something. No, not something. Someone.

She let go of her cart and walked toward the water, squinting to be sure she saw correctly. After a moment, she was sure. It was a man. He was a good one hundred and fifty yards from shore.

It wasn’t uncommon to see someone swimming in the ocean, even though the water was freezing year around. Holdgatesmen were always challenging each other to demonstrations of manliness, and that often included ill-advised swims. But this man appeared to be struggling. He wasn’t making much progress. If anything, he appeared to be losing ground.

Abbey watched for a long moment as the man struggled. He dipped under the water, then his head reappeared. He was above water for only a moment before he went under again, this time for longer than before.

He’s not going to make it, Abbey realized. She had to do something.

She warily glanced at the choppy water. She was a good swimmer, but if she tried to swim out there, all she’d do was end up drowning them both. But there was no way she was letting this guy drown, either. As much as she didn’t want to, she had to use another way to save him.

Remembering what her father had taught her, she moved her hands in a complicated pattern and concentrated her energy on the drowning man. Her eyes turned black, and the magic began to flow out of her.

Moving objects with her mind didn’t come easily to her, and this man was so far away. Still, she didn’t let doubt creep in. She focused on the man and drawing him to her. She didn’t need the magic to carry him completely; she just needed to give him enough of a boost that he wouldn’t drown.

His head appeared above water again, and the man began moving toward shore. He swam through the water, each stroke taking him much farther than it should have. It was as if Abbey had him on a line and was reeling him toward the shore with her magic.

The man cut through the choppy waves, and in only a few minutes, he was dragging himself up onto the shore. Abbey recognized him—it was Dustin.

When she was a child, most of the other kids had shunned her. No one wanted to play with the weird Arcadian kid who always smelled like the blacksmith shop, a distinctive combination of coal smoke and burnt honey—a product of the beeswax her father applied to his metalwork. Dustin had been the rare exception. They’d spent long hours running through the streets together, getting into all sorts of trouble. For five years, Dustin had been a fixture in her father’s shop, stopping by nearly every day to play with Abbey.

All that had changed when he got accepted as an apprentice Storm Caller. For the first couple years, he’d simply been too busy to hang out with her. But somewhere along the way, he’d seemingly realized it wasn’t a good idea for a Storm Caller to socialize with an outsider like Abbey. The last couple times she’d seen him in the street, he hadn’t even returned her nod of greeting. Some friend.

Abbey walked to the edge of the water and held out her hand. “You all right?”

Dustin tried to stand and stumbled forward.

Abbey realized she was still pulling him forward with her magic. The poor guy looked terribly confused. He looked up at Abbey, and his face went pale as he saw her eyes. He’d spent enough time in Benjamin’s shop to know that black eyes meant magic.

“What did you do?” There was anger in his voice.

She stopped pulling him forward, and her eyes returned to normal. “Um, I saved your damned life. Maybe the phrase you’re looking for is thank you?”

“Get out of here before someone sees you,” he hissed. “You’ll ruin everything!”

She was stunned. It’s not like she’d been expecting a hug or anything, but a little gratitude would have been nice. She was half tempted to use her magic to push him back out to sea.

His eyes softened a little before he spoke again. “Look, I’m not trying to be a dick, but seriously. You have to go.”

He was looking past her at something down the beach. She followed his gaze and saw a group of men approaching. She didn’t recognize all of them, but there were a few she knew all too well. Dustin’s master, Harald, was among them. These men were Storm Callers.

Abbey realized what this was—it was Dustin’s Testing.

They were standing in the shadows under a dock, so there was a chance the men hadn’t spotted her yet. She glanced back to Dustin. He was already on his feet, running toward them.

Abbey’s eyes turned black again, and she reached out with one more bit of magic.

Dustin stumbled and fell forward, landing on his face in the sand in full sight of the Storm Callers.

“Serves you right, asshole.” Abbey stifled a chuckle andwent back to her cart.

There we have it. Abbey and Dustin have no idea about the trouble they’re about to land in, and the lengths they’ll have to go to in their fight for justice.

The book will be out VERY soon. In the meantime, follow the Facebook Page, and check out the Rise of Magic books by Chris, Lee, and Michael and Shades of Light by Justin and Michael.

Storm Raiders – Snippet 3

This is the third snippet from STORM RAIDERS, the first book in my new series with Michael Anderle. If you haven’t read the other snippets, check out #1 here and #2 here.

It’s been a bit since the last snippet, but there’s a good reason for that. We have been working on a new and even more awesome cover. Check it out!

Now that we have the cover squared away, let’s get onto the story. In this meaty section, we meet our secondary lead character, Dustin. He’s a storm magic user with something to prove, and he’s just about to take his initiation test when we meet him. Let’s get to it!

“This is a day you’ll long remember, boy.” The old man gripped the staff lodged into the notch in the fore section of the small boat.

Dustin muttered a semi-polite response that he hoped wouldn’t encourage any more conversation. In truth, looking at this man made him sad. Maybe the old guy had been a Master Storm Caller once, but those days were long past. Now, his eyes were dyed a permanent pale blue-green, and he barely seemed able to conjure enough wind to fill this pathetic craft’s tiny sail. Once, he’d conjured fog, and storms, and lightning to battle Barskall Warriors. Now, he was consigned to ferrying young apprentices out to Testing Rock.

Dustin looked away from the old man. He couldn’t afford to be distracted right now.

In a few short hours, he’d be a full-fledged Storm Caller. He’d trade in his skinny little apprentice’s staff for a thick, twisted staff carved from old wood. He’d earn his place on a stormship. If all went well, he’d soon be going into battle, defending the world from the Barskall. But first, he had to pass the test.

“Ah, there she is.” The old man pointed a crooked finger at a rock jutting from the sea a few hundred years ahead. “Many men have been made on that rock. Many have been broken, too.”

“It’ll take more than a rock and a few waves to break me.” Dustin figured if the old man wasn’t going to shut up, he might as well talk to him. Maybe it would help quell his unexpected nerves. “The rock’s what? Half a mile from shore? I’ve been swimming farther than that since before I was ten.”

The old man shot him a stern look over his shoulder. “Underestimate the sea at your peril. She’s a fickle mistress.”

Dustin stifled a laugh. Despite the nerves, he was confident in his chances. He’d stand on the Testing Rock while a Storm Caller brought on choppy waves. All he had to do was calm the sea and swim to shore. If he made it back alive, he’d pass the test.

He was twenty years old and had been training for this for the last twelve.

From his first day as a Storm Caller’s apprentice, he’d performed better than his peers. He had a natural connection with the sea. He always had ever since his father—a fisherman—had taken him on a two-day voyage when he was barely old enough to walk. His friends struggled for years to conjure even a bit of light fog; a task Dustin accomplished in his first three months. He didn’t understand why it was so difficult for them. He simply touched his staff to seawater, asked, and the sea answered.

Not that it had all been easy. He’d struggled mightily with dispersing weather after he’d conjured it, but he was getting better at that, too. Now, even before he was officially named a Storm Caller, his eyes were already taking on the vibrant blue-green hue of the sea.

Some of his fellow apprentices had already passed this test, and if they could make it, he was confident he would, too.

Dustin wasn’t one to downplay his natural abilities, but he wasn’t one to flaunt them, either. Most days, he enjoyed using his skills to help the other apprentices grow theirs. But today he had to flaunt his skills. That was the whole point of the Testing.

The old man glanced back at him again, as if reading his thoughts. “Would you like a bit of advice from one who’s passed the test?”

Dustin glared at the man, his patience finally at the breaking point. “I highly doubt there’s anything you could say that would help at this stage. I’ve been training for this for twelve years. I don’t want anything else in my head messing me up right now. I need to focus.”

The old man turned back to the sea ahead of them. “Fine. Suit yourself.”

“I meant no offense. But the tests were different in your day. Storm Callers weren’t as powerful.” His master, Harald, had told him all about the old days when Storm Callers were still learning how to commune with the sea effectively to call forth storms. Today’s Storm Caller was a different breed. The best of them were able to call down lightning that could hit a ship a quarter mile away.

The old man sighed. “It’s true. We had much to learn in my day. Perhaps that’s why I kept an open mind, unlike some in this boat. I always kept learning and never thought I was too good to listen to the advice of my betters.”

Dustin didn’t dignify that with a response. If this old man thought he was Dustin’s better just because he’d been a Storm Caller once, he was dumber than Dustin thought. Dustin would be Master Storm Caller of the fleet one day. The old man should have spent the trip befriending him instead of berating him. “Can we just go the rest of the way in silence? I need to concentrate.”

“Of course,” the old man said.

They reached the rock a few minutes later. It was smaller than Dustin had expected. Two full grown men couldn’t have stood side-by-side on it. Dustin was going to have trouble staying up there all by himself.

The skiff pulled alongside the rock, and Dustin hauled himself onto it. He stood up and held out his hand. The old man passed him the apprentice’s staff. Whatever the result of the Testing, this would be the last time Dustin would use it. He was to leave it on Testing Rock when he swam for shore. When high tide came in, it would be carried out to sea.

Dustin stared back at the shore. He knew it was only half a mile, but it looked much farther. “Do you know who my Storm Caller is?”

An apprentice wasn’t allowed to know what Storm Caller they’d be facing in their Testing. Dustin assumed the old man wouldn’t know, but it was worth a try.

The old man smiled up at him, revealing a large gap where his front teeth had once been. “I certainly do. It’s me.”

Dustin blinked hard, confused.

The old man appeared to be standing a bit straighter now. “You have until I return to shore to prepare yourself. I suggest you spend the time wisely.” He closed his eyes for just a moment, and a strong wind filled his sail, sending his skiff gliding back the way they’d come.

The old man turned back and yelled over his shoulder as he sped away. “If you’d been nice to me, I might have gone easy on you. Since you weren’t… Well, I hope you’re a good swimmer.”

Dustin swallowed hard as the skiff raced toward shore.

****

Dustin gripped his staff and jammed it down into the hole in the rock, so it touched seawater. Full Storm Caller staffs were longer, many nearly eight feet tall so they could be placed in the notch in the bow of stormships that exposed them to the exterior of the ship and the spray of seawater. His current apprentice staff was shorter—only about six feet, slightly shorter than he was. Sunk into the hole in Testing Rock, it only reached his waist.

He could see in the distance that the old man was almost back to shore now. It would begin soon.

He gripped his staff and moved into a wide stance that would allow him to keep his balance once the waves started crashing against him. He talked to himself quietly while he waited. “Come on; you can do this. You were made for this. He’s just an old man. You’re a Storm Caller of the future. Okay, so maybe he’s faced Barskall Warriors, and maybe he’s led troops into battle. Big deal. He’s old.”

The words seemed hollow even as he spoke them. The man was a Storm Caller, and Dustin had foolishly mouthed off to him. Now, he was going to pay the price.

There was nothing he could do about that now. The only thing he could do was prepare. He closed his eyes and centered himself.

“The sea is my ally.”

He reached out, not with his hands or even his mind, but with something deeper. With his spirit. He gently touched the sea and began the wordless conversation that was storm magic.

The old man was right about one thing: the sea was a fickle mistress. She couldn’t be forced to do anything. Even asking outright was often fruitless. She had to be coaxed. Dustin needed to take the energy flowing through the sea for its own purposes, ask to borrow just a little of it, and then gently reshape it. It was a bit like riding a wild horse—it took a combination of gentleness, firmness, and the wisdom to know when to use each of them.

He felt the power of the sea thrumming up through his staff and into his hands now. He was connected. He was ready.

On the shore, he saw the old man appear on the wall that overlooked the sea. The top of the wall had a trough filled with seawater, Dustin knew, so Storm Callers could touch their staff to the water, thus allowing them access to storm magic for defense of the city. The old man stood still for a long moment, both hands on his staff, and then the sky began to darken.

Waves started to crash against the rock as the previously gentle swells around Dustin grew into angry waves. He felt a momentary surge of panic but quickly pushed it away. What he needed was a calm mind and spirit.

The waves were crashing over the rock now, slamming into him with a cold, wet force. It was all he could do keep his grip on his staff. He risked a look up at the wall and saw the old man was walking away. Dustin breathed a sigh of relief. It was bad, but since the old man was leaving, it wouldn’t get any worse. He’d conjured the storm, and it was up to Dustin to dispel it so he could swim safely back to shore.

He closed his eyes and tried to concentrate. It was so chaotic. The noise, the way his body shivered as the wind whistled past him, the slippery feel of his staff. He tried to get hold of the sea’s energy as he had so many times before, but that felt chaotic, too. He silently asked the sea—begged it, really—to give him control, but it seemed to be listening to a louder voice.

He worked for over an hour, struggling in vain to get the sea under control. Every time he thought he was starting to get it under control, it slipped away from him, and the waves seemed to slam against his rock with renewed fury.

His master, Harald, talked about how the great Storm Callers had a breakthrough during their Testing. How they left Testing Rock with a strengthened connection to the sea. Dustin kept waiting for the moment, but it wasn’t happening. Worse still, the tide was beginning to rise. If he didn’t figure out something soon, Testing Rock would be underwater.

He had to act now.

Taking a deep breath, he concentrated on emptying himself of ego and conscious thought. He put everything he had left into one more attempt. Reaching out with his spirit, pleading with the sea to let him shape it.

To his utter surprise, this time there was a response. The familiar power of the sea flowed through him, and he went to work.  He shaped the energy in his mind, smoothing it, dispersing it to calm the waves.

A gust of wind hit him, and he momentarily lost his grip on his staff. It was only his left hand that slipped, but it was enough. His concentration was broken, and the power he’d felt a moment ago was gone.

“Damn it all to hell!” he yelled into the wind. But as he opened his eyes, he saw the sea was much calmer than it had been only a few minutes ago. He hadn’t calmed it completely, but he’d certainly improved his situation.

He watched the swelling waves as he considered what to do. It was beyond idiotic to attempt swimming a half mile in this choppy sea, but what choice did he have? If he waited much longer, the rock would be under water anyway.

He carefully removed his staff from the water hole and placed it on the rock. It had been with him for twelve years, but he couldn’t use it anymore. If he made it back to land alive, he’d be a Storm Caller. If he didn’t… Well, there probably wasn’t much use for a staff in the afterlife.

He took a deep breath and dove into the water to begin the swim to Holdgate.

There we have it. In our final snippet, we’ll get back to Abbey, and she’ll finally cross paths with Dustin. Click here to read it.

Also, be sure to follow the Facebook Page, and check out the Rise of Magic books by Chris, Lee, and Michael and Shades of Light by Justin and Michael.

 

Storm Raiders – Snippet 2

UNEDITED – This is the second snippet from STORM RAIDERS, the first book in my new series with Michael Anderle. If you haven’t read the first snippet, check that out here.

Before we get to the story, check out the cover!

Abbey marched to the front of the shop, a dull-edged practice sword in each hand.

Olaf scoffed when he saw them. “Practice swords? Is the girl afraid to face me in real combat?”

The girl is not,” Abbey said.

Benjamin held up a hand. “I won’t have bloodshed in here. It’s practice swords or full price.”

Olaf looked questioningly at his father.

Lawrence shook his head, as if disgusted. “Do as they ask, son. They’re southerners. They don’t understand our ways.”

Abbey ignored the comment. Even though she’d lived in Holdgate since she was three years old, she heard similar statements all the time. Her father had come from the city of Arcadia and set up shop here after his wife’s death, a young Abbey in tow. The topic of why Benjamin would have left the wealthy city of Arcadia and chosen a life in the harsh climate of the Kaldfell peninsula was fiercely debated in town. Benjamin wasn’t forthcoming with answers, even with Abbey. All he ever told her was that it was too painful to stay in Arcadia after Abbey’s mother died. He’d needed a change.

So, Abbey had grown up here in Holdgate, an outsider from the time she was three. She’d spent most of her life in this blacksmith shop, playing with swords like other kids might play with blocks. Her father had schooled her himself, drilling her on reading and mathematics as they worked the iron together. Holdgate’s educational system seemed to be focused on throwing axes and navigating by the stars, and Benjamin said he wanted a daughter who could read.

Now, she was nineteen. Many of the girls her age were married, but Abbey still worked in her father’s shop. She still loved making weapons as much as she had when she was a child. Perhaps she’d open her own shop someday. Until then, she was content to be near the weapons she loved.

Abbey held out both swords to Olaf, offering him his pick. He looked at them for a few moments like they were a particularly challenging riddle before finally grabbing one.

Though she hadn’t spent a lot of time with other children, she’d seen Olaf around enough to know he was a bully. He was big, even by Holdgate standards. While his beard still had a wispy, boyish look, the rest of him was fully developed. His arms were as big around as Abbey’s legs.

Abbey stood six inches shorter. Her slight frame hid her lean but strong muscles. Her black hair was pulled back with a ribbon as it always was when she worked in the shop.

She took ten paces back and turned to face Olaf. She raised her sword and held it at the ready.

“You’ll fight until we signal it’s over,” Benjamin said.

“Yes,” Lawrence agreed. “Keep going until Benjamin signals his surrender, Olaf.”

Olaf held up his sword and smiled at her. “I’m going to enjoy tussling with you. Maybe we can do a bit more of it later. When our fathers aren’t around. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

Abbey wanted to laugh at the way he held his sword. He gripped it tightly in his ham-like fist as if it were a snake trying to wiggle free. There was no finesse in his stance, either. Clearly, he was used to winning battles with sheer strength. “Somehow, I think I’m going to be the only one who enjoys this. Call the start, Father?”

Benjamin crossed his arms and leaned back against the wall behind him. He wore the easy expression of a man preparing to watch something amusing. “Begin.”

The instant the word left Benjamin’s lips, Olaf charged.

He held his sword two-handed, raised over his head. It might as well have been a club.

Abbey’s instinct was to rush to meet him, but she remembered her father’s most frequent instruction: Patience. It was something he reminded her of nearly every day in her sword practice.

She’d been sparring against her father for more than a decade, so she was no stranger to facing bigger and stronger opponents. She’d learned to use her smaller size as an advantage. Your opponents will underestimate you, her father had often reminded her. Don’t let them see what you can really do until it’s too late for them to stop you.

So, she waited with sword raised as Olaf charged. Then, when he was almost to her, she made her move. She thrust her practice sword forward, driving it into Olaf’s stomach. The air rushed out of him in an audible oof. She then spun out of the way as his momentum sent him careening past. The young man stumbled to a stop, dangerously close to the kiln and put his hands on his knees as he tried to regain his breath.

Abbey could have gone after him and finished it then and there, but she was having too much fun. “Are you enjoying tussling with me?” she asked sweetly.

Benjamin laughed.

Lawrence threw his hands up in the air. “What’s wrong with you, boy? Get after her!”

Olaf slowly rose to a standing position. There was fury in his eyes now. “Gladly, Father.” He moved toward Abbey again, more slowly this time, his sword held in front of him.

Abbey jabbed her sword forward, testing his defenses, but he batted it away. It looked like he was done underestimating her. He fired back with a surprisingly quick thrust. Abbey parried, but the deflected sword still managed to whack her upper arm.

Shit! If these had been real swords, she’d have blood pouring out of her arm right now. As it was, she’d have a nice bruise on that arm tomorrow.

Enough messing around. It was time to end this.

Abbey swung her sword in a wildly obvious attack. When Olaf took the bait and raised his sword to block, she pulled back, and thrust her sword under his defenses, again jabbing him in the stomach. He managed to keep his feet, but she had him off balance. All she had to do was keep attacking.

The time for finesse was over. She let loose a barrage of blows, hitting him in the arms, the chest, the stomach. He managed to block some of them, but he was desperately off balance, so she easily knocked his blade aside again and again.

“Enough!” Lawrence called. “The price is forty. We’ll pay forty!”

Abbey immediately stopped her assault. She held out a hand to Olaf. “You all right?”

He looked at her hand like it was covered in shit. “Like I’d shake hands with a piece of Arcadian filth.” He threw down his practice sword and stormed out of the shop.

After Lawrence had paid and left with his sword, Abbey allowed herself to rub the spot on her arm where Olaf had stuck her. “That went well.”

Benjamin stroked his short beard. “Not bad. Your defense was a bit sloppy. If you’d been fighting a skilled swordsman, you might have been in trouble.”

Abbey picked up the other practice sword off the floor. “Perhaps you’d care to test me?”

Benjamin laughed. “After what I just saw you do to Olaf? No thanks. The boy is going to be sore for a month.” He picked up his apron off the workbench and put it on. “We’ve got a lot of work to do before the festival tonight. Let’s get to it.”


So that’s a brief introduction to Abbey, our main character. What do you think of her? All I know is, I’d pay full price for her father’s swords.

Click here to read the next installment.

Also, be sure to  follow the Facebook Page, and check out the Rise of Magic books by Chris, Lee, and Michael and Shades of Light by Justin and Michael.

Storm Raiders – Snippet 1

UNEDITED – This is the first snippet from STORM RAIDERS, the first book in my new series with Michael Anderle called Storms of Magic. The series takes place in the Age of Magic world. The book will be out soon, and in the meantime, follow the Facebook Page, and check out the Rise of Magic books by Chris, Lee, and Michael. Also, Justin Sloan is releasing snippets of his first book in this same world. Check those out here

As a bonus, here’s the map of my little corner of the Age of Magic world. On to the story! 

Abbey rarely went looking for a fight, but fights often came looking for her.

Her father’s blacksmith shop was quiet that morning. She worked the bellows, stoking the fire hot enough to soften the iron so he could hammer it into shape. They performed their tasks silently, with the efficiency of a team that had been working together for many years. Abbey could tell instinctively what her father needed of her, and she did it before he even had a chance to ask.

The bell in the front of the shop chimed as the door opened. Abbey and her father exchanged an annoyed glance—being interrupted at a fire was a pet peeve for both of them, even if it was a paying customer. He took off his gloves and apron, setting them carefully on the workbench, then he sauntered to the front of the shop. Abbey stayed at the bellows so she could tend to the fire, but she had a good angle to see and hear what was going on up front. Her nose wrinkled in annoyance when she saw who it was: Lawrence and his son Olaf.

Lawrence put his hands on the counter and leaned forward, glaring at Abbey’s father. “Morning, Benjamin. I assume it’s ready?”

Benjamin grabbed a long object wrapped in oilcloth and set it down in front of Lawrence. “Indeed it is. Made to your exact specifications.”

Lawrence unrolled the cloth, his long, knobby fingers working with surprising deftness. Olaf peered excitedly over his father’s shoulder. Soon, the iron sword inside the cloth was exposed. It gleamed in the light as Lawrence picked it up and inspected it. He let out a displeased grumble.

Abbey shook her head. She’d checked the sword herself the night before, and she knew it was perfect. It was well balanced, beautifully decorated with the symbols Lawrence had requested, and sharp enough that a man could shave with it. Granted, it wasn’t quite the equal of her father’s sword, which hung behind the counter, but few swords were.

But this was the city of Holdgate. Grumbling about the product was an expected part of the negotiation process. As was what came next.

“I suppose it will do.” Lawrence’s voice dripped with reluctance as if he was granting Benjamin a favor in accepting this subpar weapon. He reached for the coin purse at his belt. “Twenty iron, then?”

Now Benjamin grimaced. He hated these games, Abbey knew, but after sixteen years in Holdgate, he’d learned to accept them as necessary to doing business here. “Lawrence, you know the agreed upon price was forty.”

“Was it?” He made a show of inspecting the weapon again. “Perhaps for a well-made blade. But this…” His voice trailed off. He clearly couldn’t think of any specific complaint.

Abbey wondered what would happen next. Often the customer would demand negotiation by combat at this stage, but a single glance at the two men on either side of the counter revealed that would not be a smart move on Lawrence’s part. Thick muscles stood out on Benjamin’s arms, and his experience with swords went far beyond making them.

Lawrence, on the other hand, looked like he’d have trouble battling a stiff wind. Like most men in Holdgate, he was a few inches taller than Benjamin, but he didn’t have the usual stocky build of most Holdgatesmen. Abbey knew Benjamin would break Lawrence in half if it came to combat.

Lawrence didn’t take his eyes off the blade when he spoke again. “The sword is a gift to Olaf for his eighteenth birthday. I’ll tell you what. He’ll fight you for the blade. If you win, we’ll pay the ridiculous fee you quoted. But if he wins, twenty is the price.”

From where Abbey stood, she could see Olaf grinning dumbly at Benjamin. Unlike his father, Olaf was sturdy Holdgate stock. He was a few inches taller than Lawrence and nearly as well-muscled as Benjamin. He’d have no shortage of offers of employment on the storm ships in the coming months, Abbey knew.

Benjamin looked the kid over. “I don’t think so.”

Lawrence cackled in surprise. “I never thought I’d see the day Benjamin of Arcadia was afraid to face a Holdgate whelp. Getting old, are you?”

Abbey gripped the bellows to keep herself from marching over there and teaching Lawrence some manners.

The hint of a smile played on Benjamin’s lips. “Perhaps I am. Young Olaf deserves a real challenge. He doesn’t want to fight an old man like me.”

Lawrence set the sword down on the oilcloth. “Excellent. We’ll be taking it for twenty iron, then.”

“Sure. But you’ll have to earn it at that price. You can have it for twenty if Olaf can defeat my daughter.”

Now it was Abbey’s turn to smile.

From PT – So that’s a brief introduction to our heroine, Abbey. Snippet #2 is out now, complete with a cover reveal. Check it out here.

Rise of Magic

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic…” Arthur C. Clarke 

She didn’t mean to use magic

She didn’t even know she HAD magic

She just wanted to save her brother, who was dying in her arms.

Accused of using illegal magic, and sentenced to a cruel death at the hands of the city’s guards, Hannah has no choice but to trust in the aid of a strange old man who wields unimaginable power.

The Founder has returned to correct the wrongs of unjust. But to do that, he needs Hannah, a young woman from the city slums. She has a key to unlocking a power even greater than his own–if she can only learn to trust herself and the magic flowing within her blood.

Restriction is a fantasy set in the far future, where magic and monsters ravage the land of Irth and only the strong survive.

Set on the foundation laid by the Kurtherian Gambit Series, Restriction tells an entirely new story in the Age of Magic–and of the heroes and villains who battle for control of its destiny.

Read now and Enter the Age of Magic.

New Releases and a Cool Interview

Book 4 - High Resolution

You ever have one of those weeks where everything seems to happen at once? That was last week for me. Three exciting things that have been in the works for a while all came to fruition.

  • The third Zane Halloway novella came out. It’s called LIGHTNING AND THRONES, and it’s a doozy. That’s right, I just typed the word doozy in the year 2015. That’s how strongly I feel. The reaction has been great so far. Unbiased readers and totally biased readers (like my wife and my editor) all agree that this is the strongest installment thus far.
    Check it out on Amazon | iBooks | Nook | Kobo
  • The audiobook for A PLACE WITHOUT SHADOWS also dropped last week. The narrator is Robin Rowan, and she’s great. She really brought Sophie, Frank, and the rest of the characters to life.
    Check it out on Audible | Amazon | iTunes
  • Finally, I was interviewed on the Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast. We talked about Booktube, conventions, dealing with bad reviews, and more. If you haven’t listened to the show before, please do so. Simon is one of the best interviewers working today, and I think he’s doing important work for the Indie publishing community..

unnamedSo, what’s next? The fourth Zane Halloway novella is up for pre-order now, and it comes out September 28th. I’m currently writing the fifth and sixth installments. I’m also in the early stages of working with an artist on the cover for the Zane Halloway omnibus, which will collect all the novellas in one massive paperback.  I’m also doing a readalong of the complete Sandman comic book series over on my YouTube channel.

Finally, I’m preparing for my workshop and two panels of the SFSE conference at the end of the month.

It’s good times! Busy, but good!

But enough about me. Let’s talk about you for a minute. How are you?

Hopper House by John L. Monk is out today

The third installment in one of my favorite series, The Jenkins Cycle, is out today. I’ve read it, and it’s good. Like, ice water after you’ve mowed the lawn on a hot day good.

The series follows Dan Jenkins, a dead guy who spends his post-mortal time hopping into the bodies of bad guys and bringing them to justice. And eating. He’s big into the joys of a good meal. He’s clever, he’s flawed, he means well, and he’s a hell of a lot of fun.

In this third installment, Dan learns he’s not the only body-hopper in the afterlife. That’s all I’ll say for now. Read and find out more.

Get it here on Amazon.

Or here on iBooks.

New Release and My Con Appearance This Weekend

The second volume in the Zane Halloway novella series came out yesterday. It’s called Swords and Shadows. I’m really proud of it.

When I started writing these, I thought it would just be a fun way to pay homage to my favorite fantasy stories by creating a new world inspired by all of them. Somewhere along the way I started to care deeply about Zane and Lily. They are both flawed in serious (and different) ways, but they also embrace life with a zeal I admire. All that’s to say, these stories have become very important to me.

This world is growing, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. I’ve said before that there will be six Zane Halloway novellas, and that’s still true. But I’m starting to strongly suspect that won’t be the last we see of this world.

I’m releasing one of these novellas a month, July through November. This approach appeals to me for a couple reasons. It forces me to be disciplined in my craft so a novella is ready to go out each month. And, as a long-time comic book reader, I feel like a month is the perfect length of time to wait in between stories. Long enough that you don’t get sick of it, but not so long that the excitement dies down and you forget what happened in the last one. It feels like the new-release-gap sweet spot.

Also, because some people have asked, yes, there will be a paperback omnibus of all six novellas when they are complete. I’m looking to release that in December.

Here’s the official description and links to the ebook on various stores.

Zane Halloway must join forces with his worst enemy to prevent a war.Book 2 - High Resolution

After a run-in with one of the pirate Longstrain’s deadly widows, an injured Zane Halloway is enlisted by the king for a special assignment. The nation is on the brink of war, and the king hopes a quiet assassination will prevent things from escalating.

To complete the job, Zane and Lily will have to join forces with the King’s Shadow, the only man in the kingdom with access to the royal armory of magical devices. His name is Jacob Von Ridden. Long ago, he altered the course of Zane’s life, and Zane has been waiting for the chance to kill him ever since.

SWORDS AND SHADOWS continues the story of magic, mystery, and murder begun in THORNS AND TANGLES.

It’s only $1.99, and you can get it here:
Amazon Apple iBooks | Barnes and Noble Nook | Kobo 

ALSO!

I’m a guest at the 30th annual Rob-Con in Bristol, TN this weekend, Aug 1-2. Stop by and say hello if you’re in the area. If you’ve never met me in person, know that I’m super socially awkward. So that’s something for you to look forward to.

http://robcon.net/

I’ve been a convention guest before, but never as a writer. My old band, Wednesday Heroes, played a few cons, and we even got a VERY short write up in the AV Club in advance of a convention appearance. Back then, I could fiddle with my guitar. Now I’ll have to behave like a human and interact. Which is probably good for me on a personal level. Gotta come out of the writing cave sometimes.

I hope to see you there!

The Broken Clock is out now!

The final book in the Deadlock Trilogy is out now. It’s called The Broken Clock.

The Broken Clock - EBook 3000 x 4500If you’ve read Regulation 19 and A Place Without Shadows, you know the kind of time-hoppy, plot-twisty, genre-bendy stuff I get up to. This is more of that, but a swarm of mayflies and a super-powered little girl thrown into the mix.

Here’s the official description:

Frank Hinkle and his friends must stop Zed from achieving his ultimate goal: saving the world.

In King’s Crossing, Wisconsin, lives a nine-year-old girl who can pull on time. Residents of the town know odd details about the future, and there’s a twisted tree growing in a park near the center of town.

It’s here Zed has chosen to enact the final phase of his plan to defeat the ancient beings who pursue him. And it’s here that Frank, Sophie, and Mason will make their stand against both Zed and his enemies.
The final chapter of the Deadlock Trilogy is upon us.

Check it out here:
Amazon | Apple iBooks | Barnes and Noble Nook | Kobo | Google Play

Or you can get a signed and personalized paperback copy here. Each signed paperback includes three or four handwritten behind-the-scenes annotations. That means every copy is unique. I’m offering a pretty sweet deal on a bundle of Regulation 19, A Place Without Shadows, and The Broken Clock, so check it out.

Now for the most exciting part (for me): waiting for reader reactions!

Thorns and Tangles is Now Free

My fantasy novella Thorns and Tangles is now free on:

Amazon | iBooks | Barnes and Noble | KoboBook 1 - High Resolution

Here’s the description:

_______

There’s only one rule: never kill for free.

Assassin Zane Halloway has been hired to kill Irving Farns, a reclusive genius whose innovations brought about a golden age of magic. Zane and his apprentice Lily will need to infiltrate the mysterious Abditus Society and find a way to assassinate the world’s leading expert in protective magic.

THORNS AND TANGLES introduces a world of magic, mystery, and assassins. This is the first in a series of novellas, but it also stands alone as a complete story.

________

Book 2 - High ResolutionAlready read it? Then it’s time to pre-order the sequel, Swords and Shadow! It only 99 cents and it drops on July 30th. Pre-order it, forget about it, and you’ll have a nice surprise waiting for you at the end of July.

Amazon | iBooks | Barnes and Noble | Kobo

These novellas are a love letter to the fantasy genre. I hope you have as much fun reading them as I did writing them.

What I’ve Learned in Twelve Months

 

Today is the one year anniversary of the the day I published my first novel, Regulation 19. Here are twelve things I’ve learned in my first twelve months as an author/publisher.

  1. The details matter. Things like cover, editing, marketing, etc. Today’s audience is savvy, and you can’t find them if you don’t have a professional product presented in a professional manner. But…
  2. Story is king. It doesn’t matter how slick your cover is if you don’t deliver the goods.
  3. There is no one path. Some things about indy publishing are awesome. Some things about traditional publishing are awesome. People like fighting about these things. I find it’s better to keep my head down and keep writing.
  4. Consistency is key. Every day I take off from writing has a cost. It feels like starting over every time.
  5. There are a ton of awesome people in indy publishing. One of the coolest things about this year has been the friends I’ve made.
  6. Sometimes great stories find their audience. Some of my friends have found great success this year. This is well deserved in every case of which I am aware. Every one of these people is extremely talented and hard working.
  7. Sometimes great stories take a while to find their audience. Other equally talented friends haven’t found an audience as large as they’d like. Yet. I firmly believe they will. The combination of talent and hard work win out in the end. Sometimes it takes a while.
  8. Not every one will read your stuff. This is okay.
  9. Not every one will like your stuff. This, too, is okay. Bad reviews are inevitable. Read them, digest them, and forget them. Better yet, don’t read them. But that’s asking a lot, so if you can’t follow the latter advice, follow the former.
  10. Sometimes bad reviews contain incorrect information. Still okay. Annoying, but okay. You can’t control reviews. Even the ones with poor grammar and misleading information. See above.
  11. There are things you can control. How hard you work. How much you put your heart into your work. How you react to your readers.
  12. Readers are awesome. It humbles me each and every time I consider all the strangers who have taken a chance on an off-beat, creepy story about a small town in Tennessee by an author they’ve never heard of. Thank you, one and all. My life is better because of you.