Phew, okay, yes I'm still here! I've been up to my ears in final edits on Mages' Uprising, book 3 of Defenders of the Wildings, and I'm happy to announce they're finished! The book will be coming out later this week, I need to do the formatting and uploading and write the blurb, arg. I'll release it at a special price of $2.99 for a few days, then it'll go up to the regular price of $3.99. To make sure you don't miss out on the release and the special price, sign up for my email newsletter.
And in the meantime, here's the cover! (Newsletter subscribers got to see this a month ago, hint hint)
Art by Yuriko Matsuoko.
If you've read Mages' Exile, book 2, and you're wondering, this may or may not be a literal depiction of something that happens in the book. However, that may literally be Silas and Lainie's house in the background (sorry about that, you two!)
Also in the meantime, to keep you entertained while you wait, here's a sneak peek at the first chapter:
RATTLING AND BOUNCING, the rail wagons sped across the prairie. From the bench where he sat, shifting uncomfortably on the hard red leather upholstery with Vera curled up next to him, Silas watched the grasslands blur by. The smoke drifting in through the open windows made his lingering headache from the heavy aura of Regulator energy on the boat worse, and his arms, bound behind him with chains infused with Regulator power, ached and burned.
The wagon jolted and Silas’s stomach lurched. He closed his eyes and forced back a surge of sickness.
“Do not worry, Mr. Vendine,” said Dorbiza, sitting across the aisle from him. “That is a common reaction to one’s first ride on the rail wagons. One soon gets over it. Are you in need of a bucket?”
“It’s okay if you throw up, Pa,” Blake said from his seat towards the front of the wagon. “Mama says it happens to everyone.”
Silas fought back more nausea. He’d be damned if he disgraced himself in front of his children and his enemies any more than he already had, letting himself be chained like this. The memory of what had happened at the dock, when his six-year-old son had felt compelled to defend him and Dorbiza had threatened the boy, made him burn inside. One day, no matter what it took, even if it was the last thing he did, he would send that sheep-humping son of a bitch to stand before the gods to answer for his sins. “I’m fine,” he growled at Dorbiza.
Despite the open windows, the inside of the wagon was hot and stuffy. Vera lay asleep, her head heavy and sweaty on Silas’s lap. Lulled by the heat and the constant, steady sound and motion, Silas started to doze off as well.
He caught himself, jerking his head up. It wouldn’t do to fall asleep when he and his children were in the hands of the enemy, being taken to gods alone knew where – if the gods even knew. If he fell asleep and the children were taken from the wagon, he wouldn’t know what had happened to them. Yawning, his head pounding, he forced his eyes to stay open.
At last, with a loud screeching and grinding, the wagons slowed down, then stopped. “We have arrived,” Dorbiza said. “I am certain, Mr. Vendine, that is the fastest thirty leagues you have ever traveled.”
Silas shook his head, trying to clear it. Thirty leagues? How long had it been? Not long enough for him to start feeling hungry or for the boys to announce that they needed to pee; an hour, or maybe a little more. In that short time, he had gone nearly a full day’s journey. No doubt, these rail wagons would be a great thing for the Wildings, allowing people and goods to cross the vast distances in a matter of days rather than ninedays or months.
But the price the Chardonikans were asking was far too high.
Watch for Mages' Uprising, Defenders of the Wildings Book 3, coming later this week at your favorite ebook store. And don't miss out on these special offers:
Beneath the Canyons is free at all stores at least through December, or maybe longer.
Daughter of the Wildings Books 1-3 box set is on special for only $2.99 through this month, maybe longer if I continue to be happy with the sales it's getting.
And through October 31, get Mages' Home, book 1 of Defenders of the Wildings, for only 99 cents!
Um, okay. Finally back :D I've been busy, revising and editing Mages' Exile, book 2 of Defenders of the Wildings, and writing the first draft of my next series, yet to be named, set in the Islands of the Wildings world, the home of Silas's ancestors. I've also got a few more blog posts to write about our trip to Germany, which I'll try to finish soon.
In the meantime, here's a sneak peek into Mages' Exile. (My newsletter subscribers got to see this first, and they'll also get first look at the cover, a tiny snippet of which illustrates this post.) This scene shows why you don't take the kiddos along on your fantasy quests if you can possibly help it, though if you've read Mages' Home, you'll know that Silas and Lainie didn't have a whole lot of choice in the matter. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. (Note: this is not the final version; still some edits to go.)
Half-climbing, half-crawling, Silas left the winding path and headed straight up. Another measure and a half up, he pulled himself up onto a shelf cut into the slope, a good bit wider and longer than the ledge below. At the far side of the shelf, where the canyon wall rose again, five or six swordbeaks strutted in an agitated circle, spitting out curls of flame that hissed in the rain. In their midst, Garis sat on the ground, laughing and clapping his hands.
Silas’s heart skipped a beat and he stopped short. He suppressed an urge to run right over and pull Garis away from the swordbeaks; the last thing he wanted to do was upset the critters even more and provoke them into attacking. He held silent and motionless for a moment, observing the situation. It didn't look like the swordbeaks had hurt Garis, but they were clearly unhappy at his presence. A dark cleft split the canyon wall behind where Garis was sitting. The swordbeaks' den? No wonder the beasts were angry.
"Garis," he said, fighting to keep his voice calm.
"Look, Pa, fire chickens!" Garis shouted. The swordbeaks chittered, flapped their tiny forearms, and breathed out more fire.
Fire chickens. Silas closed his eyes, overcome by one of those brief, unexpected moments of sympathy for his own parents. “Hold still, Garis. Don’t scare them.”
“They ain’t scared, Pa. They happy and dancing!”
Great gods, what was he going to do? Silas studied Garis and the surrounding flock of swordbeaks, trying to work out how to get the critters away from the boy, or the boy away from them, without provoking them. He could slip a shield between the beasts and encircle Garis with it, keeping a strand of power extended to pull Garis and the shield out with, through the ring of swordbeaks. But wielding that much power with that much precision and control, without hitting any of the swordbeaks, in this place of wild magic while he was still suffering the effects of that weapon, wouldn’t be easy.
Still, it was the best he could come up with. Ignoring the discomfort, he began to draw power, shaping in his mind the shield he meant to make.
Watch for Mages' Exile, book 2 of Defenders of the Wildings, coming (hopefully) in January 2019! And in the meantime, stay tuned for the reveal of the amazing cover! To make sure you don't miss out on the release, and for early cover reveals, sneak peeks, special offers, and more, sign up for my email newsletter.
(First, I don't know why the date says 3/15; I started the draft that day but I'm posting this on 3/21. Anyway, on with the post.)
When Silas met Lainie:
“You need any help?” he asked the girl.
“No, thanks.” She got to her feet, brushing dust off her pants. She also wore a gunbelt with a holstered revolver; Silas had no doubt she knew how to use the gun. “I better get on with my errands before they start shooting again. Hey, Gobby!” she shouted at the group of arguing men in the street. “The same thing from my Pa! He ever catches you on his land again, he’ll shoot you so full of holes you can piss from ten places at once!”
The bearded man’s face broke into a leering smile. “Miss Lainie, you tell your Pa for me that this land ain’t owned by no one an’ I’ll drill wherever, whenever, an’ –” he leered more broadly “– whoever I want.”
Miss Lainie responded with a rude gesture. Gobby went red above his beard, and the men from the Bootjack laughed. One corner of Silas’s mouth quirked up; he liked a woman with spirit.
He offered her his arm. “I’d be happy to escort you while you do your business, in case there’s any more trouble.”
She eyed him head to toe, her gaze lingering on the large revolver holstered at his left hip. Though firearms were considered anti-magical and were therefore forbidden in Granadaia, no mage hunter would last a nineday in the Wildings without one. Silas had specially modified this piece himself; mundane bullets alone couldn’t be depended on to take down a strong and highly skilled mage.
“My Pa don’t like me going around with strange men,” she said.
“Well, then. I’m Silas Vendine.” He added the usual name-slip charm as he spoke his name, to make it harder to remember, though it didn’t always work very well with other mages. Then he grinned at her. “I may be strange, but at least now you know my name.”
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This is posted elsewhere on the site, but just in case you never make it that far into the site, here's the first chapter of Beneath the Canyons (newly re-re-edited edition):
BITTERBUSH SPRINGS. FROM Silas’s vantage point in the rocky hills to the east, the town didn’t look like much, just a dozen or so wooden crates laid out in rows, brown and quiet in the hot summer sun. He reached out with his mage senses towards the town and the valley beyond, seeking the strange magic he had followed here.
There it was, strong, for him to have sensed it from several days’ distance, dark and alien, but at times mixed with flashes of more familiar kinds of power. A hell of a lot of magic for a place where no mage would dare show himself openly.
No doubt about it; something strange was going on in the Bitterbush Valley. And, with any luck, there would be a nice, big bounty in it for him from the Mage Council.
If not, some serious belt-tightening lay ahead of him. Five years of making a good living hunting renegade mages in the more settled eastern part of the Wildings had been shot to all the hells when a passel of greenfoot mage hunters flooded through the Gap from Granadaia, looking for quick, easy fame and fortune. Mostly what those amateurs had managed to do was chase away the smartest and most dangerous rogue mages, the ones who were worth the highest bounties.
With his money running low, Silas had come west to the more remote parts of the Wildings, hoping for better hunting. Rumors of a mining rush in the Bitterbush Valley had caught his ear, and not long after he set out to follow the rumors, he had sensed the bursts of unusual magical power coming from the area. It made sense; a mining rush was indeed just the sort of thing a rogue mage might try to horn in on, looking for quick riches. Though that darker power didn’t feel like any ordinary mage.
Silas surveyed the valley again. It looked like good cattle country, grassland bleached gold in the hot, dry weather, well-watered by seasonal washes and a handful of running streams. A number of ranch compounds and farms lay scattered the length of the valley from north to south, and herds of cattle and sheep roamed the rangeland. All signs of prosperity that might also provide tempting opportunities for a renegade mage.
Silas settled his hat firmly on his head, made sure his revolver was loaded, and checked that the shield inside him concealing his power was solidly in place and seamlessly camouflaged. It wouldn’t do to let the rogue mage, if there was one, know that another mage had arrived in town.
His Island-dark skin was another matter. It could give him away to both mages and mage-hating Plain settlers as a member of one of the elite Island mage families back in Granadaia, but there was nothing he could do to change that. Anyhow, his skin wasn’t so dark that it couldn’t be mistaken for a deep tan, and during his years in the Wildings, he had grown adept at passing himself off as a descendant of the servants and slaves the Island mages had brought with them to Granadaia.
With an earnest prayer to the Provider for good hunting and a fat bounty, he nudged Abenar, his big gray speckled gelding, into a walk. Keeping to the trail marked by stakes hung with white feathers, indicating safe passage through the A’ayimat-controlled hills, they headed down the pass.
As the trail descended into the valley, it turned into a road that crossed the valley from east to west. Silas followed the road into town, where it intersected with a second road running north and south, then stopped to get his bearings.
On the north side of the crossroads, two saloons, the Bootjack and the Rusty Widow, faced each other across the street like two gunfighters squaring off. Laughter and a discordant jangling of competing hammerboxes spilled out of the saloons. The Rusty Widow and the bank both boasted tall false fronts and fancy painted signs that looked brand new. In an empty lot southeast of the intersection, a large sign proudly proclaimed, Future Site of the Bitterbush Springs Grand Music Hall and Variety Theater. Towards the north end of town stood a half-built building of imposing size.
It looked like a large amount of money had recently come to town, more evidence of the mining rush – and more bait for renegades.
Silas turned right and rode up the street in search of stabling and a place to stay. Next to the Rusty Widow Saloon stood a two-story building, also sporting a new false front with Mundy’s Boarding House painted on it in elaborate letters. A big sign in the front window read, Rooms to let. 2g per nineday.
Silas let out a low whistle. Two gildings a nineday was an enormous sum for a room in a boarding house in the Wildings, especially this far west. This was going to make a bigger dent in his funds than he’d planned on.
The saloons probably had rooms to let on their upper floors as well, but those were likely to be just as expensive as the boarding house, not to mention more distracting. Not that Silas was averse to enjoying the amenities to be found in such establishments, but for now he needed to concentrate on work. And since there didn’t appear to be a hotel in town, the boarding house it would have to be.
On the other side of the boarding house stood a stable, where a boy was tossing pebbles into a circle scratched in the dirt of the yard. Silas rode over and gave the boy a penny to watch Abenar and his belongings for a moment. He took note of the smithy behind the stable; Abenar badly needed new shoes. Silas hoped getting a horse shod in this town wasn’t as expensive as renting a room in the boarding house.
He pulled on his long brown duster, which he had shed in the heat of the day and draped over the saddle behind him, then walked back to the boarding house to inquire about a room.
A crash from inside the saloon across the street caught his attention. He turned to see a big-bellied, bushy-bearded man come flying backwards through the swinging doors of the Bootjack. The man landed on his back in the street, then leaped to his feet with surprising speed for a fellow his size. A second, much thinner, man charged out of the saloon and plowed into him, knocking him down again. The two men tussled in a cloud of dust, rolling along the street until they came to a stop in front of the boarding house, the skinny man pinning the bearded man face down with a knee in the small of his back.
“I ever catch you digging on my land again, I’ll draw an’ quarter you an’ chop you up for dog feed!” the skinny man yelled. “You hear me, Gobby?”
In a blur of motion, Gobby twisted out from under the other man and dropped him with a blow to the jaw that sounded like an axe thunking into wood. “You threatening me, Redlun? Cause if you’re gonna threaten me, you better be ready to back it up!”
“Yeah, he’s threatening you,” said a man with an extravagant mustache who stood in front of the Bootjack. His right hand dropped to the holster at his hip and came up holding a six-shooter aimed straight at Gobby. “An’ I’ll back up his threats for him.”
Bullets were about to fly. Silas’s first instinct was to throw a protective shield around himself, but he suppressed it. The bullets dropping harmlessly to the ground, slowed by their passage through the shield, would give him away to any other mages who might be around and to the Plain folk of the town. He had more important things to do than deal with a bunch of Plains trying to hang him. Instead, he stepped back into the shadows of the covered wooden sidewalk in front of the rooming house and edged out of the possible line of fire. Without knowing anything about the dispute, he would do better to not get involved.
A handful of men burst out through the swinging door of the Rusty Widow, the saloon next to the boarding house, and stood clustered on the sidewalk, watching. Gobby, now also holding a gun, got to his feet and turned to face the mustached man across the street. “Well, Winnard? You think you can beat me?”
“I can –”
A gunshot exploded from the group in front of the Rusty Widow. Winnard tumbled back against the wall of the Bootjack and collapsed, blood spreading across the right shoulder of his shirt. More men came pouring out from both saloons, and wild gunfire erupted. A handful of stray bullets hit the wall of the boarding house next to Silas; he dove aside, holding onto his hat, and hit the sidewalk.
From up the street came a wild burst of magical power, panicked and uncontrolled, strong enough that Silas could feel it even through the shield on his own power. It felt familiar; he recognized it from the flares of magic that had led him to Bitterbush Springs.
He started to raise his head to try to spot the mage, then a bullet split a board in the wall of the rooming house not one arm-length above him. He pressed himself even flatter against the boards of the sidewalk as the shootout went on, praying to the Defender that the gunfire would stay away from the stables and Abenar.
Then, for no reason Silas could discern, the shooting stopped. “What’s all this, boys?” a deep, resonant voice called out into the sudden silence.
Silas raised his head. Three men lay sprawled in the street. One was writhing in pain, the other two were still. The shooters who were still standing had all lowered their guns and were looking at the Rusty Widow. Silas turned his head to follow their gaze.
A tall man with a hearty build, handsome, pale face, and luxuriant black mustache was standing in front of the saloon. He wore a finely-fashioned black suit and black flat-brimmed hat. Two house ladies bedecked in lace and ruffles appeared behind him, clinging to his arms and peering around him into the street.
“Redlun an’ Winnard threatened me, Mr. Carden, sir,” Gobby said. “Me an’ the fellas was just defending ourselves.”
Silas stood up, making sure his hat was still in place, and brushed dust from his long brown coat. He kept close to the wall, in the shadow of the overhang, curious about this man who had the power to stop a gunfight just by appearing.
The black-suited man turned and put his arms around the house ladies. “Go back inside, my dears. No need to worry yourselves.”
The ladies retreated into the saloon, and Carden stepped down from the wooden walkway into the street. He stopped in front of Gobby, shaking his head. “Don’t tell me you went into the Bootjack again, Gobby,” he said in a genial tone. The crispness of an educated Granadaian accent underlay his informal Wildings speech. “You know damn well that’s rancher territory. You’re stupid enough to keep going in there, you deserve whatever you get.”
“When are you gonna start paying us for the ore that was taken off our land, Carden?” shouted Winnard, the wounded man in front of the Bootjack. The right side of his shirt was soaked with blood, but judging by the anger in his voice, he was a long way from dead.
“If you have a difference with me, Winnard, I’d be happy to discuss it peacefully,” Carden replied. “There’s no need for anyone to be shooting anyone else.”
Two men helped Winnard up, then they and several other men from the Bootjack walked over to Carden and started arguing with him. Gobby and some of the men from the Rusty Widow joined in. A whip-thin, bandy-legged man with a silver sword-shaped badge pinned to his shirt came over as well, but he stood back and remained silent.
Silas couldn’t make out what the men were saying, but their argument wasn’t what interested him the most at the moment. Taking care to avoid attracting any attention, he walked up the street towards where the burst of magic had come from.
If you want to read the rest of the story, Beneath the Canyons is available to download for free - yes, that's F-R-E-E! as part of these fabulous giveaways:
Checking in with a quick update on how my current projects are coming along. I'm finishing up the second major revision on Source-Breaker, the next novel I'll be releasing. After that comes the last few rounds of edits; hopefully, this will be ready to release by mid-December. I feel like it's been going really slow, partly because I've had a lot of disruptions and the CFS is really kicking me in the backside right now, and also because there's been a fair amount of work with adjusting characterizations and things like that. But one I get through the bottleneck of those big changes, it should go a lot faster.
The other major project I'm working on right now is the first draft of Defenders of the Wildings, the follow-up series to Daughter of the Wildings. I'm writing it all at once, like one big book; it doesn't divide up neatly into separate novels like Daughter did. It's more episodic, like a TV serial, and I'll probably end up releasing it that way. Like with Daughter, what I thought would be the end of Defenders actually wasn't and I needed to add a whole other part, bringing the action back to where it started to finish everything off. But now, after a couple of false starts and more than 150,000 words, I'm within 10,000 - 15,000 words of the end, I think. Lot of work still to go, to get it revised and cleaned up and ready to release, but Daughter of the Wildings has been picking up a whole bunch of new readers lately and I'm eager to offer more Silas and Lainie sixguns and sorcery to the world.
And just to prove that yes, this thing really does exist, here's the prologue from Defenders (unedited, straight from my brain to the keyboard):
Amber Bay shone gold, the color of its name, in the lengthening light of the late afternoon sun as three men disembarked from the Sea Dragon, the large sailing ship that had docked just a short time ago. All three of them strode down the gangplank with an air of authority -- they knew they were where they were supposed to be, and they knew what they were supposed to do. One was a tall, portly man in a long, richly-embroidered robe tied with a broad blue sash. His fair skin was burned red by the sun and wind of weeks at sea; a round, flat-topped cap sat atop his white-blond hair. The second man was nearly as tall, thin, with amber skin and curling red hair cropped close to his head. He wore a well-tailored dark suit, in the manner of wealthy businessmen on this continent, as did the third man. This man was short and powerfully muscled, ebony-skinned with a long black braid trailing down his back.
As they stepped off the gangplank, followed by a knot of half a dozen retainers and assistants, a man on shore came forward from the crowd to meet them. He was tall, dark-skinned as though deeply tanned and dark-haired, also wearing a well-made dark suit. His right forefinger sported a broad gold ring set with a dark red stone. He bowed to the three men who had just come off the ship. "Underministers. Welcome to Amber Bay and the Wildings."
The three men nodded to him. "You are Mr. Desavias?" the tall, fair-haired man asked.
He nodded. "I am. At your service, Underministers."
"You have the items that were discussed?" the red-haired man asked.
"I do, Underministers. That is, I have constructed a prototype according to your instructions, and we have procured more of the substance to fuel it." He nodded to his side, and a fifth man stepped forward. This man was of middling height, lean and muscular, with skin a pale lavender bordering on gray and long dark red hair twisted into thick, ropy locks. He wore tanned leather leggings and no shirt, and was carrying a metal-bound wooden box, with sides about the length of his forearms.
"That is the substance?" the fair-haired man asked Desavias.
But it was the lavender-skinned man who answered them, speaking the tongue they spoke in with surprising fluency. "It is. A gift from the P'wagimet people in exchange for the Continental Alliance's considerations in the past and in the future. This is only a sample. Greater quantities are being safely stored in the place where the weapons will be made."
"Excellent," the fair-haired man said, though he still addressed his words to Desavias rather than the P'wagimet man. "And this... material works as promised?"
"It has been extensively tested, Underminister. I think you three gentlemen and your leaders will be more than pleased," Desavias answered.
"Good," the red-haired underminister said, but the third foreigner's brow creased in concern.
"Are we certain that this is absolutely necessary?" he asked his companions. "It seems to me that the cost is far greater than any benefit this tactic might provide. Even considering the generous donation of the key material by this man's people." He nodded to the P'wagimet man.
The other two men looked at him. "If you are having doubts, Mr. Cajali," the fair-haired one said, "please feel free to express your doubts to the Commissioner and ask to be removed from this mission."
Cajali's dark face blanched grayish. "I... of course I'm not having doubts, Mr. Dorbich. If you and Mr. Semov are convinced that this measure is necessary in proportion to its cost to the success of the mission, then I will not argue with that. Expansion and Regulation are your realms of expertise, not mine; I will continue to concern myself only with affairs of business."
"When you gentlemen have rested from your journey, we will discuss preparations for the journey to the outpost," Desavias said. "Of course, because of the difficulties in transporting the devices, they must be manufactured much closer to the Wildings -- what you call the Middle Lands. And it is more convenient to have headquarters there, as well."
Lut Dorbich, Underminister of Expansion for the Continental Alliance's foray into this new continent, looked at his companions. "Thank you. I believe we will be ready to depart Amber Bay in the morning. We have been forced into inactivity during the long journey; it is time to begin moving forward. Are we agreed on that?"
Yugalis Semov, Underminister of Regulation, nodded in agreement. After a brief hesitation, Gidejoni Cajali, Underminister of Enterprise, nodded as well.
"Very good," Desavias said. "I have a carriage waiting right over here, to take you to your hotel. Follow me, please."
Following the mage and the P'wagimet man, the three Underministers walked to a carriage waiting near the busy, crowded pier and climbed in.
Hey, it rhymes! Anyway, in honor of Halloween, here's a spooky scene from For the Wildings, book 6 of Daughter of the Wildings (spoilers redacted).
He walked back out beyond the edge of the town to where Lainie was waiting with Mala and Abenar, who were grazing on some dead grass sticking up through the thin layer of snow. The gloomy sky was darkening to what would be a moonless night, Darknight. The dark of the moon was not a night for lingering in a place of death. Silas shivered, and not just from the cold.
“You done?” Lainie asked, her face still wan. “See anything?”
“Nothing but death,” he answered.
Her eyes strayed back to the town. “I don’t want to sleep this close to… that. Not with all those ghosts around and tonight being Darknight.”
“Me either.” He had said the rites, but on Darknight, the one night of the month with no moon and given to no god, when the gods hid their faces from the earth, it was harder for spirits to find their way to the Afterworld.
They mounted up and rode another league or so away from the town, far enough away that the smells and restless spirits were much less noticeable. There was no sign of livestock on the range out here; neither had there been any in town, unusual for a ranching town. Maybe the cattle let out to range in the area knew better than to come near this haunted place.
Silas pitched the tent. Using dead branches from a small copse of scrub oak, he dredged up a spark of power and lit a campfire. It might attract attention, but the midwinter Darknight was no time to be outside without a fire. He spread out his old coat and blanket by the fire, and practiced using a drying spell to extract most of the water. It was clumsy and difficult, like trying to saddle a horse with just one hand and that hand missing most of its fingers.
He and Lainie ate and then sat together at the fire for a while, deliberately speaking only of ordinary, comforting things – the horses, Mrs. Murrison’s cooking, how much money they still had. Lainie’s face was haggard with exhaustion, and before long her eyes started drifting shut. Though Silas had little desire to face the night watch alone, he kissed her hand and said, “You get some sleep. I’ll sit watch.”
She returned the kiss on his own hand. “Get me up later. Don’t stay awake all night. You need your sleep too.”
“I’ll do that.” He would let her get plenty of sleep before then, though. He could make do with only a couple of hours. He kissed her mouth, a lingering kiss as he both sought and offered comfort, then she crawled into the tent.
Silas settled himself for the watch. He left his mage senses – what there was of them – partly exposed to detect any hint of trouble, and cleared his mind, letting his thoughts flow freely around each other. The anguish of the dead still teased at the edges of his senses, and he sent up another prayer to the Gatherer and the Sunderer to help them find their way on this moonless, gods-forsaken night.
A scuffling in the dirt some distance behind Silas caught his attention. Instantly, he was on his feet, his revolver in hand. Guns wouldn’t do any good against restless, vengeful spirits, but they were still useful against bandits, renegade mages, and angry blueskins. “Who’s there?” he called out.
I came across this writing exercise I did for Dean Wesley Smith's Originality workshop on YouTube. The prompt was "a character standing on a bridge." (unedited, straight from my brain to the keyboard.)
She stopped in the middle of the bridge and set down her pack, catching her breath after the long walk through the rugged territory that had led to this narrow gap in the mountains. A cold wind whistled down the gorge, setting the bridge to shivering. She shivered as well, and not just from the wind. The urge to look back, just once, was more than she had will to resist, so she looked.
Nothing behind her.
Only the forest, the trees standing so close together, their branches so heavy and dense, that no moonlight could filter through to lessen the thick darkness among the trunks. Nothing else lay that way; everything that had existed for her now lay buried beneath fresh-turned earth.
She looked down, over the thin wooden rail of the thin wooden bridge that creaked beneath her feet. Far below in the gorge, moonlight glinted on the ripples in the narrow, swift-flowing river where it ran over rocks.
Nothing below, except for a burst of pain on hitting the cold water and the rocks just beneath the surface, followed by -- whatever lay beyond that. She had a hard time believing it was anything but oblivion.
Ahead lay more dark forest, as dense and lightless as its twin on the other side of the bridge. A path must lead on from the bridge, else why was the bridge here at all? But she had never heard anyone speak of an end to the forest, of any sort of destination such a path, assuming it existed, might lead to.
So, ahead of her, more nothing as well.
Nothing behind her but loss, nothing below her but oblivion, nothing ahead but the unknown.
Having caught her breath, she stood, considering the three different kinds of nothing. Or there was a fourth kind; she could simply sit down here, in the middle of the bridge, and wait for the end that would come sooner or later. But that would inevitably lead to the same oblivion that awaited her below, less painful but dragged out unbearably slow.
Loss, oblivion, or the unknown.
Finally she shouldered her pack and took a step forward, then another, then another. Of the three nothings, only the unknown held the possibility that it might change. So that was where she would go.
This might eventually turn into something. My brain is working on it, trying it out with other scraps of ideas that aren't quite ready to go.
In the meantime, the first draft of Defenders of the Wildings is progressing nicely (finally, after two false starts), and I'm still working on the second major revision of Source-Breaker. Hoping to have some cover art to show off soon!
Since the Weird Western StoryBundle and the accompanying blogging blitz ended, I've been trying to get caught up on other work. I'm making progress on both the first draft of Defenders of the Wildings, the follow-up to the Daughter of the Wildings series, and on the revisions of my upcoming release, Source-Breaker (formerly known under the working title The Source-Fixer). I don't have a cover yet for Source-Breaker, though I've ordered one from my cover artist and I'm eagerly waiting to see what he comes up with. My next book after Source-Breaker will be Heir of Tanaris, and I do have the preliminary sketch for the cover art for that, and it's gorgeous! Anyway, to keep you entertained in the meantime, here's a sneak peek from Chapter 1 of Source-Breaker, where Kaniev, our intrepid but struggling repairman of broken magical Sources, meets Fransisa, the priestess in charge at Source Chaitrasse (remember, this is an early version; there's still a lot of editing to go on it):
Somewhere deep inside the building, a bell rang. A moment later, a girl in a white robe opened the door and blinked up at him. "Yes?" she asked in a high, sweet, barely audible voice.
As you can tell, this relationship is off to a wonderful start :P
Watch for the cover reveal and the release of Source-Breaker, a novel of Estelend, coming up later this fall. And to make sure you don't miss out on release news and special limited-time low introductory pricing, sign up for my email alerts.
Just to prove I've been hard at work, here's a sneak peek from For the Wildings (spoilers redacted):
Lainie woke up on a cold stone floor in a dark room. Moonlight streamed in through a single small window high up on the wall; more dim light shone from somewhere behind her. Memories came to her mind, the battle with Lord Astentias, and then a violent blast that had sent her flying –
She sat up, groaning at the aches and pains that flared into life all over her body, and looked around the room. The window wasn’t barred, but it was too high and too narrow for anyone to be able to climb through. Three of the walls of the small cell were solid, made of hard-baked mud brick; the fourth had a door of iron bars set into it. On the other side of the door, a barrel-chested man with the copper badge of a deputy pinned to his vest sat at a desk, feet propped up on the desktop, snoring softly. A half-empty whiskey bottle stood on the floor by his chair. Lainie and Silas’s gunbelts were piled on the desk. Lainie pushed her face against the bars to get a better look to either side of her cell; she was on the left end of a row of four cells. “Silas?” she whispered loudly.
His hand appeared from between the bars of the cell at the other end. “Over here, darlin’,” he answered, likewise keeping his voice low. “You okay over there?”
“I’m fine. I’m kind of sore.” In truth, she felt like she had fallen off her horse. Everything felt bumped and bruised and scraped, but at least nothing seemed to be broken. “How are we going to get out of here?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll have us out of here right quick. Let’s be ready to restrain the good deputy there if he wakes up.”
“I don’t think he’ll wake up; it looks like he’s got a good dose of whiskey in him.” At that moment, the man at the desk let out a loud, gasping snore. Lainie froze; the deputy mumbled to himself, then fell quiet again.
Lainie let out a long breath; still, she kept a wary eye on the deputy, a thread of power at the ready to bind him if he woke up. A soft chunking sound came from the other end of the room, then the barred door of Silas’s cell swung open. Noiselessly, he walked over to Lainie’s cell and set the forefinger of his left hand against the lock. The ring on his finger pulsed with faint light, blue streaked with amber. With a murmured word and a slight gesture of his finger, the tumblers in the lock turned and the lock came open.
“That was too easy,” Lainie whispered as she stepped out of the cell.
Silas nodded. “There was a charm on the locks that probably alerted someone when I opened them. We better hurry.”
They went quietly to the desk and buckled on their gunbelts, then left the jailhouse, managing to not wake the deputy. Outside, they stood in the shadows of the covered walkway, pressed back against the wall of the building, looking to see if the way was clear. “How come you never showed me how to do that unlocking spell?” Lainie asked quietly.
“I wouldn’t want to corrupt your morals, Miss Lainie,” Silas said with a wink.
“It’s far too late to be worrying about that, Mr. Vendine.” Lainie looked around at the dark, deserted street. The night was cold and quiet; the moonlight shone on the snow frosting the roofs of the unburned buildings and piled along the edges of the street. “I wonder where that boy got to.”
“I didn’t see him in the jail,” Silas said.
Lainie’s heart froze. “I hope they didn’t hang him after they locked us up.”
“Mister?” a voice said from nearby. “Ma’am?”
Lainie just about jumped out of her skin. She and Silas spun towards the voice, hands instinctively going to their guns. A skinny figure stood at the opening of the narrow gap between the sheriff’s office and the neighboring building – Jimmo, the boy who’d nearly been hanged. Lainie willed her heart to stop pounding like a herd on the stampede. “Thank the gods, they didn’t hang you,” she whispered.
Wow, we're into the middle of November, and I realized I haven't been updating much. So here's what's going on: I'm planning the next big revision of For the Wildings, book 6 of Daughter of the Wildings. I do this revision to fix major issues that have come up since the first big revision, either things pointed out by the test readers or things that have changed over the course of the series, or just mistakes I missed the last time around. After this comes a few rounds of fixing up, fine-tuning, and editing before the book is ready to go. Still can't say when For the Wildings will be ready for release; sometime in February, as a rough guess. It's longer than the other books, and with the holidays coming up I won't be able to put as many hours in.
I've also been reading a lot, and sometime soon I'll be putting up a monster Reading Roundup post. Tons of great books to recommend!
Finally, being November, it's National Novel Writing Month. I've done it and "won" it (I actually prefer to think of it as completing the challenge, since everyone who validates 50,000 words written in November is a winner) every year since 2009, and this year looks like it'll be no exception. I'm writing The Healing Tree (working title), an old unfinished novel set in the same world as Chosen of Azara, that I decided to take another run at since the characters wouldn't leave me alone and I love the idea of it. I used this awesome outling guide, Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker (pants - writing term, for writing without an outline or "by the seat of your pants") to plan it all the way through, and so far it's going pretty well. As of today, I'm at 28,165 words, out of a target of 50,000. The actual novel is probably going to be much longer.
The main problem I've run into with it is that Davreos, the male main character, is a very complicated character. I made some adjustments to him from how he was in the original version, but he keeps wanting to revert back to that instead of going with my changes. If I've learned one thing in 26 years of writing, it's that the characters are almost always right, so I've finally decided to just go with it.
Anyway, to give you a little taste of this new project (which will eventually be released for sale), here's the first scene. It's unedited, straight from my brain to my fingers, but I think it came out ok:
The wizard's screams died away in Davreos's ears. How could he still have the strength to scream so loudly? Davreos wondered. Or to even still be alive. Most of the enemies of the Empire or other subjects brought to Maikarsk's cavern for interrogation were dead by this point in their questioning. But somehow, that old man, nothing more than skin and bones and thin, ropy muscles even when he had first been brought to Maikarsk, had managed to survive this long and remain conscious enough to scream.
"Stubborn," the Inquisitress said, only a faint note of frustration and displeasure coloring her impassive voice. Davreos glanced at her, waiting for her next instructions. Her black robe, covering her from head to toe, hid all signs of femininity, all signs of individual identity, but her height, slenderness, and voice were unmistakeable. The Inquisitress's veiled face remained turned and bowed slightly towards the wizard where he was strapped to the table a little longer. Though her face was always veiled while she was acting in her duties, Davreos knew what she looked like behind the veil, and he could imagine the dark, tilted eyes narrowed in disapproval, the full lips frowning. "Useless," she said. "Finish him."
"Yes, my lady," Davreos said.
"And," the Inquistress went on, "be sure to remove his Source-token before you dispose of his body. It might be useful."
"Yes, my lady," Davreos said again.
The Inquisitress left the cavern. Davreos turned back to the wizard and prepared to lower the blade that would give the killing blow. Suddenly, the wizard's hand, which should have been bound with unbreakable chains to the table, seized the opening of Davreos's ragged tunic and pulled him down so that their faces nearly touched. Fear clenched Davreos's belly; how had the wizard's hand gotten loose? Had the bonds been insufficient? The Inquisitress would punish him if the wizard somehow got loose and escaped...
"I pity you," the wizard breathed against his face, his voice a nearly soundless tatter after all his screaming. "You could be so much more, so much better than this..."
Davreos froze. His heart nearly stopped. How did the wizard know of his most secret thoughts? Desires and ambitions that would see him tortured and killed this same way if the High Priest or the Inquisitress or, worst of all, Maikarsk itself became aware of them. He was a slave; that was his ordained role in life, and to hope for anything more was utterly impossible and forbidden.
"Silence," he said to the wizard, and pulled himself out of the old man's grip.
The wizard seized him again, this time grabbing his arm. He placed Davreos's hand on the small carved wooden pendant that hung from a chain around his neck, and folded Davreos's fingers around it. "Take this," he whispered.
Davreos had been ordered to take the Source-token anyway, which would contain power from whatever Source the wizard drew his power from, to sustain his magic while he was away from that Source. He pulled on it, intending to snap the chain, but instead, at his touch on the wooden pendant, power shocked up into him through his arm, warm and bright, with a golden-green glow that was more a feeling than a color. It filled him, the warmth and light almost unbearable in comparison to the power of Maikarsk he bore within him. It filled him until he thought he would burst; his jaw ached as his teeth gritted against the agony of it, biting back his own cries. He didn't dare make a sound; if he was weak against the subjects, he would be deemed useless and sent back to the worst jobs at the temple of Maikarsk. Finally the power seemed to gather itself and bury itself deep within him until it was no more than a faint glimmer.
He opened his eyes, which he had squeezed shut against the pain, and unclenched his hand from around the Source-token. Nothing but dust filled his hand. A cold bolt of horror pierced his chest; the Inquisitress had commanded him to take the token. But she was gone; perhaps he could tell her that the wizard had destroyed it himself.
Time to finish the job. He placed his hand on the blade again, then looked at the wizard. The old man's cloudy eyes stared sightlessly upward into the shadowy heights of the cavern, and his gnarled hand had fallen to lie limply at his side. He was dead, almost as though he had given up his life of his own volition. Davreos looked at the broken chain that had held the wizard's hand bound to the table. The wizard had had enough strength to break that chain and to hold on to his life until he chose to give it up. Why had he allowed himself to be taken prisoner at all, if he was that strong? Why had he surrendered his life instead of escaping? What had he hoped to accomplish with the useless sacrifice?
Stupid, he thought. The man had allowed himself to be defeated. Stupid and weak. Anyone that weak was worthy only of death.
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