A Roll of the Dice

I mentioned a month or so back how I had a short(ish) story coming out in an anthology that my writing group publishes, well it is finally available! Called A Roll of the Dice III, it features a bunch of stories—some fantasy, some sci-fi, some horror—all based around four central objects: a hand, a bridge, a lock, and an arrow.

The story I contributed is called “For Want of a Sword”, and is set in a different different region of my Bulletproof Witch series, but doesn’t require any prior knowledge in order to read it (of course, if you haven’t read Bulletproof Witch already, what are you doing here?) I have a little sampler from the story below, if you enjoy it, please consider picking up a copy of the anthology. Myself, and the other eight writers involved, would greatly appreciate it!

***

Viscount Orlondo deLarosa Cevena slammed his hands against the table. “I need a weapon.”

The three nobles seated around it—friends and trusted confidants, all—looked up at him. Mateo was the first to gather his wits. “Planning rebellion, or just looking for a further excuse to sully your family’s good name?”

He spoke the question casually, amusement playing across his face. The man’s eyes, however, betrayed him. They darted about the room, looking for anyone that might have overheard.

There was little cause for concern. The cafe’s veranda was quiet this time of the afternoon, when heat pressed down upon the city of Landeaux, smothering what little life remained to it. Most who could afford to do so retreated indoors, or better still inland to the mountains, where the wind yet held a measure of relief.

This meant the four friends had the veranda to themselves. Below them, the city tapered away, changing to fields of coffee and hot pepper bushes that rose and fell along the hills. Far in the distance Orlondo could just make out a grove of plantains, one of the many fields owned by his father. A field in which he was supposed to be working.

Fruit and shame. It was all that remained of his family’s legacy. But not for much longer.

“It’s not for rebellion,” he said at last, and his friends relaxed. “It’s for a duel.”

Vincente, sixth eldest son of the lesser Duke Aldagoz, cringed. “Oh, and here I was afraid it was for something foolish. Are you trying to get yourself executed? And the rest of us along with you?”

“Who, exactly, are you planning to duel?” his sister Jeanne asked. She was always one to cut straight to the point.

“The Marquisess.” Blank stares met his words, so Orlondo added, somewhat hesitantly, “Colette Vicario.”

Silence reigned across the veranda. Somewhere in the city, a cathedral bell called out the hour.

At last, Jeanne cleared her throat, refusing to look Orlondo in the eye. “And why, pray tell, are you fighting a duel against your betrothed?”

Orlondo did not reply. Everyone at the table knew his reasons already.

“You truly are your father’s son,” Mateo said with a shake of his head. “I suppose you expect me to serve as your second. Not as if anyone else at this table knows the difference between a saber and a butter knife.”

“So you’ll help me, then?” Orlondo felt a weight lift off his chest, one he had not even noticed until it was gone. He reached out and clasped the Silvere’s hand in his own.

“Yes, yes. I suspected something like this was coming. Meet me tomorrow after sundown by the gates to the lower quarter. I have an old acquaintance from my time in the service who should have a few…items of interest.” Mateo glanced at the siblings. “I don’t suppose you’ll stay home if I ask nicely?”

Vincente just grinned, and Mateo let out a sigh. “Fine. Be there on time for once, and for the love of the gods, dress sensibly, won’t you? Something that doesn’t scream ‘spoiled Duke’s whelp out after curfew’.”

The siblings both started to protest, then went silent, eyes cast towards the street.

Orlondo turned to see what had caught their attention. A company of soldiers marched along the road outside the cafe, resplendent in their black and red uniforms. None of them so much as glanced towards the veranda, but the four nobles remained silent until the sound of footsteps faded into the distance.

After a moment Mateo let out a cough and turned back to Orlondo. “With all respect, my illustrious friend, are you sure you won’t reconsider? One does not defy the governor’s ban upon dueling lightly. Even if you escape execution, your family name will suffer if we’re caught.”

“Fweh, I do not care what laws that signore places upon us. The blood of Landeaux flows through my veins, and I will settle my affairs as tradition demands.”

Mateo stood. “In that case, I have some inquiries to make. Until tomorrow?”

The friends made their goodbyes. Orlondo turned to leave, but paused as a hand touched his arm. Jeanne looked up at him, eyes filled with concern.

“Is there no way for you and Colette to put this awful business to rest? She’s my friend as well, you know.”

Orlondo smiled, but it was a sad one. “I am my father’s son. No more, and no less.”

He pulled away and strode out into the street. Already the heat was fading, and the city was returning to life. Carts passed him by as he walked towards his family villa, each laden down with mangoes, cassava, groundnuts, and heavy bags of amaranth. Over everything else, the smell of coffee permeated the streets, the odor heady and pungent. So much of the city’s commerce relied on the coffee bean that the two were almost inseparable.

The sights and smells brought a smile to his lips. Even after two years, little had changed. It was still the home he remembered from his childhood, governor or no.

A shadow passed over him. Orlondo looked up and saw the swollen belly of a dirigible. Ropes hung underneath, some so close they almost brushed the top of the nearby cathedral. Then the ship passed on, towards the airfields near the harbor.

Orlondo shook his head. Well, not everything is the same.

Near a city park he paused for a pair of wagons. An unexpected gust of wind brought a moment of relief, and Orlondo closed his eyes, sighing. It would be so nice to join the other nobles fleeing the city for the mountains, to go at least one day without sweating through his clothes. Pity that neither life nor duty would allow him such a luxury.

Through the iron fence passed the sound of children playing some game. As Orlondo reached the gate, their words became clear over the clang and clatter of the city. He stumbled and almost fell into the street, but righted himself at the last moment.

Within the park children jumped rope, repeating their rhyme in a sing-song melody.

For want of a sword the duel was lost.
For want of a duel the title was lost.
For want of a title the commander was lost.
For want of a commander the bridge was lost.
For want of a bridge the kingdom was lost.
And all for want of a sword.

Despite the heat, Orlondo pulled up the collar of his shirt and walked faster. The children’s mocking voices followed him home, their laughter grown menacing in the shadowy corners of his imagination.

***

You can find the rest of the story in A Roll of the Dice III.

Book 3 Pre-Order!

Like the title says, Episode 3 of Bulletproof Witch, titled Arkton At High Noon, is now available for pre-order, with a release date of Halloween (I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to utilize my favorite holiday of the year).

I’ve hit a few stumbling blocks with writing book 4, but I’m still optimistic about getting it published in early March. That shouldn’t be too difficult, as I always have more time to write in the winter when there aren’t crops to put into the ground and kids begging to go for a swim at the lake. After that I’ll be taking a little break away from writing Bulletproof Witch to work on on another project, a stand-alone novel that I’ve been itching to write. Completely different world, magic system . . . heck, I’m even writing it in first person. Should be an interesting experience, and hopefully an equally exciting read!

Summer Update

*Insert obligatory “I can’t believe this summer went by so quickly!” comment*

Yeah, so I haven’t been updating the blog much in the last two months. Don’t let that trick you into thinking I wasn’t busy! It’s actually been quite the production summer. Maybe not exactly where Bulletproof Witch is concerned, but still…

Most of the last month or two have gone into a lot of auxiliary work: planning out projects for the winter, working up some ad campaigns, that sort of thing. I also wrote a “short” story for an anthology my local writers group is putting together, which is set in the same world as Bulletproof Witch, but not really connected in any noticeable way. Once that book goes live I’ll get a link posted here if anyone’s interested.

Episode 4 is progressing slowly, which is to say I’m a few words further than the last time I updated, but not much. Now that I’ve hit the end of summer I’m planning to get to it with a vengeance. With luck I’ll have readable draft ready by Christmas. I’m sure I’ve commented before (but am too lazy to check my archives) that this one will be much shorter, probably a little shy of episode 2’s word count. Should still be a fun adventure though.

On to happier news! The audiobook for episode 2 is finally available at long last. You can find it here, if that is your sort of thing.

Also, I finally have a cover for Episode 3 to reveal! Hopefully I’ll have the pre-order page up by the end of the month, and the planned release date for this book is October 31st. Keep an eye on this blog for further developments, though.

Another Draft Complete!

Much happiness and rejoicing! I have completed the first draft of Episode 3, now all that remains is getting it cleaned up and out to beta readers (which I’m hoping to do by the beginning of July).

Actually, if I’m being honest, I finished the first draft a week ago, but I’ve been so busy cleaning it up I never thought to come post an update here. Better late than never.

Book Three (to be titled Arkton at High Noon), is going to be a bit of a long one, with the first draft sitting at around 110k words (in other words, the length of most standard novels! Hurray!). Some of that will end up on the cutting room floor, but I’m still expecting it to be the biggest volume after episode 8.

Once everything is done and sent off to beta readers, I’ll be launching straight into Episode 4, which based on the outline I’ve come up with will be somewhere more to the tune of 65k words. Combined with a much simpler plot (reminiscent of the first book), that one should be easy to knock out of the park in short order. After that I’ll be taking a year off before releasing book 5 to work on a SPECIAL PROJECT (dun dun dun!), which if you have talked to me at all outside of this blog you probably already know what it entails, but for the rest of you, SECRETS.

Also the break is somewhat predicated on my family telling me they miss me and would like to see me doing something other than staring at a computer screen all the time. So I should probably make a little time for that in there somewhere.

Book Review Page

I periodically review new (mostly self-published) books over on Reddit’s r/Fantasy page. It occurred to me the other day that I had never gathered them up to list here, so I’ve added a new page at the bottom for Reddit Reviews.

It should be noted that for every book I review on there, I go through close to a dozen self-published books. I’m not saying these others are bad, just that I typically only review books that I really like, so these reviews tend to lean towards the positive.

Episode Two is Available for Sale!

Today the second episode of Bulletproof Witch became available for sale from Amazon. I must say that I’m fairly proud of this one: it’s twice as long as the first book, with way more characters, plot development, and even a mystery to boot! Plus I packed the book with a few goodies I couldn’t manage for the first one, such a map, an appendix (detailing the magic system), and some hilarious deleted scenes at the back.

I checked and saw this morning there were a few pre-orders of the book! If you’re reading this and you were among them, thank you! It means the world to me that someone would take a chance on my writing before there’s even a review to be found. I mean, I’m grateful for everyone that spends time and money to pick up a copy, but doubly so for any early adopters.

In Episode Three news (to be titled Arkton at High Noon), I’m probably over halfway done with the first draft. I pushed back my self-enforced deadline of having a beta-reader copy ready from the end of May to end of June, but I don’t think that’ll be delaying the actual book release (sometime in late October). That deadline will count more on when art and other auxiliary items are completed, which shouldn’t be as difficult during the summer months.

Looking further ahead than that, I have a pretty well laid out five year publishing schedule. I’m not ready to share exact details about that, but maybe once I’m done with Episode Four. Got lots of exciting things planned for the future, including writing in a bunch of different worlds (that are all connected somehow together). Stay tuned for more updates about that.

Episode Two Preview

Prelude

The ravine was quiet as a dead cat. Fortunately, Belial loved cats. Especially dead ones.

The daemon crouched at the top of a boulder, staring down through the winding passageway. This wasn’t an ideal place to wait, as the rock had an unfortunate habit of wobbling back and forth slightly with the slightest provocation, but it did afford the best view. Besides, Belial did not intend to be here long.

Its stomach growled. The daemon scratched idly at a peeling scrap of flesh along its arm, then grabbed hold and tore the entire piece away. It shoved the scrap into its mouth, swallowing with a little moan of ecstasy.

From deep inside, some remnant of its host let out a silent scream. Belial grinned. Not lost to madness yet, I see. Good, I could use a distraction. However, a moment later the scream faded away, and with it went Belial’s grin. That didn’t last long. Typical human weakness, don’t know why I even bother getting my hopes up.

With nothing else to occupy its attention, the feeling returned, that too close sensation like something was poking the daemon in the back with a stick. Something half-remembered, but for which Belial could not seem to recall a name. Several days had passed in frustrated bewilderment trying to recall it, while the road changed to track, to trail, to forest undisturbed since the skyfires. Earlier that morning the name returned at last, and with it all the terrible implications Belial had thought no longer applied to a damned creature such as itself.

Fear.

That particular emotion had been absent for so long, even the sound of it felt strange in Belial’s head: dry and musty as ancient spiderwebs found in a sealed room. After all, what need did a daemon such as itself have for a word like that? Fear applied to the meat sacks it wore for playing lovely little games. Not to the majestic being that ruled from inside.

No, fear should have been ancient dust by now. Gone the day Varconis banished it from Paradise. Instead, the feeling was back, wriggling underneath its skin like a host of maggots ready to gnaw their way free.

Grinding teeth half rotted away to nothing, the daemon dropped from its roost and moved further up the trail. Muscles in its legs groaned in pain as they struck the ground. Belial frowned, but there was little that could be done about it at the moment.

It had worn this body for weeks already. Soon the bones and organs would rot as the skin already did, and it would be forced to abandon this host as it had so many others. It could see the signs with almost every step: the leaves that blackened and burned away at its touch, the flames that flickered for a moment in each footprint.

There was the matter of its growing hunger, too.

I need a new host, and soon. Before it could see to that small matter though, it had to remove the burr that plagued it. That thrice-damned girl with her magick guns and her sharp words and her too-intelligent horse. She had already trapped it once several months ago, and Belial would eat saltpeter before surrendering to that cramped prison again.

Life had been simple, once. For the first several centuries after its exile, Belial had wandered from one end of Korvana to another, alone but for the other daemons condemned and abandoned in the wasteland. Here and there the daemon had taken a dumb beast for a host, but the experience was always distasteful, dull to the senses, and never for longer than necessary. Belial still shuddered at the memory.

The day that ships first appeared on the coastline, full of men come to settle this empty land, it had seemed like nothing short of a miracle. They were ignorant barbarians, but made far better hosts than a bear or fox, that was for certain. The humans were endless in number and embarrassingly easy to manipulate. It was almost too good to be true.

Which it was. The games lasted longer than the daemon expected, but eventually the barbarians caught on. From among them appeared a new type of human, one with weapons and skills that brought ruin to everything that Belial and its siblings had tried to build. The Pistol Warlocks.

This girl was just the latest in a long line of hunters that had plagued the daemon for decades. Admittedly, she seemed a little different, a little more competent. What did one call a female warlock, anyway? Belial searched its host’s memories, but came up empty. A Pistol . . . Wench, maybe? Yes, that will do.

At last, satisfied with its position, Belial turned around and watched the path threading towards the plains below. A bend in the hills hid any pursuit further than a hundred yards behind, which suited its purposes just fine.

Belial had allowed overconfidence to rule during their last encounter, but it would not be taken so easily this time.

Barely a minute passed before a lone figure appeared from behind a shoulder-high boulder, rolling into view, guns held at the ready. Even knowing what to expect, Belial felt its host’s heart beat extra quick at the sight of those steel instruments of torture. Too well it recalled the burning agony of the fire contained within them. The daemon forced itself to remain calm. To remember the plan.

“Alright Belial, I think you’ve had your fun.” The Pistol Wench, whatever her name was, eyed it from underneath the brim of her hat with the expression of someone who could already taste victory. She was an unusual sight, even to a creature as versed in the strange and unexplainable as itself. Besides her guns and their magicks, she wore what looked like an old coat, but which she used to move faster and further than even Belial’s own legs could achieve. Her skin was strange too, much darker than any other Federation citizen. It almost reminded the daemon of . . . but, no, that was impossible.

Right. Focus.

The Pistol Wench was still talking. “That was quite the mess you left behind at that farm a few days back. Took me quite a while to find your trail amidst all the blood.”

Belial ground its teeth again. It had only wanted to stop and rest in the family’s barn for a few hours. When their daughter stumbled across it sleeping on a hay bale, the sight of jagged horns and bones protruding from flesh had sent her screaming. The daemon had been forced to quiet her somehow. Of course, after that it had to quiet the rest of the family. Couldn’t just leave these things half-finished.

The wench, clearly not expecting an answer, continued on, “I don’t suppose you would consider going peaceful this time?”

“Would you trust me even if I said yes, girl?” the daemon retorted.

“No, I suppose not. Let’s get this over with, then. Estalia—

Belial had been waiting for this. It tensed, and as the wench finished her incantation with a shout of “—Vos!” the daemon twisted sideways. A quicksilver beam passed only a hair’s breadth from its chest, time seeming to slow to a crawl.

Then the silver was past, burying itself in the hillside.

Belial took off running. Behind it the girl let out a curse and gave chase.

A second later the daemon heard a cry of “Habero!” It dove to the side, a bone protruding from its elbow snapping off as it impacted against a rocky outcrop. Heat washed by overhead, and several nearby sagebrush burst into flames. A heartbeat later Belial was on its feet and running again.

It ran around another bend, and close behind the Pistol Wench drew closer. Belial leapt over a scattering of branches, then clambered up a short slope, rolling down the other side, unmindful of the sharp rocks and thorny bushes that tore and scraped greedily at its flesh. It lay at the bottom, breathing heavily.

Oh Fires of A’chapala, Belial prayed. Don’t let her fly over the boulder like last time. She can’t know for certain I’ve stopped, no reason I wouldn’t keep just running up the hill. Please, oh please, oh—

From the other side, the rapid footsteps came to an abrupt halt, followed by a loud squawk. Everything went quiet.

Belial rolled over and crawled up the hill, half-eager, half-petrified for what it might find.

On the other side, the branches that the daemon had spread over its trap were no longer visible. A pit yawned in their place, the girl laying at the bottom.

Belial’s grin grew so wide it nearly split its face. Finding this sinkhole had been a stroke of the grandest luck, but the daemon had never been one to overlook a windfall of any sort.

It hopped down into the pit and eyed the girl. She lay still, eyes closed and a line of blood leaking from her nose. Only a slight intake of breath gave any sign she yet lived.

Reaching down, Belial stripped away bandoliers, holsters, and jacket. Patting her pockets to ensure she had nothing else that would be of use, it leapt away with superhuman strength, landing on the dirt above with an audible thud.

Now to consider my next move. The revolvers looked valuable, but just touching them was making the daemon nauseous. Carrying the guns for miles was out of the question. It dropped them to the ground and tied the coat up where it wouldn’t come loose. Satisfied with its handiwork, Belial turned back towards the pit and settled on its haunches.

Better, perhaps, to just just climb back down, slit her throat, and be done with it. Ah, but where is the fun in that? The wench had been problem enough that she needed a little lesson before departing the mortal coil. Watching while she starved or froze to death in the hole would be a fitting and pitiful end for the wench. Not to mention wonderful entertainment.

Yes, Belial was looking forward to the show. It stretched its arms, working a kink out of its shoulder. Perhaps if the wench begged extra nice, it might throw down a few scraps, just enough to prolong her—

With a dry snap, one of Belial’s arms popped out of its shoulder. The daemon watched, horrified, as the limb burned away to ash before it even got halfway to the ground.

That . . . changes a few things. This body had even less time left than Belial had thought. It jumped to its feet, then paused long enough to cast a regretful look back at the pit.

“Good luck to you, wench. I’d love to stay and watch, but I’m overdue for a new host as it is.” The daemon made an unfriendly gesture in the girl’s direction and set off down the path. As it walked, it realized the feeling of fear that had eaten away at it these last few days had already faded to almost nothing.

Time to have some fun.