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.

Progress Progress

I had been hoping to have a cover to reveal for Episode Two by now, but there have been a couple delays. With luck I’ll have it any day now, and can get a pre-order up and going. In the meantime, I’ll be posting a preview chapter of Curse of the Daemon Beast on Friday.

In the meantime, work on Episode Three, currently titled Arkton at High Noon continues on schedule. I’m about 15k words into what I think will be an 80-90k book, so that’s promising. There are a lot of cool things I’m looking forward to including in that book. Feels odd, wanting to talk about the third volume when the second hasn’t even come out yet, but that’s the life of a writer for you.

I also loaded a map of Korvana up here, so if you’re interested in seeing what the lay of the land is, be sure to check it out.

Finally, there is an absolutely flattering review of Episode One that just went up on Reddit. It’s always touching to hear back about what people think of my writing. Since I do this for fun as opposed to a profession, hearing from fans is really what makes this all worthwhile.

That’s all the news I have for now. Check back again soon, and hopefully I’ll have something exciting to report!

Status Update

So life has been crazy-pants over the last few weeks, both writing and non-writing related. The free weekend went MUCH better than I anticipated, and the book was downloaded something to the tune of 1500 times! I’m still reeling from that number, like how can my book be on FIFTEEN HUNDRED different people’s devices? It is a true dream come true.

There aren’t many reviews up on Amazon yet, but Goodreads has quite a few so far. Hopefully they’ll keep coming, but even if they stopped today I could die a happy man.

I’ve also sent out book two to beta readers, who are hopefully chowing their way through it as we speak! I’m very eager to see how the second book is received, since it is much longer and more ambitious than the first, but also much more insular (the entire story takes place in a small town in the mountains).

Meanwhile, my children have been trading colds with each other for weeks, so our house is mostly under quarantine. Hopefully the sickness will depart with the cold weather, and soon everything will be wonderful both inside and out before we know it!

Finally, if you happen to read this post, please consider leaving a message. I’d love to know I’m not just screaming into the void here.

Historical Errors in Bulletproof Witch

Episode One has been live for a week now, and hopefully has actually been read by a few people at this point. If you drifted over or found this blog due to the giveaway going on at r/Fantasy, hello fellow Redditors!

Now, having a great passion for 1800’s America, I’m sure there are plenty of factual errors I made in the book concerning a number of topics. If you noticed any, feel free to let me know in the comments. Today, however, I wanted to talk about three issues that I knew about and acknowledged going into writing.

You may be wondering why any of this matters, given that this is a fantasy work taking place in a fantasy world. While it is true that Korvana is not the USA, context still matters, and a story that relies entirely on made up facts is not a story, IMO.

Issue One: Horses

Temperance rides a single horse, Peter rides a single horse, and Obidiah spends most of his time on the back of a mule. This doesn’t really change despite the distance traveled, or the hard riding during their adventures. If you’ve ever seen an old western movie, this is pretty atypical, but a little bit of research into the life of a cowboy will reveal an issue here.

Fact is, horses get tired. A  rider would have had several horses when traveling (or swapped out for fresh ones along the way). A cowboy might have had as many as seven with him while herding cattle on the trail. This would usually have been comprised of two morning horses, two day horses, a night horse, and two cattle horses if he was lucky.

A night horse is specially trained to find its way back to camp in the dark, allowing the cowboy to snooze in the saddle.

Cattle horses are for exactly what you think they are: roping and directing cattle.

So why do the characters have only a single mount in this story? Temperance is obviously an exception, since even if Astor got tired like a regular horse, he probably wouldn’t have brooked the extra company. As for the others, it was mostly a matter of logistics. Early drafts of the chase scenes proved too confusing with the addition of more horses, and it didn’t really add anything to the narrative to include them.

Issue Two: Jerky vs. Pemmican

On several occasions during their journey, Peter and Temperance set down to eat a meal consisting of little else than hardtack and jerky. While not exactly historically inaccurate, it would have been more likely during the 1800’s for them to be eating pemmican.

To give credit where it is due, pemmican is an invention of the native Americans, used as a staple food for centuries before the arrival of white men. It involves drying meat into jerky, then mixing it with the fat of the animal. When properly stored, this has the benefit of preserving the meat almost indefinitely, and indeed pemmican has been discovered to still be edible decades after it was assembled. It also adds flavor and makes it a bit more of a rounded meal to consume.

There are cases of people in the 1800’s surviving for extended periods nothing other than pemmican when little other food was available. On one occasion, miners working hard days lived on upwards of six pounds of pemmican a day to keep their energy up!

So why didn’t I use pemmican in the story? Mostly because the food isn’t well known (they aren’t exactly selling much pemmican at my local grocery mart), and I worried that with all the other made-up words in the story, it might have just been swept under the rug. Who knows though, maybe it will put in an appearance in a later book!

Issue Three: The Harmonist Wagons

Alright, this one isn’t exactly an issue, per se, but it’s something that seemed noteworthy. During the so called period of “Western Expansion”, the preferred method of travel across the American Midwest was a type of wagon referred to as a prairie schooner. If you’ve ever seen a western or watched Little House on the Prairie, you’ve probably seen one: a buckboard style wagon with a white canvas cover. These varied in size and exact materials, but the designs were typically the same.

While I refer to the wagons the Harmonists use in the story as prairie schooners, historically the use of such vehicles was meant more for temporary travel, not the permanent living solutions as they would be for the Ta-tet. When settlers crossed the great plains they were typically not sleeping or doing much living inside the wagon itself, as every inch of space would have been needed for the supplies they brought along. Typically this wasn’t even much beyond the essentials, as a settler would need as much as 2,000 lbs of food for the journey.

While the Harmonists could trade with various towns for the goods they need as they journey, their isolated nature and pariah status would likely discourage this with any but the most free-thinking communities. Of course, their are other more unique, fantasy-esque aspects at play here too, which I hope to expand on in later books.

***

Well, that’s everything. If you’ve read Bulletproof Witch, I hope you still enjoyed it despite these horrendous historical inaccuracies. At the moment I’m hard at work finalizing Episode Two, so keep an eye out for an announcement about that in the near future!

Episode One is Live + Giveaway!

The first book in my Bulletproof Witch series, The Delivery of Flesh, is now available. It can be purchased at fine bookstores everywhere, assuming you only shop at Amazon:

However, I’m assuming if you’re reading this, you already know the book exists. Likely you came across the ebook version, but did you know it’s also available in print? In fact, I’m giving away FIVE (5) copies of the printed version to the first penta-gaggle of people to send me their contact info via my contact page.

This contest is completely separate to any other giveaways that I have going on around the web. I’ll update this page once all the copies are gone, so if you don’t see a message at the top saying so, there are still freebies to be had!