Upon an Eveningstar

Upon an Eveningstar was released today on the 600 Second Saga podcast.  You can also listening to the 600 Second Podcast using your favourite podcast tools:

 

I heard a rustling in the trees behind me. Without making a sound, I nocked an arrow, twisting my body around to let the arrow fly.  The arrow soared through the air, embedding itself in the wrinkly trunk of the tall oakspire tree.  Narrowing my eyes, I scanned the trees and scrubs.

Hoblins were known to infest the forest, and earlier today I had come across a spot where a small band had brought down one of the long leg bounders who lived in the forest. I, Lyandriah Eveningstar, renowned ranger and protector of the meek, would hunt these creatures down. It was my duty.  

Another sound and my second arrow was aimed higher. A brown-tailed squirrel scampered up the tree, startled by my movement. Frowning, I lowered my bow. Besides, Hoblins don’t climb trees.

Shouldering my bow, I approached the tree, reaching to pull the arrow from the hardened oakspire bark.  I carefully studied the arrowhead to make sure it wasn’t damaged – my bow was a gift from the elvenkin of the deep forests, and had kept me safe through numerous adventures.

Satisfied, I stowed the arrow in the quiver over my shoulder, tossed my cloak back, and  reached up to tuck my hair behind my ear. I imagined that if someone had been watching me, the magic of the cloak would have keep me nearly invisible.

I moved carefully through the forest looking for more signs of the Hoblins. I paused, examining the carelessly broken branches; knee-height. Hoblin level. The band of Hoblins had been raiding the nearby villages. I couldn’t let that continue. I followed the path, until their trail lead to a small babbling brook.  

It was maybe twenty feet across, but fast flowing and about waist deep. I scanned the far banks, and could make out where the underbrush had been broken – no doubt where the Hoblins had crossed and continued.

I lifted the hem of my cloak up, wrapping it around my arm to keep it dry, and stepped carefully into the water, cautious about my steps, feeling the cool water flow around and into my leather boots. A splash right beside me as a startled Bullywart jumped into the water pulled my attention from the river bed. I twisted, the current surging and sweeping my feet from under me.

Falling forward, my cloak tangled up into arms, with a splash I came down hard on the shore, my head smacking against one of the rocks.

It was a miracle I didn’t drown.  Cold water lapped at my face, and my head throbbed as if a bard was using it to play a harvest dance. I reached up, and my hand came away warm and sticky  – my head was oozing blood from a gash. I groaned and took stock of my surroundings.

The small game I had caught earlier had been swept away by the current, and my cloak had dragged me downstream several feet before becoming tangled in the rocks and branches at the side. Above me, the sky was lit by the pale light of the Omen-moon.  The larger warm yellow of the Watchful-moon was no-where to be seen.  Only three times a year would there be a night without the brighter eye of the Watchful-moon – they were the nights when people barred their doors shut, as evil spirits were said to walk the fields. If you believed in such stuff.

It wasn’t evil spirits, but my own fault that I slipped.  I scowled, tugging on my cloak, but it was stuck fast, and torn in several places.  With a sigh, I untied the cloak and let the river claim its prize. It was only pure luck that I still had my bow and quiver.

The woods were dark, and strange sounds echoed.  I thought I heard them whisper to me… “Lia… Lia…” but that must have just been the ringing in my ears.

Sloshing out of the water, I was thankful not to have broken anything.  That would not do for the renowned ranger and protector of the meek. Unfortunately I didn’t have the means to build a fire; and I didn’t want to risk adding freezing cold to my bleeding head. I stripped off my soaking wet tunic and hunting pants, wringing them out and hanging them up – at least to get most of the moisture out.

“Lia… Lia…” the forest called out again.  Stupid forest.  Stupid river.  Stupid Hoblins…

Stupid Lyandriah.

I had been pointedly ignoring the forest when a rustling brought my attention. My instincts took over and an arrow was nocked and ready to fly as I whirled around.

The underbrush danced with a dim light, and a small boy pushed his way out – holding a covered lantern. “Woah!  Lia.. don’t shoot. It’s Herman!”

He brushed himself off and then stopped, pointing.  He nearly dropped the lantern.

“LIA!  Your clothes!” He gasped.

I should have shot him.  Instead I turned bright red, dropping my bow and covered myself, hiding behind the branches where my dripping clothing hung. “Well don’t stand there staring at me.” I blushed even deeper.

He lifted the lantern higher, and gasped, “You’re bleeding.. Are you okay?” This only made me blush more, my failures pointed out at me. I was a ranger!

“I slipped in the river, hit my head.” I lowered my voice, still hiding behind the branches. I didn’t feel brave and adventurous anymore.

“Everyone is worried back in the village. No one wanted to go out because of the Omen-moon, but I snuck out.” Herman said, with pride in his voice. I felt a new well-spring of respect for the boy growing inside of me.  I must have blushed further, because he finally turned his attention to the side.

“Let’s build a fire to dry out your clothing. Here, wear my cloak.” He took his cloak off, handing it to me before turning to gather some kindling from the wood.  The candle inside his lantern lit the wood which soon was providing ample light and heat.

“Hey, Herman,” I asked. “Did you ever wanna go on any adventures?” Up until now I had only snuck out to adventure on my own. But Herman, no…

Sir Herman Willowbent, dashing knight of the Oaken-Forest. That sounded much better.

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A night at the Albert Campbell Library

Last night I had the pleasure of being one of the authors showcased at the Albert Campbell Library in Scarborough. This was part of a new series run by the library showcasing local authors put together by librarian Maria Samurin. I appeared alongside the following authors:

  • Elise Abram (author of “I Was, Am Will Be Alice”)
  • Tamara Hecht (author of “Welcome to Monsterville”)
  • Dylan Madeley (author of “The Gift-Knight’s Quest”)
  • M. Vyas (author of “The Enigma of her Longevity”)

We had time to talk with the audience before and after, and a chance for both a short reading as well as questions from both the MC and the audience.

From my personal view, the evening gave me a chance to see how other independent authors like myself approached the craft. It was surprising the variety of methods and tools that everyone brought, and I think I appreciated that opportunity as much as the opportunity to speak and listen to the crowd. It was also great to listen to the other authors speak about their books – their passions.

I’ll share some of the great ideas that I took away from this evening:

Publishing

My first book was self-published using CreateSpace – which ties directly in with Amazon. Other authors used a variety of other means – from a kickstarter campaign to indy-presses to creating their own press to offer the service to other writers.  I found this fascinating as I have been considering forming an independent publishing company moving forward.

It was also fascinating to discuss paper books vs eBooks vs audio-books.  There almost seems to be a divide between the fans of one or the other, and none of the authors present had audio-books of their works.  This is also something I had considered and started to look into for Immersion.

Marketing

One of the hardest elements of self-publishing is marketing. Several of the authors shared stories of their experiences, and noted some of the challenges. We also had some audience members who were studying marketing which invoked some conversations on approaches.  While there is no ‘magic bullet’ – coming out, getting exposure and trying to extend your reach were some of tools we all discussed.  This is when there was some interest in some of the related internet-based ways to market – such as blogs and podcasts.

This was where I was able to share some details about the 600 Second Saga podcast, considering another author was also a contributor, and several members of the audience were listeners. And those who had just heard for the first time were eager to learn more – both as listeners and potentially even as future authors.

There were some other interesting marketing tools which I’m going to look at moving forward. Many of the authors had nice professional bookmarks and displays. One had postcards made out of their cover art – very eye catching.  They also had a large fantasy map which was a great additional detail.

In summation – I was grateful for the opportunity, and loved presenting to the crowd, talking with them afterwards as well as networking with other local writers. This was a fantastic opportunity and I hope the Toronto Public Library and organisations such as Nanowrimo continue to support indy-authors.

Against the Overlord, pt 3

[This is a dramatization of the ongoing Descent 2ed: Journey into the Dark campaign being run with some friends.]

“Quickly! After her.  She can’t be allowed to escape!”  Avric Albright hollered, rallying the rest of the stalwart band down into the crypts under Lord Theodir’s keep.  The elven knight Syndreal was the first down the stairs, her blade still drawn and determination creasing her brow.

The arcane wizard Leoric of the Book and the halfing rogue  Tomble Burrowell followed behind, having first made sure Lord Theodir was safe. “Beware adventurers, my crypts are filled with creatures, and the doors are trapped with diabolical riddles,” he warned.

“Why would you put riddle sprouting doors in your dungeons?” asked Tomble.

“Because… of the monsters…” Lord Theodir explained.

“Okay… and why do you have monsters?” Thomble with strained patience.

“They guard my most valued treasure.” Lord Theodir answered confidently.

“Or… you’re just a crazy Lord who has parties with the fiendish Flesh Moulding minions of the Overlord.” Leoric rebutted bitterly.  It was clear the wizard didn’t appreciate the eccentricities of Lord Theodir.

“Hey, this is all fine and well, but can we GET MOVING?  The Vampiress is getting away.” Avric called again from the stairs, even more impatient.

“Right – let’s be heroes.” Tomble grinned, flipping and catching one of his daggers.

In the crypts, the evil vampiress, Lady Eliza Farrow had turned to mist and was quickly trying to escape through the crypts.  She ignored the denizens of the hallway, and flew through the first large dungeon chamber, before being halted by the door. The magic of the door kept her from passing, and with an evil scowl she reformed.  The air in the room tingled, and Lady Farrow could feel the influence of the Overlord in the minions not yet manifest.  That would buy her some time.

“In order to pass this door, you must answer the riddle true.” The door slowly spoke, the knots of wood shifting to form a twisted mouth.

“Fine! Give me your riddle, stupid door.” Lady Farrow could hear the band of adventurers closing down the stairs behind her.

“What was the name of the first Mexican Newspaper?” asked the door.

Lady Farrow sighed in exasperation. Clearly Lord Theodir had lost his mind. This was going to slow her process.

Syndreal ignored the webs, and charged down into the dungeon leading the party. She was first to meet the hordes of cave spiders.  Her elven blade flashed in the light, as she brought it down on the largest of the spiders. She cursed in elvish as the toughened hide of the spider deflected her blade to the side without even scratching it.

Behind her, Avric bellowed, raising the bejewelled mace high as he followed Syndreal into the battle.  The holy club was brought down hard on the spider – but the surprisingly the spider toughed out these blows as well.  It was one tough spider!

Tomble and Leoric brought up the rear, letting arrows and magic fly. The onslaught only seemed to anger the spiders more.

“Focus your attacks on the big one!” Syndreal exclaimed, deflecting the spider’s attack to the side.

“Easy for you to say!” Avric called back, exclaiming in surprise as one of the other cave spiders landed a bite. “Ooh that’s not good!” the cleric continued, feeling a burning sensation where the spider bite landed, fighting off the symptoms. “I think they are poisoned.”

“Oh, you don’t say!” Leoric called out, before one of the smaller spiders bit deep, the same burning dizziness coursing into the mage. “I don’t feel so good!”

Syndrael drew deep upon her reserves and lashed out; the elven silver blade cutting deep. Avric bashed the wounded spider, causing a grievous wound, while channeling his mystic ability. All of the spiders reacted as the pain was shared among the group.  Avric considered attacking again to finish the main spider, but caught a glimpse of the chest in the dead-end of the corridor. “You got this, right?” The cleric asked, as he pushed himself to reach the chest, visions of Lord Theodir’s treasure danced in his head as he opened it.

The chest was empty.

Meanwhile Leoric complained, “I’m still not feeling very good,” raising his hand to lash out against the smaller spiders with his magic – the bolts of arcane spellfire connecting and burning the creatures. The hordes of cave spiders were starting to weaken.

This was all the incentive Syndreal needed – finishing the lead spider off, then advancing to finish off one of the weaker spiders before finally breaking through the lines of creatures and reaching the first door. “Don’t worry… I can make short-work of this door.” She called out bravely before she slammed her shoulder into the wooden doorframe.

The door splintered, but didn’t budge.

“Ouch!” Syndreal rubbed her shoulder.

“Oh, silly elf. Let me!” Tomble gleefully called out, dashing around the remaining spiders and crouching to deftly pick the lock on the door. “See, there is nothing to this.  Just a flick and a click and…”

The door opened up, but instead of the next room of the dungeon, the room was filled with the maelstrom roar of the sound of a pair of elementals. Their bodies were a whirling mixture of air and water and fire, the top curled over like a giant torrential mouth.

“Oh… crap.” Tomble blanched, nearly losing the grip on his shortbow.

Syndreal drew her silvery blade, “Be brave, young half-human!”

Tomble shot a side-long glance, muttering under his breath, “You mean halfling…”

The fleeing vampress had made her way through the first of the puzzle-doors when she heard the roar of the elementals behind her.

“Oh yes! Make short work of those heroes.” She paused to turn her gaze to the stones forming the ceiling of the dungeon. “Oh, great Overlord – I beseech thee. Slow those meddling adventures so that I may return the magical artifact stored here for you.”

There was a low shake to the dungeon walls, and Lady Farrow grinned. She knew the Overlord was watching over her – and she would not fail.  Her smile turned to a scowl as she faced the next of these infernal doors.

“In order to pass, you must…” started the deep knotty voice of the door.

“Yes, yes.. Answer your riddle. Give it to me already!” the vampire snapped back to the door.

A limb formed from a tempest of swirling rocks, fire and water lashed out, hitting Syndreal. The twin elemental to the side lashed out towards Tomble, connecting with a glancing blow as the little thief tumbled backwards out of reach. “Avric! We need some help up here!” Tomble cried out, hoping the cleric would take his place on the front lines.

Leoric, the mage, forced himself forward, despite still being woozy from the spider venom.  Raising his hand, he shot a mystic bolt into the space Tomble had vacated. The elemental’s form became as insubstantial as the wind, and the mystic bolt passed through it, hitting the far wall. “I can’t shoot at it. I’m no good – and I’m not feeling very well.. still.”

Syndreal braced herself – holding back both elementals. Suddenly a deep echoing laughter could be heard reverberating through the walls, and largest elemental took on a newfound fury. Rocks and fire and water battered against Syndreal, nearly ripping her wooden shield from her arms.  Her armour was dented, and blood started to flow from cuts and bruises, but the valiant elf held the line.

Avric ran forward, although seeing how wounded Syndreal had become… Seeing Tomble battered by the elemental, and Leoric still wracked with the spider venom; Avric changed his action and instead held his holy mace high.  Channeling the power of his divine faith, a healing warmth flowed out from Avric and into the entire party. Their wounds healed, and a fresh energy surged through them.

Syndreal felt a new energy and lashed forward, slashing through the largest of the elementals.  Her blade cut true and deep, the elemental started losing control as it weakened.

Avric entered the space beside Syndreal, deflecting a blow from one elemental as he concentrated his attack on the first one. Two more strong swings and the elemental was dealt a killing blow, and the maelstrom of elements dissipated as if they were never there, leaving only the lesser elemental.  

Syndreal turned to the second elemental, but Leoric called out from the back, “Just go for the door – we need to catch that Vampire!”

Syndreal nodded, and ran forward. She didn’t notice the wire raised across the floor.  With a clatter, the elven knight fell sprawling to the floor. The deep echoing laughter of the Overlord returned.

Tomble was quick to take advantage of the opening, dashing around the elemental and over Syndreal’s fallen form to get to the door. “Answer me the riddle, lest you pass,” the door started to intone, but Tomble had other plans.  He pulled his lockpicks out, and started to work on the mechanism keeping the door closed.

“How about, I choose dank musty hallways, for 2oo Aleks?” Tomble said with glee as the mechanism unlocked and the door opened to the hallway behind. Tomble cackled with delight as he bounded into the hallway.

Syndreal was up and following quickly – with Leoric and Avric trailing behind. “See ya!” Avric called out, shutting the door on the elemental, trapping it behind.

The short hallway lead to another door – and Tomble went to work. The door didn’t even have time to start its riddle before there was a click and the door creaked open. Tomble went pale – again – as the snarl of a pack of Barghests met them. “Oh no… not these guys again!” Tomble cried.

The lead Barghest snapped at Syndreal and Tomble, before jumping back, allowing the pair in the rear to jump forward and snap.  Syndreal’s shield deflected attacks aimed at her, however Tomble wasn’t as lucky.

“We don’t need to fight them,” Avric advised, “Just run around them and get out!”

Tomble gritted his teeth, nodding. Jumping forward, he ducked under the jaws of one of the snarling monsters, and then skirted to the side of one of the monsters in the second rank before getting to the locked door on the far side.  His deft fingers went to work, and another door  opened.Tomble dove inside before the Barghest could attack again. Syndreal followed at his heels.

Leoric was still suffering from the poison, when he remembered the magical doll they had found upstairs. He took out the doll and used it to magically transfer the poison from his body into the body of the magic doll.  The doll took on a sickly green, and he felt instantly better.  Now feeling better, Leoric quickly ran through the room, dodging the snarling beasts.  He paused at the door, tossing the spent magic doll back to one of the Barghests. Avric pulled up the rear, closing the door. The echoing laughter turned to cries of anguish as the band of heroes had nearly caught up with the Vampiress.

In the final room, the chest moments before had held the artifact lay opened, and the satin pouch was clutched firmly in Lady Farrow’s claw-like clutches.  In frustration she pounded her hand on the door, attempting to answer the riddle. “Ahh.. I don’t know – that’s a stupid question.  Umm.. Fifty-Seven?”

“False – I will give you a new question.  What is your favourite colour?” the door intoned.

Lady Farrow’s face lit up. “That’s easy!” but any more was cut off by the sound of the door behind her opening up.

“There she is!” pointed Syndreal, “We have you now!” and charged forward, lashing out with her silver sword to cut the vampiress deep.

“No!  I was so close…” the vampire cried, curling back under the attacks.  Several arrows flew past Syndreal – embedding themselves into the vampire. Avric charged up beside Syndreal and landed a heavy blow with his bedazzled holy mace.

The vampire staggered back, “So close… so close… I’ve failed you, Overlord.”

A flash of magic lashed out, and the vampire turned to a sudden red mist, the purple velvet bag falling to the floor.  The red mist flowed up through the stones of the ceiling, while calling out “I’ll get you next time, heroes… Next time!”

Leoric picked up the bag, examining the artifact. It was an exquisitely carved set of ivory dice, inscribed with mystic runes. They were designed to be worn as a pendant, and the Goddess Fortuna would smile upon the wearer.

As a reward for defeating the vampiress, thwarting the Overlord and saving the guests, Lord Theodir bestowed the Fortuna’s Dice upon the party, and weary from their quest, the party travelled back to the kingdom of Arhynn – eager for their next quest.

 

Into the Leaden Sky

This is a short piece of fiction which was originally aired on 600 Second Saga on May 13th, 2016.


It is difficult to tell whether the sun was up or not through the soot-laden sky. The air had a stench of burnt rubber mixed with coal-dust. It formed a choking smog that coated the buildings with a grey stain and made the air soupy and hard to breathe.  A far off bell rang, the brassy sound mixed with a whistle indicating break time.

 

“Daytime then.” I coughed and pulled my heavy coat tighter.  I pushed my way through the crowded narrow streets jostling between workers.  This was a bad time of day to be travelling to the docks through the factory district, with the lunchtime rush making the streets nearly impassable.

 

Blank masks and automatic guns greeted me at the checkpoint for the Wulfe-Hampton Docks district. I queued in the line, and pulled out my identification. Little puffs of black smoke came from the card reader, before a small green light flashed its approval. The silent guards stepped aside to grant me access before scanning the next in line. I didn’t notice the men with the dark coats who came out of the crowds.

 

The smell of fish mixed with the burnt rubber to make the air even more ghastly. The crowds thinned here, but the paths were occasionally blocked by pallets of cargo and wagons transporting goods.  Despite the helix-steam-ships and tesla-mobiles, the average worker used a simple wooden cart and their own arms to lug cargo around.

 

All of the so-called advances didn’t really bring humanity any closer to a techno-revolution like the stories of the golden-ages in the long past. We were trapped in the smelly damp reality of the now.

 

Lost in my thoughts, I turned down the wrong alley – a dead end. I sighed and turned around only to find the end of the alley blocked by the two men who had been following me. They wore heavy coats, and their eyes were hidden behind brass goggles and black lenses giving them a bug-like appearance.

 

“You know that we can’t let you continue.” Came the heavily filtered voice, buzzing with the distinct sound of the vocoder to mask their identity. It only added to the bug-like feeling. “Your actions have attracted the wrong attention.”

 

The pair took several steps towards me. On the street beyond them people hurried past, very careful not to notice the special deputies of the Chancellor. That was my problem – I’d been noticing far too much recently.

 

I gulped, reaching nervously into my pockets. I didn’t want to play my trump card, until I absolutely had to.  

 

Stepping backwards, I was halted when my back pressed up to some stacked boxes.

 

“Just come along quietly, you don’t want to cause a scene.” Buzzed the lead deputy advanced.  The sky started to spit rain, giving a sheen to their coats as they stepped closer, raising their hands.  One of them carried a well-used pair of iron manacles.

 

As they closed within arm’s reach, I launched forward.  In each hand I held a makeshift device of my own design. Held by grips similar to a pistol, the weapons wrapped around my knuckles with little brass and steel gleaming nubs, like a sword-less basket hilt. I pressed the trigger causing electricity arced from both devices, seeking grounding.  Their bodies provided that conduit.

 

Their vocoders sparked and popped as their limbs went rigid. The manacles fell to the ground, followed their bodies.

 

Pocketing my weapons, I stepped over the bodies and ran back out into the docks. The clock was ticking now, and next time they would be more heavily armed.  I navigated through the docks with a greater sense of urgency until I reached my destination.

 

The warehouse was out on one of the piers. It was three stories tall, with soot-blackened windows high up along the roofline. The slightly peaked roof was tiered giving the impression of a resting armadillo.

 

I pushed through the door marked ‘Private – No Solicitors’ with a smaller sign scrawled in hand saying ‘This means you – Go Away!’  I doubted it would keep out the Chancellor’s deputies.

 

Inside most of the space was taken up by a dark boat-like vessel. Its hull rested on large reinforced pylons set into the floor, and a large gangplank lead up the side.  Overhead a large air-envelope barely fit into the rafters of the warehouse.  Sleek and pointed, several nacelles jutted out with spiral-shaped propellers.

 

As I stepped onto the wooden gang-plank a form moved to block the doorway at the top. Wearing a heavy oil-skin coat and goggles, the figure leveled a broad blunderbuss at me.

 

“We can’t wait any longer.” I called out, clambering up the plank.

 

“Were you followed?” The figure spoke, the gun not wavering.

 

“Yes.” I replied.

 

The figure cocked back the wrought-iron hammer. “That’s not the answer I wanted to hear. You are supposed to be more discreet.” Even through the helmet, I could hear her feminine tones.

 

I knew she wouldn’t shoot. We had a history. I stepped forward, reaching for the barrel of the gun. I saw her trigger finger twitch. “I took care of them,” I said, my eyes staring into her goggles, “But more will be coming. We need to go. Now.” This was her opportunity – she could shoot and leave me for the Chancellor, or she could join me.

 

The impassive goggles stared at me for a moment longer, and then slung the rifle. “Raise the gangplank.” She turned, her heavy coat flaring as she continued barking orders to the rest of the crew who had stopped to watch. “Cast off the lines. Fire the boilers to 120%. MOVE it people.”

 

The crew jumped into action, and I followed the captain as she moved through the lower decks towards the bow of the ship. Deep within, the throbbing metal heart of the airship started to beat louder, and faster.

 

The bridge was encapsulated by a wrap-around window, set with panes of glass against the gothic buttressed frame. Through the slightly warped glass I could see the warehouse doors burst open as a mixture of dock workers and constabulary lead by special officers burst in.

 

They were too late. The warehouse roof was sliding back, and the airship was already lifting off the massive pylons. The propellers angled up and the craft angled up towards the sky.

 

I watched as they fired at the ship, but the bullets were ineffective against the thick skin of the craft. The belly of the airship protected the more vulnerable envelope. The pane in front of me spider-webbed as a round hit it, but the captain held her mask in her hand and stared up. “They can’t get us now.” she said with a soft voice.
The airship lifted into the leaden sky.