Howling winds swirled across the dead town. Shadows turned into demons breathing brevity and a bitterness toward life. Night was black. The light of a single star hung from the sky, offering no assistance to the scared man creeping through the ruins. Despite a grievance with the world, all was exactly the way he wanted it to be. Sunlight would only give him away, and, though infrared sensors would easily be able to pick him up, it was going to take more than that to catch Smythe Menzel.
He’d returned to Helgscroft with the hopes of finding it void of Berserkers and thinking the Imperium would never dream to look for him in the west. A public execution was awaiting him upon capture. The degree of his crimes was such that justice demanded no less. He could only hope his distractions back at Fort Evans were sufficient enough to keep them off his trail long enough for his plan to work.
That dream had died as soon as he’d arrived. His ship had already been blown apart and all of his bodyguards but one killed in the first hour of being in the ancient city. Now, alone and without hope, Smythe Menzel hid in the shadows and prayed his stalkers thought him already dead. It was the only way he was going to escape.
Menzel uncapped his canteen and took a long pull. The brick wall behind him exploded outward as he went to stretch. His remaining guard turned to push him out of the way and was shredded by ion fire. Blood and mist sprayed the shaken Menzel. He ducked and frantically searched for a place to hide.
“Did you hit him?” asked Kreegin Faul into his headset. He knew for certain the first guard had been slain by his fire, but the haze prevented him from seeing what happened next.
“I’m not sure,” came the steady reply from Kelg. “Looks like ‘e went into t’at building for cover.”
“Menzel’s the only one left. How about we sweep down and bring in Kelg?”
“Okay. I’ll go left, you go right, and we’ll pinch him in the middle.”
Leggis Fint had to smile. He’d been waiting for a long time to get revenge on the weasel of a man, and they were so close he smelled the blood. Day after day of Kreegin’s constant complaining over the little things was wearing thin. He knew it was a mistake to secretly deal with so many of the Imperium’s top officials, but the money had been too good to pass up.
Money. That was the reason they were in this mess in the first place. If he’d been thinking with his brain instead of his purse, he never would have flown to Neen last year. An entire year of his life was wasted, lost on this desert world. Menzel was going to die very slowly.
All three of them were moving, converging on Menzel’s hiding place. Fint had a good idea how many more were waiting on the shuttle, but they were of little concern, being so far removed from the action. A well-placed thermal charge would easily solve that problem. All they had to do was capture Menzel alive.
He was beginning to feel almost giddy with excitement. Closure for this sad chapter in his life was very near. They’d been on Helscape for far too long and it didn’t look like any form of payment was in their near future. All that effort wasted.
An explosion at the far end of town sent metal shards and shrapnel scattering into the ruins. Ancient rock and mortar crumbled under the assault, and the streets filled with great clouds of smoke and dust. The ground trembled, throwing Fint and his team down.
“What the Hells was that?” Kreegin growled.
Leggis Fint’s eyes narrowed. “A diversion. He knows he’s a dead man.”
The firing had stopped. Smythe Menzel sat trapped in the corner of an old store waiting for death. He had to get back to a ship. His diversion wouldn’t fool the mercenaries for long. They stalked him as relentlessly as Lady Death himself. If he could just find his murderers’ ship, he stood a chance of getting away. Any way he looked at it, it was his only chance of escape. As much as anything, Menzel was no fool. He knew his chances were slim.
Quiet as a thief in the night, they crept through the darkness, searching for the latch on the back door. Menzel fought the urge to break through the rotted material, and it was a good thing he won. He had no way of knowing it, but Fint’s team was almost in perfect position to surround them. The door groaned open, half of it falling apart.
He cautiously poked his head out to scan the general area before taking the first step from hiding. Everything looked clear, and he wasn’t about to second-guess himself. It was only another hundred meters to the edge of town and where he thought the shuttle was. Menzel sighed, a glimmer of hope in his eyes. He just might make it!
Kreegin Faul dropped to a knee, panting from exertion. Dust speckled his white hair, and he was angry. The warehouse they’d searched had been empty.
“I almost got that bastard, but he ducked away. What do we want to do now?” he asked Fint.
The Idorian mercenary was busy brushing some of the dust from his tan jacket, hoping his smooth green skin wasn’t too affected. “We wait for Kelg.”
“Have you ever once sat back and enjoyed the moment?” Fint asked with a raised eyebrow. “You have too much stress built up. I think you need a vacation.”
Kreegin growled. “What the Hells are you talking about? We need to find him and kill him before the other group does.”
“I hardly think there’s a group out there. Relax will you? You’re almost making me nervous.”
He was laughing by the time Ardn Kelg came stalking out of the darkness. The leopard man had a smile.
“I got one of t’em. Not sure if it was Menzel, but only one is left.”
Faul passed him a hardened look. “We already knew that, genius.”
Fint’s smile widened. “You see, Kreegin. This is getting easier. We go back to the shuttle and wait for dawn. I’m fairly certain that was Menzel’s shuttle exploding, so we needn’t worry about him getting away.”
They marched out in single file, Fint in the lead. He had never been so glad to talk to a local before, and a part of him wondered what the Viper and his friends were doing.
The night was the coldest Smythe Menzel could recall. Hungry and alone, Menzel was fighting for his life. Desperation drove him on, though he knew there was little chance of escape. His hunters were simply too diverse. He was still confused about the exact number of men searching for him, but there was enough evidence that more than one group was in Helgscroft.
His most trusted troopers and friends were all dead; some in the old ruins and others back in Minion. There was nothing left connecting him to the conspiracy shocking the Imperium. The only thing left was the formality of killing him. Menzel was raised by strong parents, and he had no intentions of giving up. Armed with a blaster only partly charged, he crept from shadow to ruin in the hopes of making it just a little further.
All of the dreams and aspirations he’d meticulously pieced together over the course of five long years were shattered. He was broken and forgotten. Once he was dead, it would be as if he’d never been. Smythe Menzel had no motivation left. The will to continue his quest was ebbing away, leaving him a shadow of the man he used to be.
Dark thoughts crept into his mind. He still had a gun and enough ammo to finish what needed to be done. The last thing he wanted was to be taken alive by those murdering bastards out in the ruins. It became very clear to him what he needed to do. He suddenly found himself laughing uncontrollably. His laughs turned to mournful sobs, worsening until tears streamed down his cheeks. Alone and broken, Smythe Menzel slowly moved blaster to his temple.
“How much longer do you plan on keeping us here?” Kreegin asked. He was tired and growing increasingly bored.
“Until I see his damned body,” Fint replied.
“He’s alone. His ship’s destroyed, and we’re a good three days from civilization. We are wasting our time here, and you know it.”
“W’at’s your ‘urry?” Ardn Kelg asked.
“Maybe because we’re not getting paid anymore? Oh, and did I mention that I’m fed up with the damned desert? This place is murder to my skin.”
“You do look a lot older, you know.” Fint smiled.
“Funny,” the mercenary snorted. “Now can we just find this bastard and move on to a better job?”
“Preferably a world with endless beac’es and ‘alf naked women,” Ardn agreed.
“Don’t forget the exotic drinks,” Fint added.
It was all Kreegin could do to contain his anger. He was about to snap off another rude comment when the shot rang throughout the ruined city. All three mercenaries went for their weapons and prepared for the worst.
“I suppose that’s that,” Fint admitted after feeling for a pulse on the dead body.
The small issue hand gun lay clutched in Menzel’s hand.
“Waste of a whole year, if you ask me,” Kreegin complained. As far as he was concerned, it couldn’t have happened to a better man. “Can we go home now?”
Fint stood up. “I think it’s about time. Menzel’s dead, and our job is finished. There has to be a better paycheck waiting for us somewhere.”
“This time, I get to pick the job,” Kreegin said as the three walked back to their shuttle. Soon, Helscape was going to be a bad memory.
General Gulluette paced. It was all he could do. All communications with his co-conspirators in the Berserker mission were either missing or already jailed. His network of spies, once vast and competent, was reduced to hiding in shadows in the hopes of staying alive. All he had dreamed of achieving was lost.
The realization that he had failed was sobering. Gulluette considered leaving. Taking what he could and finding a quiet planet out of the way where no one would think to look. Considered and rejected. He was a general in the Imperium. Only cowards ran in shame.
What he’d attempted to do might not have been sanctioned or orthodox, but it was, in his modest opinion, what was best for the Imperium. They needed the Berserkers to throw against the rising tide of the Xempsarillian forces. He’d concocted the perfect scheme and found a willing dupe who thought he was marching to glory. Glory. Gulluette snorted. Fools sought glory and found it at the end of a gun.
Now it was all gone. His dreams of salvaging the Imperium and rising to the rank of Grand Marshal were crashed upon the shores of broken hopes. His war was over. Gulluette knew they were coming for him. It was only a matter of time. All of his fellow co-conspirators were either dead or in custody. Word of Biyo Ibroo’s betrayal reached him some time ago. The end was sealed in that moment. Gulluette had no fight left. He’d already sent away his staff, choosing to wait out his final moments alone. After all, they’d done nothing wrong. Not even Vitor could punish them for that.
Vitor. Gulluette thought of the Grand Marshal and snarled. Younger, brighter, the current Grand Marshal was cleaving through the conspiracy with heartless efficiency. Oh yes, Gulluette admitted, he was coming. Spies confirmed as much. Gulluette was almost out of time.
He paused his ceaseless movements to stare out the bay window taking up nearly an entire wall of his main office. The sprawling military base and port bustled with activity. Rumor had it a new offensive was being planned to throw back the Xemps. He wished to have been in on the planning and perhaps the invasion itself but fate wasn’t so kind. His part in the long running war was ended.
Brutal knocking on his outer doors struck like the cold hands of midnight. His heart skipped. Anticipation was a most cruel thing.
“General Gulluette, open the doors immediately! This is military police.”
Gulluette looked down at the blaster resting ominously on his desk. How easy would it be to fire first and make them kill him? No doubt their blood would already be hot from previous captures. The irony of it. Eventually he deemed it wasn’t worth giving them the satisfaction. He was a senior general of the Imperium and would be treated as such until the very end.
After long moments the knocking ended. His massive hands clenched reflexively. The doors burst open and in rushed a dozen armed and armored soldiers. At their back strode a very confident Grand Marshal Vitor. His grin was vicious.
“Vitor, I make no excuses for my actions,” Gulluette announced boldly. “I serve the Imperium.”
Vitor watched his subordinate accept the heavy manacles. “Paedian, you stopped serving the Imperium the moment you decided to go against everything we stand for. You, old friend, have become the very threat you sought to prevent. There’ll be a short rope and a long drop in your future. Take him away.”
Shoved and prodded, Gulluette walked stiffly and with head up to his doom.
The Deep Desert
Days passed slower than any thought possible. Nights were imposing now that the quest had marched well beyond the borders of civilization. The attack by the sand dragon was also in the past. A pointless experience that shouldn’t have happened. Enough of Kane’s party, as they secretly began to call each other when they thought he wasn’t listening, were veterans of the Wastes and knew what signs to look for. Each had failed and now Klaa was dead.
A small loss in the grand scheme of their quest.
Gage threatened to become despondent, his loss so egregious it rendered him senseless. They’d been together for so long he couldn’t remember a time without the Kordite. No better assistant could he have asked for during his exile. Late at night when he thought the others were fast asleep the wizard stalked out beyond the edge of camp and wept quietly.
Emerald found him there, wrapped up in his robes atop a lonely dune. Without a word she sat down beside him, drawing her knees up and wrapping her arms around them. Night lizards scampered in the distance. Their clawed feet kicking up small puffs of sand in passing.
“I don’t think I’ve ever noticed before,” she ventured.
Gage used the heels of his palms to clear his eyes. Red rimmed and burning, he struggled to keep them open. “What?”
“The stars,” she said.
He joined her in looking up. The orange glow from Furnace Island was gone, a fading memory. Instead of lights the night sky was impossibly dark. Thousands of stars pinpricked the eternal veil.
“I haven’t looked upon them in a very long time,” he admitted.
She offered an almost child-like grin. “It almost makes me think there can be a better world.”
“But there is.” Gage seemed surprised. He’d been trapped here on Helscape for so long he often forgot how most of the indigenous population had never been off world. The notion was somehow unsettling. “An entire civilization comprised of hundreds of planets.”
“Are they all like here?” she asked.
He shook his head. The scruffs of his beard brushed against his robes, reminding her of sandpaper. “No, my dear. Very few are as desolate as Helscape. Most are filled with jungles and oceans. Entire worlds filled with crystal blue water.”
“I can’t even imagine.”
“Perhaps one day you will have the opportunity to see some of them. It is the least you deserve after enduring the mess I helped create.”
Any joy she once had bled away to sorrow. Whatever gods guided their fates seemed intent on ruining his self-esteem even while propelling him closer to an inevitable confrontation with the machinations of his past. Emerald felt…what exactly did she feel? Not remorse. Nor guilt.
“How are you responsible? You told us it was your colleague who went mad and created the Berserkers,” she demanded.
“He did, yet I had a role to play in all of it. If only I had been a little stronger, Aragin might have been stopped before his genetic experiments took off,” he lamented.
“What if scenarios never made much sense to me. Actions happen and we must live with our decisions,” Emerald said. “That’s all there is to life. Nothing more.”
He almost smiled, but the action was still too delicate to endure. “I’ve quite forgotten how youth has a special insight to wisdom. My generation should know better. Thank you, Emerald.”
A tender hand slithered over to rest atop his. “I know that Klaa’s death haunts you. If you should ever need it, I am here to listen.”
His face returned to that strange combination of sorrow and dour. “Thank you, but not now. My heart cannot bear the hurt.”
“I understand,” she said.
Emerald offered a quick squeeze of reassurance and returned to the camp, leaving the ancient wizard feeling oddly refreshed and no small part satisfied for the time since battling the dragon.
The Mad Hosking never felt more alive. Leagues of open desert with very few living creatures in sight left him feeling liberated from the false constructs of modern society. He’d only been a mediocre officer and, quite honestly, was surprised that any of his platoon managed to survive the ambush in the Gorge. Not that he’d done anything to help them live. He’d abandoned his soldiers the moment the battle began in earnest. Some might label that cowardice. He preferred to think of it as initiative. Only through wading into the slaughter was he able to transcend his mortal shackles and become what he was now. A killer. A victim. A hero. Hero?
Hosking never considered the hero aspect to what this quest proposed. He wasn’t a hero. Heroes were fools who gave up their lives in the vain pursuit of glory. No, Hosking wanted so much more than glory. He wanted infamy.
Each day he was forced to listen to the others wallow in their self-righteous misery. All the way complaining on how hard their lives were and what they’d do once this nightmare ended. Only he knew a secret. None of them were going to make it back. They were all going to die in the ruination of the Berserker hive.
The fools. Preening about with the audacity to think themselves above the laws of survival. Let them pretend. Once we enter the hive, all of their ambitions will come crashing down upon their heads. Only then, in those final moments before demise will they realize the truth. We were always meant to die.
“What are you saying?”
Hosking jerked at the sound. “Eh? What do you mean?”
Kane stood but a few feet away, arms folded in an openly aggressive manner. “Who is meant to die?”
“I didn’t say anything! You lie. Putting words in my mouth so the others will think me…me…insane! Ha! Think I don’t know? I watch everything. Listen to the sounds of desert mice scampering over boots.”
“We ought to just kill him and leave his body for the argots,” the Viper chimed in from beside the fire.
Kane cast him a withering glare. “I don’t believe he was spared by the gods only to be murdered by your hands, assassin.”
“Have it your way, Slayer.”
Satisfied, Kane returned to Hosking. “You know something don’t you?”
Wild laughter was his reply.
Undeterred, Kane knelt in front of the broken man. Sharp eyes searched Hosking for any sign that he was privilege to something they were missing. Something vital to the success of their quest. The others thought him stark raving mad but Kane held on to his doubts. Hosking was mentally fractured but not the total loss the others believed. There was an enigmatic mystery surrounding the man. One Kane needed to get to the bottom of before they reached the hive.
“Forget the others,” he cautioned before Hosking could protest. “All that matters here, now is you and me. Hosking, Lieutenant, I need to know what I’m getting into. The situation is almost within our grasp. Please, tell me what I need to know.”
Hosking stopped laughing, his face hardening as his mind played over random scenarios. That Kane was tricking him foremost in his eyes. His upper lip curled. Hosking waggled a finger, almost playfully. “Ha…haha! Secrets. Yes, we all have them. The truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.”
He paused, only continuing when Kane didn’t bite. “This quest, your little adventure, is the prelude to a greater cosmic act. You, me, we are all going to find our destinies beneath the sands. Death is almost upon us.”
“Death for whom?” Kane asked.
“All of us.”
The flat answer surprised Kane, rocking him back on his heels. “That doesn’t imply failure.”
“Doesn’t it? Does it really matter? Live or die, the Berserker reign is coming to an end. Down there, deep underground, we are all going to die. But shhhh. Keep that between us until there is no choice.”
Hosking turned his back, ending the conversation. Confused, Kane could only stare away into the night. We’re all going to die. Not if I can help it.
“Hey, you thinking what I’m thinking?”
Xill’s third eye blinked rapidly. “I wasn’t thinking anything in particular. Maybe that it gets too cold for me at night.”
“What? No dummy. I wasn’t thinking about the weather,” Snake Eyes fussed. “Did you hear that bit between Kane and Hosking?”
“And?” Snake Eyes asked.
Xill shrugged, unsure what he was expected to say. “We already know they are both mad.”
“Mad is an understatement.”
Xill questioned, “Why are we with them if this is all bound to end in doom? I would like to go home again.”
Snake Eyes paused. It had been so long since he last visited his home world he couldn’t remember. Faces, places, and names escaped him. So dominant was the Helscape experience he had forgotten nearly all else. Sad, when he stopped to think on it.
“Home,” he echoed.
Xill nodded. “Home.”
“I think I want to go home too.”
A pack of zoranths howled in the unseen distance as they picked up the scent of fresh blood. The lizard-beasts charged towards the sight of the kill as hunger took control. Life in the Wastelands continued on pace, regardless of the wishes or desires of a handful of brave fools marching intently towards the end of the world.
Don’t forget to pick up your copy of book one: Tomorrow’s Demise: The Extinction Campaign today!
As like most people, when I peruse the shelves at the local store I go for authors I know first, and striking covers second. This one caught my eye- enough I’ve read all 3 in the series to this point. The premise was interesting enough to get my 15$ and off I went.
Welcome to Golgotha, Nevada.
The story centers on a really messed up town in the Old West where monsters, demons, and all manner of vile creatures haunts the night. The sheriff has two deputies working for him- a young boy and an Indian with supernatural powers of his own- and they try to maintain order. Without giving away some of the characters, there is a mad scientist who is trying to recreate life, a fallen angel, and the daughter of a former pirate queen. Got you hooked yet?
The pacing is good. Belcher creates a well fleshed out world and thr action can be intense and satisfying. Anyone looking for a wild ride with Western flair, a little bit of steam punk, and a good blend of sci fi and fantasy, oh and a demon locked away in the earth that is trying to escape- this is the book for you.
Rating: 4.3 out of 5 stars.
Sorry for the delay today. Life gets in the way sometime. Enjoy, my friends.
Of Wizards and Dragons
The Viper rode back into the dale just as the sun was dipping below the horizon. He had an ill look on his face, as if he was confused. A chill went down his spine. Due to the height of the dunes and rock outcroppings, the temperature dropped much quicker than the setting suns. The assassin shook off the chill, staring into the growing shadows for signs of their enemy. The twisted figures looked back at him with the woeful stories, reliving past nightmares. Strange. They reminded him of….
“I’m thinking it’s time to move out,” the Viper warned. “These statues are starting to give me the creeps. It’s like they’re watching us.”
Nathan nodded his agreement.
Kane stepped forward. “We are not alone, though what watches us, I cannot say. It is best to leave now. There is an evil here.”
Vile eyes watched them from the growing gloom. Camouflaged by sand, the beast lay hidden. It smelled their doubts and fears, for they were so strong, it awakened it. How long had it been since it last dined on human flesh? The creature snarled at their frailty. A growl of anticipation escaped its jaws. Soon, there would be more decorations to muse its indulgences.
As much of a hurry as they were in, the horses seemed almost lethargic. Something was wrong. They were acting skittish and nervous, a clear indication of danger. A thunder stretched out across the world before Kane had the chance to warn the others. Strong winds shifted jets of hot air through the dale. A blood red sun hung on the far horizon. Disaster was coming.
“Wizard! What is this?” the Viper tried to ask above the rising howls.
“Quake!” Snake Eyes yelled.
“No. It’s something else. Wicked. I can feel it!” Gage said.
The disturbances stopped suddenly. The air remained hot despite the void left by the setting suns. Kane moved them quickly, drawing them into a tight circle around the wagon. Charging ion rifles hummed. Nathan prayed in the brief time he had left, hoping the end wasn’t going to be overly dramatic and drawn out.
“Look!” Xill yelled.
They followed his fingers into the sky but found nothing. Colors clashed together in a beautiful display. Dark clouds added contrast to the swirling lavenders and light blues. The winds had stopped blowing altogether, and the air screamed louder. A horse reared back in terror. The sound of beating wings flooded the depression. And they finally caught sight of it.
The sand dragon was the most fearsome predator stalking the deep deserts, and it had come to make a meal out of them. It sailed through the skies unchallenged. Leathery wings spanning two hundred feet raked through forming clouds. Long talons curved for killing flexed with anticipation. Its eyes were the cruelest evil, for it was the worst plague to have ever graced the world.
“Run! Everyone, run!” Gage ordered and moved into the dragon’s path.
“Do it,” Kane echoed. “Split up and prepare to open fire.”
The realization that they weren’t going to be able to escape without a fight suddenly hit Nathan, and he found himself locked in fear. Clouds of sand kicked up by the dragon’s wings trailed in a wake. Fire flamed out its nose, curling over its snout and evaporating in the night. Time slowed, each second agonizingly drawn out. Seeing Gage standing in the open inviting it, the dragon circled once more and dove in for the kill.
Ancient incantations passed his lips, and Gage pointed towards his foe. The breath of wizard’s bane flared up towards the dragon, narrowly missing it and exploding in the sky. The great dragon roared its rage, a wrath so loud it rattled the house of the Gods. The Viper’s horse screamed, twisting and struggling to win free. All the strength he had wasn’t enough to keep the stallion from ripping the bridle away and bolting off through the mounds. A short scream later, he knew it had been roasted alive.
The assassin was the first to open fire. Ion rounds sped through the darkening sky. The dragon effortlessly dodged them, snarling with pleasure at the struggle being given. Long had it been since its last conquest, and the thrill of the hunt enlivened it. Nathan watched the dragon swoop in for the kill and opened fire. The heavy cannon belted round after punishing round into the night. Enemy infantry would have ducked for cover, but the dragon kept coming, even after a few struck its rear legs and tail.
Coming in so low its belly scrapped the sand, the lizard bowled the Viper over. Keeping aware of the situation, he rolled onto his back and pushed a full charge of rounds into the dragon’s belly. As tempting a target as he may seem, the dragon rushed passed the prone assassin to snatch up the soft-skinned alien struggling to escape. Klaa’s screamed echoed through all their minds. Gage staggered and then fell from the strength of his mind link. Seething hot air, the dragon clutched the frail Kordite tighter, rending the life from his small form and discarding the broken body atop the glassy sand.
Nathan knew he didn’t have to be a genius to figure they were all going to end up the same way if somebody didn’t act fast. He jumped down from the wagon, abandoning the overheating ion cannon, with a weapon in each hand.
“You’ll be killed for sure,” Xill warned him.
“God damn it, we’re all going to be killed if one of us doesn’t do something.”
Xill growled but knew the human was right. He kicked the front panel of the box beneath his seat, pulling out the three round rocket launcher he was keeping for dire occasions, and jumped down with Nathan.
“What changed your mind?” he asked with a twisted smile.
“No one should die alone unless they’re ready,” the Crendaphidian replied.
Again, the dragon blasted in to catch the assassin, but the Viper was too quick. Klaa’s broken body lay next him as a reminder of what may happen. The assassin cursed. He was supposed to die at the hands of the Berserker horde, not in the desert taken like a fool in a trap. Dropping his empty blaster in exchange for the heavy rifle, the Viper came up on one knee, prepared to do as much damage as possible in the little time he had left. The dragon was already gone. There was no sign of it anywhere in the rich black sky. Darkness settled in alarmingly fast, and there were still a few hours before the moons rose. They all knew it was up there, waiting for the moment to strike down another of them. The Viper gave the lizard credit for the incredible patience it had to wait them out like this.
“Everybody stay still,” Kane warned. “It’s waiting for us to move.”
Minutes later and tired of the wait, Kane strode forward to the center of the defense. His silver eyes watched the sky for any betraying trace of their hunter. A whisper of wings. A shadow in the clouds. He wasn’t surprised to find nothing. Then the skies filled with the colors of flame.
“There it is!”
Claws poised to strike, eyes burning anger, the dragon plummeted towards them. In that moment, Kane knew he was dead. Aiming his blaster, he fired. No one saw the Mad Hosking leap up from obscurity with a shoulder-fired rocket and take aim. The missile howled into the night, striking the dragon in its broad chest. Three more rockets fired in quick succession from across the perimeter followed into the growing hole. The dragon whined in pain. A chorus of ion rounds sped into the aggravation, compounding the damage.
Kane was smiling, even as he struggled to avoid being hit with the steaming blood washing the sand. The dragon barely managed to escape but wasn’t about to give up. It circled in a slow arduous pattern, breathing heavily and losing blood. It knew death was coming to claim it and could only hope to take a few of them with it. The dragon’s vision started to fade, and it made its final attack.
Half a dozen rifles and heavy firepower erupted in unison against the beast. Chunks of flesh were blown off. Scales drifted down. The dragon roared, a mottled cry verging on death. Warm blood rained on them. The Mad Hosking reloaded and fired again and again. Smoke and ion haze clouded the battlefield. Kane finally yelled for them to ceasefire. It was over.
“Look out, it’s falling!”
Eyes rolled white in death’s throes, the dragon’s lifeless body dropped. Fifty tons of flesh was rocketing towards them. Kane ordered them to flee, else the impact crush them as well. Mountains of glass shattered upon impact. The well collapsed in on itself. Bits of glass and hardened sand pelted them, slicing through their clothes and biting their skin. They could hear the dragon’s last roar as it reared up on its haunches. Already dead, the great predator sank to the ground amid growing columns of dust and died. The battle was over.
The Mad Hosking raised his rocket launcher to the heavens and roared in victory. Klaa’s broken form lay at his feet as if in testament to their will. The dragon’s collapse rendered the ground unstable, and it wasn’t long before Klaa’s body slid down one of the few remaining mounds to lay at the wizard’s feet. Gage slumped. This was all too much for his old heart to take. He and the Kordite had been fast friends, and neither had really expected to outlive the other. Klaa had never wanted anything more than to serve him as well he could. Realizing that his actions may have helped cause his friends demise, Gage had to put that aside and focus on the living.
They were all blistered with a rash of cuts and minor scraps — none life threatening, at least. Exhaustion and fatigue slowed them all. He cast his senses over them, quietly inspecting for major injuries. They were healthy enough, for the most part, though Nathan had a shoulder thrown out of joint when he dove away from the crashing dragon.
All in all, it was a tremendous victory. They’d been at each other’s throats a few short days ago, and now those differences were gone. The loss of one of their own reminded them of their own mortality and the need to work together if they had any hopes of succeeding. Less than two weeks separated them from the Berserker Hive, and they could finally call themselves a team.
This was an easy one for me. The original Star Wars was the very first movie I ever saw in theaters- a drive in theater no less- back when it first came out. I was hooked after that. Fast forward a few decades…ahem…and I not only read but write what I grew up loving. As is my wont, I peruse the local book store shelves once or twice a month, looking for the latest volumes from my favorite authors or something that might catch my eye. The Mrs. isn’t a big fan, probably because I have well over 500 books sitting around. But enough of that.
The cover art for Skyfarer drew my attention. My only complaint is one of the main characters looks like Samuel Jackson’s Nick Fury in space. The story is about is about a small crew who use magic to guide them to different parts of the world where they generally get into mischief or try performing some grand deed (it is the trope after all). Things get hairy for this crew when they plop into the middle of a war of sorts and it soon develops into a treasure quest.
I enjoyed the characters and the story arc, even how the pride of the bad guys is suddenly cast out and realizes he was a major d bag before (after having no choice) to turn good. It all makes more sense with the 2nd volume. Perhaps the best part of this book is that while the series is related, the books are stand alones. If you’re looking for action, adventure, some dark magic, and that old time feel of a Robert E Howard tale, this might be the book for you.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
Across the Wastes
Another week crept by, leagues dragging on in a painful parade. They took to traveling mostly at night, for it was easier on their bodies. The Wastelands were murderous in the middle of the day. Merciless and silent, they were far deadlier than any Berserker. Yet another dawn came upon them, and the temperature dropped lower than usual. It seemed forever before the cold ebbed away into warmth.
The wagon creaked to a halt so they could eat a hasty breakfast and doff their heavy cloaks. They had another three to four hours before it became too much to go on, and it had become part of the journey. They stopped to eat and rode on as much as the suns would allow.
The lands were changing the deeper they rode. It soon became pockmarked with a host of craters and broken rocks. The sand was firmer, easier to walk on. Night was fully dissolved now, all traces of it lost among the gleaming red skies. Off in the distance, a heavy shadow could be seen, and an ill feeling crept into them. There was nothing this far out. No villages and no outposts. Even the horses felt the change.
“What do you make of it?” Emerald asked. She was as unfamiliar with this part of the desert as the rest of them, save the Viper. They were well past the Frontier’s border.
The Viper grimly replied, “I’d say it’s a well. An old way station, perhaps. We should reach it by the time we stop.”
“Make for a nice place to rest. Plenty of water to bathe with,” Snake offered. He’d been regretting his decision since the day they got off Gaalk’s barge. Being an infantryman, he was no stranger to getting down and dirty for prolonged periods of time, but the desert was murdering him. He was dehydrated, tired and filthy from excessive exposure, and the prospect of having a nice cool bath sounded more enjoyable than a cold ale with a complementary woman at its handle.
“I have not seen one so large or elaborate,” Kane said. “We must be cautious.”
“He’s got a point,” the Viper added. “I don’t seem to recall seeing this here the last time I was through these lands.”
Undaunted by their primitive fears, the Mad Hosking spurred his horse forward.
“Can you see anything?” Kane asked Gage, ignoring the crazed youth’s brashness. Gage’s eyes were closed, his sense reaching out to the sight. Uncertainty blocked him at every turn. Whatever was there had no desire to be discovered.
“Nothing,” he said. “I see no good, no evil. It’s as if I was being warned.”
“Might be bandits,” Emerald said.
The Viper shook his head. “No. Bandits never stay too long in one place. They have no reason to come out this far. No human caravan has come this route since the days of the old empire. It has to be an old well.”
“I’m not sure,” Gage said.
Kane grimace. He could already feel the heat pounding down. “Whatever it is, we need to get moving. Time is running out for us.”
“I’ve never seen so many people so willing to die,” the Viper muttered, kicking his horse into the column following the Mad Hosking.
Another two hours found them riding into the foundations of large shadows. Rocky terrain formed gullies and steep ravines around the center of the area. A well was indeed there, one as old as the first Northland invasion. The bricks were time weathered and worn beyond serviceability; no doubt the water below, if any, was corrupted by the sand and grime growing unchecked.
Sculpted sand mounds sprouted across the desert way station. They were burned into near glass, heightening Kane’s worries. Closer examination showed the mounds to be statues of men and women twisting in agony. Who in their right mind would erect such a place so far from civilization? Dozens of statues were scattered in and amongst the dunes and rocks. The pains forever etched looked genuine, as if the artist had perfect understanding of the human condition.
Gage’s senses were reeling. There was an unholy air to this place, superb and unnatural. He could feel the terror flowing from them, stretching out to warn him lest he share the same fate. He was convinced this was an evil place.
“Can you smell that?” he asked the others.
Nathan stopped what he was doing and sniffed the air, paying attention to the heavy odor for the first time. “It smells familiar. What is it?”
“Sulfur,” the Viper grimaced. “There’s but one creature out here with that stench.”
Emerald looked nervously around. “I have a bad feeling about this.”
“Do we stay or go?” Snake Eyes asked. The hairs on the back of his neck were standing on end.
“We stay,” Kane answered, leaving no room for discussion. “The horses are tired and need rest. Dusk is only a few hours away. We should be safe until then.”
The Viper laughed and remounted. “Go and set up your camp. I’ll be back in an hour or two.”
“Where are you going?”
“I don’t like the idea of being caught unawares.”
Spurring his horse forward, the assassin was around the bend before Kane could protest.
Going unnoticed by the rest, the Mad Hosking slipped off too. He had other ideas than wasting time with a cozy camp. The maze called to him, beckoning him to explore its horrors. Pain so pure pulsed from the glassy dunes, mirrored in the statues eyes.
Their horror pushed at him, threatening to whelm his soul with their torments. His senses warned of ambush, but his body stood frozen. Screams only he could hear wailed on the winds. It was in that instant he fully understand the meaning of the dale. They had all been alive once, just as he was. He wondered what power could turn flesh to glass and felt the first inklings of fear slink through his veins. It was only a matter of time before the horror struck at them.
The screaming got louder.
Hosking dropped to his knees, covering his ears in a futile attempt at silence. “No!” he shouted.
They carried on, desperately trying to warn him. Trying to help him before it was too late.
Listen to them. They show you the true path you walk.
Hosking screamed in kind. Lost in rage and swirling agony, Yonash felt his world crushing down, choking the life away. Life was against him, despite his best interests. A pain so deep he knew there was no recovering ate at his heart. Blood was seeping from the corners of his eyes. He felt a force clutching his soul, crushing tighter. Lost in the rage, the Mad Hosking snatched up his rifle and drove the butt crashing into the nearest statue. The dead man burst apart, shattering in contact. Pieces of glass showered down on him, and then the madness stopped.
What have you done?
The voices in his head were confused. They could feel the changes taking place in their host, could feel their sudden uselessness. He was escaping!
“You no longer have hold over my soul,” Hosking told the voices. “Burn in the Seven Hells and bother me no more.”
The plague was dying, decaying before his eyes. The voices cursed him; damned him until a threatening wind silenced them forever. The Gods had been offended and would soon seek to make him their example. He was fine with this, having resigned his faith long ago. The oddest part came from being so alone. His mind was empty. He knew he was never going to be the same again, for Yonash Hosking owed the Gods, and they meant to use him.
Watching them from the front of the wagon, Gage suddenly found the attraction between Nathan and Emerald fascinating and lonesome. Memories of his own love came to him, and it was all he could do not to cry. His emotions had been in check for so long he wasn’t sure if he had any tears in him. His own sadness had been buried until now, and he found himself longing for his homeworld. Emerald noticed his distant look and walked over to him.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
Gage smiled, weak and unconvincing. “Nothing, my dear. Go back to your friend and try to get some rest. I have a feeling it’s going to be an eventful day.”
She didn’t like the sound of his premonitions, but that was another matter. Hooking her arm around his to keep him from getting away, Emerald persisted.
“You really shouldn’t bottle yourself up like this. I know. It’s only going to make it hurt more when the time comes. Tell me what’s wrong.”
He smiled again, thinking how she was going to make Nathan a very happy man. “If you insist. I saw you standing there with him and couldn’t help but think how good you two are together. Almost as if the Gods made you for each other.”
She tried hiding her blush.
“I was once in love,” he said.
It was Emerald’s turn to smile. “Tell me about her.”
“I hardly know where to begin. It’s been so long you know.”
“Start with her name.”
He paused for a moment, reflecting on the woman who had once claimed his heart.
“Elourina Saulein. A very lovely and noble woman.”
“Pretty name,” Emerald said. “She must have been grand.”
“At least to me, she was. We used to spend entire afternoons just talking. I think I miss that the most. Conversation with a telepath is quite irksome from time to time. Not the same as two normal people. She had the most beautiful laugh. Just like a songbird. I’ll never forget that. We were supposed to be married upon my return. I doubt now that I shall ever she her again.”
His voice trailed off, choked up by quiet sobs. Emerald’s arm snaked around his waist in a tender hug and silently held him.
Cast the line and you’re never sure what you might catch. Of course I would have liked a more positive review, but this one isn’t too bad at all. The part I feel most authors struggle with understanding is that reviews aren’t for us at all. They are for readers to help formulate a decision. With that, I’ll leave it up to you. I will say that if you are reading this and there are any of my books you have read please do leave an honest review- like them or hate them. Thanks in advance!
This novel introduces readers to the world of the war priests of Andrak, a select group of men and women who fight off the darkness of the Omegri every year.
Usually, they only have to fight monsters during the 100 days of the Burning Season, but troubles in the once-peaceful duchy of Fent lead to Brother Quinlan and his apprentice being dispatched to investigate a once-dead knight who is taking children and disappearing. Ghosts have been sighted, and it seems the veil between realms is thinning to where war may soon consume the land.
The world building for this story is rich and original, creating a vibrant backdrop through customs and mannerisms, cultures and races. There are war priests from various heritages, and while the main characters seem to share the same general culture, there are also supporting characters from other backgrounds, like the lowly foot soldiers who provide humor and a sense of normalcy, providing balance to the more knowledgeable and worried voices in the novel.
The range of characters provides a variety of perspectives on the world, from the children who are being taken to the parents who are left behind, the war priests’ apprentices and various agents working with the Omegri. However, it can feel like these perspectives dilute the overall experience by giving too many voices and not enough time with each to truly know them.
Some of this could be further affected by the narrative use of telling rather than showing, to where characters’ reactions are explained rather than seen in action. The men, women, and children themselves each come across as real and relatable, though, and perhaps the series will elaborate on some of them and their character arcs in the future.
The story itself is believably dogged with dead ends, corruption, collusion, and trouble, with the antagonists knowing far more than the heroes. Even though the war priests have magic at their disposal, they are far from all-powerful, leaving them vulnerable many times to where victory is uncertain throughout the book, and the human antagonists are depicted as flawed rather than purely evil, adding to the realistic tone of this work.
The plot structure can feel choppy, overall, as the focus changes just when something important or significant is about to unfold, taking the narration to another part of the story and world. Upon return to the first plot thread, the moment has usually passed, which progresses the story forward nicely but can also create the feeling of missing revelations and interactions. This back-and-forth seems to also lead to duplicate passages of information, which can further slow down the pacing.
At times, the narration can be elaborate to the point of being unclear, but it does create a compelling mood of despair, uncertainty, and confusion. The description is effective and detailed, but the lack of immediacy where the characters are concerned influences it, to where readers may feel like they’re being told about a place more than actually experiencing it.
The characters are varied and interesting, and the supernatural beings are nicely unique, creating a new realm for readers to explore. Intriguing and evocative, the world of the story will pull readers in, providing a great start to a new fantasy series while delivering an adventurous story full of danger, supernatural worries, perils, hopes, and fears.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars