Reminds me of Home

I really enjoy throwing my knowledge of the military into my writings. It’s what makes it work for me. Add my degree in military history, real world war experience, and over 2 decades of service around the world and I think I bring a fairly unique skillset to fantasy and science fiction. We’ve all seen or read those stories where the writer/director has zero concept of the military. I don’t know about you but it drives me crazy. I decided years ago that making the fighting- and results- quasi realistic was my angle. Oddly enough, I actually got a negative review because of this.

Oh well, can’t please everyone I guess.  Here is this week’s chapter. Read on, my friends, read on.

 

 

Final Preparations

“Fire Mission!”

The word came down right at dusk, and twenty-four howitzer crews flowed into their drills. The usual desert calm was drowned away under the hum of hydraulics as tubes elevated and traversed onto deflections and quadrants. Two hundred pound rounds slammed into breeches up and down the line, and section chiefs verified data one last time before pushing the button that cut the right charge of liquid propellant. Colonel Gladak stood well behind the firing batteries, taking it all in. An old infantryman, Gladak knew the greatest asset they had was the artillery. An impersonal method of killing, but terribly effective. He was thankful to be behind the guns rather than on the receiving end of their fury. Five rounds apiece filled the guns’ magazines, each with time delayed fuses. The rack was a designed package standard throughout the Imperium. The first two rounds of each volley would impact in the ground while the remaining three would explode five meters above. It was a proven ploy responsible for more casualties than all of the infantry companies put together.

Cannoneers moved about their jobs, eagerly awaiting the call to fire. The three battery commanders stalked from one gun pit to the next to inspect their troops and raise morale a little more. They all knew that, initially, only one gun was going to fire. Once the forward observers adjusted the howitzer onto the target, the remainder of the battalion would join in. One hundred and thirty high explosive rounds were more than enough to suppress anything the enemy had to throw at them. Besides, no one in his right mind was going to risk being caught in the open at the point of an Imperium advance.

The hydraulic hum of a tubes elevating drew Gladak’s attention. His slit eyes focused on the adjusting howitzer. It was a thing he’d witnessed countless times over the course of his career, starting as a young lieutenant observing rounds. Soldiers not directly involved with the howitzer’s operations had the opportunity to sit back and bet on who was going to shoot first. It was a hard way to make money, but the military wasn’t known for how well they paid. Once loaded, firing the howitzer was basically a three-man job. Section chiefs verified data sent down from the fire direction centers and gave the command to fire. Gunners set off the data, and the cannoneer pulled the lanyard. Everyone else shuffled ammo back and forth from the carrier to the gun and got to watch. Bragging rights belonged to whoever shot first.

A gun in the center of the position rocked back under the recoil as it fired, spitting flames into the dimming sky. Nearby windows and buildings trembled under the heavy shock waves as Black Tide learned what modern warfare was like. Acrid smoke and debris washed over the colonel. Gladak growled approval. The smell left something to be desired, but the lethality was flawless. Killing from twenty clicks away was a relatively easy thing to do compared to the brutality of the infantry and tankers, but the sickening thought stayed in the back of their minds forever.

Specialists thumbed across ranging charts to mark the position of impact and punched the data into computers to adjust closer to the target. A second adjust round popped off less than a minute later. The battalion hit the target on the third round, much to their delight, and the gun line came alive.

“Fire mission!” crackled a high-pitched voice over twenty four intercoms.

It was a well-rehearsed drill as much as it was second nature to the old timers. They pushed their earplugs in a little more, anticipating how loud the concussion was going to be. Twenty seconds after receiving data, crews were finished reporting back a ready status. A new private grew nervous. An old chief grinned at a rookie cannoneer. Others laughed and joked, oblivious to what was going on around them. A card game was going on directly behind one platoon. Men talked about women, and women talked about different men they’d been with. It was the same the army over. Troopers had to do the little things if they expected to go home sane.

“Battalion standby….”

Muscles tensed. Hearts beat a little faster, and the Imperium heavy artillery stood on the brink of waking the Wasteland’s dead. “Battalion…FIRE!”

The ensuing thunder was a far cry worse than the wrath of the Gods. The ground was trembling under the extreme pressure as the guns fired again and again. Each salvo went screaming off into the desert, wailing like a banshee on All Hallows Eve. Civilians poured into the streets once their initial fear subsided. No warning was given of the Imperium’s intentions, causing many to believe the end of the world was here. Sounds of impacting rounds sang back to Black Tide as its people stood in awe. Before going to bed that night, they all said a prayer for the brave men and women come to rescue them, for nothing in this world could survive that.

 

“At ease, gentlemen,” Gladak growled after checking his watch. His almond eyes were no more than slits expressing a dislike for this briefing. Division S-3 was responsible for this type of coordination, a task beneath his status but one Pierce had directed him to do regardless.

“As you all know by now, this is our last opportunity to work out the bugs before the operation begins. I want vehicles from the lead elements lined up and ready to advance one hour prior to dawn. You’ve all been given your chalk numbers and places in the advance. Do not mess this up. Each unit has an individual mission, and the division as a whole has no time for mistakes. Not this time.

“Recon elements have already departed for the far end of this Gorge. They should be well in place by the time the first units roll out. Artillery is in ready reserve. All you have to do is call for it should the need arise. Same thing with attack air. Don’t be afraid to call for help.” His eyes focused on a group of tank commanders. “That means you, Colonel Krylin. Tankers have a reputation for taking things on alone. I know. I am one.”

Krylin offered a false smile and nodded.

“The Gorge is twenty-five kilometers long and two hundred and fifty meters wide. We have no choice but to use this as the primary avenue of approach due to the softness of the sand on both sides. Our tanks and artillery would be caught floundering in the desert, leaving the infantry to fight for itself.”

“What’s the possibility of ambush? That’s a long way in a confined area,” asked a dark-skinned infantry officer.

“Slim at best. Preliminary reports have shown us nothing to make us believe they even know we’re coming. Based on their fighting style, there isn’t enough room for a full-blown battle in there.”

The Colonel resigned himself to a low grumble and shifted his way to the back of the crowd. He was a career man and was extremely worried for the first time since donning the uniform. There was cause for his concerns. His was the first unit in the advance, the first to get nailed if the hammer dropped. The position didn’t really bother him. He was used to it just as much as his troops. The problem came in not having enough intelligence to keep them out of trouble.

“Once the first brigade is cleared, they pull up in a loose perimeter. Second brigade takes the point, and we continue to leapfrog until we hit the objective. Division has three days to gain the enemy stronghold. Arty will pump thousands of rounds into the mount as well at about thirty tons of chemical munitions. Infantry moves in once the all-clear is given from division chemical section.”

“No one has ever gone down there and come back out. Keep that in mind, and we’ll live that much longer. There is no coming back from this, gentlemen. Smoke the barrels until they threaten to melt.”

A few offered nervous laughs, but the mood remained dark.

“Plans change, so there’s no reason to believe that this one won’t. Stay flexible, and keep your people motivated. Good hunting, gentlemen.”

 

From where he stood, the Berserker heard the shrill whistling of the incoming round long before he ever saw it. The sound amazed him, for there was nothing he knew of in the Wastelands that made such a call. The majority of the horde was marching underground to the place where the battle was to begin and was largely oblivious to the events above ground.

His skin was a natural camouflage, changing much like a chameleon with different backgrounds. Each genetically designed for specific tasks, the chameleon-like monster was the perfect scout capable of arriving on his prey without so much as a whisper. Scents of fleshlings drifted to him from leagues away, so he knew they were watching.

The screaming grew louder the closer the thing came. Cocking his head, the Berserkers finally caught his first glimpse of the object slicing through the thin night clouds. This was the second such creature he’d heard but the first seen. The first had come crashing to the ground minutes earlier with such horrific force that it penetrated one of their tunnels, killing three of his brothers.

The Berserker was standing on the lip of the crater made by the first one, ignoring the alarms going off in his head. He knelt down and peered past the dust and acrid smell choking the pit. Twisted bits of metal and powder burns of a malevolent force were all over, but his ignorance of the situation canceled any fear. Was this some new terror brought by the invaders? Another steel bird came screaming down on his head. The ground trembled under the sonic vibrations, and the Berserker had time to throw his hands up before he died.

Advertisements

There’s no ho-ho-ho here

War is coming. An all out, smack down of genetically created monsters and the brave men, women, and aliens of the Imperium. Having done my share of fighting in a few wars, I can honestly say I’m glad I’m not with these folks as they get ready to throw down.

But before that happens, we need to slip back and find out what’s going on with our favorite green friend, Leggis Fint. If you have enjoyed this story, I invite you to swing by my website and see what else interests you. https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B005HP3EOW

Enjoy, friends.

THIRTY-FOUR

Vengeance

Dehydrated and exhausted from moving under Helscape’s suns, Leggis Fint and Kreegin Faul stumbled into Minion. Their journey lasted the better part of two days, and the sole focus for their survival relied on revenge. Passersby avoided the pair, afraid of disease and rot. Fint smiled at how disgusting they must seem. Their clothes were torn from the firefight, and their skin had been baked and dried beyond the point of cracking.

Fint knew his lips were scorched, and his fair skin was peeling terribly under the constant exposure. They’d done their best to move in the late hours just before twilight and dawn, but the dangers in the night forced them into hiding. The first night, they had been ambushed by a desert spider with legs five meters long and a huge plump body covered in spiked hair. The spider had managed to wound Kreegin in the upper thigh before they were able to shoot enough of its eyes out to make it retreat into its den. A grenade had seen to the rest.

Once inside the rooms they’d been staying in, the mercenaries fished out first-aid kits and began a painful healing process. Fint’s immediate concerns were simple enough. Once they mended Kreegin’s leg wound and killed off infections, they were going to find out what happened to the third man of their party. Imperium security was going to be tight, if for no other reason than that they couldn’t find either mercenary’s body in the rubble of Reeves.

Fint had a feeling that the little worm Menzel was keeping his other man alive as collateral until a permanent solution presented itself. Three mercenaries known for their viciousness weren’t exactly the men you wanted against you. Now all they had to do was figure out how to break onto an Imperium base and steal a prisoner away from the jailers. Fint didn’t like the prospects of it all, but it sure made for an interesting life.

He’d just sat down and propped his feet up on the table to sort things out when sleep hit him hard. Kreegin finished his fruit and let the man sleep. It wasn’t until dawn they finally woke up.

“Are you sure this is going to work?” Kreegin asked as he sidestepped around a pile of something he’d rather not identify.

Fint shrugged. “Got a better idea?”

“We could always go in shooting everything that moves.”

“That’s what I like about you, my friend. The two of us against a few hundred combat-hardened Imperium infantry should do quite nicely,” Fint agreed. “So, the odds are slightly in their favor.”

“Point,” the mercenary conceded. “If we are to have a shot at getting Kelg out alive, we need to blend in. Camouflage, my man. That’s it.”

“And just where are we supposed to get uniforms from? Call me crazy, but I’m not seeing a lot of prosperity here.”

Fint laughed. “These people are no different from any other backwater world. I’m sure there’ll be peddlers and two-bit hustlers aplenty once we reach the market district. You know, this kind of reminds me of that forest planet, what was its name?”

“Kolth.”

“I don’t know how you can remember all the places we’ve been like that.” Kreegin spit. “I should. That’s where I lost three toes.”

The sounds of merriment and trade washed over them as they entered the market district. Recent lack of fear had led to a somewhat booming economy. Fint wondered how they would react if the Imperium lost. Beings of all different sizes, shapes and colors mingled in thick crowds, ignoring and acknowledging merchants and petty hustlers at their own discretion. This part of Minion was usually run by the lower class; in fact, most of the wealthier citizens warned others to stay away. Leggis Fint didn’t see anything wrong with being here, especially if it led them where they needed to go.

Pickpockets and thieves lifted wallets at random, and a host of woman stood on balconies or in doorways trying to sway unsuspecting men into their beds. He couldn’t blame them for trying. Everybody had to make a living. One woman in particular caught Fint’s eye, and he guided his friend over to her. She was a pretty woman if you enjoyed a normal human. Her features were plain but striking in the sun. She had a slender form with just the right sized breasts. Fint absorbed her long, golden-tanned legs posed from under her slit skirt and found himself wishing for more time to take care of personal business.

“Now, what would a pair of rough, handsome men like yourselves be doing standing here and talking to me?” She smiled as they stopped a few paces away.

“We’re just looking for a little bit of fun before a business matter,” Fint replied with a gleaming smile.

“Honey,” she cooed, “I’m all about fun and business.”

“Lucky for us, then. Got somewhere where we can make this private?”

She curled a finger and whispered, “Follow me.”

The mercenaries followed at a safe distance as she turned down a shadow-filled alley. She stopped far enough away that no one would see them and leaned against the wall in a way that displayed her body to her advantage.

“Now, what kind of fun are you thinking about?”

Fint cleared his throat and said, “We need information.”

She was confused but played it off. “I think you have the wrong girl, baby.”

“Judging from the size of that blaster on your hip, I don’t think so,” Fint said. His was already in his hand. The hum of Kreegin’s rifle charging echoed off the walls. “Care to be serious now?”

“What do you want?” she asked with a snarl.

“We need Imperium uniforms and ID badges to get on post.”

“What makes you think I have anything to do with that?”

Fint smiled. “Why else would you have a gun? We know about the underground here, and I’m betting on you working for them. Am I right?”

Her eyes leveled in a menacing glare. “You’re good.”

“So I’ve been told. Now if you would hurry up. We don’t have much time.”

“Follow me, but nothing funny. You have no idea who’s watching you.”

 

“Just knock once and go inside,” she told them, “and he doesn’t take kindly to weapons being flashed in his face.”

Kreegin shouldered his rifle but kept his hand hooked on the strap. It would only take a second for him to bring the rifle down and fire it like this. Fint knocked on the door. He turned to ask the woman another question, but she was already gone. This didn’t smell like an ambush, but a good mercenary didn’t live long by foregoing caution. The door swung quietly inward, allowing the pair entrance.

Just a Little Closer

I wonder if I timed this out right? Not intentionally, I assure you, but the end of Tomorrow’s Demise might just coincide with the new year. Wouldn’t that be cool? An unanticipated gift for you all- especially those of you who live in the frozen north. At any rate, let’s dive back into the campaign and see where war takes them.

The Division Arrives

The blackened armor of the lead scout car reflected heat enough to make life miserable for the soldiers inside as it hovered within eyesight of town. Assault choppers went by to secure the native town aerially. They were flying low, ready to respond to anything sudden but still high enough that the townsfolk wouldn’t get sand blasted by the prop wash. A youthful captain stepped out the passenger side of the jeep, clasping his hands behind his back for comfort.

The ride had been long and extremely bumpy, but they’d gotten here without major problems. One of his men was back in the mobile hospital suffering from heat exhaustion, and the rest were gradually growing annoyed with the harsh desert conditions, but morale was still high enough to make a difference. Running a hand over his naturally bald head, the captain watched the first vehicle break free from the concealing dust.

Another hover jeep came flying down the road past the heavy armored column, and he knew it was only one man. It pulled to a stop next to the recon vehicle, and the passenger hopped out. The captain snapped to attention and saluted.

“General, welcome to Black Tide. Both the fire bases and bivouac areas are on the far side of town towards the Gap.”

Pierce returned the salute and asked, “How much progress has been made?”

“The important facilities are up and running, but they’re still working on a lot of the billets. Limited manpower has slowed the engineers down some, sir.”

“I don’t want excuses, Captain Xaen. We need results. Well, no matter. After three days on the road, I think the troops need a bit of exercise and some good hard labor to get their blood pumping again,” he concluded. “How far have your men scouted?”

“We went as far as the mouth of the gorge and fifteen clicks around in every direction so far, sir. No sightings as of yet. A few of the locals showed us what may turn up as danger areas. The data’s been plotted and mapped for the arty.”

A third jeep pulled up, this one with Gladak driving. He’d had enough of his driver within the first few hours of the journey. “General,” he nodded.

Pierce smiled. Men like Gladak were hard to come by. “Colonel Gladak, you may start your occupation of the city.”

“Yes, sir,” the dragonoid hissed and sped back to the head of the column.

A recon vehicle was there to guide them in with MPs along the way to alleviate some of the confusion. The steel snake of the Imperium convoy slithered back to life as it got closer to the first objective.

“Captain,” Pierce said, “I’d like to see the fire base first.”

“Of course, sir. If you’ll follow us.”

 

Positioned due west of Black Tide were Pierce’s gun pits. Each of his howitzers had been bermed in by the engineers. Trucks with hundreds of rolls of concertina wire sat off to the rear while the gun crews moved back and forth to wire the perimeter. Each pit was large enough for the guns to have three hundred and sixty degree firing capability. Imperium artillery was bigger and faster than anything they had come up against thus far, and Pierce was their first supporter. The guns had an effective range of seventy clicks and were manned by some of the most professional soldiers he’d had the privilege of leading. The artillery was the deadliest combat killer on his battlefield.

Pierce grinned privately at the sight of the division colors gusting from atop the pole in the center of the firebase. His colors. The command bunker was right behind it, now almost finished being sandbagged into place. He stayed with the battalion commander for a few minutes, eventually making it around to every gun before it was time to head back. Pierce was impressed and looking forward to watching them shoot in the coming days.

 

Kane knew it had been quiet since his platoon had finally made it into Black Tide. The past two months had gone flying by for him, but it all looked the same tedious pace for the local population. He had to laugh when his memory took him back to the fool’s quest that had led him where he was now. It felt like a few days ago when he and Viper set out towards Rook Mountain to collect on a contract. Now it seemed like he had come full circle, ready to start over again. Black Tide held many demons for him, and he found it best to keep silent. No one needed to hear his troubles. A man accustomed to being alone, the Slayer made an attempt at blending in and becoming part of the time, though truth be told he wanted to be alone. Wars — his war, at least — were easier without the worry of having to care for others.

Both he and Nathan helped the squad pitch their tent, a heavy thing more than large enough to fit them and their bags. A quiet conversation later, they dropped their bags on their bunks and stole back to the edge of town. Snake Eyes promised to keep it quiet if that dumbass lieutenant came sneaking around and to wish them luck. After all, what could the Imperium possibly do to them?

Darkness was settling, allowing them fairly safe passage through the confusion of the Imperium encampment. Nathan still didn’t know why they were risking getting in trouble yet, but he found himself trusting Kane more as the days went by. When he asked, the Slayer merely responded by saying that they had one last matter to attend to before they left for the war. Nathan shrugged and tagged along.

He knew he was in the same situation as Kane — not yet part of the team and not wholly an outcast either. The transition was harder than he remembered from his own military experience, but then again, he’d never served with aliens or women. Time and the shared experience of combat would erase those discrepancies. He only hoped he was going to come back alive to enjoy them.

“This is it,” Kane announced, stealing Nathan’s illusions of another time and place.

Nathan looked up at the building and instantly questioned Kane’s motives. The very building gave off the appearance of being able to hand out diseases just for walking through the door.

“It’s something,” he said as he followed Kane inside.

He almost regretted his decision before the burly shape stepped out from the shadows.

“I knew ya’d be back here with them damned soldiers,” growled a rusty voice from behind the bar.

Nathan’s hand dropped to his blaster, an act that didn’t go unseen by either the Slayer or the bartender.

“What choice did I have?” Kane asked.

“The boy’s quick with the trigger,” Skrapp said, motioning with his head.

“He’s new to our way of life.”

Skrapp looked the young man up and down before judging, “An Easterner eh? Well, he’ll soon find out the way things are this side of the river. Hope you’re not squeamish when it comes to blood, boy.”

“I think I can manage,” Nathan said with a wry smile.

Seemingly satisfied, Skrapp went back to his old friend. “Damn it all to darkness, Kane. I’ve been bored to tears since I left the Way. Wish I’d had the strength to go at it another twenty years the way things are now. Lots of good hunting coming up.” He reached out and clasped Kane’s wrist. “My old bones told me ya’d be coming back. Ya just couldn’t stay away!”

“We all have our demons.”

Skrapp nodded. “This is going to be a good fight.”

Nathan passed an obscure glance to Kane. He was convinced the older man was absolutely crazy, along with everyone else he’d run into since arriving on Helscape.

“But tell me,” Skrapp went on, “you didn’t ask me here just to talk about the old times, did you?”

“I need some information. These Imperium fools are walking into this war blind. I don’t think they’d stand a chance if it weren’t for those of us who answered the call or the troops already stationed here. This is going to be a complete disaster,” Kane finally said, slightly bowing his head.

Skrapp spit. “The glory of the Imperium. Bah! Never did put much faith in all that fancy armor and fast talking. There’s been a lot of tremors lately — big ones, at that. Seem like they get bigger nowadays.”

“Tremors?” asked Nathan.

“Aye, boy. The Berserkers choose to travel below ground to avoid certain un-pleasantries,” Skrapp said with a laugh.

“The bigger the tremor, the more there are,” Kane added.

“My man Rolf’s gone out there when they get really loud,” Skrapp continued. “Says they never come any closer than the Gorge, almost as if they know something.”

“How long have they been going on?” Kane asked.

“Four or five days. Figure they started about a week ago.”

“About the same time the division landed across the river,” Nathan concluded in a stunned whisper.

Kane nodded.

“Think you can save all them souls?” Skrapp asked him.

Kane shook his head. “No. It’s already too late for that. The man leading them is mad. He’s consumed by a tainted flame.”

“What in the fuck are you two talking about!” Nathan spat once the shock was passed. “I’m not about to die because some bozo doesn’t know what he’s getting into! I’ve got my life to go home to.”

Skrapp scowled.

“You’ll live to see your family again, Mr. Bourne. You’ve got the fire in ya. I seen it. And a shade brighter than most.”

“What fire?”

“Of survival,” Kane answered. “We’re all born with it, some more than others. Few learn how to harness it to their advantage.” His hand touched Nathan’s. “They will guide your hand in battle when the time comes.”

“Ok, this is too much for me now,” he admitted. “Pour me another and keep on. I think I’m going to need it.”

“Braxton, I need one of your runners,” Kane told him.

“For what?”

“To get a message back to Minion. I need him to get in touch with the assassin.”

“That worm? He’s nothing but bad news. Best you stay clear of him, Kane.”

“I know, but I need his help. We already know each other, and he has something I’m going to need.”

The Slayer was smiling now, a bright idea consuming his thoughts.

“Mind telling me what this is about?” Skrapp asked as Kane handed him a quickly scribbled note.

Kane cocked his head before answering, “It’s better you don’t know, at least not yet.”

“Fair enough,” he growled in his normal voice. “Rolf! Get over here, boy. I got a job fer ya”

 

Mists swirled around him, conjuring shapes he’d never dreamed. Nathan stood upon the ramparts of some ancient castle. Desert stretched as far as he could see, lifeless and uninviting. There was a deep sense of pain stemming from the very ground. As if the world bled from old wounds and could not heal. He instinctively reached down for his pistol only to find it wasn’t there. Nathan Bourne was alone and vulnerable.

Voices whispered in his head. He felt their anguish. Murder had been done here. Dark stains covered the crumbling stone walls. How many had died, he wondered. The question was one he was loathe to ask. Could this be where the end of the world began?

Nathan Bourne of Earth.

He spun, startled by the frail voice calling him out. The mists swirled away from him, as if being sucked away by some greater power. Coalescing into the ragged shape of a man, the mists glided to a stop a few feet from him.

“What do you want of me?” Nathan asked guardedly.

The mist appeared to bow its head. You are the key. This quest will fail. Many will depend on you for the future.

“I don’t do riddles. What are you talking about?” he snapped back, more out of shock and potential fear than anger.

Trust in your friends. Only through them will peace be secured. Time is fleeting. My agents will be among you soon.

The mist disappeared, leaving him alone atop the ramparts. Darkness closed in around him even as he pondered the mystic words. He awoke with a single word burned upon his lips. Gage.

Black Friday? Ugh

There is no way in Hell you can get me into a store today. I may be a little crazy, but crowds trigger me. I freaked out a Trader’s Joe’s last week. So many people. So crowded. Stupid PTSD. Just because I don’t like to shop doesn’t mean I don’t have a few deals for you.

Hammers in the Wind has been on fire lately. Not the best book I ever wrote, but it was one of my first, this series has gotten almost 500 reviews across various sites. Somebody must like it- though a few certainly didn’t! Either way, that’s not for me to decide. I’ll leave that you!

THE NORTHERN CRUSADE RETURNS!

From now until the end of the year, I’m offering Hammers in the Wind to you for free. Buy it. Read it. Like it or not. I’d love a review, good or bad.

I Never Thought

That the day would come when I tried to crank out a novel that happens overnight and in the modern world. Never seemed like my ‘thing’. That being said, I did. Successfully, I think. You can thank Twilight for that. The way that…book…ruined fantasy for a few years is responsible for the work you see below.

where-have-all-the-elves-gone

Where Have All the Elves Gone? is a play on the ridiculous ‘sexy vampire’ craze and the decline of traditional fantasy. The premise is simple. All of the creatures of traditional fantasy are real and living in disguise among us. I know some of you suspect your neighbors are trolls or dwarves…

Anyway, the story takes place in central North Carolina, features a veteran turned author (hmmm?) and a shady government organization. Enjoy.

Where Have All the Elves Gone?

Everyone knows Elves don’t exist. Or do they? Daniel Thomas spent years making a career of turning his imagination into the reality of best selling fantasy novels. But times are tough. No one wants to read about elves and dragons anymore. Daniel learns this firsthand when his agent flatly says no to his latest and, what he deems, to be greatest novel yet. Dissatisfied with the turn to zombies and vampire lovers, he takes his manuscript and heads out to confront his agent.


His world changes when he finds his agent dying on the floor of her office. Too late to help, he watches as her dead body disintegrates into a pile of ash and dust. Daniel doesn’t have time to ponder what just happened as a band of assassins breaks in, forcing him to flee to the Citadel and the home of the king of the high elves in order to survive. Daniel soon discovers that all of the creatures he once thought he imagined actually exist and are living among us. His revelation comes at a price however, as he is drawn into a murder-mystery that will push him to the edge of sanity and show him things no human has witnessed in centuries.

Tuesday Already?

Looks like the week is starting to get away from me. I close my eyes for one minute and it’s tomorrow. The battle draws nigh, but it’s not quite time to strap the armor on and plunge into the fight. Almost, bear with me, friends.

If you enjoy this story, I invite you to swing over to http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/ChristianWarrenFreed

and see what else I have cooking. The world is a vast and scary place after all.

THIRTY-ONE

The Road to Black Tide

The combination of the dry heat pounding down from two suns and several vehicles not fitted for desert conditions made the first day much longer than it should have been. It wasn’t even mid-day yet, and the trail elements were still within eyesight of Minion. Progress was limited more than anticipated due to the use of only one road, and that one being third-rate at best. Hopes were still high, even as military police worked around the broken vehicles and traffic jams, but already they could feel the burden of the desert bearing down on them.

“I’ve never liked the desert,” Nathan announced to whoever was listening from his seat at the rear of the track.

Kane looked around before settling his gaze on the man. “I’ve never known anything else.”

Snake Eyes choked on some of his own saliva and rolled over to his other side without waking.

“How do you deal with it?”

“You don’t think about it,” the Slayer said, as if it were that simple. “Things happen that we have no control over, Mr. Bourne. I was four years old when I watched everything I knew end. The same monsters we’re going to hunt now. That’s what keeps my mind off of the petty trials of surviving the Wastelands.”

“And you’ve been doing this for fifty years?”

Kane nodded.

“Exactly how old are you?”

“Seventy-seven standard years.”

Feeling his eyes widen with mild amusement, Nathan asked, “Something you care to tell me? I could have sworn you don’t look a day over forty.”

The Slayer smiled for the first time Nathan could remember. “Another mystery of the Desert. My people generally live for two hundred years. The oldest of us can still remember the first war when the wizards lost their power and the Berserkers rose from the ashes. I am still quite young by those standards.”

“How do you deal with all that rage for so long?” Nathan asked. “It would burn me up inside.”

“You learn to live with it,” Kane replied and closed his eyes. Memories of that fateful day engulfed him and quickly fled. Shuddering from the impact, Kane refocused on the golden sands. Somewhere out there, lost in the deep desert, waited the entire Berserker horde.

Helscape’s suns were already setting when the command to halt for the day filtered down through the column. Strung out troopers weren’t going to do them any good. Field rations were pulled from packs, and the soldiers got a chance to ease their aching bones from the constant jarring of the tracks.

Kane sat atop the track, already finished eating and deciding it best for him to pull the watch while the rest of the platoon sat down and ate and discussed the same things they had since the dawn of warfare. The Slayer knew better than to let his guard down, even in the midst of so many soldiers. Night in the desert held more dangers than the day possibly could. Zorinths chose to use the natural protection the night had to offer. The sun was murder to their scaled skin. Each stood tall as a horse and wailed a hideous song once they picked up the trail. Only their glowing turquoise eyes were visible to the unsuspecting eye.

There were dangers extending well beyond the zorinths, though they were the most dominant predator by far. Giant burrowing spiders hid their tunnels at random, making the traps no more obvious than another patch of sand. They waited inside for creatures to make the mistake of tripping the devices. Victims were promised a long and painful death from the poison. Leathery argots sailed the skies like fabled ships. Though they were menacing figures to behold, argots were relatively harmless scavengers that chose to squabble over the dead.

Snake Eyes finished his plate and told the squad, “Make sure this trash is policed up when you finish. I’m off to this meeting.”

“I haven’t heard such a load of squaffa in a long time,” Xill laughed as he crumbled Pierce’s message to the division.

“Yeah, but the scary thing is that every last one of the troops that came here with him believe. Keep everyone in one location in case there’s anything important that needs to be put out from this meeting.” Snake slapped his friend’s shoulder and walked off towards the APC to pick up the Slayer.

He paused at the end of the vehicle, relishing the heat still coming off the armor. It was a simple pleasure that only a soldier could appreciate. Snake looked up at Kane’s outline, still unsure of the man. They weren’t friends, and he wasn’t completely sure he could trust him, but the division needed everyone if they were going to win. And if it meant bringing most of his people back from this dance, then Snake was all for the man.

“Kane, we need to get going. They’re waiting on us,” he called out.

The Slayer shouldered his rifle with a sigh and climbed down. This was another in a long list of reasons he’d never wanted to become a soldier. There were constant meetings after meetings all putting out the same data with nothing ever being accomplished. They walked in silence, reasonably tolerant of one another. For leagues all around, the zorinths howled their calls. At least so long as they howled, Kane knew there was no immediate threat.

 

Nathan sat off to the side of the track by himself. This was a strange world for him, and none of the situations available were acceptable. Either way he looked at it, he was going to die. The chances of ever making it back to that green light were slim. It was a difficult thing for him to accept that he was the alien here. Here, on a planet where over a hundred life forms of every size and color walked beside each other.

He wasn’t a religious man, but recent events led him to question if that was a wise decision. His sanity felt as if it could come apart any time now, and a small part of him wished this was just a dream. Maybe his wife was right; maybe this job was too dangerous. Nathan hated the situation and circumstances through which he had arrived here, but keeping to solitude wasn’t going to solve anything. Nathan knew he wasn’t a hero — after all, hero’s usually wound up getting killed. He was just a man. And, as a man, he had an obligation to help his fellow men. Home could wait; after all, what exactly did he have to go back to anyway?

He’d learned a long time ago that there was strength in numbers, especially when it came to moral support. Doing his best to ignore a heavy heart, Nathan turned his attentions to the conversations the rest of the squad were having. It was blatantly evident that none of them wanted to be here either. They laughed and complained all in the same breath about things no one alive had the power to change. Lal-owk, the primate medic, was keeping to himself. His night vision was more advanced than that of the other species present, so he found the quiet of reading a book more enjoyable than the cussing and smell of smoke.

Nathan had managed to befriend Xill a while ago, and he was the only link to the rest of the platoon. Most of the others had been there when he came through the portal, and a few he met in the bar back in Minion, but he didn’t really know any of them. That made him uncomfortable. Nathan shifted his weight and listened.

“The only reason you joined up, Klausky,” Seli argued with a wagging finger, “was the fact that the authorities were looking for you!”

Laughter grew even louder.

Klausky threw his hands up and said, “At least I’m not here to meet men.”

“Jealous?” Seli laughed as she threw a canteen cup at him.

Xill noticed Nathan standing there and asked, “Care to join us? Or do we have to guess about you the entire trip?”

Nathan offered a thin smile, keeping his greater joy of being accepted to himself, and walked to a spot in the rough circle. He’d often wondered how men and women facing death managed to find time to be jovial but finally gave up and assumed it was just how things were. Even before his own invasion on another world, in another life, Nathan remembered how they’d all carried that same tense humor. That laughter was the one thing that cooled their nerves before the bullets cut loose. Seeing his chance to fit in, Nathan joined in.

“So,” he asked, “who smells like they haven’t washed in about a month?”

Seli T’lain gave him a big smile and doubled over laughing as she pointed to Klausky.

 

Snake Eyes had always been taught at different stages in his military career that good leaders were made. No one just came into the army being a leader. Experience and time showed how wrong that was. Time and again, he’d seen textbook leaders run off and get their people killed just because the book said it had to be done that way. Leaders were born, not made. He questioned anyone who believed otherwise. That was exactly what he found himself doing now as he shifted his gaze to each of the non-commissioned officers standing in the circle before him.

A green lieutenant stood next to his jeep where he had a map of the Wastelands laid out. Snake snorted. There was no way that man had any inkling of combat leadership before going through the academy. And every line sergeant knew the academy taught you just enough to get wasted on your first mission. A familiar insecurity crept back into Snake. The lieutenant was barely out of his teens and looked clean cut. That meant he was the kind who never deviated from the standards. He made a mental note to watch his back if any of his men were to make it home.

“For those of you who came late,” the Lieutenant said, looking right at Snake Eyes and Kane, “my name is Lieutenant Hosking, platoon leader for the unit you’ve been assigned to. I’m not in the habit of having to tell my NCO’s the same thing over again, so listen up the first time. When a hard time is out, I expect everyone to be there five minutes prior. This isn’t the reserves, and we’re not on an r-n-r world. You’re all front-line supervisors, and I expect you to behave accordingly. Am I clear?”

“This guy is going to get us all killed,” Snake Eyes whispered to Kane.

“Patience,” Kane urged.

Hosking snapped a glare at the two. “What did you say Sergeant? Please, share it with the rest of us.”

Damn it! Snake Eyes stepped forward so everyone could see his face, took a breath, and repeated, “You’re going to get us all killed, sir.”

A burly female staff sergeant leaned in and barked, “Clear out, people. This is between those two.” She had a smile only Snake could see as she walked by.

“Perhaps I failed to make myself clear, Sergeant,” Hosking told him once they were alone. “I am in charge here.”

“Sir, you were perfectly clear, but may I make a suggestion?”

Hosking nodded.

“All that in charge squaffa doesn’t mean a damn thing out here. You can take that and your general’s motivational words and roll ‘em up to swat the new recruits with. This is the real world. Most of my troops have been here for three years, not three days. Not a single one of you has any notion about what you’re running up against. This war is unlike anything you’ve ever seen, and I hope for your sake that your people catch on quick. I’ve seen too many good soldiers die to carelessness. Right now, this division is walking into the fight blind, and it’s going to come back and bite you on the ass.”

“I appreciate what you’re saying, Sergeant,” Hosking said in the attempt at biting back his hostility, “but I am more than capable of handling my own.”

Hosking was cocky and overconfident to the point where it might actually help save his life despite his lack of experience, and Snake Eyes wanted to get as far away from the man as he could.

“Are you really, sir?”

“That’s disrespect,” Hosking snapped.

“Just remember one thing, sir,” Snake said as he threw his hands up. “Remember my words when you’re looking down on what’s left of a man who used to be a soldier. It’ll all make sense when you’re trying to rub his blood off and it leaves a deep stain. This is something that’s going to live with you forever.” Snake Eyes stalked off into the night where he found Kane waiting for him. The Slayer gave a grim-faced nod and started walking with him.

Alone in a hostile environment, Yonash Hosking knew he still had a lot of growing up to do if he was going to be half the man his father was. But then again, maybe that was the problem.

A New Project

From now until the rest of the year I will be doing a weekly focus on one of my books. Hopefully some of you have read it already and left a review. Hopefully many of you will rush out to spread the word. A guy can dream right?

This week I want to highlight a pet project of mine that was stewing for some time. I decided to write So…You Want to Write a Book after answering numerous questions from fans and potential writers. Why not throw down what I know about the craft so that others can benefit?

Here’s a little taste:

We live in an era where everyone is a subject matter expert. I mean everyone. You can’t throw a stick without hitting someone who happens to know everything about anything. I don’t know about you, but I long for a return to the day when people were humble and could admit when they didn’t know something. Who am I kidding? This is the world we live in and these are the cards we’ve been dealt. Why not make the most of it?

The most challenging part, for anyone who still isn’t sure, is trying to decipher quality work from BS. Shelves, physical and digital, are littered with volumes by this person or that, all promising you the key to unlocking the future. The key to literary immortality itself. There’s only one problem with that; the key doesn’t exist. Each of our journeys is different and needs to be treated as such.

Charlatans abound in the modern world! Beware lest they rob your pocketbooks and leave you bitter. I fell for it once, in the beginning. Shortly after redeploying from Afghanistan I was in contact with a man in NYC. He promised all sorts of treasure while managing to keep the carrot at the end of the stick just out of reach. His agency accepted my manuscript and gave it quick edit. But wait there’s more. For the low-low price of $1800, I could select to have a full edit. Why wouldn’t I want to do that? Turns out he took my money and told me that I wasn’t ready to be published. Of course, if I shelled out a little more he could help. Ummmm…..no thank you. Was I naïve? Yup. Did I learn from it? Damned right I did.

This line of thinking brings us (mostly you) to an inevitable question. Why should you listen to me? I’m glad you asked. First, I don’t profess to being an expert of any kind. In fact, the majority of my adult life has been spent marching, training, firing every kind of weapon you can think of, and even going to war. I’m a soldier. Always have been and will continue to be until the day I die. Do you have any idea how difficult it was to transition from being a fulltime warrior to a civilian—scratch that, a retiree in a civilian world?

None of that is particularly relevant to your individual situation, however, so I will begin by saying the following. I began writing as a small child. My first endeavor was a ridiculously mediocre comic book called Gleep and Glop. No, really. Why would I make that up? Adulthood brought a more serious aspect and I began to write in earnest. In 2002, in a moldy tent in Bagram, Afghanistan, I wrote Armies of the Silver Mage. Two years later I wrote the prequel The Dragon Hunters and developed rough plans for the third stand-alone novel Beyond the Edge of Dawn.[1] A pre-prequel. Don’t judge because I wrote backwards!

I really didn’t have much faith in getting published. The drive never went away, but the reality of the matter was stacked against me. Books continued to pour out. My military career was winding down, and it was time to step out of that uniform one last time. Then the miraculous happened. E-books! Everyone could suddenly be published (though I contend that not everyone should be). It was a brand new world, and I jumped. I threw two books up on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and waited for the money to flow in.

Only that never happened. Sure, I made a little, but not what I wanted.[2] Dissatisfied, I turned to the booming market of small publishers. Having already learned my lesson, I vowed never to pay to have a book published. The system is designed to work the other way. You do the writing and the publisher foots the bill and takes their cut from the profits. I eventually got both books picked up by two different publishers and began writing in earnest.

[1]     You might be asking yourself how I could accomplish all of that while in the middle of two different wars. Easy, anyone who has ever been to war knows that the vast majority of time is painstakingly boring. That doesn’t make up for the 1% of sheer terror when the bullets are flying, but it provides an escape. Some men smoked and played games. I wrote.

[2]     You’ll soon discover that the majority of your initial sales will be to friends and family. Things get wonky after that.