Thursday, September 27, 2012

The blog post of DEATH... As foretold by prophecy...

So, I've finished up chapter 17 of the first draft of Starfire, and you can download it at the bottom of this page if you are so inclined.

This chapter continues the battle began in the previous chapter, it's more people recovering from damage done in the last encounter than anything actually exploding or anything.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Effing Romney...

If you haven't heard about it yet, feel free to check youtube for the hidden camera video where Romney proceeds to call about half of all Americans (people who make under $50,000 a year (which includes me and a lot of the people I know) veterans, disabled or otherwise, the elderly, the physically or mentally disabled, and friggen CHILDREN) lazy moochers who have no right to food, medicine, education, and other such things.  And then goes on to prove exactly why minorities do not like him with some very racist comments about Latinos and African Americans.  AND THEN goes on to prove himself a sexist jackass, talking about his wife as an object rather than a person. 

Do ya see what I've been saying about this guy since he tried to run for president last time?  And people the country over are horrified over this video.  Seriously, Does NO ONE know a single thing about the guy?  Really?  Does NO ONE remember what a loathsome excuse for human refuse he was during the Olympics here in Salt Lake?  THIS is the man you want to champion the rights of the needy and the unemployed?  ARE REPUBLICANS COMPLETELY BRAIN DEAD?!?!?  I love to say I told you so, and so, yeah, I told you so.  This man is about as close to human garbage as you can get without being a rapist or terrorist.  DO NOT VOTE FOR THIS BUTTPIRATE!!!  HE WILL NOT REPRESENT YOUR BEST INTERESTS!!!  HE WILL ONLY REPRESENT THOSE OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE MORE MONEY THAN YOU WILL PROBABLY EVER MAKE IN YOUR LIFETIME!!!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Starfire Chapter 16

I've finished up chapter 16 of the first draft of Starfire, and you can download it at the bottom of this page.

Seeing as how I've not gotten a book published, I'm very conscious of the word count of my stories.  I don't want them to go above much more than 130k words, in hopes that this will give me a better chance at finally attracting an agent that's not full of crap, and getting something published.  Like I said before, I had to add in almost 20k words earlier to keep Karen true to her character, and that's a pretty big block of text when you're talking in terms of 130k as a goal.  So, taking that into consideration, and the fact that I really didn't want to fall into broken record syndrome, I've decided to take two major fights that were to happen between the Nordhoff and the Doolittle, and combined them into a single engagement starting in this chapter.  I think this will cut out a pretty good chunk from the projected word count, whilst better streamlining the flow of events in the story, and keeping the story from stagnating from too much repetition of the same basic events.

This chapter was an homage to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which if you haven't seen it, is one of the greatest films of science fiction ever to be made, and a real display of just all-around brilliant film-making.  The limitations of the special effects used at the time forced the writers to be a lot more creative in their characters and situations, and despite the technology available in 1982, those limited special effects still hold up extremely well by today's standards.  As with anything staring William Shatner, you can expect quite a bit of ham and cheese, but that's part of the movie's charm, in my opinion, and this one is really one of the better movies in the star trek franchise as far as acting goes, especially in Shatner.  He seems to really be taking the role seriously for the first time in this one.  ANYWAY, They did something extraordinarily clever in the opening engagement between the Enterprise and the Reliant, in that when they were backed into a corner, they hacked the enemy ship's system, and forced their shields to lower.  And that's really the only sci-fi movie that anyone has thought to use that concept in, brilliant an idea as it is.  So, I really wanted to pay homage to one of my favorite movies by incorporating this idea into my own story, because if this sort of thing was happening in real life, I guarantee you that the people on these ships are going to be trying to hack through each other's computers to do crap like this.  I mean, this movie came out thirty years ago, before hacking really got to be a big thing, I'm really surprised that this idea is not more widespread in current science fiction films and books.

This entire book is basically my paying tribute to all of the science fiction that influenced me as a child.  It's an amalgam of ideas and concepts borrowed from Star Trek, Star Wars, Dune, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rodgers, Gundam, Captain Harlock, Space Battleship Yamato, some more than others, and a few I didn't mention.  It's kind of my way of saying, thanks for a lifetime of influence, to the entertainment industry as a whole, and here's my take on your ideas with my own story and characters.  Hopefully, in the end, it'll turn out as something more original than the sum of its borrowed pieces.  It's actually been a whole lot of fun going back to my roots, as it were, and adding all of these things into my story.  It's basically me saying to all those that came before me, these are the building blocks that you gave to me, now watch what I can do with them.  I'd like to think that I'm not just copying the work of others, but giving little nods of appreciation within a story and world completely of my own creation.

And now I think I'll go celebrate the completion of this chapter by watching The Wrath of Khan.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Memory of Light

If you're like me, you've been looking forward to the ending of The Wheel of Time for AGES.  Well, the ending I've been waiting a good two thirds of my life for is nigh.  January 8th is when the final book of The Wheel of Time will be released, and my employers have provided me with the entire 70 page prologue of the book, with promises that I will get a reviewer's copy of the full novel near the beginning of December.  Apparently there are perks to being a professional book critic.

I've just finished reading the prologue, and I won't be a dick and spoil anything.  I think it's available on Kindle through if you want to pay $3 for it anyway, but still, I won't spoil anything.  HOLY FREAKING CRAP!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (there are not enough exclamation points in the universe to do that sentence justice.)  The book certainly starts off with a bang, almost EXACTLY where the last book left off.  In a mere 70 pages, there is already a sizable body count amongst minor characters, one of the Great Cities has been utterly destroyed, and one of the LONGEST arguments in Wheel of Time theory history is laid to rest.  As the beginning of the end of the series that basically taught me to read, it was suitably epic, and I cannot wait until I have the entire book in my hands.  I may not sleep for a couple of days when I get my copy of the full book.

If you are willing to shell out the $3 for the kindle version of the prologue, and are excited as I am about the end of this series, I definitely recommend it.  I could not stop reading it, there was way too much awesome.

Edit:  I've been told that I will have to sign a non-disclosure statement upon receiving my advanced copy of the book.  I know it's only going to be a month and all, but I think not talking about anything that happens in it for that month may kill me...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Starfire Chapter 15

I've posted chapter 15 of the first draft of Starfire on my website.  You can download it from the bottom of this page if you feel so inclined.

This chapter is basically set up for the second of four major engagements between the Nordhoff and the Doolittle.  The next three battles between them are going to come almost right on top of each other and move on to the next stage of the story, arrival at Avalon, relatively quickly.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Book Review: The Rise of Nine by Pittacus Lore

I've posted a review on The Rise of Nine by Pittacus Lore if you've the great urge to read it.

Do yourself a favor and avoid this book if you were ever even slightly inclined to read it.  It's not often that I find a book so completely devoid of anything good.  There is, literally, not one single thing worth reading this book for.
I listen to a weekly podcast that is done by published authors I admire, and gives advice on writing.  At the end of each they give a writing prompt, a single sentence or idea to get you going writing something.  One of the recent ones was "You have been in prison for years, and someone comes to let you out."

I figured I'd give it a try and see what I could come up with.  So this is what I've got.  I doesn't have a title yet, and I wrote as far as the idea carried me.  If I ever get around to working more on this story, I will need to do a lot more work on it before starting.  It's meant to take place in a time and place much like Victorian Era London after a long and bloody civil war that replaced the entire monarchy and nobility.

How long had it been since I'd seen the light? Years? Decades? The days after the revolution passed without end, and I was left to rot so far from the warmth of the sun that I forgot what it felt like to stand beneath it. At first I tried to keep count, but that proved futile. I could not tell when it was day and when it was night. When you're alone in the dark, with nothing but the rats for company, and fed irregularly, you lose all sense of time. 
I was lost in the dark for an eternity, deserving every minute of it, but praying to any god that would listen to see the light once more, even if only for a second. What I wouldn't have given to even glimpse the stars in the sky for but a brief glimmer.

You can never undo the things that you have done. You can try to forget. You can try to atone. But you can never, ever take them back. In the beginning I sought redemption, that was how I ended up down in that pit, but redemption, it seems, is in rather short supply these days. The darkness of days without end blurred together until I lost all sense that I was even alive. I was naught but a wraith, a haunt, clinging to a cold, wet, and miserable patch of stone, far beneath the ground, unable to find escape from that terrible place even in oblivion.

If you could have looked into my eyes on the day that they finally came for me, you would have seen the true meaning of death.

I can still smell the blood of those whom I killed to ignite the fire that swept through the land. I can still feel it on my hands. They say that killing gets easier every time you do it. That you can acclimate yourself to anything, and forget. I never could. The faces of those I killed tormented me in the dark. I knew every one of them. I knew their names, and I remembered how I sent them to hell. I wished they would just take me and let my torment end. Or, was I already in hell?

I lay on the stone floor, my once fine clothing decayed to rags that barely covered me. My hair was long, and my beard had grown down to my chest. My fingernails were long and jagged, and I must have smelled worse than the sewers. A thick coating of muck and slime covered me, perhaps some of it my own filth, I could not say. There was naught in my cell but a single bucket to be used as a chamber pot, and I could touch all four walls without straining if I stood in the center. Curled in on myself against the dark, and the damp, and the rats, which took any opportunity to tear viciously at unprotected flesh, I lay, tormented by the ghosts of my past.

Beyond my tiny world I could hear water dripping. I could hear someone moaning softly. I wished he would just succumb to whatever illness was ailing him and leave me in peace and silence once more.
Then there was something new. Something I had not heard in a very long time. I heard footsteps. They were not the footsteps of my guard. I could hear weapons in scabbards, leather straps creaking, plate armor clanking, and voices. How long had it been since I'd heard voices? I had been locked away so long that I had forgotten almost everything of speech.

And then something wondrous happened. I saw light. It was, at once, the most beautiful and terrible thing I had ever seen. A torch. It blazed outside my cell so brightly I feared that it might burn me, or blind me. I curled in on myself, hiding my face, my eyes from it as best as I could, huddling into the corner of my tiny world to protect myself from it. One who has not spent as long as I have rotting in the dark cannot truly understand the sheer terror that being thrust into the light can bring, even with all of my yearning for it.

“That's him,” someone with a very cultured accent asked.

“Aye, guv, that's 'im,” came the cockneyed bastardization of a reply. “They say he's the one wot assassinated the ole king in the end. Not much to look at now, is 'e?”

“You're certain that this is him,” the first man spoke again, adding an edge of danger to his voice.
“Aye, no mistake, 'e's got that tattoo there. Ya see? The one wot they made the freedom banner outta?”

“The man is covered with so much filth I can barely tell that he is even a man at all. Are you certain this is Corran Tilbury?”

“Oy, I said it was di'n't I, mate? Ask 'im yourself. 'Oy, you. Tell the man wot your name is.”

I did not know he was addressing me. It had been so long since anyone spoke to me. Corran Tilbury? That name sounded familiar. Was it mine? I couldn't remember. It seemed like centuries since anyone had addressed me by name.

I cowered in the corner of my world, hiding from the light, and from the voices. I just wanted to be left alone, left to rot out the rest of my life in peace.

“I know you've been down here for a very long time,” the man with the cultured accent said to me, squatting to look me in the eyes with a cane I had only just noticed balanced on his knees. “My employer wishes to speak with you. You will oblige him. And god help you if you are not Corran Tilbury. Though, looking at you, the death my employer will give to you might be welcomed. Bring him.”

“'Old on, you can't take 'im. That bloke's a prisoner of the bleedin' crown!”

Without a word the man with the cultured accent twisted the cane he held in hand and pulled a cleverly concealed sword from it, running the prison guard through with such precision that he was dead before he hit the floor. Seeing this, I cowered into my corner as the blade of the sword flashed bloody in the flickering light of torches. The man wiped it clean with the jailor's soiled handkerchief and sheathed it, giving it a twist to lock the blade in place once more inside the cane.

I tried to fight them, the men in the armor. The men with the weapons. They grabbed at me. Tore at me. I was covered with so much filth that I slid from their grasp, but they kept pushing it. And soon they overpowered my atrophied limbs, dragging me out of my hole between them.

I was in a daze, a hallucination. I didn't understand what was going on. The voices. The noises. The lights. The change of scenery after so long. It all confused me. I was not the man I once was anymore. I had been transformed into a whimpering wretch, torn from the only thing I could remember, and thrust into a world I could not understand.

And then I heard her name.


Big brown eyes, filled with the tears of a child that had just seen a man walk up to her father and shove a long knife into his kidney. Those eyes, too, had tormented me in my solitude.

They had Leah. The one and only good thing I'd ever done in my life, and they had her. I broke from my shell for just a moment, the shadow of the killer I had once been, struggling to free myself, to help her, but I was too weak, and they too strong. And soon my rotted brain sank back into confusion and terror.

For one who has spent years groveling in filth beneath the earth, the sky is a very big, and frightening thing. Though dark and full of stars, it seemed to stretch out above me forever. I cowered from it, longing for the safety of my tiny refuge, having forgotten my yearnings to see it again. The moon stared down on me like the great and powerful judge of all man's sins. If I could have broken free of those who dragged me toward a coach outside the prison, I would have hid from that all-seeing eye in the heavens. Those who have done great evil in their days fear to be judged for it, would do anything to hide from it, if only to keep from being seen as the filth that we are.

The cold bit at me. My clothes were barely more than rags, and they offered little warmth. My bare feet stung as they were dragged across ice, which tore and sliced into the soles. It occurred to me that it was winter. It had been summer the night I was cast down into my pit to rot away my remaining years.

“Clean the wretch off before you let him in my coach,” the man with the cultured accent said derisively. “I won't have him staining the seats with his filth and stinking it up.”

I cried out as buckets of freezing cold water were thrown on me, washing the foul muck of my cell from my emaciated and pallid flesh. I reached out to the skeletons of trees standing over me, but they did not come to my aid. I began to shake violently in the cold. Unable to control my limbs I fell to the frozen earth whilst the men in armor began to wipe away any slime left on me. It was so cold that the water began to freeze to ice in my hair and beard, crackling as I was roughly dried off and thrown into the coach.

My head hit the wall opposite the door and everything went dark.

I came to gradually, aware of the clopping of hooves first, then the sound of the the leather and metal harnesses of the horses creaking in the still night air, and the sounds of the coach rolling its merry way along a road that was full of holes. Every so often the coach would jolt violently beneath me, rattling my teeth. I opened my eyes to see the white mist of my breath puffing in front of my face, and beyond it, the moon, fat, and full, looking down on me like the eye of god.

I blinked, not sure I was really seeing it. Something of my old self was beginning to rise from the dark depths of despair to the surface. I was beginning to really remember who and what I was.

Leah,” I cried, sitting up. My voice was hoarse and weak, and it hurt my throat to talk. My tongue felt sluggish and fat in my mouth from disuse, as though I'd had a mite bit too much brandy.

“Ah, the cowering wretch awakes.”

I turned my head from the window to find myself looking at a man in his middle years, white wings in his hair, a fat mustache that was oiled to points, and a tiny beard on his chin, also oiled to a point. He wore a fine gentleman's suit of a cut I did not recognize with a rather fashionable half cape attached at the shoulders, and the fringe of hair peeking from beneath his bowler cap was black with a bit of gray. His dark eyes danced in the moonlight with amusement that did not touch the stony planes and angles of his face.

I knew the type of man he was just by looking at him. He was far more than he appeared. I could tell by his posture that he was well trained in martial arts. The way he had his cane grounded with both hands folded atop it spoke that he was a master swordsman. Though gloved, I was willing to bet that his hands bore swordsman's callouses. The way his eyes constantly moved, and the way that he remained in the shadows, out of view from the window made it clear that he had spent a great deal of time with danger as his bedfellow. He and I were much alike, but during the revolution, I slaughtered his sort by the hundreds. I had once been something of a step or two above his sort.

He noticed my appraisal of him and raised an eyebrow.

“You seem to have recovered your wits. That was fast.”

“Do you have any idea who I am,” I asked.

“You are, apparently, the assassin I was sent to retrieve.”

“What's to keep me from killing you and going my own way now?”

“Twelve years of inactivity, I would presume.”

Twelve years? So long?

The light of the moon was suddenly blotted out, and through the corner of my eye I saw that dark clouds had obscured it in the sky. It was beginning to snow very lightly. The air held that strange, surreal illumination of a snowstorm in the dark of night, where it was far lighter than it should be and you couldn't quite figure out why. But it was dark enough that the man sitting across from me was obscured in shadow. All I could see was the amused twinkling of his eyes and the mist of his breath.

My eyes began to make minute flicks around the inside of the coach. I'd been trained to see with my peripheral vision, and I didn't need to move my eyes much to take in the entirety of my surroundings. There was not a thing that could be used as a weapon except the man's cane, and maybe the handle on the door, but judging by the current state of my body, I did not think myself strong enough to wrench it free.

“Watching you is fascinating,” the man across from me issued from the shadowy depths of his seat.

“Where is Leah,” I asked. “What have you done with her?”

“Don't get ahead of the show. You'll find out soon enough.”

I was going to get nothing from him, that much was plain, so I didn't waste any more breath on it. There are times when talk and bluff can be useful, but not here. Not with him. This was the sort of man that would easily see through it.

The rest of the ride was spent in silence, the two of us watching one another. When you have led the sort of lives that we have, and you meet another man with a similar background, you do not take your eyes off of him. To do so normally means your own bloody demise. In my prime, I would have had no fears of the man. But I was still in the process of remember who I was. I was still not myself. Something of the cowering wretch was still clinging to my consciousness at that point, and there was my physical condition to consider as well.

He looked back at me passively, the way a man watches a wild animal in close proximity that he isn't too worried about being able to handle, but doesn't want to be bitten either.

As I watched him, details of my life began to return to me. My training. My childhood. One and the same. The revolution. The assassinations. The rivers of blood and fire that ran through the streets. It was slow, like trying to walk through knee deep thick mud. My thoughts moved like molasses in the cold, and my memory fragmented. Slowly, the shards of my past began to arrange themselves into something resembling order, but there were still holes. Pieces were missing. My mind was atrophied as much as my limbs, and felt diseased as well.

The snow outside intensified, and soon the scenery was blanketed with the pure white of fresh snow. I saw all of this through the corner of my eye, I would not take my eyes from the deadly viper before me for even a second. Years of civil war after years of training would not allow me to look away from him, especially while he held the upper hand.

Twelve years. How could twelve years have passed. While I'd been hiding in my hole, paying the debt that only I believed I owed, the world continued on, leaving me behind. What had happened in twelve years? In less time than that, the entire monarchy and nobility had been replaced, and the people had risen up to put reins of law that bound even those who had previously been above it. In less than twelve years, the world had been turned completely upside down. What had happened in the time I'd been buried since? I could hardly believe that I had spent more than a decade in the dark. 

What had the people made of the new nation I helped forge for them from the blood of the tyrants and the ashes of the corrupt? Was it the shining hope of the future as it was supposed to be, or had it become another monstrosity, grinding the lives of the lower class to pulp so that those of nobility could gorge themselves on the spoils?

I tried to follow where I was being taken, but my memory of the layout of the city was far from perfect. Mostly, the only memory sparked by this street corner, or that thoroughfare were those of battle raging through the streets on the final push to pull down the mad king and end his reign of terror. And a few innocent fragments mixed in. The orphan girl who used to sell flowers there, or the old woman with far too many cats who lived beyond that wall, the one with a steady hand with needle and thread, and wasn't squeamish at the sight of blood. I was out of the world I had known for twelve years, and I had forgotten much.

That I did not know where we were going, and could not find my way back to save my own wretched life bothered me. It was like an itch I was unable to scratch, or a mote of dust I was unable to blink from my eye. I once had a flawless sense of direction, and could draw a map of the entire Capitol from memory with street names and everything. Now I was only hoping to catch a glimpse of something I could use to give me a general location from the corner of my eye. So the mighty have fallen, as the saying goes.

“Where are you taking me,” I asked when I could bear not knowing any longer.

“To my employer,” the man across from me replied.

“And who is your employer? What does he want with me? What does he want with Leah?”

“All in due time.”

It was like talking to a wall for all that I was getting out of him.

“Has anyone ever told you that you're a terrible conversationalist,” I asked, feeling a little of my old personality bleeding back into me. “Why, I've met sharp cheddar that could hold a more interesting exchange. At least you seem to be able to speak properly. I can't abide cockney. It makes me want to punch a basket full of kittens every time.”

In a world where flippancy often leads to duels, having a flip tongue can often land a man in his own grave. Well, except when everyone around you is utterly terrified of you, anyway. Then you've a license to say whatever you please whenever you please to say it, and I was much in the habit of letting my tongue wag with a mind of its own.

My grim companion made no reply. What I could see of his face in the shadows remained unchanged. Inciting him to rash stupidity would likely be rather impossible. The glassy reflection of his eyes never even moved. In fact, the man hardly even seemed to blink. His eyes were perpetually locked upon me.

I began to wonder if I could dive through the coach's window before he could loose his blade. However, the thought of finding myself in the rags I was wearing out in the deepening snow stayed me from finding out. If I managed to get out unscathed, I would likely be frozen dead within the hour.

And there was Leah to consider.

We passed through the central part of the city, and into the ramshackle lower quarter where the less successful families lived and often did business. I did not know how late into the night it was, but it seemed that there were an awful lot of lights shining through windows, painting glowing rays through the falling snow, and pooling light on the ground, making the fresh, white blanket seem almost to glow from within, possessed of some spiritual fire. The sounds of the horses, and of the coach, seemed somehow muted, almost ethereal. It was an eerie night to be out and about.

Faces appeared at windows, and quickly disappeared once more behind the slamming of shutters. I could not remember if the coach was marked in any way, but whether it was or not, the people of the poor quarter seemed to know and fear whom it belonged to. That did not seem to bode well for me, or for Leah.

I began to grow nervous. The broken fragments of my mind seemed to be shifting about incomprehensibly within my skull with every jolt that ran through the seat beneath me. Confusion began to set in once more. Was this really happening, or was it just an extremely vivid hallucination? Doubt crept into my heart. I was once told by a surgeon stitching me up, that a madman's delusions always seem to irrationally center around himself. Everything that was happening seemed to fit the bill. Was all of this just a delusion? Who would care enough to dig up a washed out assassin like me? It didn't make sense when I really began to scrutinize it.

“No, you are not hallucinating. I assure you, this is really happening.”

My confusion must have been plain on my face, and I cursed myself for allowing it to show. Keeping an expressionless visage was one of the most important things when staring down a potential enemy.
Would my own delusion try to ease my fears about it being a delusion in such a way? I just didn't know. My experience with madness was, thankfully, rather slim. There were too many questions and answers seemed in short supply.

The coach passed out the other side of the lower quarter and into the expansive estates of the wealthy and the nobility that sprinkled the large hill beside which the city lay. We wound our way to the very top, and the gigantic manor house that stood there. Light shone in its windows, like a beacon on the hill against the storm. I knew the place well. I had murdered the manor's previous inhabitants in their sleep. Their unwavering support of the mad king, despite all of the horrible thing that he'd done, had practically invited it.

The wrought iron gates parted, pushed open by servants that were bundled up against the cold and closed again behind us. The coach rounded a large fountain, now lifeless for the winter, and came to a stop before the main entrance of the manor house. There were armored and well armed House Soldiers by the dozens patrolling the queer, stormy night with the look of men that knew what they were doing, though my old self immediately found the weaknesses in the defenses.

The door of the coach was opened from the outside, and my enigmatic companion exited. I sat for a moment, not really wanting to step out into the snow wearing what I was wearing. However, the soldiers outside made the decision for me, grabbing me by the arms and bodily lifting me from my seat.

Again I was dragged, my feet and bare shins sliding through the freezing, wet snow. I began to shiver uncontrollably, my entire body quivering like jelly in my state of undress. The cold stabbed into me so ferociously that it actually seemed to burn.

I was dragged inside the front door into an exquisitely decorated receiving room with a grand staircase leading up to a balcony overlooking the lushly carpeted chamber. There were colorful tapestries on the walls, statues and busts upon pedestals, portraits and paintings. Directly back from the entrance, hanging below the balcony, was a huge and intricate painting that depicted what I assumed to be an artist's rendition of the final battle of the rebellion. Manors on the hill burning, royal soldiers meeting the ragtag band of fighters that had joined the cause, death, destruction, and blood everywhere. It was quite good, actually, painted by a man that had likely been there. It conveyed the horror and disgusting waste of life that battle typically embodied very well. It was all a sickening display of wealth. That was one of the primary reasons the rebellion had been fought to prevent falling into the hands of any single family again, leaving none for those beneath them.

I took in everything, every single detail, as I was tossed to the floor near a decorative suit of armor that had been out of style for at least a century. The nameplates beneath the portraits were of particular interest to me. Broadhurst. So, this manor belonged to a man named Broadhurst now, did it? And presumably, I was to be taken to see him now.

We were swarmed by servants in black and white livery, bearing an emblem of a hawk in flight on the left breast. The strong hands supporting me let go, and I fell to my hands and knees, still shaking violently from the cold. My limbs felt like they were made of jelly, and though I tried mightily, I could not get to my feet of my own volition.

The man with the cultured accent planted himself before me, twirling his cane nonchalantly in one hand.

“Make him presentable whilst I inform his lordship that he has arrived. And be careful with him. He may not look it now, but this man here is a genuine hero of the revolution.”

He placed the end of his cane beneath my chin and lifted my head up so that we were looking each other in the eye.

“You will behave yourself, or we might have to cut something off of the girl, something she will miss. Understand?”

“Yes,” I managed through my chattering teeth.


With that, he turned around, his half cape flaring about him, and strode away, twirling his cane absently, up the stairs to the balcony, and disappeared from my view.

The following hours were a flurry of activity. My rags were stripped away from me, and I was scrubbed from head to toe with about as much ceremony and respect as the servants might show for washing their master's dog. All of the light, and the warmth, and the activity, and the buzzing of human conversation around me confused me to such a degree that I only thought to be embarrassed over the fact that there were female participants in the ordeal after the fact.

I was clothed in a fine suit that was tailored for a man with somewhat more meat on him, and an extra inch or two. It hung on my emaciated and skeletal body, making me feel something like a child wearing his father's clothes.

My long and jagged fingernails were cut and buffed to a shine. My hair and beard were cut short, and I was shaved, leaving a mustache, and a small beard on the end of my chin, like the man who had brought me here. My hair was combed, styled and oiled to remain so, and my mustache and beard were oiled to points.

I was then sprayed with perfumes that made me choke for breath.

When it was finished, I stood before a mirror, looking into the face of a man I did not recognize. It was like seeing my eyes, though dulled somewhat from what I remembered, in the face of a stranger. I looked much the way I felt, like a haunt. A wayward soul, no longer physically attached to the realm of the living, but unable to pass on into oblivion. My face was unnaturally pallid and gaunt, my eyes sunken. My previously black hair looked brittle, and had dulled to something more like light brown. There were much lighter streaks running through it. Not gray, just lighter. My shoulders were hunched, and I could not seem to straighten them no matter how I tried, and my teeth were horrifically stained and in quite a poor state, despite having been scrubbed thoroughly. The man who looked out of the mirror at me was not the man I had been when I gave myself into captivity for the atonement of my sins. If I did not recognize myself, then I doubted no one else I'd known would.

“You will follow me,” the dangerous man who pulled me from prison said, appearing in the mirror behind me. “His lordship is waiting for you, and his lordship does not enjoy waiting.”

Turning, I looked him in the eye. He was taller than me by a hand, and broader through the shoulders. He held himself like a man used to intimidating others. That I was not intimidated by him seemed not to phase him much.

“Lead the way,” I said.

Turning, my mysterious captor strode away. Back in my glory days it would have taken a brave man to show me his back, but having seen my own reflection, I did not blame him for thinking me not up to the task of murder just then.

Before I followed, I snatched a bone comb that had been used to style my hair and began breaking teeth from it one by one, using the sound of my footfalls to conceal the sound. The coat of the suit that I was wearing was long enough to conceal my hands completely, and within the time it took me to catch up, I had a weapon. For the first time since being dragged from the dark, I felt at least partially secure. I always felt naked without a weapon of some kind.

As I followed the bigger man through the halls, I could feel my muscles burning from the effort of it. I was nearly out of breath, and I had not walked even a tenth of a mile. I was going to have to work on that.

As I was considering which kidney I wanted to jam my weapon into, my captor stopped and pulled open a door with a flourish of his cane.

“After you, hero.”
He added a derisive twist to the last word.

I did not fancy the thought of putting my back to this man, especially since I knew that he was armed, but it seemed I had little choice in the matter. I was in no shape to overpower him and make a run for it, so there was nothing for it, but to enter the room ahead of him.

I stepped through the door to find a small and comfortably warm study. There was a large wooden desk at one end, several comfortable looking chairs in front of a small fireplace with a fire crackling away. A small table stood next to one of the chairs with a stack of books, the top one open and laying on its spine. There was a window behind the desk that was covered with frost.

Behind the desk was a withered old man who looked almost like a corpse left out in the summer sun for about a month. His skin looked like old leather and was pulled so tightly around his bones that he literally was nothing but skin and bones, as the old saying went. There were dark blotches on his face, and on the hands that were laced together and resting on the desk. He had a full head of white hair that looked something like a dandelion puff.

He wore a thick dressing robe of thick crimson velvet that was pulled tightly closed around him, and I could see that he was wearing furred slippers beneath the desk. Just to the side of his hands, within fast and easy reach, was a flintlock pistol. By the spill of black powder on the desk near its hammer, I knew that it was loaded and primed. With the toothy grin that the man gave me, I had little faith in his compunctions against using it on me.

Despite his apparent frailty, he seemed to exude a sense of command. When he spoke, he expected others to obey.

“Corran Tilbury, I presume,” the dried up old codger asked in a deep, powerful, and commanding voice that did not seem like it could possibly have issued from the dried up, mummified corpse sitting before me.

“My lord has asked you a question,” my captor said behind me, sending a twinge up my spine. I did not like having him behind me. I could feel exactly where he was intending to stick his blade through me.

“Yes,” I answered. “That's me.”

I was reasonably sure, at that point, that it was.


Grateful to move away from the danger behind me, I hastily took one of the padded seats before the desk, sliding it slightly to the left and turning it a quarter turn. Sitting in it just so, I could see both the window and the door through my peripheral vision as I looked at the old man. I also had a view of the dangerous man's shadow, cast by an oil lamp above the door, giving me a very good idea on his whereabouts.

“Interesting,” the old man said. “Perfectly positioned to watch every corner of the room. Even after all of these years, you still have your old habits and instincts. That's good.”

“If you don't mind my asking,” I said. “Who are you, and what do you want with me.”

“Straight to the point. I enjoy a man who has no patience with useless blathering. You find far too much of that fluff in the world of politics. Very well. Twenty years ago you were an unstoppable killing machine that terrorized this city with almost nightly assassinations of key government figures. This paved the way for the rebellion that put me in my current position of wealth and power. You have not publicly divulged who set you to the task as of yet. You later went on to carve a bloody swath, single-handedly, through the royal army and militia when open war broke out, and became the symbol of revolution, inspiring the common folk to rise up and tear down the mad king. And when it was all over, you handed yourself to your jailors and spent the next twelve years rotting in a cell so far from the sun you likely forgot what it even looked like. You took any dangerous secrets you might be holding with you and never let out a peep about them so long as you were down there. Why?”

“My reasons are my own,” I replied. He wouldn't have understood.

“Mister Giggles, if you would be so kind as to loosen his tongue.”

I saw the looming shadow of my captor flow toward me out of the corner of my eye, raised a hand in protest, and the dried up old man made a gesture to forestall him.

“Mister Giggles,” I asked. “How did he come by a name like that?”

“He was born with the rather unfortunately lack of a sense of humor.”

“Unfortunate indeed. Downright debilitating. Very well. I cannot tell you why I gave myself to prison, because morality cannot be explained to those who obviously stand without morals. My reasons will be nonsensical to you, because, from my observations of you, you are a man without honor.”

The old man looked at me for a very long time, dark eyes peering out from sunken sockets. Then he cracked a wide grin that made him look rather more like a skeleton than before.

“I have heard that you had a flip tongue. Take care that I do not have Mister Giggles here remove it for you. I am Kenneth Broadhurst, Lord of this manor.”

“A distinct displeasure, my lord,” I said, bowing my head.

“You prefer life rotting in your cell?”

“Frankly, yes. Your looming thundercloud over there very rudely forgot to bring my friends, the rats, with us. I do so miss them.”

“Well, too bad. You won't be heading back for quite some time now. I'm afraid that you belong to me now. Shall I have a collar made to help remind you of the fact?”

Broadhurst and I looked at each other for a very long moment before he cleared his throat loudly.

“His Lordship has made a joke,” Mister Giggles said in his stony monotone, cracking his knuckles menacingly.

“Ha,” I said as blandly as I could manage. “Ha ha ha ha.” I added one more, “ha,” for good measure, sharing my gaze between the two men.

“Lord Morton Bradagin. Lord Orson Corisol. And his royal highness Lowell Sandoval. These are all who stand between me and the throne. All three of them are widowers with no surviving heirs. If they were to die mysteriously, and in ways completely unconnected to myself, I will be king.”

“That's lovely for you,” I said. “How does it feel to be the fourth most powerful man in the world?”

“Mister Giggles.”

I did not see the fist that struck the side of my jaw coming until it was too late. It was not so much pain that stunned me, but surprise. I was completely unable prepare for the blow before it landed. My head rocked to the side, and my vision exploded with white, streaked with purple and yellow. For a moment I was so shaken by the blow that I couldn't see.

Shaking my head, I forced it to clear, and fixed my eyes on Mister Giggles.

“Hit me again,” I said. “Just one more time.”

He did not look amused, nor did he look very impressed by the threat.

“You are the most skilled assassin that ever lived,” Broadhurst continued as though nothing had happened. “You are going to kill these three men and put me on the throne.”

“Oh am I,” I asked. “Wow. Really? That is news to me. I have sworn never to kill again. I'm afraid that you'll just have to find someone else to spill your blood for you. Can I go back to my cell now? I was in the middle of cultivating some very important slime.”

“Leah Allgood.”

I froze at her name.

“Oh yes, that's got your attention, doesn't it.”

“If you've hurt her,” I said in my darkest tone.

“With the right leverage, any man can be forced to do anything,” Broadhurst explained. “Early in the war you assassinated the Lord Allgood and his family. All of his family, except, for some reason, his only daughter. A daughter who survived the war through denouncing her claims to nobility. When it was all over, you were given a very large sum of money for your services, and before your unfortunate fall from grace you gave this entire sum to her. Really, Corran, it was far too easy to find the right leverage to use against you. You obviously care for this girl for some reason. You didn't even try to hide any of it.”


“And if you do not do as I say, the young Lady Allgood is going to find out first hand what happened to the daughters of other noble families who did not renounce their titles. And then, when she has been used up completely, she will die. At the moment she is a guest at the prison you inhabited for the last twelve years. She is not confined to any one cell, but she is also not allowed to leave. If you refuse me, she will be stripped, shaved bald, beaten, and given to the prisoners for sport before I start cutting pieces off of her.”

“And if I still refuse?”

“There's the cold-eyed assassin I heard tales about. If you still refuse, then you will share much the same fate as she. You can save her from ever having to know that such things were planned for her. Put me on the throne and she is yours to do with as you please. Put me on the throne and freedom is yours as well.”

“You're diabolical.”

“Flattery will get you nowhere with me, assassin.”

“Haven't you realized yet that I don't want freedom? God, you're stupid.”

This time I saw the fist coming. It was a thing of ease to lean backward and allow it to pass just in front of my face. I whipped my right hand up, and jammed my makeshift weapon into Mister Giggles' wrist with all of my strength. I felt it pass through flesh, skid off of bone, and pass out the other side. Blood trickled down onto my hand as I let go of the comb.

Mister Giggles made no sound. He simply raised his hand to examine the mutilated comb sticking out of his wrist. Without ceremony, or even a change in facial expression, he yanked it out. Blood splattered on the polished wood floor as he tossed the comb into the fire. He made no move to staunch the bleeding, or to acknowledge that he even was bleeding. He simply took up his position looming over me once more as if nothing had happened.

“You could at least pretend that it hurt,” I muttered.

“Ah. You see, the thing about Mister Giggles is that a sense of humor was not the only thing he was born without. He was also born completely unable to feel pain of any sort. It makes him rather useful as a bodyguard. Because he feels no pain, he feels no fear.”

“Lovely. So why don't you get him to do your killing for you?”

“Oh but I do, my good sir. I do. And he is very good at it. But he is not very subtle. He can be traced back to me. You cannot. So tell me, Corran Tilbury. How much is Leah Allgood's life worth to you?”

I was completely trapped. I had sworn never to kill again, but he had Leah. My vow to protect her was stronger than the one I made never to take another human life. I had little choice. It was very clear what I had to do. In order to protect Leah from harm, I had to break the second strongest promise I had ever made to myself and to god. It made little difference to me who sat on the throne. Such things were unimportant down in the hole I would return to when all was said and done, if I wasn't simply killed for my troubles afterward.

“I will do as you say,” I replied. “However, I will require certain items to do this thing for you, and I am hardly in any shape to be doing anything but rotting in my cell at the moment. I will need time to recover and build myself back up.”

“You will be provided with anything that you need. You have three months before the fair young maiden Leah can no longer be called fair, nor a maiden. Recover quickly.”

“Even if I was at top shape now, three months is not enough. I need to observe these men, find their patterns, their security, layouts of their homes. Three months is not enough time.”

“It is all the time that young Leah has. Might I suggest that you hurry.”

At that moment, I decided that Lord Broadhurst was going to die screaming, and I was going to watch. I did not know how I was going to accomplish this feat, but as soon as I could be sure of Leah's safety, the dried up talking skeleton before me was going to meet the most brutal and painful end I could devise for him.

I only had three months. There was no time to lose.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Book Review: Dune by Frank Herbert

I'm almost finished with my Wheel of Time retrospective, and my employers have received so many positive comments about it that they have asked me to start another one.  This time around I'm going into Sci-Fi territory with the original Dune series (excluding all books written by Frank Herbert's son Brian, and Kevin J. Anderson, except the 2 books written from the outline Herbert left when he died of Dune 7)  So, if you'd like to check out the beginning of my Dune Retrospective, you can do so by clicking here.

Dune is a book that really, for the first time, showed people that Science Fiction CAN be a respectable genre, and many of the sci-fi tropes and series that we take for granted today owe their very existence to Frank Herbert's Dune for paving the way.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Starfire Chapter 14

Sooooo, after a long while of wasting my life playing Diablo III, which I got for my birthday, I'm back to writing and have completed Chapter 14 of the first draft of Starfire and you can find it at the bottom of this page.

Character development for Jake and Crowley, and a new headache for Karen.  I've hit the 60,000 word mark with this chapter.  This story is going to be a lot longer than I expected it to be.  My original outline of the story did not include any of the stuff dealing with the investigations into the nuclear launch, but, as I was writing it, I realized that Karen is the sort of person that isn't going to just let something like that happen.  She's not going to be able to live with herself until she proves it wasn't someone under her command that did it while she wasn't looking.  And that added something like 20,000 extra words to the story. 

At this point in the story, there's no real villain, and I did that on purpose.  You've got two sides who have equally good reasons for fighting the war.  Neither one of them is the right side or the wrong side.  They both have good points and bad, and we've got a main character from each.  This is really what I'm kind of going for anyway, I hope it comes out like that in the story.  This is kind of my view on war.  There are no right sides or wrong sides a lot of the time, just a lot of people throwing their lives away because their governments tell them to.  A villain will emerge soon though, for the sake of a completely awesome ending.  But what I really wanted to do with this story is show how this guy becomes the villain, and why, instead of having a clear cut, black and white good vs. evil story.  Because in this story it's all more shades of gray and ambiguity as to who is truly right and who is truly wrong.  Well, and there is a mastermind behind it all, of course, but she doesn't have much to do until the very last chapter.