Where To Find Me

Things have been very quiet here for multiple reasons, but the main reason they will likely remain quiet is Patreon. That’s where I’m focusing my attention.

And from January 2021, I will be focused on writing long form fiction rather than RPG material, and that fiction will be happening on Patreon and Sword’s Edge. I will start posting one free chapter per month of my work-in-progress at Sword’s Edge starting in January.

My backers at Patreon will be getting at least 5,000 words of fiction focused mostly on my work in progress, in PDF, epub, and mobi. At Sword’s Edge, there’ll be one chapter per month. You can find information at the WIP page there.

I hope this provide some level of entertainment in these trying times.

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Fortune’s Soldier: A Bloody Crown, Chapter 03

Chapter 3: The Month of the Dog, Turisday the Fifth.

Kaessekros on the Red Isles in Kellalh

Fortune's Soldier Cover

The last time Alec Rathwig had stood in Kellalh, he watched a city burn. He had sailed away as flames consumed everything behind him. He had survived Surraev’s invasion, but his home had not. His friends had not. His father had not. Behind him, he had left a mother, a brother and a sister. Behind him, he had abandoned his family. That still haunted him.

He could not surrender, not then and not now. He would not let Surraev win. Someday, somehow, he would beat them. Back there, on the mainland, his soldiers mustered. Still under Taulmeeran pay but ready for something more. He had not told them of his plans. What would even his most trusted lieutenants say if he told them they were going to free a nation? What would they say if he told them Taulmeer wanted rid of them, but feared them, and so was willing to finance this compromise?

Perhaps he would lose them. Perhaps he would lose his army. But he could not lose the Cyclops Banner. That would be forever his. That was worth any army. Surraev’s king knew it. Surraev’s nobles feared it. They had stopped trying to beat him in the field. Instead, they had first tried to buy him and then they had tried to assassinate him. The Cyclops Banner did not fall. And raising it in Kellalh? That was worth all the coins Taulmeer could offer.

He had never been to the Red Isles, an archipelago in the province of Selcost. In his youth, he knew of it as a remote fief of fishermen and kerns. It had no wealth, only stubborn warriors ready to die for their leaders and fast ships that destroyed everything arrayed against them. When the armies of Surraev came, wealth didn’t matter so much any longer. Selcost had proved inaccessible and defiance counted for more than the depth of one’s purse.

Clustered around the docks, few of the buildings had even a second story. Having just come from a bustling port in the Republics, it seemed open to the sky, touched by a glimmer of sun from between the clouds. The walls of the structures were stacked stone, and Alex could discern no mortaring at all. It had been a long time since he had seen a building in the traditional Islander fashion. In his time, he had seen that kind of construction in more than a few locales in the north.

“Well, this is . . . different.” Johanna offered a smile.

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Fortune’s Soldier: A Bloody Crown, Chapter 02

Chapter 2

The Month of the Dog, Talaymansday the Fifth.

Aubrien Port in Taulmeer

Fortune's Soldier Cover

He paused and looked east. The jumble of buildings—most of them two or three stories—blocked his sight, but the smell of sea still air reached him. Over there—he could see it from the docks—was home. Over the Small Sea were the islands of his home’s west coast, protected by a jumble of rocks and shoals that made navigation dangerous for any but the most seasoned and familiar of sailors. In his youth, he had denigrated the Islanders, called them savages and barbarians. Now, he would kiss that rocky ground if he ever stood on it.

Turning back to the laneway, he scratched his stubbled chin. He knew this city well, but had never ventured so deeply into its the warrens and alleys. Here he found the desperate and the poor. Did he belong? He had long ago fought his way out of poverty, but in some ways he remained desperate. He desperately wanted to stand again in the court of his father’s home, to hunt in the forests of his youth, and to breath its free air.

People walked through the narrow street, cut off from the sky by the overhanging upper stories of the surrounding buildings. Those structures looked old and decrepit, many tilting at odd angles. The people on the streets had much in common with the structures—ill-maintained and stooped. They watched him like crows over a battlefield, their eyes on the pack slung over his shoulder. His hand didn’t leave the elaborate, basket-style hilt of his straight-bladed sabre.

Though not born with it, he now carried the name Alec Rathwig—the surname a reference to the Cunning Snake, an ancient trickster from the Northern Reaches of the West Kingdoms. He led the Free Company of the Cyclops Banner with five thousand trained, tried, and blooded soldiers at his command. He had fought for, or against, every one of the West Kingdoms and beyond. For fifteen years, he had lived with the sword, from the far north to the southern Mother Sea.

He had come to the mainland from the Fist—the peninsula that encompassed Kellalh—his home—and Surraev—the kingdom which had conquered it. He had come fifteen years ago with nothing. He had nothing except his body and his talents. He had come from a culture of personal honour and warfare, so he knew how to fight.

On the mainland, he had first learned how to fight in wars. Then, he learned how to lead soldiers in wars. Finally, he learned how to win those wars. 

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Work In Progress – The Project

As of January 2021, my Patreon will be focused on long-form fiction. I will be posting chapters from a novel, providing at least 5,000 words of fiction each month. One chapter per month of the “official” work in progress (WIP) will be posted here, at Sword’s Edge, though I may publish two or more chapters of the work at my Patreon. I might also publish one chapter from that WIP and another from a different WIP, but there will always be one chapter for the official WIP until it is complete.

The WIP page is here. You can find my Patreon here.

Daughter of Glory Cover

So, what is this WIP? I have been sharing a first chapter preview and synopsis of each of the possible WIPs at my Patreon, and I have also posted them here, at Sword’s Edge. They are all available through the WIP page, which will be updated as this project proceeds. Right now, there is voting happening at my Patreon to see which of these six options is considered the most worthy of being extended to a full work—as I have said elsewhere, not might be worthy, but this is to decide the most worthy of available options.

If you feel strongly about one of these works, you can always join my Patreon and support its creation. You can also contact me through email or on Twitter to make your thoughts known.

TDSS Cover

Since I started publishing RPG material in 2004 (yow!), it has been my primary creative focus. I am now facing a bit of burnout. I have stopped running games (still playing, just not running games), and the vast majority of my creative energies are now being focused on writing fiction. I’m excited about this, though I recognize that those who know me, know me through my RPG work. Still, I’m going to do this for me and if it washes out of my system, or if I feel recharged, I’ll get back to running games.

It is also possible that running games online—only available options for me since March—just doesn’t give me the energy doing it in person does, and this may have leaked into my RPG creativity.

Whatever the case, it’s long-form fiction for the foreseeable future. I hope that future includes some people being entertained by what I’m writing.

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The Bloody Dark, Chapter 01

01

Bloody Dark Cover

The Quirinus Corporation returned to the planet of Anesidora almost ten years to the day from when it had abandoned it. Mined out, polluted, almost a wasteland, profits from the colony had continued to decline. The Company’s revenues dropped as the cost of keeping its indentured servants alive increased. Given the financial situation, the Company had abandoned the colony. Given the costs of relocating the 5,000 plus indentured servants on the planet, the Company had abandoned them.

It had, however, marked the assessed market value of the infrastructure and equipment left behind as credit extended to the population. While the equipment would depreciate, the credit never would.

And then, on a Thursday, in the month of Cherries—known elsewhere as Galactic Standard April or just April—a Company ship arrived at the spaceport in Libera, the capital of the Independent Republic of Anesidora (not recognized by any corporate authority). It had ignored hails when it entered the defence identification zone of the planet, so was under escort when it landed. Small assault vessels decades out of service provided the escort, and it might been comical except that the Company vessel had no weapons—neither atmospheric nor exo-atmopsheric.

The Company should have been prepared for this. One of the reasons it had decided to return was that the Republic of Anesidora was becoming a popular trade outpost. The information available was that it had begun an asteroid mining project—something the Company had considered, but had decided against due to a lack of profitability. Apparently, the Company analysis had been flawed. At present, the mining program was minimal, but many corporations and entrepreneurs were looking at the system and considering approaching the Republic for licences to access some of its asteroid field for mining.

And that would mean recognizing the Republic as a sovereign government.

But the Company didn’t like that. Anesidora and its system was the property of the Quirinus Corporation. Its population still owed the Company a hefty amount due to the credit the Quirinus Corporation had advanced it—the infrastructure and equipment abandoned on the planet along with its population.

The Company had come to take control.

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Daugther of Glory, Chapter One

One

Daughter of Glory Cover

The tears would not come. Mairwen could feel them there, in the pit of her empty but unhungry stomach. She could feel them in her throat when she couldn’t sleep, when she stared up at the stars and thought of all those families dead and unburied. And she could feel them as exhaustion overtook her, riding her palfrey, led by the woman who she thought of as her mother—the only other person to escape the village of Sternhill alive.

She bounced and jerked on her horse, comfortable in the saddle but so tired and so unfocused that she thought she might still fall. How many days since they had fled in the night, their way lit by burning homes and barns? All the life she could remember had been in Sternhill. All her friends, all the families whom she knew, everyone was gone. Dead. Murdered.

Her foster mother, Veris, had dragged her out of her bed even before the first shouts cut through the night. She always had packs ready—something Mairwen had never questioned because it had been a constant. As the first flames rose and Mairwen heard the screaming, Veris set her to readying her palfrey. Just outside the shed, Mairwen had heard steel on steel, and the sound of hard blows against a body. When she rode out of the shed she saw five figures, all broken, all soldiers or at least wearing armour and bearing arms.

By that time, flames consumed much of Sternhill. She wanted to urge Veris to help, she wanted to stay and save her neighbours. Something else inside her, something that made her nauseous with shame, had wanted to flee, to leave them to their fates if it saved her. She wanted to say that she had ignored that voice, but how hard had she argued with Veris? How hard had she fought to stay and share the fate of those she had purported to love?

She fell forward against the neck of Willow, her horse. She began to slide off when strong hands took her and lowered her to the ground. Veris Fitzgurth, her foster mother, stood over her, dark, intent eyes holding hers. Veris’ friar’s hood left much of her head obscured or in shadow, and Mairwen knew that under the robes she wore mail armour made from a dark metal that did not seem to reflect light. In the night, Veris disappeared into the blackness.

“You haven’t slept, have you.” She didn’t question. She made a statement. Her resonant voice, so quiet and gentle, rumbled through her. Mairwen took comfort in it.

“I couldn’t.” She lay back, and Veris lowered her to the ground. “I close my eyes and I remember them. I hear them. I can smell them, even.”

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Stonefall, Chapter 1: the Call

Chapter 1: The Call

Stonefall cover

The wagon bumped and shuddered as it drove over the uneven ground of the steppe. The horizon seemed to stretch forever in all directions, with only minor undulations—waves on the sea of grass—to break the monotony. The line of twenty wagons inched through this, pulled by patient oxen. Somewhere out there in the grass the scouts ran along, keeping pace, watching for either game or enemies. There was much of the former and few of the latter, but both would incite quick action among the Three Horn people.

Adara shifted her wagon a little to the left to get a better view of their direction of travel. Her mother rode at her right on the finest of her family’s five horses, and glanced over with suspicious eyes. Adara simply smiled and ignored the accusation in that gaze. Her father rode ahead with nine other skirmishers. They were not hidden like the scouts, their role was to incite action in others. Their bows were strung and ready, their flint-tipped arrows close at hand. All ten were ready to act should they identify either danger or opportunity.

The Three Horn people had already travelled for six days and would likely travel for three more before reaching the mound of the Mother Goddess. The air had turned chilly and the sun, stars, and moons all told their seer that the time had come for the gathering. Each family brought their timber and their stone, ready to participate in the year’s construction.

Adara didn’t like that part of the festival. She did enjoy the feasting and celebrations that would come following the building. Her family and their godsworn cousins could build a house in a few days, especially if her sister and brother—out there running with the scouts—did their part. Daragal, her younger sister, would find her partner this festival, so this could be her last year building with her birth family. She might depart with another caravan—depending on the marriage contract. She might even ride off to one of the hill forts where the Dirt Diggers lived. Adara didn’t like that thought. Fewer and fewer of the Dirt Diggers attended the festival. If Daragal married into the Diggers, when would Adara see her again?

As eldest sibling, she and her mother would need to bless the union. What if she did not? She had never heard of an eldest sibling withholding a blessing, but what if she did?

But Daragal seemed excited about finding a partner, maybe even starting a family. She had many skills that would make her a good pairing. She needed to find a partner with fire and vision who could push her. Smart, sharp-eyed, sure-handed, and able to read the bones, father would surely find Daragal a good match.

At Adara’s feet, Sharpness stirred. The dog’s ears flicked and he yawned. He looked around, watched the herds moving under the watchful care of his brethren, and then lowered his head again.

“Useless.” Adara pushed on him with her foot.

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Resistance: EARTH, Chapter 01: Technical Means

Chapter 1: Technical Means

Resistance EARTH cover

Thin clouds of dust drifted along his path, the force impelling them barely moving the scrub along the trail. He heard nothing but a few birds, a few small animals, nothing larger than a groundhog. He had paused dragging the litter on which he transported his day’s catch back to the village. He eased his rifle off his shoulder, shrugging to help slide it into his arms. He flipped off the safety then crouched. Something was out there. He couldn’t hear it, see it, or even smell it, but he knew.

Then he caught it—that low throbbing groan bordering on a whine that marked the alien’s anti-grav technology. A drone? Something larger?

He didn’t move. He had cover. If it were an ISR bird—intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance—it would have an easier time finding him if he proceeded. Just like the human eye, those things were attuned to movement. But one could destroy the small ones with a good shot. And this far from any control zone? The Unitary would never seek to recover it. It’d self-destruct. If it lost its connection with the SecNet, it’d go inert if it didn’t have other programming. He had two disabled ISR drones to thank for his current comfortable life.

Though that was absolutely and positively a relative term. Eleven years ago, he would have considered this a hardship posting. The village at which he currently resided—a place the locals called Dry Roads—had more modern conveniences than any of the holes in the Middle East or Central Asia he had scouted back in his counter-terrorism days, but when things were bad, you had to stay underground and you might not see the sun for days.

Dry Roads and places like it—the places he had lived for the last decade—continued to exist because the Unitary considered them too small and insignificant to warrant the expenditure of resources necessary to remove them. Still, when there was a lot of air traffic, the population stayed hidden. It was like living in a warren of rabbits, scared to catch the notice of a pack of predators, unwilling to abandon their homes for the unknown.

How many such villages had he known since the aliens had come? Wait, was this lucky number thirteen?

That fled his thoughts as the transport came into view. This was a big, slow, commercial freighter not a military or security personnel carrier. It had no escort. He could see no armed autonomous vehicles up there with it. That could mean bait, with other AVs either in its cargo area or flying higher, waiting to engage any hostile force. It could also mean the Unitary considered this area inactive. In a way, that was good—less security traffic. In another way, that wasn’t so good as it meant more aerial traffic which both meant more time underground and a higher likelihood of Dry Roads getting noticed.

He had once heard an academic call a particular target country “the land of no good options.” Yeah, that about cut it. He was a prince in the land of no good options.

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Fortune’s Soldier: A Bloody Crown, Chapter 01

Chapter 1

The Month of the Sparrow, Ferisday the Twenty-Second.

Kaessekros on the Red Isles in Kellaldh

Fortune's Soldier Cover

She sat watching the sea. The sun set somewhere at her back, out of her view. The window of her room looked out over the Small Sea, to the west. Somewhere beyond the horizon lay the Republics. That was where most of the smugglers that sheltered in Kassekros sold their goods. Strong Kellei spirits, wool, dried kelp, all of these without the tariffs placed on them by the king of Surraev. Cheaper than anything a Surraev merchants could offer, whether they stole it from the Kellei or from their own people.

Rhona Trevean pinched the bridge of her nose. They had buried her father that day, the ceremony secret. He had long stood against Surraev, claiming to fight for a Kellei crown which no longer existed. Fifteen years after the rest of Kellalh fell to it, Surraev still could not conquer the barony.

In her heart she knew that was because they had not tried. Not really. The Old Baron, her father—Argus Trevean—had a fleet of fast ships manned by fearless crews who knew how to fight on the water. Surraev had knights and cannons, and could crush most forces on land. At sea? That they had not mastered. Her galleys protected the Red Isles and on land, Selcost nestled in the Shieldlands—rocky hills and mountains cut through with rivers and glens but no real roads or open fields on which to array ones cavalry or set up ones cannons.

To the people of Selcost, even those of Kaessekros where he had hid in the all but impregnable keep, the Old Baron symbolized resistance. It didn’t matter that his daughter accompanied him to all councils, that he made no decision without consulting her and her mother, or that he had ensured Rhona could read, write, and fight. This made no impression on most of the Old Baron’s retainers and adherents. Eccentricity was accepted in the great, and who but a great man could oppose Surraev with such success?

Hyperbole, perhaps. Many of his retainers knew well that the Old Baron relied on his daughter and wife. They had helped maintain the secret of his passing from the people of Selcost and of Kellalh more widely. But what would happen when her mother made a decision with which they disagreed? Could she impose her will on them as the Old Baron had? Could she command the loyalty and respect he had? Their culture valued a woman as a wife, a homemaker, and a mother.

And Maura Cornavia, Rhona’s mother, was all those things. She had been a good wife to Baron Trevean. She had made a fine home for their family. She had raised Rhona. These were all admirable things. But like her husband, she could be politic, she could be strategic, and she could rule. What of the stories of the queens among the Kellei, great warriors who had faced down empires or led their people on great migrations? Ancient history or myth, what did it matter now?

Rhona rose from the window and straightened her tunic. Melancholy? Self-pity? Is this what her father would want? Is this what he had taught her? Decisions were being made in the hall right then. The retainers would be drinking the family’s best spirits, toasting the memory of the Old Baron, and deciding on the future of Selcost.

Her future. Her mother’s future.

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Trans-Dimensional Skull Shot, Chapter 01: Comms

Chapter 1: Comms

TDSS Cover

Chopper sat in the hotel’s lobby. He lounged in a dusty chair, feet up on a table made from something that resembled a crocodile—something big and mean and full of violence.

Something like him.

And then that made Chopper think of the fate of that big, mean, violent beast and what it might mean for him. Sure, he wouldn’t be a table, but dead was dead. And death seemed to get closer every day that he lived through.

Which, sure, was technically true, but that’s not what he meant.

Tall, bulky with hard muscle, sporting a scarred visage, and shaved head, Chopper had no company in the lobby. The dead cities were far away, and they had been that way for two standard decades, if what Chopper had read were true. But this place, this small town with its big hotel, it hadn’t seen the worst that the people of a dying planet could offer. Those big cities probably had, but this planet’s death and been long and loud. This place had been abandoned long before the chaos and anger that fear too often brought arrived. This place hadn’t burned.

But it also didn’t look like anyone had bothered to give it a sweep in the last twenty years either.

Chopper had wandered through the town that had been known as Morotos, and had been amazed at how quickly nature had taken back its own. Sure, structures still stood, he could tell what had been buildings and where roads had been, but those were frames on which plants grew. And rather than dead, the town was alive, just with animals rather than people. Chopper had to admit, he preferred it that way.

The hotel must have been sealed. The plants that grew along its exterior had not come inside, and while the parts that Chopper had seen offered only dust and decay, he had met no interlopers—none of the small, silver-furred creatures he thought of as foxes, or the trilling winged animals that had no feathers but had long, trailing tendrils when they flew.

Chopper had hoped for more. He had thought that he had found the sanctuary of an old friend, and he had come to warn them. If his sources had learned of this place, then lots of other people would have as well. This wouldn’t be a sanctuary, it would be a target.

While Chopper might not have been the sharpest or quickest when it came to puzzles, even he realized that those clues could have been planted. They would have been planted to draw those hunting his friend, meaning that even if they weren’t there, other clues might be, some other way to make sure they were okay.

Chopper leaned back in the chair and flexed his neck. He had already waited hours and was ready to wait hours longer. He could be patient. He didn’t like to be, but he could.

When the stun grenade crashed through a window high up on the front wall, it didn’t surprise Chopper. Still, he felt he should play along, so even though the flash and the bang had not disoriented him, Chopper put an arm before his eyes as though trying to protect them.

With some irritation, he saw that only seven hunters poured into the spacious lobby. Chopper frowned slightly. Who sent seven hunters to capture him? A dozen, at minimum. Maybe there were others standing by, maybe with some heavy weapons, and that these were just the shock troops, something to soften him up before the real game started. He hoped so. HE had a reputation to uphold.

Well, he had once had a reputation. Maybe this was part of the price for staying so quiet for so long.

“You didn’t even knock.” He didn’t move, save to raise an eyebrow. “That’s rude.”

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Extraction: A Review

This review was first presented on my Patreon.

Extraction is the new Chris Hemsworth action movie released on Netflix.

The summary according to Rotten Tomatoes is:

Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) is a fearless black market mercenary with nothing left to lose when his skills are solicited to rescue the kidnapped son of an imprisoned international crime lord. But in the murky underworld of weapons dealers and drug traffickers, an already deadly mission approaches the impossible, forever altering the lives of Rake and the boy.

The action is outstanding. Hemsworth is physically believable as Rake, and the action choreography leans toward the John Wick school of extreme action. It’s done quite well and this is where the movie shines. Hemsworth has a great alter-ego in the film played by Randeep Hooda. Their two characters cut through the opposition with gritty aplomb, and when they end up opposite each other, it’s a treat.

The following is a bit of a spoiler, but doesn’t really ruin any specific plot elements—nor is the plot particularly novel or interesting—but talks about events that happen later in the movie, so you have been warned.

As amazing as the action is, I was honestly uncomfortable with the casual wholesale murder of Bangladeshi police officers. Now, the movie shows us there is corruption in the force, but not necessarily all the way through it. Certainly there is at least one high-level officer who takes orders from the baddie, but there’s no indication that the crazy number of officers mowed down by Hemsworth’s and Hooda’s characters are anything other than police trying to apprehend individuals they believe to be criminals. In fact, there are multiple instances in which a police officer could have shot and killed either of them, but instead chose to tackle or otherwise restrain them.

Were this set in New York instead of Dhaka, I strongly suspect we would have had a scene of a group of mercenaries, whose dialogue would reinforce how unrepentantly evil these people are, getting into police uniforms so that we—the audience—could root for the hero putting them all in their graves. None of that here.

I am really torn on recommending this movie. The action is topnotch, but the dehumanization of “the other” evidenced in the wholesale murder of Bangladeshi police officers honestly bothers me. I’m going to have to give this movie a 2.75 kitted-out secret squirrels out of 5. The action is great, the star power is there, but the story is pretty pedestrian and the disinterest in the humanity of the Bangladeshi police is a problem.

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