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The Gunpowder Fantasy Review

In an effort to help raise awareness of other Gunpowder Fantasy/Muskets and Magic/Flintlock Fantasy authors, I’ll be reviewing their works and posting them here.

To facilitate the process, I’ll be using the following definition:

Gunpowder Fantasy: an alternate world story set in a world that uses gunpowder firearms (up to and including revolvers, but excluding magazine fed small arms or belt fed weapons), steam power (limited to rail transport and limited sea-going vessels) while also maintaining essential elements including some of the following elements: a fully-alternate world setting,  magic, a feudal or semi-feudal setting, alternate races (including, but not limited to elves, dwarves, orc and other “traditional” fantasy races), and/or a broad-scale conflict.

Alternate History stories may be considered if they are of a sufficiently “alternate” nature and will be considered on a case by case basis.

Steampunk will not be considered for review.

I’m currently working up a list of stories to be featured, so if you have any suggestions please hit up the Contact link.

Book Launch: Danger Peligros!

Today, we’ve got a guest post/book launch from Autumn Birt, a fellow member of the Guild of Dreams Fantasy Collective.


Book Blurb:

Explore the best moments, mischief, and mayhem from the adventure travel website No Map Nomads. Whether by boot, by (motor)bike, by boat, or by whatever it takes, Raven and Weifarer will take you along to experience trips from sublime to nearly disastrous. With serendipity tucked into the saddlebags along with some capricious Peligros, every turn leads to the unexpected.

This book includes the complete story arc to Cruise Ship Mutiny, the Cabot Trail on motorcycle, memories of the first motorbike trip to Canada (in October no less), hikes on tropical islands and much more.


What are Peligros? That is a tough one to explain. They are the best and the worst of your day, travel, life. They are what draws us out from safe and comfy homes – the little itches that make such abodes feel too confining, too much the same. They are the essence of that moment when everything has gone horribly wrong and you are left thankful to be alive with parts that still add up to a functional whole. They are that moment when someone you don’t know lends you an unexpected, warm hand. They are when your luck goes from nonexistent to good, because you wouldn’t need good luck if things hadn’t looked scary for a time, now would you?

You know what a Peligro is, only you just didn’t know what to call it.

Raven and I have been traveling since we met on Martha’s Vineyard oh-so-many years ago now. From those early days barely surviving learning to sail on Vineyard Sound to more recent motorcycle trips through the Canadian Maritimes, we’ve had our share of trouble and of luck. Danger Peligros! collects some of those stories of our misadventures so that when you follow a Peligro out the door, you might be a little better informed!

Serendipity and the Accordion Music Festival


A free wheeling motorcycle excursion through Quebec takes a turn for the worse when we end up in the midst of an accordion music festival.

In the brief pause as the musician walks to a different section of the restaurant, Raven’s shoulders loosen. He takes a bite of his dinner and whispers a hopeful “Maybe he is done?” It is not to be. The accordion breathes in with a jolly hum before being launched into a frolicking melody. Soon everyone in the restaurant is clapping and singing along in French.

Everyone except us, that is. My French is workable at the speed of molasses. Raven’s usage relates to food. Exuberant Quebecois songs sung to an accordion are not in our repertoire. “Just try to relax and enjoy it.” After seven years of marriage, I can read the look Raven gives me over his pasta without the need to speak above the accordion’s notes. Clearly I do not understand his view of reality. I know he hates loud noises – unless he is the cause of them. But everyone else is having a good time. The musician is pretty good for playing on an accordion. “Let’s just eat and get out of here.” I sigh and nod. Really, I doubt that will help.

Our tendency to not have a plan while riding our motorcycles had landed us in the thick of it this time. By afternoon when we stopped our meanderings to check the map only one town close to us was listed as having a campground: Montmagny. It was Labor Day weekend, but traffic had been light all along the roads of inner Quebec. Prospects looked good for serendipity to smooth things over once again.

That is until we queued in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the way into Montmagny. All of it seemed to be headed toward the only campground. RVs, tents, and campers were stuffed double to a space inside the chain link enclosure. Oddly, at the time we still hadn’t figured out what was going on. Instead, we were enraptured by an historic motorcycle museum’s advertisement we discovered while waiting in line at the campground office.

You don’t need to know much French to figure out when a campground is full. The kid behind the register shook his head. Dismay weighed on my shoulders. Whatever was going on was a big deal and I doubted we would find any campgrounds open for miles. Then the teenage boy looked at us again, a light in his eyes. “Pas électrique? Pas l’eau? – No electric? No water?”

“Oui, une tente pour un nuit – Yes, one tent for one night.” His smile grew a little larger. “Attente ici – Wait here.” He ran off. It took a few minutes, but our plight was shared. The desire to help was strong and we were shown to a spot outside of the full enclosure. We got a patch of grass next to the closed pool. By the time we were set up and ready to head into town for dinner, there were a few other campers in tents along the pool fence as well.

We followed the foot traffic back into town, finally noticing the signs: World Heritage Accordion Music Festival. I had never given accordion music a thought, but Raven apparently had. His eyes were popping out of his head. We spent quite a bit of time studying menus for cheap fare and checking out exactly how many accordion musicians were located inside the establishment. The Italian restaurant and ice cream stand called Bistro LeFontaine had looked safe. Until five minutes after sitting down the apparently late minstrel arrived.

Now Raven’s jaw is clenched too tight for him to eat. His blue eyes hold a glaze of desperation over the angst. Chance and luck have turned tails up. I don’t see the world from his perspective where loud sounds are jarring and crowds pressing, but I know when he has had enough. Something is going to have to give.  And then the musician walks to our section.

He meets Raven’s distressed gaze, sweeps over my defeated shoulders and starts to speak in French. I only catch about half of what he says, but what I understand surprises me to my core. He explains to the crowd that the jubilant notes are not to our fancy and he is going to play a different tune, just for us. He launches into Stray Cat Strut.

I’ve never heard jazz on an accordion, so I have nothing with which to compare that serenade. After remembering to close my jaw, Raven and I share a nervous smile. Then we are laughing, closing our eyes to smooth notes that hum like smoked brandy, even on an accordion. Everyone applauds the rendition, a few giving us smiles and happy nods. We blush and smile back. The musician moves on.

It isn’t really serendipity or fate that guides us on our journey. Deep down, we know we can rely on each other. More than that, when we have taken a wrong turn and fallen short of hopes we have always been gifted with kindness. Strangers have read our plight in the lines of our faces when our words could not be translated. Such experience has removed the fear of the unknown and turned us into seekers of the out of the way path.

Before we leave the restaurant, we buy ice cream cones with sprinkles to accompany us on our music filled walk back to the campground. It is apparently going to be a late night for the festival. But from our corner of the campground by the pool, it is mostly an odd mixture of notes and laughter floating above the St. Lawrence.  Our whimsical method of choosing routes has landed us in a myriad of odd places from lunch spots next to closed asylums with torrid histories, a Beetles playing guitar group around a campfire on a pebble beach, and now an accordion music festival. Oddly enough, it’s all been good.

Note from Raven:  Yes, it’s true. I would rather eat a fried rat than enjoy accordion music. I have to say, however, the city of Montmagney is absolutely beautiful. The women are just as pretty and the food is magnifique. I would happily return on any of the 51 weeks the music festival is not in town.

How NOT to Cross Vineyard Sound


Ignorance protects the foolish and the young. And boy, were we lucky it did! This nearly unsuccessful crossing of Vineyard Sound taught us to laugh at our mistakes – once we were sure we were going to live to tell about them.

We were both wrong. Raven was right: we should have left earlier. I was certainly right and we definitely should have stopped in Oak Bluffs for gas. Beyond that, there was so much we didn’t have a clue about it was only the powers that protect the foolish and young that got us safely back to the mainland. Ignorance is bliss, especially if what you are ignorant of is the knife’s edge of success or death.

The sailboat was a beat up and well used MacGreggor 25. Bought on Martha’s Vineyard, we had lived aboard it for two months while working on the island. We’d sailed it exactly twice. The second time we had broken a block due to improper rigging of a boat which we knew absolutely nothing about. We had a lot of theories though.

Anchored in Katama Bay, we were off the charts, away from marinas and anyone who would have given us practical advice. Like the charts were way wrong and the outgoing tide was far above the listed 4 knots. And maybe our “chart” should have been more than a fancy waterproof placemat anyway. Or that maybe we should have rigged the boat correctly before trying to motor across to Cape Cod, just in case we had to use the sail. But no, we were alone with just a few clammers fishing the muddy sand at low tide, the sea gulls, our haphazard sailboat, and ignorant bliss.

It was only mid-summer, but we needed to leave the Vineyard early. Time to raise anchor and head up to Maine, literally. Of course, we weren’t crazy enough to sail THAT far. We were going to just putt across Vineyard Sound, pull the boat in Woods Hole, and tow it up to Maine. The crossing is only 8 miles of open water. Heck, you can see the mainland from Martha’s Vineyard. This wasn’t the English Channel. How hard could it be?

I wonder if we even checked the tide chart the day before? I mean, we knew that much. If the tide was low enough, the boat actually ended up grounded. Surely we would have planned ahead to ensure we had sufficient water to begin our journey? Still, we woke up to a thump.
A shift in the current had bumped the hull against the quickly approaching sand bottom. Today was the day we were supposed to leave. The Jeep was already waiting in Woods Hole with the trailer. A few hours delay could put us too late to cross and would mean parking tickets. We were out of bed and looking over the side at the disappearing water. Raven pulled the anchors and started the engine while I put in my contact lenses.

Is that when we realized the gas tank wasn’t full? You would have thought we’d check that before we left. Better, before we drove our only method of land transportation off island so that if we’d realized our gas oversight, we would not have had to hitch a ride to a gas station. But no, by the time we hefted the gas tank, realized it was half full, calculated the usage of the 9.9 outboard and figured . . . we could make it, just, we were already underway.

Now, as slightly more cognizant adults, we would have probably realized that two mistakes don’t make a right, the fates were against us, and let’s just try again tomorrow. But in your twenties, you figure you can wing it. Our guardian angels must have never thought they’d manage to get us through to our thirties!

I smoothly motored us out of Katama Bay and by Edgartown. Our thoughts were on the summer, wondering when we’d see the Vineyard again and be able to spend time on our favorite beaches. The fact that we were heading out into the Sound on an outgoing tide racing to meet the Atlantic Ocean with a half tank of gas and broken rigging never entered our heads.

As Oak Bluffs came into view, the white gazebo painted vividly in the sunny field of grass, I did suggest that we could swing into the marina there for gas. But as we’d traveled up the western side of the Vineyard, we hadn’t encountered any problems. We just needed to round the tip, jump across the Sound, dive through the hole in the Elizabethan Islands between Buzzard’s Bay and Vineyard Sound and we could call it good. Why get even more off schedule for a pit stop in Oak Bluffs?

We knew the hole could be tricky. The current funneling between the islands created a wave as the water backed up against the rocky barrier before whipping past and out to sea. Still, things had been going well and we continued past the northern tip of Martha’s Vineyard and pointed the bow directly northeast and into the outgoing tide.

The island had protected us until that moment. But her embrace was now behind us. Our 25-foot boat took the full force of the current directly into her bow. We opened up the 9.9 half way, then three quarters. The engine strained. The gas gurgled.

The island had also protected us from the wind. Now there was a slight breeze. Boats far ahead of us, almost to the mainland along the ferry route, were heeled over in the wind. We thought we could try the same thing. Raise the sail and motor forward. It would save gas and should work.
Except for that darn busted rigging. Well, the term “jury rigging” was obviously developed on a sailboat. Raven played a rope rerouting dance and we eased back on the throttle. Two things happened. We slipped next to and then a little behind the bell buoy we’d managed to force our way beyond ten minutes before. We weren’t even holding ground. We were losing. And the other thing is the ferry came.

Did I mention that Vineyard Sound can seem as busy as a water expressway? Fishing boats, pleasure boats, Coast Guard, research vessels, commuters, and really big ferry boats all ply the channel. And we were in the middle of the ferry route losing a battle with the tide.

A 25-foot boat feels about the size of a golf ball orbiting the moon next to a car ferry. Plankton had a better chance of fighting the whale about to swallow it than we did of making the ferry move. We just were not going to win that competition even if “vessels under sail” have the right of way. We hauled ass, kicked the motor to full 9.9 horse power and got the heck out of the way.
Which left us on fumes in the middle of the channel. But hey, the sail was raised! We called a boat tow company who offered to come to our aid with a can of gas for a mere $300. We were broke college student twenty-somethings. The offer didn’t feel like a rescue, but more like extortion for idiocy.

We declined and looked at each other as the engine gave a shuddering sputter and the bow threatened to turn to run with the tide. Well, why not? We had the whole arm of the Cape to make landfall. Woods Hole wasn’t the only game in town even if the Jeep was there. And let’s face it, we were never going to make it through the rocks and into Buzzard’s Bay if we couldn’t even beat the tide mid-channel.

We cut the engine and pivoted the boat into the waves. Who needs gas? This was a sailboat after all. Raven took over and angled the boat along the coast, dancing her with the swells. A small group of yacht club kids doing regatta runs made it all look so easy. But by then, we were near the sweep of the cape and protected from the worse of the tide.

Sans engine, Raven sailed up Falmouth Harbor and docked us in front of the gas tank. I was never so happy to be tied to something in my life. We filled the tank, dropped the jury-rigged sail, and motored further east to the Green Pond boat ramp. It was nearly deserted, had a gently angled ramp unlike Woods Hole, and we could take all the time we needed to get situated and pull the boat. Which was good, because Raven had to take a taxi back to Woods Hole to get the trailer and Jeep!

We survived but it was important lesson in how alone you really are, even when surrounded by a sea full of people. No one stopped to help us. Our first reliance was on each other. It took both of us to cross Vineyard Sound. That and an absolute ton of luck!

Guest Post – Bones of the Earth

Free today and tomorrow: The Bones of the Earth


Scott Bury’s first novel, The Bones of the Earth, is available free on Monday, October 8 and Tuesday, October 9 from Amazon at (


The Bones of the Earth breaks many rules of the fantasy genre. Set in the Eastern Roman Empire during the Dark Ages, it tells the story of Javor, a social outcast from a remote Slavic village who encounters mythical horrors and has to find the answer to the riddle: what are the bones of the earth, and why has the earth itself turned on humanity?

The story blends mythology from the many cultures : Greek, Roman, Slavic, Teutonic, Sarmatian, Celtic and more.


The following is from the beginning of Part 3 of The Bones of the Earth; Javor has reached the Roman port of Constantius, on the Euxine Sea, which we now call the Black Sea.

A half moon had just risen. Low grey clouds, just shadows against the purpling evening sky, flew ahead of a chill wind from across the Euxine sea.

Javor shivered and drew his ragged cloak closer around his throat. He tried not to make noise as he hurried. He thought he could see his destination in the failing light: a rickety shed at the end of an even more rickety dock, teetering on long poles over the water, separate from all the other buildings in the harbour. In the shadows it looked like a great water-bug perching near the shore, waiting for … something.

He knocked on the door, which was only a cracked and weathered plank. It rattled under his knuckles and opened into blackness. He heard a faint repetitive creaking and a laboured breathing over the gentle sounds of the water below his feet. A musty odour came out. Javor scowled and stepped in hesitantly.

Inside, he could see only dim shapes in the faint light from the open door. There was no fire, yet the air was warm and stuffy. The repetitive creaking came from the far corner. Javor gradually made out a figure squatting on the floor, arms wrapped around his knees, rocking back and forth.

Hello?” said Javor. “Are—are you … umm, Paleologus?”

The figure stopped rocking and raised his head. Javor could now see that he was wearing a hood. A blanket was wrapped around his legs. “Who are you?” demanded a raspy, aged voice.

My name is … Janus,” Javor answered. He didn’t know what prompted him to use the name that Photius had given him at the Roman fort, but it seemed somehow safer in this dilapidated city filled with strange looking and heavily armed people.

Janus,” repeated the croaking, old voice, and the figure resumed rocking. “Janus,” it rasped again. “So, Photius sent you?”

Javor was shocked to hear the old magus’ name.

How did you know?”

From the ring on your finger. What do you want?”

Photius said you might have answers.”

A strange croaking and wheezing came from the figure. Javor realized it was laughter. “Answers. No. Only questions. There are no answers. There never were, never will be,” the figure rasped. He stopped rocking and lifted his head. Candles flared to sudden life, the light chasing shadows into the corners of the shed. Javor started. I should be used to that old trick by now. Photius used it often enough.

He is dead, then?” Javor nodded, then gasped as the candlelight illuminated the figure’s face: it was a woman, an old, old woman. Her white hair hung long and limp. Her thin face was all long vertical lines: long, deep shadows dipping below high cheekbones, lines leading from each side of her long nose down to the corners of her mouth, vertical lines like a row of spikes along her upper lip, lines leading down from the corners of her mouth to her chin. There were more deep lines on her neck leading under whatever clothing she was wearing. Yet more lines criss-crossed her forehead. Her eyebrows were mere darker shadows. Her heavy eyelids drooped to almost vertical at the sides.

But her eyes were lit by a piercing intelligence that flared in the shadows. They searched Javor’s eyes for something, some truth, that Javor could not say. Finally, her eyes dropped away and she looked sadly at the dirty floor.

You knew him well?” Javor asked as the silence thickened like smoke.

The woman nodded. “We were lovers once. Many years ago.” She started rocking again. “What did he tell you about me?”

He told me to look for Paleologus, or rather, ‘old wisdom,’ in Constantia. He said you would be in a place like this, in a wooden shed over the water. No one here knew that name, but finding this … house wasn’t all that hard. It stands further out over the sea than any other place.” He shivered as the wind found a way in through cracks in the walls.

Paleologus,” the old woman laughed sadly. “Yes, that would be his idea of a joke. ‘Old wisdom’ indeed.”

Then what is your name?”

Still looking at the floor, she answered “Once, I had the nerve to call myself ‘Sophia.’ The true wisdom. Oh, what a foolish girl I was. But I was strong then, and beautiful, and Photius loved me …Oh, he made many bad choices. He chose the wrong side.”

What side?”

She sighed and looked at him. “The gods are at war, as never before. Sky once loved Earth and together they brought forth life and many beautiful and horrible things, but they were all alive. Now, Sky has turned away from Earth, and seeks to suppress her … and all the great civilizations have turned away from her, too—Rome, Persia, all now worship Sky and call Earth evil. They despoil her soils, pollute her waters…”

This made no sense to Javor. He lost his patience. He put his knife and amulet into Sophia’s hands. “What do these mean?”

Sophia’s eyes grew wide. She held the dagger and medallion under the candlelight, which flared brighter. “Where did you get these?”

They were my great-grandfather’s,” Javor answered, shielding his eyes from the candles which burned even brighter now as Sophia turned the knife and amulet over and over, examining them closely. “He was a soldier in the Emperor’s army. He brought them back from the Caucasus, where he defeated a giant.” Sophia shook her head and whispered in a language that Javor did not understand. “What do they mean?”

Bang! A gust blew the flimsy door open and the shack filled with moaning wind. The candles flickered and died, no longer stoked by Sophia’s will.

They are coming,” she whispered.

What? Who’s coming?” Javor pushed the door closed.

Sophia pressed the knife and amulet into Javor’s hands. “Take these, Janus or whatever your name is. Keep them with you, but watch over them. They alone can protect you. You must run, you must go to Constantinople, but show these to no one else.”

I know, I know, they protect me. But how? And from what? What is chasing me, and why?”

Find our old Order at the Abbey of St. Mary of Chalkoprateia. From there, you must seek the four hundred. Only the four hundred can end this war.” The wind got stronger and Javor could hear strange noises in it.

What are the four hundred?”

There is no time,” Sophia said. “They are coming!” Sophia wasn’t looking at him, but seemed to be looking through the wall. “To Constantinople! You must go now!”


The Bones of the Earth is available in e-book form exclusively from ( and in print from Amazon and other bookstores.

The e-book version FREE until the end of Tuesday, October 9, from Amazon.

Guest Post – Blood of the King

Today, we’ve got a special post from Bruce Blake announcing the release of his book: Blood of the King.

Blood of the King (Khirro’s Journey Book 1)

 A kingdom torn by war. A curse whispered by dying lips. A hero born against his will.

Khirro never wanted to be anything more than the farmer he was born to be, but a Shaman’s curse binds him to the fallen king and his life changes forever.

Driven by the Shaman’s dying words, Khirro’s journey pits him against an army of the dead, sends him through haunted lands, and thrusts him into the jaws of beasts he wouldn’t have believed existed. In one hand he carries the Shaman’s enchanted sword, a weapon he can barely use; in the other he holds a vial of the king’s blood, the hope of the kingdom. His destination: the Necromancer’s keep in the cursed land of Lakesh. Only the mysterious outlaw magician can raise the king from the dead to save them all from the undead invasion, but can Khirro live long enough to deliver the vial?
Can a coward save a kingdom?

About Bruce Blake:

Bruce Blake lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. When pressing issues like shovelling snow and building igloos don’t take up his spare time, Bruce can be found taking the dog sled to the nearest coffee shop to work on his short stories and novels.

Actually, Victoria, B.C. is only a couple hours north of Seattle, Wash., where more rain is seen than snow. Since snow isn’t really a pressing issue, Bruce spends more time trying to remember to leave the “u” out of words like “colour” and “neighbour” then he does shovelling. The father of two, Bruce is also the trophy husband of burlesque diva Miss Rosie Bitts.

Bruce has been writing since grade school but it wasn’t until six years ago he set his sights on becoming a full-time writer. Since then, his first short story, “Another Man’s Shoes” was published in the Winter 2008 edition of Cemetery Moon, another short, “Yardwork”, was made into a podcast in Oct., 2011 by Pseudopod and his first Icarus Fell novel, “On Unfaithful Wings”, was published to Kindle in Dec., 2011. The second Icarus Fell novel, “All Who Wander Are Lost”, was released in July, 2012, with the first book in the two-part “Khirro’s Journey” epic fantasy coming Sept. 30. He has plans for at least three more Icarus novels, several stand alones, and a possible YA fantasy co-written with his eleven-year-old daughter.




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Guest Post – Blood of the King Excerpt

Today we’ve got a post from Bruce Blake. It’s an excerpt of his upcoming novel Blood of the King.


Blood of the King (Khirro’s Journey Book 1)


A vial of blood, a Shaman’s curse. A haunted land, monstrous beasts. A journey to save a kingdom.


Khirro never wanted to be anything more than the farmer he was born to be, but a Shaman’s curse binds him to the fallen king and his life changes forever.


Driven by the Shaman’s dying words, Khirro’s journey pits him against an army of the dead, sends him through haunted lands, and thrusts him into the jaws of beasts he wouldn’t have believed existed. In one hand he carries the Shaman’s enchanted sword, a weapon he can barely use; in the other he holds a vial of the king’s blood, the hope of the kingdom. His destination: the Necromancer’s keep in the cursed land of Lakesh. Only the mysterious outlaw magician can raise the king from the dead to save them all from the undead invasion, but can Khirro live long enough to deliver the vial?

Can a coward save a kingdom?


Read Chapter 1 –

Read Chapter 2 (Part 1) –

Read Chapter 2 (Part 2) –


Excerpt: Blood of the King

Chapter 3


The face of the dead warrior floated before Khirro’s eyes, lipless mouth pulled into a sneer, yellow teeth sharp and dangerous. Blood and pus seeped from its eyes and nostrils forming drops at the tip of its putrid nose. One drop lengthened into a string, separated, and landed square in the middle of Khirro’s forehead.

Khirro woke with a start, eye lids snapping open, breath short. There was no dead man threatening him, no rotted face, no blood-splashed mail. Instead, guttering torches threw dancing shadows against the walls of a windowless room. Khirro struggled to control his breathing and kept his head down as he lay on the dirt floor. From behind hooded eyes he observed figures moving, but who or how many, he didn’t know. His first memory was of the monstrous Kanosee soldier, then he recalled the black-robed man. And there had been others.

Khirro inched his hand toward the dirk hidden in his boot-top but pain in his shoulder kept him from drawing it—dislocated, perhaps broken. With no other choice, Khirro lay at the mercy of whoever dragged him here. After all that had happened, it didn’t surprise him he felt more relief than fear.

One figure he saw and recognized—the body of the king prone in the middle of the floor. Minutes passed and he came to realize there were three other men in the room. The black-robed figure bent over the king, whispering and gesturing. The king’s healer, he guessed. A shiver ran the length of Khirro’s spine. Rumor said this man was more than just a healer, something darker and deadlier who dabbled in arts outlawed in Erechania. Khirro hadn’t believed the stories until the flash of light felled his undead pursuer.

The other two men wore heavy armor. The taller of the two wore silver and gold plate embossed with the crossed sword and lightning insignia of the Kingsblade—the King’s personal guard—the other’s armor was plain black plate marked and dented with use.

Little life remains in the king,” the healer said without looking up. “Give me the vial, Gendred.”

The man in black plate pulled a glass vial from his belt and passed it to the healer. Gendred. Khirro had heard the name but never seen the man—few had, fewer had and lived. He was a Shadowman, one of an elite group of fighter-assassins Khirro had thought more fable than reality. On quiet watches, fantastic tales of the Shadowmen passed from soldier to soldier, building their legend. It became the goal of any good warrior to be drafted into their brotherhood. The thought never crossed Khirro’s mind.

The boy lives,” Gendred growled looking sideways at Khirro, his pock-marked face turned down in a sour look. Nothing about him looked friendly.

Leave him,” the healer said. “I’ll deal with him later.”

He held his hand above the king’s head, a whispered chant of rhythmic cadence coming from beneath the darkened hood. Khirro shifted to watch, his movement drawing a glare from the Shadowman. The third man stood against the far wall, arms folded across his chest, concern showing in the blue eyes peering from beneath bushy red brows.

The healer’s chant increased in volume, his pale hand shook. He spoke dusty, archaic words foreign to Khirro, unsettling, and he squirmed on the dirt floor in spite of himself. The king’s eyes stared wide and glassy at the high ceiling as it collected oily smoke twisting up from the torches. To Khirro, it looked as though Braymon had already passed to the fields of the dead, but the healer’s incantation continued.

The king gasped, his body jerked.

Startled, Khirro jumped, a bolt of pain lancing through his arm. The healer held the vial between thumb and index finger over Braymon’s torso, open end toward the king. Braymon’s back arched as though drawn toward the vial and Khirro held his breath. Gendred and the man of the Kingsblade watched silently. Above the king’s head, the healer’s hand quaked; the hand holding the vial remained steady.

It was just a single drop first, so small Khirro barely noticed. Another drop followed, then another. Khirro drew a sharp breath as the droplets expanded to a thin stream flowing from the king upward to the vial. Somehow, the blood from the king’s wounds collected at his midsection, concentrating in one place to defy the Gods’ laws. The fine stream of blood filled the vial as the healer continued chanting.

The container approached fullness and the stream waned, became droplets again, then stopped. The healer kept chanting as he turned the vial right side up, then his words ceased. The king’s body spasmed then moved no more, the end of the healer’s words releasing him to the fields of the dead. The officer of the Kingsblade and Gendred bowed their heads and kept their silence. Sadness gripped Khirro’s chest, surprising him.

Weep not for your king,” the healer said as he stood. He drew a cork from somewhere in his sleeve and capped the vial then waved his fingers around it and spoke more foreign words. Then he said, “All I need to retrieve the king from the fields of the dead is here in my hand.”

The warriors raised their eyes. Khirro wiped a tear from his face, hoping the men hadn’t seen, and looked at the vial, too. The flickering torchlight lent it a dull crimson glow.

We must dispose of the king’s flesh,” the healer said. “No one can know the king has fallen.”

What of this one, then, Shaman?”

Gendred gestured toward Khirro, speaking of him as though he wasn’t in the room, but Khirro barely noticed.

The rumors about the healer are true.

The healer turned his gaze toward Khirro. Something flickered beneath the cowl, impossibly far away. A shiver galloped up Khirro’s spine.

What is your name, soldier?”


Khirro has done the kingdom a great service.” He paused as the torches flickered and spat in their sconces, then continued, his voice quiet, serious. “You have seen much.”

Khirro shook his head.

They mean to kill me.

But he’d risked his life to bring the king to them, surely that meant something. He fought the urge to crawl away from their gazes, to seek refuge in a shadowy corner of the room.

I won’t tell anyone,” he squeaked.

The healer chuckled, a sound like stone rubbed against stone.

Of course you won’t,” he said still looking at Khirro. Then, over his shoulder to the other men: “Bring him with us.”

Khirro’s chest felt as though it dropped into his stomach.

Bring him with us? Bring me where?

He stared into the blackness beneath the hood, searching for answers, but it revealed nothing. A horrible feeling flooded his aching body, one he’d never have expected: he found himself thinking he’d have been better off at the end of the monster’s axe.

That wouldn’t be wise,” the Shadowman said without looking at Khirro. His voice held the taut tone of a man containing his anger. It wouldn’t be long before Khirro realized it sounded thus because it was the truth of it. “He looks more farmer than fighter.”

But he’s a trained soldier of the king’s army,” the other man said and Khirro realized he knew him. They called him Rudric. He’d been one of the men leading Khirro’s training.

Hmph. He’ll slow us down at best, more likely get us killed. I have no desire to waste my time saving his skin at every turn.”

Blood rushed to Khirro’s face. He’d managed to get the king here with a monstrous creature at his heels. Didn’t that prove he was no longer a novice? He opened his mouth to protest the Shadowman’s words but snapped it shut remembering his blunders on the wall walk which had led to Braymon’s death. His ego shrank like a snail pulling its head into its shell.

He has seen too much for us to leave him,” Rudric said.

Does he mean they should spare me or kill me?

And he’ll be a burden if we take him,” Gendred added.

He means to kill me.

The healer looked at them. “Would you kill the man who has kept hope alive? Would you kill the man who has given us the opportunity to bring back our king?”

Gendred opened his mouth to protest, but the healer raised a hand, stopping him. The vial was gone from his grasp, disappeared somewhere into his robe.

Bring him with us.”

Rudric nodded, accepting the healer’s command, but Gendred remained motionless, the muscles of his jaw flexing as he ground his teeth.

Bring me where?” Khirro fought hard to keep his voice from trembling.

We are bound for Lakesh,” the healer answered.

Khirro’s breath caught in his throat.

Lakesh. The haunted land.


Bruce Blake lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. When pressing issues like shovelling snow and building igloos don’t take up his spare time, Bruce can be found taking the dog sled to the nearest coffee shop to work on his short stories and novels.

Actually, Victoria, B.C. is only a couple hours north of Seattle, Wash., where more rain is seen than snow. Since snow isn’t really a pressing issue, Bruce spends more time trying to remember to leave the “u” out of words like “colour” and “neighbour” then he does shovelling. The father of two, Bruce is also the trophy husband of burlesque diva Miss Rosie Bitts.

Bruce has been writing since grade school but it wasn’t until five years ago he set his sights on becoming a full-time writer. Since then, his first short story, “Another Man’s Shoes” was published in the Winter 2008 edition of Cemetery Moon, another short, “Yardwork”, was made into a podcast in Oct., 2011 by Pseudopod and his first Icarus Fell novel, “On Unfaithful Wings”, was published to Kindle in Dec., 2011. The second Icarus Fell novel, “All Who Wander Are Lost”, was released in July, 2012, and “Blood of the King”, the first book in the two-part “Khirro’s Journey” epic fantasy, will be released on Sept. 30. He has plans for at least three more Icarus novels, several stand alones, and a possible YA fantasy co-written with his eleven-year-old daughter.

Guest Post – Excerpt from Crown of Ash

Josh’s Note: Steven Montano released Book 4 of his Blood Skies series, Crown of Ash, today. Below is an excerpt!

A behemoth city of pale rock and sea stone appeared in the wasteland of grey sand. Rickety bridges made from petrified sinew connected iron towers that looked shoved into the ground like wayward spears. Rings of blasted sandstone surrounded deep pits, and flags stitched from whale flesh flapped in the breeze. There were no streets, just sandy walkways that wound between rugged towers and houses thatched together with rope and metallic netting. Drifts of sand covered the buildings like metal snow. The Ebonsand Sea was just beyond the city, and it reflected the radiant light of the melting sun.

Large walrus-like beasts shuffled outside the city perimeter and left lines of acidic glue in their wake. More of the grey-skinned humanoids rode the slug-tailed creatures. Skiffs docked on rusting metal planks next to crashing ocean waves. A number of ATVs and dune-buggies drove in and out of a network of tunnels beneath the city.

Cold ocean air blew in from the dark sea. Kane tasted salt and engine oil.

The vehicle flew close to the ground. Something appeared over a dune just south of the city.

It was another skiff. It flew in low over the dune bank, and was also bound for the city. The vehicle was equipped with fewer guns and a wider deck than the vehicle Kane and the others rode, which meant there was more room for the dead and wounded on board.

There were at least two dozen of the grey-skinned humanoids. They bled green or were missing limbs, and had been flayed open or turned inside out. Their grisly wounds were crudely bandaged with wraps of linen. Some of the wounded thrashed about violently as they clawed at some imaginary threat. Others couldn’t stop screaming, or bled constantly from both eyes. Several others had decaying appendages turned to stumps of clay or ash.

The two crafts drew to within a hundred yards of each other. Kane heard dissonant whispers in the wind, a gritty chant made by gargling and guttural voices. It took him a moment to realize that what he heard was a chorus of the wounded. They all spoke jointly in a vagrant and sibilant tongue. Their eyes were blank as their mouths moved without their knowledge.

What the hell…” Kane whispered.

Anarchotech,” Jade said.

Bless you,” Kane said as he looked at her. Her face was pale and her eyes were wide.

And what the hell is ‘anarchotech’?” Ronan asked.

It’s Ebon Cities experimental magic,” she explained. “They fuse chaotic energies with captured soul power to create a new type of energy. It’s unstable. And it’s incredibly debilitating towards living creatures.”

Why don’t they use it all of the time, then?” Ronan said with a grim laugh. “And why haven’t we heard of it before?”

They just started experimenting with it recently,” Jade explained as their skiff drew closer to the city. “It’s still in the early stages, I think. Most Southern Claw mages know about it, but they haven’t spread the word.” She shrugged. “I guess your military doesn’t want a panic on its hands. I understand it’s dangerous for the vampires, too…it’s just a lot more dangerous for living creatures.”

So what does it do?” Kane asked.

It destabilizes you,” Jade said. “Melds you with other possibilities, or something to that effect. No one knows just how powerful it is.” She looked back at the ship of the wounded.

Hopefully we won’t find out.”

It looks like someone already has,” Kane said.

Crown of Ashes is available on Amazon and Smashwords


Guest Post – Release Announcement, Crown of Ash by Steven Montano

 Josh’s Note: Steven and I are members of the Guild of Dreams Fantasy writer’s collective. His most recent novel released today, so I offered to let him take over for a day to announce it. I’ll be putting up a second post later today with an excerpt, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

Eric Cross and his team have been to hell and back, but their journey isn’t over yet.

Marooned in the remote criminal city of Blacksand, the only way for the mercenaries to get home is to help a local crime boss protect his territories from the Ebon Cities.

To complicate matters, Danica Black is also being hunted by The Revengers, a powerful band of corrupt prison wardens, while Cross himself is trapped in the Whisperlands, a realm of darkness controlled by a cadre of evil mages known as the Shadow Lords.

The team will battle their way through corroding wastelands and deadly vampire outposts, but even their considerable skills might not be enough to save them from the cruel machinations of the Shadow Lord’s mysterious master, a malevolent creature who has manipulated their destinies right from the beginning…

Return to the world of The Black in Book 4 of the BLOOD SKIES saga!

Crown of Ash is available on and Smashwords!

Catch up with the rest of the serieson!

About the Author

Steven Montano is a full-time accountant and the author of the Blood Skies series.

He enjoys dark music, depressing cinema, cooking, hiking, and spending time with his crazy family. He lives in Washington, where he desperately prepares for the vampire apocalypse.

Visit Steven’s official website,