12/3/15
MapThumb_sm

Peers out from under the covers…

Yeah, no updates for a bit. My apologies. Life’s been a bit of storm these last couple of months, so I’ve been clinging to driftwood and trying to stay afloat. Just wanted to give a quick update on a few things…

Emaculum Audio Book

First and foremost, I wanted to announce that, after a year of false starts, Emaculum (book three of The Scourge) will be getting an audio version (finally!). Those who follow me are probably aware that I had some problems with deadlines with the first voice actor. It became so frustrating that I was actually thinking of doing it myself, but I have no recording equipment and I don’t have the time right now to learn how to do it properly (30 hours at the very least to record and edit it). I was despairing about the situation when the captain of my Street Team (The Knights of Calas) stepped up in an *epic* way and told me he would do it. And so, I present to you, Lynn Roberts, knight of Calas and hero of the Emaculum audio book! I’ll have a separate post about Lynn and his journey into audiobook recording soon. He’s great with accents, but he will be reading the book without an English accent. It might be a bit surprising when you first start listening, but I’m sure his powerful voice will get you into the story right away.

The Madness of Valatriste

I have 30 pages left to write in my current work in progress. Tentatively titled The Madness of Valatriste. It’s a fantasy with Spanish and French flavorings, lots of dueling, and a main character that is sanity-challenged. I’m having a great time writing it, but it has become a bit epic. I’ll have this one sorted soon and hopefully have my agent sell it to someone early next year.

Tristan Novella

The promised Tristan novella will be the next thing I work on, barring contractual obligations. Sorry for the delay on this one!

Viral Marketing?

So, someone put together a few graphics for The Scourge trilogy–just images with quotes from the books on them. If you are so inclined, feel free to paste them around on the internet for some viral type marketing. Just click through for the full-size version if you need it. If people pin them to Pinterest/Instagram/Facebook and such, they might gain some traction and help with the books. I appreciate any sharing of these!

As always, if you have any comments or questions, feel free to leave them in the comments or drop me an email. I’ll be back soon with some more updates and interviews. Thanks again for your support!

 

10/10/15
Weta2

New York Comic Con 2015 (with pics!)

Hey everyone. My blogging has been pathetic as of late. I am going to make an effort to get on here more. Promise. And, what better way to usher in this new era of more consistent blogging than with a photo gallery from New York Comic Con, 2015.

I didn’t have a signing there this year, but my publisher was kind enough to send me a badge (two badges, actually, but that is another story…) and I attended as a spectator and lover of all things beautiful and bizarre.

I also attended a fantastic cocktail hour arranged by Amazon Publishing and got the honor of hanging out with authors like Marko Kloos (and his lovely wife Robin) who writes awesome military sci-fi, the incomparable Amy Bartol (who writes enormously popular paranormal romance), J.D. Horn (renowned for his Witching Savannah series and a fellow Westmarch publishee), Jeff Wheeler (amazingly successful fantasy author of Muirwood fame(who once hosted a guest post from me)), Dana Cameron (who writes award-winning crime and sci-fi),  Robert Masello (a veteran writer of novels and scripts with an amazing breadth of knowledge and humor), and Evan Currie (author of dozens of brilliant sci-fi novels).

There were other writers, and I apologize for missing you in this post. But I had a great time with all of you. And I must mention the awesome staff of 47North who put this all together and kept us laughing and without thirst all night: Britt, Jason, Ben, Courtney, Kim and all the others… thank you!

And now, without further delay, the pictures from New York Comic Con 2015 (apologies, in advance, for the crappy quality of my phone’s camera…)(And, yes, that actually was a delay, but there won’t be any further delays). (Except for this one). (And maybe this one). (But that’s it.). (I swear).

07/16/15
Artwork by Rhys Griffiths. The Madness of Valatriste (Working title) follows chracters traveling from a Spanish-style society to a French-style society.

Where Am I? (And an Excerpt to Prove it)

Artwork by Rhys Griffiths. The Madness of Valatriste (working title) follows characters traveling from a Spanish-style society to a French-style society.

Yeah, my deepest apologies for not blogging consistently for the last … oh… lifetime. But it’s particularly bad lately because I’m working on a completely new book. And that new book is (likely) the first in a series. I thought I would post a microblog about what I’m writing, and paste an excerpt to prove that I’m writing it.

The book has a working title of “The Madness of Valatriste.” I don’t want to talk too much about the plot because I’m still writing it, but it takes place on a planet far far away, and that sort of thing. Our main character is named Tercero, and he lives on the continent of Lucerie, in the kingdom of Leoncio. He’s a bit conflicted, a great swordsman, a robber, and quite humorous. Oh, and he’s mad. Yeah, the crazy kind, not the angry sort.

There are other characters. A woman who believes she can see the future. A despondent soldier tracking down a demon. An autistic swordsman. A greedy (but kind) noblewoman. A ruthless duke with a Napoleon complex. There’s action and humor and love and scheming. There’s war and tragedy and lust and feats of genius. It’s quite a lot to pack into one book, and it’s taking me a long time to write. Hopefully it will be one of my best works. Just to tease you guys a little, there’s a quick (and unedited) excerpt below. As always, I truly appreciate your support and encouragement. You have been my strength while I type away in the dusty corners of the night.

Unedited Excerpt from The Madness of Valatriste (working title)
This is one of the more lighthearted scenes in the book. The protaganist, Tercero, is sitting on the driver’s box of a carriage. An older man is sitting beside him, and the rest of his crew in inside the carriage.

***

The riders were moving slowly through the darkened landscape, a leisurely lope along the Alturian grasslands.

“Perhaps our problems with money have been alleviated ,” Tercero said. “They are bound to have coin. Might be enough to get us to Valatriste.”

Ermenguille cocked his head to one side. “But…they won’t just give us their coins.”

“Of course they will.” Tercero reached through the open front quarter [of the carriage] and drew the powder pistol from Septymo’s bandolier. “We just have to be persuasive.”

“Oi!” Septymo shouted. “We have rules!”

Ermenguille rubbed at his neck, stared from the riders to the powder pistol. “You… you don’t mean to rob them? We don’t even know who they are!”

“I am not sure you have a thorough understanding of robbery.” Tercero cackled and whipped the reins. The thrill of the hunt was upon him. “If you know your victims, it is called borrowing. Yah! Septymo, may I borrow the powder-pistol?”

“Before!” Septymo bounced against the quarter-light on his left as the horses broke into a canter. He turned with a scowl. “You have to ask before you take it!”

“Not now brother!’ Tercero replied. “We have people not to meet!”

The two riders stopped and turned their horses so they could face the carriage. They were several hundred paces ahead. Large specks in the ring shadows. One of them glittered with steel. Armor.

“If that’s Corsaline plate, this will be the best robbery ever!” 

“Corsaline plate?” Septymo stared out the front window and donned the leather doctor’s mask. He handed one to Tercero.

“Slow down!” Duardo shouted. “The princess is bouncing around like a die in a cup!”

The armored man was clad in steel, from head to toe—breastplate, cuisses, greaves, spaulders. Everything. He held a spear in one hand and the reins of a towering grey charger in the other.

“A full suit of armor?” Tercero took off the ring-crown and slung the mask over his head. “I think that man robbed a museum.”

“Can I get into the carriage before you bring doom upon all of us?” Ermenguille asked. “That might be a partrol!”

“Not likely,” Tercero replied.

A staff was strapped to the other rider’s back. Five concentric rings had been mounted on the end, facing outward.

“That’s a priest!” Ermenguille said. “We can’t rob a priest!”

“Of course we can,” Tercero replied, his voice muffled in the leather mask. “Priests are the worst thieves of them all. Think of the mountains of silver they have stolen from their flocks.”

“They do not steal!” Ermenguille replied.

“Oh, but they do, old man.” Tercero said. “Guilt is their pistol and eternal damnation their gunstone. At least when I rob, I have the decency to call it robbery.” He looked back into the carriage. “Duardo, Estillete, put your masks on. We are hunting a priest! This will be the best robbery ever!”

“Why do we need the masks?” Duardo replied. “We’re hours from Belinthia, and we’re leaving Leoncio.”

Tercero slowed the Tiburcians when they were within twenty yards of the two men and sprang to the ground before the animals had stopped.

“Well met, travelers!” he called, the gun hidden behind his back.

The priest rode forward until he was a few paces away. He looked at the doctor’s mask and spoke with a thick Corsaline accent. “Is there plague nearby?”

“I always assume there is plague everywhere,” Tercero replied.

“A peculiar philosophy.” The priest replied.

“It helps. I have only died from plague twice.”

The priest laughed and walked forward to within point-blank pistol range. “The Gods hate Tremarians. And so do I. But I suppose I must pray for your souls anyway. I am Patris D’elan.”

Tercero raised the powder-pistol. “Keep your prayers, Patris. Our souls need gold.”

The priest let out a long breath. “You see? This is precisely why the gods hate Tremarians. Sir Dacion, send these poor souls to the Slave Ring.”

The man in armor flipped the visor down on his close-helm, lowered the spear. “I’ll send them to the Nether, instead, Patris.”

The priest shrugged. “Let the Gods decide. Now be a lad and make these men bleed.”

Tercero pirouetted, hands over his head, then snapped his arm forward again, scowling, trying desperately to think of something clever to say. “I killed ten men yesterday, before supper!” he shouted. “And I am about to eat lunch!”

The knight spun his horse and trotted a dozen paces away, then wheeled the animal around again, reins tight and high.

The carriage bounced as Septymo, Duardo and Estillette hopped out.

“You’re about to eat lunch?” Duardo shook his head, the long beak on the mask swaying from side to side. “That doesn’t even make sense”

“Why is that man wearing a full suit of armor?” Septymo asked.

“I think you are missing a more important question,” Tercero replied.

Duardo shrugged. “Why is that armored man charging us?”

Tercero shook his head. “No. What should my new strike cry be?” He aimed the pistol carefully at the knight, then pressed the firing bar with his middle finger. “Andeloo!”

The hammer sprung forward, flint struck steel with a click and a spark. But there was no explosion of sulfur and saltpeter. No cord of smoke tracing a line to the knight.

“Septymo?”

“I didn’t like it,” he replied. “Still awkward.”

“The gun, Septymo! The gun!”

“It’s not loaded.”

“Obviously it’s not…oh, for …” Tercero tossed the gun to the side and drew his sword, realized it was his master’s broken blade and sighed. “This is the worst robbery ever”

 

 

04/29/15
Helmet_Armet

Strongblade Post: History of Helmets

Note: Some of you may know that I once owned, with a business partner, a company that sold historical replicas of swords and armor and such. That company, Strongblade.com, is still doing well under my former partner’s direction, and I am now writing for the company blog. This is a blog post I wrote recently about helmets. I thought you might enjoy reading about it, especially as I include a few helmets that I spoke about in The Scourge series. Enjoy! (And buy something from Strongblade.com!)

A Not-So-Short History of Helmets

Medieval and Renaissance warriors weren’t all that dissimilar from zombies, really. They tended to smell bad. They grunted a lot. They attacked in hordes. And the only way to ensure death was to hit them in the head. Unlike zombies, Medieval and Renaissance warriors were aware of this weakness, and they tended to encase their heads in metal (and I’m not talking about the golden crown that Khal Drogo gave to Viserys, for you Game of Thrones fans). Of course I’m talking about my favorite piece of medieval armor—the helmet!

There is a lot of confusion about the different helmet types. What’s the difference between an armet and a close helm? Why do frog’s mouth helms have such sissy names? Could you really cook in a kettle helm? What’s so great about a great helm? Well, I’m here to tell you! I’m going to go through each of the helms in chronological order. And yes, I know I’m skipping a few, but in the interest of brevity, I’m going to stick to some of the most common types. As always, if you find that I missed something, feel free to not contact me and complain. Kidding. If you have any comments or ideas, I’d love to hear them in the comments below, or on our Facebook page.

The helmet that launched a thousand movies.

The helm that launched a thousand movies.

Corinthian Helmet – 8th century B.C.E.: Yeah, we loved the movie 300. Leonidas and his happy few, taking on the entire Persian army (and some really strange creatures that apparently the Persians brought out for battles). The Spartan helmet worn by Leonidas and his crew is a creative design based on the Greek Hoplite helmet (otherwise known as the Corinthian helmet). Another Corinthian style helmet was the Troy helmet, used in the Troy movie. The Hoplites were among the most heavily armored soldiers in history. Their helmets covered most of their face, with huge cheekplates and a long nasal that left very of the face exposed. A tall horsehair crest (front to back, or from temple to temple) was often added to the helmet to indicate rank or unit, or just to make these helmets that much more bad-ass. Variations of the Corinthian helmet were seen in Greece and Italy for hundreds of years.

Helmet_Spangenhelm

Spangenhelmens ara gooda, ya?

Spangenhelm, 6th -10th century: That’s the 500s to the 900s, for those of you chronologically challenged. Spangenhelm is German for “Please buy Volkswagens.” These types of helmets were usually a bit conical (pointy toward the top). These are the helmets you typically see in movies when the time period is somewhere between the fall of the Roman Empire and the start of the Norman conquest. They usually have cheek pieces and can be highly decorated, sometimes have face masks, and occasionally have chain mail aventails that protect the back of the neck. Variations of this type of helmet go all the way back to the first century A.D., but only a very few are capable of this sort of time-travel. Yeah, not funny. But, seriously, this is an ancient type of helmet. Some Viking helmets came down from this family tree. And the Sutton Hoo helmet, although it has more in common with a Roman Cavalry helmet, is “spangenhelmish.” Which, in German, means, “Pretty please buy Volkswagons.”

Helmet_Norman

The Norman helm–named after Norman Mailer. (Not really).

Nasal Helm/Norman Helm, 11th – 13th century: Yes, I know that nasal helms have been around since the Byzantine Empire, but the height of their popularity in modern culture is the 11th-12th centuries. These helmets gradually replaced the spangenhelms. They’re the ones you see soldiers wearing in the Robin Hood movies. The ones worn by the Normans who fought at the Battle of Hastings under William the Conqueror. A lot of Viking helmets are actually similar in design to Norman helmets (although probably having more in common with spangenhelms). Nasal helms are usually conical, and they make your voice sound really pinched, which is why they call them nasal helms. Okay, not true. But kinda funny? Maybe? They’re called nasal helms because of a piece of metal that extends over the nose, preventing a Tyrion Lannister sort of nose-chopping-off injury. (For those who actually read the books.)

helmet_Kettlehelm

The iron hat.

Kettle Helm, 11th century: This is another example of a helmet that lasted for much, much longer than one century. The 11th century is when the helmet was most popular, but variations of this type of helm have existed all the way into World War II. Kettle helms are also known as “chapel de fer,” which, in French, means either a church made from the hair of animals, or an iron hat. Many variations of these helmets exist, but all have wide metal brims, and most do not have any sort of face protection. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t get their name from soldiers cooking their meals in these helmets. The name supposedly stems from the shape, which resembles a cooking pot. And, really, heating metal over and over again is probably not something you want to do if your brain depends on the strength of that metal.

Helmets_Cevelliere

A skull-cap with drapes.

Cervelliere, 12-14th centuries: The cervelliere wasn’t truly a helmet. It was a steel beanie worn on top of the head, usually over a chain mail coif. Excellent for protecting the top of the head from sword blades and pigeon crap. This, again, is something that was used for much longer than I have designated, but instead of being worn as head protection, it was worn over a chain coif and under a great helm, as extra protection.

The Greatest Helm. Ever.

The Greatest Helm. Ever.

The Great Helm, 12th to 14th centuries: How can you not love a helmet that has “great” in the name? And these helmets are, without doubt, great. They should be called the Awesome Helm. The protagonist in my The Scourge Trilogy wears a great helm, even though he admits they are going out of style, being replaced by “those hideous new hounskull helmets with the muzzle-shaped visors.” There are other names for this sort of helmet: pot helm (popular in Colorado), bucket helm, awesome helm, and barrel helm. (See what I did there? If I say it enough, it will become true). Great helms cover the entire head. A great big cylinder of steel, with eye slits and (often) perforations near the mouth for breathing pleasure. These helms were originally flat-topped, which looked cool, but provided a lovely target for war hammers and poleax spikes. The evolved version was called the Raichu Helm, and could shoot huge bolts of lightning and… wait… no… I’m thinking of something else. The evolved form was actually still called a great helm, but was curved to deflect blows. Great helms were typically worn over a padded hood, and sometimes a chain coif and cervelliere (and if you have to ask what a cerverlliere is, you have failed the Strongblade Helmet School final exam)(Hint: see above). Crusader Helmets (one born my knights in the first few Crusades) were examples of great helms.

Helmet_hounskull

A hounskull, in its hideous glory.

Hounskulls, 14th century: We go from my favorite helm, to my least favorite. As mentioned above, the protagonist of The Scourge expressed his distaste for these helms. Although they provided effective protection for the face and better ventilation than the awesome helm (I’m still trying…), they were not the most artistic of helmets. Hounskulls were basically tall bascinets with beaked visors that could be raised when not in combat. Slits in the visor allowed for vision, and tons of little holes around the beak provided air. But no amount of perforations can help bad taste.

Where does the baby go?

Where does the baby go?

Bascinet, 14th century: I probably should have mentioned this before the hounskull. Bascinets were a little more common, and it was a common practice for knights to put their babies to sleep in them when it was bedtime. Hmm. I might be mixing that last part up. Anyway, bascinet helms were typically open-faced. You could attach a pig-face visor to them, which terrified the housemaids and made the helmet a hounskull (see above). Bascinets usually were worn with chain mail aventails that protected the back of the neck and the throat. This was replaced later by a steel bevor to protect the neck/chin.

 

You can't get much cooler.

You can’t get much cooler.

Sallet, 15th century: Ah! Another one of my favorites. This is the helmet worn by the Laraytian Standard soldiers in my The Beast of Maug Maurai trilogy. The sallet was a half-helm, really. A bascinet with a long, curved brim at the back to protect the neck and shoulders. Add the half-visor that protected the top half of the face, and you have a work of art. These helmets were sometimes worn with bevors that swept upward to cover the mouth, chin and throat (parts left open by the sallet). Some version had the visor integrated. Others had swiveling visors. And some had ad-visors, tiny people that would sit on the brim and talk to you about your best options in combat. No. Wait. I think that last one was a dream I had. Never mind. This helmet was enormously popular in Germany and Italy.

Helmet_Armet

yeah, helmets are cool.

Armet/close helm, 15th century: Yeah, a few medieval scholars just groaned when they saw both of these helmets in the same category. You see, these helmets are often lumped together, even though they are vastly different from one another. Or not. The only real difference is that armets have swiveling cheek plates, while close helms had bevors that pivoted upward and away from the face with the visor. Close helms are typically identified with the 16th and 17th century, as well. So there are grounds for historical grumbling when the two helmets are lumped together. Both helmets fully enclose the face, and are more fitted to the wearer’s head than many of the other helms from history. Both are also really damned cool. Fine pieces of medieval helmetry.

Not much use except for jousting.

Not much use except for jousting.

Frog Mouthed Helmet, 15th Century: For a really cool looking helmet, this has a seriously dorky name. They could have gone with arch-helm, or razor-helm, or awesome helm (if that wasn’t already taken, right? Right?). It was called a frog-mouth helm because the lower brim juts out like the open mouth of a frog. But, seriously? Sigh. Anyway, this type of helm was used almost exclusively for jousting. The narrow visor and the jutting lower brim protected the jouster’s eyes. These helms included an elaborate web of straps inside that kept the steel from actually touching the knight’s head. This prevented the transfer of energy from lance to skull. Maybe the National Football League should look into this, eh? In the third book of The Scourge trilogy, Sir Edward wears one of these when jousting, and isn’t very impressed.

Richard provided a frog helm for the joust, and it is not comfortable. I can see very little and hear even less. The entire thing hangs suspended on my head by a web of leather cords intended to keep the steel from slamming my face when struck by a lance. I suppose it is a clever invention, but I would have preferred my great helm.

Often highly decorated, and highly cool.

Often highly decorated, and highly cool.

Burgonet, 16th century: Burgonets were similar to armets, but they had a characteristic ridge that along the top of the head, starting at the forehead and curling back like a crest. These helmets did not typically have face protection, but had long cheek pieces and a long, curved brim at the front. Sometimes something called a falling buffe was added to protect the face. A falling buffe was a piece of metal that used to be shiny but, over time, became dull. Um. Yeah, not really. Okay, a falling buffe was a visor/bevor that was made from several metal plates and could be attached to the burgonet. Many ceremonial types of these helmets were made, often in Italy. And there are some *fine* examples of these works of arts. Poke around the internet. You won’t be disappointed.

Paging John Smith...

Paging John Smith…

Morion, 16th-17th centuries: The Morion is best known as the conquistador helm. You know, the one the soldiers wore in Disney’s Pocahontas. These types of helmets were similar in a “Yeah, I’m a Kennedy, too” sort of way to Burgonets. They both have the long, curving crest looping back from the forehead, although the morion crest is often slightly larger. And they both have brims along the front (and sometimes the back). Morions can have cheek pieces, but typically do not. They rarely had any type of face protection. The fantasy novel I am currently working on features these helmets. More on that at a later date…

Okay, that’s kind of like an entire book about helmets. We really should charge you for this. If you would please leave your name and email, I’ll send you my Paypal information and you can donate to the making of this encyclopedic blog post. If you’re still here. Hello? Heloooooooo?

03/22/15
denver

Denver Anomalycon 2015

Apologies in advance for the brevity of this post, but my daughter is asleep on my left arm as I write it. Just a quick note that I will be in Denver on Thursday, March 26, to Tuesday, March 31, for Anomalycon 2015.

I’ll be signing copies of The Scourge at the convention, and feigning expertise at a number of panels. If you’re in the area, stop by. I’ll also have a few days to spare, so if you’d like me to feign expertise at your writers’ or readers’ group, I’m happy to oblige.

See you on the 16th Street Mall!

 

 

 

02/26/15
Cover_StarsAndGraves

Beast of Maug Maurai – Book 3 Cover Reveal

***Quick important note: I will be raising the price of Stars and Graves to $3.99 after it goes off pre-order. The book is twice as long as the first two and took twice as much work to edit, and I believe is better suited at the higher price point. But if you pre-order it, you will get it at the $2.99 price. That is all.***

After ten years of on-again, off-again work, I have just uploaded the final volume for The Beast of Maug Maurai. For some inexplicable robot-reasons, Amazon’s publishing engine needs until March 10 to release the book from pre-order status. So we should all just stare at the pre-order page until Amazon gets uncomfortable and just releases the thing.

Until then, I am uploading the cover (WordPress won’t let me add a drumroll MP3). Also, in case you missed it, I have posted an excerpt here.

Some of you might notice a bit of a deviation from the previous two covers. There are a few different reasons for that, not the least of which is simply my desire to put up a really catchy cover, with more fantasy street cred and a bit of punch-you-in-the-stomach oomph. Another reason was the fact that book 3 is all about the Beast, really. I don’t have the illustrating chops to do justice to the Beast, so I figured I would show the same snippet of forest that is on the first two covers, reflected in the eye of the monster. I also changed the typography. I have never been very happy with the type on the first two covers. It’s a remnant of my corporate design background, and it just doesn’t pop with the fantasy jazz-hands that I was looking for. Hopefully this new typography will attract more fantasy readers. Eventually I’ll change the type on the first two covers as well.

I will talk more about the completion of The Beast of Maug Maurai in a later post. Until then, enjoy the cover and thank you, as always, for your wonderful support.

01/31/15
StarsAndGravesThumb

Beast of Maug Maurai Update (and Sample)

It’s been a long time coming, I know, and I apologize profusely. I am currently finishing the the third book in The Beast of Maug Maurai trilogy. My tentative release date is February 17, although looking at what has to be done still, that’s a bit optimistic. I do, however, want to have it released by the end of February, and I am very motivated to get it done. I might put it up for pre-order for February 29, 2015. Yeah, I know, not funny. Okay, but I’m not kidding about putting up for pre-order. That would ensure that I finish it on time. How does February 28 sound? (Edit: I had to push it back so I could make it available for pre-order. Release date is now March 10, but it will be available for pre-order very soon!)

To hold you over until then, or perhaps to tease you a bit, here’s an unedited passage from the manuscript. Enjoy! And thanks again for your continued support.

“You think it was the demons of CWNCR?” Drissdie muttered. “I heard the demons can look like trees. We shouldn’t be here, in the forest. No, we should just leave, d’you suppose?”

Lokk Lurius shoved saplings aside and stomped onward. He was never lost in a city. Cities made sense. Even the Outer Line cities of Eridia, with their cattle-path roads and winding alleyways. Cities were created by humans, and even the most twisted of settlements contained a logic that could be unraveled. Forests were unreasonable things. Twisted and purposeless. They were a disease. A crazed affliction of the land.

“I heard CWNCR is the gateway to the Dark Place,” Drissdie continued. “I heard Mundaaith himself travels through CWNCR when he comes to Celusia, d’you suppose? And that anyone in the forest when Mundaaith arrives dies. Just like that. Dead. Except I heard you get a lot of pain before you die. You fall and you feel the worst pain you ever felt. I know a lad, Frynn, he says that you stay in pain ‘til Mundaaith leaves the forest? I can’t think of nothing worse than that. You think you stay in pain for days? Wouldn’t you just die? I think you’d just die. No one could stay in that sort of pain for days, could they? You’d go mad, d’you suppose?”

Lokk Lurius spun in a slow circle, staring up into the thick canopy of Maug Maurai. How far had they gone from the camp? The imbecile had run for at least a mile. Only the sound of his sobs had allowed Lokk to find him. And when they walked back for a mile, the camp wasn’t there.

Unreasonable forest. A damned plague of the land.

“Do you think the others are dead?” Drisside rubbed his hands together, as if washing them. “Do you… do you think the demons got them?”

They had wandered for hours, shouting for the others. But the forest smothered shouts. Murdered sound.  And the campsite remained hidden from them. They were lost. Ridiculously lost. Frustratingly, unreasonably lost.

Lokk walked forward a dozen paces and listened for any sound of the squad.

Drissdie had sworn that he recognized a leaning feuryk tree. Had sworn he knew the way back. So Lokk had followed the fool for another mile in the wrong direction. Traveling one mile in the wrong direction was trouble in Maug Maurai. But two miles was a death sentence. If left alone for long enough, the two of them would eventually find their way out. But Lokk had heard enough to know that Maug Maurai never left you alone.

He should have let Drissdie run to his death.

The mercenary spun again in a slow circle, but the carpet moss was like a green mist, veiling the world in sameness. How did Sage find his way through this labyrinth? How did an Eridian mercenary find himself here, lost in a murderous Laraytian forest?

Drissdie Hannish.

The fool had doomed them both. A forest was the only enemy Lokk couldn’t kill. Drissdie Hannish had led him into a trap. An unreasonable ambush of grasping branches and slashing thorns.

“What do you think the trees were firing at us? I think it was snot. Frynn says demons can cover you in snot to keep you from moving. You think they were trying to capture us? So they could bring us to CWNCR, d’you suppose? Maybe they—”

Drissdie inhaled his next words as Lokk grabbed him with both hands and snarled.

†††

The two soldiers plodded silently through the endless maze of Maug Maurai. Lokk wore a scowl that grew more profound with each crackling footstep. And Drissdie Hannish wore a gag.

They waded through a wide stream, plodding for several hundred paces to avoid a long line of sinister brambles. When they returned to land, it was to clamber over a fallen oak more than ten feet thick.  A hundred paces past the tree, Drissdie made a series of word-shaped moans.

“Take it off again,” Lokk replied, “and I’ll have your tongue.”

Drissdie’s moans grew louder. He jabbed a finger toward the left again and again.

“If the word demon or snot comes out of your mouth,” Lokk said, “I will cut you into strips.”

Drissdie shook his head, looked toward the left and jabbed his finger again.

Lokk yanked the leather gag—made from Drissdie’s tabard—away from the young soldier’s mouth.

“We walked past that tree, d’you suppose? There was a black bird in it. Remember? It had a yellow beak. Really pretty. I remember. It was sitting on that branch, d’you suppose?”

Lokk studied the tree and shook his head. “Different tree. Put the gag back on.”

“Maybe…maybe we should just stay here, d’you suppose? Until the others find us?”

Lokk took a long breath, ran a fist over his brows. “No one is going to find us.” He turned to face Drissdie. “We are miles from anyone, in a forest that kills people.” He took a step toward the young soldier. “No one will hear us. No one will see us.” He took hold of Drissdie’s tabard again and pulled the soldier close, their faces inches apart. “Maybe I’ll just kill you now,” he snarled. “Save you the misery of being eaten. Because we’re on our own.” He shook Drissdie and the young soldier’s helm tumbled off and thumped on the moss. “Do you understand? No one is going to find us! No one!

A voice called from the forest. “Oi! Someone there?”

Drissdie and Lokk—faces still inches apart—turned to look. A hulking shape crashed through a laurel patch.

“Found you,” said Black Murrogar. “Where are the others?”