I know you’re out there. I can feel you being.

We’ve never met before. Perhaps we never will. I’d rather believe we can. There’s more to this world than meets the eye. We have computers, technology, industry, airplanes, astronauts, lasers, and legends. We have more. An ethereal energy flows through us both. It told me about you. Told me you’re strong, but could be stronger. Told me you long, won’t wait much longer.

I’m the same way. All my trials and tribulations have brought me this far for a reason. I’m a broken whole, shattered together; a felled tree, restructured for new purpose. I’m a phoenix fleeing the ashes and taking to the sky. Flying, searching for you.

We both know this ache inside. The one that visits when you’re most alone. The ghost no one else can see. The demon lurking behind you, and me.

Though this may be a test of mettle, I for one am inclined to settle. To cling to the best bit of driftwood I find and hope the tide carries me ashore. I was floating once, and then drowning. Now I’ve learned to swim.

I’m hunting for you in the dark of night, by the light of day, at work and play. I’m prowling, seeking, looking, peaking. I’m the wolf in man’s clothing, scrabbling at the door.

Just breathe. Just be. I’ll hear you. I’ll find you. It’s our destiny.

Keep waiting.


Always Return Part III

It ended, and we lay together like youngsters following their first time, entwined on the icy floor. My breath misted in the chill air. Am’aleh had no need to breathe, but she exhaled all the same, giving life to my cloud of steam. It swirled into the shape of a ship with ghostly sails, carving an eldritch wake through the air above us.

“I am glad you returned to me this night. There is a task I would set before you.” She spoke as a cloud meanders through the sky, slow and delicate yet insistent.

“I am yours to command.” Waning waves of bliss still washed through my body.

“A group of treasure hunters discovered an ancient artifact in the catacombs of Scara Brae. It is on a ship bound for Gisela. I would have you intercept this ship, and steal the artifact.”

“What manner of artifact attracts the attention of the great Am’aleh?”

The goddess hesitated, and then floated up in a halo of sparkling steam and sat in her intricate throne. I stood, finding myself suddenly clothed again, and sat in my simple chair facing her.

“It is a relic as old as time itself. A collar and manacles, called the Thaynebinder.”

Thaynebinder. That lone word hung in the air like an unholy curse. I did not need to ask after the abilities of such an artifact.

“If this relic falls into the wrong hands on Corone, it could be devastating… for me, or for one of my brethren. It is too powerful an item to tarry in the hands of mortals. You must steal the Thaynebinder, and cast it into the sea.”

“What is the name of the ship that bears this precious cargo?”

“The Deadman’s Trove.”

I drew a sharp breath. I had bought passage on the Trove in the past. The pirate ship kept finding ways into my life. The corsairs who crewed her boasted of their discretion, and their determination to finish every job they received. Whoever hired them to transport the relic had chosen wisely. Doubtlessly they would deliver the artifact on time… unless someone stopped them at sea.

“Your whim commands me. I will do as you have asked, on one condition. When the Thaynebinder sleeps on the bottom of the ocean, we will speak of the ways in which one rises to godliness.”

“We will speak of it.” Her form of still water shifted with the slightest nod. “Go now… I will send a friendly current to carry you on your way.”

Her body bubbled and boiled and then burst into a thousand tiny droplets. The floating fortress of ice vanished along with it, and I dropped into the ocean with barely a splash. The current clutched me, sending me out to sea. I swam with it, kicking powerfully and pulling stroke after stroke toward my unseen destination.


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Always Return Part II

Bliss entered my body through the crown of my skull and the base of my loins. Pure pleasure overwhelmed me as I lay back in the buoyant sea. Power flooded into me, my connection with the Tap repaired. I raised my hands and expelled a torrent of molten ice. It rose around me deliberately, forming into a small house, or maybe a boat; a floating fishing hut with a hole carved in the bottom. The sea buoyed me upward and I rolled onto the floor of the icecraft dwelling, examining my own handiwork. The floor stretched perhaps four yards by four, the hole occupying half of the space. The walls rose in intricate blue layers, the ceiling curving toward a single spire. I fashioned myself a simple chair of ice and sat comfortably.

Am’aleh rose in my wake, a whorl of liquid ice and solid water, a reverse cascade of brilliant colors. She took on the shape of a woman, her skin soft shades of blue, her hair so light it shone almost silver, her face masklike perfection. Her mane floated in a breeze that was not there, and she sat in a crystalline throne as it took shape beneath her.

Her radiance demanded no groveling… just a worship of a different kind. The hole in the floor between us closed and we stood, meeting in the middle of the floating hut.

“Is this the castle you offer your goddess?” Her voice, like water whispering around the docks at dawn, echoed in my ears.

“Why would you sap my powers?” I demanded.

“I did no such thing,” came the flowing reply.

“Then why did I lose my ability to manipulate water? Why did my connection with the Tap turn from a torrid flood to a stymied trickle?”

“Perhaps this limitation has always been in place,” the words danced past her azure lips, “you never used to leave me alone for so long.”

I frowned, the Y-shaped scars on my cheeks wrinkling. She was right. Before I met McKinley, I had never gone a week without swimming in the ocean. Certainly not since Am’aleh first gave me her blessings. The ritual had felt natural and healthy… I had no idea it might be necessary.

“When will I have a chance at true power of my own?” I asked, “when will my magic stop being borrowed from your grace?”

“When will the sea stop lapping at the shore? You already wield a great many powers of your own. Combined with the magic I lend you, you approach godhood. What more could you ask for?”

“I will always want more. Until I stand on even footing with the Thaynes, I remain ravenous.”

“Then feast,” she said, wrapping arms of still water around me, “and drink.” She tilted her effervescent face upward and leaned in. Her liquid lips kissed mine until I lost all track of time and space. She lifted away doubt and worry like burdens from my shoulders. I could be the breath of vapor ascending the heavens. I could be the typhoon that sweeps the lands clean for new growth to flourish. I could be the mighty waterfall, with my own pool of fish swimming far below.

My clothing dissolved beneath her will and we made love on the icy floor, a goddess and a demigod locked in liquid embrace. We rose like the tide and fell like rain, joining like the currents and bursting like geysers. It lasted for days and weeks, or perhaps it lasted for minutes, or seconds. It mattered little. For a time we existed as one great being of pure passion and power.


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Always Return Part I

Water always returned to the sea. In rain, in sleet, in rivers and streams it flowed. Through impenetrable bedrock and packed earth it bored, patient as time almighty. Past boulders and forests and cities it burbled. Always maintaining one mistress in mind… the great salt ocean that cradled each drop sweetly, before allowing it to ascend the heavens in purifying evaporation.

At times, I felt as insignificant as a single raindrop. Despite the confident gleam in my eyes, despite the steely muscles in my body, despite the godlike powers that waited on my whims… I could be a lonely bead of moisture on the canvas of a sweat-tent in Fallien. I could be a minute mouthful drunk by a Dur’Taigen from a river in the Red Forest of Raiaera. I could be a molecule on the bottom of the ocean, kept from ascension by the pressing weight of water above. She made me more… the immortal and indomitable she, the lady of the sea… my goddess, Am’aleh.

The last words she’d spoken haunted my memory as I lay in bed next to McKinley Parish. My mortal lover slept soundly, her auburn hair in disarray around a beautiful cream-colored face. Her innocence attracted me, her need of a strong man stayed me at her side. Her hunger for me electrified each pore of my skin, and her trust and devotion made me proud. Even so, she could not claim my whole heart… a part of me forever belonged to my goddess.

Always return to me… Am’aleh’s voice, as soothing as drizzle in the treetops, echoed in my mind. Weeks had passed since last I felt her endless embrace. In that time my connection to the Eternal Tap dwindled, and my affinity for water and ice magic failed. I felt like a kinked hose. Power flowed into me with each breath, and lingered, finding no release.

Sitting up slowly, I kissed McKinley on her forehead. The young woman’s lips parted slightly, and then she rolled over, still deeply asleep. I slid out of bed and padded silently across the room, naked and comfortable in my lover’s cottage. I drew on a pair of black sifan pants and a matching shirt, fastening the buttons with fingers that moved faster than eyes could follow. I stepped into my black metal boots… the Breaker Boots, given my namesake by the alchemist who created them. They whispered over the wooden floors as I approached the back door. McKinley’s dire wolf always slept by the front.

The breeze plucked at my clothing and ruffled my short brown hair as I closed the door. Stars stared down from the sky in imitation of the moon’s silver light, a thousand fractured fragments from a thousand ethereal mirrors. I rubbed a callused hand through the stubble on my chin and over the Y-shaped scars on my cheeks. I could smell the ocean on the wind through the forest’s earthy aromas. The scent of salt called to me like a lover’s curled finger.

I walked through the meadow surrounding Kinley’s cottage, haste urging each step to carry me faster and further. I broke into a run as I reached the woodland path, loam crunching beneath the Breaker Boots, leaves and motes of dust swirling in my slipstream. I raced through Concordia like lightning lancing through the night sky, grounding with every step. Soon I could hear the crash and roar of the ocean… never silent, never restful, always waiting.

Always return to me… Am’aleh’s words filled my mind, forming a desire as singular as any addict’s cravings. I kicked my boots off on the beach and dove into the surf, tasting my lady’s salty sweetness in my nose and mouth. Her arms surrounded me, her touch a gentle but steadying caress. Her love lifted me, buoying both body and spirit, until I surfaced some hundred yards offshore. The waves and currents had a soft feminine voice that spoke for my ears alone.

You stayed away longer than expected.

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The Death of a Deity Part V


The fearsome beating of the dragon’s wings battered the name from Breaker’s mouth. He and Shinsou both recoiled, covering their eyes against the silt raised by the whirling winds. Above them, the deity wheeled and dove, like a hawk spotting a mouse, exposed on the cliffs.

“You had to go and pick a fight with Thayne, eh?” Shinsou yelled, drawing Stygian and channeling a measure of dark matter into the blade. “Here,” he tossed the mythril sword to Josh, “see how the big f*cker likes a taste of the Widowmaker!”

Breaker reared back and threw the sword at the diving dragon. It spiraled skyward like reverse chain lightning, scoring a hit deep in the soft tissue of Draconus’ eye. The deity roared and reared out of the dive, wings beating heavily once more to keep him aloft as he clawed at the seeping wound.

“It’s now or never!” Shinsou called over the wind. “That blade will stop him healing, but not for long.”

As if hearing the words, Draconus looked earthward and belched a long plume of acrid fire. Josh and Shinsou dove out of the way and crafted a barrier of ice between them and what became a roiling lava pit. Frost flew from all four of their palms, forming a slightly curved wall. A pillar of steam rose from the place where heat met cold, obscuring the deity’s good eye.

“I could use a lift about now,” Josh uttered, and began to change the shape of their icecraft.

“Coming right up,” Shinsou replied, lending his own brand of magic.

The frozen wall re-shaped into a tall flight of stairs. Josh leaped forward and pounded up the steps, his enchanted boots giving him perfect traction on the slippery surface. Each footfall reminded him of the burns on his feet, and of the ache that Draconus’ kick had chiseled deep into his bones. They reminded him of Am’aleh, who granted him the gift of magic. They reminded him of Shinsou, whose life was equally at risk.

Breaker reached the top of the staircase and jumped with all of his might. He soared upward, drawing close to Draconus, but not close enough. He extended a hand as he reached the apex of his jump and crafted a long whip of molten ice. It snapped up and wrapped around the dragon’s massive, scaly neck. Hand over hand Josh climbed the whip, until he clung from one of the broad spikes that bristled along the beast’s back.

You cannot defeat me. The simple confidence of the thought nearly unnerved the demigod.

“Others have said the same!” Josh roared in the dragon’s ear.

You have never faced a Thayne.

“No,” Josh said, “but I have loved one.”

He vaulted onto Draconus’ back and leaped skyward once more, flipping faster than a tossed coin. As he rose above the dragon two balls of ice formed in his palms, and he poured his own unique energy into each of them. As he descended, still corkscrewing and gaining momentum, he cast the iceballs at Draconus’ wings. They exploded with more power than Alerian hand grenades, causing both wings to instinctively fold in defense.

And then Breaker struck the top of the dragon’s head with both boots. As the blow landed the boots grew heavier, each by a hundred pounds. Josh summoned an unnatural gust of wind to aid him, adding more pressure to the base of the deity’s skull.

Draconus fell like a cannon detached from an airship. He plummeted like a stone thrown down a well. He dropped straight and fast, headfirst toward the sandstone cliffs. His mighty wings flared, but too late, and too weakly to stop such momentum. His skull impacted the soft rock like an asteroid, creating a crater of obliteration and casting up a cloud of sand and dust. Breaker felt the deity’s neck crack beneath his boots at the moment of impact, and as the dust and debris settled, the dragon lay still.

Josh slid down the scaly snout and retrieved Stygian from the ruined eye. Its twin had glossed over, massive and yellow, staring lifelessly off into the gathering darkness. Breaker climbed out of the crater and paced to where Shinsou stood a safe distance away. For once, the Telgradian appeared at a loss for words. Josh deftly flicked blood from the mythril blade and returned it to its owner.

“Well, fine then.” Shinsou huffed, finding his voice as he sheathed the sword. “But next time, I get to kill the dragon.”

Thayneslayer… the word came from the sea, distant and dreamy and distinctly feminine. Breaker would have recognized his lady’s voice anywhere.

My champion… Am’aleh was calling him. The breaking waves beckoned like a lover’s crooked finger. Josh took a step toward the ocean.

“Where are you going?” Shinsou demanded, “look,” he pointed toward Serenti, “we’ve got some explaining to do!”

People were beginning to trickle out from between buildings and behind walls, curious onlookers who had seen the dragon take to the sky, who had seen it fall, and stay fallen.

“Someone will need to take credit for all of this,” Josh said, “and I think you are just the man for the job.”

Shinsou sputtered, looking back and forth between the demigod, and the deity whose death he had helped bring about.

Before the Telgradian could protest, Breaker took two steps and dove off the cliffs and into the sea.


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The Death of a Deity Part IV

“Give it up, Fawcett. You could never run fast or far enough.”

Breaker cornered the slender telepath among the sandstone cliffs along the shore south of Serenti. Smooth pebbles crunched beneath black metal boots as he stalked the criminal. The wind made the man’s matted hair stand on end as it moaned in the mouth of a nearby cavern. With a final fearful glance over his shoulder, Fawcett dove for the cave.

“No you don’t!” Breaker caught his wasted ankle and dragged him backwards. Fingernails scrabbled futilely on rock, and then the telepath rolled over and pushed a thought.

Release me and throw yourself in the sea!

Josh laughed, a long, mirthless chuckle. So close to the ocean, the wax and wane of each wave sounded like Am’aleh’s sweet whisper. Fawcett’s thought glanced off of his adamantine will like an arrow striking stone. As the telepath rose the demigod dealt him a furious blow, a single thunderous punch to the chest. Fawcett’s heart skipped and stopped, and he crumpled on the shore, eyes glazing.

Come into my cavern.

The thought invaded Breaker’s mind like a battering ram sundering a gate. His knees trembled with the power of the words, and he turned toward the cave before he could think. He took a faltering step, and then another, and then stopped.

My mind is my own. My body is my own. No one shall move me but me.

Perhaps, the omnipotent voice said, but curiosity will carry you to me just the same.

Breaker bellied down and crawled into the cavern, finding space to stand almost immediately as the tunnel twisted and grew. It expanded into a sandstone lair. From around the corner power radiated, along with the low, steady rhythm of a great beast breathing. The sandstone walls seemed to expand and contract with each inhale and exhale. The power of the being pulsated like a glowing beacon in the darkness.

Despite the lack of light, Breaker’s sharp eyes showed him all as he rounded the corner. The tunnel widened monstrously to accommodate the bulk of a winged dragon. Black scales covered its massive, muscular body, and curved spikes protruded all the way down its spine and tail. Its fanged maw almost smiled down on him, and its front pair of clawed feet carved furrows in the sandstone floor.

“Draconus.” Breaker said with no question in his tone. Finding a dragon holed up in an impossible cave near Serenti could be no coincidence. Awed by the Thayne’s presence and the power he radiated, Josh stopped suddenly.

You have come far to find me here, Joshua Cronen. The voice was nearly enough to upset Breaker’s balance. May I assume all of my minions are dead?

“I’m confident they are,” the demigod said, still rooted to the spot. He thought of Shinsou, chasing after Rok. He thought of the silver-masked woman, chained in the watchtower. “All save one minion of your minions. We’ll deal with her after I’ve finished with you.” He took a single step forward, feeling like he was fighting a waterfall.

They were always a means to an end, the Thayne replied, each word a piston striking Josh’s mind, you have proven yourself in defeating them, and they have brought you to me. All is as it should be.

“You expect me to believe this is all some grand design?” Josh tried to sneer, but awe crept into his tone. “Am’aleh has guided me on this path. She would not play me into your claws.”

Am’aleh is of the lesser Thayne, the voice said disdainfully, she sees but what I will.

“Impossible,” Breaker breathed, “I know why you broke the convicts out of Terrinore. Am’aleh’s influence has grown these past few years. She is becoming the one and true deity of the sea… and you are just a forgotten remnant.”

The dragon’s roar shook the cavern. Putrid breath nearly knocked Josh off his feet, and small gouts of orange flame crackled from the fanged maw.

After you have joined me, Draconus said, you will watch in approval as I strike Am’aleh down.

“Then I guess I’d better kill you here.” Josh growled. His hazel eyes narrowed and his neck and cheeks flushed. He bent his powerful legs, legs that had felt frozen moments earlier, and leaped mightily at the dragon. He rose upward with dank air whistling through his ears, rolling his shoulder back. At the top of his arc he arrived in front of the dragon’s horse-sized head. His fist snapped forward, hammering Draconus’ snout with a downward haymaker. The demigod landed in front of the deity as the dragon’s head lolled to one side.

Is that your best blow? Draconus inquired. Disappointing.

The Thayne responded with a front snap kick from one of his tree-trunk legs. Josh attempted to leap away but the swift kick caught him in the sternum, shooting him upward like a ball from a cannon. He burst through the sandstone ceiling, body and mind ringing with the impact. He tumbled through fresh sea air, through the gathering darkness, and splashed into the salty shallows.

The earth quaked in his wake. A great tremor ran out in all directions, and then the sandstone cliffs split open and Draconus rose up, scaled wings flapping like canvas sails. The dragon flew out of the rift he’d created and landed with a ground-shaking thud in the shallows nearby.

Breaker struggled to rise, folding one knee beneath his body and pressing up with his arms and legs. His chest felt as if it had been struck by a trebuchet. He coughed up water that had found its way into his lungs and forced himself to his feet.

I had thought we might work well together, Draconus said as the demigod straightened his posture, but I find your reputation is greater than the man himself. Such a pity. Such a waste of time and effort. The dragon took a breath that threatened to steal all the oxygen from the air, and then opened its maw and unleashed fire.

Liquid flame spilled out in a blast directed at Breaker. Against the ache in his chest he lifted both hands and pulled water up from around his ankles, extinguishing the torrent. Draconus roared and the deluge of fire became one of lava, red hot and boiling. Breaker twisted his palms skyward and his water became molten ice, flowing out to meet the magma in a growing cloud of steam and smoke. Inch by inch, the flow of ice faltered, and the cloud of vapor crept closer to Breaker. Inch by inch, the demigod’s strength waned, until he could feel the heat of the lava on his forearms.

With a roar to match the dragon’s Breaker redoubled his efforts, but nothing he did could overcome the Thayne’s endless torrent of roiling rage.

Am’aleh help me, he thought, feeling his goddess’ touch in the water around his ankles, for I fear no one else can.


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The Death of a Deity Part III

Through the outskirts of Serenti wound a long, deep offshoot of the Firewine River. The channel meandered around corners and flowed under bridges, its surface dappled by rainfall. Beneath one broad bridge perhaps two hundred yards east of where the river emptied into the sea, a shadow formed beneath the water. It molded into the shape of a man as he swam up from the depths. But this was no ordinary man.

Joshua Cronen’s head broke the surface of the water silently and he drew in a deep, even breath. The Y-shaped scars on his cheeks glistened as he swam powerfully for the protected stone shore beneath the bridge, close-cropped hair plastered down around his head. He found handholds on the rocky ground and pulled himself out of the water, droplets cascading from his brown cotton breeches and black lace-up shirt. His black metal boots left the water last. The enchanted footwear had slowed him down surprisingly little during the swim from the sea.

For a moment Breaker crouched beneath the bridge, listening to the rain and sniffing the air. This close to the ocean the could still smell the salt, and it reminded him of Am’aleh. Of late he had spent a significant amount of time with the Patron of the Sea, communing with her beneath the surface. A part of him longed to join her on the ethereal plain, to sink comfortably into her eternal embrace. But there would always be time for eternity… other matters, such as Olin Rutland’s presence in Serenti, could not be left to wait.

After the showdown with Smarteye Sam at his Temple to Draconus in Lornius, Breaker had done some research. He’d learned the names of the Terrinore escapees from reliable sources and visited an archivist in Gisela. He had not liked what he learned. All of the former prisoners were responsible for long lists of crimes, but none so notoriously as the Lunatic of Serenti. The last time he’d visited the pearl coasts Rutland had taken over the city by way of terror. Most memorable among his misdeeds was the time he’d staked twenty randomly selected citizens in town square and torched them to death, nearly burning down the city in the process.

Breaker ducked out from beneath the bridge and searched his surroundings with keen hazel eyes, listening for any sounds beyond the relentless drum roll of rainfall. He saw no one and heard nothing, so he moved swiftly across a cobbled street to press his back against the stone wall of an abandoned seamstress’ shop. If history was any indicator, by now the City Watch would be firmly within Rutland’s grips. For that reason Josh had arranged to meet Shinsou at a tavern near the city’s fringe. Am’aleh herself had carried the message, for Josh rarely entrusted his words to paper.

“-can’t bloody believe the captain dragged us out of bed for extra patrols in the rain.” A voice echoed around the corner. Josh slipped into an alleyway that smelled of stale garbage. He flattened his back against the wall behind a small shed meant for storing firewood and waited.

“Don’t I know it,” came a second voice, along with the sloshing footsteps of two sets of boots. “At the moment I truly wish I’d moved my wife and the children to Radasanth last summer. You don’t think the rumors are true, do you… about the Lunatic’s return?”

Through a knothole in his wooden hiding place Josh saw two men turn into the alley. They wore heavy cloaks with the insignia of the City Watch over chain mail armor. Both were of an average height and medium build, one young and the other older and scarred. The young man shook his head.

“Can’t be,” he said with the confidence of youth, “the captain wouldn’t work under such a-”

As the two guards passed his hiding place Breaker stood up suddenly between them. Their eyes widened in shock as his heavy hands landed on their necks. Josh squeezed gently, applying pressure to the arteries and veins either side of their throats. Both men clawed for their daggers but collapsed as blood flow to their brains was cut off.

Josh crouched and caught both guards as they fell, lifting their considerable combined weight on his broad shoulders. He walked a little deeper into the alley and kicked open a side door to the seamstress’ shop. Inside smelled of must and mildew, and he dumped the sleeping guards on the dusty floor. Finding old bits of cloth to bind their wrists and ankles proved easy, and he left them there and closed the door behind him as best he could. They would escape in time, but likely not before he had his meeting with Shinsou.

Back out in the rain, Breaker flitted through the streets like a ghost. He had confidence in Shinsou’s ability to invade the heavily guarded city. The man had more spells up his sleeve than a court-wizard and a uniquely clever mind, not to mention the resources of the Brotherhood of Castigars at his disposal. Josh liked Shinsou well and trusted the man implicitly. Although he had a somewhat checkered past, the Telgradian had forged a path to redemption at Breaker’s side.

The street outside The Seaman’s Shanty was blessedly empty, save for some soaked bits of trash blowing in the wind. Breaker entered through the main door and made directly for a corner table, sitting down without giving anyone a chance to recognize his abnormally scarred face. A serving girl came by to take his order and he turned away from her and asked for ale without any intention of drinking it. The place smelled of sawdust and sour wine. Fortunately only a few other patrons occupied the bar and tables. Breaker leaned back, producing a creak from the shifty chair, and waited for Shinsou.


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The Death of a Deity Part II

The day had dawned brightly for Olin Rutland, with a red-rimmed sun rising over the eastern sea. Serenti blossomed beautifully in autumn, especially when visited by Olin’s particular brand of chaos. In the month since he and his comrades escaped Terrinore Isle Rutland had returned to the site of his former glory, where years ago he’d tormented the citizens with his madness. The Lunatic of Serenti, they’d called him, and soon would again. Or perhaps he’d choose a different title… the Lord of Serenti, no the King, no… the Emperor. They would call him whatever he pleased once his hooks sunk deep enough into the city’s nervous center.

Olin swallowed a satisfying mouthful of morning ale and banged the empty tankard down on the fine teak tabletop. A serving girl stumbled over from the corner to refill his cup, nearly sloshing ale on the floor, her face drawn up in fear. She had belonged to the lord whose manor Olin had appropriated as his own, and he’d kept the staff on to suit his needs. He slapped the serving girl’s ass as she scooted back to the corner, eliciting a muffled thud from her skirts and a startled shriek from her mouth. He’d already sampled that particular morsel, and would again soon.

The Lunatic picked his teeth with a herringbone left over from breakfast and examined his reflection in the back of a polished silver spoon. His sallow cheeks had regained some ruddy color in the month since he escaped, and his face no longer looked gaunt with starvation. His wide green eyes still glowed with a familiar fervor. He remembered the pain and discomfort of prison all too well, and still woke in a sweat most nights expecting to find hard stone floors beneath him instead of the lord’s thick feather mattress. He shivered and took a long pull of ale, savoring the bitter brew.

The kitchen door banged open and Darrin Hornsby strode in, followed by the musty smell of the library he’d entered through. His heavy boots tracked mud across the clean tile floor. Olin would enjoy making his servants clean that up later, perhaps using nothing but their tongues. Judging by the expression on Hornsby’s face, however, he would not lack for entertainment that day.

The scarred enforcer looked grim even for him, with his white-seamed face drawn down in a deep frown. Olin smiled. Events that upset others – even events that upset his friends and allies – often amused the Lunatic. He licked his lips, savoring the final flavors of fish grease and ale, and gestured for Hornsby to sit at the small kitchen table.

The large, muscular man pulled back a chair and dumped his heavy frame down in it. He spared a quick glance for the pretty serving girl in the corner and then cleared his throat and reached inside his leather jacket. One callused hand produced a folded piece of parchment and placed it on the table. Hornsby slid the paper slowly across the teak surface, navigating a path between the platters containing the remnants of Olin’s breakfast.

“This just arrived from Smarteye,” Hornsby said in his deep, harsh voice. He tugged at his thick beard and raked a hand through disheveled dark hair, eyes blazing like coals. “Should scour that smile from your face,” he muttered darkly.

Following Roderick’s orders, Olin had brought Hornsby and Hackney with him to help take control of Serenti. Winchell Hackney, the old puppet master, was responsible for controlling the actions of the town guard’s captain. With the Watch in turmoil, Olin was free to create chaos throughout the prosperous city, leaving folks leaderless and on their knees, ready to beg for whatever scraps the Lunatic tossed their way. Hornsby’s job was to command Olin’s personal guard and keep the Lunatic alive, and his minor role in the operation clearly left a bitter taste in Hornsby’s mouth. Olin cared little for what went into Hornsby’s mouth… but the folded paper that came from the man’s hand caught his attention immediately.

Olin picked up the paper and unfolded it, and after a brief glance at the tidy scrawl on the page sighed and snapped his fingers. Nothing happened. The Lunatic growled and snapped his fingers again, twice and thrice. Suddenly the serving girl gasped and sprang into action, collecting a pair of half-moon spectacles from a nearby counter and presenting them to Olin with a curtsy. Rutland took the spectacles with a smile and then seized the girl’s hand and sank his teeth into her wrist, biting hard enough to draw blood.

The girl screamed and jumped away, gripping her wounded wrist as blood oozed between pretty pale fingers. She turned and fled, sobbing, to have a healer see to the bite. She would be back. Olin might not have trained her to be ready with his glasses yet, but she bloody well knew not to tarry in returning to his service, no matter what kind of mark he left on her.

Olin cleared his throat and wiped his lips with a linen napkin, and then perched the spectacles on his nose and shot a withering glare at Hornsby over the flats of the half-moons. The enforcer was gnawing at a thumbnail, knowing better than to look at Olin while he wore his glasses. With another unnecessary harrumph the Lunatic read the note.

My Dear Olin, it read in Smarteye Sam’s educated hand, if you are receiving this letter it is likely I am dead or captured. Roderick, of course, will have received the same news. I took the precaution of preparing these messages when I discovered two strange men poking around my Temple to Draconus in Lornius. I have since learned that their names are Shinsou Vaan Osiris and Joshua “Breaker” Cronen. Both have a list of tawdry titles and good deeds tied to their names, so there seems little doubt as to why they are interested in our operation. I have invited them into a trap which they will find too appealing to ignore, but like any good chess master, I always hold moves in reserve.

If you receive this my dear Olin, expect Osiris and Cronen at your doorstep before long. In my letter to Roderick I advised that all of you join forces, for if my enterprise in Lornius has fallen, it can only mean that these determined men will seek out the rest of our crew. Be ready for them, and take every precaution. They gained entrance to my temple with absolute ease, and had nearly discovered the source of my power before I interrupted them. Use all of the resources at your disposal to make them regret their insolence. If I am dead or captured… my final wish is for these two men to meet a painful demise at the hands of the Lunatic of Serenti.

Yours, Smarteye Sam.

Olin tossed the parchment onto the empty fish platter, where it slowly soaked up the grease coating the beige earthenware. So. Smarteye was dead, or worse imprisoned once again on Terrinore Isle. Olin felt no sadness for the loss of a friend. His lips curled into a wide smile, displaying his yellow teeth to Hornsby.

“You’ve read this?” Olin asked the enforcer, and got a terse nod in return. “I’ll want my personal guard doubled, and watch patrols tripled.” He raised a hand to quell any protest. “Tell Hackney, he will take care of it… spread the story that we’ve a pair of murderers and rapists on the loose. That will get the guards riled up and ready for blood. Release the names-” he peered at the greasy parchment on the platter – “Joshua Cronen and Shinsou Vaan Osiris. I want every man in Serenti who has eyes on the lookout.”

The Lunatic hummed a gleeful tune as he stood and danced about the table, clapping a bewildered Hornsby on his broad back.

“Don’t look so glum, don’t wear a frown!” Olin sang… “Two new playmates are coming to town!”



Read the full story here:


The Death of a Deity Part I

A dark solemn sky frowned over Terrinore Isle. Rain fell in thick, gusting sheets upon the volcanic prison island. It splattered atop the massive stone tower-building and ran in rivers down carved troughs, overflowing wherever sharp angles occurred. It lashed walls thick enough to withstand canon fire and pooled around the prison’s perimeter where the ground formed shallow ditches. It threatened to flood the basements where off-duty guards played at cards and dice, hunched around pot-bellied iron stoves and wrapped in old woolen cloaks to combat the chill.

Terrinore Isle; where criminals went when they needed to disappear forever.

Near the top of the tower, more than one thousand feet above the gnashing sea, Roderick Rok sat in his cell. Two years had passed since the Baron whose life Roderick nearly stole had him sent to the Lornian prison, two long harrowing years of abuse and deprivation, existing in a cell that smelled of shit and stale sweat. Roderick could scarcely remember the feeling of the sun on his face, or the temptation of a good woman, or the taste of a proper hot meal. And yet as he listened to the stoic silence of the thick-walled stone building, he found occasion to smile. His lips split and yellowed teeth displayed in the dingy darkness. The voice inside his head had spoken.

The guard arrives shortly.

Most men would have thought themselves mad, hearing a voice with their mind instead of their ears while locked behind dehlar crossbars. Most men were not powerful telepaths like Roderick Rok. He had been the voice inside many a false madman’s mind, had planted memories and opinions inside the heads of the rich and wealthy, had carried on entire conversations without moving his tongue. He knew the difference between a mental message and the onset of madness. At least, he hoped he did.

Be ready. The deep, booming voice said.

A door at the end of the corridor creaked open and then closed. Keys jangled in the lock and the guard’s footsteps echoed down the hall.

Roderick prepared a single, potent thought as he leaned on the crossbars of his cell, arms hanging loosely through the grate. When he’d first arrived in the cell his arms had been too thickly muscled to fit through the spaces between the bars. Two years of near-starvation had left him a sickly shadow of his former self. But he would have his freedom. The guard came into sight, eyeing Roderick as he did each prisoner along the line, checking for signs of escape. Roderick closed his eyes and concentrated and pushed the thought he had prepared into the guard’s mind.

Come here, he commanded. The prison had wards in place to prevent prisoners using such magic, but two years was a long enough time to find a sliver of weakness in any shield. Roderick could feel the wards dragging at his ability but he powered onward.

The guard hesitated, but his hesitation made room in his mind for more thoughts to push in.

Unlock this cell, Roderick commanded, quickly, before it is too late! Unlock this cell and stand at attention. With a distant look of worry in his eyes, the guard complied.

Unlacing his arms from the crossbars, Roderick stepped out into the hall. He took the keys from the guard’s hand, and the knife from his broad belt, and cut the man’s throat in cold blood. While the guard wheezed on the floor in a growing pool of blood the other prisoners in cells along the corridor roared for freedom. Roderick ignored them all, hurrying to the thick dehlar-bound door the guard had entered through and sorting through the heavy ring until he found the key that fit the lock.

He swept down a torch lit spiraling staircase, his bare feet slapping on each cold granite step, his coarse linen clothing whispering with each movement. His men would be at a lower level than him, but which level, and which corridor on which level, was a mystery. Adrenaline lent wings to his feet and he flew down hallway after hallway, pausing only to peer into the deep shadows of certain cells and when he needed to find a key. Some prisoners wailed at him to let them go, while others – those who were truly broken – screamed for the guards. None would hear them; the next patrol was not due for nearly an hour.

Eventually Roderick found them all. Greyson Fawcett, the boy-faced murderer who had learned the art of telepathy from Rok himself. Winchell Hackney, the grizzled puppet master who could step inside a mark’s body and take control of their every movement. Smarteye Sam, a former thief who knew more of precious gems than any jeweler in Corone. Darrin Hornsby, the scarred enforcer who could strike fear in the hearts of veteran soldiers as if they were children. And lastly, found laughing in his cell as if he’d anticipated the rescue, the Lunatic of Serenti, Olin Rutland.

Find an external wall, boomed the voice in Roderick’s head. He spoke a few words and his men fell into step behind him. Like a centipede in six parts they trotted through the halls of Terrinore Isle. The difficult part had arrived, the part Roderick could not figure out. None of the keys he had taken from the guard would allow him to exit the prison, or even come close to it. How would getting to an external wall help them? Even with tools – of which they had none – it would take months if not years to burrow through the thick stone, and they had little more than fifteen minutes remaining before the next patrol would find them. And yet, he had trusted the voice thus far, and thus far it had not led him astray. Roderick and his men wound through the prison, keeping as straight a line as the criss-crossing corridors allowed, until at last he heard the rain.

It was only a faint fluttering, but through the thick external walls he could make out the sound of water lashing the building’s side, like a warden with a whip laying into a prisoner.

Stand back! The voice roared.

“Back!” Roderick ordered, flattening himself against the interior wall of the hallway, “brace yourselves here.” His men obeyed without question.

Although the storm raged fiercely, with strident winds lashing the rain about, there had been no thunder and no lightning. Suddenly a cloud swelled and a single thick, forked bolt plummeted from the heavens. It lanced downward, golden electric, and struck the prison’s wall with the accuracy of an arrow launched from a Ranger’s bow. Thunder rolled in response to the lightning, but it could not match the riotous sound of rending stone.

Roderick covered his ears and closed his eyes, barely daring to believe what he had just seen. A wall that could withstand cannon fire, laid to waste like a layer of dry kindling. Slowly Roderick opened his eyes and approached the breach. It was taller than a man and twice as wide, large enough for his men to pass through one at a time. Was there a portal waiting for them outside, he wondered, or one of those Alerian airships? Surely the winds would not allow it to hover so close…

Rain buffeted Roderick’s face as he looked out and down through the hole. The sight made him dizzy and sick all at once. There was no portal shimmering in the air, nor any manner of zeppelin waiting to whisk them away. There was nothing but a terrifying drop, more than a thousand feet straight down to the frothy, rock-studded salt water below.

Jump. The voice said.

“Are you mad?” Roderick roared into the storm. His men exchanged uneasy glances. They could not hear the voice; they knew not whom he was speaking to, nor what he planned to do.

You must all jump. The next guard approaches. The voice thundered.

Roderick grimaced and braced his arms on the rough stonework either side of the breach. He looked back at his men. Before today, he would have sworn they trusted him with their lives. But did they truly? Unless the voice could pluck him out of the air, he would not live long enough to tell.

The door at the end of the hall opened, and a guard carrying a lantern stepped halfway through before noticing the six prisoners and the gaping hole in the wall. The lantern hit the stone floor as the guard turned and fled to raise the alarm. Olin cackled and made as if to give chase, but Hackney’s firm hand on his shoulder stayed the Lunatic.

To Haide with all of this, and with me as well! Roderick thought. For once he had to give up control.

“Follow me to freedom!” He shouted with a confidence he did not feel. And then he tucked his elbows and leaped into the storm.

Olin followed first with the fearlessness of insanity. Sam went next, his round face contorted in terror. Hackney and Hornsby nearly got stuck in the opening trying to jump third. Fawcett brought up the rear, always the most prudent of the group.

Far below rain churned the surface of the sea, but no bodies struck the water nor the rocks protruding like teeth. The ocean would go hungry that day; the six criminals had vanished as soon as they cleared the walls of Terrinore Isle.

The Pixie’s Paramour is Published!

After many months of hard work I’ve finally self-published my first novella, The Pixie’s Paramour. It can be purchased online as a paperback or e-book. For the paperback look here:

And for the e-book, here:

I’m hoping to exceed a hundred sales before putting serious work into the sequel, so if you like the story, please share this post on social media! And of course, here’s a snippet from The Pixie’s Paramour to get you started…


I’d never been in a real street fight – at least not since the seventh grade. At a certain point around age fourteen the consequences of combat changed. The idea of being seen by society as a violent criminal for the rest of my life terrified me much more than the concept of taking a beating, or being called a pussy. I channeled my energy into martial arts and combat sports and gradually the bloodlust waned.

Ten years later the red mist returned to lick at the corners of my eyes. A gauntlet of unfortunate events filed my rough edges back into points. Weapons with only one purpose. And so I trudged the streets of Murderville, trying my best to disguise a limp.

The small city had a prettier name once. Before the Farmer’s Market dried up and the local businesses skipped town, leaving only the lowest cost franchises and warehouses amidst boarded up buildings. The population waned, but only slightly. A different breed of citizen occupied the haphazard assortment of smoky apartments and ramshackle houses. Those who slipped through the cracks in our capitalist society.

My refusal to vacate the barren town was one of the reasons she gave for not loving me anymore. I’d worried when communication became more about buzzword text messages than the long conversations we used to share. But I’d given her the benefit of the doubt… and when at last we saw each other again she force-marched herself through a complete breakup without involving me. She wept in my arms and then dried her eyes and left. She knew me too well, and inflicted as much pain as she could in parting.

I couldn’t sleep or stick to my diet. In a daze of insomnia and spiked cortisol I threw myself into training. The increase in vigor matched with minimal focus brought me a badly sprained ankle that refused to heal right. I couldn’t lift, couldn’t run, couldn’t jump, couldn’t train. It took less than three weeks laid up in my one-bedroom apartment for the red mist to boil over.

And then I blinked and found myself downtown, navigating the cracked cobblestone of old Market Square. The cold of the pavement seeped through my thin green crocs. There was a time when I never went walking without wearing sturdy shoes. In case I had to kick someone or run, or both. But kicking and running were out of the question with my wet noodle of a right ankle. I leaned against one of a long line of wooden supports holding up a wall-less roof that had once sheltered vendors on market days.

A low riding sedan nosed to the curb, fresh white paint reflecting overcast afternoon skies. I realized with mild surprise it was the same Honda Civic I’d seen circling the block in the opposite direction. My slow, deliberate pace had looped me through to where the civic pulled up to park.

Three of four doors opened and six feet hit the street. Inane conversation cut off as three skinheads in baggy T-shirts and jeans slid out of the vehicle. The passengers looked to the driver, who was looking at me. He was taller and broader in all dimensions than his buddies – fatter, more muscular, and his skin and scalp was several shades paler. The kind of pseudo-tan prison inmates get during their daily hour of outdoor recreation.

A thick marbled steak, fresh from the meatlocker.

Stories about inmates freshly released from maximum-security facilities just down the freeway circulated in Murderville like the flu. Men with appetites for blood and pain, picked up from prison by fellow bangers and dropped in the one place they could slake their thirst without consequence. Murderville attracted its own breed of tourist.

“The fuck you lookin’ at, bitch?” The driver spat. He took a half step forward and hesitated, waiting for his buddies to fill in beside him. The question hung in the air. There was no good answer. Even if he wasn’t fresh from the joint and they weren’t gangbangers, I’d allowed my eyes to linger to long.

In prison and in Murderville, six seconds of eye contact constitutes aggression.

I smiled. Not the kind of cocky self-assured smile you see on TV before the hero opens a can of whupass. My face split in half, cheeks stretched to the point of tearing, teeth bared and eyes wide. Like an addict’s grin before the overdose kicks in. I got what I wanted, and it didn’t hurt yet.

“Nothing,” I said, fighting off maniacal laughter, “I’m looking at a fat sack of nothing.”

The leader’s eyes bulged and his jaw dropped. The goons glanced at each other behind his back, uncertain.

One intriguing principal of self defence states that three aggressors can be easier to deal with than two. With three they tend to get in each others’ way, and there’s usually a leader and taking him down early can make the other two concede. A clever fighter can survive a three-on-one assault with careful angling and measured aggression.

I ignored all of this.

The opportunity shone like sun through a breach in cloudcover. The three of them arranged in a tight triangle of flat-footed stupefaction. The leader’s jaw loose and lolling at my audacity. A dip of the shoulder and a strong uppercut could have severed his tongue, knocked out half his teeth and spilled him to the pavement between his fleeing friends. Adrenaline surged as I saw the opening and forced myself to wait. The images in my head were projections of my survival instinct – an instinct I wanted turned off.

I spat in the leader’s face and then charged the lackey to his left. Caught the lackey’s windpipe in a tiger’s claw and snarled a handful of his sweat-stained collar. The white T-shirt stretched to unveil a spiderweb tattoo that reached the top of his shoulder as I propelled him across the square. My ankle screamed from strain despite a surge of adrenaline. Green crocs slapped the ground in rapid staccato that cut through the slipshod backpedal of poorly tied skate shoes. The goon’s heels caught a crack and he pitched backward. I fell with him, adding my weight to our momentum. He opened his mouth to cry out in shock but all I heard was the wet thud of bone yielding to pavement.

I rolled over the corpse with the caved in skull and hauled myself upright against a thick wooden support. I gulped air and fought the urge to vomit. It faded as the remaining two bangers raced toward me, one behind the other. The remaining beta’s focus split between me and his fallen friend, slowing his steps. The leader’s eyes never left me, and shone with a familiar fervor.

I laughed like a madman and leapt to meet him, injured ankle forgotten. His haymaker glanced off my forearm as I reached out and laced both hands behind his head in a tight Thai clinch. As my bad foot hit the ground I staggered sideways, dragging the enraged inmate away from his remaining ally. He drove soft, scarred knuckles into my ribs repeatedly. The blows forced more manic laughter from my lungs.

“Not yet,” I gasped, struggling to spit out the words, “I’m saving you for last bitch.” I dropped my chin and drove my forehead into his nose, hearing cartilage crack and feeling hot blood moisten my hair. I swept the bastard’s leg and dumped him on his ass with a final forward surge.

Strong arms locked around my midriff from behind and dragged me away from the bleeder. The second lackey finally found his place. I let him bear most of my weight for a few paces, wriggling to make space and lace both my arms around one of his in a figure-four lock. I lifted my legs and arched into the hold, breaking the bastard’s grip. He tried to keep his feet as I forced the ensnared arm behind his back, and we fell as one body.

The goon screamed as our combined weight wrenched his shoulder from its socket.

My knee came up to trap his good arm and I spun through ninety degrees to isolate it between my legs. I pressed the blade of his hand to my chest and bridged powerfully. His elbow inverted against the fulcrum of my hips. His second scream should have shattered my eardrums. I hauled the broken man upright by the ears and slammed him against a sturdy support.

His eyes and nose leaked fluid faster than his friend’s ruined skull. His left arm hung slack and useless. His right stuck out at a sickening angle. Eyes wide with fear dilated further as I gripped his throat.

“Wait,” he choked. His gaze flickered over my shoulder.

A shoe scraped the ground behind me and a heavy man exhaled.

Whatever remained of my survival instinct sprang up. I ducked and pivoted on impulse.

The weeping man’s head exploded as the tire iron from the Civic’s trunk struck him square in the mouth. The leader of the bangers had swung with both hands and all of his considerable strength. Blood and mucus washed the pavement and spatter-painted my face and shirt. Shattered teeth fell like hailstones. The tire iron left its mark in matted hair on the wooden support as the dead man crumpled to the ground.

The remaining banger barely missed a beat. He drew back from the kill as casually as a batter missing the first pitch and made a second, more measured cut at my leg.

The tire iron glanced off my shin just above the injured ankle, and the bloody ground met me before the pain could register. I made no effort to move as the inmate towered over me, weighing his weapon in both hands. I laughed until I choked and then twisted and spat and laughed some more. My saliva shone crimson as the sun’s rays came through a breach in the clouds. I must have bitten my lip at some point in the struggle. What a thing to notice with my final thoughts.

The leader of the dismantled trio was beyond words as he lifted the tire iron overhead. Spittle sprayed from the corners of his mouth and veins throbbed through the pale skin at his temples.

A thick marbled steak, fresh from the meatlocker.

He sucked air and lifted the heavy length of metal high. And then he wavered.

For an insane moment I wondered if he was waiting for the cops. Somewhere in Murderville sirens were screaming, and they drew closer with every second. And then he wavered again, and I heard the muted pat of a punch striking fatty tissue.

With a roar the big man turned and swung at the assailant behind him. Without bothering to look I rolled onto my stomach and crawled to the nearest post. My mind was a chaotic muddle of confusion, gore, and death. In that moment I couldn’t say whether I wanted to live or die… but I sure as hell wasn’t spending a single night in lockup. I hauled myself upright and limped across the street to lean on the wall of the dilapidated arena. The cool brick comforted my back as I turned to see who had saved me.

She moved like a gossamer winged butterfly on a summer breeze. Swift footwork propelled her slender frame around the roaring inmate. She swayed in and out and side to side with a cobra’s rhythm and venom. Her tasseled purple mask fluttered as she ducked a lethal swing of the bloody tire iron and jabbed the offender’s solar plexus. Her pink fingerless four-ounce gloves did little to lessen the impact, for the big man reeled away. She pursued him like a sparrow chasing a raven, flitting past his sluggish attacks to sting with crisp combinations that would have turned Freddy Roach’s head.

And then she swung onto his back, the tire iron trapped between his throat and both of her elbows. The inmate dropped to his knees and then fell on his face, slapping uselessly at the little warrior. She held the choke long after his shakes subsided.

Grey clouds swallowed the sun as the Pixie stood up straight and dusted her hands. She planted tiny pink fists on her hips and looked about the square, prominent nose beneath her feathered mask drawing a triangle between the three dead men. She reached up to school a loose lock of short dark hair behind a slightly pointed ear and straightened the royal blue cloak about her shoulders. Then she strode toward me, unhurried despite the sirens sounding mere blocks away. Any cop in the city would have loved to bring her in, to be the one to unveil the face behind the mask that made the front page of local papers on a daily basis.

Slender legs in purple tights swished to a stop in front of me. As I examined the Pixie’s modified pink climbing shoes I realized I had sunk to a seated position at some point. The cold of the city seeping through my clothing was a comforting embrace I longed to linger in. My ribs and lower leg throbbed distantly. A problem to deal with another time, perhaps never. The Pixie was not known for lenience with those who brought violence to her streets.

She shifted her weight from one leg to the other like a ballerina on demi-pointe, pink fists resting on slender hips. A meager breeze fluttered the rainbow skirt about her waist. The wail of sirens increased exponentially – the closest copper had rounded the corner. A strange half-smile quirked the Pixie’s painted lips, and she extended an open hand to me, palm toward the sky.

“This is certainly unusual,” she quipped, casual as a store clerk observing an over-stocked shelf, “you can explain it to me, or to the police. Two seconds to decide love.”

The leather of her glove was smooth and slick, the skin of her fingertips warm and callused. She pulled me to my feet and led me down a dark alley between the arena and the boarded-up pizza place next door.

Flashing lights of blue and red filled the old market square.