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Mar 20, 2017

Rating the Marvel Netflix Universe (so far)

I just finished watching the first season of Iron Fist on Netflix, aka another lost weekend spent staring slack-jawed at my TV.  That brings me up to speed with all 4 shows and 5 seasons of the Marvel Netflix Universe.  Yeah yeah, technically these, the movies, and Agents of Shield all exist in the same universe, but let's face facts, that's on paper only as there seems to be little chance of either of the two others acknowledging any of these shows whatsoever.  Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see a quick Iron Man or Captain America cameo in the Defenders, but I'm pretty sure I have a better chance of seeing these characters have a crossover with Supergirl.

Anyway, just to recap, the MNU so far is:
Daredevil (seasons 1 & 2)
Jessica Jones
Luke Cage
Iron Fist

Now, I'll get this out of the way first. I don't think there are any stinkers in the bunch. All of them are fine shows and very watchable. All of them are also quite different, which is nice. There's something there for everyone ... everyone who likes super hero shows anyway. Even the least of the bunch is well worth watching.

That said, I wanted to rate each show according to several metrics, and then talk about where the Netflix shows in general win and where they still need some work, IMHO.

Note: there may be spoilers ahead...

My Costume isn't red, I just bleed...A LOT
DAREDEVIL: The first of the MNU shows and the one that set the bar for the rest. The adventures of Matt Murdock - blind attorney by day, radar-sense equipped badass by night.
  • Plot: 3 stars. Pretty general superhero origin. A man gets frustrated by the evil pervading his town, so he begins to fight back ... a lot ... which ultimately brings him into contact with bigger and badder players, who he then also tries to kick the shit out of.  Season 2 expands upon this with more heroes and more villains as the quest to clean up Hell's Kitchen continues, along with doubts as to the main hero's state of mind, in that he's not certain who he prefers to be: Batman or ... err Daredevil that is, or Matt Murdock.
  • Action: 5 stars. Easily the most brutal of the MNU. This show doesn't hold back any punches ... or kicks, or bullets etc etc. Daredevil gets into tons of fights and they are ugly fights, definitely not the *pew pew* lasers and lightning of the MCU.  It all looks like it hurts. If there is any nit, however minor, it's that fight scenes are just that - fights between normal powered people. Sue me for being a super-power whore, but that's what I'm here to see.
  • Costume: 4 stars. The only issue I have is they wait until the very end of season 1 to put DD into his familiar costume. And yes, I realize he ran around dressed as a ninja in the comics too, but damnit, man, when I watch a superhero, I want that hero in a costume!  That said, once it's introduced, it is nice and he does wear it all throughout season 2.  Bonus, we get the Punisher's costume near the end of season 2 as well.
  • Villains: 4 stars. Vincent D'onofrio's Kingpin is pretty much spot on. No issues there. Also, Madame Gao is creepy as all fuck.  Both present a nice threat to Daredevil, but in different ways. The rest ... minor bosses who exist to be beaten up.
  • Superpower stuff: 1 star.  We get 1, *ONE* shot of how Matt Murdock "sees" the world and it's a brief shot of his then-girlfriend Claire.  Sometimes less is more, but they could have at least thrown us a few bones of DD vision now and then. It might be a petty concern, but again ... superhero show.

JESSICA JONES: Jessica Jones has superpowers, but they weren't enough to save her from months of psychological torture at the hands of the Purple Man. Now she just wants to survive, drink her troubles away, and occasionally touch Luke Cage's pecs.
  • Plot: 5 stars. An excellent, and often uncomfortable, portrayal of a woman who is one of the most powerful beings on the planet, yet is still haunted by PTSD following psychological and physical abuse at the hands of a man who's capable of dominating others with but a word.
  • Action: 3 stars. Jessica is often reluctant to throw down. She doesn't want to be a superhero. She doesn't want to be bothered with anyone else's shit. She just wants to forget her own past. There are some notable fight scenes, though, especially when she goes up against Luke Cage, but this is definitely one of those reluctant hero tales.
  • I'm a PI, not a stripper, perv!
  • Costume: 2 stars. Jessica Jones doesn't often wear a costume in the comics these days, probably with good reason. Her original comic costume is little more than skin-tight lingerie. Considering her powers of flight, she'd either have to use really strong glue to hold it in place or end up flashing NYC every time she fought crime ... which would probably make this a completely different type of show. There is a fun scene where this is addressed, though, so an extra point for that.
  • Villains: 5 stars. David Tennant's Purple Man / Killgrave is just fucking awesome. He is equal parts uber-creepy and sympathetic. But he absolutely dominates every scene he's in. Almost loses a point for a subplot involving a character named Nuke, who is ultimately not much more than filler, but Killgrave is one of the best marvel villains so far in any of their properties. Hell, give me a movie where he teams up with Hugo Weaving's Red Skull and I'd watch the shit out of that.
  • Superpower Stuff: 3 stars. Jessica Jones is super strong and they don't shy away from that. However, they kind of gloss over her flight abilities, mostly with 1 or 2 cheap cutaways. But again, this is a reluctant hero. She doesn't want to use her powers (unlike a person like me, who'd spend the entire series punching out bulldozers).

Not a man you want turning the other cheek
LUKE CAGE: A man with steel skin and super strength who just wants to be left alone ... to sweep hair in a barber shop. Hey, I don't judge.
  • Plot: 2 stars. Starts off fairly strong, as a small story of a man just trying to keep his neighborhood safe while staying under the radar. Then kind of goes off the rails, and finally introduces us to the main villain late in the game.
  • Action: 4 stars. Features probably the only true "superhero" fight in the MNU as Cage and Diamondback (in a super-suit) face off, trading super-powered punches and not trying to hide it in the least. Also, it never gets dull watching Cage kick the crap out of people. There's a lot of broken bones by the end of this one.
  • Costume: 2 stars. Modern Luke Cage doesn't really wear a costume either. That's fine. We do get a little fan wank in the form of his earlier Power Man costume, with Cage basically making fun of how he stupid looks in it. 
  • Villain: 2 stars.  Alfre Woodard is quite good as Mariah. However, she's never actually a physical threat to cage. Cottonmouth is so-so at best. Honestly, it was hard for me to figure out what his motivation was at all ... and then he dies halfway through the series. Diamondback exists to give Cage a physical challenge, however, he shows up very late in the series and his reasons for hating cage end up being kind of lame.
  • Superpower Stuff: 4 stars. It's a show about a guy who is super strong and nearly indestructible and Netflix seems to understand that you can't hide that and make it effective at the same time. I never got the sense that MNU Luke Cage is as powerful as comic Cage, but they do an effective job of getting it across that this is a guy who can step into a room with a dozen pissed off enemies and still be the only one to walk out again.

IRON FIST: Danny Rand returns to NYC after 15 years of being stranded in the Himalayas, where he was raised by kung-fu monks and defeated a dragon to gain super chi powers ... and a title that I'm sure some pornos are dying to use. Eh, whatever. Works for me.
  • Plot: 3 stars. Another pretty general superhero plot. Danny returns home to reclaim his identity, only to find that his life has been a lie and those who he thought were his friends were mostly not ... all while he's kinda too dumb to notice it until the very end. Speaking of the end, IF loses at least a half point for episode 13 which both felt tacked on and offered an opponent for Danny who had about as much chance of winning as a toddler ... and was about as convincing.
  • Action: 4 stars. Lots of kung-fu action and a touch from Marvel's mystical side. Mind you, not all of the kung-fu is convincing, and it is never as brutal as Daredevil's action, but it's mostly fun to watch. Jessica Henwick's Colleen Wing is pretty much pure awesomeness, though.
  • I'm a Billionaire, I'll wear whatever the fuck I want
  • Costume: 1 star.  Yes, he has the dragon tattoo, but of all the costumes to put together for a superhero show, you'd think his would be the easiest. Christ, just run out to Target and buy Finn Jones some PJs.  We do get a tease of an earlier Iron Fist wearing the traditional costume, but it's in the form of a grainy film - boo!
  • Villain: 3 stars.  Madam Gao continues to be creepy as fuck, but the rest are a mismatch who are either two dimensional or not really a threat unless the hero is dumb as shit.  Oddly enough, despite the Hand being a major threat in this series, there are far fewer ninja for Iron Fist to fight than there were in Daredevil. Maybe the Punisher killed them all?
  • Superpower Stuff: 5 stars. Danny's hand lights up and pulverizes pretty much anything it hits. It's definitely cool to watch. Yeah, they do the lame "he loses his powers" thing that every hero show does and then, later on, how he gets them back isn't entirely clear. Still, it probably has the best effects scene of any of the MNU shows when he uses it to utterly obliterate the floor of a building. Yeah, show me the money, baby!

My favorites in order:
Iron Fist
Daredevil
Jessica Jones
Luke Cage

Probably a controversial choice for that top spot, and a tough one. DD might be a better show, but ultimately Iron Fist is more fun and makes with the powers more often. As such, I gotta rank it the better superhero show (Mind you, it's a very close call, especially considering episode 13 of IF).  Jessica Jones is a powerful show with an A+ bad guy, but at times it can be rough to watch.  As for Luke Cage, it gets the superhero part right, but seemed to waffle with everything else.

What they all do well:  These are all fairly gritty shows that try to be grounded in our world. While they never stray too far into R-territory, the action and language tends to be much saltier than the MCU movies, lending some good realism and some really nice scenes. 10+ episodes gives us a lot of screen time to get to know these characters, which is doubly cool (except for those characters who suck).

What they all need to work on:  I think we need more diversity. And no, I don't mean in casting choices. I mean heroes and their powers. While I've greatly enjoyed the MNU, their four main heroes all have powers that are essentially minor variations on "punching stuff".  Considering Agents of Shield features Quake and had a half season of a passable Ghost Rider, I don't think this is beyond Netflix's capabilities or budget. Marvel has a rich cast of characters with some quirky powers. Pick one or two who do different things.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, realism is good to a degree, but these are freaking superhero shows, which means I want to see more superhero'ing.  Let's face facts, you have The Flash on the CW devoting entire shows to talking gorillas or giant man-sharks, yet Netflix seems reluctant to even put their heroes into a freaking costume.  At times it's almost like they're embarrassed of the source material.  Yes, that's fine that they want these to be character pieces, but when I turn on a show like Luke Cage, you can bet I'm not going to be happy until he throws a truck at someone.

Seriously, Netflix!  The Defenders is up next. So work on that shit!


Feb 8, 2017

The Road to Armageddon - Alex

THE LAST COVEN - The Tome of Bill 8 - is coming FEB 10 to all major ebook platforms. It's the end of this crazy road, so to speak. To help celebrate the grand finale, I've been posting short stories detailing snippets from the lives of various characters from series.  And finally, here we are, at the big cheese himself...

I hope you've enjoyed these small side journeys. I've had a lot of fun writing them.

-The below story takes place concurrent with Part1 of The Last Coven



Can You Guess Which Color is my Stink Eye?
ALEXANDER

"Leave me."

"But, brother Alexander, this is a matter of grave..."

"Not now, Yehoshua," I said, waving him off. "Trust me, none are more aware of the gravity of the situation than I."

He appeared to consider arguing the point further, but then – after a measured, no doubt purposeful, beat – he nodded and left me alone in my chambers.

As I often did, I allowed myself a moment of consideration toward my brother. Only a few scant centuries younger than I, others might have considered him a threat. Indeed, his was often the most vocal opposition toward my ambitions for our race. With Theodora by his side, her fire added to his stoic logic, they had managed to form a vexing check to my plans for far longer than I would have preferred.

The warrior and the diplomat, together a formidable force

But now Theodora was no more, a victim of her own rash anger. Still mourning her death, much of the fight had since gone out of Yehoshua's arguments. Even in my proposed response to the recent report from the Boston Prefecture, his opposition had been greatly minimized compared to what I would have anticipated only a few months prior.

All according to my plan, of course.

Yet, despite this, I couldn't help but feel a familiar stab of jealousy and regret. Though their eventual disposal was inevitable, I was still forced to admit to being envious of their relationship. In each other, they had found something. Though their ways differed greatly, they could relate by their shared history, being among the few of our kind remaining from those ancient days.

In truth, I understood Yehoshua's pain.

Once, very long ago, I had envisioned a similar cadre around myself – I and my childhood friends turned generals, together as we ruled this world for all of eternity. What a glorious fate that would have made.

I turned in my seat and looked up at the painting that hung above me, letting my thoughts fly to the distant past as I marveled at the gleaning black coat of the stallion who raced across the painted landscape.

Ah, to feel Bucephalus beneath me once more as I road into battle. A finer steed has never tread upon this Earth since. Over two-thousand years and I have not met his equal.

Remembering him brought with it thoughts of the others and I allowed myself the momentary luxury of getting lost in memories of the past.

We had been so close to complete victory, only to be denied by the impossible itself.

* * *

If one were to believe contemporary historians, one might think it was Coenus who convinced me to turn back as we stood on the shores of the Hyphasis – the furthest reaches of my vast empire. Hah, as if he, silver-tongued as he was, could have swayed my mind once it was set to action.

I glanced back toward my desk for a moment, my eyes straying to the locked drawer on the bottom right. Within it lay the last surviving copy of Ptolemy's history, the rest having been destroyed long ago. A regrettable, but necessary loss.

Ptolemy was a good friend, a fine general, and by all accounts a successful king in his own right. However, his account of our days together was far too honest to have survived the test of time. Though it would have, in all likelihood, been dismissed as little more than legend or metaphor, it was best removed from the consideration of those who might take such information and dig deeper than was best for them.

I considered what he wrote, having memorized the words. Though there was little need for me to do so, having experienced them firsthand, reading our adventures as he wrote them allowed me to once more hear his voice in my head.

Up until those final days in India, the two histories – the official account and the truth – matched relatively well. But what the history books omit is of how Poros warned me against marching further east into the lands controlled by the Nandas, telling me of a great darkness that lay in the direction of the Ganges.

I thought him merely to be protecting some treasure that lay hidden. Though I respected him for his deeds in battle, enough so to spare both his life and title, that did not mean I trusted him.

But then we saw it for ourselves. A small force, laughably few in number, met us at the Nanda border at dusk. We thought them brave, if somewhat suicidal, so I dispatched a small contingent to offer them the option of surrender.

My men never stood a chance. They were torn asunder as if they were scraps of meat thrown to wild dogs.

Annoyed that my gesture had been so rudely rebuffed, I ordered my infantry to dispatch these animals in the guise of men, to put each and every last one of them to the sword. It was then that I and my generals witnessed the impossible.

The enemy, though small in number, each seemed to possess the strength of ten men. We watched aghast as again and again they were struck down with fatal blows, only to arise anew as if they hadn't been touched.

I was not so easily routed, though, and I forced my men onward despite the unease I felt, knowing that my station demanded no less of me. Outnumbered ten to one and with no strategy other than murder on their side, our foes continued to fight us throughout the night.

It was only come the morning, when the sun shone down upon us, that the true horror of what we had witnessed began to sink in. No bodies, save the dead of my own army, could be seen, despite the blood on the battlefield being almost ankle deep.

Never before had I seen such a thing, never dreamt it was possible. It was as if the gods themselves had sent divine warriors to slow our advance.

I ordered our dead to be burned and summoned Poros, demanding to know more.

Though he was hesitant at first, his tongue eventually loosened. He told me tales of creatures of the night, man-devils who feasted on the blood of the living, and a curse of eternal life. One would have thought he was telling stories meant to frighten children. Considering what we had witnessed, though, even I was forced to admit his account could not be easily dismissed.

It was loyal Hephaestion who, later in my tent, first put breath to the opportunity that lay before us. If we could capture one of these man-devils, perhaps we could wrest its secrets, secrets that we could then utilize ourselves. It was a tempting proposition – to live forever with my friends by my side. As mere mortals we were nigh unstoppable, but here was a chance to become gods amongst men. There would be nothing that could stand in our way.

Sadly, my troops were too frightened to continue, shaken as they had never before been. Word had spread among them. Tired from our endless campaigns and terrified by something new and previously unknown, they threatened to revolt.

So it was that I ordered us to turn west. My plan was to regroup, send for fresh soldiers, and study whatever legends I could find about these creatures. Then I would return. These man-beasts were simply another foe to be conquered, nothing more. Once defeated, their secrets would be mine to do with as I saw fit.

Little did I realize both how wrong and how right I was.

Unbeknownst to me, the creatures who served the Nanda followed us in our retreat. Their king, Dhana Nanda, surmised that I would return in force. I have little doubt he realized that he had the means at his disposal to not only avoid the fate of all who'd stood against me, but to bring about the downfall of the greatest conqueror the world had ever known. I was a prize too tempting to ignore.

For all the hatred I have felt for him in the years since, I cannot deny he was a man of ambition.

Poor Hephaestion was the first to fall. They came for him at night, easily slipping through our defenses. That first morning, I thought him merely ill. But each day he grew paler and weaker than the morning prior until finally he awoke no more. His servants found him drained, a mere husk.

In my grief over his loss, I did not consider what this meant.

His death haunted me for months, stalling my grandiose plans. It was only in my wine cup that I found true solace. Finally, when I was at my lowest, they came for me ... each night taking more as I slept in a drunken stupor, until at last I lay at death's door.

Unlike my friend, however, I was not allowed to die.

No. A much crueler fate was chosen for me.

My body stolen, I was compelled to be a mere slave upon my awakening. For months, my new masters laughed as they brought me word of my crumbling legacy: Perdiccas's cruelty, Cassander's betrayal, the death of my mother, my wives, and the son I never knew.

All of it done to humiliate me, make me realize how truly helpless and alone I was – to make me aware of how far I had fallen.

For decades I was nothing to them but a former king reduced to being little better than a dog.

* * *

I took a moment to consider the years since, then smiled as I turned and viewed the opulence around me.

Despite everything, all that they did to me, I survived where my so-called masters did not.

They'd underestimated the will of Alexander. They thought time would make me humble, force me to accept my lot, cause me to forget my destiny.

They were wrong.

My time in the shadows taught me patience. I gathered my strength, laid my tormentors low one at a time, and began to slowly claw my way back to my rightful place.

And now, finally, I am on the brink of recapturing not only that which was once mine, but so much more.

I considered my conversation with Yehoshua. There are those who will look at what I am about to do as a sign of weakness, that I am once again putting myself in a position to be struck down from the height of my rule. But they will learn how wrong they are.

I am Alexander. History speaks of me as a great leader, a conqueror. However, I have also learned from that history and this time I shall not repeat my mistakes.

I have no one left to mourn. No tragedy to distract me. Any weakness others perceive is but an illusion. This time there shall be no retreat. Not now, or ever again.



The Road To Armageddon:
CHRISTY
GAN
ED
JAMES
COLIN
ALEX

The Last Coven.  Available for pre-order now from:

amazon amazon UK

Jan 19, 2017

The Road To Armageddon - Colin

The Last Coven - The Tome of Bill 8 - is coming FEB 10 to all major ebook platforms. It's the end of this crazy road, so to speak. To help celebrate this grand finale, I'll be posting short stories detailing snippets from the lives of various characters from series.  We've heard from Bill, Sally, and Sheila.  Now it's time to get inside the head of some of the others, and let them take center stage for a few moments.

-The below story takes place immediately following past events chronicled in Sunset Strip



This is my smug look
COLIN

1979
"Now now, none of that, Lucinda. This is an imported shirt. Italian silk. Blood simply won't come out of it. I'm sure you can understand."

"I don't understand any of this!" she mewled.

"That's regrettable. You had such potential once upon a time. Now ... well, look how far you've fallen..."

The memory from earlier this evening was a bitter pill to swallow. Oh, I'd managed to salvage the unfortunate debacle as best I could, never once losing control of either my temper or the situation. But then, it was what I did, what I excelled at.

Nevertheless, I very much disliked being wrong. Two centuries of scouting for hopefuls for the prefectures of this country and I could count on one hand the number of times I'd misjudged a potential candidate.

I wasn't particularly worried about any backlash from the Wanderer, even regarding the unexpected restitution we would be forced to pay Marlene. No. That was simply not his style. Though I couldn't claim to be entirely enamored of his leadership, even I had to admit there was a certain logic to be had in his methods. Though others of his rank were more than willing to indulge in petty punishments for even the slightest failure, it often served little more than to gratify their egos while wasting everyone else's time.

Speaking of which, it was time for me to report in on the results of this evening's foray. I was quite certain the Wanderer would not bat an eye if I chose to hold off until the next day, but I prided myself on maintaining a tight schedule even in the face of failure, no matter how minor they might be.

I spied an unoccupied payphone. That would do nicely. Though I typically preferred to go straight back to my hotel room, where I could properly catalog the evening's thoughts in my notebook, I favored the dry air of this climate. It was so much more preferable than either of the coastlines. Alas, therein lay the conundrum. If one wanted to get ahead in a position such as mine, one needed to look to either Boston or Santa Clara. Yes, there was Excelsior Springs too, but I would have sooner insulted the First Coven to their faces than relocate to Kansas.

I proceeded to wipe down the receiver with a clean handkerchief then dropped a dime into the slot so as to dial James's direct line. He'd recently returned from an extended trip in the Amazon basin bringing along with him several trinkets of purported historical value. A waste of time if you asked me, but he seemed to enjoy his silly hobbies. As such, I knew it was likely he'd be sequestered away in his office cataloging them.

The line connected and began to ring. "Two," I said quietly to myself.

As expected, he answered on the second ring. It was useful to be aware of the habits of one's employers.

"Hello?"

"May the glory of the First smile eternally upon thee, Wanderer."

"Ah, Colin. Good evening to you," he replied, sounding in an upbeat mood. "You do know a simple hello will suffice, yes? We need not be slaves to the more tiresome aspects of protocol, especially when it is just the two of us."

"As you wish, Wanderer," I replied. Had he been any other, I would have assumed his advice was an order and followed it to the letter. But I knew that wouldn't be the case with him. As such, I would feel free to ignore it and continue utilizing proper protocol the next time we conversed.

"So how goes it out there? I do hope Jeffrey has not been causing any problems."

"Nothing that I wasn't able to smooth over."

He groaned softly on the other end. "Marlene and her rules. You did warn him, did you not?"

"Copiously," I replied. However, even at the time I was well aware that my words would not be heeded. That one was going to prove problematic. My only solace in him succeeding Quentin as master of Greenwich Coven was knowing that there was little chance of him ever obtaining a position in Boston. James respected the rules of intra-coven combat, but it was doubtful even he could stomach a lout like Jeffrey for more than moments at a time.

"How bad?"

"Two turned, two dead. All of them earners. She is, of course, demanding proper compensation."

James sighed into the receiver. "I imagine we'll be hearing about that for some time to come. Alas, regrettable, but I trust our budget can swing it."

"I will be sure to hand her a cashier's check before I leave."

"Good man. Those who were turned, what of them?"

I covered the receiver with my hand so as to mask the deep breath of annoyance I took. "One was the potential I'd been scouting."

"Oh. Did they survive?"

"Yes."

"Excellent. Shall I reserve a spot on our staff for..."

"That will not be necessary." I stopped and silently cursed myself for cutting him off. That was uncalled for on my end. I knew he wouldn't care, but I did. "My apologies, Wanderer."

"What happened?"

"Considering the circumstances I found the subject in and the subsequent actions undertaken on their part, I am electing to write this one off. Jeffrey has agreed to absorb her as well as the other recruit into his coven."

"I'm sorry to hear it. You've been grooming this one for a while now, haven't you?"

"Over a decade."

"That is unfortunate. What is her name? Perhaps in the future we could consider revisiting her file."

"Shall I consider that an order?"

"Of course not, my friend. Your methods are sound. They have served us well. I was simply thinking..."

"Then I shall politely decline," I replied, again cutting him off. I needed to check myself with that. It was a poor habit to develop with one's superiors. "I make it a point to never revisit a failed prospect. I shall instead move on to the next potential."

"Very well. I will trust your judgement. And this next individual?"

"He should be ready to revisit in another five years or so."

"Noted," he said. "Although, I dare say that gives us plenty of time to prepare their desk."

I knew he would take it in stride, but that didn't make the sting of my failure feel any less painful. Lucinda had been such a promising candidate. Intellectually, she was more than a match for the standards I'd set for recruitment. She had blossomed quite admirably in a physical manner too. Such a combination could have made her a formidable force in time.

Sadly, she was a textbook example of how nurture could win out over nature. Some were able to overcome the obstacles thrown in their path, while others were crushed as surely as a dog trying to cross a busy street.

What irked me most, however, is that I saw it coming. I'd known her father, Roger, would be potentially problematic, small minded that he was. I'd even briefly considered arranging for an accident so as to remove him from the equation. In the end, though, I'd decided to respect my methodology rather than my instincts. Such a pity. She could have been so much more than she was.

"So tell me, my friend," James continued, "are you coming back right away or will you be taking in a few nights on the West Coast."

"My mission here is finished, Wanderer. My place is by your..."

"Nonsense. You do nothing but work. Take some time off. Enjoy yourself. I'm sure your sister would be pleased to see you. Trust me, Boston will still be here when you return, as much as I'm sure you don't believe that." James chuckled at his own joke.

"If it is all the same to you, there is much to be done..."

"You're going to make me order you, aren't you?" His laugh turned to a sigh. "I swear, if only everyone had your work ethic, Colin. But you know what they say about all work and no play."

"A crude colloquialism."

"But apt," he was quick to reply. Apparently the matter was settled in his opinion. "Do send Yvonne my regards if you get out that way."

I gritted my teeth at the mention of my sister's name, but forced my voice to remain neutral. "As you command, Wanderer."

The call ended and it was all I could do to keep my temper in check. My younger sister had, up until this century, been in my shadow – rightfully so if one were to ask me. Yet she now reigned as Prefect, while I continued to serve. It was a position that would have been mine had I not decided that opportunities on the East Coast looked more promising.

For three years, it appeared as if I'd made the right choice as the First Coven looked upon Boston as the jewel in the crown of North America.

Then came the Earthquake of 1906 and the unfortunate turnover at the top of Santa Clara's ranks.

Now, she ruled over her domain, while I continued to be a mere subordinate, seeking out suitable candidates for recruitment ... and being forced to tolerate the times when all of my hard work was for naught.

The cheap plastic of the receiver cracked in my hand and I forced myself to calm down.

"Hey, you looking for a good time?"

"Huh?" I turned toward the source of the question to find a blonde-haired woman addressing me. From the short cut of her skirt, the over application of makeup, and false smile pasted across her face, it was easy to discern she was a human whore, one of the many who scurried to eek out a pathetic existence in this town.

I was about to tell her to begone when I looked closer. Though it was superficial at best, she possessed a slight resemblance to Lucinda.

My annoyance at her failure to meet my standards, coupled with the anger at my enforced vacation came to a head and I forced a grin upon my face.

Although I didn't often give in to my base desires, it was healthy to let loose once in a rare while. Besides which, blood had already been spilled in this city by our kind this past day. Already the authorities would be scrambling to clean up Marlene's mess. What was one more broken body on an already existing pile?

Tomorrow I would board a flight to visit my dear sister and then I would return home, ever the dutiful employee.

The Wanderer would not hold his position forever. Eventually, one of his many journeys would end badly or he would simply be promoted. And then, finally, I would obtain that which I had earned and never again would I need dirty my hands with disappointments such as she.

I allowed myself the ghost of a smile. My time would come. Of that, I had no doubt.



The Road To Armageddon:
CHRISTY
GAN
ED
JAMES
COLIN
ALEX

Jan 7, 2017

The Road To Armageddon - James

The Last Coven - The Tome of Bill 8 - is coming FEB 10 to all major ebook platforms. It's the end of this crazy road, so to speak. To help celebrate this grand finale, I'll be posting short stories detailing snippets from the lives of various characters from series.  We've heard from Bill, Sally, and Sheila.  Now it's time to get inside the head of some of the others, and let them take center stage for a few moments.

-The below story takes place approximately 730 years before Bill The Vampire.



Shown Here in Non-Period Clothing
JAMES (The Wanderer)

"Enough, Giacomo! You have been given a task to do, so do it. No more of this nonsense. People are starting to talk and not in a kind way."

"Yes, Niccolò," I replied. "I understand my duties, but this..."

He clapped a hand on my arm and sighed. After a moment, the crossness on his face disappeared and was replaced with something else ... understanding. "This is not the grand adventure you were hoping for?"

"How did you know?"

Niccolò laughed and took a seat next to me. "You think I wasn't young and eager once like you? How do you think I came to this place the first time?"

He didn't need to remind me. His earlier journey was the reason I was here. Where my sisters were content with their suitors in Venice, he'd inspired me, ignited a desire to see this great wide world. Listening to the stories of his first voyage had convinced me to throw away my apprenticeship. Upon hearing his intention to set out again, I'd begged for them to take me.

"Your father was every bit the brother to me that Maffeo is, you know that, don't you?" he continued. "It is why I agreed to allow you to accompany us. But you must understand, there is a purpose to our travels. One cannot simply wander the world aimlessly and hope to get far."

"Yes, I understand," I replied. "But eight years and we are little more than prisoners to the Khagan."

"You know that is not true."

"Some days I'm not so certain. I want to see the expanse of his empire, not help manage the books for that godless dog of his."

Niccolò's visage grew stern at my words. "You would do well to mind your tongue, boy. Ahmad holds great influence in the Khagan's court and he is not as forgiving as our host. It would be unwise to make an enemy of him."

After a moment, I nodded. He was right, of course. Despite our station here, we were outsiders far from home. Should fortune turn against us, we would have no one but ourselves to count on.

I glanced at the finery of my room, feeling somewhat foolish in my complaints. Surely, there were men who would stone their own mothers for but one night in a place such as this. Regardless, no matter how gilded the cage, it still felt like a cage. "Perhaps I could ask Marco if he would..."

"Marco may have the Khagan's ear, but it is not to be filled with the foolishness you speak of."

A wiser man would have bitten his tongue and agreed, but I couldn't. "But they say he has a dragon. I only wish to know if that is..."

"I said that is enough, Giacomo." Niccolò shook his head and stood up. "Open your eyes, boy. If one were to believe every tale told to them by a wide-eyed servant girl, then one would think the Khagan himself has eight arms and shoots lightning from his cock."

I couldn't help but grin at the imagery. "How do you know it was a girl who told me this?"

He crossed his arms and laughed. "I may be getting old, but I am not yet blind."

* * *

The days seemed to meld together as I helped calculate the discrepancy in taxes owed versus those paid from the Huguang province. I knew the Khagan's empire was not endless, but one would not guess that from the number of books to be maintained. I had left my home, journeyed thousands of miles, seen such marvelous sights along the way, and for what? To end up with the very tedium I had run from. Exotic as this land might seem to outsiders, behind it all was the same dull monotony.

More and more my thoughts turned to the tales I'd been told. Niccolò was not incorrect. It had all started with a girl I'd fancied for my bed. One night, she'd regaled me with tales of monsters and demons as I drifted off to sleep. Had it been she alone who said such things, I would have easily dismissed it. However, the longer I listened, the more I noticed others speaking of such things as well. It was mostly in hushed whispers and usually only after much wine, but what struck me was they all said the same thing. They spoke of how Kublai's armies and vast wealth were only part of his power. According to the tales, the official history of how he had laid low his brother's insurrection some years back was only the partial truth. In reality, he had done so with assistance ... assistance, they claimed, which had come in the form of a dark power.

I was no child. I did not believe in ghost stories or magic, but I was also not foolish enough to believe I had seen all this world had to offer. As fantastic as the stories were, they ignited something deep inside of me. If there was even a chance such things could exist, I had to know. Who cared if my entreaties were dismissed with a laugh? As emissaries from far away was it not our job to at least ask?

But Niccolò seemed intent that we not embarrass ourselves with such folly. He wished me to stay my tongue. Do not get me wrong, I understood his concern. By staying within the Khagan's good graces, we stood to return home as very rich men ... assuming we were ever allowed to return home.

However, I was no longer sure I even wanted to. The three long years it took to reach this place were the most terrifying of my life, but also the most exciting. It had taught me that I wanted to see more in the short time I was allotted on this world. I...

A noise from behind interrupted my thoughts. Assuming it was one of Ahmad's ministers coming to check on my progress, I quickly resumed my place cataloging taxes. Niccolò was right about another thing too. I didn't want to end up on Ahmad's bad side.

Whoever had entered walked up behind me and stood there for several long seconds before loudly clearing their throat. It seemed they were intent upon getting my attention. I turned, prepared to let them know they were disturbing my work, when the words died in my throat.

It was Kublai, the Khagan himself, who stood before me. Though I had seen him in person on other occasions, it had always been at feasts and other such state functions. Unlike my benefactors, I had never held a private audience with him. I had never even dared to ask, assuming it would not be granted.

Another moment passed before I realized that, in my amazement, I was staring one of the most powerful men in the world straight in the eye. Not wishing to offend the ruler of these lands, I quickly averted my gaze and dropped to my knees before him.

I struggled for a moment with the words. In my nervousness, I almost addressed him in my native tongue before catching myself. "Great Khagan, you honor me," I said at last, the words feeling inelegant coming from my mouth.

I knew enough of his people's language to converse, but was used to the presence of translators when dealing with those of rank, so as to avoid even the potential for insult. Daring a quick look from my prone position, though, I saw no such were present. The Khagan was alone.

"On your feet," he said dismissively, his tone far from formal.

I stood hesitantly, not knowing what to expect. Had he purposely sought me out or was this merely a chance encounter? From the lack of guards present, it suggested the latter. Perhaps the Khagan had been merely wandering his grounds, come across me, and was curious as to what I was doing.

He looked me over once, then said, "My master wishes to meet you."

Almost immediately I rued the lack of a translator. Surely my poor mastery of his language was going to lead to offense as I was certain I'd heard him wrong.

"I am your humble servant, my lord."

"Word has reached my master of your questions."

Again, I must have misunderstood him. Damn my eyes! Too busy looking toward the next hill when I should have been studying the one I was already standing upon.

"Which questions do you speak of, great Khagan?" With some dread, I realized I most likely already knew. Niccolò had warned me, but I hadn't listened. I'd been so caught up in the potential wonders of this land, that I hadn't stopped to realize what a fool I must have been making of myself.

Kublai grinned as if he found my nervousness amusing. I suppose he had that luxury. Nobody was going to behead him if he accidentally said the wrong thing.

"You have been asking questions about the other world."

There was no doubt that my poor grasp of his tongue was to be my undoing. "Other world?" I asked tentatively.

"They say you wish to be told of dragons. Is this not true?"

"I meant no offense, great..."

"Enough! Are you a prisoner groveling for mercy before my throne?"

"Um ... no, great Khagan." I hoped that wasn't about to change.

"Then speak as a man." Despite his tone, though, the grin never left his face.

I debated for a moment what to say next. This was my chance, the one I had been hoping for. If such things as I'd heard were true, then here was the man who could confirm it. But if not, then I risked being made a laughing stock. For all he had done for me, I would be embarrassing Niccolò with my foolishness, perhaps jeopardizing the position he had obtained for me.

Damn it all, though. We had traveled so far, survived so much. After all of that, could I truly choose to be timid?

No. I could not. I said a silent apology to Niccolò as I replied, "My apologies ... err ... yes. I have asked. I wish to know if the rumors are true. Do you truly have a dragon?"

Kublai studied me for a moment before answering, although whether his gaze held approval or not, I couldn't tell. "I do not."

So, it was a laughing stock I was to be then. "I offer my deepest..."

"The beast in question belongs to my master."

What?! It was true? But the rest? Certainly there was some inflection I was getting wrong.

"Forgive me, mighty Khagan, but my knowledge of your tongue is woefully inadequate. I have surely heard wrong as I know you serve no master."

At this, he laughed. When he was done, he clapped me on the shoulder as if we were old friends. "You know, do you? Your knowledge is indeed inadequate, albeit not of my tongue." He must have seen the confusion which filled my face for he continued. "I have sought emissaries from your lands so that I might know more of your people, your God, the goods you have to trade. So too does my master seek such an emissary ... one who has wandered afar. The others fulfill my needs, but, of them, you alone have dared to question the world around you. I am here to tell you that all you have heard is true."

"It is?"

"Yes, and it is only the very tip of the spear."

My eyes opened wide at this revelation. "There's more?"

He nodded. "So much more, more than even I know ... or wish to know."

I wasn't certain I understood that last part, but I didn't care. Excitement filled my very being at the prospect of what he was saying. It was entirely possible this was some joke on his part, but I was willing to risk it. "I wish to ... know it all, that is."

Rather than laughing at me, though, he smiled. "Very well, but the first lesson you must learn is that there is a price."

"A price?"

"Once you accept what my master has to offer, you can never turn back. There is only forward. Your life as you know it will be over, but what awaits you..." He spread his arms wide as if to emphasize a greater whole.

My life as I knew it? I glanced back at the papers upon my desk, the endless numbers written in the journals. Those would not be missed. As for my family back home, the Khagan had shown little interest in letting us leave these past few years. I did not see any sign that he would change his mind. Was this choice any different?

As for what was being offered, I wanted ... no, needed to find out. I repeated my words. "I wish to know."

He nodded once, then turned away. "Come."

"Where?"

"To Karakorum, the place of power."

"But Shangdu..."

"Is where I sit, but not where he sits."

"He?" I asked following.

"Yes. It is time you met my uncle."


The Road To Armageddon:
CHRISTY
GAN
ED
JAMES
COLIN
ALEX

Dec 30, 2016

The Road To Armageddon - Ed

The Last Coven - The Tome of Bill 8 - is coming FEB 10 to all major ebook platforms. It's the end of this crazy road, so to speak. To help celebrate this grand finale, I'll be posting short stories detailing snippets from the lives of various characters from series.  We've heard from Bill, Sally, and Sheila.  Now it's time to get inside the head of some of the others, and let them take center stage for a few moments.

-The below story takes place immediately following the events of The Wicked Dead.



It's hard to be surrounded by idiots
ED

I so fucking hated playing the damsel in distress. Yet, somehow, that seemed to be the card I'd drawn as of late. Shit, I mean in the last day alone I'd been adopted by Sasquatches, kidnapped by a guy who looked like the second place winner in a Glenn Danzig lookalike contest, and now I was being carried like a ragdoll by Bill's fucking dungeon master of all people.

Talk about adding insult to injury.

Still, maybe I shouldn't complain. After all, I was alive. That's more than I could say about a lot of people. Hell, I couldn't even say for sure my friends survived, being that the roof of a fucking cavern had been dropped on top of them.

No. That was the wrong attitude to take.

Say what you will about my friends, but damn if they weren't survivors ... amazing as that might be at times. Besides, I had to hold out hope. From the look of things, it was all I had ... aside from the company of rock monsters, compelled vampires, and some psycho chick who, up until a short while ago, I'd assumed was no more than a middle manager in the vamp hierarchy.

"I can walk you know."

Dave gave no response, continuing to march forward like a mindless android. I let out a sigh. It wasn't his fault he was currently enslaved. Sure, he was an abrasive ass, but I doubted he'd willfully ever fall in line with this lot.

I couldn't see much from my vantage point, slung over his shoulders like a sack of potatoes. Go figure, I was apparently the only one in this traveling freak show without night vision. The only illumination in the tunnel came from the glowing eyes of the Jahabich marching with us and it wasn't much. I could barely make out the walls on either side of us, much less how far back our procession stretched.

Where my eyes failed, however, my ears did not. I could tell there were a lot of us - not from the witty banter going on, mind you, but from the footfalls of many feet marching along. Amazingly enough, it wasn't so much the company that creeped me out, nor the fact that I was being kidnapped again for whatever the fuck reason. It was the silence. My voice had been the first since we'd started this trek through the bowels of the Earth.

Other than footsteps there had been nothing except ... hold on. I had to go and think that, didn't I? No sooner had I rued the silence than came a low rumble from somewhere behind us. I was no spelunker, but that sure as shit sounded like something collapsing.

"Um, you might want to walk faster, man," I said from over Dave's shoulder.

Again, no response. I looked around at the vacant eyes of the vampires who'd been unlucky enough to have been ensnared, hoping to see a glimmer of ... anything really. But they might as well have been mannequins from the uncanny valley looks on their faces.

"I don't suppose it's any concern to you fuckers, but I'm pretty sure that's a cave-in we're hearing."

"Of course it is, child," an unconcerned female voice replied from somewhere up ahead. "Who do you think ordered the tunnel to be collapsed behind us?"

I guess that made sense. Would keep us from being followed. Speaking of behinds, though...

"As much as I appreciate you talking to my asshole, it's kind of hard to carry on a meaningful conversation this way."

Before I could say anything further, Dave bent down and deposited me onto my feet - where I was almost immediately bowled over. The procession as a whole didn't bother to stop moving, forcing me to quickly match pace or be trampled.

I spared a quick glance at his slack-jawed face. "Thanks for nothing, asshole."

The tunnel lit up ahead and I turned to see the source. Unsurprisingly, it was the woman in the white dress who'd recently kicked everyone's asses upstairs ... Calibra. A small orb of glowing energy floated next to her.

"My concession to your frail mortal eyes."

"You're too kind."

She was leading the way ... somewhere. The light cast by her magic trick didn't illuminate much, just enough for me to keep from tripping over my own feet.

Unless I decided to take my chances at being a human gopher, there wasn't much I could do but bide my time and hope for a chance to run later. Where to? I had no idea. Hopefully a plan would present itself. Until then...

I caught up to Calibra, being she was both holding the flashlight and seemed the lone other person in the group whose tongue the cat hadn't gotten.

"Hey. What's a nice guy like me doing in a shit-hole cave like this?"

"I see you're a flippant one, like your friend the Freewill," she replied, still facing forward. "Tis a sign of this age, I suppose. Once upon a time, men knew their place when among their betters."

"Ah, I see. I'll be sure to add m'lady when I tell you to go fuck yourself."

"You dare?!" a different voice snarled from somewhere behind us.

I spun to see one of the vamps from Bill's coven pushing her way through the crowd … the hot redhead who seemed to put out for everyone but him. Mind you, she looked a bit less hot with her eyes blackened and her fangs bared.

"There will be no need for that, Elizabeth."

The redhead stopped dead in her tracks. I expected her to offer some sort of protest about not being allowed to play with her toys, but all she did was nod respectfully and fall back again. Wuss.

"Got that one on a short leash, I see."

"She knows her place," Calibra replied. "Something you might do well to consider."

I decided to try my luck. After all, there was obviously a reason they'd taken me. "See, that's the thing. I don't think I need to."

"Oh?" she asked, a bemused quality to her voice. That was fine. Amused was potentially a lot less painful for me than enraged. Still, it helped reinforce what I'd been thinking.

"Yeah. I can't help but notice how everyone seems intent on using me as the trophy in a massive game of capture the flag. Translation for the ancient monsters in the room…"

"I know what you mean," Calibra said. "Unlike some of my children, I have made it a point to stay abreast of current affairs."

Oh. Well, that saved me the trouble of explaining the finer points of online gaming. "Good to know. Anyway, I'm gonna go out on a limb and assume it's not my charming personality that you're all after.

"Your insight is truly fascinating."

"Be that as it may, you need me for something. I don't know what that is, but since I'm still breathing I'm going to assume it's important to you."

"Oh, it goes far beyond me, I can assure you, boy."

She stopped short of telling me what that was, though, leading me to believe I wasn't going to get some super villain soliloquy outlining her evil plot. Nevertheless, she seemed to be in a conversing mood, which was a fuck-load better than a killing one.

"Whatever it is, you have to know it's not going to work."

"I assume you are speaking of your friend the Freewill. How do you even know he's still alive?"

"Bill seems to have a guardian angel hanging over him, several probably, in the form of that big prophecy you all seem to like crowing about. Oh, and I'm not just talking about him. You didn't get to meet her up above, but trust me when I say a certain girl with a flaming white aura will probably be very eager to make your acquaintance."

"The Icon and the Freewill?" she mused.

"Yep. Despite what you might believe, they're working together, and don't doubt for a second they're going to come looking for me." I left out a silent I hope. No point in showing her that in actuality I was pretty close to shitting my pants.

"And that's the best you've got to threaten me with?"

"You're kidding, right?" I asked. "Need I remind you that those two are kind of a big deal in your world? Their big showdown during the end times and all that. Oh, and since I haven't heard anything in those prophecies about you, that tells me maybe you should be worried about still being around to see it."

"I would remind you, child," she replied. "That the prophecies, and I can assure you I am far more intimately familiar with them than you are, also fail to mention you."

"Why would they? Effervescent as my personality is, I'm not a player in this supernatural circle jerk."

For the first time, she turned to look at me, her eyes gleaming in the dim light. "Oh, how wrong you are. You, my child, are the harbinger of a new age. Despite everything you've heard, your friends are the inconsequential ones. Freewills and Icons, their kind have come and gone before. Aberrations they may be, quirks of magic, but nothing more. Why, did you know that the very first Icon fell to my hands?" She shook her head dismissively. "Of course you wouldn't. But it's true. It was an amusing altercation, truth be told, an interesting diversion, but nothing more. Do not think your friends will be any different."

I tried not to show it, but the utter confidence in her voice was causing a bit of a pit to form in my stomach.

"You, on the other hand, are unique," she continued. "Nothing like you has ever appeared on the face of this world. Trust me, I have been looking."

"I like to think I'm..."

"I don't care what you think. Your wants and needs are irrelevant. You will foster a new beginning, but do not think that makes you its master. You are a pawn and will be used as such."

"And if I refuse?" There. It had to be said. Mind you, I was alone and surrounded by a small army of beings of which I was physically the weakest. As far as bluffs went, it was pretty goddamned pathetic.

"Is this supposed to be the part where I threaten the lives of your friends?"

"You could, but there isn't anyone present I'm willing to take a bullet for."

"Pity."

"Oh, so then we've reached an impasse?" That's me, the eternal optimist.

"Hardly," she replied with a grin, eyeing me up and down.

"What are you doing?"

"What is the colloquialism? Ah, yes. I am ... checking you out."

What?! That was her gambit? I mean, sure, she was cute in a crazed sort of way, but seriously? "I'm flattered, really I am. But, unlike at least one of my other friends, I'm not about to sell out the world for a quick lay."

She let out what sounded almost like a genuine laugh. I tried not to be insulted. "Oh, silly boy, that wasn't what I was looking at."

"What then?"

"Your arms and legs, of course. Limbs are an interesting evolutionary achievement. They allow us to walk, run, fight, build, all of the things that have allowed mankind to rise above the muck."

"And?"

"And," she replied, her eyes darkening, "they are entirely superfluous for the purpose for which you are here. You would suit my needs just as well as the equivalent of a human slug. And if you think I am in any way bluffing, I implore you to say another word to the contrary."

In the last year I'd helped face down monsters for whom I wouldn't have hesitated to flip off at such an ultimatum. This time, however, I didn't get the vibe that there was any sway whatsoever to the threat laid out before me.

I didn't consider myself a coward, but I'm not a fucking idiot either.

Considering the alternative, I zipped my lips and fell into stride beside her.

I had no idea what Calibra had planned for me, but at least for now I was alive and whole. I hoped to stay that way, but that didn't mean I wouldn't keep my eyes open for an opportunity. If one arose, I'd take it. And if not, I'd do what I could to muck things up for her while patiently waiting for my friends to come for me.

Now to only hope they didn't take their sweet fucking time doing so.


The Road To Armageddon:
CHRISTY
GAN
ED
JAMES
COLIN
ALEX

Dec 22, 2016

Grinching the Christmas Cookies

They say there are two types of people in this world - those who are awesome enough to selflessly bake cookies to share with their friends, and then there are the assholes who contribute nothing to society but eating those cookies and casting baleful judgement upon them.

This is a tale from the latter.

Every year, my wife goes to a Christmas Cookie swap party, and every year I wait eagerly for the tribute she returns with. This year the bounty was plentiful.  But I am an angry god and my judgement is harsh. Thus, I thought it fitting to be a total cock-nozzle and post my thoughts for your amusement.

I didn't know what most of these were called, so rather than be industrious and look it up, I decided to give each it's own name based on appearance and/or taste.

Let the judgement begin!

Dingleberry Chip - You can tell when someone knows their chocolate chip cookies are good when they give absolutely no fucks to how they look. This cookie tells me "I am the baker of chocolaty goodness and you better well fucking know it. Here! Eat what I have shat out for you and enjoy it."

Surprise Turd - Normally, I'm neutral on rum balls, or things like them. But these motherfuckers throw you for a loop with a big chunk of caramel inside. It's like getting a lump of coal for Christmas, then dropping it to find a diamond in the center. So awesome.

Satan's Twat Waffle - In keeping with my fine tradition of being a piss-poor Italian, I can't stand Pizzelles. I don't know who first thought, "Gee, what the world needs are licorice flavored cookies", but I can tell you they had a soul as dark as the underside of the Devil's scrotum.

Cavity Bar - A cookie bar drowned in caramel.  My teeth are rotting just thinking about this. If diabetic shock were given cookie form, this would be it.  Damn good, but pretty sure more than one of these would have instantly kill most people.

Petrified Man - A basic gingerbread humanoid from the Paleozoic era. His kind were known for their sloping foreheads and hunter / gatherer lifestyle. Sadly, they were eventually wiped out by tastier cookies who had the evolutionary advantage of frosting.

The Fuck?! - A not-cookie, covered in caramel, chocolate, and what appears to be mercury shavings. My tongue wasn't upset upon eating this, don't get me wrong, but it was left very very confused.

Intestinal Tract Diorama - Nothing says Christmas Spirit quite like a sonogram of your innards in generic sugar cookie form. 

Nuts To That! - A generic sugar wafer ruined by the addition of lots of crushed walnuts or whatever the fuck they are. Don't know, because I find nuts to be an abomination on the face of a cookie.  Damn you to Hell, cookie nuts!!!! Still better than raisins, though.

Edit: I have been yelled at that these are actually mint chips, not nuts. Oops. Still looks like nuts to me, though. 

Snow Poop - Covering a relatively tasteless ball of dough in powered sugar just leaves it a slightly more sweet tasteless ball of dough. Speaking of which...

Blob of Dough - No idea what this was or what it was supposed to taste like. Nearest I can tell, they ran out of time to actually bake these, just said "fuck it"and hoped nobody noticed.

Who Ate Half The Fucking Chocolate?! - Screw dipping your chocolate bar in my peanut butter. This is a linzer tart dipped in chocolate. A surprisingly kick-ass combination.  And much Christmas cheer was had.

Bizarro World Who Ate Half The Fucking Chocolate?! - Pretty much the mirror universe version of the above, minus the linzer tart filling. Tasty, but lack of filling shall always equal a wee bit of heartbreak.

Festive Snot Ball - These kinda look like someone sneezed  into a jar of sprinkles, but they were surprisingly good. Lemon cookies that simply do not give a shit what you think of their appearance. Peering into my wardrobe, they're kinda like me in cookie form.

Chocolate Distraction - I find that cookies with big lumps of chocolate in the middle of them are often there to hide the fact that the cookie itself is pretty meh. Oddly enough, I am seldom wrong in these matters.

I'm a Tree, Damnit! - Really I am!  No, what you are is a pretty generic sugar cookie. Fortunately, generic sugar cookies are still more than fine in my book. Know that there shall always be a place in my stomach for Christmas Tree deformities.

Rudolph The Red Nosed Spear-Tip - Cute to look at, but pretty meh as far as eating goes. Problem with generic chocolate type cookies is that they really don't taste like much of anything.

Goddamn It! We Ran Out of Sprinkles! - I hope nobody notices. Sadly, yes I did. Although, I may keep a few of these around in case I need replacement googly eyes for my kids' stuffed animals.

Did I Forget To Clean the Cat Box Again? - It is said these cookies are deceivers. They murder men in the night. I know nothing.  Don't be fooled by it's appearance. It is definitely no brownie.

Spooge Wafer - I imagine that this is what DVD covers look like when they're returned to the adult video store. It's like St. Nick decided to bake some cookies and then got overly jolly while doing so. I am forced to admit, though, his "icing" is pretty darn good. I can see why Mrs. Claus stays with him.

Dec 14, 2016

The Road to Armageddon - Gan

The Last Coven - The Tome of Bill 8 - is coming FEB 10 to all major ebook platforms. It's the end of this crazy road, so to speak. To help celebrate this grand finale, I'll be posting short stories detailing snippets from the lives of various characters from series.  We've heard from Bill, Sally, and Sheila.  Now it's time to get inside the head of some of the others, and let them take center stage for a few moments.

-The below story takes place roughly halfway between Holier Than Thou and Sunset Strip.



It has been too long, Beloved.
GAN

"You are acting the part of the fool."

Silence descended in the room. Such disrespect would have never been uttered in the presence of my father. But then, considering the would-be usurper who sat upon his throne now - looking down upon me - I should have expected no better.

Predictable.

I knew this was coming. It was only a matter of time.

All assembled were waiting to see how I would respond to this challenge. It was time to play my part. "What would you have me do, uncle?"

* * *

Arghun's stance bespoke of arrogance, of one who was certain of his station. For centuries, he sat at my father's side, advising him. He'd even served as a tutor to me in matters of state. Although, I would have to have been blind to not see, even then, that he felt such tasks beneath him.

All of that I could easily forgive. What I could not, though, was his belief that he and he alone was heir to title of Khan.

And yet he dared call me a fool.

My father had always been an outlier amongst the First Coven. Under him, our lands were ruled in the traditional manner of our great heritage, eschewing their methods. Fear has always been part of the equation of leadership, but others of our kind rely on it exclusively, ignoring loyalty and honor. So drunk are they with power, they don't see how weak it ultimately leaves them.

I could see this same weakness in Arghun's eyes. He wished to lower us by conforming to their ideals. And why not? Such a thing would benefit him greatly. It was common practice among those who served the First that the strongest, the oldest, should lead. What they all failed to realize was that age simply turned one who was born a fool into little more than an older fool.

Arghun was older than I. He was stronger, more experienced, and could compel more to his side.

What he did not see, though, was that this did not make him better.

* * *

He leaned forward in my father's seat and tented his fingers, as if what he was about to say had not be rehearsed a hundred times. "I would have you call off this search for the Freewill, quit wasting resources that could be better spent elsewhere. I would have you admit that you still have a great deal to learn, child."

I glanced over my shoulder at the spoils of war I had returned with. The gleaming skulls appeared to be smiling, as if laughing at the foolishness playing out before them. Fitting in a way. "The Children of Erlik might disagree, had they still tongues with which to speak. I have not wasted so many resources as to be unable to defend our borders."

"You think a single victory over our ancient foes means you are ready for the burden of leadership? What would have become of us had your rash offensive failed?"

"I would be spared this tiresome folly."

Arghun's face contorted in rage at my reply. That alone should have told him and all present that he was unfit to rule. All around us, my followers - servants and soldiers alike - stood in silent attention; unmoving, unblinking, refusing to allow their emotions to show through. Low as some of them might be, they were more worthy than he.

"Your father would see you whipped for such insolence. Perhaps I should too."

There it was, the challenge I'd been expecting. What my dear uncle failed to realize, though, was that he was too late.

Had he openly expressed a desire to lead immediately following my father's death, perhaps he could have made a serious case for such. But this, waiting until I was away leading our troops in battle?  It spoke of treachery. Even if he was able to persuade those who remained behind, a dubious proposition at best, he had to know that the soldiers I led to victory would not so easily flock to his side. They were men of action, warriors who knew of our grand history.

I had seen these same men bristle at my father's inaction these many long years, ruling his lands from the shadows. However, the part he played in history as heir to the great Temüjin spoke for itself. None would have ever raised a hand against him. But with his passing, the time for sitting idle so too ended. It was a lesson Arghun had failed to learn.

I stepped forward, holding his gaze. "You are welcome to try."

* * *

Though the dictates of the First lacked wisdom, there was one tradition which even I would not dare deny - the right of ritual combat. Though I knew my men would have cut Arghun down where he sat, had I given even the slightest sign, that would not do. I had earned the loyalty of many who once followed my father, but it was not enough. I would not allow there to be any doubt among them.

I only realized now, as loyal subjects and cattle alike spread out around us, forming a wide circle, that the room had already been cleared. They had been expecting this. That meant Arghun managed to convince himself he actually stood a chance.

Still, it would have been foolish of me to dismiss him entirely. He had long been trained in the art of war, as were all of my father's advisors. But, where he spent many a night by my father's side drinking wine and telling tales of past glory, I continually trained, honing myself. My father would have me do no less.

Perhaps he foresaw this day coming.

Arghun stepped forward and attempted to stare me down, no doubt hoping to win this battle before it had even begun. Feh! Hope was the bastion of fools. A true leader took what was theirs by divine right.

He smiled, thinking to intimidate me. "I could compel you to your knees."

"Perhaps," I replied. "Indeed, you could compel many of those present to their knees. But you cannot command them all. For those who remain standing, there shall be doubt. And where there is doubt, there will always be a hidden dagger waiting to slit your throat."

"Spoken like a true student of your father," he said with a curt nod of his head. "But a student is all you are.

In a way he was right. But there always came a day when the student became the new master. Arghun did not realize it yet, but that day had come.

My silence was answer enough for him, though. Predictably, he broke eye contact fist, closing the distance between us with all the speed his age afforded him, unaware that he had already lost this battle.

Nevertheless, I would not underestimate him. Interestingly enough, for all I learned under my father's tutelage, that was a lesson that could not be attributed to him, at least not in a manner I could fully appreciate. No, that honor fell to my beloved. I had seen foes demean him, treat him with all the respect an elder would treat a youngling - all to their eventual detriment.

True fools failed to realize that even the youngest of vipers still possessed venom.

Arghun's attack was sloppy, off balance. His form belied the fact that his knowledge had not been put to practical use in some time. I let him strike me regardless, wishing to know the mettle of my opponent. The blow itself was formidable, although, far less so than it could have been.

Pathetic.

I dutifully took a stagger step back, allowing him to think he had injured me - a small concession to him on my part. Arghun served my father faithfully for many years. Such service should not be so easily forgotten. I owed him an honorable death, one that would allow him to be remembered as a warrior.

He quickly stepped in, hoping to press the advantage, but my respect had its limits and he had reached them. With one quick move, I sidestepped and delivered a blow of my own.

His was sloppy, mine was not.

Arghun fell to his knees, the base of his spine severed with one quick swipe of my claws. Though his death would be more honorable were I to draw this out, there would be little benefit to me. Ending this quickly would dissuade other pretenders to the throne. All present would accept me as the new Khan and know my rule was absolute.

My opponent, however, was not quite finished yet. "SURRENDER!! BOW BEFORE YOUR RIGHTFUL MASTER!!"

I had thought it best to not underestimate Arghun. As it were, I had done quite the opposite. I attributed to him enough honor to accept his fate with dignity. Instead, he wasted that with one last pathetic gambit to compel me into submission.

For a moment, I felt my legs buckle beneath me, but I quickly steadied myself. The fool. His greater age afforded him the power, but my father had prepared me well. Decades of compulsion from him, building up my defenses, forcing me to develop the will to resist all but the most powerful of our kind. It all culminated in one final test – being left bound in the desert, sunrise only minutes away, compelled to lie there peacefully and accept my fate.

I survived, stronger for the ordeal.

Arghun would not, nor would any who dared challenge me.


The Road To Armageddon:
CHRISTY
GAN
ED
JAMES
COLIN
ALEX