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May 26, 2017

Con Carolinas ... here I come!

It's about time for me to crawl out of my cave and be social again and I have a pretty good venue coming up to do it at.

I'll be at Con Carolinas next week.  It's being held June 2 - 4 at the Hilton Charlotte University Place (their spelling not mine).

Because who wouldn't want to buy stuff from this guy?
In addition to hawking my books along with my near illegible autograph in the vendor area for the entire weekend, I'll be participating in several panels and events. 

Here's where you can find me:

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Dreaded Synopsis (moderating)
4-5 PM

Official blurb: Almost as bad as the query letter is the synopsis. Our authors will go through the process they follow when writing a synopsis, including differences in techniques used when writing the synopsis before the manuscript versus after the manuscript. 
Moderator.

My take: Join me as I try to figure out exactly what a moderator does at these things ... err that is, as I lead a panel comprised of: Quincy J Allen, Samantha Bryant, David B. Coe, Jason T. Graves, and Grey Rineheart in discussing book blurbs and stuff.

Saturday, June 3 2017

Going for the Laughs (with most of the Authors and Dragons crew)
10-11 AM

Official blurb: Writing humor isn't easy. How do you create funny stories without completely bombing?

My take: Yeah, we're gonna bomb. I mean, heck it's me and the majority of my Authors and Dragons cast mates making a fuckery of things along with one non-A&D author who is almost guaranteed to hate us by the end of things. 

Literary Malpractice
12-1 PM

Official blurb:  The movies get medicine wrong all the time, and so do books. Let’s talk about some of the most egregious mistakes you've read, and ways to avoid them yourself.

My take: "Hey, Rick, did you know you got your guns wrong on page...?"  This is what we in the author world call delicious irony.

Sexual Identity in Speculative Fiction7-8 PM

Official Blurb:  Have we finally reached an era when the protagonist's sexual identity has no affect on the book's readability? Or do queer characters still run the risk of marginalizing the book into a "niche" shelf?

My Take: Having a character's defining trait be "gay" makes no more fucking sense to me than having a character who's entire personality is "black" or "likes spaghetti-o's", aside from sloppy writing. If they're not a fully fleshed out person, like any other character, then the author has failed IMHO. Now to see if I can express this in a way that doesn't piss off an entire room of people.

Authors & Dragons Live Podcast
10 - 11:30 PM

Official Blurb: A Podcast Where A Party Of Fantasy Authors Try To Make It Through A Game Of Pathfinder Without Dying. Will They Succeed? Probably Not!

My Take: A live Podcast where a party of fantasy authors will probably embarrass the shit out of their drunken selves, probably culminating in us all passing out in a mass pool of vomit. And fun was had for all!

Self Censorship, something I excel at
Sunday, June 4, 2017

Self-Censorship
12 - 1 PM

Official Blurb: Have you ever written something and realized there is no way you could possibly publish it? Should you censor yourself? Are there subjects that are simply too taboo? Should emotional triggers be avoided at all cost?

My Take: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! This should be a ton of fun. 

Star Trek: Which Generation is This?
1 - 2 PM

Official Blurb: Star Trek Discovery is currently in production. Discussion of the latest film and the newest television show and the alternate movie universe.

My Take: Fuck CBS and their All Access bullshit!  Oh wait, did I give away my stance on this? Oops. Spoilers.  :)

I hope you can make it! Pop by. Say hi! Grab one of my not-so-patented cursed dice. It's bound to be a blast. 

Apr 9, 2017

Back in the Dungeon Master Saddle Again!

Fellow author and all around cool dude, Robert Bevan, recently posted a blog entry on exactly why those wondering what kind of Dungeon Master he is would have to keep on wondering.

Interestingly enough, his post on the subject pretty much coincided with my return to the other side of the gaming screen after over two decades of life as a mere player.

Why the long absence of allowing my ego to run wild as god of my own world, surrounded by minions put there for no other reason than my torturous amusement? Simple. With maybe one or two exceptions, the last group I DM'd kinda sucked giant hairy capybara scrotum. Sorry if any of them are reading this, but it's the truth. You guys made me wish for a TPK to the point where when the lone competent player left you to be executed while he watched, I was secretly cheering him on.

Now, I'd be lying if I said a few crappy players sent me running screaming from the game master seat. The truth of the matter is running a game takes a lot of time and even more commitment. I'm the type who's more than happy to let someone else shoulder that burden, even if it's just to use those free hours staring slack-jawed at the TV.  Then, following college, life stepped in, and those hours became even more precious. But now, at long last, I'm back.

The mighty game master at work
So what's changed? Simple. I'm older, potentially wiser, but most importantly I'm a full-time author now, working for myself, and setting my own hours. This allows me a bit of flexibility, especially since, at the very least, this frees up roughly five hours a week that I would have otherwise spent in my car commuting.  Secondly, I'm only running a game every other week.  Tough as it is to run a campaign, I find those ten extra hours are enough to prep for it ... mostly.

All that said, I thought I'd give my observations on my grand return to game mastering after all this time and what's changed between the days of yesteryear and now.

1) THE PLAYERS AND I
This is perhaps the biggest change from my college days. I'm no longer playing with a group of twenty year old assholes. No. Now I'm playing with a bunch of forty year old assholes. However, twenty years of experience is sometimes enough for a person to develop the ability to switch off asshole mode if needed. We can have tons of laughs around the table, but everyone there knows it's a commitment, shows up, and contributes ... and if they're doing dumbass things, it's purposeful, usually with some end point in mind ... even if it's just to piss me off. Gotta have goals, I say.

Perhaps the most striking difference between now and then is free time, or lack thereof. Back in college, players showed up maybe because they had nothing better to do. Fast forward twenty years and people have lives, families, places they need to be. If there is one advantage to running a game with adults, it's that you know they want to be there (or really want to get away from their families).

2) MY CAREER
I write fantasy books for a living. That means I make my money coming up with fun scenarios of life and death for heroes, monsters, and misfits. I'm capable of both plotting and pantsing, meaning I can work off an outline, but sometimes I just make shit up as I go. That latter is key for dungeon mastering, because the players are more cats than lemmings. Good luck trying to herd them toward that nice friendly tavern when they're hellbent on exploring the Cavern of Fiery Suffering.

My job as a writer is to also create atmosphere, something that is absolutely essential to a night around the game table. Trust me on this. I've played with people who thought a bad Monty Python accent equaled atmosphere. My goal is to not be them.

Is writing a book vs. running a game vastly different? Of course. Thinking on the fly doesn't always give you the luxury of knowing where you're taking something. There's also the fact that I'm a shit note-taker, meaning that random name I just made up for that drunk at the bar is probably forgotten when you ask me what it was ten minutes later. But sometimes that random thing that gets made up in a panic when the character asks "So, what's your favorite food, nameless NPC?" can pay itself back tenfold in a plot point that otherwise didn't exist five minutes prior.

There's also the opposite to take into account ... paying attention and mining what my gamers do, for potential story ideas down the road. Sure, this could be considered shameless dickery on my part, but playing a game like Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder is a social experience. And, much as I love to shunt myself away from the world most days, social experiences are fodder for story ideas.

Galinga, god of fumbles, frowns upon your dice
3) THE TECHNOLOGY
I'll be the first to admit, I was never into collecting D&D minis. I'm that leech at the table who borrows your box of figurines to find one for my character. Conversely, at least I'm not going to sit there and whine because my elven archer has blond hair and all the figures are brunettes. That's only a small part of old school game prep, though. The rest is in building your world ... i.e. drawing dungeons. Hours upon upon hours of tracing fucking rooms on graph paper, only for the characters to walk right the fuck past the entrance when they blow their perception roll.  Truth be told, if we were still playing this way, I would almost certainly not be dungeon mastering right now. I have a little free time, but fuck that noise.

Fortunately, my group has been moving away from that and toward the virtual tabletop that services like Roll20.net offer. Don't get me wrong, it's still a time commitment, but it's amazing how much a little technology can help with game prep.  As for minis, a virtual game world like this also allows the players to upload their own avatars, so that Craig's fucking elf can have his fucking blond hair and he can finally shut the fuck up.

There's also the added advantage of distance not being an issue. One of my players Skypes in from a thousand miles away. While he's at the mercy of my kids not picking that moment to stream forty different movies at once, it's definitely cool to have him back at the table, despite the distance. 

4) PRESSURE AND RESPONSIBILITY
Yeah, I'm stealing this one straight from Bevan's post. The truth of the matter is yes, there's a lot of pressure to be entertaining for 5 or 6 hours around a game table where you're proctoring the action. There's also the responsibility of being ready for game day. Screw it up and you've screwed up the game.

That said, it's a freaking game and the guys playing it are adults. If they're not enjoying things, they'll tell me. If I'm not ready in time for that week, I'll tell them and we'll cancel until the next week. And if the game truly sucks, I'll nod, take my lumps, and end the campaign. We'll survive.

I have a full time job, a house, bills and taxes to pay, 3 kids - 2 of whom are special needs - etc etc. Those are responsibilities. Spending a few hours debating between having the group torn apart by a dragon or a pack of gnolls is a relative cakewalk comparatively.

Speaking of which, there's the added stress release associated with said bloodbaths. Having a bad week? Oops, sorry. Rolled a double zero on the random monster table. A passing green dragon is hungry and you fuckers look like appetizers. Truly a victimless crime if ever there was one.

So let me get this straight. you're arguing with God?
5) THE RULES
This is the part where I probably struggle most. There's no debating that RPGs are more complex now than they were back in the 90's.  We've gone through multiple editions of D&D, a shit-ton of new source books, and even more rules errata.  Gone are the days when you had a Player's Handbook, a Dungeon Master's Guide, and 1 Monster Manual.  I'll be the first to admit, I was never a rules whore. I always enjoyed the role playing aspects of running Gorm, the barely literate Orc cannibal, rather than memorizing the finer nuances of the perpetual Feeblemind spell affecting him.

If there's one area where I think I might get the crap kicked out of me around the table it's this, especially since I play with a couple of power gamers (including one who's a lawyer). This is potentially daunting, but I look at it as just another challenge to overcome.  There's also something to be said about knowing what battles to fight.  Am I going to stop game play for an hour every time one of the PCs wants to argue that the price for an ale at the pub is 1 copper piece instead of 2? No, not really.

There's also fairness take into account, as well as comeuppance. When a rule is agreed upon, that rule forevermore goes both ways ... however that might play itself out. Payback, as they say, is a bitch with six arms, multiple Vorpal swords, and that Stunning Strike decision you argued me to a standstill over six weeks back. 

That all said, so far it's been fun. Two game sessions in and I've made some mistakes, but I believe the story I'm trying to unfold is coming along nicely, which is what I'm focusing on.  At the very least, the players all haven't quit on me ... yet.



Your life might not be truly complete until you've had a chance to be eviscerated by an orc party in one of my games, but until then you can fill that hole in your life with the complete Tome of Bill Series. Available now!

Bill The Vampire Night Stalker Scary Dead Things The Mourning Woods
Holier Than Thou Sunset Strip Goddamned Freaky Monsters Half A Prayer
The Wicked Dead Shining Fury The Last Coven

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:

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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