Dec 29, 2017

Adventures in VR (and AR)

While I can't exactly call it a theme with my Christmas presents this year, I did receive a couple of gifts aimed at either virtual reality or augmented reality. So I figured I'd so what anyone with a self-serving blog would do ... review them in a manner that's aimed at causing maximum ire.

I received a download code for Star Trek Bridge Crew for the Sony Playstation VR, an add-on system that's been somewhat underused since we got it last year. What better way to dust it off than to step into the shoes of a Star Fleet officer while doing my best to bed green alien women and take a big steaming dump all over the Prime Directive?

To boldly go where no dork has gone before
Controls: While it seems Bridge Crew should work with the Playstation move controllers, I didn't test it out. Instead I used the Dualshock 4.  All in all it's a pretty painless, if limited experience. The thumb sticks control your right and left arms, and the trigger buttons do stuff when the game allows you ... although, despite being captain of this crew, it seems to spend an awful lot of time telling you what you can't do.

Gameplay: It's fairly simple. You choose one of four stations and work the somewhat mundane controls. In essence manning a Federation Starship is the 24th century equivalent of writing Excel spreadsheets at the office, if your boss was capable of occasionally firing photon torpedoes at you.

Looking down in virtual reality, I noticed a shapely set of legs beneath me. I was playing a female captain and wearing a miniskirt (because what else are you gonna wear when commanding a quarter mile long starship?). Alas, you only have so much freedom with your virtual hands ... which I guess is a good thing, because otherwise this would be a completely different game.

Ultimately, this is an amusing way to kill a bit of time, but mostly comes across as more of a tech demo than a full game. There's no opportunity to roam the halls of your ship. You can't head down to sick bay and ask Dr. Crusher to examine the phaser in your pocket. And, despite being captain, there aren't any options to order Mr. Worf and Commander Data to fight to the death for your amusement.

As an aside, perhaps it's just me, but I sort of resent the game's enforced morality. You can't just open fire on every civilian ship or starbase you come across. But then, I guess the assumption here is that Starfleet Academy's psych evals would have probably weeded people like me out long ago. Damn it! You win this round, Federation.

Verdict: Geeky fun to kill an hour here or there, but not something I'd want to play for a marathon session. However, I see a lot of potential to expand this into a full-sized game.

Whereas Star Trek Bridge Crew assumes you're happy to sit in your chair, charting stellar anomalies until you can collect your Federation retirement check, Jedi Challenges offers a bit more options including the Holy Grail of gaming: fighting with a fucking lightsaber!

Controls: The game is controlled mainly by your phone, the augmented reality headset it comes with, and a rather cool lightsaber prop. Most of what happens includes looking, clicking, and occasionally slicing the shit out of opponents. Needless to say, one of these control types is slightly more engaging than the others.

Not pictured: dignity
Gameplay: Jed Challenges comes with 3 game modes. The first is a risk-type battle game, which at the time of this blog post I haven't tried yet. I hear it's fun, but can't comment quite yet.

Next up is holographic chess as first seen on the Millennium Falcon in episode 4.  This is cute, but ultimately it's a game of waiting to see who's going to make a stupid move first, you or the AI. Prepare to spend a lot of time moving the same piece and forth, while your AI opponent does the same. Fun to try, but I see this being the least used mode in the game.

Yeah, yeah, I know. The only one people really give a shit about is lightsaber battles. Well, it's a mixed bag from what I can tell. For starters, clicking on your handheld lightsaber and watching the blade ignite in VR (along with sound) is cool as all fuck. There are no two ways about it. However, it quickly becomes obvious this is a game limited by its hardware and the capabilities of your phone.

First off, the blade of the lightsaber has an odd tendency to stick out at an angle from your saber. I mean, I guess you could pretend to be using Count Dooku's weird-ass weapon, but it instantaneously makes things feel a bit off.

The saber itself reacts to your commands and moves as you move your arms, but there's a noticable lag. It's not 1:1, sadly.  It's not bad, don't get me wrong, but it's enough to remind you you're playing a game and not actually getting smacked around by Darth Maul. However, it's close enough to make me think that if they decide to release a Jedi Challenges 2.0, we'll finally be there and thus will have an excuse to forever more ignore this pesky thing called actual reality. 

Other thoughts: the upside of the AR headset is you can see your surroundings, so less chance of falling down a flight of stairs or force-punching your family in the mouth. Downside is that this thing eats up your phone's battery life and can cause it to heat up uncomfortably.  It's also a bit of a pain to set up as installing your phone involves a good chance of hitting your screen or a button and turning off the game ... meaning you have to pull it out and start it again. 

Verdict: Soooo close. A lot of fun and done in a way where you can see your friends pointing and laughing at you. But that lack of 1:1 lightsaber movement is just enough to cause a small tear to roll down one's cheek.

Finally, a full open world game ported to VR (or at least the Playstation VR).  And, best yet, it's a game most of us have already sacrificed a significant chunk of life to. No introduction needed.

Sorry, dude, but I feel entitled to your stuff
Controls: right away, despite the awesomeness that is the land of Skyrim, the seams begin to show. You have a choice between using the traditional dualshock controller or the move controllers. The problem is, each involves a sacrifice of sorts. Using the normal controller is fine and dandy, but you lose a ton of immersion. There you are, smack-dab in the middle of Skyrim, but you can't forget you're using a game controller.

The move controllers make combat itself awesome. There's almost a 1:1 aspect between using them and swinging a sword. Pity they suck for everything else. Using the menus is an exercise in hating life. And walking ... err, teleporting that is, just feels ridiculously unnatural, all because Sony has yet to update their move controllers with thumbsticks. Bottom line here is, either way, you're going to find yourself bitter.

Gameplay: It's freaking Skyrim. If I have to explain to you, chances are you're just a spam bot. Combat is fun with the move controllers (even if the rest isn't), but aside from that the main appeal is you're standing right in the middle of freaking Skyrim. Giant monsters tower over you. Guards get right in your face. The graphics aren't great, limited by the PS VR's capabilities, but really the only thing missing is a friend to punch you in the face whenever your character gets hit.

Verdict: Again so close. And I can't even blame Bethesda Studios, as Sony's the one who has put out an essentially hobbled VR kit by not updating their controllers with freaking joy sticks.

Not Tested: Gran Turismo VR and Accounting VR.  Accounting looks fun, but short. And Gran Turismo is a racing game, which means don't hold your breath for me to test it.

Bottom line: VR and AR are here and they're pretty cool. But, outside of high end PC systems, I think we're perhaps one generation away from it being truly phenomenal. For now, accept it for what it is and that there probably will be some compromises along the way.

Closing thoughts: Why the fuck isn't Jedi Challenges available for PS VR???? The only issue with it is the lack of 1:1 movement, which the PS VR handles just fine. This game would absolutely rock on PS VR. Yes, I understand Sony and Disney probably hate each other, but c'mon. I can't be the only one here who sees this is pretty much a formula to print money.  Get over yourselves and get on that shit, guys!

Oh well. Until then, I hope everyone is having an awesome holiday season, and likewise wishing you all a Happy New Year!

UPDATE: I got a chance to try the tower defense game that comes with Jedi Challenges and it's a lot of fun. The controls are fairly simple, albeit it can be easy to forget to lower your lightsaber and aim with your head at times. That said, there's a lot to like playing a holographic Star Wars tower defense. Definitely a recommended mode to try.

Nov 6, 2017

Adding some swag to my bag ... custom USB drives.

If you follow me on Facebook or Team Twat-Waffle you've probably heard me talking about wanting to increase my branded non-book offerings ... aka swag as it's known in convention circles. And believe me, I'm hard at work looking to expand my current meager offerings (although those of you who were at Con Carolinas have gotta admit the Cursed Dice were way cool.)

Well, I just got in a batch of custom 8GB USB Flash Drives from USB Memory Direct and I have to say I'm seriously digging them. Bill The Vampire's life may suck, but these definitely don't.

I can't wait to get them into people's hands.

Oct 26, 2017

This Halloween there's plenty of reasons to DIE LAUGHING!

Halloween is supposed to be terrifying, but some of us prefer our terror with a side of laughter. For those who like a good chuckle right before the masked killer steps out from behind the tree and takes them out for good we have a special treat this year...

Ten books for under a buck each. We're talking:

Fat Vampire by Johnny B. Truant
Hell's Tittie's  by Robert Bevan and Steve Wetherell
Bubba the Monster Hunter Season 1 by John G. Hartness
Shoot the Dead by Steve Wetherell
Smalls' Soldiers by Renee Miller
Topher Nightshade vs. The Camp of The Undead Apocalypse by Drew Hayes

And the first four books of the Tome of Bill Series:
Bill The Vampire
Scary Dead Things
The Mourning Woods
Holier Than Thou

CLICK HERE to check it out!

Already scoped out Bill and the rest? Well, good news! The Tome of Bill Vol-2 box set is also out. The final four books (5-8) of the series all in one set for one low price.

Goddamned Freaky Monsters
Half a Prayer
The Wicked Dead
The Last Coven
Available in ebook and audiobook!

Tome of Bill Volume 2

Oct 12, 2017

Teaser Chapter for Midnite's Daughter

MIDNITE'S DAUGHTER, a manga-inspired fantasy adventure here!

Check out a small sample chapter below....

A Child of Two Worlds - Belonging to Neither, Dangerous to Both.

All Kisaki really wants is to belong *somewhere*, but there are few places half demons can safely call home. Raised in isolation within the celestial palace, she longs to escape and explore the strange planet below - Earth.  So when an opportunity presents itself, she takes it, inadvertently stealing her mother’s greatest treasure in the process – the Blade of Heaven.

Exploring a whole new world is terrifying enough, but hot on her heels is her so-called guardian, the tiger-spirit Shitoro. If he catches her, he'll drag her straight back home. She thinks it’s to punish her. But in actuality it’s to save her.

She doesn’t know it yet, but there’s a very good reason Kisaki has been kept hidden away.  Half-breeds such as her are not tolerated by the demons lords.  If they find her, they’ll stop at nothing to take the blade and erase Kisaki, her mother, and everyone she cares about from existence.

Kisaki's head rocked to the side from the blow and she tasted blood.

She staggered back several steps but managed not to fall.

All at once, the world seemed to be moving in slow motion. Pain from the hit, the coppery taste of her own blood, her friend screaming her name, and the huffing laughter of the human who had dared lay a hand upon her – all of it happening simultaneously.

It was the first time Kisaki had ever been struck. She'd often read about such punishments, and much worse, in her studies, but had never experienced it herself. She'd expected it to hurt, and it did. What she didn't expect, however, was the cold logic that descended upon her mind, nor how the world seemed to grey out around her.

He didn't hit me that hard, did he?

Before her eyes, the world seemed to change. The sounds around her faded away and she was suddenly no longer in an alleyway. Instead, she stood in a large room. A man was there with her. He was wearing drab green clothes and seemed to be yelling at her for some reason. For a moment, she feared that she'd somehow accidentally activated her last crystal, abandoning the brown-haired boy as well as Tamiko and Shitoro. But then she realized something was wrong about what she was seeing. The man's lips were moving, but she couldn't hear his words. In fact, she couldn't hear anything.

Her body raced forward, seemingly with a mind all its own. Kisaki could only watch as her fist shot out, but it was all wrong. The hand and arm attached to her was much larger and coarser than her own.

None of this mattered to the yelling man, though. He grabbed hold of her and then she was airborne, flying over his shoulder to land roughly on the wooden floor where she...

Just as quickly as the vision had come, it faded away and Kisaki was back where she'd been, tasting her own blood as color returned to the world and sounds started up again.

The world was still moving way too slowly, but that cold logic in her mind demanded that she use the time to study the foes around her. She became acutely aware of everything about them – their size, their weight, the way they moved, how quickly they did so. All of it registered in her senses within the space of a split second, locking itself into her memory with perfect clarity as if she'd spent months, maybe years, studying nothing but these humans.

With that clarity came understanding. She realized how sloppy the attack against her had been. It was a miracle she'd been struck at all, probably more a result of her outrage than any real attempt on his part. If anything, she didn't feel anger against him so much as embarrassment for herself. Such a blow was easily countered. Everything that these men...

No. Warriors were men. These were boys, peasants, children – warriors in their minds only.

It was time to teach them the error of their ways.

Time sped up again to its normal pace, but still that cold logic remained. She stepped forward again. The male who slapped her saw her coming. He looked surprised for a moment before covering it up with a veneer of arrogance.

"Want some more, bitch? Good, because I'm serving it up all day."

This time, he balled his fists, but it didn't matter. Kisaki somehow understood what he was going to do, perhaps even before he did.

She raised an arm and easily blocked the punch. Her attacker's eyes opened wide in surprise. Then, just as quickly, she threw a blow of her own, an open-handed shot to his throat. It caught him dead on, as she knew it would, and he doubled over, gasping for breath.

As he did, she brought a knee up into his jaw. She heard teeth crack and then he dropped to the ground. Unlike when he'd shoved her, though, it didn't appear he would be getting back to his feet nearly as quickly.

Kisaki had barely a moment to be amazed at what she'd done. She'd never been allowed to study fighting or weaponry, no matter how much she had begged. Her mother had forbidden it, and Shitoro wasn't the type to go against her wishes.

But then the moment was over, as the other boy next to Robbie rushed at her. This one was short, but thickly built. He moved as one who knew what he was doing. Not a warrior, but perhaps one in training.

None of that mattered. Kisaki analyzed his moves in the time it took him to pass Robbie and came up with a counter strategy.

She feinted to the right, but he seemed to anticipate that, which was precisely what she expected him to do. She cut hard left, sidestepping him. As he passed by, she shoved him from behind, using his own momentum to propel him into a pile of refuse along the side of the alleyway.

Rough hands grabbed her from behind in a bear hug, lifting her from the ground. Blast! She'd forgotten about the pony-tailed one, Jack. Perhaps sensing she was a greater threat than her friends, he'd come up from behind her unawares as she battled the other two.

"The hell?" he cried. "You some kind of ninja?"

Kisaki allowed herself the ghost of a smile. Ninja had been mentioned in her studies. They were said to be masters of stealth and combat arts. It was something she'd never considered herself to be, but she was currently too distracted to disagree with him at that moment. Instead, as way of response, she threw her head back, catching him on the nose with a satisfying crunch.

He screamed and let go, allowing her to throw a kick back into his leg, which dropped him to one knee.

She immediately realized that these three had been little more than the warmup. The real fight lay before her. Robbie and his two remaining friends had disengaged from the brown-haired boy. She now had their undivided attention. The first two, mere minions, wore uncertain looks upon their faces. Their leader Robbie, however, looked sure of himself, a fact attested to by his wide grin.

He had a confidence about him that suggested he didn't expect to lose. Robbie had the look of one who was used to having the advantage. Indeed, he was larger than most of the humans she'd met, including fully grown males such as Mr. Yoshida. For all intents and purposes, Kisaki should have been terrified of him. But she wasn't. She didn't know what was happening to her, but whatever it was, she reveled in it.

Available now for:
Amazon Kindle / Kindle Unlimited

Sep 14, 2017

Making The Orville funnier ... one comedy writer's conceit.

The ship is nice looking ... but not funny
I watched the premiere of The Orville last night, Fox's attempt at a comedic Star Trek take off - not dissimilar to what Galaxy Quest did, but in TV form.

It was pretty good. I'll definitely be tuning in again. However, I can't help but feel they missed a ton of opportunity to make what was a good show into a great one.

I think the biggest miss there was in the rather light sprinkling of comedy, which was amusing at times but never even close to what I'd consider hilarious.

Now, Seth MacFarlane's resume is a shitload longer than mine, so it's probably arrogant of me to say this, but I can't help but think their biggest mistake is in trying to give The Orville a heart. The problem is, for me at least, feel-good comedies more often than not lose sight of the comedy part in favor of making us root for the heroes. That's a shame, because this isn't serious sci-fi. There's no reason for us to root for anyone.

Consider Spaceballs, Mel Brooks' spoof of the Star Wars franchise. The thing is, is works, and often works well. Why? Because it's not afraid to embrace its absurdity. It doesn't care if we love Lone Star or are hissing at Dark Helmet, because they're both equally inept. The thing that matters is they're making us laugh, which they do often.

The Orville instead tries to give us a serious universe with some quirky characters. There's definitely potential there but, if the premiere was any indication, they were far more focused on making us like the cast than making us laugh ... and in what is essentially a spoof of a well-established genre, I'm not sure that's good enough.

Being I allegedly know a thing or two about comedy myself, I thought I'd take a stab at fixing this.

That said, here are some missteps and/or changes I would make to the characters of The Orville which I think would up the funny considerably, while still leaving it safe for prime time TV.


Captain Mercer: I think the show's number one mistake was in making him a competent officer going through a bad stretch. That right there makes it far too easy for him to reach down inside and ultimately do the right thing / find the right path. Can't say that works for me. Instead, make this guy a total fuck-up and an irredeemable one at that. Either Peter Griffin in space or a live action Zap Brannigan. Have him win the day by dumb luck, barely learning a damn thing as his crewmen get vaporized around him yet he collects the accolades.

Commander Grayson: The cheating ex-wife. Sadly, the way they're playing it here makes me think they have two choices plot-wise: either she and her husband eventually get back together after a series of Friends-like blunders or they merely stay friends and learn to work with each other. Unfortunately, the first is cliche and the second simply isn't funny. Go 100% Married With Children here, I say. Make these two loathe each other, yet be forced to work together. Heck, maybe the reason she's even on the ship is she has a huge life insurance policy out on him and is doing her damnedest to get him killed in a way that lets her collect. 

LT. Malloy: The mistake here is that both he and the Captain are both super competent, but a bit screwed up. Again, that allows them to fix things because ultimately they're both capable officers. I'd say, of the two, let him stay competent, but make it so that he's loyal to a fault to his friend. His entire career has been killed because he's constantly covering for Mercer and suffering the consequences as a result.

Bortus: Interestingly enough, I wouldn't change him too much. He played straight man in episode 1. Keep him that way. Make him the equivalent of Alan Rickman's character from Galaxy Quest. In fact, make him far more competent than either the Capt or 1st officer, yet they always get the credit. Deep down he hates them both, since he's more fit for command, but he believes in duty too much to do anything about it ... save hope they both die horribly in a way in which he can't save them.

Currently in no danger of being dethroned
Lt Lamarr: If they made the changes I suggested to Malloy, then I'd keep him as is. One jackass at the navigation station is cool, but not two. His snark was amusing, just don't turn him into a stereotype in space. That'll quickly tire.

Isaac: Talk about the biggest wasted potential of the premiere. Me, I'd go full-on Marvin the paranoid android's arrogant brother with him. Everything he says and does would be a dig at how much the others suck. Heck, maybe I'd make him the big bad enemy of the season, constantly reporting back to his superiors so they can invade the Union ... but ultimately sending them shitty info since the people he's reporting on are all inept. 

Dr. Finn: I would make her as she appears in the premiere, but to the Nth degree. Have her be writing a research paper on why the Union needs better screening and this crew are the main subjects. Make her always studying them, even when they're injured, but treating them more like lab rats than people.

Alana Kitan: The first thing I'd do is have her be a LOT more ignorant in the ways of how other species work. Her strength should cause more problems than it solves. She's always hurting people, smashing equipment, or crushing her laser gun at the wrong moment. It's a bit cliche, but maybe have her eventually discover the joys of sex and go all overboard, ensuring that half the crew are in sickbay at all times because of her voracious appetite.

The Krill: They had zero personality in the premiere - generic bad guys, who stopped long enough to have one civil conversation, which was supposed to be funny, but wasn't.  Rewrite them so that they're hyper violent. Make them Klingons on steroids.  Everything about their culture is violent. Their solution to every problem is to shoot, stab, or punch it. The captain's answer about marriage would have been far more hilarious had he explained, how he blew up his first wife, shoved his second out an airlock, and is currently fending off multiple assassination attempts from his kids.

Those are just my off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts. Hopefully subsequent episodes can kick the tires a bit and find a better pace for the humor.  As I said, I'll be continuing to watch it, but as of right now it's with an eye more toward hoping they don't miss as many opportunities than actually laughing out loud.

Jul 29, 2017

Teaser Chapter for Lycan Moon

I'm pleased to announce that LYCAN MOON, a new dark fantasy adventure by yours truly and Ruby Cruz, is almost here!

Coming Aug 11th. Available for Pre-Order from now. Check out a small sample chapter below....

Rowan Sinclair has trained for a life in the shadows. As a member of the Guild, she's vowed to mercilessly hunt werewolves or die trying. But when one approaches her, claiming to know her missing father's fate, she decides to do the unthinkable - work with one of the very monsters she’s sworn to destroy.

Dean Mason is a man living with a curse, doing whatever he can to keep the beast inside from sating its bloodlust under the light of the full moon. When a chance meeting offers a tantalizing glimpse of a potential cure, he’ll do anything to end the nightmare.

Now destiny has united these two predators, each possessing the key to something the other desperately needs. Their partnership will lead to either their salvation or mutual destruction in this urban fairy tale where there's no such thing as happily ever after.

Ro stopped moving as she heard what sounded like multiple soft footsteps padding through the underbrush. As she ceased her movement, so did they, mirroring her. She’d been right. These wolves seemed much smarter than the average packs she and her father had hunted in the past.

“Hello?” she called out timidly. “Is anybody there?” She almost had to stifle a chuckle at the horror movie cliché.

Before entering the park, she’d purloined an oversized coat and hat from a nearby Goodwill box. She figured her best bet for blending in would be to either appear as a jogger out for a late night run or as a homeless person in the wrong place at the wrong time. She’d decided on the latter, as it made her appear weaker, not to mention offered plenty of camouflage for her weaponry.

Though she had her tracker on her, she didn’t dare look at it. To do so now would give away that she was more than she appeared. Besides, with her senses on edge as they were, she didn’t need it.

She took a step, then another, when the hairs on the back of her neck stood up straight and a corresponding spike of adrenaline hit her brain.

Ro sidestepped, more out of instinct than having heard the actual attack. The wolf was both smart and fast. Had she been anything less than she was, it would have taken her and carried her off into the bushes before she’d even had a chance to scream.

Pity for it that, smart as it was, luck wasn’t on its side this night.

She spun as it leapt at the spot she’d been a mere moment before and brought her fist up, slamming it into the back of the beast’s thick skull. Normally such a blow would be laughable in the face of a monster wolf, but she’d used its momentum against it. Off balance as it was, her hit sent it staggering to its knees as it tried to cease its own forward motion.

Ro jumped on its back, simultaneously drawing her knife. She was sticking to her personal promise. Besides, it was too soon for the gun. She could sense this wolf wasn’t alone. Though double-tapping it in the back of the head with nine millimeters of silver was by far the safer course of action, she didn’t want to prematurely scare off the pack-mate she was certain was close by. She wanted it to think this was a fluke – that she’d gotten lucky.

After everything she’d gone through the past few weeks, one kill was not going to suffice for this moon.

Before the first wolf could regain its feet, she slammed the weapon into the base of its skull. Despite the toughness of its skin, the silvered blade sank into it like a hot knife through butter. With a quick twist of the grip, she severed its spinal cord, killing it instantly.

It hadn’t even had time to whimper.

Ro pulled out the blade and palmed it, drawing it into the oversized sleeve of the coat. She backed away from the downed wolf and started trembling. Though she knew it was likely that whatever else was out here with her wouldn’t be taken in by the ruse, she had to try. If another wolf was close by and truly in the grip of its beast form, it might not possess the higher brain functions to put two and two together.

She didn’t think that likely, though. Everything she knew about these Los Colmillos wolves told her they weren’t animals, at least not in their thinking. The first one had been sloppy, overconfident, but there was little chance of another being so reckless in the face of the obvious – that she was still standing while its pack-mate lay dead on the path.

Still, Ro kept up the illusion. She backed away from the monster, staring at it wide-eyed, a feigned look of horror upon her face as if she was too terrified to even scream.

Several moments passed when suddenly the hairs on her neck stood up again and she sensed movement from ahead.

That’s it. Come to mama.

She’d purposely backed herself up against a rocky outcropping. It served to protect her backside, even if it boxed her in. That was fine, however. She had no intention of running.

The wolf stepped from the brush on the opposite side of its dead companion. It was huge, considerably larger than the one she’d just dispatched.

She took a quick look at the dead wolf, taking note of its smaller size and lighter coloring. Probably a female. The one before her now was most definitely a male which, for some reason, made the coming fight even more exciting.

The beast lowered itself to all fours and approached the downed wolf slowly, its eyes never leaving her. Its stance suggested it was ready to spring into action at any moment. Ro stared back at it wide-eyed, as if in disbelief, but in actuality waiting for it to be in a position where she was unlikely to miss her shot.

Slowly, she reached down with her free hand and slid it beneath the hem of the coat to where her holster lay.

Just a little more, you son of a bitch.

The wolf nudged the other with its nose, as if checking to see if it were merely stunned.

Good luck with that.

Even as the male continued to sniff its companion, the dead wolf began to change. The hair retreated from its body. Its stature began to shorten, and its features began to take on a human-like form. Within moments, Ro’s instincts were confirmed as the body of a naked woman lay where the wolf had been a moment earlier.

The other beast lifted its head and bared its teeth at her.

“Come on,” she whispered. “Here I am. So tasty and helpless.”

Rather than charge her, though, the wolf looked around as if considering its options.

Damnit! “Not fooling you for a second, am I?” she asked aloud. “Fine. The hard way it is.”

Ro flung the coat off her, revealing her lithe form. In the same movement, she drew her gun. When the dead wolf had shrunk back to human size, it had greatly diminished the cover it provided its companion. She didn’t think she was going to get a clearer shot.

This wolf proved to be much smarter than its companion, however. It reared up to its full height and kicked out, sending the dead woman flying toward Ro just as she pulled the trigger.

Ro dove out of the way, her shot missing by a mile. She rolled and came up to her feet just as the wolf lunged for her. There was no hesitation from it as there had been that night with Dean. This one meant to have its pound of flesh.

That was fine by her. She likewise felt absolutely no sympathy in this fight, either for herself or the creature.

Only one of them would walk away from this.

There was no time to aim properly. She pulled the trigger as she sidestepped, catching a hairy elbow in her midsection, hard enough to almost knock the wind out of her.

She staggered and backpedaled, putting some distance between her and it. Clear shot or not, it was suicide to stay within arm’s reach of a monster like this.

As she did, she saw the creature stumble into the tree line. It put one of its paws over its thigh and let out a brief whimper. She’d winged it.

The male wolf turned toward her wide-eyed, the anger in its eyes replaced by a look of pain and, although she couldn’t be certain, she was convinced she saw fear, too.

It had just enough cover to potentially ruin her shot. She had to finish it off before it could bolt. If it ran, it was unlikely she’d be able to find it again before it could hole up somewhere.

“So, that other mutt?” she asked, hoping this thing was smart enough to understand her. “She your mate, or just your fuck puppy?”

Its eyes narrowed and its lips pulled back from its teeth.

Pride before a fall, motherfucker.

“Sorry to break it to you, Fido, but I’m pretty sure all dogs don’t go to heaven.”

Available now for:
Amazon Kindle / Kindle Unlimited
Amazon UK


Jun 8, 2017

What's YOUR Tome of Bill Vampire Name?

So, you want to be "recruited" into Village Coven so you can hang with Bill, Sally, and all of their friends?  Well, there's two problems.

1) You're alive.
2) You need a cool coven name.

Assuming some vampire decides to take pity on your blood-filled self and relieve you of that first part, you still gotta work on number 2.

But, fortunately for you, here's your handy dandy guide to solving that dilemma for all of eternity.

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. 

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.

Author Dating Game
1-2:30 PM

Official blurb:  Can't decide what to read next?  Join our game and make a date with a character from the works of some of our celebrated author guests!

My take: You wish to talk to Rick, you stay away. You wish to talk to mighty Turd then come and have your head smashed!  

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

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.

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).

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
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 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. 

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?
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
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?

"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:

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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

"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.


"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?"


"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: