My Everyday War with Social Media

Let’s just go ahead and get this out there.

hate social media.

There. I said it.

I hate it with a deep and abiding passion.

And yet…

It‘s a lot more complicated.

I mean, a LOT.

As of right this moment, I would consider myself extremely active on social media. Twitter, Facebook, Facebook Business, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest…the list goes on. I’m active on each and every one, and I’m on them almost every single day. Yes, I know what you’re thinking — I literally just said I hate social media.

So why then, all the sites? Why do it if it’s so antithetical to happiness?

Well…

It turns out I’m an author. And an artist. Virtually all my wares appear online in one form or another. And to be honest, I’m not famous enough for these things to sell themselves. Without daily, active, highly-engaged social media marketing, I’d most likely have to give up the dream and go back to working a 9–5 office job. Which, to be fair, is just as terrifying as toiling away on social media. I figure at least when I’m clicking, posting, and responding online, I’m doing so in a tank top and shorts, in my bed, far from the horrors of corporate office life.

So what’s the trouble with social media, aside from the vast time-suck?

For starters, let’s list a few:

  • You don’t know most of the people to whom you’re talking. They could be anyone, and they could be anywhere. What’s in a profile pic these days? Not much. Unless you’ve actually met the flesh and blood human on the other end of your latest tweet, you don’t know them. At all. More importantly, you don’t know what they want. And in many cases, you don’t even know whether or not they’re real. The person who just followed you might not be a person at all. Think about it…
  • The endless cycle of reciprocation. While not as much of a problem on Facebook, when one uses Twitter and Instagram to pitch art and books, one must be prepared to give far more than one receives. These days, I spend as much time retweeting and liking fellow artists’ posts as I do creating my own, whether or not I like approve of what these people are saying. If I didn’t do this, the reciprocation cycle would end and my audience would shrink. This is how it works. It’s a shark tank out there, and if you don’t feed the sharks, they’ll turn right around and eat you
  • Creepers, stalkers, and people who think every social media site is for dating. Yes, I’m a guy. And yes, I’m fully aware I don’t suffer nearly the amount of harassment as the ladies. Even so…every day, every week, every month, I deal with followers who aren’t at all interested in my paintings or my books. These ladies are after validation, compliments, idle flirting, and romance. An innocuous like on one of my posts becomes a “Hey, nice painting” in my inbox. And then the “Hey, nice painting” becomes something entirely unsettling. And then it becomes a dance between me not wanting to be rude to a fellow human and me having to say “Please go away and look for love from someone else.
  • The personal toll. This one is the hardest. In building a social media empire, one must be very, very careful to keep internet life and real life separate. So far, I’ve done well, but likely not well enough. Even though in my heart I know my goals on social media are highly specific and definitely have an endgame, it’s not always an easy sell to the people I care about in real life. “Why are you online so often?” “Who was that woman you were friendly with on Twitter?” “Are you suuuure you’re only there to market?” — these are some pretty typical questions I’ve been asked. And no matter my answers, I have many times seen the doubt in the eyes of those close to me. It’s at times like these I wonder, “Is this really worth it? Am I selling out? Am I really shrugging off compliments, flirty women, and questionable content…and staying humble?”

Well? Am I?

At the end of each day, is being on social media purely as an artist, author, and purveyor of the occasional off-color meme worthwhile? Yes. Mostly. For every weirdo, creeper, latch-on lady, or inappropriate person, there are hundreds of legitimately cool people out there. Fantastic artists lie around every corner of Instagram. On Twitter exists a thriving culture of authors, philosophers, poets, and curators of excellent content. And on Facebook, well…there’s always cat videos.

But the dark side is real.

It’s expensive, not in terms of money, but in terms of personal welfare and the welfare of those closest to me.

And every day I wage a small war in my heart against it.

In a six-year career on social media, I’ve experienced some truly great things. Great personalities. Hilarious jokes. Wonderful ideas to expand and open the mind.

And of course, epic-level books sales (the whole point of it all.)

But I’ve also dealt with…

  • Writers who claim to be best-selling authors, but who become furious when it’s pointed out they’ve published one brief book with no sales (and which contains giant grammatical chasms.) In other words, liars
  • Social justice warriors invading my benevolent feed to loudly state the half-boob in one of my paintings makes me nothing more than a ‘sexist, chauvinist pig.) Does it? Asking for a friend…
  • Woman posing as art collectors who buy no art, but who gradually increase the flirt level until I’m forced to block or ignore them
  • Prostitutes
  • Bots
  • Exes posing as other people
  • People who think everything is a platform for their politics
  • And the one author who tried to get me to support his book (which spoke of the ‘many virtues of pedophilia.’) Gross, dude. Get help

And so the battle inside me rages on. It’s sometimes small, sometimes massive, and yet I take some heart knowing I’m not the only one. I’m betting there are silent legions of fellow humans out there who feel the same, who struggle with wanting to look their friends in the eyes (as opposed to through a monitor) and who feel the pressure and desire to escape social media and never, ever come back.

I know you’re out there.

We’re not meant to be these distant creatures who create mere avatars for our real lives, and who so often toil alone behind our screens.

The image we present online — it’s false. We must never forget this. Even if we’re utterly honest while posting, we are not collections of memes, profile pictures, and likes. We’re still human behind it all.

At least, I hope we are.

More importantly, I hope you’re human, too…and not another latch-on creeper.

As I close out this collection of thoughts, one last bit of irony hits me. As soon as this is published, I’ll share it across every single one of my social media accounts.

Funny, right?

…or maybe not.


J Edward Neill

Come see me here.

Tyrants of the Dead – Three Epic Novels in One Monstrous Ebook

In a far and ancient land, Emperor Chakran dreams of conquest. His desire to resurrect the evil, world-ending Ur casts a dark shadow across an unsuspecting world.

But as his army butchers its way across the realm, leaving only a vast, storm-riddled graveyard in its wake, a small band of warriors rises up to oppose him…

Tyrants of the Dead

The Complete Collection

 

101 Questions for Humanity – Goodreads Giveaway!!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

101 Questions for Humanity by J. Edward Neill

101 Questions for Humanity

by J. Edward Neill

Giveaway ends March 19, 2019.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

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Thursday Art Assault – Nether Kingdom

Nether Kingdom

Fall of the Dark Moon

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At the world’s edge, all dreams come to nothing…

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Read J Edward Neill’s terrifying new fantasy novel today…

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Goodreads Giveaway – A Door Never Dreamed Of

Goodreads Book Giveaway

A Door Never Dreamed Of by J. Edward Neill

A Door Never Dreamed Of

by J. Edward Neill

Giveaway ends March 20, 2019.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

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Little Questions about BIG Things

Six Deadly Sins

 The 7 Deadly Sins are:

Envy

Greed

Sloth

Lust

Gluttony

Pride

Wrath

If you could destroy one of these forever, as in remove it from the consciousness of every human being for all time, which sin would you choose?

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180 Degrees

 Suppose a man dedicated the first twenty years of his life to being a vicious criminal.

He was a thief, a thug, an arsonist, a kidnapper, and even a murderer.

But then, for the next 50 years, he turned his life around.

He gave millions to charity. He found homes for orphans. He fed the poor. He traveled to war-torn nations and helped innocent people evacuate.

What is the value of this man’s life?

In your eyes, has he found redemption?

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Generations of Evil

 In certain cultures around the world, different generations are referred to separately.

For example, in America there exist such divisions as Gen-X, Baby Boomers, and The Greatest Generation.

It’s a common theme for older generations to criticize those who are younger, often with cries of, “Kids these days don’t know a damn thing!”

Is it true that previous generations contain people who are wiser, harder working, and more moral?

 Or has every generation that has ever existed contained similar percentages of stupid, lazy, and immoral people?

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The Conjecture Clock

First, here’s a few interesting measurements of time:

Attosecond – Currently the smallest division of time. Approx 10−18  seconds.

Megasecond – Approx 11.6 days

Galactic Year – The time it takes for the Sun to orbit once around the Milky Way’s center. Approx 230 million years.

Exasecond – Approx 31.7 x 10years. (more than twice the age of the universe.)

Now, the real question:

Does time exist?

Or is it simply a human construct?

When answering, take your time.

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The Sun will Rise Tomorrow. Won’t It?

 If you can, name three things or phenomena it’s acceptable to believe in without having actual objective proof of that thing or phenomenon’s existence.

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Nemesis vs Prey – 1st Chapter of Lords of the Black Sands

Part 1

Nemesis versus Prey

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Galen hadn’t meant for everyone to die.

He hunkered in his hole, bobbing his head to the falling rain’s beat.

He tasted the ashes of the dead in the air.

And he knew it was his fault.

If I hadn’t come here, they’d be alive, he thought.

I guess I did them a favor.

Little streams of warm water slid across the broken streets overhead and plunged into his hiding spot. He hated the feel of the rain squelching in his boots, and he grimaced when the foul liquid peppered his hood. He hadn’t been this uncomfortable in weeks, not since the time he’d cut the fingers off a man who’d tried to steal his one and only apple.

My last apple. He shook his head.

Did he have to bleed on it?

Down in the muck and shadows, Galen waited for the rain to snuff the fires. The stench in his pit was already unbearable. Two others had crawled down into the hole with him, but they’d been too slow, and had gagged to death moments later. The poisonous air in the city above had been more than enough to kill them.

He wanted out.

But he knew if he poked his head up too soon, someone was likely to nip it off.

So he waited. Ashes from the burning city mixed with the rain, which in turn plummeted down into his hole, painting his cloak, his weathered pants, and his skin a sickening shade of grey. He didn’t look like a living man anymore.

He looked like death.

I’m the Ash Man, he thought. Can’t catch me if you can’t see me. Can’t kill me if I’m already dead.

He whistled softly to himself, and he couldn’t help but grin. Ash Man sounded like a nickname he might’ve liked. But someone had once told him he wasn’t allowed to give himself nicknames.

Too bad, he thought. Ash Man would be better than Prey.

When the storm was at its strongest and the thunder began to break the sky, he climbed out of his pit. Soggy, his face grey as charcoal, he pulled himself above street level and emerged into the half-light of the ruined day. The shanties and crude brick houses that had made up most of Cedartown lay in crumbled heaps around him. The smoke from human corpses curled into the air despite the rain.

He slithered down a street and ducked behind a pile of smoldering wood beams and bricks blackened by fire. An hour ago, he’d been standing inside a house in the very same spot, conversing with the doctor who’d lived there.

The ashes staining the wall a dozen feet away?

The good doctor’s, he imagined.

At least he finished before he died.

Clutching his cloak around his shoulders, he hunkered in the house’s ruin. The hole in the back of his neck, which the doctor had installed and lovingly termed a ‘skin-port,’ itched worse than his toes inside his rancid boots. But he didn’t dare scratch.

Doc said not to, he recalled. Needs a few hours to heal up. 

He slowed his breathing, just like his mother had taught him. He snapped his eyes shut and listened to the sounds between raindrops, the rolling thunder, and the wind beating against broken walls. Somewhere, maybe a few hundred feet away, another building collapsed. And somewhere else, the rain crackled as it peppered a burning wooden beam.

No. Not those sounds.

The footsteps.

Hear them?

Soundless, still barely breathing, he made a shadow of himself and slipped out of the doctor’s crumbling abode. When he passed the wall onto which the doctor’s ashes had burned a vaguely human shape, he couldn’t help himself. He stuck out his finger and scrawled a ‘G’ in the ash.

It was a stupid thing to do, he reckoned.

But was it?

The ones hunting him would know he’d survived.

They always knew.

He crept into the alley behind the doctor’s house. Some of Cedartown’s houses were still half-standing, and some walls still high enough to provide cover. He moved from ruin to ruin, and he stepped so lightly through puddles black with ash no one would’ve heard him even without the thunder and rain.

Through one house, he moved like the wind. A woman and her child knelt on what he supposed had been the kitchen’s dirt floor. Their bodies were flesh no longer, just sculpted dust soon to be washed away by the rain.

He moved on.

In another shanty whose roof had burned away, he glimpsed an old man half-buried beneath a mound of smoking timbers. The poor creature sucked in short breaths, looking little different than a fish plucked from his bowl and tossed on the floor. But was he really an old man? In this place where no one lived longer than forty years? Or had the bomb aged him, withering the flesh of a much younger man?

It didn’t matter, Galen supposed.

Whoever the man was, he wouldn’t be alive much longer.

And it was a good thing, he reckoned.

He reached Cedartown’s boundary, if such a thing existed in the weary old hamlet. The last few shanty huts, erected in no particular order on the directionless cobblestone streets, had made a noble stand against the bomb’s fury. A few were merely blackened, but not quite felled. One or two looked almost untouched, shielded from the blast by some miracle of physics.

Someone might’ve survived in these houses, he imagined. Someone might still be hidden inside one of the shanties, ticking away the last few minutes of their life.

If it were true, he pitied them.

Wouldn’t be a pretty life here. He crouched beside a house of sticks. It’ll soon be sand. Just like all the rest. 

In the shadows, he waited. The fields beyond the hamlet had ceased burning, and the smoke was no longer black, but pale and wispy. Galen kept his hood close to his cheeks, his neck still itching. If anyone had seen him, they’d have said he was a ghost with ashes for skin, black opals for eyes, and a cloak so weathered it must’ve been ripped from the grave of a corpse twenty years dead.

And if that someone had seen him, gasped in terror, and run screaming into the barren fields, Galen would’ve smiled. He was good at frightening people, and better at being alone.

The foul, humid wind whipped up across the grass. Galen didn’t move. Between flurries of smoke, curtains of rain, and the charnel smells of Cedartown, he hunkered low and listened to the world.

He wasn’t alone.

The Nemesis and his soldiers had come from the east, having followed him from the steel cities near the ocean all the way across the rusted, blackened graveyards dotting the shores of grey-watered lakes. Always, they were the shadow on his back, the knife in the darkness.

And always, he escaped them.

The enemy warrior, clad in scaly black armor, trod through the mud at Cedartown’s edge. He walked alone, Galen knew. Only ten of the Nemesis’ knights had come here, and this one, a beast of muscle and black steel, believed himself unstoppable.

Maybe he was right.

Maybe, in a fair fight, no swordsman in the Kingdom of Earth could outduel the black-armored warrior.

But then, Galen didn’t care for fair fights.

When the black knight clattered to the end of the street and halted at the beginning of the fields beyond, he didn’t know he was being watched.

Two swords, Galen counted.

Two knives.

Other, deadlier weapons.

He’s a pretty one…he is.

It’s a shame.

The wind rose again, and with it Galen moved. Gliding between breezes, he closed the distance between himself and the knight. His only weapon, a knife scavenged from the steel cities of the east, flashed in his hand.

The knight never heard him, never saw him.

And with the wind, Galen floated behind the knight, buried his dagger in the tiny gap between armored plates, and eased the armored titan down into the mud.

Even before Galen helped his limp body to the ground, the knight died. Galen’s dagger, wet with heart’s blood, splashed into a puddle, where the scarlet stain spread through grey water.

“Sorry for that,” Galen whispered into the dead man’s ear. “You lived a good life…better than most of us. I’ll honor you by keeping one of your swords.”

He rolled the dead knight onto his back. It felt funny to him that a man with so many weapons and so much armor could be felled by a simple handmade knife. Shaking his head, he loosed a black-steel dagger from the knight’s waist and sliced the straps crisscrossing the dead man’s chest.

Quite by accident, he glimpsed the knight’s other weapons. They were marked with the Pharaoh’s seal, and were among the deadliest devices ever made. One looked like a wand, short and slender. The other was an obsidian disc polished to a mirror shine.

These, he didn’t touch.

Another day, old friend, he thought.

For now, just your sword.

He tugged one of the knight’s scabbards loose from the straps and pulled the sword halfway out. More than a century ago, he’d had a similar blade—three feet long, ebon steel polish, sharp enough to clip a man’s head from his shoulders without him feeling a thing.

With the dagger and sword, he crouched over the knight and peered back into Cedartown. Fell shapes moved though the city, hunting with weapons drawn. The Nemesis and his men were dressed all in black, and the rain glinted atop their armored shoulders.

“Should’ve paid more attention.” He patted the dead knight on his arm. “Might’ve seen me before you died.”

No, he knew.

Even at his best, he never had a chance.

He sprang to his feet, tucked his new weapons under his armpit, and darted into the field beyond Cedartown. He’d picked right. The grasses here were scorched by fire, but still tall enough to hide him. Like a snake—an animal no one in Cedartown had seen in centuries—he slithered through the grass and vanished.

The Nemesis and his men, even had they looked in his direction, would’ve thought they’d seen nothing more than the wind.

In minutes, Galen stood a full half-mile away. A blackened tree jutted from the dirt, and he leaned against it. His neck itched worse now. He considered ripping the skin-port out, if only to ease his irritation. He would’ve done it, too, had he not spent the last hundred years searching for the right man to install it.

Never said it would itch this much.

Everyone makes out being immortal like it’s a thousand-year party.

From his safe vantage, he watched Cedartown. The Nemesis and his men scoured the ruins like ants hunting for a last drop of sugar. He saw their weapons flare more than once, their sinister lights somehow darker than everything else. They were killing Cedartown’s last survivors, probably more out of frustration than anything else.

They knew.

They hadn’t found his body, and they knew they wouldn’t.

He’d escaped them yet again.

Almost got me, boys. He lifted a rotten apple out of his satchel and took a careless chomp. But now what’ll you do?

The doctor’s dead.

And I’ve got what I came for.

He wished he could’ve seen their faces. Before the sunset, before the starless night reclaimed the ruins of a town in the middle of nothing and nowhere, he wanted to see the frustration in their eyes.

But then, he knew he wouldn’t.

He’d fled twenty generations of the Nemesis’ men.

And if he’d learned one thing in the last five-hundred years, it was that they never took off their masks.


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Continue the story here. 

He didn’t mean for everyone to die…

Galen hadn’t meant for everyone to die.

He hunkered in his hole, bobbing his head to the falling rain’s beat.

He tasted the ashes of the dead in the air.

And he knew it was his fault.

If I hadn’t come here, they’d be alive. 

I guess I did them a favor.

Little streams of warm water slid across the broken streets over his head and plunged into his hiding spot. He hated the feel of the rain squelching in his boots, and he grimaced when the foul liquid peppered his hood. He hadn’t been this uncomfortable in weeks, not since the time he’d cut the fingers off a man who’d tried to steal his one and only apple.

My last apple. He shook his head.

Did he have to bleed on it?

Down in the muck and shadows, he waited for the rain to snuff the fires. The stench in his pit was unbearable. Two others had crawled down into the hole, but they’d been too slow, and had gagged to death moments later. The poisonous air in the city above had been more than enough to kill them.

He wanted out.

But he knew if he poked his head up too soon, someone was likely to nip it off…

*

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Think Galen will lose his head?

Find out here.

 

 

Lords of the Black Sands – The Apocalypse is Now!

For centuries, Galen has fled from the Pharaoh and his immortal servant, the Nemesis.

Not any more.

Across the desolate wasteland of the ruined Kingdom of Earth, Galen marches toward his only chance at freedom.

Only he can live forever.

Only he can defeat the Lords of the Black Sands.

 

Kickass Kickstarter – 47 Furious Tails

47 FURIOUS TAILS, ISSUE ONE live on KickStarter


January 23rd, 2019 – Writer W.S. Quinton and artist Alexia Veldhuisen brought their vision of the samurai epic to KickStarter in a bold way. This new comic book, 47 Furious Tails Issue One, is the first in a twelve-issue limited series that tells the classic story of the 47 Ronin in brilliantly-illustrated comic book pages.

In issue one, readers are introduced to key actors in this historic legend as Asano Naganori prepares to leave Ako for his fateful, final trip to Edo.
Based on historic and literary accounts, 47 Furious Tails portrays the characters from this classic tale as anthropomorphic animals, making each character beautifully unique.

Issue one immerses the reader in the lives of these famous samurai as they carry on with their lives before the coming of events that would transform them into legends. Witness as Asano Naganori meets with his loyal Oishi Yoshio, and behold the prowess of the elder samurai Horibe Yahei and the young Oishi Chikara as they defend Ako from fierce bandits.

Fantastic art, devotion to duty and fierce samurai action await the reader, in 47 Furious Tails.

Discover 47 Furious Tails, Issue One right here: KickStarter: http://kck.st/2RchurL

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Sinopa Publishing LLC is incorporated in the Commonwealth of Kentucky
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47 Furious Tails is a trademark of Sinopa Publishing and is Copyright © 2017 by W.S. Quinton
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All rights reserved

He Awoke at Dusk

He awoke at dusk.

His first breaths were more dirt than air.

He knew only the sound of the wind twisting through leafless branches.

…and of a woman’s voice roaming through his ears.

He couldn’t see her, not yet, but he felt her presence. She was near, perhaps standing above him, a slender black shape against a backdrop of nothing. The shadows in her eyes were grey and gauzy, and the evening’s light nothing more than spears of silver against the growing dark.

He blinked, but the shadows would not depart.

He tried to speak, to whisper, or even to croak a few clumsy sounds.

Nothing. His voice had not returned.

It was the woman who spoke first, but not to him, nor to anyone. He knew even without seeing that he was alone with her.

Out in the cold.

In a forest.

How did I come to this place?

He could not remember.

“Should’ve waited ‘til spring, you know?” The woman was farther away now, and speaking to herself. “Fingers raw from dirt half-frozen. Shovel full of splinters. Look at these hands. They look like farmer’s hands now. What would mother say?”

She said more, but he heard little. The wind picked up, and with a shiver he realized he was naked. Lying on the ground, half-buried in frosted loam, his helplessness confounded him. Why would he fall asleep in such a state? Why was he half-blind, mute, and smothered with the sense he’d only just been born?

He couldn’t even remember his name.

The woman’s shadow returned. He couldn’t see her face, not quite, but he glimpsed something in her left hand. It looked like a stick, straight and black, sharper than any sword in the world. The woman’s hair hung long over her shadowed face, and he knew it was raven. She, in fact, was raven. Everything about her looked and felt dark.

Or is it just my eyes?

Why won’t they work?

“Well?” The girl squatted over him. “Can you hear me?”

Somehow, he managed a subtle nod of his head.

“You’re cold, right?” she said without real concern. “See? I knew I should’ve done this next spring. I’ve woken you up, and you’re likely to die again by the time the sun goes down. It’s okay. If you do, I’ll just bring you back again. This stick is pretty useful. It fell from the moon, did you know?”

He groaned. Finally, a sound. The woman shifted on her knees, and he swore he caught a glimpse of her eyes.

Dark. Like her hair.

And…

Is she beautiful?

The woman rose, walked away, and returned with something else in her hands. She draped the dark thing over his body—a blanket, he realized. It did nothing to drive off the chill in his bones.

“You can’t talk yet.” She hovered over him again. “Don’t worry. It’ll pass, I think. It had better, else you’re no good to me. What good’s a warrior who’s blind?”

A warrior?

Am I?

Or…was I?

“Right now you’re wondering who I am and why I’ve pulled your bones out of the dirt,” she continued. “That’s all well and good. Mother said after all this time you might not even remember your life, who you were, the things you did. That’s fine, too. In time, it’ll come back to you. It’s been about six centuries, so really…you should feel lucky I was able to find what was left of you. Did you know you died here? Do you remember how?”

He shook his head. The world beyond the woman came in and out of focus. The night was nearly upon him, and the sky colored with violet clouds and black tree branches.

“I’d warm you.” She leaned closer. Her dark curls touched his blanket, and her lips made the shape of something not quite a smile. “But my magic, you see, isn’t not really for warming. Or helping. That’s not how magic works, you know? It’s all pretty dark stuff. I wanted to believe otherwise as a little girl, but Mother showed me.”

“Your moth…your mother?” he stammered.

“Oh good, you can talk.” Her not-quite-a-smile broadened. “It’s not much, but it’s a start. And yes, my mother. She’s dead, you see. So very dead.”

She stood up again and walked away. He heard the clatter of things: sticks, something made of cloth, the sound of water sloshing inside a waterskin. He wanted to focus, to remember, but every small noise washed over him as though he were hearing them for the very first time.

When she returned, she began building something around him. She produced a mallet from her satchel and began pounding long stakes into the dirt, all the while cursing the soil’s hardness. Afterward, she unfurled a great dark canvas and stretched it between the stakes.

A tent, he realized. She’s protecting me from the cold.

Darkness claimed the forest. The pale spaces in the sky, swallowed up by shadows, fled from his eyes. She pulled the tent’s canvas tight, and even the black branches vanished.

…just as my eyes were adjusting.   

Finished with her work, she sat between his feet. He saw only the shape of her shoulders. All else was midnight.

“There now,” she said. “You’re all set. Normally, I’d turn us to shadow and fly all the way home. But…you’re too fresh. The flight might kill you, and really, the ritual to bring you back is more than a little tedious. And also…well…I guess it’s time to let you know—I don’t have a home anymore. They burned it down. I guess I could’ve killed them all, but all it takes is one lucky arrow, and there’d be no more me. You’ll come to learn the world needs me, just as it needs you, my friend.”

“Name?” he managed to say. “Your…name?”

“Mine?” she said. “No. You’re not ready for that. Rest now. Rest, and try to remember your own name. You’ll need it before long. You’ll need everyone to know it. Because…how can the world be afraid of you if you don’t even have a name?”

With that, she left him. The tent flap fell shut, and the woman swept away into the night. Again, she said things to herself.

Quiet things.

Unknowable things.

But he did hear another sound.

The night breaking. The wind rising. And whispers between the trees that were something other than human.

* * *

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This excerpt is from an as-of-yet untitled piece.

It was to be the very first chapter in a co-authored fantasy novel.

But the idea was shelved, and my co-author turned to other projects.

So now I’m curious…

…should I write this book alone?

…or should I leave this one in the dark?

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J Edward Neill

 

Deadly New Cover Art – Lys & the Heart Stopper

Imprisoned as a little girl, Lys awakens in the world’s lowest prison. She’s to become a concubine to a faceless noble in a land far from her native home.

But when fate intervenes, she seizes her only chance at freedom. To save her long lost caretaker, she means to cross the wasteland of Vhur, in which the diseased Iritul have hunted humanity near to extinction.

No distance is too great.

She’ll do anything to rescue her friend.

Even if it means a confrontation with the deadliest human alive – The Heart Stopper.

A Love For Everyday – 2

Two years ago, I created a homemade book for my wife with all these quotes about Love from our favorite TV Shows and movies and books and then I added to it great quotes about love from history or just great quotes about love from anyone. Last year I shared a few from the book around the holidays and thought that would be a good one to revisit (the original is here).

January 29

If I had the choice of hanging out with anyone in the entire world or sitting at home with you eating pizza watching a crappy TV show, I’d choose you every time.

Scrubs

February 5

For she had eyes and chose me.

William Shakespeare, Othello

March 1

I want a soul mate who can sit me down, shut me up, tell me ten things I don’t already know, and make me laugh. I don’t care what you look like, just turn me on.

Henry Rollins

April 12

One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: That word is love.

Sophocles

 

May 8

You don’t love a girl because of beauty. You love her because she sings a song only you can understand.

L. J. Smith, Secret Vampire

June 23

Heaven would never be heaven without you.

Richard Matheson, What Dreams May Come

July 7

Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.

Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

August 25

I can’t say how every time I ever put my arms around you I felt that I was home.

Ernest Hemingway

September 3

It was a great kiss. If one of us had been a frog, it would have had some seriously impressive consequences.

Gilmore Girls

October 13

Every lover is, in his heart, a madman, and, in his head, a minstrel.

Neil Gaiman, Stardust

 

November 1

Face it, Tiger, you just hit the jackpot.

Mary Jane Watson

December 29

They say when you meet the love of your life, time stops, and that’s true.

Big Fish

 

***

Hope you have some great holidays with those you love.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

THE AMAZING ART OF BOOK BLURBS – PART 2!

To illustrate the pain and suffering of writing blurbs (and query letters…and synopses) I’ve challenged myself to write one-sentence descriptions of ALL my books.

Here we go…


BREAKING UP IS EASY TO DO – 303 STRANGERS TELL CRAZY, FUNNY, AND SCARY STORIES OF THEIR BREAKUPS.

 

LORDS OF THE BLACK SANDS – FIVE CENTURIES AFTER EARTH SUFFERS A NUCLEAR HOLOCAUST, THREE IMMORTALS VIE FOR CONTROL OF THE PLANET.

 

101-Questions-for-Humanity-333x500

101 QUESTIONS FOR HUMANITY – THE ORIGINAL ENTRY IN THE COFFEE TABLE PHILOSOPHY SERIES ASKS SHORT, SIMPLE QUESTIONS WITH THE AIM OF PROVOKING THOUGHTFUL ANSWERS.

 

DARKNESS BETWEEN THE STARS – WHILE GAZING AT THE NIGHT SKY, THE WORLD’S LONELIEST BOY SEES THE STARS BEGIN TO DISAPPEAR.

 

SHADOW OF FOREVER – AFTER EARTH’S DESTRUCTION, A BROKEN MAN AND HIS AI COMPANION SEEK VENGEANCE AMONG THE STARS.

 

EATERS OF THE LIGHT – CALLISTA LIGHTBRINGER, A SENTIENT AI HOUSED IN A HUMAN BODY, JOURNEYS TO A DISTANT GALAXY IN ORDER TO DESTROY A RACE OF STAR-EATING SPACE VAMPIRES.

 

REALITY IS BEST SERVED WITH RED WINE – WHILE GULPING DOWN VARIOUS BOTTLES OF WINE, AN AUTHOR REMINISCES ON HIS CHILDHOOD, HIS DATING LIFE, AND THE STATE OF MODERN SOCIETY.

 

LIFE & DARK LIQUOR – WHILE SERVING HIMSELF SCOTCH AND OTHER POTENT COCKTAILS, A WRITER DWELLS IN THE DARKNESS OF HIS BASEMENT AND OPENS UP ABOUT THE SKELETONS IN HIS CLOSET.

 

101 QUESTIONS FOR SINGLE PARENTS – TWO SINGLE PARENTS POSE SOMETIMES TOUGH/SOMETIMES FUNNY QUESTIONS FOR PARENTS OF ALL AGES TO CONSIDER.

 

THE ULTIMATE GET TO KNOW SOMEONE QUIZ – A DELIGHTFUL CRASH COURSE OF FUN QUESTIONS TO ASK SPOUSES, SIGNIFICANT OTHERS, FAMILY, AND FRIENDS.

 

LYS & THE HEART STOPPER – AN IMPRISONED YOUNG GIRL ESCAPES HER BONDAGE. ALONE, SHE JOURNEYS TO FIND THE DEADLIEST PERSON IN THE WORLD, THE HEART-STOPPER, THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN HELP HER EARN HER VENGEANCE.

 

NADYA THE DEATHLESS – AN IMMORTAL WOMAN DEFIES A POWERFUL ARISTOCRACY AND IGNITES AN ILL-FATED REBELLION AGAINST THE PONTIFF OF VHUR.

 

Hollow Empire Front Cover

HOLLOW EMPIRE – NIGHT OF KNIVES – AFTER A PLAGUE WIPES OUT MOST OF A MEDIEVAL NATION’S POPULATION, FIVE LOST SOULS MUST SURVIVE THE HORRORS THAT FOLLOW.

 

DOWN THE DARK PATH – BOOK I – A YOUNG WOMAN LEAVES HOME TO MAKE A BETTER LIFE FOR HERSELF, ONLY TO WANDER INTO THE HEART OF A HORRIFIC, WORLD-CONSUMING WAR.

 

DOWN THE DARK PATH – BOOK II – A DESPERATE WOMAN FOLLOWS HER LOVER INTO A BATTLE HE CAN NEVER HOPE TO WIN.

 

DOWN THE DARK PATH – BOOK III – AFTER INVADING AND CRUSHING HIS RIVAL’S HOMELAND, A WAR-CRAZED EMPEROR SENDS HIS CRUELEST WARLORD TO BUTCHER THE LAST OF HIS ENEMIES.

 

DOWN THE DARK PATH – BOOK IV – AS A WORLD-ENDING CONFLICT REACHES ITS CLIMAX, A YOUNG WOMAN MUST CHOOSE WHETHER TO JOIN THE WINNING SIDE AND BECOME QUEEN OR SACRIFICE EVERYTHING TO BETRAY HER KIDNAPPERS.

 

OLD MAN OF TESSERA – THE LONE SURVIVOR OF A DEADLY STORM STUMBLES INTO THE CITY OF TESSERA, IN WHICH NOTHING AND NO ONE ARE WHAT THEY SEEM.

 

 THE HECATOMB – A GHOULISH MONSTER AND ITS OFFSPRING STALK CITIES AT NIGHT WITH THE AIM OF KILLING EVERY LAST HUMAN IN THE WORLD.

 

DoorNeverDreamedPaperback1

A DOOR NEVER DREAMED OF – IN A DISTANT EARTH FUTURE, TWO YOUNG MEN ON OPPOSITE SIDES OF AN APOCALYPTIC WAR COLLIDE.

101 Questions for Women Cover

101 QUESTIONS FOR WOMEN – WRITTEN WITH WOMEN IN MIND BUT ACCESSIBLE TO EVERYONE, 101 QUESTIONS FOR WOMEN FOCUSES ON LOVE, LUST, AND THE BREAKDOWN OF TRADITIONAL GENDER ROLES.

 

101 Questions for Men Cover

101 QUESTIONS FOR MEN – GEARED FOR MEN, THIS ENTRY IN THE COFFEE TABLE PHILOSOPHY SERIES ASKS QUESTIONS ABOUT SEX, RELATIONSHIPS, AND MUCH MORE.

 

101 Questions for Midnight Front Cover

101 QUESTIONS FOR MIDNIGHT – THE STAKES ARE RAISED AND THE QUESTIONS DARKER THAN EVER IN THIS FUN, ENGAGING ICE-BREAKER BOOK. PUT IT ON YOUR COFFEE TABLE AND WATCH THE CONVERSATIONS IGNITE!

 

SleepersImageForBlogging

THE SLEEPERS – A WEALTHY STUDENT IN A FAR-DISTANT FUTURE IS TASKED WITH DESTROYING AN ALIEN WORLD TO SAVE HUMANITY.

 

LET THE BODIES – A LITTLE GIRL SUFFERS ALONE WHILE EVERYONE IN HER CITY VANISHES.

 

101 Deeper Darker Cover

101 DEEPER, DARKER QUESTIONS FOR HUMANITY – 101 TOUGH & FUN QUESTIONS TO TEST YOUR MORALITY, CHALLENGE YOUR ETHICS, AND ENTERTAIN YOUR FRIENDS.

 

101 SEX QUESTIONS – LOVERS AND LAUGH-SEEKERS ALIKE WILL FIND ENTERTAINMENT IN THIS SEXY SIDEKICK TO THE COFFEE TABLE PHILOSOPHY SERIES.
  Dark Moon Daughter New Kindle CoverDARK MOON DAUGHTER – YOUNG ANDELUSIA ANDERAE IS SEDUCED BY A MESSENGER AND CONVINCED THAT HER BUDDING BLACK MAGIC IS THE KEY TO SAVING THOUSANDS OF LIVES.

 

NetherKingdomWebLg-331x500

NETHER KINGDOM – AT THE WORLD’S EDGE, A SORCERESS AWAKENS TO THE TERRIBLE REALIZATION THAT SHE ALONE CAN STOP AN INVASION OF OTHERWORLDLY HORRORS.

 

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444 QUESTIONS FOR THE UNIVERSE – MEANT TO ENTERTAIN FOR HOURS, 444 QUESTIONS IS A GRAND COMPILATION OF SERIOUS YET FUN QUESTIONS.

 

THE LITTLE BOOK OF BIG QUESTIONS – SCIENCE AND MORALITY COLLIDE IN THE ULTIMATE CONVERSATION-STARTING BOOK FOR SMART PEOPLE.

 

101 WAYS TO FIGHT ABOUT POLITICS – LOADED QUESTIONS ABOUT IMMIGRATION, THE PRESIDENCY, AMERICAN CULTURE, AND OTHER HOT-TOPICS. FOR SELF-REFLECTION, READERS CAN TACKLE IT ALONE, BUT THOSE WHO PREFER HEATED DISCUSSIONS WILL WANT TO READ IT IN MIXED COMPANY.

 

101QSP

101 QUESTIONS FOR SINGLE PEOPLE – IN THE MODERN WORLD OF SWIPING LEFT AND NEVER LOOKING BACK, 101 QUESTIONS FOR SINGLE PEOPLE ASKS READERS ABOUT EVERY FACET OF LOVE, LUST, AND HUMAN ROMANTIC CONNECTION.

 

MACHINA OBSCURUM – A COLLECTION OF SMALL SHADOWS – A LEPER DEDICATES HIS LIFE TO SAVING CHILDREN, A WOMAN ACCEPTS THE RAREST OF ALL MURDER CONTRACTS, A GIRL SUFFERS INSANITY IN A SPACE COLONY, A TRAIN-HOPPING DUO CROSSES THROUGH DIMENSIONS, AND MUCH, MUCH MORE…

 


See? Blurbs are fun, right?

There’s no better way to grab a reader’s attention than through a good, quick description.

…and no easier way to lose it with a bad one.

See you on the flip side.

J Edward Neill

19 Questions for Humanity

19 Questions for Humanity


 

THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE

If revealed to you, and if they challenged everything you thought you knew, could you discard all of your previous beliefs?

*

 IN THE STRUGGLE BETWEEN HAPPINESS AND MEANINGFULNESS

Is it better to participate in the grand human social machine or seek contentment alone?

*

IMMORTALITY

If and when scientists perfect a method to extend life indefinitely, would you take the plunge?

*

IN THE REALM OF CURRENT EVENTS

Beyond money, why do people choose to be Police Officers? Attorneys? Politicians?

*

THAT THING CALLED LOVE

Purely bio-chemical? A genuine spiritual event? Or a survival mechanism to overcome the perils of being utterly alone?

*

WHERE WE’RE GOING, WE DON’T NEED ROADS

If, long from now, the world is completely mechanized, thus eliminating the need for most people to work, what will we do with our lives?

*

EVERYONE HAS ONE

Which one rules the roost: Opinions? Or facts?

*

 THINK HARD ON THIS ONE

Does every single human life…have value?

*

A MOMENT OF OMNISCIENCE

If you could ask ONE question of the universe and have it answered utterly and completely, what would it be?

*

THIS ONE’S RHETORICAL

Why do so many people get so angry about politics?

*

NO JUDGMENTS, I PROMISE

From the following, choose the worst thing you could possibly be addicted to: Alcohol, Drugs, Sex, Gambling…or TV…

*

 UFC 666: JESUS VERSUS SUPERMAN

If you could lock any two historical figures (dead or alive) in a cage for a fight to the death, which two would you pick?

*

 THAT SONG BY THE CLASH

A fascinating new planet is discovered far from Earth. You can journey there safely and live out your life, but it’s a one-way ticket for you and whomever you take. Do you stay or go?

*

STEPFORD WIVES (AND HUSBANDS)

Let’s say science perfects an absolutely lifelike robot for use as a spouse. And let’s say this beautiful, intelligent, customized-to-you robot will do anything and everything you ask. You buying one?

*

CONTINUING THE SHALLOW THEME

Perfect body? Perfect face? Or perfect intellect?

*

CRIMES AGAINST OURSELVES

Considering everything, does humanity deserve to exist?

*

IN THE BATTLE BETWEEN

Is there any such thing as absolute good or evil?

*

BACK TO THE FUTURE

You’ve built a time machine. It only goes one direction in time. Do you want to see how it all began? Or how it all will end?

*

AND A BONUS QUESTION (WHEN SOMEONE ASKS YOU IF YOU’RE A GOD, YOU SAY ____)

Pretend you’re a deity for a day. What’s the first thing you do to the world?


*

Want to argue about the answers? Good. Try this. 

Or for something smarter, go here. 

All Hallows Book Sale

Welcome to the All Hallows Book Sale. For the next two days I’ve decided to offer nearly ALL my books (Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Horror, and Coffee Table Party Philosophy) either FREE or deeply discounted.

So…

Go here to view my entire catalog, including everything I’ve slashed for this event.

To get a feel for what I’m offering, check out some of my cover art right here:

dark_moon_daughter-initialcoverjuptereventcrop1cover101-qs-for-the-end-of-the-world-front-cover 101-questions-for-midnight-front-cover101-questions-for-single-people-front101-questions-for-women-covernether-kingdom-createspace-bright-coversoul-orb-new-ddp-cover-second-try

 

 

HUMBLE BOOK BUNDLE: TALES OF HORROR

Just in time for Halloween, Humble Bundle has a collection of horror books and graphic novels to spice up the season!

HUMBLE BOOK BUNDLE: TALES OF HORROR

The horror! The horror! We’ve teamed up with a spooky host of publishers for a new ebook bundle. Get creepy tales like Cold in July, Parasyte Vol. 1-2, and Lovecraft’s Monsters. Plus, your purchase will support the Arthritis Foundation!

$392 WORTH OF DIGITAL BOOKS * PAY WHAT YOU WANT * DRM-FREE * MULTI-FORMAT

Short stories, graphic novels, and books featuring characters like Dracula, Jack the Ripper, and Sabrina along with original content. Written by Stephen King, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Anne Rice, Alan Moore, Clive Barker, Dean Koontz, and more.

To view this Humble Bundle, click here.

 

* * *

 

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links through Humble Bundle’s Humble Partner program.

Missing Dragonlance? Try Rex Draconis by Richard A. Knaak

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Dragonlance. The world of Kyrnn. The continent of Ansalon. The Companions. Camaron. Raistlin. Takhisis. Paladine. Kitiara. Lord Soth. Chronicles. Legends. Margaret Weis. Tracy Hickman. The Legend of Huma. Kaz the Minotaur. Richard A. Knaak.  

Those settings, characters, books, and authors summarize of my love for D&D’s Dragonlance. The setting was popular in AD&D, 2e, 3e, 3.5e, and the SAGA system (the last module, for 3.5e, was published in 2008 by Sovereign Press, one of Margaret Weis’ companies and the official licensor of Dragonlance at that time). Beyond the RPG books and sets there were tie-in novels published from 1984 until early 2010 (fellow Tessera Guilder, John McGuire, wrote about those early Dragonlance novels recently), comic books, video games, and a 2008 animated movie. While there was a tip of the hat in a 5e Unearthed Arcana to Krynn’s minotaurs (here), Wizards of the Coast has not published any new Dragonlance game material for a decade, and no new novels in nearing that time span.  

While the full list of every author that touched Dragonlance over those two decades is extensive, the list of authors that most defined Dragonlance novels throughout their existence is four: Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman, Douglas Niles, and Richard A. Knaak. Their prose gave the world its voice and structure, gifting it with flavor while crafting a complex history. Everyone involved did an excellent job of building the world of Krynn into one of D&D’s premier settings. Knaak built up the world’s history while cementing the sailor minotaurs and Knights of Solamnia and other critical facets of the world. He curved out a section of Krynn that might be dubbed “his” part of Ansalon. However, the downside of working on corporate properties is when the publisher stops producing them, your contract ends, and the sun on your part of the world sets, sometimes forever.  

Knaak worked on other properties (World of Warcraft, Conan, Diablo, and several of his own series including Dragonrealm), yet the stories of Dragonlance must have continued to percolate in his mind. In 2017, he delivered the first book in a new fantasy series, Rex Draconis. The first novella, Rex Draconis: Under the Dragon Moon, lays out the opening shots of the series. I didn’t read Rex Draconis: Under the Dragon Moon, instead I did the Audible as read by Julie-Ann Amos. For those not versed in audiobooks, an Audible is the same as reading, only it’s not. Julie-Ann Amos elevated the work through her voice acting. Her characters had a life and presence that you do not hear in every audiobook and are not always present in your head as you read.  

The superficial bits of the novella marked the series as the spiritual successor to Dragonlance. But, it’s not a cloned-Krynn, it’s a skillful homage to Knaak’s corner of Ansalon. A love letter so compelling that it’s inspired Knaak to work with Phil Beckwith of P.B. Publishing and Micah Watt of Pyromaniac Press to convert this prose into a tabletop RPG setting for D&D 5e and Pathfinder 1e (the Kickstarter for is live here until Sun, October 21 2018 10:02 PM EDT). I covered the Kickstarter here, and interviewed Knaak and the rest of the creative team on the Open Gaming Network 

What is Dragonlance about this series? Sailor minotaurs. Kwillum, a kender-like species that make more sense than kender. Two species of dragonfolk that have a light resemblance to draconians. Three-ish moons of differing hues. There’s more that, once you see those parts, make the other pieces fit a jigsaw puzzle of a Larry Elmore Dragonlance painting, but on examination it feels more like forcing the pieces to fit. The semi-befuddled mage, Knights of the Shield/Knights of the Grey Hand, the prominence of the gods as components of the sky, the tinker dwarf. Those pieces could be viewed as being taken from Ansalon, yet powerful mages, knightly orders, gods, and steampunk humanoids are common fantasy tropes. It is only when the other pieces are invoked that they form the tapestry of Krynn.  

Despite the elevator pitch that this is Dragonlance revisited, and some similarities, Rex Draconis is not Dragonlance. Taken as a whole, it is its own world. The minotaur empire is pushing against the human’s world, the “orcs” of this world are the wheyr, a race of jackelpeople who have massive numbers and, thanks to some captured and copied minotaur ships, are a threat at sea, dragonfolk aren’t rooting for an evil goddess or defending mankind, instead, everyone are their pawns, the third moon is visible and shattered into the shape of a dragon, the kwillum are looking for something. There are layers to this world and this first novella offers a taste of each.  

Who is Rex Draconis: Under the Dragon Moon for? Sword and sorcery fans. Fans of Richard A. Knaak. Fans missing their Dragonlance fix that are ok with a reimagined version of the world. D&D fans that want the feel of those worlds back in print. But mostly fans looking for a fantasy world that is fully realized, with interesting takes on the battle between good and evil, one where the series is ongoing and being transferred across medias to work with D&D 5e and Pathfinder 1e on Kickstarter (here) 

 

Find Richard A. Knaak’s Rex Draconis: Under the Dragon Moon here.

UPDATE: The second novella in the series, Rex Draconis: Lords of the Dragon Moon, is available here.

Try the Audible here.  

Support the Rex Draconis RPG – Rising Tides Kickstarter, which ends on Sunday, October 21 2018 10:02 PM EDT, here. 

 

Richard A. Knaak, author of Dragonlance novels for over 20 years: 

  • Dragonlance: The Legend of Huma (1988) 
  • Dragonlance: Kaz the Minotaur (1990) 
  • Dragonlance: Land of the Minotaurs (1996) 
  • Dragonlance: Reavers of the Blood Sea (1999)
  • Dragonlance: The Citadel (2000) 
  • Dragonlance: Minotaur Wars: Night of Blood (2003) 
  • Dragonlance: Minotaur Wars: Tide of Blood (2004) 
  • Dragonlance: Minotaur Wars: Empire of Blood (2005) 
  • Dragonlance: Ogre Titans: The Black Talon (2007) 
  • Dragonlance: Ogre Titans: The Fire Rose (2008) 
  • Dragonlance: Ogre Titans: The Gargoyle King (2009) 

Along with two decades of Dragonlance short stories and novelettes:  

  • Dragonlance: Tales I: Wayward Children (1987) 
  • Dragonlance: Tales I: Definitions of Honor (1987) 
  • Dragonlance: Tales I: By the Measure (1987) 
  • Dragonlance: Tales II: Colors of Belief (1992) 
  • Dragonlance: Tales II: Into Shadow, Into Light (1992) 
  • Dragonlance: Tales II: The Hand That Feeds (1992) 
  • Dragonlance: The Dragons Anthologies: Kaz and the Dragon’s Children (1994) 
  • Dragonlance: The Dragons Anthologies: The Son of Huma (1997) 
  • Dragonlance: Tales of the Fifth Age: Sword of Tears (1998) 
  • Dragonlance: Tales of the Fifth Age: The Thief in the Mirror (1999) 
  • Dragonlance: Tales of the Fifth Age: Tactics (2000) 
  • Dragonlance: The Search for Magic: Tales from the War of Souls vol I: Hunger (2001) 
  • Dragonlance: The Players of Gilean: Tales from the World of Krynn: A Matter of Honor (2003) 
  • Dragonlance: The Search for Power: Dragons from the War of Souls: Loyalty (2004) 
  • Dragonlance: Dragons of Time: The Vow (2007) 

 

 

 

 

* * * * * *

 

 

 

 

 

Disclosures: This article contains affiliate links.

Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer™
Freelancer for EN WorldKnights of the Dinner TableOpen Gaming Network, and the Tessera Guild.
Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Want to share news? Press releases? Rumors? Sneak peeks? Deals? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or on Facebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).

100 Free Copies of Darkness Between the Stars

At night, he watches the stars and dreams of flying between them.
And when he sees them begin to disappear, he knows what will happen…
The beginning of the end.

Darkness Between the Stars

Enter below for your chance to win one of 100 free copies of J Edward Neill’s sci-fi thriller:

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Darkness Between the Stars by J. Edward Neill

Darkness Between the Stars

by J. Edward Neill

Giveaway ends October 30, 2018.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

The Novels of My Youth: Richard A Knaak

Years ago when I was just beginning to discover this new world of books that had opened up to me, a pair of trilogies were thrust upon me by my friends. They were branded with the words Dragonlance which I was beginning to put together was a Dungeons and Dragons world. Years later I wonder what made them think that I needed to read these particular books. I’d only just learned how to play D&D. And while I could certainly understand the idea of a shared world from my few years (at that point) reading comic books, I’m not sure why they thought these were the way to through me in the deep end. Of course, they were right. Those six books basically made it so that any extra money I had (that wasn’t going to comics) ended up in one of the various D&D books. And like everything, when you were dealing with the sheer numbers of books I was reading, you’d get some good ones and some clunkers.

One of the things about TSR (the makers of D&D at the time) was that with Dragonlance, you had the original creators writing the initial series, but also expanded the history of the world. They invited other authors to write about those legendary characters in their own series.

The Legend of Huma, but Richard A Knaak, was one of the first Dragonlance books I read that wasn’t by the original authors. And I wasn’t sure what to expect as I flipped through the pages. Sometimes the problem with the legends is that they are merely there to teach the main characters a lesson of some sort. That tidbit is interesting, but a whole book on the character might be pushing it.

Luckily that wasn’t the case with The Legend of Huma. Knaak managed to not only bring the main character to life but wove a story around it introducing readers to Kaz the Minotaur. Someone that by the end of the story was as big a character as anyone might have been. Being able to bring that well-roundedness to what was a “monster” – and typically would have just been something Huma should have killed right out. I think it taught me that if you infuse your characters with personalities and hopes and dreams that they would become full-fledged characters for the reader.

The initial book was followed up by a sequel focusing on Kaz (titled Kaz the Minotaur). Which, in my mind, put the character into that pantheon of all-time Dragonlance characters.

Knaak would follow these up with more books about the Minotaurs of Dragonlance, effectively becoming the go-to guy when it came to their culture and customs. I also love the idea that a writer in one of these worlds can basically make themselves the expert of a whole race of creatures. So many times, you can get lost in the shuffle because so many books are coming out at a time, but Knaak not only found his niche but made it his own.

I have books that I want to reread (which run into my list of still haven’t read and the list of dying to read). Whether or not I am able to really make the time, I know those initial two Dragonlance stories would be at the top of the list with Huma and Kaz read immediately afterward.

Currently, there is a Kickstarter running which focuses on Knaak’s newest world of novels (which I am eager to jump in and read!) and bringing it into the roleplaying side of things. You can find information about it here.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Hardcore Fantasy Cover Art – Down the Dark Path

The massive epic Down the Dark Path (Book One in the Tyrants of the Dead series) is now available as four mini-novellas.

At 200 pages each, these new editions are lighter and easier to consume than the original epic. Plus they ship with sexy matte black covers, featuring all new art.

Now it’s easier than ever to start your journey Down the Dark Path.

 

 

 

KDP and Createspace have merged. Move your books today!

After a long, long wait, the merger of Createspace and Amazon’s KDP softcover printing service is at hand.

It affected me greatly, moving more than 40 titles during the transfer.

But…

I’m pleased to say the transition was smooth, efficient, and resulted in none of the disaster scenarios I feared. Yes, the switch-over is mandatory. No, it’s not the end of the world.

Rather than ramble on, here’s the full scoop from KDP’s home page. Included is the full walkthrough of how to make the switch.

I recommend not waiting. Do the switch now…and don’t let KDP do it for you.

* * *

CreateSpace and KDP to Become One Service

CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) are becoming one service–making KDP the single place to publish and manage your print and digital books. To learn more about the move, see the topics below.

Before you move


See our list of tips for preparing your CreateSpace account for the move to KDP.

How to move


In a few weeks, we’ll automatically move all accounts to KDP. If you’d like to get a head start, you can move your entire catalog yourself in a few steps. To ensure a quality experience, we’ll enable the ability to move your CreateSpace books to KDP in phases, so authors may see it at different times. See an overview of the process.

FAQ


See frequently asked questions for general information about the move, as well as details about moving your books and royalty payments, sales rank, distribution, and taxes.

Join us for a live webinar and have our experts introduce you to the KDP website. Registration is hosted by Adobe Connect, so you’ll visit their site to sign up. Can’t join us for the live event? Watch the webinar recordings here.


Before you move your books to KDP

Our tips for preparing for the move:

  • Make your book available on Amazon. This will allow you to enable Expanded Distribution and order author copies on KDP.
  • Check your payment information. Make sure your bank and tax details are up to date because this information will also move to KDP. If you have an existing account with complete payment and tax information, we’ll use that information going forward.
  • Make any changes to your Cover Creator cover. If you designed your cover using Cover Creator on CreateSpace and want to update it, do so before moving to KDP. Why? CreateSpace Cover Creator designs aren’t compatible with Cover Creator on KDP. If you want to update your cover after the move to KDP, you’re welcome to design a new one using KDP’s Cover Creator. You can also use our cover templates.
  • Finish setting up books in the statuses “awaiting proof” or “proof review.” We recommend doing this on CreateSpace so you don’t have to resubmit them on KDP. Books that aren’t live on CreateSpace will move to KDP and appear there in “draft” status. The statuses “awaiting proof” and “proof review” don’t exist on KDP. If needed, changes can be made on KDP after the move is complete. After you submit your book for publication on KDP, we’ll check your files for quality issues.
  • Make any changes to books written in languages KDP doesn’t support. CreateSpace supports some languages that KDP doesn’t. After your books are moved, you won’t be able to make any changes to books written in languages KDP doesn’t support.
  • Download any CreateSpace files you want to keep. If you want to download files stored in your Project Tool box or any CreateSpace reports, we recommend that you do so before you move to KDP. After the move, you won’t be able to access these files on CreateSpace.

How to move your books to KDP

You’ll be able to move your entire catalog to KDP in a few steps.

VERIFY
To ensure you’re moving the right books to KDP, confirm the CreateSpace account you want to transfer from.
LINK
To ensure you’re moving your CreateSpace books to the right KDP account, confirm that it’s the account you want to transfer to. If you don’t have a KDP account, you need to create one during the transfer.
MOVE
Once you’ve made sure you’re transferring from and to the right account, click Start your move. When we’re done preparing your account for the move, you’ll be redirected to your KDP Bookshelf, where the transfer will be finalized.

To ensure a quality experience, we’ll enable the ability to move your CreateSpace books to KDP in phases, so authors may see it at different times. This quick video shows you what the move will look like.

Video: Moving your books to KDP

 

Projects and Accountability

Whether it is the smallest things on your to-do list or the last check on the biggest project of your life, it becomes very useful to have some measure of accountability for both things. Something as simple as writing this thing in a blog may be enough to allow it to come to life when and where you say it will be completed.

I have discipline in some things and less so on other things. I watch others achieve successes I can only dream about, but I know the reason it happens – they bust their asses every day to ensure they get a little closer to their goals. It’s not a big secret. It doesn’t take hundreds of thousands of words in a self-help book. Neither does it mean you have to watch hundreds of hours of self-help programming. No, no matter who you are no matter what your plans, the only way to get there is to choose to do it.

I guess.

I mean, that’s what those books would tell you… when you really get down to the core of it all, that’s what they would tell you. Only you can make this thing happen. Only you can decide to not continue to do the bad and instead shift to the good.

There is this dream I have. It is the same dream I’m sure so many other writers have: to be able to write for a living. To not have to go to the day job day in and day out. I’ve always said that I’m pretty lucky in that, most days, I like what I do for a living. And even if I could go 100% to writing, I’d probably want to find a way to still be an engineer part-time (if only to ensure I didn’t become a full-time hermit – which might be likely for me).

The thing is, if that’s my goal then I know that the way I’ve gone about this writing thing is backward. It’s never going to work for me to release things unrelated to other things. I have two novels out there, one I wrote solo and one I co-authored. I have two other novels waiting to be formally edited and then released. None of these things have anything to do with any of the other stuff I’ve done. Even my comic work doesn’t fit into a genre similar to any of my prose work.

And this might not be a problem if I was already established, but I am nowhere near that point.

Back at the beginning of July, I took a two-day online writing class from Sterling and Stone. I’ve never taken a writing class like this before. The most I’ve really done is some panels here and there at Dragon Con. This was very much a crash course in how they prepare for the novels they write as well as just a mindset they enter into. It was about developing the idea prior to just jumping into things and hoping it might turn out alright (doing that dreaded Outline thing).

So as part of the class, the goal is to have a full draft of a novel by the end of the year… but this isn’t just another standalone, but needs to be the first book in a larger series. And while my brain doesn’t like to work that way, I actually had an idea which seems rich with possibilities. It’s forced me to think about the outline for Book 1, but also consider aspects of a Book 2 and Book 3 and Book 4 and…

I believe that I have the ability to do it. I know what my output can be when I sit down and focus on the writing. When I minimize my distractions.

So that’s the goal. I have 4 months to get this first story told. Wish me luck.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Createspace and Kindle Direct Publishing to Become One Service

It’s official.

We all knew it was coming.

Createspace and KDP are ‘merging.’  If you’re a paperback publisher who uses either platform, you’ll want to review the following message, copy/pasted directly from Amazon’s KDP website:


Hello,

We’re excited to announce that CreateSpace (CSP) and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) will become one service, and in the coming days, we will give CreateSpace members the ability to move their account and titles. To ensure a quality experience, we will add links to the CreateSpace member dashboard in phases so authors may see it at different times. As a reminder, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) now offers Expanded Distribution to sell your paperbacks to physical bookstores in the US, as well as the ability to sell your paperback books on Amazon.ca and Amazon.com.au (Amazon.mx coming soon). With these features, KDP’s paperback distribution will be on par with CreateSpace’s distribution. KDP also offers features that aren’t available on CreateSpace. These include the ability to purchase ads to promote paperbacks on Amazon.com and locally printed author copies in Europe.

As a result of these enhancements to KDP and our ongoing efforts to provide a more seamless experience for managing your paperback and digital books, CreateSpace and KDP will become one service. On KDP, your paperbacks will still be printed in the same facilities, on the same printers, and by the same people as they were on CreateSpace.

In a few weeks, we’ll start automatically moving your CreateSpace books to KDP. Your books will remain available for sale throughout the move and you’ll continue to earn royalties. Once we begin this process you’ll be unable to edit existing titles or create new titles on CreateSpace.

If you have a release planned soon or you would like to start the move yourself, we are making updates that will allow you to move your entire catalog in just a few steps. During this transition, you can contact KDP customer support by email and access phone support in English.

There are a few payment and printing fee differences associated with the move. Going forward you will be paid on KDP’s payment schedule. CreateSpace pays monthly royalties 30 days after the end of the month in which they were earned while KDP pays monthly royalties approximately 60 days after the end of the month in which they were earned. As a result, you’ll be paid in September for any royalties earned in August on CreateSpace and be paid in October for any royalties earned in August on KDP. In addition, some low-page count books will see an increase in printing fees when they are printed in the UK and EU. This affects a small number of titles. If your titles are affected by this change, you will receive a separate email on this topic. Learn more about KDP’s printing fees here.

To learn more about the move and review the latest, visit here. We’ll be in touch with more updates in the coming weeks.

It is still Day 1 for independent publishing. As Amazon’s recent shareholder letter noted, there are more than a 1,000 authors who earn more than a $100,000 a year from their work with us. We could not be more optimistic about the future of independent publishing and this change will allow us to innovate faster for you.


As a user of both platforms, it’s almost a relief to see this is finally happening. While the royalty payout time is not so great, KDP generally speaking has the better interface. It’s long past time to move forward with this merger.

Self-publishers unite!

J Edward Neill

Bouncing Between Bottles – Memoirs of a Tipsy Author

He promises to drain one bottle per chapter. That’s the rule. There’s no breaking it.
And while deep in his cups, J Edward Neill takes readers on a sometimes funny, often poignant journey. Playful yet serious, humorous yet honest, his bounce between bottles delivers readers on a stroll through everything. It’s a lighthearted memoir blended with sharp philosophy. It’s social commentary blended with powerful cocktails.

Dating. Religion. Politics. That one time J Edward and his friend built a dam and met the world’s most relaxed water moccasin…
It’s all here.
One bottle per chapter.
One chapter every night…

*

*

Now available for every e-device worldwide. 

101 Questions for Single Parents

This book is for you if…

…you’re a sleep-deprived single mom who can name at least 50 Pokémon but can’t keep your kids’ names straight or remember where you parked your car at the grocery store.

…you’re a single father who sits in a morning work meeting, waiting to give a monthly report presentation, when suddenly you realize you forgot to remove the polish your daughter had applied to your finger nails (and half your hand) the night before.

…you ‘re the grandparent who can’t retire because you’re raising your young grandson alone. After an eight-hour work day, your nights are filled with homework, constructing cities out of Legos, and answer 2AM calls to chase monsters out from under the bed.

…you are, know, love, or want to get to know a single parent. Here are 101 ways to dig deep into the challenges and the joys of single parenting. The following questions are sometimes fun, sometimes thought-provoking, and always enlightening.

*

7 Questions for Single Parents

7 Questions

For Single Parents

…or really any Parent

* * *

*

*

Timing is Everything

 You’re a single parent, right?

(Even if you’re not, you can still answer this one.)

When dating a new person, how long should a single parent wait before allowing their new lover to meet the kid(s)?

*

Think Fast!

Using one or two-word answers only, describe what you’d do in each of the following scenarios:

  • Your child walks in after visiting your ex and claims they now believe the exact opposite of whatever your religious beliefs are
  • Your ex withholds two months of child support, claiming a financial hardship
  • Your two children (ages 10 and 15) announce they want to live exclusively with your ex-spouse
  • Your one child (age 7) announces they want to live exclusively with you and never, ever see their other parent

*

The Answer is 84

 At what age should a child have the legal right to choose to live solely with one parent?

*

Mecha-Ninja Tech-Savvy Godzilla Mom

From the following, choose one or more descriptions that would best fit your style of single-parenting:

Tiger (High discipline, emphasis on structure and academics)

Free-Spirited (Lower emphasis on structure. Let the kid do almost anything they want…within reason)

Soccer Mom/Dad (Athletics, exercise, and physical activity)

Techie (Video games & devices allowed. Emphasis on computer skills)

Skill Builder (Teach the kids to follow in your footsteps. i.e.; fixing cars, hunting, fishing, cooking, sewing, et cetera)

Culture Warrior (Teach the kids to become highly involved in society.)

*

*

Fight Club!

 You’re a single parent of two boys, ages 8 and 10.

You’ve had it with their constant bickering and sibling rivalry.

Your ex-spouse isn’t helping.

How do you handle their disputes?

  • Every time a fight goes down, I break it up and dish out the appropriate punishment.
  • I get involved in the serious conflicts, but let them handle the small stuff.
  • Ignore them. What kids?
  • I hand them each a sword and tell them to fight to the death!

*

All Fridays become National Holidays for Grocery Shopping and Mario Kart

Here’s your chance.

Create a new nationwide law that will apply only to single parents.

Your new law can be beneficial or punitive; it’s up to you.

If your law goes against single parents in any way, describe the penalty for breaking it.

*

Bragging Rights

 Do single parents have the right to be extra-proud?


*

So…

You like answering these kinds of questions? Go here.

Or maybe you’re tired of talking about your kids. In that case, go here.

*

A Free Short Story by J Edward Neill

 

*

*

* * *

The Skeleton Sculptor

 J Edward Neill

*

On the morning the hunt began, we’d had a hundred men.

After three months, we were down to eleven.

We all knew how it would end.

But only a few got to see it.

My name is Costas. Those who knew me would’ve said I listened more than I talked. They’d have been right, of course. I was always a watcher more than a doer. I’d grown up in the Master’s service, in a mountain city graven of pale stone. In the Master’s Citadel, we had towers taller than anywhere else in the known world. We had women more beautiful than the sun, moon, and stars. Why talk, I thought, when surrounded by such glory?

And so I watched. And listened. And learned.

It was a perfect place, my home. I loved it.

And if I weren’t dead, I’d return there and never leave again.

* * *

Most of what I remember of our ninetieth night out was that my feet hurt. I sat beneath the full red moon, the campfire snapping at my toes, and I rubbed my soles until my fingers went numb.

For a short while, I didn’t care about all the men who’d gone missing.

I didn’t care about the Master’s orders.

All that mattered was that my sandals were off, my armor was loose on my shoulders, and my belly was full of stew. After all, there weren’t many of us left to eat the food we’d started with. There seemed no sense in dying hungry.

“It’s ten days home,” a soldier murmured across the dying campfire. “Which means if we leave tomorrow, one of us will survive.”

I looked at the other men. Five of us were hunkered in the scrub. We were sulking by the fire, our gazes inky in the night. The other six were asleep in two tents atop a nearby hill. I could see the lights of their fires dying the same as ours. The flames were red, just like the moon.

There was no wind that night. Only the scarlet light on the silent earth.

“So,” Aios grumped on the fire’s far side, “the one who makes it back home…he gets to die on the Master’s gallows ‘stead of out here in the grass.”

I listened while the argument began.

“We don’t know the others are dead,” Nikolas grunted. “Could be they’re hiding. Could be they’re lost in the hills somewhere.”

Nikolas wasn’t wrong, not exactly. We’d never actually found any of the bodies. But Aios knew better. So did I. Not that I said anything.

“As likely missing as swimming on the moon.” Aios glanced skyward. “They’re all dead and you know it.”

Philok, biggest of our cadre, rolled his massive shoulders. Tanned to gold by the sun, still packed into his hard leather hauberk, he was the only one of us who still looked fierce.

If any of us survive, I thought, it’ll be him.

“I want it to come,” Philok rumbled. “Let it skulk out of the darkness. I’ve a spear for it. There’ll be no more of our bones. Only its.”

It was wishful thinking, and we all knew it. Aios shook his head. Nikolas just looked afraid. Leuk peered over the fire, moonlight in his eyes, and went back to eating from his wooden bowl. He never talked, our Leuk. He was even quieter than me.

“Spears don’t kill ghosts,” murmured Aios.

“Mine might.” Philok glared.

Our huge friend had a point. His spear, a man and a half tall, leaned on a boulder near the fire. Its haft was as thick as most men’s forearms, its tip catching the moonlight just so. I’d seen Phi skewer a boar with it once. It’d split the poor, squealing thing in two.

But our quarry wasn’t a boar. It didn’t squeal. It didn’t die.

All it did was take the living away. And never bring them back.

The men argued more. They’d done the same every night for weeks. But by now no one bothered to get truly angry. We all figured if we started killing each other, it’d only make our quarry’s work easier.

Easy enough for the Ghoul already, I thought.

I rubbed my feet one last time and went to sleep.

 

* * *

It had started ages ago, this problem of ours.

It’d begun before I’d been born. Before the Master’s great-grandfather had been born.

Before any of us.

Back then, before the Citadel, before all the pale stone cities had sprung up along the coast, it had been a better world. At least, that’s the yarn our elders spun around the hearths at night. And so that’s the tale we believed.

A fine, quiet realm,’ they used to say. ‘Green pastures, hillocks teeming with olive trees, golden sun shining on endless vineyards.’

And no Ghoul.’

I’d never cared about the stories. Not as a boy, anyhow. In the Citadel, home of the Master, there’d never been any ghosts. The clap of hard sandals on marble streets had been our music, not the howls of mothers who’d lost their sons or or husbands whose wives had never come home. The stories we cared about had been of wars fought and won, of islands conquered, and of white-sand shores. We dreamed of golden coins in our pockets and raven beauties that would one day be ours if we served with honor in the Master’s guard.

We’d known nothing about the Ghoul.

And our lives had been better for it.

* * *

In the morning we woke to shouts again.

“It’s Saulos!” I heard Nikolas scream. “How? He slept in his armor! He’s gone, but his breastplate’s still here!”

“Where were you?” one of the hill-camp soldiers cursed another. “You were on watch! You were supposed to be guarding us!”

“I was on guard! I—”

Amid their shouts, I clawed away sleep’s last cobwebs and sat up beneath the dawning sun. It was hot already, and I was tired despite having slept so well. To defend against the Ghoul’s nightly visits, the others had taken to sleeping for only an hour or two at a time, if at all. Not me. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to be awake when death came for me, and so I’d almost always slept full nights…and weathered my nightmares alone.

I shambled up the hill. My sword pattered against my outer thigh, and the straps of my armor dangled without care. A year ago, I’d been a fresh recruit in the Master’s service, a newly-minted member of his honored guard.

And now what am I?

Dead.

I came to Saulos’ empty tent. It was just as the others had shouted. There lay his armor, all red leather and polished steel. Saulos had been a captain. His armor was better than ours, or at least prettier. It didn’t much matter. It lay on the ground, almost untouched. It looked like someone had snipped the straps off and carried him away while he was sleeping. There wasn’t even any blood.

As I stood there, the others fell into their ritual panic. Some muttered prayers. Others shouted that we should return to the Citadel at once. Both cries were familiar. Neither really mattered.

One of us alive is better than nothing!” cried a soldier whose name I hadn’t bothered to learn.

“The hell it is!” argued Aios. “You think the Master will understand when one man marches up and explains ninety-nine of his brothers are dead? He’ll smile, name the survivor a deserter, and hang his body over the cliffs for the gulls to laugh at.”

Aios was right. If there was one truly hard thing about life in the Citadel, it was the Master’s law. He didn’t suffer failure, not from his fabled soldiers. If our hundred never came home, it wouldn’t matter. He’d have a feast, sacrifice a few bulls, and send out two-hundred more men.

Though somehow I knew the result would be the same.

The men argued. It got vicious. Someone cursed the Master’s name. Someone else shoved Nikolas in the dirt. Philok shook his spear, and everyone finally fell silent.

I don’t know why I stopped watching and started talking.

Might’ve ended better had I not.

“There’s one place we haven’t looked,” I chimed in.

“Where? What place?” grunted Philok.

“The lighthouse. It’s only a day south.”

“Why there?” spat Aios. “It’s just one cripple in a rotten tower. He’s probably a hundred days dead. Besides, the lighthouse doesn’t work. Doesn’t need to. Ships don’t use that route anymore. They come up the river.”

“He’s right.” Nikolas stood and dusted off his armor. “We’re trying to help the villagers, not some lonely old cod stuck in a tower.”

They were right, of course. We’d not help anyone by marching down to the sea and visiting one old man in his tower. The lighthouse keeper didn’t even have a family. Never had, not that we knew of. Even if he was still alive, we’d not do the countryside any favors by rescuing him.

But that wasn’t my point. Maybe it should’ve been, but it wasn’t.

“Nikolas, you still have the map?” I blurted.

“Aye,” he said.

“Well. Fetch it.”

He did. In moments he marched down the hill and back up. The others stared at me like I’d just slapped the sun out of the sky. Wouldn’t have been the worst thing, considering how hot it was.

Nikolas brought me the map. It was big, the Master’s chart, and I unfurled it on the hillside while several others knelt beside me.

“There.” I pointed to a village by the sea. Veni, jewel of the south, sat on a beautiful beach right in the map’s center. It was a new city, paid for by the Master’s coin. We’d been there a month prior. None of us had wanted to leave. Until the villagers had made us.

“So it’s Veni. What about it?” said Aios.

I dragged my finger eastward along the map. I stopped at a nameless black ink-blot. It was the lighthouse. I tapped it twice.

“We’ve been to every other village, tower, and crumbling old fort along the sea. But not the lighthouse. Not there.”

No one could disagree with that. We’d marched to dozens of hamlets, fisherman’s wharves, and sad little huts along the coast. All of them had lost people over the years. By the dates they’d given us, we’d figured it out. One person had gone missing every night. Just one, never more, never fewer.

For hundreds of years.

And we’d only just now worked up the courage to try to stop it.

“The lighthouse,” I said, “it’s right in the middle of it all.”

I traced a circle with my finger. All the places that had lost people, all of them, lay within it. And in the circle’s center sat the lighthouse.

The men stared for several moments. I figured Aios would be the first to argue. He was, after all, the smartest of us. If anyone ever forgot it, he was always sure to remind them.

“Now just you wait.” Aios didn’t disappoint. “The Master knew about the lighthouse. He sent men last year to scour the old tower up and down. They didn’t find a thing.”

“Aye,” agreed Philok. “I remember. That’s what started this whole mess. While our soldiers were in the lighthouse, people were disappearing in cities three and four days away. That’s when the Master decided to start the hunt.”

I closed my eyes. I knew what I wanted to say, just not how to say it.

“What if the Ghoul doesn’t come home every night?” I finally exhaled.

“So it goes out on rounds?” Aios let out a morbid laugh.

“Maybe so,” I countered. “But it still has to have a lair, right? A place to retreat? What if it’s the lighthouse?”

“Nice theory, but after all these years the lighthouse would be stuffed with bones a thousand men high,” said Aios. “The Master’s men would’ve noticed, I think.”

“Or they’d have found the bodies along the way,” murmured Nikolas.

And they’ve never found any of the missing, I thought.

They’re right. I’m stupid to bring it up.

But wait. There was something else I wanted to say.

Maybe it’d been a dream. Maybe something else. If the morning hadn’t been so damnably hot, chances are my brain wouldn’t have cooked and I’d have never remembered it.

What was it I’d thought of?

Was it a nightmare I’d had?

A memory of my childhood?

“I think I was born out here,” I said.

“What?” Aios made a face.

Several of the other soldiers stood and left. I knew what they thought. They thought I was a fool wasting their time. I didn’t blame them. I heard them talk about fleeing home to the Citadel. They didn’t want anything to do with the map or hunting the Ghoul. They wanted to be home in their beds.

But Aios, Philok, Leuk, and Nikolas remained.

“I was born out here,” I continued. “Not in Veni. But close. It was near the sea. I remember my mother. I think I do, anyway. And I remember the rocks. And the lighthouse.”

“No you don’t,” spat Aios. “You were born in the Citadel, same as us. It’s just another of your dreams.”

“What if—” I started.

“I wasn’t born in the Citadel either.” Philok came to my rescue. “I’m from the mountains. My father was dying, so they brought me down to the Master’s fortress. My family figured I’d never have a life unless I served in the guard.”

Aios looked stunned. I nodded at Philok, grateful.

“I remember walking on the shore.” I stared off into the sky. “My mother sent me off to play while she worked. At least, I think she did. One day, I wandered near the lighthouse. I remember it. It was above me. Way above. And I remember seeing something in the cliffs beneath it. Was it holes? Breaks? Cracks in the rock?”

“Holes?” Aios shook his head.

“I think he means caves,” said Nikolas.

I looked at the three of them. They’d been my brothers for the last year. They knew I didn’t talk much, but when I did, I meant what I said.

“That’s right.” My eyes were wide. “Caves.”

It hadn’t been a dream.

I’d just remembered a part of my childhood.

And my mother, who’d I been made to forget.

* * *

Clouds gathered over the sea. Greys and blues smoldered in the sky, darker than the water. The hour was only late afternoon, yet the world looked ready for twilight.

We were terrified.

We’d every right to be.

The five of us mounted a last hill and caught sight of the distant lighthouse. It was an old, old thing, its stones bleached skeleton-white. It’d been built long before the Master’s time, long before any of us. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the Ghoul’s prey the lighthouse had watched vanish.

One every night.

Hundreds of years.

I couldn’t make the numbers work in my head.

We’d walked all day. Ever since we’d split up from the other soldiers, I hadn’t said a thing. Phi, Aios, Nikolas, and Leuk had decided to join me. The others had chosen to go back to the Citadel and face the Master’s wrath.

Our group hadn’t lost anyone last night.

And so we all knew what had happened.

“I hope it took Diok,” chuffed Aios as we walked down the hill and into the fields between us and the lighthouse. “Never liked that prick.”

Nikolas sighed, “Maybe it’ll follow them instead of us. That’ll give us what…three more days?”

“Maybe.” Philok’s knuckles were white around his spear. “But what if there’s more than one Ghoul?”

None of us had ever thought of that before.

We shivered the notion away and kept walking.

The five of us drew nearer the lighthouse. Switches of dry grass skirled at our waists, dancing wildly in the wind. My feet hurt again. My ankles, too. The grass had nicked me in a hundred little places. If the Ghoul didn’t kill me, I half-believed the fields might drown me.

At least it’s not hot anymore.

By the time we came to the cliff, upon which the lighthouse stood tall and formidable, the rain began. The wind hit us and the storm’s droplets beaded on our sunburned skin. I looked my companions over. To a man, we savored standing in the rain. It was an island of peace in a world of despair.

“Are we going in?” Nikolas nodded.

“The lighthouse?” Aios smirked. “Why should we? We know what’s in there. Nothing.”

“Might be wise to weather the storm in there,” Philok held his huge palm open to catch the rain.

Aios looked annoyed. But then again, he always did.

“Fine.”

I knocked at the lighthouse door. The oak plank must’ve been two-hundred years old. It felt soft as soap beneath my knuckles. I rapped it ten times before Philok pushed me aside and kicked the thing in. I’d hoped the old man would answer. But the moment Nikolas fired a torch and walked into the great round room beyond the door, we knew the lighthouse had gone untended for months.

“Think he died all alone in here? Somewhere up there near the top?” Aios’s voice echoed in the void.

“Maybe the Ghoul got him,” said Philok.

“Why would it bother?” Aios cracked. “Old man was damn near a hundred. Pointless to kill what’s already dead.”

Except the Ghoul doesn’t care, I almost said. He takes children. Pregnant women. Venerable old men.

And soldiers.

We used pieces of the broken door to light a fire. With it blazing, we peeled off our armor and hunkered down in the shadows. The rain shattered the world beyond the lighthouse walls, harder than anything I’d ever heard. It didn’t feel natural. Bitter breezes flew into the windows, and stray drops of water swirled into the room, stinging our shoulders. No matter where I sat, the rain found me. I finally settled on the spot farthest from the fire. Leuk, stoic and silent, shook his wet hair when he sat down beside me.

“Maybe you were right.” Aios smirked at me while cooking up a pot of stew. “This place is creepy. I hate it. That old man’s body is probably up those stairs. The Ghoul’s probably waitin’ for us.”

“How do you suppose we kill it? I mean really, really kill it,” asked Nikolas.

“The Ghoul?” Philok rubbed his forehead.

“No, the fucking rain,” quipped Aios. “Of course he means the Ghoul.”

Philok didn’t flinch. “This spear.” He flicked the blade of his man-and-a-half tall weapon. “Or Costas’ sword. Or Leuk’s daggers. Doesn’t matter. Everything dies.”

“Does it?” Nikolas looked afraid again. “It’s been a few hundred years, right? It should’ve been dead by now. What if it can’t die? What if it’s…forever?”

Philok thought about it for a moment, and then huffed. “There’s probably no such thing as the Ghoul. It’s probably a family of murderers. Might be they’ve passed down the family secret over the generations. Fathers teaching sons…hell…mothers teaching daughters. ‘Here’s how best to kill a man, lassie,’ they tell the little ones. ‘A drug in his wine to make him sleep, then a knife between his ribs. No one’ll be the wiser. Not even the Master.’”

No one laughed except Aios.

I might’ve known.

We set up a watch. I went first, else I’d never have woken for second shift. The rain raged as I tightened my armor and laid my sword atop my thighs. I probably should’ve been afraid. As it turned out, I’d little energy left for fear.

I didn’t remember falling asleep that eve. I suffered no dreams, no nightmares. One moment I was sitting beside the fire, the mist collecting on my shoulders.

And when I woke, Nikolas was gone.

The others were still dozing. It’d been Aios’s turn to watch, but he was curled up beside the long-dead fire, looking little different than a sleeping boy. Dawn’s first glow crept into the high windows. In a pool of soft light lay Nikolas’s armor, his blanket, and his bowl.

And his sword, still in its scabbard.

If I shout, it’ll go like it always does, I thought.

I’ll be quiet. 

I knelt beside the patch of stone Nikolas had slept on. He’d lain there for some time, it appeared. The mist had gathered all around him, but his blanket was dry. I touched the brittle fabric, and in the cold light examined it.

No blood.

Not torn.

Almost like he left willingly.

And then there was his armor. The straps were sliced clean through, the same as scissors through twine. Looking at the hunk of leather and steel, I wasn’t sure why we even bothered with armor anymore. The Ghoul wasn’t afraid of it.

The Ghoul wasn’t afraid of anything.

I looked at my hand. My knuckles were bloodless. I realized I was squeezing my sword.

For all the good our weapons do.

I woke Philok first. He came to with a jolt, seizing my throat in his massive hand.

“Phi—” I coughed.

He let go of me. As I knelt there gasping, something in my eyes gave the truth away.

“Who’s gone?” he rumbled.

“Niko.” I sagged.

“No blood? No one heard him?”

“Nothing.” I rubbed my neck. “It’s morning now. He’s only been missing for a little while.”

We woke the others. For once, there was no panic. Leuk said nothing. He looked stoic as ever, no different than if he’d slept in his bunk at the Citadel. Frowning, Aios kicked at Nikolas’s things and glared at the rest of us, but kept his curses beneath his breath. This was what it had come to. We were dying one by one, and we hardly even minded anymore.

After a time, Philok dropped a helmet on his head, shouldered his spear, and marched to the bottom of the stairs that led to the lighthouse’s top. The weathered stone stairwell twisted up through a gaping hole in the ceiling. No sunlight spilled down from above. The inky darkness of the lighthouse’s hollow heart oozed down onto Philok’s face.

“I’m going up there,” he grunted.

I expected an argument. But Aios plucked up Niko’s sword, unsheathed his own, and nodded at Philok with both blades in hand. “I’m coming with you,” he said.

Leuk and I had no other choice.

With Philok in front and Leuk in the rear, the four of us stalked up the stairs. We emerged into the void above the room we’d slept in, and we saw slender shafts of light carving pallid lines into the darkness. The windows on the lighthouse’s sides were shuttered. The climb to the tower top would be done mostly in shadow.

Step by step, we marched. The lighthouse felt a thousand steps high. The musty air filled our lungs, while plumes of dust from our footfalls floated the same as stars at midnight. We wound our way up through the cold emptiness, at last arriving at the door to the lighthouse’s top. None of us knew what to expect. I held my sword with no more confidence than when I’d first set foot in the Master’s training garden.

“If anything’s on the other side,” Phi whispered, “kill it. Don’t stop cutting until your blades are down to nubs.”

We all nodded. Aios cracked a wicked smirk. Philok shouldered the door with all his might, breaking the door to pieces.

The sunlight poured over us.

We invaded the lighthouse’s top room. We were an army, the four of us, a cloud of fear and steel. Philok roared when he went in, and Aios growled. Leuk and I didn’t make a sound, but we were ready. Our blades were as sharp as any in the world. And they should’ve been, for we’d never used them.

But there was nothing in the room.

No caretaker.

No bodies.

No sea of bones or carpet of skin.

Philok looked disappointed. Halting in the sunlight, he rapped the butt of his spear on the floor and glared at everything. As for me, I couldn’t help but be relieved. I let my sword sag and my shoulders droop. After all, the sunlight in the tower’s top was warm and soothing. It swam over me, gliding in from each of thirty windows, sparkling on the giant glass lens in the room’s center.

I figured it was the last time I’d ever feel warm.

No. I didn’t figure. I knew.

“It wasn’t ever up here,” cursed Aios. “We’re idiots.”

“We still had to check,” argued Philok.

“Yes…well.” Aios shook his head. “We checked. And nothing. So now what?”

“Costas’s caves,” said Philok.

I could tell Aios had expected Phi to say it. “No. Not yet,” he grumbled. “Breakfast first.”

Too soon, we abandoned the warmth of the lighthouse’s top. I felt sad to leave so quickly. Halfway down into the dark, I realized I’d never even taken the chance to look out across the sea.

At the bottom, Aios prepared breakfast for us. It was hard tack and fried cakes softened with hot water, same as most mornings. It didn’t much matter. Cooking had always calmed Aios, so we never complained.

With only a rotten beam of lighthouse timber to burn, Aios’ kindling of choice that morn was Nikolas’s satchel. Nikolas didn’t need it, after all. But just as Aios snared the leather bag and began cutting it to shreds with his knife, I stopped him.

“Wait,” I said, “Something’s in there.”

Aios made a face. “It’s just a book. Tear out the pages. It’ll save us from sending Leuk out to collect things to burn.”

“No…” I grabbed the bag and pulled the book out. “Just use the satchel. Let me keep this. I want to see what Niko wrote.”

Aios squeezed his eyes shut. He looked like he wanted to kill me. “Fine,” he muttered. “But remember; the dead can’t read.”

While Aios cooked and Philok rummaged through the rest of Niko’s things, I sat in a pool of sunlight and cracked the book open. It was well-made, a far finer thing than Nikolas had any right to possess. I couldn’t believe that with all my hours of watching, I’d never seen him with it. And then, when Philok grunted that he’d found a quill and a vial of ink, it hit me. I understood.

Nikolas had been keeping a journal.

The book has the Master’s mark on it.

Niko had always been a lazy soldier.

But he’d learned to write far sooner than the rest of us.

The rest of the world fell away, and soon it was just me and the journal. I read dozens of entries. Nikolas had done his work well. He’d catalogued how much food we’d had, our movements beyond the Citadel, the people we’d questioned, and the names and ranks of the soldiers that had vanished. He’d even written the dates they’d gone missing.

I skimmed across as much as I could. Most of it was trivial, but the deeper I read, the more I saw of Niko’s personal comments.

And the more I was filled with dread.

He’d written things like:

One soldier from Camp B gone in the night. Left his armor and sword. No blood. Same night: A man from Camp C swore he saw a shadow moving. The camps: an hour apart.

 Rained hard last eve. Saulos’s tent-mate was taken. Grigora says he found tracks in the mud. Not one set, but two. Not sandal prints. Bare feet.

 Another gone last night. Bibi – Captain, 1st Company. But Camp D, upon returning from the city, says that Veni lost someone that same eve. It’s always been one a night. But maybe this was more.

Does it mean two Ghouls?

 Occurred to me that we should look beyond our borders. Ask if others have vanished on the same dates. I know we can’t – they’re our enemies in the North and West, but still.

More than two Ghouls?

 Why is it hunting only soldiers now?

 Does it know we’re coming?

 Will it stop?

 

I closed the cover. I couldn’t read any more. Aios dropped a wooden bowl in my lap and snorted. “Boring read?” he chuffed. “Books are for scholars, Cos. Now give it over. We’ll use it to make a fire for tonight’s dinner.”

“No.” I pushed his hand away. “I’m going to finish it.”

“Finish it?”

“Yes. Reading it. And writing it.”

“Why? You’ll be dead soon.”

“I know, but—”

“Fine. Keep the damn thing. Whatever helps you die better.”

I ate in silence. I say silence even though Aios talked the entire time. He rambled about how our lives had become meaningless, how our deaths wouldn’t matter because we had no children, no lands, and no possessions beyond our weapons and armor. Maybe it was true. Maybe we were dead men no matter what we did. But when he said meaningless, it didn’t sit right with me. Whether the Ghoul killed us for sport or the Master hung us for being failures, it seemed wrong to just let it happen.

I have to make it meaningful, I thought.

The journal. I’ll finish it.

Maybe someone will find it.

After breakfast, a deep quiet overtook the four of us. There was no fleeing for the Citadel now, we knew. Unless the Ghoul abandoned his hunt, we’d all be dead within eight days. And so we sat there for a time, sharpening our swords needlessly. I like to think we dwelled on the purpose of our lives, the good things we’d seen, and all the glory we’d hoped for.

But I knew better.

Philok dreams of destroying the Ghoul. Of being heroic.

Aios dreams of how he’d have done it if he were the Master.

Leuk dreams of the life he wanted. Of what might’ve been had he finished his twenty years of service.

And what do I dream of?

Death.

And then it ended. Philok stood, spear in hand, and looked at us. We didn’t say anything to him. We gathered our swords, strapped on our armor, and doused the fire. In a short, ragged line, we trailed Phi out into the sunlight.

And for all the glamour of the great blue sky, we felt the shadow upon us.

We left the lighthouse and walked to the cliff’s edge. As the tower fell behind us, I looked over my shoulder at it. The edifice was white as death. Its sides were smooth and ashen, its outer walls seamless. The old thing looked like it had sprouted right out of the cliffs. I was glad to be rid of it. I don’t know why, but I promised myself I’d write about it in Niko’s journal.

“Costas.” Aios’ voice pulled me out my daydream. “Wake the hell up. We can’t get down from here. See?”

I gazed over the cliffs and onto the dark ocean. The water boiled over the shore far below, the waves black and foaming. I imagined if one of us fell over the edge, we could’ve counted to ten before we hit the rocks. Aios was right. From our vantage, there was no way to reach the shore.

Or the caves. 

“We’ll have to go—” I began.

“To Veni,” Philok grunted.

In hindsight, I should’ve suggested we find another way down. A quicker way.

But Veni it was.

We marched.

And marched.

And marched.

That eve, tired and sweating, we descended out of the cliffs. Veni lay before us, sprawling and fresh beneath the violet sunset. It wasn’t a big city, but it was still beautiful at twilight. Strands of hanging lamps lit its rooftops the same as the stars. The waves were too rough for sailing, but I could see the masts stark against the sky, and I could hear the people’s laughter. I envied them. But I knew as soon as we soldiers were gone, the Ghoul would go back to hunting at random.

Some from the countryside.

And some from Veni.

“We shouldn’t go in there,” I said to the others.

“Why not?” Aios stared at me.

“We’re bad luck. We’re hunted men. Veni knows us. Even if they don’t kick us out, we’ll not be welcome.”

“The Master’s soldiers can’t be refused,” Aios argued. “If they deny us, it’s under pain of death.”

I looked down at the dirt path leading into the city. Sandy scrub and lonely trees pocked the twilit way. The sky was cloudless; no rain threatened us. There were a thousand places we could camp if we liked.

“I just don’t think we should,” I said. “The city can’t protect us. No one can.”

Aios looked ready to split me in half. “Fine. We’ll stay the night out here,” he said. “In the sand. In the dirt. If the Ghoul comes, you’re first.”

I almost hoped so. Not because I wanted to die. But because I wanted to know.

Beneath the endless stars, we made our silent camp. No one from Veni noticed us. Or if they did, they didn’t care. I’d rarely seen a night sky so bright as that eve. A million white pinpricks in a perfect black sheet, it seemed. Leuk and I stared at it for a long, long while.

By the dying campfire, I wrote my first words in Niko’s journal:

We make for caves east of Veni. Four of us left: Costas, Philok, Leuk, and Aios.

 We don’t hope to find anything. We’re going anyway. If nothing’s there, it’s my (Costas’) fault. I convinced them to do this by a feeling in my gut.

 And there’s something else.

I think the lighthouse is made of bones.

I closed the journal. I needed to focus. We’d agreed to do a double watch: Leuk and I first, then Phi and Aios.

I worried I’d fall asleep.

But it was Aios who drifted off during his watch.

And Philok who went missing.

I woke with Aios’ boot in my ribs. It hurt. I squinted into the early sunlight and saw him standing over me. He scowled, Phi’s spear shaking in his grasp. He’s gone mad, I thought. He’s going to save the Ghoul some trouble and run me through. But he didn’t. He just glowered and spat in the sand.

“Get up,” he said.

I complied.

“The caves. Take us now. Let’s finish this.”

“But—”

“It’s fine if nothing’s there. I won’t blame you. I might kill you, but I won’t blame you.”

We didn’t eat breakfast. We didn’t mourn Philok. Walking ahead of Aios and his spear, Leuk and I led the way down to the shore. At the ocean, a lone child saw us marching. He stood in the foamy shallows, throwing rocks into the water. He smiled at us, watching us long enough to see us pass into the shadow of a stark and terrible cliff. I thought it strange to see the boy all alone. He reminded me of myself, of all the mornings I must’ve spent doing the same as he.

We walked into the shadows. And he was gone.

“I dreamed last night,” I said as I walked on the narrow strip of sand between the ocean and the cliff.

“No one cares,” answered Aios.

“I heard a woman laughing.” I ignored him. “She whispered something in my ear. She had dark hair. She was beautiful. I didn’t want to wake up, even with you kicking me.”

“A shame you’ll never meet her,” he mocked.

Maybe I will, I wanted to say.

We marched. Was it for many hours? Or much less? I couldn’t have said. The ocean crashed against the rocks and swirled at our knees, drowning out all the world’s sounds. Guarded by the mighty cliff, the sunlight never quite reached us. But the shadows and the cold couldn’t slow me. I slogged on, convinced I was going to my doom, certain I still had some part to play.

This is what madness feels like, I thought. All these years of not much talking, and now the loudest voice is in my head.

And then we came to it, a great dark hole in the cliff wall. The ocean roared in and out of it, and the rocks like teeth crowned its top and sides. Twenty men standing side-by-side could’ve marched into the cavern’s mouth.

And all of them would be eaten.

“Fucking lovely.” Aios marched past me. He still had Phi’s spear in his grasp, and he was wet up to his chest in seawater. The salt stuck to him, and us, in powdery white patches. We were miserable. We hadn’t eaten all day.

“Got a lantern?” he spat at Leuk. Leuk shook his head.

“Torches,” I murmured. “Just three.”

“We’ve got some daylight left.” Aios pointed Phi’s spear into the darkness. “Let’s go kill this thing. Just think…we’ll be heroes.”

I fired a torch, and in we went.

We were fifty steps deep when I realized what we’d gotten ourselves into. The ocean’s rush faded at our backs, and the absence of light swallowed us. I squinted in the dark and saw other tunnels, black branches trailing into the underworld. I remembered a story someone had once told me about such places, and why no one should ever go into them.

“Four different tunnels.” Aios saw them, too. “Wonder how deep they go.”

I wished Philok had still been alive. He’d have known which tunnel to choose.

“That one’s half underwater.” Aios nodded at the farthest tunnel. The black hole gazed back at us, smiling as if aware of our fear.

“So we’re going into this one.” Aios pointed his spear at the nearest cave. It sat above us, its archway crusted in ancient limestone. A pile of broken shells sat beneath its mouth, deposited by the sea. It was the narrowest of the four.

And the darkest.

Leuk and I didn’t argue. We clambered up the shells ahead of Aios. At the tunnel’s mouth, I held the torch into the darkness and saw that it went down. Way down. Aios climbed up beside me, snared the torch from my grasp, and smirked at me as he marched straight into the blackness. “Three men wide,” he laughed at us. “It’s perfect. Not scared, are you?”

We were, but it didn’t matter.

Down, down we went into the cave. I couldn’t believe any place in the world could be so dark. The ocean’s crash fell away to nothing. The only sounds were the torch’s snaps and our rotten boots squelching on the stone.

We walked for what felt like an hour. Then two. The tunnel never narrowed, never widened. The air tasted stale. White powder sloughed off the walls wherever we touched, and our boots left footprints in places no other men had ever been. I was sure night had fallen outside, but I’d have given anything to be back out there, to let the Ghoul steal me from sleep instead of moldering away after a long, slow walk to the world’s bottom.

Our first torch died. We lit another. Moments later, we slunk out of the tunnel and into an unthinkably vast grotto. It was truly massive, the cavern we’d found. Our torch felt like a candle in the great darkness. Far above, a lone shaft of moonlight cut through a hole in the ceiling and pooled in the grotto’s center.

“What is this place?” I whispered.

“A cave. Big as Veni.” Aios’ gaze was wide and black. “A giant, empty coffin.”

“No. Not empty,” I observed.

I’d seen caves before. In the mountains east of the Citadel, we’d walked through tunnels and grottos. They’d had growths in them, daggers of lime and ancient rock. There had been beauty in those caves, elegance in the way nature had carved them.

But the shapes in this cave were different.

They were sculptures.

Something had made them.

We didn’t say a word. We were too scared to talk, and too weary. Wandering out into the pool of moonlight, we gazed at the many hundreds of pale, ghostly statues standing on the grotto’s floor. They were graven of white stone, and in my heart I knew they were made of the same stuff as the lighthouse.

Bones.

Human bones.

Most of the statues were of people. We glimpsed beautiful maidens holding decanters. We saw smiling children, some holding hands and standing in great rings, others all alone. As we walked through the pale, silent gallery of thousands, we saw old men and venerable ladies, soldiers and wealthy lords, beggars, fishermen, and stoic hunters. The sculptures were beautiful in a way. Whoever, or whatever had carved them had a talent like no other.

Somewhere in the midst of it all, Leuk tapped me on the shoulder. I looked back and saw horror in his eyes.

“What is it?” I felt myself turn pale.

He pointed at a row of sculptures removed from the rest. I took Aios’ torch and forged into the dark. We came to it, the part of the cavern struck least by the moonlight, and we stood there with our mouths open.

“Monsters,” I exhaled.

“Demons,” we heard Aios whisper.

The sculptures in the shadows were not of men or maidens, children or village elders. They were of monsters, malevolent and skeletal, with talons in place of hands, pale knives instead of teeth, and faces made of nightmares. Some had horns. Others had tails. All of them had strange writing on their skin, words and sigils from a language none of us knew. But the true terror lay in their empty eye sockets, which were huge and full of evil.

As I stood there, breathing not at all, I believed in my heart these statues mimicked creatures that must have existed. “How else could they look so real?” I uttered without knowing it.

Aios pointed his spear at one of the horrific sculptures. He looked wild with fear, sweating and cursing beneath his breath.

“We have to destroy them,” he hissed.

“How?” I argued. “There’s thousands. Tens of thousands.”

“Fine. We have to find what made them. Find it and kill it.”

“What if…” I looked up at one of the horrors. “…what if these are what the Ghoul looks like?”

“All the more reason to kill it,” Aios growled.

I didn’t know where to start. My fingers went numb, and a chill crawled down my backbone. We stood there, the three of us, gazing into the grotto, stricken still with our terror.

It would’ve taken us hours to search the cave.

As it turned out, we didn’t have to look at all.

The first thing I heard was the patter of footsteps. Aios and Leuk heard it, too. Bare feet, I thought. But…small?

Aios waved his spear in the direction of the sound. He crouched, looking deadly and afraid. And then I saw it, a little boy darting between the sculptures. He was naked, pale as a fish, and faster than any child had a right to be. At ten paces, he climbed atop a sculpture and leapt from its head to another, smiling all the way.

I shouted. Leuk pulled his daggers out.

The boy. It’s him…the one throwing rocks on the beach, I thought.

We were too slow.

The boy leapt from atop the statue of a milkmaid. Aios spun, screamed, and jabbed with his spear. He missed. The boy landed on Aios’s head, and Aios started screaming. I don’t know what happened to me. As they struggled, I just stood there with my sword in one hand and the torch in the other. It was like I knew:

No matter what I do, we’re dead.

I never expected Leuk to be the brave one. Never. The boy clung to Aios’s head, clawing and snarling. As Aios squealed, Leuk stuck his dagger into the boy’s back. For a single breath I allowed myself to hope.

Leuk’s done it. I backed away. He’s saved us.

No.

Three times Leuk plunged his dagger between the boy’s ribs, and three times he drew it out. If the boy felt anything, I saw no sign. No blood oozed from Leuk’s steel. The boy’s skin opened up like dry, cracked parchment, but knitted itself closed within moments. I didn’t understand how such a thing was possible. Nothing the Citadel’s wise men had told us lived up to the truth.

With one of Leuk’s daggers still in its back, the boy-Ghoul leapt off Aios’ head. He looked up at us, still smiling, as Aios collapsed dead on the cavern floor. I saw no blood. I couldn’t conceive how so small a creature had killed one of the Master’s warriors. I was paralyzed. My sword felt as though it were made of paper. My blood felt like water in the last moments before a long winter’s freeze.

The boy-Ghoul dragged Aios into the shadows. Leuk stared at me, and then went after them. I swallowed so hard it wounded my throat. I knew what was about to happen. Somehow, someway, I knew. And when I heard a second set of bare feet pattering, and when Leuk cried out his last breath, I sank to the floor in a puddle of my own fear. Perhaps it was cowardice. I knew my sword wouldn’t matter.

So I didn’t even try.

Many thousands of breaths went in and out of me. I closed my eyes, and the world went dark. I don’t know whether I slept, but at some point I lifted my head from the floor and gazed into the darkness. The second torch had burned out, and so I fired another. It burned beside me as I sat there, a red whisper in the vast darkness.

There was but one thing left to do.

I opened Niko’s journal, dipped the quill into the last of his ink, and wrote:

There is more than one Ghoul. There may be dozens. Or hundreds.  

In a cave east of Veni, they hide.

They’ve been here for thousands of years, I believe.

They sculpt whatever they kill. Murder is their art.

They made the lighthouse.

They made the cliffs.

They took Aios and Leuk last night.

Tonight they’ll come for me.

 

The ink was almost gone. I only had a few strokes of Niko’s quill left. I don’t what made me do it, but I stood and walked to the most terrifying of the Ghoul’s demonic sculptures. I wasn’t as afraid anymore. I stuck the torch in the creature’s hand, held Niko’s journal before me, and started drawing the strange symbols and words graven into the sculpture’s skin. The words were old, old things. Maybe they were magic, if such a thing existed. I’d already shut the boy-Ghoul out of my mind, but for him to have survived Leuk’s knives meant something I’d never understand was at work.

I drew as many of the words and symbols as I could. When the ink ran out, I hunkered down and gazed into the dark. I left the book on my lap. I had the foolish hope someone would find it one day. The shaft of moonlight was far away, not enough to see by. I knew when my torch burned out, I’d die even if the Ghouls never came for me.

I didn’t have to wait long.

Within a hundred breaths, I heard their bare feet on the cavern’s cold floor. The boy came first. He was naked and ghostly pale. White powder, surely bone dust, coated his arms up to his elbows. His fingernails were crusted in dried blood. He’d been sculpting, I was sure.

My sword lay beside me. I didn’t bother to pick it up.

And then the second Ghoul came. I didn’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t her. Naked and beautiful, she walked into the yellow sphere of light made by my torch. Her hair was raven, her eyes pale blue lanterns. She wasn’t terrifying at all, at least not yet.

“I dreamed of you,” I said to her.

She didn’t flinch.

“Are all of these your work?” I regarded the thousands of sculpted dead.

She shook her head. Only some of them, she told me without words.

I sat, limp and sweating, and looked at them. The boy was her ward, her student, or maybe even her child. She tousled his hair, and a plume of bone powder drifted into the torchlight.

He’s the next in line, I thought.

She’s teaching him.

Just like another taught her.

Without moving any other part of my body, I extended my arm and set Niko’s journal into the nook between two sculptures’ feet. I left my sword where it lay. It occurred to me that I’d never once used it. Ever.

The Master would’ve stretched my neck just for that.

The boy-Ghoul started for me, but the woman held him back.

And then she showed me what she was.

With her fingers, she pried the flesh back from her cheeks. She tore like sackcloth; the sound alone made me sick. Next she peeled back the flesh from her arms and collarbone. She was one of them, one of the monsters so perfectly sculpted behind me. Her true fingers were boney claws, her real face a horror of white bone. She had no blood in her. She was all sinew and marrow, a skeleton wrapped in human skin.

I understood why none of the missing soldiers had cried out.

She’d probably never shown them the creature beneath her skin.

All they’d seen was a beautiful woman or a handsome little boy.

And when she killed me, it didn’t even hurt.

*

* * *

If you enjoyed The Skeleton Sculptor, consider reading The Hecatomb or leaving a review here.

Thank you,

J Edward Neill

The 10 Best Book Covers of All Time

Obviously, this list will be super subjective.

With that in mind, I won’t comment on why I believe each cover to be among the best.

I’ll leave that to you.

And I’ll let the art speak for itself.


 


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And then of course…there’s these.