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Blood & Soul is Live and Lethal on Amazon for $0.99

(please come to my website and join the tribe there.)

Today is the day! Buy Blood & Soul for $0.99. Thank you! If you wanna know more…keep reading.

Last night, blurry-eyed and exhausted, I uploaded the final edits to the First Edition of Blood & Soul on Kindle Direct Publishing for e-readers and CreateSpace for print readers. Blood & Soul has been in a preparation mode since I uploaded it about a month ago, without counting the 7-year, million-word brainstorm.

As a writer I’m at a loss for words and deeply moved by all the sacrifices good friends and colleagues have made to go the extra 100 miles in the last moments.

  • To my dad, who handed me that green notebook so long ago and told me to “Write somethin'” in his thick East Texas accent.
  • Dale Young, for building my fully operational killer website, creating the Mail Chimp system, for kicking me in the rear, and contributing many fertile marketing plans – I’d be lost without you bro!
  • Andrew Doty at Editwright and I played tennis with Blood & Soul for 9 months. We modified and tweaked, sharpening this story to get it as close to perfection as humanly possible – I drove him crazy this week before going official on Amazon at 12AM this morning. Happy editing, Andrew!
  • Kevin Eagan for the big proofread that eliminated the lion’s share of typos and errors that Andrew and I missed. We confirmed that Kevin has no Backstreet Boys music and thus got the deal to proofread.
  • Then Jim Wyatt stepped up and threw a long bomb touchdown pass in the last seconds of the 4th quarter to secure victory with one last profound proofread out the goodness his heart – he found the excepting/accepting error on page 33 and really tightened things up throughout. Nobody’s perfect and Jim was merciful.
  • Mark Skinner and Mike Griswold for the book cover and epic imagery in the book trailer – Mark truly was an inspiration. His inquiry about the book cover led to the sharpening of the story’s theme.
  • Patrick Runblad composed an incredible score for the book trailer that is jaw-dropping awesome.
  • To ALL my pre-release readers who trusted me enough to delve into the PDF and read with their e-readers, even though that must have been challenging.
  • To Wyndi Veigel editor at Farmersville Times and the Princeton Herald for reaching out to me at Charlie’s. I know you wondered about that dude in the corner with the laptop and headphones.
  • Last but not least Heather Grupido, owner of Charlie’s Old Fashioned Burgers (it’s not just burgers!), for letting me hang out for hours and work on this book.

I hope I’ve done you proud by writing Blood & Soul.

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Blood & Soul on Audio

Blood & Soul – Will it be on audio? A couple of people have asked about this. The short answer is YES! I will make it available on audio…eventually. I’m not sure of the cost yet. Since my book is 430 pages it might be cost prohibitive for a while due to the hourly rate for voice talent. The “VOICE” is extremely important. When I listen to audio books I prefer a male voice with a British accent. And I hear Blood & Soul in that accent, although I consider my book a very American novel.

 

 

Blood & Soul in July

I’m publishing Blood & Soul in July through Amazon on Kindle and CreateSpace. After 90 days it will be published on all other popular e-readers such as NOOK and on iBooks. There’s a significant amount of work going on behind the scenes in preparation. Friday I received the finalBloodandSoulalonesplatter edits from my editor. 98.5% is done. There are two minor story lines that need to be wrapped up. Those additions will bechecked by my editor. I’ll also perfect the book summary for the back cover. The editor will create a pdf file and send it back to me. I will upload it to Amazon (but not publish) and order physical copies. I will mail a physical copy to a professional proofreader. It’ll be checked for text errors and look and feel. My editor and I will make corrections if needed. Then my editor will format a Kindle version of Blood & Soul and send it to me. I will upload both Kindle and CreateSpace versions. Pretty soon after that it will go live and glide into the clouds. God only knows if it will catch the wind or not amid thousands upon thousands of other books. I know I’ve written the best book I could write.

Blood & Soul – Back Cover Brainstorming

Blood & Soul Back of the Book Story Description

So you’re clicking through the books on Amazon or reading the back of a book in a bookstore and you read this story description:

A powerful spell banished demons to the Underworld ages ago. Now they gather seething for slaughter beneath an ancient portal. Prophesy says that sacrificing the king of the Midvast on a day shrouded in mystery will free Quuma’s demonic horde. Erupting from the portal their shades will become flesh, unleashed to quench their lust for human suffering and death. The reek of ruin will cover the land as it did before the spell.

Ledarrin is the bastard prince of the Midvast living in the shadows of a revered dynasty. In spite of his lineage, he’s the favored son of the king. Mathagel, the pureblood son, usurps the throne in fear of losing his birthright. He throws Ledarrin into a dungeon to be executed soon for crimes against the realm. Ledarrin escapes amid clashing factions. The survival of the realm seems lost.

Pursued by a legendary assassin Ledarrin begins a heart-pounding adventure across formidable wilderness into a deadly future he has yet to understand; a journey marked by lost love, seduction, betrayal and battle leading him to discover the challenges of his true identity. He’s quest is joined by aging warriors, unlikely allies and a heretic rumored to have knowledge of ancient scrolls, the Creed of Kings, that will thwart Quuma’s plans. It will change everything he has ever believed about the gods and his future. To save his father and the future of the realm, he must forge a new path free from the shadows of a dynasty, into light, away from his blood and into his soul.

Help me! I tried to keep it simple. That’s about the 10th draft! Boiling down a 166K word epic into 259 words is challenging. But does this zing?

Writing a Book: Major Steps and Practical Concerns As Publishing Nears

Made a major step in preparing Blood & Soul for the final pass for my editor. He loved reading it the first time and with his suggestions and edits it improved even more. My yeahbabyb&Seditor and I are contemplating the services of a proof reader. The reason? The book is 160,000 words. We need another pair of eyes for a product that is so epic. Of course, looking for typos is a must but also things like consistency – is this east or west, is it cloudy or sunny, is the secret entrance on the west side or the east side of the wall, did he or she really say that earlier? You’d be surprised what you can forget about a book you wrote yourself.

When you change a character’s name in a 160k word manuscript you will inevitably miss a spot and leave the old name in somewhere. I typed the main character’s name 1256 times. But even a supporting “actor” gets a lot of space and the minor characters sprinkled throughout a 160k words can be missed very easily for a good reason. Even using the “find and replace” feature in MS Word won’t catch everything because you might have misspelled the name you’re replacing once or twice and the feature will miss those. That will derail the reader who’ll be trying to figure out what the heck happened. There’s a zillion little things like that. And, that’s why a fresh pair of eyes is NEEDED. It can become very tedious and fatigue can set in. It’s the difference between a Frankenstein and phenomenon.

 

 

Blood & Soul Progress and Trailer Promo in the Works

December 5, 2013 Leave a comment

Another week as passed and my editor has made lots of progress on Blood & Soul. Based on the conversations between us I’m glad I took this step. It’s been a valuable investment that I balked at initially. But, it’s been well worth the money. To think I almost decided to edit it myself! That’s performing surgery on yourself!

It’s been a grand experience having a professional go after it with a fine-toothed comb and give me his first, second and third impressions.

I have lots of little tweaks to fix – like mislabeling a bluff and spelling a character’s name different in the beginning of the book than at the end.

There’s big things like removing a character from a scene because I did not realize I had left him back in the city the hero had escaped from. LOL.

There’s some foreshadowing I need to place earlier so that an event at the midpoint will have more emotional impact.

I need to remove a scene from near the end and put it back in at the midpoint where I had it originally – basically, a plumbing and wiring job.

There’s a textual change that my editor is doing as he goes through the manuscript. You’ve seen where authors will put a character’s inner thoughts in italics, some do, some don’t. I did but then changed my mind. My editor thought it best to put the inner thoughts in italics. I agreed. It’s very tricky sometimes to figure out what are the character’s inner thoughts and what is simply narrative. He’s fixing that stuff, too.

I will have to devote a lot time to adjust things and get it just right.

Meanwhile, a teaser book trailer is in the works with some awesome original music from P. R. Music Productions (follow the link below and check out Patrick’s music). I hope have the trailer finished in early Jan. I’m working with Mark Skinner on the visuals and book cover.

Still hoping to publish Blood & Soul on multiple formats around Feb 2, 2014. When I do, I list all the ways that you can help me. P. S. I outlined the next book last week. It’s working title is “Out of Oblivion”. Yes … it’s EPIC!

http://www.prmusicproductions.com/

Blood & Soul Is Under the Microscope

December 5, 2013 Leave a comment

Creed of Kings Saga BannerBandSsmallBlood & Soul downloaded to my editor Andrew Doty at Editwright ‘s computer about 29 days ago. He read the entire manuscript in 7 days. 160K words.

In the ensuing days it seemed I remembered every stupid sentence and silly turn. But, I had finally let it go. They say that’s what you gotta do.

He sent an email late that Friday night. I braced myself. He said it had all the typical problems. I slumped a bit then he told me my pacing was excellent, and even though it was one of the longest manuscripts he had ever read, everything that was in it needed to be there.

We talked on the phone tonight for about an hour and half. It was amazing to hear how my story affected another person. He is the only one who’s ever read it.

He’s an editor. He is used to the typos so he got to the meat of the story and asked great questions that I was able to clarify. Together we sorted out plans for the weaknesses. But he did say this, “Allen, this is a great manuscript.” In his email he said, “All those how-to books you’ve read have served you well.” He told me if I can get the word out, I will have a lot of readers.

So how do you all feel about helping me when I finally unleash this on the public?

Artist/Illustrator Needed for Epic Heroic Fantasy Saga

November 5, 2013 2 comments
I’m going to give this a shot here. I posted the following on Freelance.com. I was not satisfied with the bids. If you or someone you know can demonstrate they’re capable of doing any of the following on a professional level please contact me through my Facebook Page or email at allengbagby[AT]reagan[DOT]com. I will pay and they will get exposure on a fairly large-scale. Send them this info:

Author of upcoming epic heroic fantasy saga starting in early 2014 seeks hungry-for-success artist/illustrator to create images/art for a cohesive vision across multimedia; book cover, video promo/book trailer with text/image graphics (original epic music score provided) and website. Having knowledge of wordpress CMS is a plus and After Effects. Think – Lord of the Rings, 300, Troy, Gladiator type images and landscape – more classical and medieval. I’m looking for “realism” in the art not a cartoon or comic book look. I will provide a book synopsis to give ideas for the images. I will promote you, brag on you, and credit you if you can deliver.

What I need from you:

 

1. FIRST AND FOREMOST the ability to project in the screen of your mind this project and brainstorm with me and my team and the ability to collaborate with a creative director and a composer of the music for a book trailer via email, phone and/or Skype.

2. An AWESOME book cover (This is wide open but here are some pointers):

• One stand-out eye-popping singular image without being cheesy.

• Or a more complex and/or dramatic image with the illusion of a battle or Romanesque style city on the foothills of a mountain in the background.

• Book covers of authors David Gemmell, Terry Goodkind and George R. R. Martin are a good place to understand what I’m talking about. Some are single images, some are more complex.

 

3. Theme/Images/banner, for website (Again, a wide open brainstorming from you is okay):

 

• Three poses of different characters, maybe four.

• City rising on levels up into the foothills being the foreground of a mountain rising behind.

• Map for use in book trailer and book (a rough draft already exists)

• Landscape

• Work with creative director on an all-in-one layered image to lift out images to fit elsewhere—perhaps for the book trailer

 

4. AWESOME images for book trailer (original music provided) estimate time is 1 to 1:30 seconds:

• Wording will hover and glide over the map (think the trailer for the Hobbit trailer) and mixed with images/artwork and some motion/text graphic animation you will produce to correspond with music originally composed for the book trailer.

• Collaboration (conference calls, emails, phone calls,) with composer and making a killer book trailer.

• Images, wording, from the book cover, and website to coincide with book trailer images and wording.

Done by mid Jan, 2014 for book launch in Feb 2014. Don’t hesitate to contact me! THANK YOU!

Skills required:

Graphic Design, Illustration, Illustrator, Motion Graphics, Visual Arts

Creed of Kings Saga: An unpublished sample of my style.

January 20, 2013 1 comment

Funny thing is, all this is going to change after the tons of the restructure and revision that I’m currently working. What the heck. I’ll leave it up for now.

***

There is resonance here that won’t be felt due to the reader being unaware of the larger scope. There is also foreshadowing for things that happen one hundred pages later. However, this is one scene where there’s a tad bit of resolution, one of the few scenes that does not end with a cliff hanger. That’s kind of why I chose it. I probably made some typos, It’s nearly impossible not to make mistakes.

* * *

CREED OF KINGS

Book One

Chapter 5

Markin

Markin?”

“Father?” It felt as if he was lying on a sack of potatoes, riding in the back of a cart on his father’s estate. Father’s voice echoed as if he was in the hallway down from Markin’s room. He rubbed his head. It felt as if a woodpile had landed on it.

“The sun rises. Fill your heart with its hope. You have much to do.” His father appeared in the doorway.

   Mother must be overseeing breakfast, he thought. The scent was not the aroma to which he was accustomed.

Markin wanted to see the family estate of his childhood. He removed the warm covers, flung his legs over the edge, but dropped feet first into a deep hole and landed on pile of stiff, rotting bodies. He tried to stand, but his head was spinning. He collapsed backward.

“Father?” He shaded his eyes from the sun. The smell of the pit made his mouth erupt vomit. Everything blackened. Father’s voice called out again. “I am here, father…with the dead.”

“Why?” asked father.

Markin felt an ocean of thoughts he couldn’t understand. I don’t know. He rubbed his head again.

“I hoped if you ended up somewhere, you would know why. Leave the dead behind son.”

Markin pried his eyes open. Through the blurred slits, he saw an arm throw an object into the pit. Then he felt a jolt and something hot. His eyes cleared and he saw a dead man’s face frozen in terror looking at him. He pushed him away.

He tried to stand again on the shifting dead. Smoke billowed up from a crevice in the heap of bodies. Still wobbling, he looked up. Another torch fluttered in igniting grimy clothing behind a cluster of lifeless limbs. Another wave of nausea churned. He bent over but only heaved to discover his feet were bare. With each stumbling step, he felt rigid limbs and bloated bellies against his feet as he groped for the wall of the pit. He dug his fingers into the dirt and climbed up the steep slant.

He slid back several times into the pit before hoisting himself out. The cart had topped the hill and was heading down the other side. Markin crawled toward the hill, reached out a hand, tried to yell, but fell over dizzy and exhausted.

“Never give up, son,” His father’s voice retreated into his memory.

He woke up coughing. Smoke, flame, and choking stench belched from the hole. He struggled to his feet and stumbled away. The smoke engulfed him. He swept his hair back to look around and shuddered when he felt the painful lump. He turned and walked out of the stream of smoke. The scene from the pub, the gang of fools, and the old man came flooding back. He pieced the broken memories together.

   Where is Mott? How did I…?

He pushed the scene out of his mind and tried to determine his position. Hunched over, he staggered to the edge of a precipice. The Rift Sea cut into the land below. In the valley, retreating shadows uncovered the city Bixle; beyond sprawled the Midvast westward into the horizon.

His throbbing head interrupted concentration, but he found a path eventually. Barefoot and shirtless he began walking. The forest thickened, the branches joined overhead, and the path took on the feel of a corridor in King Honsa’s palace.

   Never give up? he questioned. He laughed without humor and trudged onward thinking of the sequence of misfortune and his stupidity. He had been the guardian of the king. Now, mere weeks later, he traipsed shamed and shirtless on a back road in a nameless wilderness.

His mind wandered back into the king’s kitchen the day he found Mott slicing air with a meat cleaver. Markin propped his shoulder against the entrance, folded his arms, and watched Mott battle some imagined foe.

“Gathishians?” inquired Markin, interrupting the hero.

Startled, Mott turned and carefully placed the cleaver on a table littered with various chunks of meat. He stood stiff, smoothed his stained apron, and pretended to be on the lookout. “Flies.” He averted his eyes and then snickered as he shook his head. “Thought you were the Master of Chefs.” Mott pulled out a chair and placed it before Markin. “You have that look. What’s on your mind?”

Markin sat in the chair and rubbed his face in his hands, then leaned back and shrugged. “I’m going to settle down.”

“And break the hearts of all the ladies of the court?” Mott grinned. “Who will go with me to the house of the goddess?”

Markin smirked, “It’s a whorehouse.”

Mott shrugged and leaned against the table. “Go with me one more time before you go off on this assignment to Roxin.”

“I will, but when I return from the mission, no more.” Markin looked back at the door and leaned closer, “I will find a girl, fall in love, marry, and raise a tribe of offspring.” He smiled and opened his arms wide.

Mott looked at him as if he had dropped rotten egg in an omelet. He turned to the table of meat and resumed chopping. “If that’s what you want…” he shrugged.

“That’s what I want.”

“Then you’re crazy.” He waved at the palace with his meat cleaver with a piece of fat dangling from it. “Give up this?” he shook his head, smacked his lips and frowned. “People would die for what you have.” He went back to chopping harder than usual.

   My parents died, thought Markin as reality regained its hold. He looked down the trail while he carried futility’s weight and remembered his long-dead father’s words and repeated them aloud. “Never give up, son. You never know unless you keep going, son. What if you stop here but the answer is around the corner, son? What if the answer is not even there but beyond the next hill, son? Will you stay there, son? Never give up, son. It is not a waste, even if you find the truth at your last breath beyond many hills, son. Son, son, son! Never give up!” Only the trees listened. Markin was not sure if this was mocking his father as he questioned the wisdom of those words.

The bottoms of his trousers were damp from dew and picking up dirt. He bent down to roll them up, then heard the scrape of a sword drawn from a scabbard.

“Turn around slowly,” said a shaky voice.

   Only one? Markin’s eyes sought other movement. A Gathishian soldier in light armor, barely more than a boy, fidgeted on his feet, his sword periodically thrusting in Markin’s direction.

“Divisius is scouting already.” Markin read bit of respect on the soldier’s face.

“Who were you talking to?” The soldier’s eyes darted about.

“Trees,” Markin smirked.

The soldier eyed the tattoo. “You’re one of Honsa’s elite?”

   He must have been at Honsa’s death. Blood is on his hands. “No it’s fake. I’m an actor.” Markin turned his shoulder. “Come look. You can rub it off.”

The fool took a breath. His sword bounced between alert and curious while he inched toward Markin.

Markin’s stomach churned and his mouth was dry. Closer.

“Step away, soldier!” Patrolling Gathishians came from a trail in the woods behind Markin. The tattoo’s spell lifted from the youth’s eyes and Markin hung his head. The leader ordered spears and arrows trained on Markin. They bound his wrists and led him into the forest.

The Gathishian camp consisted of several tents in a clearing beyond a sparse tree line under a ridge. A man on his knees, bound by the wrists was stretched between two trees and hung there with lifeless rigidity. The torso under his ribcage had been scooped out. Flies swarmed in the maw and on the pile entrials a few feet away. The patrol escorted Markin passsed the butchery and uphill into the camp directly to the largest tent. Markin gulped down the fear. Is this the end? The patrol leader marched inside and returned with a stiff-lipped short man. He folded his arms behind his back, looked at Markin head to toe, walked around him, and stood looking up into Markin’s face. “General,” he spoke loudly at the tent. “I think you will find this interesting.”

Another man snapped the tent cover aside and emerged, taller, bull-necked, and muscled. A jagged scar went from brow ridge to cheek leaving the left eye undamaged.

The patrol snapped to attention. “This had better be import—” Markin’s tattoos froze him. He ordered the patrol away and strode back into the darkness of the tent. The short man held the tent flap open and motioned Markin inside.

He saw a table when his eyes adjusted to the shade inside. On the table sat the sturdy ornate canister containing the message from Honsa to Ledarrin. The seam had pry marks but the lock remained intact. Markin tried not to exaggerate the appearance of calm when he saw it. Things of the king didn’t belong among these barbarians.

“What a surprise.” said the man with the scar, grinning while he circled, hands behind his back clutching one wrist. “You will join us?”

“You will kill me if I don’t.” Markin sensed the man’s heart was a sinkhole.

“Of course.” The short commander smiled.

Markin glanced at the commander. “That limits my options.”

Scar pressed closer. He clenched his jaw so hard, Markin thought the man’s teeth would break. “Divisius will crush Bixle and all the cities along the border. A man like you should not be wasted on the hordes.” Markin felt the man’s breath ruffle his hair.

“Divisius killed my father and my king. I won’t betray them.”

The short commander’s eyes widened. “You have seen the emperor?”

Scar retreated a bit and appeared amused by the commander’s reverence for the Gathishian Emperor.

“I was a boy then. He shames his ancestors. I spit on him.”

The commander drew a knife and pressed the blade to Markin’s throat. “What do you know of my ancestors?”

Markin tightened his lips as he felt the commander’s blade and said, “That you worship their rotting carcasses.”

He felt the commander’s hot breath on his cheek. “We will have fun with you for this blasphemy.”

Scar put a hand on the short man’s shoulder. “Away with your knife.” The commander stepped back. Scar glared at him and tilted his head indicating the exit. The commander pressed his lips, bowed, and left.

Scar glanced at Markin’s tattoos. “Why aren’t you dead? You have already betrayed your king.” His lips snarled into a smile.

Markin hung his head. “It’s over now.” His stomach churned.

“Indeed.” Scar chuckled. “Honsa’s head is an ornament now, along with his sworn protectors, as yours should’ve been.” The man lifted Markin’s chin. Markin got a good look at the uneven scar. “We planted many of them on pikes around the city.” He paused. “I might not want an oathbreaker like you?” He removed his hand, turned away, and looked at corner of the tent. “Fortunately, you have stumbled into our possession. I can make arrangements for you, give you back your honor, and redeem you.”

“Or kill me.”

The words gave Scar pause. He turned and squinted at Markin. “Trust me. I’m not a man of mercy—don’t think I didn’t see you look at it.”

Markin glanced the canister. “Only the receiver can unlock it.”

Scar ignored the words. “We just acquired it.” He spoke while toying with the lock. “Our patrol found it on a beggar.” He paused, looking at Markin. He smiled and continued, “After a bit of sport with him, he led us to it in hopes of mercy.” Scar chuckled. “The warlocks read his entrails. It’s fascinating what they try to learn from the disemboweled.” He sighed with contempt. “It is the Gathishian way.” He moved closer. “I would have used other means.” He stopped close to Markin’s face, “More time consuming, more effective. But, it doesn’t matter. The gods or the ancestors, I care not, have led you to us.”

“You will learn nothing from me.”

“Any fool would know you were taking it to Ledarrin. We know of their friendship.” Scar’s eyes burned when he sliced the words out. “A royal message? A member of Honsa’s guard?” He waved his arm around towards Bixle and the forest. “In the same territory?” He grinned. “That is all I need to know,” he snorted. “Must have been embarrassing for a beggar to steal such a prize from you. You would forfeit you life for such a mistake in my ranks. Perhaps you don’t deserve these markings.” He shook his head at the tattoos of Honsa elite guard. “They will take strips of your skin with those tattoos, then your head. I will take this message to Divisius along with your parts when I return. We knew the count was off in Balazyne.” He paused and then snapped his fingers. “No, I will take you with me and have Divisius’ priests sever your head so it will be fresh. He would enjoy that.” He laughed. “A blacksmith can melt down the lock or one of their magicians can open it.”

Markin interrupted the monologue, “Did others survive?”

Scar seemed to come out of a trance. “By survive, do you mean, flee in fear like you?”

Markin did not answer.

Scar called out to the commander. The short man appeared with soldiers.

“Hold him. I have plans for him.”

Guards jerked Markin’s elbows and led him out of the tent. The soldiers led him out, but on the way they seemed preoccupied. They kept looking in the same direction. Markin followed their gazes, but saw nothing obvious.

“Here it is,” said one. They left the trail, pulling Markin with him. They’re going to beat me, he thought. He began bracing himself. As they wove through the forest, Markin began to discern what looked like a small building in the distance.

“Keep quiet,” ordered one of the soldiers.

Markin beheld something of which he had only seen drawings and statues in Balazyne. When he first saw it, it reminded him of a giant, furry archway. On one side of the arch sat a furry boulder and from that hung a huge snake-like trunk, the sniffing end hovered inches from the ground. At least that is how he drew a lurkadon as a child.

The guards shoved him to the ground. Lying sideways, he tried to make sense of the immensity of this creature. The small building turned out to be a large cart. The lurkadon was reined to it like a horse to a carriage. In the drawings he had seen, they had tusks. This one did not, it must have been a female. He heard what sounded like a little trumpet. A small lurkadon was winding in and around the larger one’s trunk-like legs.

The soldiers were not interested in the lurkadons and kept looking at a large gray boulder, flecked with green moss. Then the boulder moved, sending a sworm of flies up. The soldiers jolted, but did held their ground. The boulder came off the ground supported by thick bowed legs. It wore a torn, soiled loincloth. A yawn exposed canines the size of a man’s thumb. The yawn ended in a deep groan. It leaned forward exhausted and moped along dragging a chain attached to a collar as it walked on all fours. It was the first time Markin had seen an oggrin, a grey skinned humanoid of the forests. It was wide and half as tall as the lurkadon.

“You have it?” one soldier said to the other.

“Hold on.” The other pulled out a purple cloth and waved it at the oggrin. The oggrin hardly regarded them, but the big lurkadon reached out its trunk and pulled the little one close.

“Purple?”

“It’s the color they used.” The cloth flapped as the soldier waved it more vigorously.

A trunk-shuddering roar shook Markin’s ears. The oggrin charged, barreling down at them, but was jerked hard and slammed on its back. It squirmed while it tore at the collar. It sprang back up and pounded the ground with its palms, sending puffs of dust from the forest floor as it howled and roared. One hand had three fingers, making it resemble a claw. Two missing fingers were scabbed nubs. Ripples of dust vibrated off the chain while it sagged and tensed with the oggrin’s lunges. It reached out, swatting at the Gathisian soilders. The limbs of the tree chained to the oggrin shook.

A whip cracked. The oggrin cringed. A man emerged from behind the cart. Each time the whip snapped, the oggrin flinched and covered its hand. The man stomped out to the soldiers. The oggrin shied away behind the tree to which it was tethered. Its huge deep-set dark eyes peered out from under its shading palm. It curled an arm around the trunk.

“Will you not give the creature a rest?” yelled the man.

The soldiers were speechless. One had pissed his trousers, the other trembled and paled. They turned around. Markin saw their faces had lost color. As they pulled him up, he noticed the shoulders of the oggrin were heaving. Its head was hidden on the far side of the trunk.

The man pointed his whip at the oggrin. “I will use this whip on next soldier that harasses Lewtic.”

The soldiers scrambled up the incline.

“Don’t forget your weapons, fellas,” Markin said. I’ll need those, he thought.

The man with the whip shouted at the oggrin in guttural toned language. The oggrin could have thrown the man back to the camp, instead it hunkered down, crawled past him, hopped into the back of the cart, and crouched.

The soldiers seemed happy having found weapons, but they only had their swords.

“The bows and quivers, too,” Markin reminded. I’ll also need those, he thought.

The oggrin master released the chain from the tree trunk. The oggrin pull the loosed chain into the cart. The man leaned against the heavy door and, with the help of the oggrin pulling from the inside, the hinges squawked. The oggrin’s eyes stared at Markin until concealed by the swinging door which screeched and thumped closed. The man clamped it shut.

Before the soldiers pointed Markin back up the path, he saw the lurkadon release its little one for play.

They threw him into a narrow fissure of the ridge wall. After he hit the ground, he heard a familiar cheerless chuckle.

“Humph. Life is strange.”

Markin looked up. “What are you doing here?”

“After you knocked yourself out, a fight started; men were yelling, whores screaming—not in a good way—but I got some good punches in. You’d be proud.” He smiled in reverie, then frowned and rubbed his chin. “Anyway, the bartender threatened to summon his bunch of hooligans to kill us all. Then he threw us out. Before he braced the door, he said he’d drag you out. He never did. I banged on the door. Gave up and slept in the street, thinking I would haul you out in the morning—I think he was uptight about the chair you broke. Morning came. I couldn’t get in, so I went around to the back alley. Somebody was hauling off a heap of what looked to be dead bodies in a cart. I had a hunch you was in or on the pile.”

“I was.”

“Figures.”

“Why didn’t you catch them?”

“I was on foot, remember? Our horses were at the hold. I tried to catch up.” Mott held his stomach and rolled his eyes. “Too much to drink.”

Markin affirmed and shivered remembering the death pit.

“I got the horses. A ways out of town I crossed trails with these Gathishians. They figured I was from Balazyne. Ended up here. ‘For questioning’ they said.” Mott grimaced and added, “They got the horses.”

Markin surveyed the cleft then looked at the entrance.

“Still guarded by two I take it.” Mott surmised.

“Yeah. The two that brought me relieved the others. That’ll change. They saw my tattoos.” Markin replied.

“Lost your shirt and sandals.”

“Sword and dagger, too.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t remember. I guess I was on that pile of bodies. Maybe something extra was in my ale.”

“Wouldn’t doubt it. You didn’t make any lifelong friends last night.”

“They threw me in a pit to burn me up with the dead. I was the only one alive. I crawled out. I was making my way back to Bixle when they found me.”

Mott tightened his lips and nodded. “Fires are burning everywhere outside of town. Looks to be a plague. There’s plenty of reasons to leave Bixle.”

“I have a better reason. They have the message.”

Mott’s eyes bulged. “You saw the canister?”

“In the big tent,” Markin nodded toward the camp.

Mott just stammered. “But…how…I…”

“From the thief who stole it from us. He was begging for food. They found it on him—that was him!” Markin recalled the scene coming into the camp.

“Between the trees?”

“We’re not going to end up like that!” Markin blinked his eyes to erase the memory.

“We got to get moving then,” said Mott.

“I almost gave up. My father spoke to me while I was wallowing in a stupor with those dead people. I’m going to get that message back,” Markin said abruptly. “I’m starting to feel better but my stomach’s empty. I’m hungry.”

Mott’s face creased, “Slow down. I’m the one that’s always hungry. You drank enough to float the emperor’s armada last night. Sounds like the something extra didn’t wear off—your father?”

“Don’t remind me.” Markin chinned toward the front of the cave. “We can take the guards easy. Clouds are rolling in, it will be dark soon enough. We’ve got to do this now before they add more guards and they might move the message. We’re leaving for Roxin tonight—with that message.”

Markin drew his legs up and moved his bound wrist forward under his feet. He brought them up and wiggled his fingers. They alternated between chewing the ropes and grinding them on rocks. Markin told Mott of the oggrin and the lurkadon. Mott, being superstitious, believed it was all an omen, whether for good or ill, he did not know; he said, “I’m just a cook after all, not a holy man.” Finally, the bindings came unraveled as they heard distant thunder.

Markin rose. “We’ve got to hurry.”

“Here we go again…” groaned Mott. “Don’t hit your head this time.”

   The guards were talking about sneaking into Bixle for some fun when Markin came out of the darkness of the cave and ripped the sword from the guard had urinated in his trousers. The one who had waved the purple cloth gripped the handle on his sword, but before he yanked it out, Markin swung his newly acquired sword side arm and sliced the guard’s throat with the tip. The one deprived of his sword froze, then reached for the missing hilt, but Mott sent him to an unhappy nap with a fist from his beef-chopping arm.

Markin removed the sleeping man’s sandals and tunic. The other guard squirmed. gasping and clutching his throat as life bubbled and wheezed out. He tossed a sword and dagger to Mott who stopped rubbing his knuckles to catch them. Markin collected the impressive bow with a quiver of arrows leaning against rock wall. He started into the forest but halted. Mott stepped over the sleeping guard to follow but bumped into Markin who had paused.

Markin whispered, “We have to kill him, too. He will wake up too soon.” He walked a few paces back, stooped down, and made the guard’s nap permanent with a quick dagger to the heart. He gently, almost reverently, put his palm on the dead man’s forehead. Markin implored under his breath, “It had to be.”

Mott nodded grimly.

They crept alongside the wall of rock and vanished into the forest that encircled the camp. He was sure guards would spot them soon, limiting the time needed to get to the message.

“You saw the horses, right?” Markin whispered.

“Yes.”

“If you can’t find ours, steal two of them, stampede the rest. Then ride into the middle of camp where that big tent is.” He pointed. “I will meet you there.”

“Sounds easy,” Mott whispered and then disappeared into the darkness. Markin shook his head at the sarcasm. He’s just a cook, Markin reminded himself.

In the darkness, he was just another figure going about the business of the camp; he walked as casually as possible. The audacity of his plan filled him with fear and elation, but his face remained expressionless. Only confidence remained as he approached the tent, as if in a dream, and methodically pulled the bolt from the quiver. Never give up. He paused for a moment to fire the arrow. Lightning flashed and as the thunder sounded, the arrow went straight into the throat of the lone guard in front of the big tent. The guard clutched the shaft, sunk to his knees, and then crumpled–his armor sounding a faint clunk against the ground. Markin dropped the bow and quiver, stooped and mercifully ended the guard’s struggle with a swift stroke of the dagger. Suspecting the tent’s occupants heard the commotion, Markin rolled through the entrance. As predicted, someone was there, when the flap fluttered. The short commander swung his sword high and as expected, embedded the blade into the post. The commander jerked once to free the sword but it was all the time Markin needed.

The man barely got out cry for help before Markin’s dagger went to hilt under the rib cage to the heart. He fell forward against Markin, staring up and hanging on as his life drained out. He weakened, let go, and dropped.

No need for caution anymore. Though the commander’s cry had been weak, Markin, certain someone heard it, turned to the table to secure the bow and dagger.

The message canister was gone.

He swatted blankets, armor, and maps aside looking desperately. The tent flap opened.

“What’s the—you!” Scar dropped the canister and drew his sword, a brilliant flash compared to bronze sword Markin wielded.

Scar was in the early autumn of his years, but that did not inhibit the fluidness of the movements that declared many had died on his blade. Scar lunged, but Markin dodged the arching strike. Scar’s skill was great, his rage greater. He kept his balance and roared, launching a backhanded swipe. Markin ducked under the taller man’s swipe. The sword swooshed over his head and nearly scalped him. Without the expected contact with Markin’s neck, the anger in Scar’s swing caused him to stumble and crash into a cot.

Markin glanced down. The canister rested at his feet. Scar recovered and began to turn; Markin seized the canister and scrambled out of the tent. You better be here Mott or we’re dead.

As he quickly picked up the bow and quiver, he thought he heard the rumble of thunder while he secured the weapons, but, it was horses running, many horses; stampeding through camp as lightning flashed, Markin grinned. Mott had done his work. Perfect. He glanced back just in time to see Scar winding up, raising his sword in the air.

Markin could only turn, but turning with a flash, he raised the only thing he had, the canister, to block Scar’s downward arc. He caught the full power of the strike directly on the lock. Sparks flew as the skies roared. The canister was shaken from his grip. Stunned, they both stared at it.

Markin jerked his sword out and struck out but Scar easily parried his attempt to end the fight. Their swords clanged over the message. The sword Markin took from the guard was no where near as stout as Scar’s. The weaker sword sheared off. Markin, backed away stumbling, but gained his balance. With a useless sword handle in his grip, he stared back at Scar. Scar kept his sword up while leaning to pick up the canister. It was damaged. Markin heard the cylinder squeak. For the time it takes for a grain of sand to fall in the hourglass, Scar glanced down to grip the canister. “No!” shouted Markin, flinging his stunted sword in desperation. The hilt smacked Scar above the ear with a thumping slice and glanced off.

Scar screamed, dropped his sword and the canister. He clutched his head and squirmed on the ground. Markin kicked him in the gut, sending him back a few feet, and grabbed the canister and the stout sword. When lightning flashed, he saw blood flowing from between Scar’s fingers. Kill him! Markin thought as he gritted his teeth. But he turned to see Mott towering over him on horseback. He handed the canister up. “Hold it tight. It’s broken.” Markin gripped the sword handle and looked at Scar.

“What are you doing!” shouted Mott. “We must ride, now!

Gathishians in various states of undress were running toward them. Markin tore himself away and leaped on the horse. He glanced back to see Scar holding his head looking for his sword.

“Let’s go!” shouted Mott. An arrow flew by his head as lightning lit up the sky.

Markin scrambled up the horse and he in Mott tore the camp like demons.

They escaped as big drops of rain splashed on their faces. By the time they reached the edge of the forest, a downpour had extinguished many of the campfires. He and Mott disappeared into the gloom of the trees as Gathishians shouted cries of vengeance. Mott was laughing. Markin was thrilled having seized the chance to fulfill his oath. He felt sticky blood on his hands but the rain was washing it away. He had fought many times as King Honsa’s bodyguard. In all that time, he had injured many but only killed two men. He had killed twice that many in this one night—and now he was also a horse thief but he would not be an oath-breaker. They were soon lost in the darkness, but the sun would rise again. He had the message.

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