Saturday, November 14, 2015

Friday, November 13, 2015

Extermination Typo Thread

Please report any typos, misspellings or other errors you happen to find in Extermination in the comments below. This time around I'm going to try putting out a corrected edition every couple of weeks until I stop getting corrections, just to make sure I don't end up forgetting to do it.

In this book I was also experimenting with not exhaustively explaining ever little detail of how and why things happen, which some readers seem to have seized on as an excuse to complain about 'continuity errors'. I may go back and add a few sentences to make certain things more obvious, although I'm tempted to just leave it alone.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Extermination Released

I ran into a couple of last-minute formatting issues with the document, but Extermination is now in Amazon's publication queue. It will be available whenever their system finishes processing it, which based on past experience will probably take an hour or two for customers in the US. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Extermination Teaser 3

When our men were finally in position Marcus, Oskar, Cerise and I all gathered on the roof of the keep. From that height we could see over the walls that fronted Kozalin’s harbor, and make out hints of what was happening on the far side of the city.

“From the signals we’re hearing, I think there’s a substantial army assaulting the walls,” Marcus said as he squinted into the distance. “The garrison is calling in reinforcements as fast as they can, but I don’t imagine they had time to get the walls fully manned before it started.”

“I can see people fighting on the wall in several places,” Cerise said. “Look, there are fires burning in the Trade District. That doesn’t seem like a good sign.”

I frowned. “I can’t imagine how they’d have gotten inside the walls that fast. Siege engines using incendiary ammunition, maybe?”

Marcus shook his head. “Light siege engines wouldn’t be able to loft a shot over the wall, and it takes hours to set up the heavy ones. It could be battle magic, but I don’t see why they’d waste it on that. As much snow as there is on the roofs there’s no hope of getting a fire to spread.”

“I think I’m going to have to check this out,” I said reluctantly.

“Probably best to put in an appearance,” he agreed. “We don’t want the prince to think you’re not going to contribute to the defense of the city.”

“You’re not going alone,” Cerise declared.

I frowned. “Are you sure you’re up to this?”

Three days ago we’d fought an undead dragon together, and she’d stolen so much power from the thing that she’d sprouted wings and scales. She’d spent the last two nights doing long rituals to rebalance her magic, and sacrifice the power she couldn’t handle to her goddess. She was pretty much back to her normal appearance now, but she looked exhausted.

“I can handle a scouting mission, and a couple of short fights,” she insisted. “If it turns into a long slugging match you can send me back here with orders for the men. But I don’t want you out there with no one to watch your back when we don’t know what’s happening.”

“Fair enough,” I conceded. I certainly wouldn’t mind having her along. My magical defenses were a lot better than hers, but underneath it all I was just a squishy human. Cerise, on the other hand, had the physical vitality of a demon and a solid set of personal wards against non-physical threats. We were pretty much perfect for bailing each other out of trouble.

I studied the remnants of the causeway for a moment. The stone was badly cratered, and two long stretches had been completely obliterated. We weren’t going to get any vehicles over that. But I didn’t want to pull any troops away from the defense of the island anyway.

“We’ll take your bike,” I told Cerise. “Just the two of us. We can leave through the water gate, and find a boat ramp to get off the river and into the city. If the Conclave is sending reinforcements to the walls they shouldn’t be hard to find.”

She nodded. “Sounds like fun. But I want to have Corinna bring her war band over here and help guard the keep until we get back. Just in case the enemy has a way to get over walls.”

“That’s fine. I don’t think they’ll be needed, but better safe than sorry. Marcus, if you need us to come back fire off one of the mortars. The noise should be noticeable from anywhere in the city, I’d think.”

Cerise’s bike was a recent gift, basically a flying motorcycle that hovered a few feet off the ground on a levitation spell. It was just big enough for two people, and had a top speed somewhere well north of a hundred miles per hour. Cerise had fallen in love with it instantly, of course.

She gunned the thruster as we cleared the iron portcullis that guarded the water gate, and sent us shooting out over the still water of the harbor. I held on tight behind her, and wrapped my force field around us both.

“Hey, you made the wind go away!” She protested.

“Just making sure we can’t get ambushed easily,” I told her.

“Like anything could hit us at this speed? You worry too much, old man.”

“That’s because you never worry at all, crazy girl,” I told her. “I have to do enough of it for both of us.”

“Better you than me,” she retorted. “Okay, there’s a ramp we can use. Hold on!”

I discreetly grabbed hold of the bike with a bit of force magic, just in case. But Cerise drove with the same preternatural skill she displayed in any physical ability, slowing just enough to stay in control as we cleared the ramp and flew halfway across the wide cleared space beyond. A moment later we were back on the ground, already braking and turning onto the street that paralleled the water front.

The harbor gate was still open, although a platoon of spearmen stood ready to close it at the first sign of danger. Unfortunately they didn’t know any more than we did about what was happening. We left them on guard and sped across the Temple District towards the commotion.

Nervous citizens peered out their windows at us as we passed. This part of the city had already seen one major battle, and they weren’t eager for another one. Most of the buildings were intact, but here and there we passed a fire-gutted ruin or a structure with doors and windows smashed in. Signs of the battles that had already been fought here.

At least the streets hadn’t been packed with refugees, like when I first arrived in Kozalin. The death toll among the civilians would have been a lot higher if we hadn’t gotten them into shelters before Hel’s attack.

We passed through another gate guarded by a nervous platoon of the city garrison, and entered the Trade District. Here there was less damage, but there were sounds of fighting close at hand.

“Head for the noise?” Cerise asked. “Or do you want to look around for a command post?”

“Considering how my last conversation with the prince went, I’d say it’s better to avoid him for now. Head for the noise.”

The commotion grew louder as we neared it, and I frowned. The shouts and clash of metal were familiar, but there was a lot of other noise. Deep-throated bellows from something I didn’t recognize, and the occasional tremendous crashing sound. What was going on?

Then we came around a corner, and found ourselves face to face with the enemy. Cerise turned the bike sideways and skidded to a stop as we both stared.

A block away the street was filled with a mass of huge, gray-skinned creatures lumbering towards us on four legs. Their heads were covered with bony armor, with a short horn rising up from the snout and two longer, lance-like horns projecting forward above the eyes. There was a group of hairy humanoids waving spears and javelins perched atop each of the creatures, which were considerably bigger than elephants.

They spotted us immediately, and the front rank broke into a charge amid a chorus of howls and jeering.

“Oh, crap!” Cerise exclaimed.

She spun the bike around, and headed back the way we’d come. But I was still staring numbly at the enemy.

“That’s a triceratops,” I muttered.

“A what?”

“Dinosaurs. They have frickin’ dinosaur cavalry.”

Cerise snickered. “Are you jealous?”


Our pursuers lumbered around the corner behind us. One of them tried to corner a little too fast, and ended up sliding across the packed snow into a shop that faced the road. The front of the brick and wood structure promptly collapsed, but the dinosaur pulled itself free of the falling debris without any apparent injury. So that’s what those crashing sounds were.

Damn. They had to be killing a lot of civilians that way, and most people would have a fire going in their homes. That explained the smoke, at least.

We could easily outrun them on the bike, but that’s not what we were here for.

“Get a couple of blocks ahead and then stop,” I ordered.

“You got it, Daniel. How are we killing these things? There’s too much light for me to shadow step, and my gun isn’t going to do much to an animal that big.”

“Pick off the riders,” I told her. “I’ll handle the dinosaurs.”

How was I going to do that? Well, first things first. I eyeballed the distance, and tossed my earth talisman down the street to land between us and the enemy. It immediately sprouted into a barricade of sharp iron spikes, spreading at my direction to fill the width of the street. Making it tall enough to physically stop a triceratops would take more time than I had, but I was pretty sure the beasts wouldn’t try to walk across something like that. If they did it would cut their feet up badly enough to cripple them, just like caltrops against normal cavalry.

Then I drew my revolver, set it for explosive rounds, and opened fire.

On that setting the bullets that my weapon fired were enchanted to conjure up a chunk of magma from the earth’s core when they struck something. The white-hot nickel-iron immediately exploded as it found itself no longer subjected to millions of atmospheres of pressure, flinging superheated metal everywhere with the force of a small bomb. It took a little less than a second for the enchantment factory in my weapon to create a new round, so I just held the trigger down and peppered them with a continuous stream of attacks.

The first blast struck the bony frill protecting the lead dinosaur’s neck, blowing a large hole in it and sending molten metal lancing into its back. It bellowed in pain, and charged at us. The second shot caught it right between the eyes, and then I lowered my aim and hit one of its forelegs with the third. It collapsed, throwing half its riders forward into the street.

The dinosaur next to it shied away from the crash, and then continued its turn right into a building when I shifted my fire in its direction. A couple more shots into its side and the beast went down, half-buried under a mass of broken wood and brick.

With the street mostly blocked by writhing dinosaurs their comrades had to slow down and work their way through instead of just charging us. I walked my fire back and forth across their formation, and it quickly dissolved into complete chaos.

Cerise pulled her gun from where she’d had it stowed, strapped to the side of the bike, and opened fire on the riders. As usual she picked them off with the inhuman accuracy of a Hollywood sniper, the big .50-caliber rounds blowing heads apart and punching gaping holes through their leather armor. At this rate we’d have the street cleared in no time.

Then a group of hairy forms dropped off the roofs to land around us.

A couple of them bounced off my force field, with a drain on my energy reserves that was far larger than it should have been. Another landed on the street next to us, and laid into my shield with an axe made of some glassy red substance. His first blow drained a gout of magic out of my barrier to strengthen the weapon’s enchantment.

Cerise flicked a blob of shadowy energy at him, and he dropped the axe to stagger back with a scream and clutch at his eyes.

“I love having unlimited power,” she commented with a grin. “I’ve got these guys.”

I laid down a barrage of force blades around our position before turning back to the dinosaur cavalry, hoping to take out this distraction quickly. They proved a little too durable for that, the blades slicing armor and inflicting deep wounds but failing to actually sever limbs. They continued beating on my shield, their crimson weapons shifting forms with every few blows. They tried axes, clubs, spears and even something like a morning star, ignoring their injuries as they tried to find a weakness in my defense.

But my amulet held deep reserves of mana to counter exactly this sort of attack, and it would take them several minutes to exhaust its energy and break the shield. Minutes they didn’t have, with Cerise standing safely behind my barrier laying down a barrage of black magic.

Her shadow rose from the ground to coil around her body, and she threw out a clinging mist that ate into their flesh like acid. Their shadows animated, catching at their feet and crawling up their bodies to strangle them. She threw more curses, blobs of dark magic that struck their targets in the face and crawled into their eyes. Or ate them, possibly. I wasn’t watching very closely, but the first guy she’d hit wasn’t moving anymore.

Most troops would have run away by that point, but these guys were in some kind of berserker rage. They howled in frustration, and tore into the barrier with frenzied intensity. But they didn’t seem to have a counter for Cerise’s curses, so I kept my attention on the remains of the cavalry force long enough to finish them off.

Another few dozen explosive rounds and the ones I could see were all dead. They’d never even gotten close to us, and by then Cerise had dealt with her opponents as well.

“We should do it like that more often,” she grinned. “It was pretty funny watching them try to get at me. I guess these guys must be those andregi the wizards were talking about.”

I took a moment to study the bodies. I’d heard the andregi described as ape-men, but really they looked more like Neanderthals to me. Over six feet tall, which was a lot bigger than the local humans, with barrel chests and heavily muscled limbs. Their legs seemed a little shorter than normal, and of course they were so hairy you could almost call it fur. They had heavy brow ridges, big square jaws and no facial hair at all, which was an odd-looking combination. Something about the shape of their skulls was different, too. Wider than a human, with lower foreheads that had a pronounced slope to them.

Their equipment was interesting. Elaborate leather armor that provided full-body coverage, but no shoes. Leather helmets, and long leather cloaks that looked thick enough to double as another layer of armor. Dinosaur hide, maybe? Whatever it was, the workmanship was quite good.

They had a lot of magic about them, too. Necklaces of beads, runes sewn onto their armor, bone ear and nose piercings, all anchoring a host of weak but useful charms. Little spells of protection and enhancement, and a much stronger one that seemed to be some kind of berserker curse. No wonder they’d just kept attacking, even when it was obviously hopeless.

The odd thing, though, was that none of them had a scrap of metal. All of their weapons were that glossy red stuff, which was heavily enchanted.

“Guess so,” I said. “Any idea what those weapons are made of?”

Cerise bent and poked at one thoughtfully. The enchantments had been bound to their wielders, and were starting to come apart now that they were dead. The stuff started to soften, the angular shapes of the fallen weapons slumping towards the ground.

“Oh! I get it. They’re made of blood.”

I blinked. “Seriously?”

I touched an axe that was rapidly becoming a puddle. Yep, blood. Still alive until recently, too.

“Seriously. Kind of an interesting technique, actually. They must have some big ritual where they bleed themselves to make their weapons, and then they’d have to feed them periodically. But it gives them a handy store of extra vitality, and I bet they can steal power from enemies they kill. Absorb their blood to heal themselves, maybe copy their powers, stuff like that. Good thing they didn’t know how to do much with the magic they were stealing, or I’d have had to work a lot harder to kill them.”

“Lovely. I hate competent foes,” I complained. “Why couldn’t they just be a bunch of dumb savages with sticks and stone axes?” She snickered. “Aw, now what fun would it be to kill wimpy guys like that? This way we get a challenge.”

Monday, October 19, 2015

Extermination Teaser 2

We came to the double doors leading out of the habitat, and I set Elin down so I could wrestle one of the heavy sheets of iron out of the way. I’d made them sturdy enough that it would take siege engines to batter them open, just in case enemies ever got onto the island. Elin smoothed down her skirt and pulled up the hood of her warmth cloak in preparation for venturing outside.

I retrieved a heavy blanket from where I’d left it in the corner, and draped it around both of us. It had a warmth enchantment of its own, which let me put an arm around Elin without worrying about frostbite. Then I pushed the door open, and we stepped out into the teeth of a howling blizzard.

The snow had started to fall a few hours after our victory over the undead army Hel had sent to assist Mara’s attack on the city, and it hadn’t let up in the three days since. I was a bit worried about what that meant for the city, since there hadn’t been time to clean up all the enemy stragglers after we broke their last stand in the Temple District. Even subzero temperatures wouldn’t do much to an animated corpse, and there was no telling what mischief the survivors might have gotten up to with most of the city’s defenders trapped indoors. My own troops couldn’t even get into the city, since I’d been forced to blow up the causeway connecting my island to the mainland in order to keep an army away from my gates.

There wasn’t much I could do about it until the weather broke, so I’d concentrated on my own problems. I couldn’t afford to let a little bad weather completely shut down my operations, especially since this sort of thing was becoming depressingly common. So I’d been forced to spend some time making another round of improvements to the island.

We had to fight against the wind as we crossed the wide gap I’d left between the dryad habitat and the nearest covered walkway. Elin stumbled and leaned against me, her slender faerie form too light to resist the buffeting. I held her up and anchored myself with force magic until we were across, wondering for the hundredth time if I should enclose that route.

But leaving it the way it was ensured that the refugees we’d taken in during the battle on the docks wouldn’t accidentally wander into the building and encounter the dryads, and that was rather important. Word of their presence would get out eventually, but I wanted to be a lot better established before anyone showed up at my gate to ask what they were doing here.

Once we were across the gap the trip was a lot more pleasant. I’d built a roof over the little street that ran between the buildings on the western side of my island, made of conjured iron with large quartz skylights at regular intervals. There were gaps here and there where snow could still get in, but they were small enough that there wasn’t much wind. The self-warming enchantments on the road and buildings actually kept the temperature a bit above freezing, and there was a steady flow of foot traffic along the road.

The buildings were all heavy stone structures, designed to resist being broken into by any monsters that might somehow find their way onto the island. One thing I learned from watching zombie movies is that a shell defense isn’t good enough. If you’re facing a real threat you need multiple lines of defense, so you don’t lose everything to one mistake.

The traffic increased as we approached the tower that had been the first structure on my new island fortress, and passed inside. The keep was built like a lot of smaller office buildings, with a big open atrium in the middle and a skylight in the roof. Six floors of balconies encircled the atrium, with a stairway zig-zagging up one side and an elevator on the other. A few of my braver citizens had started to actually use the elevator, but most of them stuck to the stairs.

We took the elevator, and arrived quickly at the coven’s shared living quarters on the fourth floor. A pair of uniformed maids were waiting at the door to take the blanket, and offer us mugs of hot tea before ushering us back to the dining room where the daily staff meeting was held.

It used to be every other day, but there were too many things going on these days. I made a mental note that I needed to figure out a way to delegate more, but it wasn’t the first time I’d had that thought.

Avilla and Cerise were already there, of course, and the rest of the group wasn’t long in arriving. One amusing side effect of the fact that we met over lunch, and no one wanted to miss out on Avilla’s cooking.

Oskar and Gronir arrived together, already discussing something about sentry schedules. Oskar was a huge man, a blacksmith I’d recruited back in Lanrest after he threw together a spontaneous militia force to resist a goblin attack. He was still the leader of the island’s garrison, which I hoped to turn into a more professional force sometime soon. Gronir was almost as tall, with a runner’s build and a perpetual sly grin. Originally a poacher who’d been with a group of peasants I rescued, these days he was the leader of the little band of refugees who’d used Avilla’s magic to turn themselves into wolf people. The wolfen, as they’d decided to call themselves, had proved themselves amazingly useful in the days since then.

Next was Captain Marcus Rain, the leader of my actual military forces. Which currently amounted to the survivors of his original infantry company, a couple dozen professional soldiers we’d recruited since then, and a hundred or so recruits currently undergoing training. Not the most impressive force around, but the armored vehicles and magic weapons I’d been making gave them a lot more punch than any normal unit.

Elin still wasn’t used to being included in these meetings, but since she was more or less recovered from her recent ordeals I’d offloaded some work by putting her in charge of our people’s medical care. Her healing magic wasn’t quite as universally effective as mine, but there was simply no way I could make time to treat any significant number of people.

“So, Marcus, how are the new guns working out?” I asked as Avilla took her seat.

“Well enough, I suppose. The force blades will come in handy when our lines get overrun, that’s for certain. But I’d advise against adding anything else to the standard model. A trigger, a safety and the bayonet switch makes for about as many complications as some of our recruits can handle.”

“Fair enough,” I allowed. “We can always make anything else I come up with a separate piece of equipment, and that way you can control who gets it.”

Replacing all the guns I’d already issued had been a bit painful, but it was a necessary evil. The old version was powered by an enchantment that converted the matter of the gun’s stock directly to mana, and that wasn’t something I wanted too many people to get a good look at. If all my men carried one it would only be a matter of time before my enemies started getting samples. I wasn’t sure if it was possible to reverse-engineer the enchantment without at least a basic understanding of nuclear physics, but I didn’t want to take chances.

Besides which, it was also very difficult to build. I’d been experimenting with enchantments that made magic items recently, but that sort of thing worked best for low-powered items. Doing it with the matter to mana effect was only barely possible, and it resulted in a temperamental enchantment factory that needed constant maintenance to function. My prototype could turn out a few dozen guns in an afternoon, but only if I was there to run it.

To improve on that I’d taken the opportunity of being snowed in to sit down and work out a better process for making power sources. It turned out that iron was actually about the worst possible material to put the matter conversion enchantment on, which made sense when I thought about it. Iron atoms have the highest binding energy per nucleon of any atom, so of course they’d have the lowest energy yield. My new standard was to put the enchantment on a sixty-pound cylinder of granite, which produce five times as much energy as the same mass of iron. Not only was this a superior energy source, it was also big enough to be hard to steal.

Then I’d built an enchantment factory with a socket for the power source, and designed it to link the guns it made to the power source that was slotted into it instead of making them self-powered. The power links would stretch for several miles, which ought to be more than enough for operations in and around the island. So I could keep the power source under lock and key most of the time, and if I ever needed to send troops into the field we could load their power source into one of the armored skimmers to keep it nearby. While I was reworking the enchantments I’d also added a force bayonet to the design of the guns, with a switch to turn the blade on and off. Unlike my own force constructs I’d designed the blade to glow slightly, so that it would be obvious if it was turned on.

As a result, the new guns ended up with a complex but low-energy set of enchantments that could be replicated without any particular wear and tear on the factory enchantment. So I could now just turn it on and leave it to run for hours at a time, creating about fifteen weapons an hour indefinitely. In the last couple of days I’d produced two hundred guns, enough to equip everyone on the island who had even a vague idea of how to use one. Yay for mass production.

“Well, the farming program is off to a decent start,” I announced. “We should have a better idea of what the crop yields are going to look like in a couple of weeks. But as soon as the storm breaks Hrodir is going to need an escort into town to look for more recruits.”

“Does that mean you’ve decided to repair the causeway?” Oskar asked.

“Yes, that’s probably going to be my next project. I’m thinking I’ll elevate it to the same level as the gates, put walls and a roof on it, and then build a watchtower down on the shore with a heavy gate and portcullis. That way the next time there’s trouble in town we can maintain a secure line of retreat without endangering the keep.”

“It’s a start,” Cerise said. “But I’ve been thinking about this, and I’m not happy with our setup. Hel’s troops almost followed us right into the keep, and if they’d made it inside there was nothing between them and Avilla but a few flights of stairs. Not to mention that if we’d gotten back twenty minutes later they would have overrun Captain Rain’s position and stormed the gates in force. We need to do a better job of protecting our people than that.”

“That’s a fair point,” I admitted. “You’re right, that was a problem. How do we fix it?”

“We move all our noncombatants onto the island,” she answered. “Use the keep just for soldiers, and redesign the lower levels so an attacking force has more trouble getting through from the outer gate to the inner one.”

Avilla frowned. “But Cerise, I’ve only just gotten my kitchen properly set up and sanctified. You want me to move again?”

“I want you living right in the middle of the island, with at least two big walls and three or four sets of heavy gates between you and the monsters,” Cerise replied. “Do you realize how easy it would be for something like an ungol or a shade to get into the tower? The wards we’ve started on will help, but you know you’re supposed to put your residence at the center of your warding scheme. Not out here on the edge. I know it’s a pain, sweetie, but I don’t want to come home from a fight someday and find out you were killed in a surprise attack.”

“I suppose you have a point,” Avilla admitted. “The keep isn’t really designed to keep things private, either. I’m a little worried where we’re going to put dangerous things that we need to keep people away from. But still, that’s going to hurt. Unless we can come up with some way to move my claim, instead of abandoning it and building another one.”

“That would be tricky,” I mused. I’d never spent much time studying the web of magic that infused her kitchen, but it was pretty complicated. Although, come to think of it, maybe there was a better way to tackle that one.

“Well, I share Cerise’s concern,” Marcus put in. “Although I’ll also say that we don’t have nearly enough manpower to properly defend the island. We need at least two hundred men just to maintain solid watches and put reserve squads where they might be needed. If you want a good defense in depth with ample reserves you can double that.”

I winced. “I don’t know where we’d find that many men we can trust. Cerise, I don’t suppose you’ve had any word on what other groups we should expect?”

She shook her head. “I won’t get that kind of information unless we really need the advance warning for some reason. Although… hey, is it just me, or has the wind stopped?”

“No, you’re right,” Gronir said. “Maybe this storm is finally over.”

I stood, and opened the wooden shutters on the room’s only window. Sure enough the wind had died down, and the air was clearing. There was still a light dusting of snow falling, but even that was rapidly thinning out.

I frowned.

“That was awfully abrupt. You know, I’m pretty sure the enemy has been controlling these storms ever since the Conclave’s weather circle was killed. Why would they arrange for us to be snowed in for three days, and then suddenly clear away the storm?”

There were frowns all around the table now.

“I don’t know,” Oskar said slowly. “But I don’t like it.”

Elin rose from her seat, and peered out the window. “Nor do I. Look, Daniel, they didn’t just let the storm fade. There’s a stiff wind from the east blowing the clouds away, and the sky in that direction is completely clear. You can actually see the edge of the storm receding to the west.”

“That army of ape men was assembling to the east,” Marcus pointed out. “Perhaps-”

A horn blew in the distance. Then another, and another.

“Enemy at the gates,” Marcus translated the signal. “Damn it all. They used the storm to blind us, so they could approach unseen and catch us napping.”

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Release Date

Yes, I finally have a release date for Extermination. I'm currently finishing up the last chapter, and I'm setting aside another three weeks for editing and proofreading. So you can expect the book to be available on Amazon on November 8th. 

For those of you who've been wanting another teaser, it will be up tomorrow.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Extermination Teaser 1

“The temperature in here will always stay the same,” I explained. “But the rain and light are controlled by these levers. The one on the left turns off the lights, like this.”

I grasped the heavy iron lever and pulled it up. The huge room was plunged into darkness, relieved only by the faint glow of a few weak lights in the ceiling eight feet overhead. About as bright as moonlight, they were just enough to let anyone caught in the room when the lights went out find an exit.

Most of my audience gasped in surprise, but at least no one panicked. That was a good sign.
I turned the lights back on, and reached for the other lever. “This one makes it rain. There’s a little dry area here by the doors, but it should cover the rest of the room pretty evenly.”

I threw the switch, and a light drizzle began to fall from the sprinkler system on the ceiling. The farmers in the audience just stared, but both dryads stepped out into the warm rain and spread their arms.

“I’m never going to get used to this, milord,” the taller of the two dryads said. Her name was Ilona, if I remembered right.

“I can feel Lady Elin’s power in the water,” Gabi, the other dryad, added. “She’s very kind to us.

I smiled. “Yes, she is. But let’s not turn the field to mud just yet.”

I turned off the rain, and turned to the old man who stood at the head of the little group of former peasants. Hrodir had been the headman of his village before Fimbulwinter, and he was by far the best person I had available to take charge of this project.

“So, you’ve got about half an acre of land in each of these chambers. Elin and I only have four of them finished right now, but I expect we’ll get the other twenty set up over the next few weeks. I’ll leave it up to you to organize who works which plot and what they should plant. The soil is a couple of feet deep, so I imagine it should work for most of your normal crops. Just keep in mind that with the dryads blessing the fields you’re going to be pulling in a harvest every few weeks instead of just once or twice a year.”

We’d warned the men up front that they’d be working closely with the dryads on this project, and the volunteers were all relatively young and unmarried. But even so, there was as much fear as lust in the looks they gave the naked nature spirits.

“There, ah, ain’t no blood sacrifices or nothing in makin that happen, right?” One of them asked nervously.

Ilona laughed. “We only feed our trees the blood of enemies, silly. Fertility rites are a different kind of magic, and not one I’ve ever seen a man object to.”

“I don’t know, sister,” Gabi said. “There are only six of them. They might not have the stamina to handle us both. Especially not if we bless the fields morning and night, like we were talking about.”

It took the men a moment to realize what the dryads were getting at, and even then they didn’t seem to know whether to be intrigued or terrified. 

The dryads were quite attractive, if a little odd looking. They both had brown skin the same shade as the bark of their trees, and their long hair was the same green as their leaves. Their lean, athletic bodies had more than enough curves to catch a man’s eye, and with their deceptively young-looking features they could have passed as human teenagers if not for their odd coloration. But they were nature spirits, and contrary to what Disney might tell you nature isn’t about cute little furry critters singing songs and living in harmony together. The average dryad was about as tame as a wolf, and considerably more dangerous.

Well, they’d work it out. 

“I can always find more men if you need them,” I said. “Now, half of every harvest goes to me, as rent. That’s what we’re going to be feeding our troops with soon, so be sure you plant a decent variety of crops. The rest is split evenly between you and the dryads, although since they don’t need to eat I expect they’ll end up selling most of theirs.”

“How do we do that, exactly?” Gabi asked. “I mean, I think I sort of get this human idea of buying and selling things, but it all sounds very complicated. I don’t have a clue how we’d actually do it.”

“You may want to get the men here to help you with that,” I told her. “They’ve all done it before, and considering how high food prices are these days they should be able to get you good deals. Everyone, I want you all to remember that this project is a partnership between dryads and humans. Odd as it may seem we’re all on the same side here, and we need to work together if we’re going to survive.”

“That means no cheating the girls just because they can’t count money,” Hrodir put in. “You boys are lucky sons of bitches to be here, and anyone who screws things up won’t be for long. Right, milord?”

I nodded firmly. “Yes. This is one of the most important jobs on the island, and anyone who doesn’t pull their weight won’t keep it for long. If you can’t handle the work we may just shift you back to the general labor pool, but if you cause trouble Hrodir is going to boot you right off the island.”

That was a likely death sentence these days, for a man with no connections or special skills. I was hoping the threat would be enough to prevent trouble, but Hrodir had predicted we’d have to follow through on it at least once. Maybe he was right, but I couldn’t see a better alternative.

“What about the dryads, milord wizard?” One of the braver famers asked. “They aren’t under Hrodir, are they?”

“No, the dryad groves are like villages,” I told him. “Each one has their own leader. But Pelagia has agreed to be in charge of making sure all the dryads involved in the farms do their jobs and don’t get up to any mischief.”

Ilonna shuddered. “No one is going to cross the Mistress of Bloody Thorns, milord. Besides, you men have nothing to fear from us. We’re very grateful to the lord wizard, for giving us a place here. None of us want to risk messing this up.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” I said. “But misunderstandings happen, and I know men and dryads don’t usually work together. So men, if you have a problem with one of the dryads take it to Hrodir, and he’ll talk to Pelagia and work things out. Dryads, if you have a problem with one of the men bring it to Pelagia and she’ll see that it gets fixed. Now, any other questions?”

There were a few, but nothing of any substance. After a few more minutes of discussion I left Hrodir to take the men up the long elevator ride to their quarters on the top floor. That had originally been a giant attic space, but I’d turned part of it into a set of private rooms for the farmers. It was easily big enough to house the entire staff for the farming complex now, under conditions that would seem downright luxurious to the former peasants.

Of course, six men was only the beginning. Hrodir was already planning a trip to the nearest refugee shelter to look for more, and considering the volume of food we hoped to produce we’d probably end up with dozens of them. But indoor farming with magical assistance was an exotic enough venture that we’d both felt it was best to start small, and bring in new workers a few at a time.

I found Elin resting near the entrance to Pelagia’s grove, with a group of exotic nature spirits waiting on her hand and foot. She was usually too embarrassed to let them do more than bring her fresh fruit, but apparently she’d made the mistake of letting one of the nymphs give her a foot rub this morning. Now she was sprawled bonelessly across the lush grass that had sprung up beneath one of the dryad trees, with her head in the lap of a dryad who was feeding her orange slices while two nymphs collaborated on what must have been a pretty amazing massage.

I could tell that because Elin’s skirt was up around her waist, and she wasn’t objecting to the hands on her thighs despite the fact that they had an audience. But they’d probably end up trying to seduce her if I gave them the chance, and she’d be terribly embarrassed however that turned out. So I decided I’d better come to her rescue.

Wait, oranges? Where the heck did they get oranges? Aren’t those a new world plant?

My moment of confusion gave the hamadryad who’d been watching the show a chance to intercept me, with another nymph and a couple of dryads in tow. They all mobbed me in a group hug.

“Welcome, lord wizard!” The hamadryad said, just quietly enough not to disturb Elin. “What can we do for our savior today? Do you have time to stay for a bit?”

She looked like a taller, curvier, slightly older version of the dryads, which I found sexy as hell. Especially when she was molding herself against my chest, twining her arms around my neck and giving me a look that said she was mine for the taking. 

The nymph was even worse, with her lush figure and supernatural aura of sexual allure. She trapped my right arm between her mountainous breasts, and went up on tiptoes to kiss my cheek.

“Please say yes,” she said softly. “We still want to properly thank you for our new home.”

The dryads finished my encirclement, running their hands over me eagerly.

A month ago I wouldn’t have had a prayer of resisting them. But being involved with Cerise and Avilla had done a lot to build up my tolerance for feminine charms. So instead of drawing the hamadryad into the kiss she was practically begging for, I somehow managed to keep my head.

“I’m afraid I came to fetch Elin for a meeting,” I said.

The nymph pouted, and the hamadryad actually looked a little hurt. She bit her lip.

“Have we displeased you in some way, milord?”

“How could you have displeased me, when I don’t even know your name? No, I’m just very busy. Keeping this place safe is a lot of work, and I do have my own coven to keep happy.”

“Invite them all, if you’d like,” she suggested. “The hospitality of the Red Thorn Grove is justly famous in certain circles. See how gently we’ve handled Lady Elin, when she’s barely awakened to her own passions? We’d be happy for the chance to treat your ladies well, my lord.”

I had to admit, getting Elin to relax that much was an impressive feat. She was usually wound pretty tight, and anything that hinted of sexuality tended to make her pull back into her shell. She was so used to thinking of herself as a hideous monster that she had trouble letting anyone touch her, even within the coven. But here she was, apparently enjoying herself.

“We’ll see,” I temporized. “But right now I’m here for Elin.”

“Of course.” She stepped back, and hesitated for a moment. “Milord? My name is Nomiki.”

“I’m Xenia,” the nymph said, suddenly grinning. “And the girls here are Carla and Hella. So now you know our names, and you can ask for us next time you visit.”

“Or send for us,” Nomiki added, not missing a trick.

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

I walked quietly to where Elin was lying, and knelt beside her on the grass. Her little court of lecherous nature spirits all looked disappointed at my arrival, but none of them said anything. I bent, and gently kissed her.


Her eyes opened, and she blinked up at me uncertainly. Then they drifted closed again, and she languorously returned the kiss.

“Mm, Daniel.”

I chuckled. “Having a good time, sweetie? I hate to interrupt, but it’s almost time for the staff meeting. Not to mention lunch.”

She seemed to suddenly realize what a compromising position I’d found her in, and blushed faintly. “Um. This isn’t… I wasn’t... I mean… oh, drat. They got me, didn’t they?”

The nymphs giggled.

“Did you enjoy your massage, milady?” One of them asked. “See, we told you that we can control ourselves. We won’t do anything you don’t want us to.”

“Come back anytime,” the other one added. “It’s fun to have a challenge to work on.”

“A challenge? What do you mean, a challenge?” Elin squeaked indignantly.

“Why, you get so tense that it’s a challenge to get you to relax,” the first nymph said innocently.

“They may tease a lot, but they’re also serious about the offer,” Nomiki said. “You’re welcome to call any of us up to your rooms whenever you get yourself all knotted up like that. Massage is one of the special skills our grove has long sought to perfect. It would be very nice to have someone new to practice on.”

“I have to admit, that was heavenly,” Elin said. “Perhaps I will. If you really don’t mind?”

They all assured her that they’d be delighted, and I certainly wasn’t going to object. Although I resolved to have a private word with Pelagia about it, and make sure they weren’t just setting up a seduction ploy. A little pampering would be good for Elin, as long as they didn’t end up pushing her into things she wasn’t ready for.

Elin sat up, and then frowned. “Um, Daniel? My legs don’t seem to want to work.”

“That must have been some massage,” I observed, and scooped her up into a bridal carry. She squeaked in surprise, and threw her arms around my neck.

“Daniel! I didn’t mean for you to carry me!”

“I like carrying you,” I told her. “It’s not like you weigh anything. You just relax, and let me know when you can wiggle your toes again.”

She giggled, and leaned against me. “Oh, you! Fine, carry me then. You’re probably cheating with force magic, anyway.”

She relaxed against me, and started kissing my neck as I carried her out of the dryad habitat. That was one of her little signals that she was feeling amorous, and I reflected that it was too bad we didn’t have more time. But if we delayed any longer we’d end up being late, and I wasn’t going to be the asshole boss who made everyone else sit around waiting for him.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Status Update

I'm finally down to the last few chapters of Extermination. The story has grown a bit on me, but I should be finished with the first draft in the next week or two. Allowing time for editing, procuring cover art and other details, the book should be on Amazon sometime around the end of October.

So it's time for teasers! I'll be posting several segments here over the next few weeks, starting tomorrow. If you really don't want to wait, Patreon supporters will get their first sample today.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Patreon Account

Yes, I've finally broken down and created a Patreon account. I'm not sure how many people would actually be interested in becoming supporters, but I've got a few goodies in store for those who do. Advance looks at future work, draft chapters and concept sketches for stories I'm considering writing, and other material along those lines.

For those of you who don't chose to become supporters, don't worry. This blog will continue to have the same posts as in the past, including an advance look at the first couple of chapters of new books starting 6-8 weeks before publication.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Status Update

Well, it looks like it's time to admit that Extermination (the sequel to Black Coven) isn't quite going to be finished in time for a September release. At my current rate of progress I'm expecting to just finish the draft by then, but editing and proofreading generally take two or three weeks. So I'm now expecting to release the book in October.

In other news, I've started laying the groundwork for my second series. This will be fairly hard SF in a far-future setting, and I'm tentatively planning to release the first book several months after Extermination. Starting next year I'll probably alternate books between the two settings, with a goal of finishing a book about every four months.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Status Update

Wow, has it really been that long? I seriously need to post more often.

Well, I'm pleased to report that the next Daniel Black book is coming along nicely. I'm currently working on chapter seven of the new book, which is titled Extermination. It should end up being about the same length as Black Coven, and I expect to release it around the end of September.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Status Update

The new edition of Fimbulwinter is now on Amazon, thanks to everyone who submitted corrections in the proofreading thread. The only changes in the new edition are typographical corrections, and a couple of minor changes to wording to make some awkward sentences flow better. But I hope this will provide a better experience for new readers.

If I understand how Amazon's update system works everyone who previously purchased Fimbulwinter will get the option to update to the new version once it goes live. The delay there is the same 12-24 hours as for publishing a new book, so if you want the new version you should see the update option sometime tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I've finished plotting out the sequel to Black Coven and will start writing the first draft this week. I'm tentatively aiming for a September release, but that could change significantly depending on how the writing goes. I should have a firmer date in a few weeks.

Finally, I'm curious whether there is any interest in a print version of my books? I'd have to use a Print on Demand service, which means they'd be relatively expensive (probably $8 - $10, depending on what kind of deals I can find). But I know some people like to have a physical copy of their books, and not everyone has a Kindle.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Status Update

I'm pleased to announce that Black Coven is complete. I'll be preparing it for publication and doing some final proofreading over the next few days, and I expect the book will be on sale before the end of the week.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Black Coven Teaser 3

Kozalin was a lot more impressive than I’d expected.

Back on my own Earth, low-tech cities were invariably tiny and overcrowded compared to modern megalopolises. It takes enormous amounts of labor to build anything with muscle power and hand tools, especially if you’re working in stone. So aside from a few monuments built at staggering expense by emperors or pharaohs, ancient structures tend to be surprisingly small and cramped.

But in this world they had magic.

I’d gathered that Varmland was a pretty big kingdom, encompassing what in my world would have been the Danish peninsula, southern Scandinavia and a good chunk of the Baltic Coast. The geography didn't quite match up - the Baltic Sea seemed to be a lot smaller in this world, and there was a stretch of flat farmland and a couple of rivers where the Kattegat should have been. All told the Kingdom was about the size of modern France, and had probably had over a million inhabitants before Fimbulwinter began.

Kozalin was the major center of magical learning in the Kingdom, and it showed. The city was built on the north bank of a major river I was pretty sure was the Elb, a few miles inland of where it emptied into the North Sea. The landward side was defended by a wall that had to be forty feet tall, a fact that was all the more impressive because the city was several miles across. A moat wide enough to look like a small lake stretched out from the base of the wall, crossed at three points by stone bridges that would have formed nasty choke points in warmer weather.

Round towers rose well above the level of the wall, their flat tops supporting a variety of both mundane and magical siege engines. At the eastern end of the city a cluster of even taller towers advertised the location of Brokefang Castle, an ancient fortress that was widely considered impregnable after withstanding an attack by dragons several centuries ago. At the western end of the city a gleaming metal spire hundreds of feet tall marked the home of the Red Conclave, the most powerful organization of mages in Northern Europe. The sky overhead was patrolled by a flight of knights mounted on griffons, and I could see the immaterial glow of a vast network of magical protections enclosing the entire settlement.

Unfortunately, any hope of safety we might have entertained was dashed by the breach in the wall.

The frozen moat was littered with the bodies of giants, a mute testament to the price they’d paid for that hole in the city’s defenses. Hundreds of laborers were already at work turning the mound of rubble in the gap into a proper barricade, guarded by several companies of soldiers. But if a band of giants could accomplish that much, what kind of damage would a dragon do? Or a pack of ungols?

A city this size wouldn’t fall easily, but protecting it would demand a steady price in blood from the men who held the walls. If this went on long enough, eventually there wouldn’t be enough of them left to man the defenses.

Judging from his expression, Carl was having similar thoughts.

“There must have been at least a hundred of them,” he observed. “With an enchanted battering ram, I suppose. Damn, but Loki’s allies are getting bold.”

I nodded. “They haven’t been finding much that can stop them. Although I’m surprised they’re already attacking a place like Kozalin. You’d think they’d work their way through the smaller towns first, and then take the time to concentrate their forces.”

Carl shook his head. “Probably just testing our defenses. They’ll strike where we’re weak, and leave the stronger positions for later. So we’d better make Kozalin as strong as we can, eh? I bet you can repair that breach before the next attack.”

“Yeah, I can fix that in an afternoon.”

“See? Come on, let’s get our people settled so I can introduce you around. The High Adepts will be happy to have you.”

The first part of that turned out to be easier said than done, at least for me. The gate guards recognized Carl’s group and let us in readily enough, but once inside we found that the city was packed with refugees. The main streets were mostly clear, but every alley and plaza was clogged with carts, livestock and huddled masses of desperate people.The inns were full to overflowing with nobles and wealthy merchants, and soldiers spilled out of the towers and barracks spaces to cover drill fields and practice yards with closely-spaced tents. By the time we were halfway to the Conclave’s tower Carl was shaking his head apologetically.

“I should have realized the city would be like this,” he admitted. “I’ve probably sent a thousand people here myself, and there were a lot of us working rescue early on. Maybe the Conclave will have room?”

“We’re headed that direction anyway,” I agreed. “Might as well see what they say.”

The city’s main roads were surprisingly wide and straight, hinting at some past effort at urban planning. We’d entered into what was apparently a trade district, where shops and inns lined the streets. Most were three-story buildings, and the traditional layout seemed to be a business on the ground floor and living quarters above it. Brick and wood were the main construction materials, but there was a fair amount of stonework as well

I was a bit surprised to note storm drains along the side of the road, and a distinct absence of sewage in the streets. Unlike Lanrest, apparently Kozalin had a sewer system.

We passed through another gate into what Carl referred to as the Wizard’s Quarter, and I noted approvingly that the walls separating the different districts of the city were as stout and well-manned as the outer wall. At least the extra manpower was being put to use.

“How many districts does Kozalin have?” I asked my guide.

“Five,” Carl answered. “The Trade Quarter we just passed through, and ahead is the Wizard’s Quarter. There’s also the Military District back east around Brokefang Castle, the Docks along the river, and the Temple Quarter in the middle of town. The defenses are all designed so we can hold out even if one district falls, and there are a lot of strong points and secret sally ports to make an attacker’s life difficult. Most of the defenses were built against the Saxons, or these days the Franks. But unless the dark gods send all their hordes at us I don’t think there’s any danger the city will fall to outside attack.”

I nodded. “It looks like a good position, at least for us. I wouldn’t want to be one of these refugees.”

Carl shrugged. “Nothing to be done about that. Better an alley in the Trade Quarter than a felwolf’s belly.”

I couldn’t argue with that, although I suspected there would be trouble if something wasn’t done about them soon. No matter how oppressed the peasants were here, I doubted they’d just meekly sit in the snow until they froze to death.

The Wizard’s Quarter was noticeably more prosperous than the Trade Quarter, with larger buildings that often had stone walls or even glass windows. Spacious villas were mixed in among the bookstores and merchants specializing in exotic materials, and there weren’t nearly as many refugees. Then we came to a broad plaza paved in marble, before a massive structure of dark metal.

“The Iron Citadel,” Carl explained proudly. “Home of the Red Conclave for three hundred years now. Only mages and their personal retainers are allowed inside, but your people can wait in the plaza here. I’ll let the guards know to leave them alone.”

I eyed the fortress thoughtfully, impressed despite myself. The walls were half again the height of the ones around the city, and the gates that stood open before us were made of metal a good four inches thick. Obviously the whole place had been built with magic somehow, although how anyone had conjured that much iron was beyond me. Getting pure metals took so much power even I had trouble with it, despite my cheat.

Although, come to think of it, the fortress wasn’t rusted and it wasn’t the distinctive black color of wrought iron. It was more of a brownish gray, with a textured surface that showed a lot of subtle color variations. Interesting. I’d have to think about that.

A squad of men in full plate armor directed traffic before the gates, but behind them I could see rows of large articulated iron statues along the walls of the entranceway that had to be golems. A tough place to break into, and come to think of it getting out might not be easy either. Better be on my best behavior.

Fortunately I’d taken the time to question Cerise and Captain Rain about such topics as court etiquette and the customs of the Conclave. Making the right kind of impression here would be important.

“Gronir, Daria, you’re on bodyguard detail. Cerise, you’re with me. Captain Rain, keep an eye on things until I get back.”

Carl raised an eyebrow at that. “You’re taking a woman as one of your guards?”

“It’s mostly a ceremonial position,” I pointed out. “Unless you think the High Adepts will take it as an insult somehow?”

“No, it’s just odd. But so is everything else about you, so I suppose it fits.”

Visiting mages were only allowed two guards inside the walls of the citadel, and I suppose Carl had expected me to take Oskar and Captain Rain. But the half-wolf couple would be a lot more likely to escape if something went wrong, and their keen senses might pick up interesting information.

Cerise, of course, was accompanying me as my apprentice. If the Conclave accepted me as an ally that would give her access to the citadel as well, and provide a ready explanation for her own magic. Anyone perceptive enough to see exactly what kind of magic she wielded would probably see her binding as well, and conclude she was an enslaved witch that I was trying to hide. Either way would work for most purposes.

The citadel’s entryway fed into a huge hall, big enough to use as a ballroom or to muster a battalion of troops. Wide stairways covered in decorative ironwork swept up to balconies on the second and third floors, and servants dressed in the distinctive red and black livery of the Conclave bustled about everywhere.

Carl led us up a stairway to the second floor, and through another iron gate into what I guessed must be the interior of the main tower. From there we circled an ornate audience chamber that didn’t seem to be in use, and made our way up another flight of stairs to a meeting area that was laid out along more practical lines. 

The sounds of an argument were audible all the way down the hall.

“...I’m telling you, we don’t have the manpower! This weather working has tied up half our membership, and we've lost four Adepts to those rescue operations you insisted on. We barely have the resources to maintain our existing commitments, let alone tackle another major project.”

“Then drop the damned weather spell! It isn't going to work anyway, Lukas. The gods aren't going to let you reverse Fimbulwinter, and keeping trade going-”

“Trade with who? There’s snow falling in Sicily, Caspar! No one is in any better state than we are.”

“Yes, and we've got thousands of craftsmen ready to keep plying their trades if they can just get raw materials. Damn it all, man, the ocean isn't going to freeze! We just need to keep the ice out of the harbor.”

The speaker was a muscular young man dressed in a suit of armor that must have cost a fortune, considering the amount of gold inlay it featured. The gold circlet he wore identified him as royalty, so that was easily explained. The man arguing with him was much older, with thinning hair and a long grey beard, but he held an iron staff set with a fortune in jewels and his crimson robes looked fancy enough for a king’s court. A small crowd of assorted servants, retainers and onlookers stood about the room, all of them looking like they were trying to spontaneously develop the power of invisibility.

“You want us to work fire magic on water? Hah! You have no idea what an undertaking that would be,” the old man protested. “We've no time for such absurdities.”

The prince looked about ready to explode at this, so I stepped forward. “This sounds like something I could help with.”