Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sample of Iron Bloom

So, my novel about a superhumanly tough female warrior is coming out later this week, and as such I thought it'd be nice to show some of it off before the big release. Pretty tame so far, but hey... the action will REALLY pick up!

It was the glint of sun off steel that caught her eye. Rose stopped, basket of freshly picked herbs in hand, and stared into the Whit family's barn door through which she had seen that misplaced sliver of light. While metal was common enough on a farm, most farming tools were made of dull iron, and Rose had only seen light reflected so sharply off honed steel—like a sword blade. Inside the barn, she thought she glimpsed a bulky shape, moving with stealth and speed. A thief?

Her first thought was to run for help. But how long would it take to get back? Likely too long, for the Whits. She should go warn them, she thought. Yet she worried to let the burglar out of sight, and perhaps give him a chance to catch her off guard later. What if the Whits weren't home? If so, she would have to confront him alone anyway. She would not escape herself only to leave him here, free to ambush her neighbors.

Rose set her basket down in the grass and crept towards the barn, knowing now what she meant to do. It wasn't that she wasn't scared; her heart pounded in her chest, and sweat moistened her scalp and tunic. Though she had long played at being a warrior with her friends, to confront real danger was an altogether different matter. But she would do all she could to protect the Whits and their innocent child. So she entered the barn, carefully picking up the hoe just inside the door.

The man's broad back came into view to her left, and Rose raised her hoe to strike. Then she hesitated. What if this was no thief, after all? Despite his armament, he could be a family friend, or even an agent of the crown on legitimate business. She could not just attack, with no knowledge of his intentions.

"You!" she said in what she hoped was a commanding voice. "What are you doing here?"

He turned, and immediately she realized her mistake. The feral gleam in his eyes, the smirk that pulled at his thick lips—he could be nothing else but the kind of villain she had suspected and feared. "Are you the daughter, then? A big one you are, but I don't mind. All women scream the same." His huge sword came up, gleaming like flame.

On the verge of panic, Rose swung at his face. He parried easily, and countered with a slash she barely managed to deflect. The hoe was poorly balanced for use as a weapon, and she was hardly an experienced warrior in the first place. The robber pressed his assault, battering relentlessly at her, and she found herself retreating across the hay-strewn floor. She felt her back bump up against the far wall, and in desperation tried to force him back with a sudden burst of offense.

For a moment, he seemed to falter against her flurry of quick pokes, and she thought she had a chance. But then he cut through the hoe's shaft with a well-placed blow, and the next thing she knew an impact like a heavy punch slammed into her middle. She felt herself shoved back, driven against the wood behind her. Then the pain hit, a world-shattering explosion tearing through her body. For a moment she was blind, but stubbornly she blinked her vision back. Slowly, her attacker came into view.

Rose stared at the man as he loosened his belt, his wide, greasy face split with a lusty grin. His breath reeked of rotting meat, and she ached to run screaming out of his reach. But she couldn't scream because her mouth had filled with blood. And she couldn't run because his sword impaled her just below the ribcage, nailing her to the wall.

She could barely breathe, and when she inhaled blood spurted out around the edges of the wide blade. The wound should already have killed her, she knew, but the freakish vitality which kept her alive now prolonged her suffering. She wasn't just going to die, but her killer would also rob her of her last dignity. He dropped his trousers, and his smile widened while he watched her squirm. He reached out to pull her pants down, and blood ran down her chin as she hissed with outrage. She did not know if the sword would get in his way, but he would surely just pull it out if it did. As his fingers brushed her waist, Rose made her choice. Her hand snaked down, snatching the paring knife from her belt, and she plunged it into the side of his neck.

He stumbled back, eyes bulging, and fell clutching his throat. A choking gurgle accompanied his feeble twitching, and then he was still. Rose wanted to retch at the act, but nothing except blood issued from her mouth. She looked down at herself and swallowed. It was tough to do with the liquid continuing to well up in her throat. Damnit, she didn't want to die! Her wound was surely mortal, but she would never give up as long as she drew breath. She was too young to die, nor would she burden her parents with the grief of losing their only child. Resolving to get free, she grabbed the hilt of the sword skewering her and hesitantly gave it a tug.

It had barely begun to move when her blood-slick hands slipped along and off the hilt. The sudden motion jarred the blade, and more blood gushed out around it. She would have fallen from the pain, but the sword held her upright. It hurt like a hot coal inside her lung... but if she stayed here, she would have no chance at all to live, and she pulled again, harder this time. The world blurred into a red haze. And then the sword came free of the wall. Rose stumbled forward and fell, her face smacking against the packed earth below. She hardly felt that, though; the sword twisted inside her as its hilt hit the ground. Now she knew what real agony was like.

Rose put her palms against the ground and pushed, raising herself to her hands and knees. She began to crawl forward, her body protesting with every move. Okay, at least she was moving—she just had to hang on, somehow. Her legs slipped and slid in warm wetness she knew had leaked from her body. She couldn't even breathe without pain, and flecks of blood flew into the air as she exhaled.

No, she didn't want to think about what that meant. So instead, she concentrated on finding something to help her stand. She'd never get anywhere crawling like this. Turning back towards the wall, she groped at it and pulled herself up to lean with her shoulder against the wood. It felt solid, as she wished she did. She was a big girl, but right now felt weak as a lamb. Even so, it surprised her to be able to do as much as she did. She'd always had a hearty constitution, but now it was proving stronger than she ever imagined.

She took a step. Damn, it made her feel dizzy. She took another, and another. Her ears picked up the sound of footsteps, carrying with them a morsel of hope. She would surely welcome the arrival of a member of the Whit family right now. She'd saved them from the marauder who had stabbed her, and if they could just get her some help she might have a chance. One hand clutching the hilt of the sword in her trunk, she staggered towards the sound.

A small figure stepped into view and stared at her with wide eyes. Rose felt instantly sorry for being here, wondering how many nightmares the child would have over the sight of her transfixed body. "D-Danny?" she found herself spitting out. "W-where are your parents?"

He yelped and dashed away. Rose kept walking, impossible as it seemed that she would find help before passing away. But then, the boy reappeared and said in a voice small with terror, "Lady, help. Mom and dad are hurt."

She didn't ask him how or why, but followed him dazedly to a sparse bedroom. There, she realized she had arrived too late. By killing that villain in the barn, she thought she'd kept him from doing harm. But he had only gone to the barn after visiting the main house. Before her lay the slashed corpses of Danny's parents, and Rose covered his eyes though it was far too late.

She led him from the room, the world spinning around her. "D-do you have a wagon, or a cart?" she asked as she tried to fight off the dizziness.

"The cart's broken. Are my parents going to be okay?"

Rose didn't know why she wasn't crying. She should have been crying. Maybe her body knew it couldn't take the strain. Not knowing how she was supposed to answer, she said, "I'll keep you safe."

"You got stabbed," he observed, reminding her she should have been dead.

"Yeah, I did. Come on, let's go."

He tried to resist her feeble pull on his arm and whined, "But what about my parents?"

"They're dead," she finally said, unable to think of any better wording. Though she had not known them well, her heart broke for the anguish in Danny's eyes. He remained tight-lipped for a moment, sniffing softly, then started to wail. Though she knew there was little comfort she could give, Rose hugged him and began to stroke his hair.


When Rose arrived half an hour later in her hometown of Hullel, many a villager greeted her with shocked gapes and piteous stares. "This is Danny," she gasped to no one in particular. "He's an orphan. Somebody needs to take care of him." She reached out towards a young woman nearby, who screamed just as her strength gave out and she fell to her knees.

"Help her, someone help her!" the woman cried. Rose felt two men take her arms and legs, shouting unintelligibly, and the world blurred around her as they carried her away.

"What on earth happened to you?" the surgeon they brought her to asked while they laid her on her side upon a cot. The air smelled of blood and sickness, and the little infirmary seemed darker than she remembered. "Did you have an accident playing with your father's crafts like last time?"

Rose would have smiled, if only she had the strength. Glen, he was named. He had treated her two years ago, when she'd sliced her forearm playing with one of her blacksmith father's swords. "No, I made the mistake of thinking I could fight."

He looked at her wound and shook his head. "I assume you saved the boy; I applaud you for that. It was a good thing to do."

The sadness in his eyes frightened her more than a bit. "What's wrong?" she asked in a quivering voice.
"You're wounded very badly."

Well, that was obvious. She could barely stay awake. "Am... am I going to die?"

He frowned, hesitating, but replied at last under her insistent gaze, "This isn't something a person can survive. I'm amazed you've lived this long."

Her heart sank as she took in his words, and realized everything was getting even blurrier. Was it the tears in her eyes, or something worse? "It's really that bad?" Glen nodded, and Rose exhaled a red mist. A spasm wracked her body. "Pull it out. I want to be able to lay on my back."

"It'll kill you faster," he whispered.

"Doesn't matter."

He extracted the sword from her body, and despite the hopelessness of the situation stitched closed both sides of her wound. "Maybe the gods will look after you, Rose."

"I haven't done nearly enough for that. Call my parents here, will you?"

To his credit, Glen got Rick and Lise to her bedside with fair haste, and they looked at her with stricken faces as the doctor told them of her injury. Soon, Lise began to sob. "You stupid girl," Rick said with desperate force, his large callused hands clenched tight with fear. "How could you let this happen to yourself?"

She cringed at her father's distress, but said, "I didn't try to get hurt—I was just taking a walk when I saw this ruffian snooping about a farm, so I decided to try and stop him. Maybe if you had actually let me carry a sword, I wouldn't have a hole through me right now."

"You cut yourself open the last time you had a sword."

"Yeah, but I've been practicing."

Lise looked at her husband and choked out, "At least she would have had a better chance than unarmed."

Rose squeezed her mother's plump hand and smiled. "I killed him anyway, you know. Just took more out of me than I'd have liked."

"Please don't leave us, Rose. You're our little light."

She resolved then not to die, no matter what medical knowledge had to say, and nodded. "Mom, I'm not going to. Promise, okay?"

Sequel to Gothic Warrior and the Dark Man...

is out. More epic girl fighting... oh wait that sounds inaccurate, more like epic girl vs male MMA champion fighting.

Also my novel is coming out later this week!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Very Cool New Book Matching Site is a great new site which allows you to tell them what you like in a book and get recommendations based on that. You can search by the profession/type of main character, themes, amount of violence or romance, and all sorts of other things. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Announcing this a bit late but...

here's my latest! A little longer than my previous ebook though still not a full novel (coming in a month or so), and it's urban/contemporary fantasy rather than my usual heroic fantasy... but the heroine is every bit the great warrior, though in a slightly different fashion than most. If you want to get a sense of how just check out the preview! :)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Kindle Ebook Out!

It's not fantasy like I usually write (unless you count unrealistic fighting as fantasy) and is only a 4 page short story (don't want anyone to feel ripped off if that doesn't sound beefy enough for the $0.99) but does feature over the top action as a badass male fighter faces the challenge of his life against a tough girl who will back down from nothing. Brutal fisticuffs!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

For The Cheap Alcohol Lover Part 2 - Best Hard Liquor Deals in Brooklyn

As I did promise a list of the best bottom shelf spirits according to me, I should probably deliver... and I will do so.

5 - Georgi is the first bottom shelf liquor I tried, and it is a solid one. Decently priced (of course), it tastes smooth and is good for mixing with beer and other beverages. Notably, it also comes in a stronger blue variant for when you want to feel good especially fast.

4 - Canadian Mist holds the distinction of being the most expensive brand on this list, but is still the cheapest whiskey I've found. It mixes well with other dark drinks like cola, and is good for a change.

3 - Los Generales is the cheapest tequila I've been able to find, and has the bomb burst of flavor uou'd expect from a tequila. Other than that, it's notable for coming in gold (dark) and silver (light) varieties, and being available for $10 a liter in NYC not including tax.

2 - Castillo is probably the best tasting brand here, in that it tastes exactly like Bacardi (and is apparently made in the same factories). Nuff said - but it also comes in light and dark versions, and for $10 a liter.

1 - Alexis, also known appropriately as Princess (of vodka) Alexis, is as cheap as they come at under $9 a liter including tax. Somehow, it also tastes better (richer and deeper flavored) than other similarly priced brands and the more expensive Georgi. Simply the best!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Horse Seducer

Interesting title? Actually, it's the title of another one of my old stories, this one not set in the same world as the others I've posted so far, but another light romp featuring a hardcore girl warrior possessed of a different attitude and a creature that... well, read on to find out!


Two sets of iron-shod hooves drummed against packed soil, breaking the silence of the little-used road.  "What's wrong with you, Sir Kyle?" Ann asked from the saddle of her old bay steed.  "You've barely talked to me!"

The veteran knight looked back at his petite teenage charge and sighed.  "It's not you.  I don't usually talk that much while traveling.  You didn't have to come along with me, you know.  You could have just stayed in the castle."

"And done what?  Dress up?  Do my hair?  Paint my nails?"  The blonde princess of Perfia scowled.  "That might be fun for a little bit, but it'd get boring fast.  I'd rather be out here, in nature's company.  Besides, if you get to follow me around and annoy me all the time, why can't I do the same to you?"

"I'm your bodyguard, not the other way around."

"Yeah, well, you may be my bodyguard, but you're not my master.  You can't tell me what to do."

And he obviously hadn't, though he wished he could have.  "You should have at least brought a different horse.  I don't think that farm animal of yours is used to traveling through the wilderness.  He's in quite a poor mood, and as you don't know how to care for a horse, I'm the one who has to deal with it."

Ann looked down at her humble mount, a far cry from the white warhorse she normally rode.  "Well, I wasn't going to bring my Snowwind.  Not when we're going after horse thieves."

With many reports of horses disappearing on the frontier near the Tallpony tribe lands in recent weeks, Kyle had taken it upon himself to investigate.  Of course, he hadn't expected Ann, who had been recovering from an arrow wound to her lung, to follow him.  Unfortunately, the intrepid princess had found out about his mission and, against her physicians' advice, promptly joined him.

Though she could very often be annoying, Kyle had to admit he somewhat liked the girl.  She had slain Baron Toorick last year, preventing the lustful noble from raping an innocent woman, without hesitating over the political fallout of the killing.  There needed to be more people who acted with such pure intent.

Kyle had already questioned the Perfian settlers nearby, who suspected the Tallponies of the horse thievery, and now intended to speak with the tribespeople themselves.  As he and Ann approached the cliff which marked the end of Perfian dominion, an arrow flashed through the air past the princess' horse.  The bay steed reared, kicking, and threw its rider from its back.  Then it turned and bolted away.

"Shit!" Ann said.  "I hate archers!"

Well, her horse certainly wasn't trained to hold steady against them.  Kyle got a glimpse of a slim form among the bushes and said, "Show yourself!"

Another arrow flew, and a clear, crisp voice replied, "That was your last warning!"

Behind him, Kyle heard Ann yelp in pain.  "Warning?!  You shot me!"  His glance back revealed her plucking an arrow from her shoulder.

The archer's voice grew nervous, as if he had not intended to hit her.  "U-um, the next shot will kill you then!"

Glimpsing the archer once more, Kyle charged his position.  For a moment, he stood his ground, aiming his shortbow.  Then he turned to run, but the knight was almost upon him.  Catching the back of the man's deerskin cloak, Kyle grabbed his bow away and turned him around.  He was little more than a boy, perhaps fifteen.  Of middling height, the toned youth looked taller with his long, graceful limbs.  Right now, though, his bronzed skin had grown paler with fright.

"No, I'm sorry!" he said.  "I didn't mean to hit her!"

Ann advanced, sword in hand.  "Let me at him."

"Don't kill me, please don't kill me."

Kyle held the irate princess back.  "I think he's telling the truth about not meaning to hit you.  And I don't want the blood of a child on my hands."  He turned a sharp glare upon the boy.  "But I am going to make sure your father gives you the discipline you need."

"My father will not punish me!  I will be lauded for standing up to you horse thieves!"

"Horse thieves?!" Ann growled.  "I'm the Princess of Perfia!"

Kyle added, "We came here looking to see who has been stealing our people's horses, actually.  We thought it might have been your friends."

"And we thought you were the ones who were stealing our horses," the archer sighed.  "Wait, how do I know you aren't just saying that to take suspicion off yourselves?"

"If we were the thieves, why would we be so merciful to a man who tried to kill us?" Ann snapped.

"I didn't try to kill you!  But I suppose I believe you."

Kyle gave the youth back his bow.  "Yes, and we could ask the same question of you.  But I believe you too."

"Now what?"

The knight shrugged.  "Maybe if you could show us where the horses were taken, it would help in tracking down these thieves."

"I do not know every place, but I do remember the most recent one.  The thieves have already taken eighteen of our best stallions--they must be stopped soon!"

"Wait, only stallions?"

"Yes, only males."

Kyle was certain this fact held some significance, though he didn't know what yet.  "And do the horses' tracks mysteriously stop after a distance as well?"

"Yes."  So they probably were the same thieves.

"So what's your name, boy?"

"Ikkogaidrihal--or you can call me, Reed Flies-In-The-Wind."

"All right, Reed.  Let's go thief hunting."

Ann grunted.  "Oh no, you don't.  First, we find my missing horse, and then we can look for thieves."

"You really need a horse that threw you and ran away?"

"If I come home without him, my father will think it was my fault.  I don't want him to be mad."

"It is your fault, for bringing a mount with inadequate training."

Ann frowned.  "Whatever.  I'm still going after him."  She turned away, beginning to scan the ground for the horse's tracks, and Kyle knew he was beaten.  He had to stay with her, to keep her safe.

"Change of plans, Reed.  Let's find that horse."


They had been walking for a while when Reed said, "Hey, it smells like a mare in heat."

Ann gave a dubious frown.  "You can recognize the smell of a mare in heat?"

"My people are very close to horses.  I think your mount has found a friend."

"Out here?" Kyle asked.

"There are wild horses.  We have surely almost caught up to your horse by now; his tracks have indicated a walking pace for some time now.  Let's hurry up."

They quickened their pace, and were nearly on top of Ann's horse when a fearful whinnying filled the air.  The panicked equine burst from the forest, running faster than Kyle had thought possible for the sluggish animal.  A long, flexible length of white flesh as thick as a man's waist shot out from the trees after it, clamping the circular maw at its end onto the horse's lower thigh.

"What the hell is that?!" Ann cried.

Kyle ran at the strange limb and hacked at it with his sword, denting the resilient flesh but making little more than a scratch on the tough hide.  The thing released Ann's horse and swung towards him, snapping at him with its jaws.  Then, the rest of the creature walked into view.  The snakelike appendage was a neck, attached to shoulders which towered seven feet in the air.  The barrel-like torso below them walked on all fours like an ape, ambling forth on long great-knuckled arms and stumpy legs.  Though it looked clumsy, Kyle knew such a body was capable of frightening speed.

The snakelike neck darted at the knight's face, and its impact against his shield knocked him to the ground.  An arrow from Reed's shortbow sprouted just behind the frightful maw, but seemed barely to penetrate the hide.  Kyle tried to thrust at the snapping mouth, but it bit down on his sword and tore it away.  Scrambling up, he backpedaled away.  The creature bit at his shield again, and to his shock tore the metal boss away.  Several of Reed's arrows protruded from its neck and torso, but they had little visible effect.

Ann had not moved, though her sword was drawn, and Kyle realized she was scared.  He'd thought her afraid of nothing.  "Princess!" he yelled as he drew his humble dagger.  "Fight, damnit!"

Still moving hesitantly, Ann tried to sneak in at the beast from the side.  She took a deep breath that seemed to strengthen her resolve and chopped at the joint of its shoulder and neck.  The flesh was not so flexible here as on its neck, and the wound she made bled freely.  But the monster retaliated with a terrible blow from its great fist, and the princess was sent flying to land in a heap.  The fanged maw broke off its assault on Kyle, turning towards the vulnerable girl.  Swooping down, it clamped down on her shoulder, arm, and upper chest.  She began to scream.

Shrieking in agony, Ann still managed to stab repeatedly at the bottom of the neck as it pulled her up and into the air.  But the blows were barely penetrating, weakened as she was with pain.  Blood rained to the ground, and Kyle feared for her life.  Dropping his shield, he picked his sword up in a two-handed grip.  He charged, swinging the blade up overhead and slashing down with all his strength.  It bit deeper than any previous blow, and blood sprayed.  Still not enough.  The maw reared high to face Kyle and released Ann, dropping her on top of him.

Kyle barely lowered his sword in time to avoid impaling her, and her falling body knocked him to the ground.  He almost made some scathing remark, only for his breath to catch in his throat as he saw how badly she was hurt.  The bite wound ran in a semicircle from her trapezius muscle to her lower bicep; the wicked teeth had ripped open her left breast.

Pushing her off himself, Kyle stood and met each snap of the great maw with a hacking blow of his sword.  "Get away from her, you beast!  You won't have her, or me!"

Ann stood to aid him, though her shirt was soaked through with blood and her left arm hung limp.  Her sword blows carried little force now, but she kept trying.  The monster's neck was a pincushion of shortbow arrows, and Kyle wondered how many arrows Reed had left.  He doubted they would be enough.

"This isn't working!" the Tallpony said.

The great neck swung, batting Ann to the ground.  She tried to raise herself up on her good arm, but the earth was covered in her blood and she had little strength left.  The maw swooped down, but Kyle thrust his sword diagonally past the teeth and stabbed into the side of the inner mouth.  Throwing all his weight against his sword, he pinned the maw to the ground.  "Trying shooting into it!"

Reed crouched to aim into the open mouth, but at that moment it snapped shut, biting down on and breaking Kyle's sword.  It rose again into the air, triumphant.  Invincible.

Ann pushed herself up from the ground with a scream of pain, thrusting up into the roof of the monstrous mouth.  "Hurry!" she gasped as she wedged the crossguard of her sword between two teeth.

Reed's arrow flew past the girl's sword and down the mighty neck, hitting with a wet smack somewhere deep inside.  The monster retraced its mouth towards its torso, hands reaching up to clutch at its neck.  A dull moaning issued from its maw.

Ann drew her dagger, looked at it, and shook her head.  "My sword..."

"Take mine," Reed said as he pressed a slender blade into her hands.  Obviously, he had no intentions of getting close to the monster even in its wounded state.

Kyle strode up to the cringing beast and slashed at its chest, making a small cut.  It backhanded him, with much less power than before but enough to knock him down.  Ann lurched in, stabbing below its armpit.  It hugged itself, but stumbled into her and trampled her as she fell so that she lay writhing in pain.  Kyle chopped into the base of its neck, and it staggered.  He hit it again, and it could not muster the effort to strike back.  Instead it tried to limp away, far too slowly to have a chance at escape.  Even so, it took nearly a minute of attacking before it fell, and another two to make it still.


"So that was the horse thief?!" the knight asked as he began to stitch Ann's enormous wound.  She had lost a ridiculous amount of blood, broken her collarbone and two ribs, and looked white as a sheet.

"It must have been a demon," Reed said in a bewildered tone, "a demon that eats male stallions."

"I hope that was the only one of those things," Ann whispered.

Kyle shook his head, frowning.  "I doubt it, unless it really was a solitary demon summoned to eat our horses.  Even a thing like that probably wouldn't have eaten so many horses in such a short time.  But we'll be ready next time."

"Better bring a ballista."

"Well, that's what I'm thinking.  That was... damn!"

"Do you need a place to rest?" Reed asked.

"Ann can rest.  I'm going back to Perfia to report--and get help!"

"But you're my bodyguard," the princess said.  "You've got to stay at my side and protect me."

Before Kyle could reply, the bay horse walked into view.  It had hidden during the battle, and finally showed itself now that the monster was dead.  "Look, at least we got your horse back.  So Ann... can you ride?"

"Of course," the proud girl said.

"Then you can come back with me to Perfia, and rest in the castle there."

"Hey... you tricked me!"  But Kyle knew she wouldn't take back the assertion of her strength.

"Still think following me here was a good idea, princess?"

"You would be dead if I hadn't been here."

"Maybe.  I wouldn't have been tracking down your horse if you weren't here."  The knight smiled.  "But you did well."

Ann returned his smile.  "To answer your question, of course I still think it was a good idea.  Well, let's get going.  It was good fighting with you, Reed!"

The Tallpony waved them goodbye as they mounted their steeds.  "Farewell, friends!  Your names will be remembered as demonslaying heroes by my people!  Kyle and Ant, right?"

Kyle smiled as the princess corrected Reed.  It had been a hell of a day, and he felt beyond exhausted.  But nothing really bad had happened, and he was alive.  It was enough for him.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Story Time, Again

Though I be loath to push down my "Writing Philosophy" post (I wonder if there is a way to make a "sticky" of a blog entry?) inevitably I must. Today I present another old action comedy once published in the excellent webzine Sorcerous Signals, and set a little later in the same world as my other thus far posted stories...


Finn leapt from the tower's edge, landing atop the gargoyle flying after a woman on the street below.  It thrashed in his grasp, struggling to get free, before Finn hammered his mace down into the monster's head.  Its skull collapsed under the heavy steel, and its body cushioned his fall as it spattered on the cobblestones below.  Shaking the pain from his leg, the giant warrior began the search for his partner.

He found her lying on a pile of corpses in the ruins of the plaza, covered with wounds and surrounded by dozens of slain enemies.  Two large arrows and the hilt of a sword jutted from her chest, and a deep slice gaped on her side.  Her face was contorted into a grimace of pain, and Finn could tell she was alive by the way she still shook with agony.  He started towards her, calling her name.

Amber rose to her knees, dragging the sword from her mangled chest.  Blood spurted from the wound and streamed out over her lip, but she managed to stand.  "Where the hell is Winston?" she asked.

Watching his dark-tressed daughter endure wounds that would have easily killed a strong man, Finn smiled with pride.  She was so much like her mother Rose, tall and strong though not quite as heavy.  "He's gone.  That little bastard escaped again."

Winston was the diminutive goblin who had led the monstrous army, the perennial enemy who always survived.  Amber staggered to meet Finn and turned her side towards him, revealing the tip of one arrow protruding from her back.  "Break it off, Dad?"

He did, and saw more blood spray as she pulled the shaft  free.  The last arrow stub was still visible between her breasts.  "Aren't you going to pull that out too?"

"The point's deep inside; I don't feel like dealing with the pain yet.  I'll get it when I'm ready."

"You really should get better armor already.  That chainmail never seems to hold up."

"But Dad, I like my chainmail.  Plate's so heavy!"

"It's your choice, if you like being full of holes."  Finn's voice softened.  "But I hate seeing you get hurt.  I should have taken better care of you."

Amber touched his hand.  "It's fine.  I'm okay."

Finn's chest swelled further with pride.  "You're so brave.  Stay here; I'm going to check how things are going in the rest of town."

She nodded.  "Sure.  I need to patch these wounds up, anyway."


Amber's hands shook as she wrapped her midsection with lengths of cloth.  She had put on her game face for Finn, but her body was wracked with agony.  What if she died?  But there was little anyone could do to help her.  Her wounds would have been mortal for a normal person, and she could only trust in the immense vitality that was her inheritance to save her.

An unexpected noise made her push her worries aside.  "Help, somebody help!" a high voice cried from somewhere above.  

She looked up and saw a little boy hanging from the roof of a market stall, one of the few still left intact.  Lurching over, she reached up.  "Let go.  I'll catch you."  The boy did as told, and she set him on the ground.  "What were you doing up there?"

"I can't find my daddy, so I climbed up to look for him.  But I slipped."

Amber knelt and put her hands on his shoulders, ignoring his stare at the arrow sticking out of her chest.  She had to swallow the blood down as she spoke.  "Your father?  What does he look like, and when did you last see him?"

"He's a fruit seller, and he told me to hide in the stall until the monsters were gone.  Then he went to fight.  He's, uh, tall, with hair on his face..."

Amber frowned.  If he had been one of the men to meet the initial attack, odds were that he was dead.  With luck, he might only be lying wounded somewhere in the square.  "Is there anything special about how he looks?"

"He has brown hair... and a blue sash."

A blue sash.  At least that was better than the other "details" the boy had provided.  Amber nodded and forced a smile.  "I'll find your father for you.  Just stay here, okay?"

She stood and began to limp away.  Before she could begin checking the bodies strewn about the marketplace, Finn walked back into view.  "Where are you going?"

"I found a survivor.  A little boy was hiding in one of the stalls, and he's anxious to find his dad.  I don't know if he's alive, but if he is I'm going to find him.  He fought here against the monsters when they first arrived."

"I'll find him.  You just rest, girl.  You're leaking everywhere."

She smiled bashfully.  "I guess I can just stay here and watch the kid.  His father's... um... got a blue sash.  And facial hair.  Hurry up, though.  If he's alive, he might not be for long without aid."

Finn frowned.  "Great details.  I hope sashes aren't popular around here."  He began to walk away, but stumbled and bent to rub at his knee.

Amber ran to him.  "Dad!  Are you alright?!"

"I'm fine.  Just banged my knee jumping off that tower."

"Maybe you should just retire, old man."  Finn was nearly fifty.

"I may be getting a bit long in the tooth, but don't worry.  Old Finn still has the strength of ten men."  Amber whistled--gurgled, really--and he added more softly, "All right, maybe nine."

"Did I do okay today, Dad?"

"You did great.  Better than that wimpy brother of yours.  'I don't want to come'?  Makes me wonder how he's my son."

"You ever think maybe Mom... you know... cheated, and had Jacob with someone else?"

Finn grinned.  "Did you just forget you and him are twins?"

"Must be the blood loss, Dad.  But I think we should talk later, after you find the fruitseller."

"Take care of your chest, honey."

Amber returned to the market stall by which the boy was waiting.  "Where's my daddy?!" he screamed.  She absolutely could not believe how loud he could be.

She shook her head, trying to dispel the ringing in her ears.  "I've got someone looking for him.  So what's your name, anyway?"

"Eric.  You're bleeding, miss."

"Yeah, I know.  I'll be fine.  Name's Amber, by the way."

"You're the Iron Flower's daughter, aren't you?"

"How do you figure?"

"You shouldn't even be alive, and you're standing up and talking."

Amber began to work at the arrow buried in her chest, wondering how she was going to get it out.  She didn't want to cut herself open, nor push the point all the way out her back.  She had already lost so much blood, and the lightness of her head scared her.  Even she could only take so much.

"It hurts, but I think I can take it.  I'm just annoyed we didn't get here earlier than we did."

"Where do you think my daddy is?"

"I'm sure he's safe", she lied.  While at least half of Pildeu's residents had survived, much of the bloodshed had occurred in the marketplace.

"I want to go find him!"

Amber flashed what she hoped would be a reassuring smile.  "Don't worry, my dad's looking for him right now.  Hey, I got an idea.  Maybe I could take you back home to your mommy, and you can wait for him together."

"I don't have a mommy."

She didn't ask if she had died or run away; it hardly mattered right now, and talking about it might only make Eric more upset.  But she had no idea what else to say.  "Want some water?"

"No.  I want my daddy.  You're tired, I know.  You don't have to come.  I'll look myself."  He tried to walk away.

Amber grabbed his arm.  "No!"  While she was sure the boy would be haunted by the blood and death he'd already seen today, she didn't want to add the image of his father's corpse to his nightmares.

"Let me go!"

She sighed.  "Listen, if we wander off now, my dad's going to be angry.  And he's pretty scary when he's angry.  Want me to tell you a story?"

"No!  I want my daddy!"

"Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess named... um... Amber.  The princess lived in an iron tower built by her mother, an evil tyrant who thought no man was good enough for her daughter.  So one day, a brave prince named Shannon rode up to the tower.  'Amber!' he cried.  'I have come to rescue you from your prison of chastity!'  'You cannot defeat my mother alone,' Amber replied.  'But my father will help you.  He is a good wizard who lives in the... uh, um... darn..."

Eric began to cry.  "Your story stinks!  It sounds like every other story the old beggar lady tells us.  But what does chastity mean?"

"It... um..."

Finn's return saved her.  "I don't see him," he boomed from close by.  "Maybe we should bring the boy."

She scowled as her father limped into view.  "And risk letting him see, well, you know?"  

"Damn.  Have to think some more."  He paused, squinting.  "Amber, what the hell is that arrow still doing in your chest?"

"I haven't decided-"  Before she could finish, Finn grabbed the arrow and ripped it out.  She shrieked in agony, grabbing a signpost for support.  "Shit, Dad, could have... warned me...

"Did that mace hit mess my face up too badly?"

Finn grunted.  "It only nicked you.  Stop being so vain.  I wish your mother could be here."

"Mom uses facial creams all the time."

"Yeah, but she doesn't fuss about how her wounds make her look after combat.  At least her complaints are more sensible; she usually just whines about pain, nausea, shortness of breath..."

"Well, Mom's busy with her dark lord, so you're stuck with me."

Finn smiled and patted her shoulder appreciatively.  "You're right there.  No point in an argument's better than the one that wins it."

"Where's my daddy?!" Eric shouted.

Amber's shoulders slumped.  She was really tired, and her confidence in her babysitting ability had totally disappeared.  "We couldn't find him yet, but we're not going to give up.  How about we get you something hot to eat?"


Eric ended up tagging along everywhere Amber went that day, much to her and her father's dismay.  The end came when Finn went to the town hall to address the surviving citizens.  Amber had been leaning against a wall, holding Eric's hand and comforting him when he looked upset, when she began to doze off on her feet.  Slipping from her grasp, he then ran in front of Finn and asked, interrupting the warrior's unity speech, his loudest ever "Where's my daddy?!"

Mercifully, that outburst had led to a young widow taking note of Eric's plight, and offering to take care of him for the time being.  As the inn was wrecked, Finn and Amber wound up staying in the former home of a carpenter's slaughtered family.  Too tired to cook real food, they ate a dinner of jerky and bread and retired for the night.  Amber choose to stay in the eldest daughter's room, and was examining her chipped, cracked nails by lamplight when she heard a sound outside the window.  She turned, snatching her sword up from her bedside.

"Eric!  What are you doing here?"

"I know where my daddy is!"

"Really?  How?"

"I snuck out of my room and went around asking people if they saw him.  So a lady in the infirmary told me she saw him flying out of town!"

"You went into the infirmary?!  And... flying?"

"Yeah, in a monster's claws.  They kidnapped him, you have to save him!"

"Can't the guardsmen help you?  I'm not in the best shape."

"They said he's probably dead already, and that they can't risk going after the monsters.  He isn't dead, is he?  You're a hero, can't you save him?"

"Which way did they take him?"

"West, she said."

"Okay, Eric.  I'll find your father for you tomorrow."  I am so stupid, Amber thought.  But she would likely have nothing useful to do if she stayed in town, except stand around and watch her father act important.  At least she could try to save one little family.  "Just let me sleep for tonight, alright?  My chest has more holes now than my socks."

"What does that mean?"

Amber sighed.  "It means I'm in a whole lot of pain."  She closed her eyes and flopped back on the bed, allowing unconsciousness to seize her body.  It was easy to faint, as only the active exertion of her willpower had kept her from doing so throughout the day.  Before she was totally out, though, she felt Eric pull her blanket over her, tucking her in.


She woke in somewhat less pain, but her body seemed even more stiff and clumsy.  She lurched down the hall to her father's room, where she found Finn already up and dressing.  "Hey.  I'm going out of town to find Eric's dad.  You want to come?"

"I can't.  I have to organize the defenses in case of another attack.  Will you be okay?"

"I only have a chest full of holes, and I'm Mom's daughter.  I'll just run away if I meet somebody too tough to handle."  Only now did she noticed how tired and haggard Finn looked, and the way he still favored his knee.  "Dad, are you sure you're okay?"

"Come on, Amber, your father's the strongest man in Kayland.  Just go and kick some ass."

Finn was indeed a mountain of a man, and few could match his strength.  But he was growing older, and time caught up to everyone.  Amber knew most men who lived for battle ended up dying there.  She hoped that day would not soon come for her dad.  

Amber walked back to her room, where she had awakened to find Eric in her bed, sleeping next to her.  She had bled on him, and hoped he wouldn't be too freaked out.  He was waking up as she arrived.  "Help!  I'm bleeding!"

"No, Eric, you're fine.  That's my blood."

"Are you alright?"

She considered the question and shuddered.  "Please don't ask me that."


"So, you know anywhere specific your father might have been taken?  West is a pretty big place..."

Eric frowned.  "No..."

Amber knew then that all she could do was go out and search the area to the immediate west of town for a reasonable amount of time.  If she found any monster lairs during this time, she would seek Eric's father there.  And if she found him... well, it would be a miracle if she actually managed to find, and save, him.  But at the same time, she felt a bit guilty over her defeatist attitude.  Eric believed in her, and she needed to focus on the hope she might succeed.  But that hope was very small indeed.  Yet she would try, for she knew very well what it was to worry for a parent, and understood Eric's distress.

"Eric, go back to the nice lady who took you yesterday and apologize for running away.  I can't take you with me to go monster hunting."

"Will she be mad?"

"Probably.  But she should understand, you miss your dad."


She followed him there, not quite trusting him, and waited until the widow--Helen, whose name Amber had forgotten--took him inside.  Then she walked out the town's western gate, looking for a miracle.


Her first glimmer of hope came that afternoon, when she saw a manlike shape fly over her from a point to the west and slightly north.  If it had taken flight from its lair, there was a chance Eric's father could be there.  The trek through the snows was rough this time of year, and the cold air stung her damaged lungs.  Amber found herself coughing up blood repeatedly.  Still, she felt strong enough to continue.  Her hopes soared when she saw a blue sash hanging from a tree branch overhead.

Amber continued to walk, and soon heard what sounded like loud whispers echoing through the forest of spruce and fir.  She drew her sword, warily following the source of the noise.  A rough hillside came into view.  A cave was visible halfway up the slope, and in its mouth Amber saw several creatures milling about.  They were bipedal like men, tall with pitch-black, leathery skin devoid of hair.  Their muscled arms were so long, their sickle claws hung past their knees, and great bat wings protruded from their shoulder blades.  Teeth like needles filled their mouths.  Gargoyles, her father called them.  But rooftop ornaments were hardly this fearsome.

She had fought such beasts before, but Amber did not feel inclined to simply run up the hill and charge their nest.  Maybe on a better day, but today she was hurt and short of breath.  She crept around the hill, her eyes scanning its surface.  Could there be another way in?  Suddenly, a hot breeze blew across the back of her neck.  She spun, her sword sinking into the lunging gargoyle's side.  At the same time, its talons flashed at her face.  They passed through air as she leaned back, and she pulled her sword free.  The monster took a step forward, then collapsed.

One down.  But it had moved fast.  Amber pictured again the cave mouth, where she had seen at least four such beasts.  Well, even gargoyles had to sleep sometime.  She sat down against a large tree, waiting for the creatures' strange speech to die down.  Eventually, it did; by then, it was late into the night and Amber was close to freezing.  Wincing as she flexed her stiff joints, she rose and began up the hillside.

Her doubt and fear grew as she approached the cave, as silently as she could.  What was she doing?  She didn't dare light a torch yet, and could barely see in the moonlight.  The slope felt uneven beneath her, and she knew any slip could alert the monsters to her presence.  She took deep breaths, trying to remain calm.  She was a strong warrior, she reminded herself, who had killed at least fifty monsters in the last battle.  But now she was sorely wounded in enemy territory, and her heart was pounding.

As she came close enough to see into the cave, Amber made out the still forms of the gargoyles she'd seen, still very near the mouth of the cave.  There were five of them, she realized, not four.  Didn't they need shelter?  It seemed they had no problem sleeping in the cold.  Still, this made it convenient for her to kill them now.  She began to draw her sword--and the rasp of steel against the scabbard split the silent night air.  Crap.

She dashed forward and to the right, cleaving the spine of a prone gargoyle before it could fully wake.  Then the others were rising, hissing and snarling in outrage.  Amber rushed one she judged slow to move, only to be tackled and borne to the ground by the first gargoyle up.  She kept her sword arm free, but was too close to use it against the first attacker.  Meanwhile her left forearm was being torn to shreds as she tried to ward off the slashing claws of her enemy.

A second monster sprang, intending to dogpile her, but she raised her sword and it impaled itself on the blade.  She grabbed the first gargoyle by the face, her fingernails raking at its eyes, and threw it off herself to the side.  A third monster ran at her, kicking her in the ribs.  Its claws cut her deeply, but a worse pain came from the jarring of her older injuries.  She screamed, blood gushing from her mouth.

Grabbing the monster's ankle, she jerked it off its feet.  But she had no time to finish it, because the first and fourth gargoyles were bearing down quickly.  She drew a dagger from her belt sheath and threw, catching the newest attacker in the throat.  Thankfully, it fell right away.  She caught the other one in the mouth with a hard punch, driving it back though its teeth gashed the skin of her knuckles.

Amber sprang to her feet then, driving a mule kick into the temple of the third monster before it could rise.  The first tenacious beast rammed into her, its claws tearing open the chainmail over both her shoulders.  She grabbed its arms and spun, throwing it into a wall.  It raked her belly, drawing blood.  Behind her, the fallen gargoyle stood and leapt onto her back, clamping its teeth onto her trapezius muscle.

Desperate now, Amber bearhugged the gargoyle she had pinned against the wall and staggered backwards, her leg muscles burning with the strain of carrying both monsters.  With a shout, she jumped over the threshold of the cave mouth, plummeting down the hill.  The three of them tumbled over and over, rolling over each other, smashing against jagged, unyielding stone time after time.  When they finally came to rest at the bottom, Amber, cut and bruised all over, was the first one up.  The stunned gargoyles got no chance to rise again.


Torch in hand, Amber limped warily into the dark cave.  Her boots squished through something soft and mushy, and her nose crinkled with the stink.  She was walking through gargoyle shit.  The walls and roof were moist, and on occasion water dripped onto Amber's head.  If Eric's father wasn't in here, she'd be pissed.  Scratch that.  She was already pissed.

A low, foreboding voice cut through the air.  "I have a visitor, I see.  You must be strong, to have defeated my pets."

Amber made out a form in the tunnel before her, which she figured to be wearing dark robes which allowed him to blend in.  "And who are you?" she asked.  "The shit-eating, fly-brained slave of the gargoyles, or just their whore?"

"And she has spunk, too.  It will be fun to see you scream alongside that foolish man who so vainly defies me."

"Does he have brown hair, and facial hair?"

"Huh?  Do you know him?"

"Sort of.  I'm looking for him.  Give him to me, and maybe I'll let your pathetic self go today."

"Who do you think you are, to make demands of me?"

"Who do you think you are?  What are you, one of Winston's cronies?  Winston himself ran scared from me last year in Gustrone.  My parents are the greatest heroes in the world, and I will live up to their bloodline!"

And then, the figure's evil villain speech began.  "Silly girl, I am no servant of that little worm Winston!  For now he calls me an ally, though soon he will know who the true master is.  For I have mastered the art of human transfiguration, and with the monster army I create I will rule the lands of Norh!  And you, girl, will be my newest masterpiece."

Amber was not impressed.  "Terrifying.  And with your little winged bodyguards dead, what exactly are you going to do against me?"

The figure seemed to suck in a huge breath.  "Chimeric Metamorphosis!" he shouted--and his form began to swell.

Amber threw her sword.

For a few moments, the figure remained standing, shaking as it continued to transform.  Then it crumpled to the ground, convulsing helplessly as its lifeblood poured out around the sword through its chest.  Amber ambled over to it and wrenched her blade free.  "Sorry, but I just wasn't in the mood for another battle tonight.  Boy, I need to sleep!"

She continued to the back of the cave, where she found a tall, brown-haired man lying inside a shabby wooden cage.  Amber rapped on the bars.  "Hey, you!  Did you lose a blue sash?"

"Uh... what?"  He looked down, scratching at his stubbly chin.  "Ah, I see I don't have it anymore.  How did you know?"

Amber smiled, no longer caring that her chest felt full of molten lava or that the rest of her stung and throbbed all over.  "Long story.  Your son's waiting for you."

"My son?  He's alive?  Thank the gods!"

"Do you know where the key to this thing is?"

"I don't know.  The master should have it, I guess."

"What?  All those steps back?  Oh, hell.  Nobody'll be using this cage anytime soon."  She raised her sword and began to hack away.


Amber slept in camp until late next afternoon despite all the freed man's protests, and returned to town sometime during the night.  She headed to Helen's house right away, certain that Eric would gladly be woken up to see his father again.  She smiled as Helen opened the door, and the widow nodded in understanding.  Eric quickly came downstairs, fixing wide eyes on Amber's companion.

"Who is that?"

"That's not my son," the man said.

Amber's jaw dropped wide open.  "B-but, Eric, you said that lady saw, saw..."

"I already found my daddy," Eric said.  "He was buried under a pile of bodies.  Your daddy didn't look hard enough."

"He's all right," Helen added.  "Just a bump on the head and some scratches.  But thanks for trying."

"So who... are you?" Amber asked the man.

"I am Samuel, a former soldier of the Coblan army.  I reached corporal before retiring, and now work as a shoemaker.  I am happily married, with three daughters and a son.  Last year, my son went missing during a hunting accident..."

Amber barely heard any of it.  She was swaying on her feet, her head spinning.  Seeming to notice her new wounds for the first time, Eric asked, "Are you alright?"

"Please, don't... ask me... that," she gasped.  Then she closed her eyes, and toppled like a tree.