Opening Scene: Ichabod Brooks & Zaria’s Kiss

Ichabod Brooks

“Thank you so much for accepting this job, Mr. Brooks,” the middle-aged man says as he hands over a cloth-covered bundle. A salty breeze forces him to curl his cloak tight around his body. “That package holds some special tools for your journey. My family has guarded them for centuries, so know that my trust and respect in you goes further than your contract. I’m sorry that I can’t stay here and await your return. I need to get back to my father, but we’re just over that hill. As I explained in the message to your wife, he is very ill and has always wanted to see Zaria’s Kiss. He was one of her most devout until the age sickness took his mind. Now, all he talks about is that artifact. Maybe it can cure him or, at the very least, let him pass on in peace. As his son, I want to make his final wish come true, but I lack the skills and strength to reach the lost temple. Please do your best, Mr. Brooks, and I will understand if you return empty-handed. If I’m unwilling to risk my life for my father then I shouldn’t expect you to go beyond what makes you comfortable.”

“Focus on your family and leave this to me,” Ichabod proudly declares while he opens the bundle. Pocketing a small key and a leathery map, he politely hands back the gold coins. “I have enough of those to get me through the next few days. Besides, this is dangerous and I should only take what I need. Extra coins will only be more weight down there. Honestly, I was hired to find Zaria’s lost temple when I was younger. Always thought it was underground, but never thought it had fallen into the ocean and was still being protected. Never had any luck and my employer ended up going to jail for murdering his business rivals, so the contract was nullified. Always wanted another crack at this challenge. If I had to name the job that got away, it would certainly be this one. So, thank you for trusting me with this. I promise not to let you and your father down.”

Patting the man on the shoulder, Ichabod heads toward a nearby cliff that he would never have picked out as a safe way to the coast below. From the landside view, the spot looks like a crumbling edge that curves downward with no safe handholds. The dark-skinned adventurer remembers passing by the area by boat and how the cliffs appeared to be sheer walls of smooth rock. Repeatedly tapping the ends of an amber torque on his neck, Ichabod stops when his vision is enhanced for distance. He can barely make out the faint outline of a glowing star, the Purity Goddess’s symbol, in the weatherworn edge. Returning his eyes to normal, he is sure that even if a person found the way down, they would fail without the tools he was just handed. With a wide smile, the adventurer slips on his breathing ring and checks to make sure the bluish green coral is not cracked.

“Get back in your cave, boulder brain!”

“Go kiss a sea urchin, bilge breath!”

“At least they’re nicer to look at than you.”

“Better conversationalists than you.”

“Don’t you have a pile of dirt to roll in?”

“Shouldn’t you be home splashing in a bathtub?”

Ichabod groans as his two companions begin to wrestle, neither of them noticing that their mutual friend has arrived. Being stockier and taller, Dex Guzbern quickly gets the upper hand and pins his opponent to the ground. The red-bearded dwarf grunts when he is kicked in the stomach, but his toned body is able to take the blows. It is when the female gnome flashes a pair of shark-like teeth and bites into his glove that the mountaineer backs away. It takes him a moment to realize that he fell for an illusion and he tries to tackle Meg Velringer again, but the blue-haired inventor has already clambered onto a large boulder. As soon as Dex fuses his grappling hook to the stone, she brandishes two daggers that are covered in barbs that resemble shark skin. Her dark red eyes never blink as she crouches and threatens to destroy the dwarf’s beloved tool. Wearing a strange suit that squeaks whenever she bends and shoes that fan out at the front, the gnome has trouble looking menacing and frowns when she sees that Dex is trying not to laugh at her.

“I assume you two know each other,” Ichabod says as he approaches. Tossing breathing rings to his friends, the adventurer cannot stop himself from grinning. “You two aren’t going to bring me down. This job is very important to me because I’ve wanted it for so long and it’s technically a birthday gift from my wife. Now, are we going to have a problem?”

“Of course we are!” Dex shouts while recoiling his grappling hook. Taking a long sip of ale, he growls when Meg lands next to him. “This woman is rude, abrasive, and totally disrespectful to those of my trade. I don’t care if water can eat away at mountains. That takes time while a boulder can stop a river in an instant. Not to mention we use metal to get through rock and not spitting on it. When you can make a tunnel through a mountain with buckets of water in less time than it takes for my people to use their pickaxes then you can tell me my trade is useless.”

“All of that is far too stupid for me to argue with,” Meg replies with a sigh. Getting a new idea, she pulls out a waterproof notebook and makes a few coded scribbles. “For the record, I never said your trade was useless. Mountains exist and people need to explore them or help others get over them. I simply stated that what you do is not as important as my research. Do you know how many mysteries are in the ocean? More than we can ever count and maybe even some that the gods don’t know about. We can’t even reach most of it without the help of merfolk or sea elves. So much more difficult than climbing a mountain that doesn’t move. You ever fight against a strong riptide while examining a new type of octopus? I’d rather deal with one of your piddly avalanches than that. Why is he even here, Ichabod? We’re going into my world where he’ll only be a hindrance.”

“I sense that I made a mistake,” the adventurer mutters, his head beginning to ache. He rubs his eyes and waits until the pain is gone before facing his companions. “The simple answer is that I need both of you for this job. Dex knows mountains and it doesn’t matter if they’re above ground or in the ocean. He also has more experience with lost ruins than I do. Now, you are here because of you are the best person I know for an undersea adventure. This is an area that I’m sure you will want to investigate, which means you’re just as invested as I am. You wouldn’t let me hear the end of it if I didn’t ask you to join me. All of that being said, I asked both of you here because you are two of my most trusted friends. There is nobody else that I would want on this job than you two. Now, can we be friends?”

Dex is the first to extend his hand for a shake, the dwarf refusing to look the gnome in the eye. “I promise to behave, but I maintain the right to verbally defend myself. It isn’t her blades or fists that worry me. This woman has a tongue that is sharper than obsidian. Seems only fair that I get to throw insults back.”

“Like I would waste my-” Meg begins to say. She stops when the mountaineer clears his throat and nods to where she has her fingers crossed. “Fine. I’ll do my best to restrain my blade-like tongue and treat Mr. Guzbern with respect. All I ask is that he do the same to me. Once we get in the water, it will be my world. Do we have an understanding?”

“Oh, this is going to be a very long journey,” Ichabod groans while gesturing to the cliff. He gives Dex the map and lets the dwarf take the lead while he checks his light blue longbow. “We have to go down this way. I have a key for something, but I figured the map would be better in your hands. Anything there that will help us?”

“It’s a curious one, but I can figure the path out,” Dex replies, turning the parchment around in his hands. He realizes that it is a vertical picture instead of showing a path along the ground, which causes him to whistle. “Haven’t seen one of these in a while. Takes a little time to get used to the scale, but I can see how we get down. Hope nobody is wearing gloves that they’re attached to.”

Chuckling at the confused looks he receives, Dex tucks the map into his sleeve and crawls to the cliff’s edge. He wipes some dirt away from the holy symbol and traces it with his finger in case he has to activate the path. Nothing happens, but he whispers a prayer to Zaria to assure the Purity Goddess that they are not enemies. Satisfied with his preparations, the dwarf slides his hand around the curved edge and pushes into the smooth underside. Letting his stocky body slide over, Dex feels his arm get sucked into the thick mud and grabs a handhold. He does the same with his other arm and swings to plant his feet against the stone. He can feel the surface adhere to his boots, but not with the same stickiness as the mud that he struggles to free himself from. It takes a minute for him to figure out that it is easier to escape when he relaxes his muscles, but the dizzying height makes it difficult to erase all of his tension. Whistling to his friends, the sweating mountaineer leads the way down the strange cliff face.

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Late May Giveaways & Offers

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Sally’s Cafe and Bookstore – New on the Shelves – 1066 by Jack Eason

Smorgasbord - Variety is the spice of life

I am very happy to welcome Jack Eason to the Cafe and Bookstore with his new historical novella 1066. I am also delighted to include my review for the book.

About the book

Down the centuries the British Isles has always been seen by invaders as a legitimate target for exploitation. This novella concerns the last few weeks of Anglo-Saxon occupation, ending on the 14th of October, 1066. In Autumn 1066, author Jack Eason gives a great sense of ‘place’, of detail. The reader is right ‘there’ in that poignant year, marching, shivering with September cold (as ‘…no warming fires were allowed lest ‘enemy spies would soon spot their approach.’) From the very first few lines, Eason, practising his unique drycraft, begins to weave his particular brand of magic on his reader. Eason glamour’s with well-crafted dialogue, drawing his reader into the time and into the action. To accomplish…

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Powers of the Windemere Lands: Amazing Armies

Might & Magic Army

Moving on to the land powers of Windemere, this category is easier to divide and explain than sea and air.  The reason is because they get involved in a lot more events and they’ve been around for longer than the other two.  Sky travel is fairly new and naval battles came after people had been fighting on the land.  So there has been a longer time to fine tune the various systems and establish similarities between them.  For example, there is a similar hierarchy in every army even if the titles and duties differ.

Another reason an army will come up more often than the others is because of the protagonist connections.  Many warriors were soldiers or guards, so they have that kind of training.  There is the fairly common ‘savant’ hero who appears after training alone or with an elder.  Yet, that elder might be a former soldier and you get a sense of the military system by how they operate and talk.  As long as they have a personality that is.  Even if a hero isn’t from that world, fantasy authors always use guards for something when a city is introduced.  It could be as innocuous as talking to the guy at the gate or more complicated like getting arrested for a bar fight.  The army, which tends to include guards who could be considered the reserves, is around in some fashion when the navy or air forces might never come up.

In Windemere specifically, most armies are similar and differ mostly on tactics, weapons, and special forces.  A reason for this is because there have been numerous global events that caused a global unification of military might.  So the various races learned from each other and adopted ideas that they liked.  Barbarians still charge in screaming, but now they have javelin throwers and use a squad system in some battles.  Dwarves open a battle the same way, but many of them use an armored wall technique or boulders that they can send down a hill.  These tactics aren’t all that is used, but it shows that the races have learned from each other.  In fact, the armies that use basic and straightforward strategies tend to be those of warlords or anyone trying to conquer.  I guess after so many events nearly wiped every one out, the races of Windemere have a great love of defense.  Although there is one group that goes against that, but they’re tomorrow.

Now, I did mention special forces, which is a big variable.  These would include your casters, battle priests, paladins, griffin riders, shock troops, and whatever else would be more than your average soldier.  Many times these are area or racial specific.  For example, halfling armies tend to have a small squad of thieves who sneak around to take weapons from enemies and sabotage things.  They are the only people who do this because it suits their natural abilities.  As far as area, you don’t have to look further than the Gaian griffin riders.  Without the mountain, they wouldn’t have those because the griffins wouldn’t have anywhere to stay.

So, armies definitely have an influence and role in Windemere stories.  Nearly every civilized race and society has one.  There is one exception to this.  The elves don’t have their own army.  One can find them in the military of other kingdoms and even species if they live there.  The reason for this is because the elves have no central government, so they wouldn’t have their own military.  It’s a small wrinkle in the world that nobody really pays attention to.  It all comes from them starting as a demon-corrupted species that conquered the world.  They refuse to create their own central government out of fear of being a threat once again.  In fact, one could say the Hejinn (first elves) are the ones responsible for the current army systems.

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Meet Anne Goodwin, Author

Rachel Poli

It’s my pleasure to welcome Anne Goodwin to my blog!

Anne Goodwin, AuthorPlease tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m a book blogger and author of over seventy published short stories and two novels in the genre of literary-commercial / accessible literary fiction. I’m interested in themes of identity, mental health and how the past influences the present, but mostly I aim to write fiction that people will want to read. My first novel, Sugar and Snails, about a woman who has kept her past identity secret for thirty years was shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize. My second, Underneath, about a man who thinks he can resolve a relationship crisis by keeping a woman captive in a cellar, is published this week.

How long have you been writing for?

I’ve been secretly scribbling since early childhood, but have been writing seriously – by which I mean editing in…

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A Perfect 10 With Darlene Foster

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Originally posted on Don Massenzio's Blog:
Today, I’m very excited to feature Darlene Foster as she sits down for this weeks edition of a Perfect 10. Please enjoy. If you want to check out past interviews, you can find…

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So, You’re A Writer Funnies

Kathy Bates in Misery

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