We’re moving ever closer to the July 12th release of Acts of War: Aftershock, and this week I have another excerpt to share with you (if you missed the first one, you can find it here). This time we’re focusing on a character introduced in Acts of War: Flashpoint, a villainous mercenary named Sebastian Harrow. Formerly one of Magnus’ go-to cutthroats, Harrow betrayed Magnus and nearly crippled the Cygnaran effort to liberate the city of Riversmet. Well, like the proverbial bad penny, Harrow has turned up again, and this time he’s got a very powerful backer.
Free Llael, Rhydden
SEBASTIAN HARROW LEANED BACK IN HIS CHAIR and sipped the watery ale in his mug. He’d chosen a table at the very back of the Crooked Billet’s taproom so he could clearly see the door. There was another exit in the kitchens, but the woman he’d come to meet wouldn’t come from that direction.
The Crooked Billet was the kind of pub that didn’t mind if a man wore his weapons openly, and Harrow’s left hand rested lightly on the grip of the heavy repeater holstered at his hip. He could draw the gun and fire two shots accurately enough to hit anyone in the room faster than most people could draw a breath.
He had reason to be cautious. Although Rhydden was the greatest bastion of the Llaelese Resistance, it had also recently become home to a large contingent of Cygnaran soldiers, an army he had been a part of until a better opportunity had presented itself. He grimaced at the circumstances that had brought him here, that had forced to him take risks with less upside than he would like. He had served Asheth Magnus during the warcaster’s time in exile, had helped the man put his puppet king on the throne, and for this, there’d been promises of wealth and power. Those promises had evaporated the moment Magnus accepted a position in the Cygnaran Army. Harrow hadn’t signed up to be an honest soldier, to bow and scrape and take orders from the likes of Lord General Coleman Stryker, so when a captured kayazy merchant had offered him the chance to explore opportunities from the Khadoran side of the conflict, he’d taken the chance.
Harrow swallowed more ale, shivering at the awful taste of the stuff. The Crooked Billet, like all the pubs in Rhydden—a city overcrowded with Llaelese refugees and far too many soldiers for a man in Harrow’s situation—was short of resources of every kind, including those required to brew something better than the bilge water currently filling his cup.
The taproom was filled with Rynnish and Umbrean citizens, mostly working-class men and women. There were a few men in uniform, both Cygnaran and Llaelese, but their demeanor and their very presence here said they were just grunts, nothing to be worried about and no one who might recognize him from his short time in the Cygnaran military.
The woman he was waiting for, however, was someone to be worried about. By all accounts, Captain Tegyn d’Lowys was formidable; she was responsible for some of the more important espionage work done on behalf of the Llaelese Resistance. He’d gotten her name from his new employer, Supreme Kommandant Gurvaldt Irusk, and his instructions were simple: meet her, convince her he was valuable, and then become part of her organization.
Meeting the Khadoran warcaster and military leader had been a sobering experience. Pytor Aleshko had promised to introduce Harrow to powerful members of the Khadoran military once they reached Merywyn, the largest seat of Khadoran power in Llael. He assumed such men and women would be interested in the information he possessed about the Cygnaran Army and the crate of devil’s gasp he had taken from Riversmet. He hadn’t expected to meet the highest-ranking warcaster in the Khadoran Army, nor had he expected he and his men to be clapped in irons the moment they set foot in the city. It seemed Pytor Aleshko had not forgotten or forgiven the interrogation he had endured at Harrow’s hands, despite Aleshko’s escape from Cygnaran capture.
Harrow had expected to be ruthlessly interrogated and, once he had given all the information he had, to receive the mercy of a bullet. But Irusk had other ideas. He was more interested in what Harrow knew about the Llaelese Resistance than what he knew about the Cygnaran Army, and the Khadoran had made Harrow an offer. He was in need of informants within the Llaelese Resistance, and if Harrow would serve as one, the rewards would be significant. Harrow had agreed, mostly because Irusk had made other, more hostile promises, like there was nowhere Harrow could go where he would not be found, brought back to the darkest hole the supreme kommandant could find, and made to endure suffering he could scarcely imagine. While Harrow had spent much of his life around dangerous men—Asheth Magnus topped the list—there was a calm sincerity in Irusk’s threats that had chilled him deeply. He would take another gamble, serve the kommandant, and try to keep the number of great nations looking to kill him to one.
The door to the Crooked Billet opened, drawing Harrow back from his memories. He’d been given a description of Captain d’Lowys—tall, robust, with short-cropped black hair, and, oddly, a jovial demeanor—and the woman who walked into the crowded taproom fit it perfectly. She wore a slight smile, and the relative squalor of the taproom did not seem to bother her. Her uniform was standard for an officer in the Llaelese Army: breastplate over a padded grey jacket with purple trim, trousers, and high black boots. She was armed with a hand cannon on her left hip and a long, thin-bladed dueling sword on her right.
Captain d’Lowys moved through the crowd easily, offering a polite word to those in her path. She was making a beeline for Harrow’s table—she’d obviously been given his description through one of Irusk’s double agents.
Harrow sat up and removed his hand from his weapon. Captain d’Lowys stopped at his table and stared down at him. Her smile had disappeared.
“Nathaniel di la Torys?” she said, using the name he’d been told to adopt. Her voice was high and appealing, though it still carried the authority of an experienced officer.
He nodded and gestured to the chair opposite him. “I am he, Captain d’Lowys.”
The Llaelese officer moved the chair so it faced the front door, as Harrow’s did, and sat down. “Your name was given to me by a man I trust, a man who says you may be able to help the Resistance.”
“I hope I can,” he said, slipping into the prepared lie. “I wasn’t born here, but this is my mother’s country, and after what I’ve seen in Rynyr…”
She nodded. “Rynyr has suffered under the occupation, as we all have. What did you do there?”
“Mercenary,” he said. Often the best lie contained at least some truth. “Baron Palyn di Mir was hiring mercs, guard duty mostly, but he paid well.”
A slight frown crossed her lips. Whether at the mention of the so-called “Powder Baron” of Rynyr, an enthusiastic Khadoran collaborator, or because many soldiers had no love for mercenaries, he couldn’t say.
“Is that what you’re looking for now?” she asked. “A job?”
“No, ma’am… Well, yes, I suppose, but it’s more than that.” He needed to look naïve here, like he was unsure of what he was doing and what he was offering. He’d done merc-turned-soldier for real, so it wasn’t too hard. “Like I said, I just couldn’t stomach what was happening in Rynyr. I saw some terrible things.”
“And you grew a conscience, Mister di la Torys?” she said. “Just like that?”
She was smart and experienced, and she might have sniffed the lie he was spinning. He looked down at his drink, as if he were avoiding her gaze. “Look, I understand your position. I’m not ashamed of the work I’ve done, and I’ve fought for some right bastards in my time, but, this…this is different.”
“Why? It can’t have been the first time you’ve seen people mistreated by tyrants.” Her blue eyes bored into his.
“It’s not,” he said and looked away. “My surname is di la Torys, and my mother used to tell me that at one time it was di la Martyn.”
Captain d’Lowys threw her head back and laughed. “So you’re royalty, are you? The long-lost heir? You’re too late, you know—some snip of a girl in Cygnar beat you to it.”
“No, I’m not claiming to be related to old King Rynnard. It’s just…” He paused and took another drink, something a man might do if he’s having trouble talking about something personal.
“It’s what?” she said, and he detected a slight hint of interest.
“It was a story she would tell me when I was little, that I was something more than the son of a barber in Ceryl. I stopped believing it when I got old enough to know better, but just the
same, she made me feel like Llael was where we belonged. I never felt at home in Cygnar, and when she died, I left it. I thought the job in Rynyr was bringing me home, and maybe it has.”
“How did your mother die?” Captain d’Lowys asked.
This part he had to get perfect. It was the capstone on his tale, the part that lent credence to his change of heart, his desire to see usurpers and tyrants overthrown. “My father was a brutal man, and he pissed away any money we had on drinking or gambling. When he didn’t have coin to spend on his other pursuits, he’d entertain himself by beating his wife and son. One night, he hit her harder than he intended—or, hell, maybe he did intend it.”
Captain d’Lowys was watching him intently now, listening to his story rather than simply looking for the holes in it. Just a bit more, he thought.
“I was sixteen,” he continued, “and while he was kneeling over, sobbing and trying to wake her up, like he was sorry for what he’d done, I went to his room, took his pistol, and shot the son of a bitch in the back of the head.”
There was a short space of silence between them, and then she said, “Your surname. It’s your mother’s?”
He nodded. She was putting it together, filling in the pieces for him. Almost there.
“What was your father’s?”
“Mrovka,” he said quietly.
She breathed in deeply through her nose and sat back in her chair. “A sad tale, Mister di la Torys. And an interesting one. A half-Khadoran, half-Llaelese mercenary seeking to avenge his mother and forget his father. Is that about right?”
“Something like that,” he said.
“But to hear a sad tale is not why I agreed to meet you. You said you have information that could help us. Perhaps you should get to that now.”
He fought down a smile. She believed enough of his first lie that she might believe his second. He did have information, though it had come directly from Irusk. “I spent most of my time guarding the citadel. That’s where they do whatever they do to keep the volcano from blowing sky-high.”
Captain d’Lowys’ eyebrows’ arched slightly. She hadn’t expected this. “Go on.”
“Well, that citadel had another purpose,” he said. “It’s also a prison.”
The Resistance captain held up her hand and glanced around the taproom, her eyes scanning the business slowly and methodically. When she was satisfied, she leaned in closer. “Continue.”
“The Khadorans are holding someone there, someone important,” he said.
He held up his own hand. “Now, I could tell you, Captain, but you need to offer me something first.”
She shook her head in disgust. “The mercenary again.”
He slammed his hand down on the table, sloshing ale from his mug. “No.” His voice was low. “Did you hear nothing I said?”
The anger was feigned, but it had the desired effect.
“My apologies,” she backpedaled. “What is it you want?”
“I want to fight Khador for the Resistance. I want to make a bloody difference if I can.” He leaned in. “I want you to give me that chance, and I’ll give you the information I have. I’ll tell you who it is they’re keeping in Rynyr.”
The name Irusk had given him meant nothing to him. It was a Llaelese name; that was as much as he understood. But Irusk had said the name would be very important to the Resistance and all but assure Harrow was accepted and placed where Irusk wanted him.
Captain d’Lowys picked up his half-empty mug and took a pull. She grimaced and set it down again. “Let’s go somewhere we can get a proper drink, and then you will tell me what you know.”
“And then?” he asked.
“And then… How do you feel about returning to Rynyr, Mister di la Torys?”
If you have a question or comment about the book or my writing process, ask away in the comments section below. And if you’ve missed the updates for the previous weeks, you can find them right here:
Acts of War: Aftershock is available for preorder in print and digital from Amazon, and you can buy and read the first book in the series, Acts of War: Flashpoint, right now.