Acts of War: Aftershock – Interview

We are rapidly closing in on the release date for Acts of War: Aftershock, and this week, Mike Ryan, publications director for Privateer Press, interviewed me about writing the book. So, here’s Mike’s interview questions and my answers.


MR: How do you feel the relationship between Stryker and Magnus changes in Aftershock compared to where they were in Flashpoint?

AR: The book begins with the two of them reluctantly accepting they must be in each other’s lives (and way). Magnus has accepted his demotion to major and Stryker has done what he can to get Magnus out of his hair while still trying to get some use out of him. Stryker doesn’t trust Magnus at all, and Magnus believes Stryker is an idealist, which, in his opinion, makes for a poor leader. Not exactly a great place to build trust and cooperation, you know?

As events in the book unfold, an understanding develops between the two.  They must face facts: sometimes the other guy’s approach is the correct one. This is a bitter pill to swallow, but it does create a foundation where they can work together for the good of Cygnar.

MR: The introduction of Ashlynn d’Elyse to the novel adds a new element to the series, yet she is not exactly eager to work with our heroes. How did you approach getting into her character?

AR: Ashlynn blames Cygnar, at least in part, for the fall of Llael during Khador’s initial invasion. Though Cygnar had good reason to withdraw its forces—their own territories had become vulnerable—they left what remained of the Llaelese military in a bad way, all but assuring a Khadoran victory.

Now, Cygnar has marched back into Llael to “liberate” the country and place the long lost heir of King Rynnard di la Martyn on the throne, an, heir, mind you, that is currently betrothed to the new king of Cygnar. To Ashlynn, this simply looks like a power play, like a young king trying to expand his territory through a combination of political marriage and military strength. When the book begins, it’s difficult for her to see Stryker’s force as little more than another invading army, and, hey, who could blame her?

That’s where I started with Ashlynn. She’s angry, bitter even, that her country has become an arm-wrestling match between Khador and Cygnar. She’s been fighting tooth and nail to keep the Resistance going and kindle what hope remains to the Llaelese people. She’s seen friends and family die, had to make alliances that could prove disastrous in the future, and she’s running out of men and resources. Of all the characters in the book, she has the most to lose and few reasons to trust those claiming to be her allies. That anger drives her in a lot of ways, pushes her to keep fighting even when it seems hopeless, and our heroes have a lot to prove if they want to win her as an ally.

MR: Readers who are fans of Khador are going to be pleased to see their faction well represented in Aftershock. What are the challenges of shifting to the Khadoran point of view in a book that is focused on Cygnarans as the heroes? 

AR: The main challenge is to present them as antagonists but not necessarily villains. Khadoran leaders like Supreme Kommandant Gurvaldt Irusk and Assault Kommander Oleg Strakhov are not evil men; they’re not the monstrous inhuman horrors that run the show for Cryx or Legion. It was important to make sure they came across as soldiers first, men whose loyalty to their country is just as fierce as our Cygnaran heroes. Of course, from the Cygnaran point of view, the Khadorans take actions that are villainous or even cruel, but when we jump into the Khadoran POV, you see a different perspective, one that makes these action justified and even necessary from a Khadoran viewpoint.

MR: You clearly enjoy writing battle scenes–they are among the very best scenes in the book. How do you choreograph a big battle compared to an individual one-on-one fight?

AR: I do like writing battle scenes, especially in the Iron Kingdoms. I mean, you got multi-ton warjacks duking it out, warcaster flinging spells and steel, not to mention armies clashing in battles of truly epic scope. In other words, there’s a lot to work with.

The one-on-one duels are like chess matches, where each fighter matches wits and skill against the other, looking for the tiniest opening to exploit, or, in the case of Ashlynn d’Elyse, just straight-up owning anyone dumb enough to cross swords with her. These battles are almost always from a single POV, and the characters’ personalities, backgrounds, and, of course training dictate a how they fight. Here, I tend to get more detailed with specific techniques, weapons and armor, and how these things affect the outcome of the duel.

In a big battle, there is always an element of chaos. It might be controlled chaos, and the generals and leaders of clashing armies are certainly looking for tactical advantages to exploit, but with so many men and machines on the field, no one can see or know everything that is happening. When I write big battle scenes, I like to jump from POV to POV, both to get a varied sense of how the battle is going, and to use those quick cuts to highlight that element of chaos and the vast scope of the conflict.

MR: What was the writing process like for you in working on Aftershock? Did you find yourself re-reading Flashpoint to get back into the groove?

The first draft for this one went quicker than the first draft for Flashpoint, and I think a lot of that had to do with how much I needed to establish in the first book. Here, I hit the ground running and got right into the action, right into the meat of the overarching plot for the trilogy.

I reread Flashpoint in its entirety before I started writing Aftershock, just to get into the right headspace, and I always had a copy open while I was working on the new book. I referred to Flashpoint constantly, both as a refresher on the events that led up to Aftershock and to make sure the continuity between both books was correct.

MR: Do you have a favorite scene, a favorite moment, in Aftershock that you are particularly pleased with?

As much as I enjoyed writing the battle scenes, it’s the quieter, character-driven moments that stand out for me. There’s a number of them that come to mind, but I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, so, first, I’ll point to one that’s already spoiled. The return of Sebastian Harrow, where he slithers into the ranks of the Resistance as a spy for Irusk, is one of my favorite moments, and you can read it right here on this blog. There’s no action in this scene, but the gravity of what’s happening, and, of course, the foreshadowing is huge.

Another scene I like quite a bit is the initial meeting between Asheth Magnus, as a representative of the Cygnaran army, and Ashlynn d’Elyse. These two have actually never met in the fiction before and know each other only by reputation, so it was a lot of fun to write that historic scene. This is largely a conversation, but with two legendary warcasters and a fairly tense situation, it’s more than a little dangerous, especially for Magnus, who finds himself at a rare disadvantage.


If you have any additional questions about the book, fire away in the comments section below. I’ll answer as best I can.

If you’ve missed any of the Aftershock articles and updates for the previous weeks, you can find them right here:

Week 1 Update Week 8 Update Week 15 Update Week 22 Update 
Week 2 Update Week 9 Update Week 16 Update Week 23 Update 
Week 3 Update Week 10 Update Week 17 Update Week 24 Update  
Week 4 Update Week 11 Update Week 18 Update Week 25 Update  
Week 5 Update Week 12 Update Week 19 Update Week 26 Update  
Week 6 Update Week 13 Update Week 20 Update
Week 7 Update Week 14 Update Week 21 Update

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.

          

Buy Print – $14.99                                Preorder Print – $15.99

Buy eBook – $7.99                               Preorder eBook – $7.99

Acts of War: Aftershock – Excerpt #2

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.

“Who?”

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:

Week 1 Update Week 8 Update Week 15 Update Week 22 Update 
Week 2 Update Week 9 Update Week 16 Update Week 23 Update 
Week 3 Update Week 10 Update Week 17 Update Week 24 Update 
Week 4 Update Week 11 Update Week 18 Update Week 25 Update 
Week 5 Update Week 12 Update Week 19 Update
Week 6 Update Week 13 Update Week 20 Update
Week 7 Update Week 14 Update Week 21 Update

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.

          

Buy Print – $14.99                                Preorder Print – $15.99

Buy eBook – $7.99                               Preorder eBook – $7.99

Acts of War: Aftershock – Dramatis Personae Part I

Here we are in week twenty-three, and Acts of War: Aftershock is in editing and will soon be heading off to the printer. At this point, beyond a bit of promotion, my work on the book is done. So, like I said last week, these updates will change quite a bit and will essentially be sneak peeks, including excerpts, art, and other goodies. This week, I’m going to kick off a three-part series and talk about the characters in Aftershock, broken down into main POV characters, secondary POV characters, and supporting characters.

So let’s get to it.

Main POV Characters

We’ll kick off this series with the characters through which the story is (mostly) told. These are the heroes and protagonists of Aftershock, and they get the lion’s share of POV time. For those of you familiar with the Iron Kingdoms, these names will be well known to you, for those unfamiliar, well, let me introduce you.

Lord General Coleman Stryker

Stryker is essentially the main character of Aftershock, though he shares the stage a bit more in this book than he did in Flashpoint. The commanding officer of the Storm Division and the highest ranking warcaster in Cygnar, Coleman Stryker embodies the strength and fighting spirit of his nation. At thirty-six years old he is relatively young for such a high-ranking position, but he has been at the forefront of the near ceaseless conflict that has consumed the Iron Kingdoms over the last seven years and has battled Cygnar’s enemies across western Immoren since he began service at eighteen.

Stryker currently leads the invasion force sent to drive Khador from the nation of Llael, and this is familiar ground for the veteran warcaster. He was at the forefront of Cygnar’s efforts to defend its longtime ally when Khador first invaded Llael in 605 AR. Cygnar was eventually forced to abandon Llael to defend their own borders, leaving that kingdom mired in occupation. Stryker understood the need to protect Cygnar first and foremost but saw it as a grave mistake to leave Llael unsupported for so long, a decision which only strengthened Khador. Stryker was himself soon swept up with the grueling Caspia-Sul War against Cygnar’s formidable eastern enemy, The Protectorate of Menoth, a conflict which tested Stryker’s convictions.

Stryker was a trusted advisor and friend to the former king of Cygnar, Leto Raelthorne, having helped this man secure his throne. Fifteen years later, when the king abdicated the throne to his nephew Julius to end a devastating civil war, Stryker found himself an outsider in the new king’s council. Julius sees Stryker as a remnant of his uncle’s rule, a worthy general and weapon in the army’s arsenal but not the king’s champion. Julius put his trust in Asheth Magnus instead, a formerly exiled warcaster who had once supported Leto’s brother, the tyrant Vinter Raelthorne IV, before helping Julius secure his throne. Stryker and Magnus have a long and troubled history and the restoration of a man Stryker still views as a criminal further strains his relationship with the new king.

In battle, Stryker is a fearsomely gifted warcaster and one of Cygnar’s most respected warriors. His soldiers follow him unquestioningly into battle, secure in the knowledge their lord general will be fighting alongside them. With his massive battle blade Quicksilver, he can hew through enemy troops or the armored hulls of warjacks with ease. Stryker commands a host of lightning-based spells and abilities, unique and iconic to the Storm Division he leads. His personal warjack, an aging Ironclad named Ol’ Rowdy, is one of the most formidable warjacks in the Cygnaran Army, and the pair can often be seen leading from the front, bringing destruction to Cygnar’s enemies with blasts of lightning and the shuddering impacts of mechanikal blade and quake hammer.

Major Asheth Magnus

Exiled with King Vinter Raelthorne years ago, Asheth Magnus was one of the most prominent warcasters and battle leaders under Vinter’s despotic rule. He escaped justice during Vinter’s defeat, an event known as the Lion’s Coup, though not without consequences. Prior to that conflict Magnus had taken under his wing a young emerging warcaster named Coleman Stryker, then a member of the Royal Guard. Despite his efforts to guide him, Stryker betrayed Magnus during the Lion’s Coup, joining the cause of the king’s younger brother, Leto. In this fight Stryker severely injured Magnus, crushing his right arm and leg beneath a toppled warjack. At the end of the coup Magnus was offered a pardon but refused, going into exile to lead an armed resistance against Leto, for which he was branded a criminal and traitor.

Meanwhile, Vinter escaped imprisonment and fled into the eastern wastes, promising one day to return. Magnus spent more than a decade plotting against King Leto and working against him whenever possible. Exploiting his military knowledge Magnus became a mercenary warlord. He used his considerable warcaster talents and genius for mechanikal improvisation to muster an army of warjacks and sell-swords, earning coin and gaining allies against Cygnar. His loyalty to Vinter was shaken and then shattered when his former liege returned to the west alongside foreign allies and had the warcaster tortured after Magnus questioned the wisdom of his plans.

The love Magnus once held for Vinter became bitter hatred, ultimately leading to Vinter’s downfall. Magnus had a secret he had concealed: he had found and soon secured Vinter’s bastard son, Julius, and began training the boy to take the throne of Cygnar. When Vinter made his move against Leto, rallying his former supporters, Magnus and Julius led a third army, comprised of the warlord’s mercenaries, which tipped the balance and played a key role in the final battle in this civil war. Fighting alongside Stryker for the first time in many years, Magnus struck the killing blow against Vinter Raelthorne. To avoid further bloodshed, King Leto abdicated the throne and installed his nephew Julius as the new king of Cygnar.

Magnus had no official role in Julius’ court until an heir to the Llaelese throne was found, brought to Cygnar, and betrothed to Julius Raelthorne. Eager to make his mark and seeing a chance to restore Llael and see it eventually joined to Cygnar for his own heirs, the young king order an invasion of Llael to drive out the Khadoran invaders and put his new queen on the throne. He chose Lord General Coleman Stryker to lead this “liberating” army but also brought Asheth Magnus back to the capital and made him a Cygnaran officer once again. Magnus would accompany Stryker into Llael and serve as the king’s eyes and ears.

Magnus is coldly pragmatic warrior, and was infamous for sacrificing troops in battle if he saw a tactical advantage in doing so, and also being utterly ruthless to his enemies. He is cunning, ferocious, and gifted with a military mind second to none. His relationship with Stryker is complicated. While the lord general has nothing but disdain for a man he considers a traitor and worse, Magnus still holds some hope his former pupil might realize the hard truths Magnus tried to teach him when he first recognized Stryker’s gift decades ago.

Marshal Ashlynn d’Elyse

The only daughter of Llaelese noble and renowned master duelist Benoir d’Elyse, Ashlynn d’Elyse was destined to be a great warrior and swordsman like her father. When her arcane abilities manifested, she earned a place at the Royal Arcane Academy, and became one of Llael’s few warcasters.

Her full potential as a warcaster was realized on the front lines when Khador invaded Llael, and she quickly became known among her enemies and allies as a fearsome warrior and battle leader. The execution of her father and many other nobles after the fall of the capitol city of Merywyn only made her more determined and ruthless.

When Cygnar withdrew its aid and Llael fell, Ashlynn fought on, offering her services as a mercenary to fund a growing rebellion. The Resistance has long been a thorn in the side of the Khadoran occupiers, and Ashlynn d’Elyse and her warcaster abilities are behind much of the damage caused by the Llaelese freedom fighters.

When Cygnar invaded Llael to drive out Khador under their new king Julius Raelthorne, the Resistance was not a large part of their plans. Much of this was because of the Resistance’s relationship with the Protectorate of Menoth, a nation of zealots whose interests often put them at odds with Cygnar. Ashlynn resents Cygnar’s invasion of her lands and sees them as little better than the Khadoran occupiers they are attempting to remove, and she largely rejects Lord General Stryker’s aim to be a liberator rather than the leader of an invasion force. She has been here before and has seen the Cygnaran Army abandon her nation to defend its own interests when Khador first invaded Llael in 605 AR. She believes Llael cannot rely on Cygnar if they are to cast off the yoke of Khadoran oppression, so she and the Resistance fight on, against Khador and any who would stand in the way of a free Llael.

Ashlynn is one of the most feared swordsmen in western Immoren, a skill further enhanced by her warcaster abilities and her deadly mechanikal blade Nemesis. She has mastered traditional Llaelese dueling styles and there are few other warcasters who could hope to defeat her in a one-on-one confrontation. Ashlynn is also a gifted military leader with vast knowledge of tactics and stratagems that has allowed her to defeat larger and better-equipped enemies time and again. Ashlynn’s skill, bravery, and devotion to her nation have endeared her to the Llaelese people and especially the desperate freedom fighters of the Llaelese Resistance.


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:

Week 1 Update Week 12 Update
Week 2 Update Week 13 Update
Week 3 Update Week 14 Update
Week 4 Update Week 15 Update
Week 5 Update Week 16 Update
Week 6 Update Week 17 Update
Week 7 Update Week 18 Update
Week 8 Update Week 19 Update
Week 9 Update Week 20 Update
Week 10 Update Week 21 Update
Week 11 Update Week 22 Update

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.

          

 Buy Print – $14.99                                Preorder Print – $15.99

 Buy eBook – $7.99                               Preorder eBook – $7.99

Acts of War: Aftershock – Week 22 & First Excerpt

Hey, folks, the book is in editing, so I don’t have the usual update for you. My work on Aftershock is pretty much done save for any questions the editors might have for me as they go through the manuscript. What I do have for you, though, is the first full excerpt from the novel. Yep, no 200-word mini-excerpt this time. I’ve got 2,700 words of Ashlynn d’Elyse action for you.

So, without further ado, let’s head to the city of Rynyr and check in on our favorite Llaelese warcaster.



 

Rynyr, Occupied Llael

How do people live here? Ashlynn d’Elyse thought as she approached the outer walls of Rynyr and the smothering heat and smoke that poured from the city. Calling them walls was not really accurate, though; Rynyr’s foundation was a deep volcanic chasm, crisscrossed with catwalks and gantries that connected clusters of buildings, constructed on jutting rocky outcroppings or directly into the side of the chasm. The lowest point in the city was still an arduous climb up the side of a mountain where she knew a garrison of Khadoran soldiers awaited her.

The way up was steep and narrow, and though it was wide enough for the battalion of soldiers she’d brought with her to walk three abreast, her warjacks—especially the heavy Mules and Nomads—seemed in constant danger of plummeting from the mountainside. She kept in nearly constant contact with the ’jacks, guiding their steps when necessary.

The Khadorans wouldn’t expect an attack from this direction. The pass was too narrow for a sizable army to assault, but it presented one advantage. Just before the plateau, an enemy would have an unrestricted field of fire if they could lob their artillery high enough. In addition, the canyon walls would prevent the Khadorans on the plateau from returning fire effectively. The angle was wrong, as the plateau hung over the pass, and targeting those on it would mean firing straight down, something multi-ton warjacks and artillery emplacements were not designed to do.

“We’ll be fish in a barrel when we make the plateau, Marshal,” said a tall man in an officer’s uniform standing next to Ashlynn. Major Heward Cocteau had been part of the Llaelese Army before the occupation, and he carried the same rank now that he was part of the Llaelese Resistance.

“We’ll lose some men,” Ashlynn agreed. “But if the reports are accurate, most of the Khadoran troops were pulled to Laedry when they evacuated Rynyr. We should encounter only a small force. And we can hurt them before they can shoot back.”

Major Cocteau pulled aside the thick and water-soaked black cloth he’d wound around his mouth. The fumes that permeated Rynyr were nearly unbreathable. He grimaced but nodded. He was not only a veteran soldier, he’d also been part of the Resistance for a long time. When in the army he’d been a friend of her father’s; Benoir d’Elyse had inspired many to throw off the yoke of Khadoran oppression, and Ashlynn had been following in his footsteps for over a decade. Cocteau was similarly committed to her leadership.

The squat garrison buildings were now visible, their slate grey tops peering over the horizon. Behind them, Rynyr loomed, miasmatic clouds of dust and ash hanging like globs of phlegm in the sulfur-yellow sky above the city. The late summer heat was tolerable, even to soldiers in armor, but it would be like fighting inside an oven once the battle began in the city.

She called a halt and glanced back at the force she was leading: five-hundred infantrymen armed with rifles and short swords, two hundred halberdiers, and two hundred heavy horse armed with blunderbuss and long axe. The horsemen and halberdiers were drawn entirely from the ranks of the Steelhead chapter in Merin. While the Steelheads were good soldiers, she was hesitant to use men not completely loyal to the cause. Yet she and the other leaders of the Resistance had had little choice. Her greatest asset was two squads of Thorn gun mages drawn from the old Loyal Order of the Amethyst Rose. Each was the equivalent of five ordinary soldiers and utterly dedicated to Llael. Lastly, she had her warjacks: two Mules, a Nomad, and a pair of Vanguards. They were old warjacks—in fact, the Mules and Nomad were positively ancient, each more than a century old. Despite their age, all were in good fighting condition.

“Let’s get the Mules up here,” she said to Cocteau. “The Khadorans have to know we’re here, and I want to start shelling those barracks so our infantry can advance under their fire.”

“A sound plan, Marshal d’Elyse,” Cocteau said. “Shall I have the horsemen charge up first to make a hole for the infantry?”

She nodded. “Go pass the order along.”

It sometimes felt strange to give orders to men who had served with her father. She remembered them as larger-than-life figures who had helped begin the rebellion, the military of which she now led. Her warcaster ability and her many victories spoke for themselves, so the men who once followed Benoir d’Elyse now gladly followed her. Major Cocteau was no different.

Cocteau left to dispense her orders, and she reached out to the pair of Mules towering over the column of soldiers behind her. Their minds were old and slow; it was like pushing through a layer of mud to reach their cortexes. They were reliable machines, but the technology on which they were built was nearly two hundred years old, and they lacked the speed and precision of newer warjacks. Still, these two had served her well for many years. She called them Soldier and Crash—the former for a strange habit of seeking her permission to enter combat and the latter because it liked to use its body more than its mace to smash enemy warjacks and the occasional building to pieces.

The two Mules made their way up through the ranks with no small amount of her direct guidance. They were careful, and she could feel a faint trepidation through her connection with them; they wanted to avoid hurting their brothers in arms. The soldiers in their way did their best to move aside, flattening themselves against the canyon wall or ducking between the warjacks’ legs to avoid their passage.

When Soldier and Crash reached her, Soldier brought its mace up to its head in something like a salute. That was a new quirk, though it fit the old warjack’s regimented personality. Crash vented steam in an irritated rumble. She could feel its aggression like an old attack dog kept in its pen too long. It wanted to break something.

Each of the Mules was armed with a primitive cannon that used pressurized steam to launch an explosive projectile. Usually, the range was very short, certainly not enough to reach the Khadoran barracks above them. Given time, though, the steam could be allowed to build and a shell launched farther, but the steam cannon’s primary benefit was that it could lob artillery at a very high angle. She mentally ordered the two Mules to aim their cannons. The steady hiss of building pressure was audible, and Crash’s frustration that it wouldn’t see the carnage it was about to inflict on the enemy was like a hive of bees in her mind.

“Don’t worry, old man,” she said out loud. “Plenty of opportunity for close work ahead.”

The cannons had reached the correct pressure, and she saw a line of horsemen behind the warjacks, ready to advance, all of them veteran mercenaries. They would fight hard, but she’d need to get her infantry up to the plateau as soon as possible to bolster them. Mercenaries would not fight a losing battle.

Fire.

The steam cannons weren’t as loud as traditional cannons blasting powder munitions, but they still made a deep choonk! sound as they released their cannonballs.

She had guided the Mule’s aim with her magic, and the two projectiles sailed high and at the arc she wanted. They were loaded with two pounds of blasting powder each, and when they hit, the resulting double explosions sent shockwaves through the ground.

Screams and shouts from above followed, and now the horsemen moved past the two Mules—there was just enough space to let them through—and up toward the enemy. She pushed Soldier and Crash to fire their cannons again, and two more explosives sailed up and over. She estimated she could get three volleys launched before the horsemen reached the plateau.

She was right.

After the third round of explosions, she heard the telltale clash of steel on steel. The horsemen had made contact.

She drew her mechanikal sword, Nemesis, and held it aloft. “For the Resistance! For Llael!”

She charged up the steep pass, Soldier and Crash pounding along behind her. As she did, she made contact with the rest of her warjacks, the sword-wielding Nomad and a pair of Vanguards armed with guisarme and shield cannons. They were a bit farther back with hundreds of infantry between them. She’d planned it that way: to hit the Khadorans in waves.

Soldier and Crash were excited, as excited as two ancient warjacks were likely to get. They were about to do what they had been built to do, and the likelihood of battle filled them with something akin to joy. They vented steam in long angry blasts as they thundered along.

She made the plateau and saw something she did not expect. There were Khadorans here. Ranks of Winter Guard poured out of the barracks, six squat buildings pressed against the wall of the canyon. Another steep pass rose behind them, this one leading to the city proper.

There weren’t enough enemy troops to hold their position, and they seemed to possess only a single warjack, a Juggernaut that looked to have seen better days, judging by the condition of its hull, which was cracked and warped in many places.

She realized her force outnumbered the Khadorans by two-to-one at least. She’d expected a roughly even fight and had hoped her surprise attack would give her the advantage. But it had done more than that: it had put her in a position to annihilate the enemy.

Ashlynn didn’t stop to wonder at her good fortune. There was still a battle to fight. Ahead of her was roughly a hundred yards of open ground, and the Steelhead horsemen roaring across it turned it into a dustbowl.

The Winter Guard fired their rifles, and she saw horsemen tumble from the saddle. The Juggernaut was controlled by an officer, a man with a black fur hat and a saber. He was no warcaster but a ′jack marshal, directing his machine’s actions with shouted commands and hand signals. The Juggernaut waded into a knot of horsemen, its ice axe glowing bright blue as it simultaneously cut and froze. Limbs snapped off or shattered, as if the warjack were dismembering lifelike ice statues.

That was where she needed to be.

She summoned her magic, the spell runes forming in swirling gold around her sword blade. She directed the spell at Crash, quickening the old Mule’s movement and reaction time with sorcerous augmentation.

“Get him, old man,” she said, directing Crash to do what it wanted to do: to slam into the enemy warjack as an eight-ton battering ram.

She directed Soldier to fire its cannon at the Khadoran buildings. If more enemy were inside, she could delay them from coming out, perhaps even kill or trap them in the barracks.

Soldier’s cannon fired, and the explosive whistled into its target, blasting apart the roof of one of the barracks.

She ran behind Crash, and the Juggernaut’s ’jack marshal saw her coming and began screaming orders. The Juggernaut turned just in time to catch Crash’s armored shoulder in its chest. Sparks and scraps of metal flew in all directions. Crash’s joy reached almost human levels of ecstasy as the Juggernaut slammed backward, trampling a Khadoran soldier beneath it. The enemy warjack did not go down, however, and in a straight-up fight, a Mule was at a disadvantage against a Juggernaut. Not that Crash knew or cared about this.

Ashlynn forced Crash to use its mace, and it reluctantly stepped forward to engage the Juggernaut. Behind her, the infantry had arrived—she could hear Major Cocteau shouting orders and then the staccato rattle of rifle fire.

The Juggernaut’s ice axe smashed into Crash’s hull, nearly severing its left arm and the steam cannon attached to it. She guided the return stroke and crumpled the Juggernaut’s hull above its cortex, knocking it back again.

She needed to remove the Juggernaut’s ’jack marshal before Crash took more damage, but half a dozen Winter Guard stood in her way. That worried her little. She advanced slowly with measured steps, keeping her sword in long point, hilt at shoulder level, blade projecting toward the enemy. She called forth her magic again, and runes formed once more around Nemesis. This time she used the spell on herself, so when she reached the Winter Guard, she was a blur of silvery death. She took one soldier through the throat, pulled her blade free, and slashed open the chest of the man next to him. The Khadorans tried to bring their axes to bear, but they moved as if trapped in thick mud, unable to intercept or ward off her flickering sword. She knocked an axe aside with the strong of her blade, raised her hands high over her foe’s guard, and rammed Nemesis through his chest. She then lunged forward and skewered the man behind the one she’d just killed. The final two Winter Guard gave ground, allowing her to finally reach the ′jack marshal.

The Khadoran had drawn his short heavy saber and was waiting for her. He’s a brave one, she thought. Yet he was at a severe disadvantage; his weapon was shorter and slower, to say nothing of her years of training and her warcaster ability.

Ashlynn drove forward with a thrust at the ′jack marshal’s throat. He knocked it aside with a short crisp parry, binding Nemesis with his heavier blade. It was good form but not good enough. She allowed her blade to be pushed away before snapping Nemesis out of the bind. The Khadoran had been using too much pressure, and his blade dropped for a split second without her weapon to resist it. The opening was small, but she was quick, and Nemesis removed the top half of the Khadoran’s skull in a fountain of blood.

She leaped back, blade up in a defensive guard. Even mortally wounded men could strike one more blow before death claimed them. But she needn’t have worried. The ′jack marshal’s eyes rolled up in his head, and he toppled over.

The battle had ebbed around her. With the infantry and the rest of her warjacks behind them, the remaining Khadoran troops were being slaughtered. There was still that Juggernaut to deal with, however.

She turned her attention to Crash, quickly checking the Mule’s condition through her link with it. It was suffering. Its hull was torn in many places, and it was leaking fluid from multiple ruptures in its hydraulic system.

Soldier had reduced most of the barracks to rubble, and Ashlynn pulled it away to help Crash. Her Vanguards began to pepper the remaining structures with their smaller shield cannons while her Nomad brought its battle blade to bear against the remaining Winter Guard.

Something like concern flowed back through her connection with Soldier, concern for its fellow Mule, which was in real danger. She pushed Soldier into a charge, and the big warjack came hurtling across the battlefield, its mace whistling down with earth-shattering force. The Juggernaut had raised its axe to deliver a finishing blow to Crash, but without a ′jack marshal, it was operating purely on instinct and didn’t see the peril it was in.

Soldier’s mace smashed into the Juggernaut’s head, tearing it off and sending it sailing away. The loss of its head was not fatal to the warjack, though it was now blind and deaf. The Juggernaut stumbled, swinging its axe wildly, cutting in half a Winter Guard soldier not quick enough to get out of the way.

Ashlynn urged Soldier forward and aimed the next blow with its mace at the Khadoran warjack’s chest. The weapon hammered down, crushing the hull and the cortex beneath it. The Juggernaut collapsed to the ground, nine tons of smoking wreckage.

“Good work, Soldier,” Ashlynn said and moved up next to the warjack, taking cover behind its huge frame as she surveyed the battle. It was over; it had been a complete rout.

The remaining Khadorans threw down their weapons and surrendered. Now that the adrenaline rush of battle had faded, she could analyze the situation.

Why was this pass so poorly defended? It was a question that demanded answering before she committed her troops to anything else in Rynyr.

***



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:

Week 1 Update Week 11 Update
Week 2 Update Week 12 Update
Week 3 Update Week 13 Update
Week 4 Update Week 14 Update
Week 5 Update Week 15 Update
Week 6 Update Week 16 Update
Week 7 Update Week 17 Update
Week 8 Update Week 18 Update
Week 9 Update Week 19 Update
Week 10 Update Week 20 Update
Week 21 Update

 

 

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.

          

 Buy Print – $14.99                                Preorder Print – $15.99

 Buy eBook – $7.99                               Preorder eBook – $7.99

Acts of War: Aftershock – Week 11 Update

Eleven weeks and I have a true first draft, something I can show other human beings without shame or terror (well, maybe a little terror).

Progress: I’ve finished my read-through of the first draft of Acts of War: Aftershock, fixed the errors I found, and I have sent it off to Privateer Press for review. As usual, I removed a fair amount of text during my proofing pass, tightening up sentences or even outright removing entire passages that weren’t working or simply weren’t needed. I also fixed a metric ton of typos and formatting errors, wrangled a few plot holes, and came to terms with my unnatural love of semicolons (mostly).

The Best Part: Deep breath. The first draft is truly and completely done and out of my hands. That’s a nice feeling, and I can relax a little while I wait for Privateer Press to review the manuscript. It’ll be weeks before I get any feedback, and I can turn my attention to other projects (some for Privateer Press) and not worry about the novel for a little while. Okay, not worry about the novel as much for a little while.

The Hard Part: Holding pattern. Of course, part of finishing a novel is waiting for the inevitable feedback. The fear that what you’ve written is not what the publisher wants is very real, even if it’s a little unwarranted. With an approved and detailed outline, Privateer knows more or less what they’re going to get, and I certainly didn’t stray from the outline in a major way. There will always be elements of a first draft that don’t work or are simply not what the publisher wants, but the editors at Privateer are fantastic at communicating what they want in their feedback, and I’ve worked with them closely for that last seven years.

Mini Excerpt: Today’s mini-excerpt introduces a new character, Sergeant William Harcourt, a young soldier who is a bit more gifted than he (or anyone) first believed. The concept art for today features a journeyman warcaster, and I’m not saying Sergeant Harcourt looks like this guy, but I’m not saying he doesn’t look like this guy. 🙂

journeyman-concept-warcaster



Good; you’re in,” Stryker said. “Now give him an order. Tell him to walk ten paces away from you.”

“Rowdy, walk—“Harcourt began.

“No, with your mind,” Stryker said. “Think it at him.”

Harcourt was silent for a moment, and then Rowdy took a step and another. Stryker counted ten before the Ironclad stopped. The warjack turned back toward Harcourt and vented steam in a low whistle. The tone was unmistakable. Now what?

“Excellent,” Stryker said. “You have control of him, and you can give him orders, but you can do more than that. In combat, you can guide his attacks, make them more accurate or hit harder. You can also push him to charge an enemy, trample infantry, or grapple another warjack. Rowdy is special, though. He doesn’t take much coaxing to get into a fight.”

“Yes, I’ve seen that, sir,” Harcourt said and chuckled.



Nothing like a little Warjack 101, right? Wonder what else Stryker has imparted to our neophyte warcaster.

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:

***

Check out the first book in this series, Acts of War: Flashpoint, if you haven’t already. You can get the e-book at 25% off from the Skull Island eXpeditions website by entering the code ACTSOFWAR1 at checkout.

Writing Acts of War II – Week 1 Update

I’ve begun the writing the first draft for Acts of War II, and this is this first update on my progress. Before I get into the numbers and whatnot, let me tell you a bit about what these updates are going to look like.

First, I’ll give you my progress on the draft for the week prior, which will come in the form of how many words I’ve written and what chapter I’m on. Next, I’ll tell you one thing that was fun about writing that week and one thing that was a little challenging. Finally, I’ll give you very short excerpt from the week’s writing. These excerpts will be raw text from the first draft, so there’s every possibility they’ll change a little or even a lot in the final version of the book. Don’t worry; I won’t spoil major plot points or anything in these excerpts.

Okay, so now that you know what you’re getting, here’s what week one looked like.

Progress: I wrote 11,678 words, which put me right at the end of chapter three. That number exceeds my daily and weekly writing goals, and it keeps me on track for a first draft of between 90,000 and 110,000 words in about nine to ten weeks. So, in all, a solid first week.

The Best Part: I got to write from Ashlynn d’Elyse’s POV for the first time. She’s always been one of my favorite characters in the setting, and it was a lot of fun to get into her head. Plus, she’s a renowned sword master and duelist, so I can really nerd out and get a little more technical with her fight scenes (see below).

The Hard Part: Location, location, location. Describing places in the Iron Kingdoms that have never been described before in narrative fiction can be challenging because you want to make sure what you’re writing matches the existing information (of which there is often quite a bit). Luckily, I have excellent resources for that kind of thing, so it just takes a little bit of extra research.

Mini Excerpt: This week’s mini excerpt features Ashlynn d’Elyse doing one of the things she does best—kicking ass! (By the way, check out the original concept art for Ashlynn below.)

ashlynn1

Ashlynn thrust at the ‘jack marshal’s throat, and he knocked Nemesis aside with a crisp parry, binding her weapon with his heavier blade and what he must think superior strength. It was good form, but not good enough. She allowed her sword to be pushed away, then snapped Nemesis out of the bind. Her opponent had been using too much pressure, and his blade dropped for a split second without her weapon to resist it. The opening was small, but she was quick, and a short, powerful cut from Nemesis split the Khadoran’s skull before he could bring his saber back up to defend himself.

That’ll learn him, right? Tune in next week for more progress, more art, and more mini excerpts from Acts of War II.

Got questions about the book or the writing process? Fire away in the comments section below.


Check out the first book in this Acts of War series, Flashpoint, if you haven’t already. You can get a digital version of the book at 25% off from the Skull Island eXpeditions website by entering the code ACTSOFWAR1 at check out.

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Acts of War II Character Profile: Ashlynn d’Elyse

Time for the first character profile for Acts of War II, where I’ll give you some basic information on the major characters from the upcoming novel. If you’re a fan of the Iron Kingdoms and WARMACHINE, you’ll be very familiar with some of these characters (but not all of them). If you’re new to the land of steam and sorcery, these profiles will give you valuable information on the characters and the world they live in.

To kick things off, we’ll start with a character who’s new to the Acts of War series, Llaelese Resistance leader and warcaster Ashlynn d’Elyse.

ashlynnmkii

Name: Ashlynn d’Elyse

Nation: Llael

Resume: warcaster, master swordsman, battle leader in the Llaelese Resistance, part-time mercenary

Signature Weapon: Nemesis

History: The only daughter of Llaelese noble and renowned master duelist Benoir d’Elyse, Ashlynn was destined to be a great warrior and swordsman like her father. When her arcane abilities manifested, she earned a place at the Royal Arcane Academy, and became one of Llael’s few warcasters.

Her full potential as a warcaster was realized on the front lines when Khador invaded Llael, and she quickly became known among her enemies and allies as a fearsome warrior and battle leader. The execution of her father and many other nobles after the fall of the capitol city of Merywyn only made her more determined and ruthless.

When Cygnar withdrew its aid and Llael fell, Ashlynn fought on, offering her services as a mercenary to fund a growing rebellion. The Resistance has long been a thorn in the side of the Khadoran occupiers, and Ashlynn d’Elyse and her warcaster abilities are behind much of the damage caused by the Llaelese freedom fighters.

Present: When Cygnar invaded Llael to drive out Khador under their new king Julius Raelthorne, the Resistance was not a large part of their plans. Much of this was because of the Resistance’s relationship with the Protectorate of Menoth, a nation of zealots whose interests often put them at odds with Cygnar. Ashlynn resents Cygnar’s invasion of her lands and sees them as only slightly better than the Khadoran occupiers they are attempting to remove. She and the Resistance fight on, against Khador and any who would stand in the way of a free Llael.


Check out the first book in this Acts of War series, Flashpoint, if you haven’t already. You can get a digital version of the book at 25% off from the Skull Island eXpeditions website by entering the code ACTSOFWAR1 at check out.

194369317X