Acts of War: Aftershock Now Available

If you’ve been following this blog over that last 30 weeks or so, you’ve seen me document the process of writing, revising, and editing my novel Acts of War: Aftershock. Well, today, all that work comes to fruition. Acts of War: Aftershock is now available in eBook and print formats from all the usual suspects.

War Has Come Again to Llael

On the heels of inflicting defeat upon the Khadorans at Riversmet, Lord General Coleman Stryker marches deeper into enemy territory to prepare a major assault. But he is unprepared for the avalanche of a massive Khadoran counterstrike. Empress Ayn Vanar and Supreme Kommandant Irusk send their nation’s most fearsome warcasters to retaliate against the invaders and secure her conquered territories at any cost. Hope comes in the form of Ashlynn d’Elyse, warcaster and leader of the Llaelese Resistance, a woman with no love for Cygnar but who could make for a powerful ally if convinced to help. Along with Asheth Magnus, Stryker’s enemy-turned-ally, this unlikely team must fight to persevere despite being outnumbered, outmaneuvered, and cornered with only their wits and a few warjacks to save their cause from utter annihilation…

Get an eBook – $7.99:

Get it in Print $15.99:

And, of course, if you haven’t read the first book in the series, Acts of War: Flashpoint, you can get that right here.

Get it in Print – $14.99

Acts of War: Aftershock – Excerpt #3

The release date for Acts of War: Aftershock is right around the corner, and here’s one more excerpt to whet your appetite before the book drops on July 12th. This time, we’re going to focus on one of the primary antagonists for the novel, Assault Kommander Oleg Strakhov, and a mysterious new character who has a big role to play in this book and the next.


Rynyr, Khadoran-Occupied Llael

Lukas di Morray had never known such pain. At least that’s what his mind told him; it insisted his suffering was worse than any he had ever endured. His muscles were stone, drawn tight against his bones, and they sent ragged shards of agony through his body with even the slightest exertion. His skin itched and burned, and though he had torn away all his clothing save for a bare strip around his loins, he sweated rivers, and the warm stones of his cell offered no respite.

But it was his mind that pained him most, his mind that conjured specters of friends and family now lost, dead or captured by the enemy. It dredged these memories from his subconscious to torture him, to remind him of his failings, of his dereliction of duty. Most of all, his mind howled with incessant need, the all-encompassing want of the serum to which he’d become addicted. He’d been without it for weeks, ever since his capture, and each day that passed, he grew weaker, withering without the alchemical concoction that granted him strength, vitality, and some semblance of sanity.

The serum was like no mundane drug. There would be no torturous period of withdrawal and then improvement, possibly even freedom from the addiction. No, the strength his serum granted him damaged his body each time he used it, pushed him one step closer to death, and he was much more likely to die if denied it.

He rolled over onto his back, staring up at the ceiling. The heat from the volcano permeated the stone, turning his cell into an oven that slowly baked the moisture from his body. They would bring water soon, and it would offer some fleeting respite, but then the questions would begin, and he still clung to enough of his self to resist them.

He heard footsteps, heavy and purposeful, coming down the hall toward his cell. It would be Strakhov again, coming at the appointed hour to question him. Perhaps he could endure another beating and resist. Or perhaps not.

The barred door of his cell opened with a metallic squeal, and a shadow fell across him. He could smell the smoke from the Khadoran’s warcaster armor trickling into his cell, making the heavy stale air all the harder to breathe.

“Would you like a drink before we begin, Legate di Morray?” Strakhov’s voice was deep, and his Llaelese was practiced and precise with no trace of an accent.

Lukas let out a shaking breath and closed his eyes, fighting tears at the mere mention of water. He could hear it sloshing in the bucket carried by the guard accompanying Strakhov, and though it was undoubtedly warm and would taste of sulfur, it would be a single moment of relief he desperately wanted.

“Today, you can drink as much as you like,” Strakhov said. “Come now, sit up, drink.”

Lukas sat upright, his muscles screaming in protest, and bit down on his lip to keep from crying out. Strakhov and his guard came around to the other side of the cell. The guard, a man in black armor wearing the gas mask of an Assault Kommando, carried a metal bucket from which the handle of a ladle projected. The sloshing inside that bucket was the music of heaven, and Lukas knew he was staring at it like a starving man stares at a crust of bread.

Strakhov was a large man, made even larger by the bulky warcaster armor he wore. His face was square, handsome, though severe in a way that made him less attractive and more threatening. A long jagged scar ran down the right side of his face, crossing his lips and ending above his chin, and he wore an eye-patch over his left eye, a starburst pattern of scars blooming out at its edges. He oozed threat and power, both of which he had in ready supply.

The guard set down a sturdy stool in front of Lukas, and Strakhov sat down on it. He leaned forward, smiling, showing his straight white teeth like a shark just before it bites. “Now, come and have your drink.”

Strakhov held out his hand, and the kommando gave him the bucket. He set it on the ground between him and Lukas. Strakhov dipped the ladle in and pulled it out, dripping water, and lifted it to his own lips. He took a deep drink and smiled.

“It is good,” he said. “We found a water purification system, so this is clean and pure.”

Lukas watched Strakhov drink. He would have drooled uncontrollably if he’d had enough moisture in his system to do so. “Please,” he croaked.

“Of course, Legate, come forward,” Strakhov urged. The distance between them was only a few feet, but it seemed a world away to Lukas.

He crawled toward Strakhov, his body shuddering with the pain. When he reached the bucket, he sat up again. Strakhov offered him the ladle. “Drink.”

Lukas took the ladle, the muscles in his arm spasming at the weight of it, and dipped it in the bucket. He pulled out a full dip, his shaking hand spattering with water as he brought the ladle to his cracked lips. He gulped the water down, the liquid burning the sores that had formed inside his mouth, but he didn’t care. It was exquisite, and Strakhov was right: the water tasted pure and clean.

He plunged the ladle back into the bucket for another drink, but Strakhov shot out a hand and caught his wrist. There was no denying the iron strength in that grip, and Lukas whimpered with fear and pain. Strakhov clicked his tongue.

“You can have another drink when you answer a question. One drink for one question. This is a fair exchange, no?”

Lukas nodded. His lips trembled, and total mental collapse was not far off, but what choice did he have? “Ask.”

“Good,” Strakhov said. “Very good. First, I want to know the primary ingredient of your serum.”

They had been down this road before. Strakhov had seen the effects of what the serum could do, but he didn’t understand it, didn’t understand how dangerous it was, didn’t know how many men had died horribly testing it, and didn’t grasp that Lukas and his wife were the only successful experiments—and that success was a debatable term in either case.

“I told you before,” Lukas said, “the serum is a failure. It can’t help you.”

“A failure?” Strakhov said. “I find that hard to believe. When we took you in Laedry, you killed eight men and destroyed a warjack by yourself. You are no warcaster, yet this serum made you the equal of one.”

“Yes, it made me strong before, but look at me now. I am withering away without it.”

“Improvements could be made, certainly,” Strakhov said. “But if the serum is truly a failure, what harm is there in telling me its main ingredient?”

“You asked about the inner working of this citadel before, how the lava is controlled and dispersed throughout the city. I helped design the system. I can tell you how that works instead.”

Strakhov smiled. “We will get to that soon enough, Legate, but today, I have different questions, and certainly you want that drink.”

The serum was a failure. Lukas knew it, and if he gave it to Strakhov, the warcaster would take it back to the Greylords Covenant, and they would attempt to unlock its secrets. Maybe they would improve on it, and such a thought was terrifying. If Khador could create warcasters at whim, even those with a third of the power Lukas commanded, they would gain an overwhelming advantage in battle.

“It doesn’t matter,” Lukas said. “The serum doesn’t work.”

Strakhov put the ladle back into the bucket and motioned for the guard to take it away. “We are reasonable men, you and I. Yet you would force me to use methods I find…distasteful to get what I require.”

Lukas braced himself for another beating. Strakhov was expert at delivering painful blows that did not leave lasting damage to the head and body. Lukas would soil himself and wail in pain, but he would survive, and the serum would stay a secret.

Strakhov got up and went to the cell door. “Bring them in,” he called down the hall.

The sound of footsteps, many footsteps, echoed off the stone. These were not the strong deliberate treads of soldiers; it was slow, dragging, the sound of men and women walking to their deaths. Four men and three women entered the cell, two Assault Kommandos behind them, carbines at the ready. The prisoners wore tattered rags, and they had likely been taken from the citizenry of Rynyr before the city was cleared out. Lukas looked at each of them, not recognizing anyone, until he got to the last woman in the group. There, his heart caught in his throat. Both fear and joy seized him.

Alyce. No.


Got a question about the book? Fire away in the comments section below. And 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 27 & 28 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 – 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

“Confirmed Kill” Excerpt & NQ 72

I recently penned a short story titled “Confirmed Kill” for No Quarter magazine #72. For those of you who don’t know about NQ, it’s the in-house magazine for Privateer Press and covers all things WARMACHINE and HORDES, including the occasional bit of fiction. The story centers around two characters, a Trencher Express Team comprised of trollkin sniper Corporal Horgrum and his partner and spotter Sergeant Sharp. Both characters appear in the Acts if War series. I introduced them in Acts of War: Flashpoint, and they have a slightly larger roll in Acts of War: Aftershock.

Anyway, Lyle Lowery, the editor-in-chief of No Quarter magazine has granted me permission to post a short excerpt from “Confirmed Kill,” so, without further ado, here it is.

Northern Thornwood, 606 AR

“Take them and go!” Horgrum’s father shouted, pointing his axe at the tree line. Vargal Oakheart was an aging trollkin, but still mighty, and his voice boomed over the din of gunshots and battle cries.

Horgrum shook his head. “No, I will fight.” He had his own axe in hand, but its blade was clean and dry, unlike his father’s, which was stained red with the blood of the invaders.

Vargal glanced behind him, where their village burned, where humans in crimson armor slaughtered their people. He turned back to Horgrum and put a heavy hand on his son’s shoulder. “We are lost, Horgrum,” he said, his voice thick with sorrow. “Take your brother and sister and flee.” Solissa was thirteen and Kolor was only ten, too small and too young to fight. They hunkered behind their older brother, wincing at each booming report of an enemy rifle.

“And go where?” Horgrum demanded. He was twenty years old and a seasoned fighter, and the thought of leaving his village and kriel sickened him.

“South, to Cygnar,” Vargal said. “You will be safe there.”

Horgrum opened his mouth to challenge his father, but the sound of hooves cut short his protest. A human in red armor astride a great black horse emerged from the smoke and flame.

“Go!” Vargal shouted and shoved Horgrum backward. He took his axe in both hands and turned to face the enemy.

Horgrum pushed Solissa toward the trees, and she took Kolor’s hand. They ran.

Before he entered the woods, Horgrum turned back to see the human warrior barreling down on his father, lowering his lance. Vargal twisted away from the weapon, lashing out with his axe at the passing horse. The great blade hewed through one of the animal’s legs, and it crashed to the ground, throwing its rider. Horgrum smiled as his father closed on the enemy and split the human’s skull with a short overhand strike, cutting through steel and bone.

Horgrum’s grip tightened around his own axe. These humans, these Khadorans, were not so strong. The kin could defeat them. He took a step toward the clearing.

“No, Horgrum.” Solissa’s hand on his arm stropped him.

Vargal had pulled his weapon free from the corpse and turned back toward the battle. Through the smoke Horgrum could see more trollkin and humans fighting. He could help his people. He could defend them.

He took another step, and a single sharp report rang out. His father stopped midstride, and blood poured down his back from a fist-sized hole that had blossomed between his broad shoulders. He collapsed to his knees, and then pitched over into the dirt.

Horgrum shook off Solissa’s hand and raced toward his father, screaming in rage. He made it five paces before another shot rang out. The bullet struck his axe, smashing it from his grip. He dove to the ground. Bodies lay everywhere, human and trollkin. His hand fell across the butt of a rifle as something huge loomed out of the smoke, a human warrior encased in steam-powered armor that made him nearly as large and powerful as a full-blooded troll.

Horgrum picked up the rifle. It was big by human standards, long-barreled and finely machined. He had never used such a weapon, but he’d seen them fired. He rested the butt against his shoulder and curled his smallest finger around the trigger; the others would not fit inside the guard. The armored man charged, and Horgrum stared down the rifle’s barrel. A sense of calm flowed over him, his rage and fear drained away, and only the enemy and the rifle remained. He drew in a breath and aimed as best he could, peering through the attached scope and adjusting until he felt centered over the enemy’s heart. He pulled the trigger, and the gun bucked against his shoulder and spat smoke.

The armored human stumbled, and Horgrum was unsure if his shot was the cause, or if he’d even hit his target. Then the man faltered again, blood sluiced down his helmet from the visor slit, and he fell over backward. Horgrum had not hit the spot he’d intended, but Dhunia had graced him with a bit of luck.

Horgrum had no time to celebrate. Another shot rang out and dizzying pain lanced through his right shoulder. Another soldier appeared. This one wore no armor, but he carried a rifle like the one Horgrum had taken from the enemy corpse. He was an older man, with greying hair falling from beneath a red cap. His face was hard and angular, and a livid scar ran from his right brow to the middle of his nose. This was the human who had killed his father.

Despite his wound, he wanted only to find a way to kill this man, but Solissa’s voice from the tree line called him back to reality. “Horgrum, more soldiers are coming!”

He broke into a stumbling run toward his sister, expecting the human to shoot him in the back. No shot came, and he made it to the trees, the enemy rifle gripped tightly in his right hand.


If you liked this little excerpt from “Confirmed Kill,” head on over to the Privateer Press online store and pick up No Quarter #72 for the rest of the story. There will be more Horgrum and Sharp in my upcoming novel Acts of War: Aftershock releasing July 12th.

 

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

“On a Black Tide” Excerpt & Free eBook!

A few years ago, I wrote a novelette called “On a Black Tide” for Privateer Press, which was included in an anthology of novelettes called Rites of Passage. Privateer Press has given me permission to post an excerpt from “On a Black Tide” and to tell you that you can download the entire novelette from Amazon for free for the next five days. In addition, Rites of Passage is now available from Amazon in print. The anthology is a fantastic introduction to the steam-powered fantasy world of the Iron Kingdoms and features stories by some great authors, including Douglas Seacat, Darla Kennerud, Matthew D. Wilson, Oren Ashkenazi, William Shick, and some dude who runs a blog about rejection. 🙂

Here’s the cover and back cover text for “On a Black Tide.”

 

They say the waters of Cryx run black with ancient evil . . .

In the port city of Blackwater, deep in the heart of the Nightmare Empire, life is short and brutal. Murderous gangs rule the streets and surviving to adulthood means being more vicious and uncompromising than those around you. The only hope of escaping the gang-infested streets is to join one of the many pirate vessels that launch raids from Cryx against the mainland.

For Aiakos, a strong yet undisciplined street thug, the opportunity to join the pirate ship Scythe in a trial by combat is the chance of a lifetime. But as he soon discovers, fighting his way onto a Cryxian pirate vessel is only the beginning of the bloodshed.

When the Scythe is drawn into the schemes of the powerful Satyxis Admiral Axiara Wraithbane, Aiakos once again has a chance to improve his station . . . or die trying.

The novelette “On a Black Tide” is a preview of Rites of Passage, a novel-length collection featuring five additional tales about the grueling trials of novice warcasters in the Iron Kingdoms.


Blackwater, Late Summer, 605 AR

Aiakos watched the Scythe limp into port like a great, wounded beast. The thick ironwood planks of its hull were shot through in many places, and the ship sat low—too low—in the water. Its main mast was gone; only a cracked six-foot stub remained where the massive beam had once stood proud and straight. Rigging and torn sails lay in a tangled snarl on the decks. The ropes had soaked up blood leaking from dozens of broken bodies, turning them pink so they looked like great heaps of intestines. The paddle wheel and the steam engines that powered it were intact; otherwise, Aiakos surmised, the Scythe would be at the bottom of the Meredius.

“That’s Bloodbrine’s ship,” Dasko said, pointing his dirk at the lumbering pirate galleon. “Shot to hell and gone, looks like.”

Aiakos nodded. “Just like Baros said. He’s headed for our pier.” He took a few steps down the pier as the Scythe came to a stop and the few men on her deck cast hawsers to waiting sailors on the pier. Once the ship was moored, its surviving crew shuffked down the gangplank. Every one of them bore some injury, mostly deep cuts and bullet wounds, the mark of pistol and cutlass.

“That he is,” Dasko said. “Baros had good information. That’ll earn him a few more coins.”

Aiakos glanced back at the gang leader, who was now worrying a bit of meat from his teeth with the point of his knife. Behind Dasko twenty of their best lads waited, clubs and knives in hand. He and Dasko had run the Quay Slayers for the last five years. They’d both joined the gang as a means of survival. Aiakos had been forced onto the brutal streets of Blackwater at eleven, Dasko at twelve. This was the way of things in Cryx. Once a child was deemed old enough, he was forced to fend for himself. The only real way to avoid death was to join one of the countless street gangs and learn to be as vicious and cruel as everything else in Blackwater.

What remained of the Scythe’s crew had now disembarked, and the captain himself, Grivus Bloodbrine, was making his way down the gangplank. Captain Bloodbrine was tall, gaunt, and hollow-cheeked. His clothes, although of fine make, were spattered with blood and scorched, and he cradled one arm against his chest, bloody bandages shrouding the limb completely.

Aiakos made his way down the pier, pushing through the line of injured sailors leaving the Scythe. Bloodbrine saw him coming and put his good hand on the heavy pistol shoved into his belt. This was how most people greeted Aiakos—with suspicion and an expectation of violence. Aiakos was large and strong, and he’d earned a reputation as a formidable fighter: relentless, uncompromising, and brutally skilled. He approached the captain slowly, his own weapons—a whaler’s harpoon balanced over one shoulder and a long flensing knife at his hip—at the ready but not overtly so.

“And who might you be?” Captain Bloodbrine called out.

“I am Aiakos, second in the Quay Slayers. You’re moored on our pier, Captain.”

Bloodbrine smiled. “Is that so?”

“It is,” Aiakos said. “But your ship is in bad shape, so we’re willing to let you remain here and offer our protection.”

“What would I need protecting from?” Bloodbrine asked, tapping the butt of his pistol with one finger. Behind the captain another member of his crew had come down the gangplank. She wore closefitting leathers and carried a brace of pistols across her chest. She held a gaff pole in both hands, its blade hooked and gleaming. Unlike the other members of the Scythe’s crew, this woman bore only superficial signs of combat—torn clothing and a few scrapes. The fact that she was uninjured meant either she’d avoided the fighting or she was very good at it. By the way she carried herself, Aiakos assumed the latter.

“Aiakos here says we’re on his pier, Nyra,” Bloodbrine said as the woman came up beside him. “What do you think of that?”

Nyra stared at Aiakos with cold, appraising eyes, her face unreadable. “Pay him what he wants. Someone has to watch the ship while repairs are made,” she said, then pushed past Aiakos.

“My first mate says pay you,” Bloodbrine said. His smile soured. “But what if I’ve got twenty fighters waiting in the hold to protect what’s mine?”

Aiakos glanced up at the decks of the Scythe and quickly counted thirty bodies; there were likely more in the hold. Bloodbrine was in a bad position and vulnerable. The pirate captains were certainly a notch up on the food chain over the street gangs, but any wounded beast was likely to attract scavengers. Aiakos took the risk, weighing his words carefully to imply the threat. “You don’t, or some of them would be with you now. We’ll make sure the shipwrights do their work without interruption while you fill out your crew.”

Bloodbrine grimaced and then spat. He knew his vulnerability was obvious, and in Blackwater that meant he was prey. “How much?”

“Twenty gold crowns a day,” Aiakos replied. “I’ll take today’s payment now.” He held out his hand.

Bloodbrine shook his head and dug into one of the pouches hanging from his belt. He pulled out a handful of gold coins and shoved them at Aiakos, who dropped them into his own pouch.

“Good,” Aiakos said. “Have someone here with the next payment tomorrow at the same time.”

“Do you think you could keep them off the ship?” Bloodbrine nodded at something over Aiakos’ right shoulder. He turned and saw a trio of awful figures moving down the pier. The necrotechs were bulbous, fleshy things upon a tangle of metal spider-like legs. They moved toward the Scythe, a small mob of shambling thralls in their wake. The undead masters of necromechanika were always on the lookout for fresh supplies. Word had obviously reached them that the Scythe was, for the moment, a floating abattoir.

Aiakos suppressed a shudder as the necrotechs approached. The undead were part of everyday life in Blackwater, but most of the living stayed out of their way lest they, too, be considered raw materials for the flesh foundries. Some in Blackwater saw undeath as a way to accumulate power and rise in station; certainly the armies and navies of Cryx contained powerful undead, not to mention the almost god-like power of the lich lords who controlled everything. To Aiakos, though, the thought of surrendering breath and blood for the cold eternity of undeath was abhorrent. Worse yet was that many were thrust upon that path unwillingly, robbed of their free will to serve as mindless and disposable cannon fodder.

“No,” Aiakos said and stepped out the way of the necrotechs and their thrall servitors. The rotten stink of their passing made his eyes water and his gorge rise. “They always take what they want.”

Bloodbrine watched the necrotechs clamber aboard his ship, their spidery legs making a dull metallic clacking noise as they scuttled across the main deck. “The shipwrights will be here tomorrow, after they’ve”—he jerked his head toward his ship—“taken what they want.”

Thralls had already begun to drag the dead from the Scythe, leaving bloody smears across the pier. Many of the corpses were in various states of dismemberment, as the necrotechs cut away the burnt and mangled pieces, leaving the choicest bits intact.

Aiakos nodded, then turned and walked back to Dasko. Bloodbrine remained, watching the necrotechs with a scowl. Aiakos felt a twinge of sympathy for the captain, a well-known and powerful pirate now forced to stand by and watch the real power in Blackwater take what it wanted from him.

“What did he say?” Dasko said as Aiakos approached.

“He agreed. Twenty per day,” Aiakos replied.

Dasko smiled and rubbed his hands together. “The lads were hoping for a bit of sport, but I’d just as soon have the money without a fuss. Hand it over.”

Aiakos dug the coins from his pouch, counted out his cut, and passed the rest to Dasko without a word.

“We talked to a few of Bloodbrine’s men as they passed,” Dasko said. “He’ll be looking for replacements. They’re gathering at the Black Hold. Should be quite a spectacle.”

Pirate captains looking to replace men lost in battle often announced their intentions and gathered potential recruits into one of the many fighting pits around Blackwater. There, the poor and desperate would fight one another, sometimes to the death, for a chance at a life at sea. Crewing a pirate vessel was not exactly easy work, but the chance to get off Blackwater and at least have the opportunity to amass wealth and prestige was often considered enough to die for.

Aiakos was no stranger to the fighting pits. He fought regularly, both to earn extra coin and to keep his battle skills honed. His many victories only enhanced his reputation among the Quay Slayers and the rival gangs they often battled. “I’ll meet you there,” Aiakos said and walked past Dasko. He turned and looked at the Scythe. The ship was swarming with activity as more thralls arrived to cart away the dead. Beyond the ship was the Meredius, its waters stretching to the horizon in a flat, grey expanse. To Aiakos the sea looked like a blank slate, pure and filled with untold possibilities. He turned back to Blackwater, grimaced, and pressed on.


If you’d like to read the rest of the story, you can download “On a Black Tide” from Amazon absolutely free for the next five days. And if you dig my little tale of piracy, undead, and general mayhem, you should absolutely check out the other five stories in Rites of Passage, also available in eBook and print formats from Amazon.

      

Acts of War: Aftershock – Week 21 Update

Twenty-one weeks into the production of Acts of War: Aftershock, and we have completed a very important step.

Progress: The first and certainly the most extensive round of revisions on the novel is done. After adding a lot of new material and rewriting a number of scenes, the novel has grown a bit. It currently stands at 102,000 words. It’ll likely shrink some in editing, but it should be an easy 350+ pages in its final form.

Revision Roundup: Let’s talk about story, the third major focus for the revisions in this round. Much of what I did revolves around the pacing of the story, especially in the third act. Notes from the editors highlighted a potential issue that could slow the story down and lessen the impact of the tension I’d built in the previous two acts. I did a lot of work to address this issue, but I’ll likely continue to fine tune when I get the manuscript back for another, shorter, round of revisions.

Of course, I couldn’t help but do some general clean-up on the manuscript before I handed it back to the editors. As I was reading through the novel again, I noticed a bunch of my personal authorial bugaboos throughout the manuscript. This was primarily stuff like passive voice and overuse of certain adverbs or descriptive words. So, I spent a full day just fixing those issues. By no means did I catch them all, and I’ll go hunting for them again in the next round. Additionally, Mike Ryan, who is quite familiar with my work, will be on the lookout for these problems when the book finally goes to edit.

Mini Excerpt: Everybody loves a mercenary, right? Well, maybe not, but the Iron Kingdoms is home to many well-established mercenary companies that operate like armies for hire. The Steelheads may be the most well known example, and they can offer their clients real battlefield versatility with their halberdiers, heavy cavalry, and rifle corps. In Aftershock, Ashlynn d’Elyse uses a large number of Steelhead troops commanded by Captain Reece Keller. Today’s mini-excerpt features Asheth Magnus’ first encounter with the mercenary officer.



“Okay, that’s far enough,” the voice said. “Stay put, and don’t do anything fast or stupid.”

Magnus held his hands up in what he hoped was a peaceful gesture. “You have my word.”

“I hear that’s not worth much,” the voice replied, and the man it belonged too appeared out of the ruins along with six riflemen. He was armored in heavy plate fitted with articulated faulds, the kind of armor you might wear when mounted. He carried a long axe over one shoulder, a cavalry weapon, and he wore a blunderbuss on his right hip. His breastplate was emblazoned with the stylized helmet of the Steelheads.

Magnus smiled. A mercenary. This was the kind of man he could deal with.

“I’m Captain Reece Keller, Steelheads, Merin Chapter,” the man said and walked to within a few paces of Magnus.

“You don’t sound Ordic, Captain,” Magnus said.

“I was born in Ceryl, but, as I’m sure you know, Ord’s a bit friendlier to mercs, ” Keller said. “Now what are you doing here, Magnus?”



One quick revision note. Some of you might remember this particular Steelhead captain from an earlier update. At that time he was named Artis Keller. It’s been changed to Reece to avoid confusing him with an existing Iron Kingdoms character. Remember when I said don’t get attached to anything in these mini-excerpts? 🙂

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.

          

 Buy Print – $14.99                                Preorder Print – $15.99

 Buy eBook – $7.99                               Preorder eBook – $7.99