Iron Kingdoms Fiction – Peace of Mind

Got another piece of Iron Kingdoms fiction you today. This one is called “Peace of Mind” and it also comes from an issue of No Quarter magazine. It features members of the Searforge Commission, a mercenary company drawn from the dwarven empire of Rhul. This story centers around a group of miscreants and unfortunates stationed at a backwater fort where they can’t get into much trouble. Well, that’s the theory anyway.

New to Privateer Press and the Iron Kingdoms? Check out this link for an introduction to this war-torn world of steam power and sorcery.


Peace of Mind

By Aeryn Rudel

Valkar rubbed his hands together and shivered. The sun was sinking on the horizon, and the tolerable cold of the day gave way to the unbearable chill of the long winter night. His watch didn’t end for another two hours, and he looked longingly back through the gates of Baram Fort toward the light and noise from the barracks. He shook his head and turned his gaze back to the small winding road that led up to the small fortress. Warmth and food would have to wait. Although the High Shield Gun Corps stationed at Baram Fort was not exactly known for following the rigid guidelines set forth by the Searforge Commission, Captain Vornek Blackheel considered dereliction of watch one of the few actionable offenses.

Drinking while on duty, fortunately, was not on the captain’s list of punishable activities. “Ecken,” Valkar said to his fellow guard, a much younger dwarf standing on the other side of the wide gate. “Give me a bit of that. These old bones are aching something fierce.”

Ecken had been dozing on his feet, a skill at which he was quite accomplished. The young dwarf came awake with a start and fixed Valkar with a hazy stare. “What did you say, Valk?”

“I said gimme a swig of uiske.”

Ecken looked down at the battered metal flask he’d been clutching to his breastplate and smiled. “Sure, Valk.” He walked across the short space between them, swaying slightly. He wasn’t quite falling-down drunk yet.

Ecken held out the flask. Valkar reached for it, but before he could take it, Ecken dropped it. The young dwarf stooped to retrieve the container, and his helmet tumbled from his head, revealing the huge scar above his left ear. The surgeons had removed a portion of Ecken’s brain after a Khadoran bullet had plowed through his skull. The hair hadn’t grown back over the wound.

Valk grimaced. “I’ll get it, Ecken.” He bent down and retrieved the flask and Ecken’s helmet, wincing as his aching knees popped.

“Sorry, Valk.” Ecken put his helmet back on.

Valk took a drink from Ecken’s flask, letting the cheap uiske burn a path of warmth down his middle, then handed it back. “You’re a good lad, Ecken. When our watch is over we’ll get some food, hey? You need more in your stomach than that Khadoran fire water.”

Ecken frowned. “I’m not hungry. I just want to go to sleep. My head hurts.”

Valkar put a hand on the younger dwarf’s shoulder. “I know. But I got my orders, and one of them is make sure Ecken eats.” Captain Blackheel had placed Ecken under Valkar’s care shortly after the wounded dwarf arrived at Fort Baram. It was the only place the Searforge would allow him to serve, a high mountain fortress in the middle of nowhere filled with the dregs of the Gun Corps: drunks, thieves, and miscreants. Ecken’s wound gave him near constant headaches, and it made him prone to violent mood swings, leaving him largely unfit for anything but guard duty at a fort that rarely saw visitors. It was a mercy, Valkar supposed, the Searforge had let Ecken remain in the corps, draw pay, and receive something resembling supervision and care.

A black look fell across Ecken’s face, and Valkar thought he might explode into one of his rages. They came on with little provocation, and Ecken would shout and bellow, even physically assault anyone who came near. The rest of the dwarves at Baram Fort knew to avoid their injured compatriot during these times, and only Valkar could calm Ecken down, usually. Last week, Lieutenant Murgan, the fort’s ogrun second-in-command, had to restrain Ecken, holding him immobile while he thrashed and cursed. After that, he’d fallen into a black depression that lasted days. The only thing that seemed to give him some measure of peace was drinking, and though Valkar knew inebriation wasn’t doing anything but masking the pain, he couldn’t begrudge the young dwarf his one escape from a grim reality.

“Okay, Valk,” Ecken said, and his face softened. “I’ll eat some porridge. I think I can keep that down.”

Valkar smiled, relieved. “Good lad. Now back to your post.”

Ecken nodded and returned to his side of the gate. Valkar didn’t mind looking after the young dwarf; it gave him something to do, a purpose. He’d come to Baram Fort not because he was a drunk, a coward, or even a bad soldier. His only crime was growing old. He’d served in the Gun Corps for fifty years, never rising above the rank of sergeant because he was happiest in the trenches, wading through the mud and blood with the grunts. Then they’d told him he was too old to serve, that it was time to set his rifle and axe down. They offered him a fair pension, but what would he do with it? He had no children, no wife, and only distant relatives. He’d get older, grow decrepit, and then die alone. He’d refused to retire, so they granted him one final post, a place where the Searforge Commission could forget about him. He accepted and found his place among Baram Fort’s group of misfits. At least he wouldn’t die alone.

“There’s a wagon coming, Valk,” Ecken said, pulling Valkar out of his thoughts.

Valkar looked down the narrow road, a nameless and little-used trade route that ran from the Rhulic city of Drotuhn and climbed through the Thundercliff Peaks, eventually connecting to Hellspass, the more conventional route for traders travelling between Khador and Rhul. Fort Baram was positioned to guard this all-but-forgotten route from the few travelers and merchants who used it—mostly to avoid the steep tolls of Hellspass.

A large wagon pulled by two huge Khadoran draft horses rumbled toward the fort. The driver wore a heavy black cloak with a hood, and eight men in chainmail hauberks with axes on their belts and rifles over their shoulders walked alongside the wagon.

Valkar frowned. He’d never seen a wagon so heavily guarded pass through Baram Fort. He glanced back through the gates; there were a few other dwarves moving about in the yard, on duty, and two or three more manning the walls, but they were coming up on a watch change and most of the troops were in the barracks.

“Ecken, let me do the talking here. Alright, lad?” Ecken nodded and took another drink from his flask. “And put that away.”

The wagon drew to a stop twenty feet from the gate. It was Valkar’s and Ecken’s jobs to speak with all those passing through and to check their goods for contraband. Valkar picked up his shield, a heavy square thing with a notch at the top that served as a rifle rest, and approached the Khadorans. His breastplate and chainmail felt heavier than usual, and his joints ached with every step. Ecken followed him.

“Good day, friend,” the driver in the wagon called down in passable Rhulic.

Valkar looked up at a weathered, bearded face and blue eyes that glinted like chips of ice from the depths of a hood. “What’s your business, and where are you headed?” Valkar asked, beginning their standard line of questioning.

“I am a dealer in exotic animals, and I have purchased one of your famed white bears from a trainer in Drotuhn.” He looked back at the payload of his wagon. There were three cages there, covered in a tarp. The tarp was rimed with ice. “We are travelling back to Skirov, where I run a menagerie.”

Valkar nodded. “Bear, huh?” He’d visited Drotuhn on many occasions, and they were known for quarrying stone, not training dangerous beasts. “Why are there three cages?”

The Khadoran merchant smiled. “I was hoping to buy a few other beasts, but the deals fell through. Two are empty.”

Valkar looked over at Ecken. The young dwarf was standing on the other side of the wagon, closer to the cages. His brows were furrowed in puzzlement, “I don’t smell bear, Valk,” he said. “I’ve smelled them before. Something stinks over here, but it’s not bear.”

The Khadoran’s guards had moved closer, four on each side of the wagon. Their faces were hard, weathered, experienced. They were professional fighting men.

“Do you have a bill of sale?” Valkar asked. He could feel the tension in the air. Something was wrong here, and he felt exposed, vulnerable. He had a horn at his belt he could sound to alert the fort of an attack, and his hand crept down to it.

“Of course,” the Khadoran said. He rummaged through the inside of his cloak. It took a little too long, and Valkar’s hand closed around the horn. But the Khadoran produced nothing more threatening than a thin sheaf of papers. He handed them down to Valkar.

Valkar ran his eyes over the first page. The Khadoran’s name was Dima Glukhov, or at least it was the name he’d put on the bill of sale. Everything looked in order. The man had purchased a bear from the market in Drotuhn and paid one hundred gul for it—more money than Valkar would see in a year. He handed the papers back to the Khadoran. “This looks in order, Tradesman Glukhov.”

“Excellent. Then we can be on our way and pass through your fortress?”

Valkar considered that. The papers were in order, but it was their job to confirm the goods stated by a merchant were actually what they were carrying. He could let them go. Captain Blackheel wouldn’t care. But something bothered him, a curious sense of dread that seemed to hang over the Khadoran and his wagon. He drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly, then said to the Khadoran, “One more bit of business. I need to verify if your cargo is what you say it is.”

A black look fell across the Khadoran’s face, and his eyes became flat and hard. “I hardly think that is necessary.” His voice was low, measured. “Perhaps we can come to some kind of arrangement.” He reached again into his cloak and pulled out a small sack tied with a drawstring. It clinked. “There is fifty gul here. Take it and let us be on our way.”

It was a lot of money, and almost every other member of Baram Fort would have taken it and let the Khadorans through. It just made Valkar angry. He opened his mouth to say something, but Ecken’s voice cut him off.

“Valk, there’s a man in this cage . . . with swords on his hands.”

Ecken had lifted the tarp on the closest cage and was peering beneath it. Valkar had been a soldier for over fifty years, and in that time he’d developed something like a sixth sense when it came to violence. He could almost taste it in the air. He knew the Khadorans were going to attack, but he was too slow to shout a warning as the guard nearest Ecken unlimbered his axe and smashed it into the young dwarf’s helmet. Arcane runes formed around Dima Glukhov’s fist and he unleashed a blast of freezing air at Valkar, smashing him to the ground and robbing the strength from his limbs.

Valkar’s hands were gloved against the chill, and they had kept the worst of the Khadoran sorcerer’s spell at bay. He fumbled for the horn at his belt, hearing Khadoran thugs moving toward him. He brought the horn to his lips and blew a single sharp note.

***

Mindslaver Orixus came awake to the sound of the human and dwarf speaking. He could feel their minds at the edge of his consciousness, but he couldn’t touch them yet. The alchemical mist the human had used on him was crude but effective; it dulled his mental abilities, made his thinking sluggish and uncoordinated. But his faculties were returning to him, and as they did, they brought cold anger and shame. That this pathetic human had managed to ensnare him and four drudges stung him. He’d taken a risk by leaving the hive with such a small guard, but the wounded soldiers on the battlefield near the hive offered a tantalizing collection of raw materials, and he wanted them before his rivals could lay claim.

The human had been waiting for him, expecting him. Orixus had been hit with the sorcerer’s freezing spell and unable to move or think. They’d stuffed him and his drudges into cages, treating him—Mindslaver Orixus, second of five in the Terxat Hive—like a mindless beast.

Rage flowed through his body, and its heat steadily burned away the fog in his mind. He could feel the human’s alchemical tranquilizer fading, like a melting iceberg. He would soon be free. The sounds of combat erupted outside his cage, and the cephalyx was pleased. His enemies would be distracted, long enough for him to regain full control of his abilities. He gathered all the mental force he could muster and pushed against the poison restraining him, hastening its dissipation.

Soon.

***

Valkar climbed to his feet, his legs heavy and slow. Ecken had gone down, and he feared the young dwarf had been killed, but he had more pressing concerns. He could hear the dwarves in the fort responding to his horn. The sound of many voices and the clatter of armor drifted through the gates.

One of the Khadoran thugs bore down on him. The man was big, maybe twice Valkar’s height, and he was swinging a two-handed axe. Valkar brought his shield up and the heavy axe cracked into it, biting deep into the top edge. This is just what Valkar had wanted. He let go of his shield, and his opponent had twenty pounds of iron and wood dangling at the end of his now-useless weapon. The human tried to pull the axe free, but Valkar brought up his carbine with practiced ease and shot the man through the chest. The heavy dwarven slug ripped through the man’s chain mail and shredded his heart.

Loud cursing in Khadoran drew Valkar’s attention back to Dima Glukhov. The Khadoran had jumped down from the wagon and held a single-bitted war axe in his right hand, its head encircled with runes. Glukhov was heading for Valkar, and a ring of azure light formed around his fist.

Valkar backpedaled, heading toward the open gate. He stood little chance against the Khadoran spellcaster. The loud cracks of dwarven carbines sounded behind him, and he heard one voice rising above the din. “What in the name of Ghor’s bleeding ass is going on out here?!” Captain Blackheel had a drill instructor’s volume, and everyone turned in his direction. Looming beside him was his second, Murgan. The ogrun was armored head-to-toe in chain and plate and had his warcleaver and shield in hand.

A line of gun corps riflemen had formed before the dwarven commander, and they parted to let Valkar through. Glukhov stood in front of his wagon, his men around him. The spell runes had disappeared.

“What happened, sergeant?” Murgan asked as Valkar drew near.

“We were checking their goods, and they attacked. One of ‘em knocked Ecken down. He’s still out there.”

Captain Blackheel grunted in irritation. Then he settled his helmet on his head, hitched his breastplate into a more comfortable position, and took hold of his axe. He stepped through the line of dwarven riflemen, his face a black cloud of anger.

“Alright, you bloody Reds,” he began, looking directly at Glukhov. “You can lay down your arms and tell me why you attacked my boys, or I can give the order and shoot you until you stop twitching. What’ll it be?”

The captain was black-tempered, surly, and frequently drunk, but he was also one of the bravest dwarves Valkar knew and a skilled battle leader. He’d always meant to ask the captain how he’d ended up at Baram.

Glukhov lowered his axe and smiled. “You seem a reasonable sort. I need to get through your fort, and I’m willing to pay to do it.”

“You killed one of my boys,” Blackheel said. “I can’t let that stand.”

Valkar didn’t know if Ecken was dead, but he dared not say anything.

“And you killed one of mine, so we’re even on that score.”

Captain Blackheel spat out the wad of sourleaf he’d been chewing, reached into his pouch for another, and stuffed the dried leaves under his bottom lip. Then he shook his head. “No, I don’t like it. You’re gonna put your weapons down, let us take you into custody, and then we’ll see what the Trademaster at Hellspass has to say about your cargo. Whatever the hell it is.”

Glukhov’s eyes went wide, and something that looked like fear flashed across his face. The runes formed around his fist again, and Blackheel raised his hand, signaling to the twenty rifles behind him to take aim. “I mean it, Red.”

Valkar felt the air grow thick with tension, but then something else appeared in the back of his mind, a presence, looming and dark. He heard the telltale metallic clatter of locks falling away, and then something rose up over the wagon, hovering like a grim black wraith.

Dread speared Valkar’s guts as the thing came into the light, drifting through the air behind Glukhov. It was man-shaped and clad entirely in black leather, but its head was a swollen orb from which five blue lights shone, eyes maybe. Worst of all, four metallic limbs jutted over the creature’s back, each tipped with a hooked blade.

“Captain,” Valkar called out, but it was too late. The creature descended on Glukhov like a great black spider, its metallic limbs scything forward. The Khadoran spellcaster’s head came away from his neck in a spray of blood, and he collapsed to the ground twitching.

“Fire!” Captain Blackheel called.

Nothing happened.

Valkar looked down the lines of riflemen and saw blank stares, their weapons hung limply in their hands.

Valkar then felt the creature’s presence grow in his mind, and he heard its voice, an irresistible whisper. Come to me. His feet moved at the behest of another, and he saw he was not alone, the rest of Baram Fort had lowered their weapons and shuffled toward the spindly black horror

Valkar tried to fight it, to push away the monster’s influence, but he couldn’t. He was a prisoner in his own head, watching his body move and react as if it belonged to someone else. The Khadoran thugs were enthralled as well, moving closer to the creature.

From behind the wagon came four more abominations. They were men, or might have been once, but their bodies had been altered, augmented. Each wore a heavy helmet that covered the head and neck. Yellow light glowed from the visor slits. Their arms ended in a curious array of blades, clamps, and saws, like something you might see on a warjack.

Yes, this is your future, you pathetic worms, the creature whispered into Valkar’s mind, maybe into all their minds. He was shown images of dark caverns filled with terrible apparatuses where men became monsters, where flesh was replaced with steel and wire, and where the soul and will were scrubbed clean from mortal minds.

Movement to Valkar’s left caught his eye. He couldn’t turn his head, but, on the periphery of his vision, he saw Ecken stand up. He was relieved the young dwarf had survived but horrified he would be subjected to the same terrible fate as the rest of them.

Ecken was closer to the black-shrouded monster, and he shuffled up to it. It glanced down at him, and Valkar felt its curiosity ripple through his mind . . . then, shockingly, fear. The creature tried to move away, but Ecken had his axe in hand. He swung it, buried the steel in the creature’s midsection.

A piercing psychic wail of shock and agony burst through Valkar’s mind and he fell to his knees, clutching his head. The dwarves and humans around him did the same.

Ecken yanked his axe free in a spray of blood and brought it around again, this time in an overhand strike at the creature’s misshapen skull. The blow landed true, and the monster’s head burst like an overripe melon, splattering gore in all directions.

The presence in Valkar’s mind winked out, and he was once again in control of his body. He climbed to his feet and broke into a stumbling run toward Ecken. The young dwarf stood over the corpse of the alien creature, a puzzled look on his face.

“Are you okay, lad?” Valkar said and took Ecken by the shoulders.

Ecken smiled and pushed his helmet off his head. It had a big dent in it where the Khadoran thug had struck him. He let the helmet fall to the ground, reached up, and touched the gruesome scar above his ear. “I felt it, Valkar. It was in my head, but it couldn’t make me do what it wanted.” He laughed softly. “I think the surgeons cut that part out.”

Valkar pulled the injured dwarf into a tight embrace. “Thank the ancestors,” he said then gently pushed Ecken back and looked into his eyes. “You’re still a soldier, lad. And you did a soldier’s work today. Saved us all. Don’t you forget that.”

“Put these bastards in shackles,” Captain Blackheel bellowed behind them. The rest of the gun corps collected the weapons of the remaining Khadoran thugs, who had lost all interest in fighting and handed them over without a fuss. “Now put ‘em in cold storage until we figure this mess out.”

The captain walked over to Ecken and Valkar and looked down at the corpse of the black-clad creature at their feet. “What in the name of all that is good and green is that bloody thing?” he said. “Never seen anything like it. What about you, old man?”

Valkar shook his head. “No, sir.”

“Well put it into cold storage with the rest of these Khadoran fools,” Blackheel said. “And, Ecken, good work, soldier.” He walked away, bellowing more orders.

Ecken pulled his flask from his belt and shook it, but he didn’t take the cap off.

“Go on, lad. You’ve more than earned yourself a drink,” Valkar said.

Ecken looked up at him, his eyes filled with a deep and abiding sadness. The clear understanding of all that Khadoran bullet had taken from him was overwhelmingly evident on Ecken’s face. It hurt Valkar to see it. “Not now, Valk,” Ecken said, putting the flask away. “Maybe I should eat something.”

Valkar looked away and wiped at his eyes, but he showed Ecken a smile when he turned back. “Right, lad; let’s get some food into you.”

***

Originally appeared in No Quarter #67, published by Privateer Press


If you’d like to read more about the dwarves of Baram Fort, you can do so right here on this blog. The story “Wayward Fortunes” features another adventure with the misfit Rhulfolk and their captain, Vornek Blackheel.

Acts of War: Aftershock – Crucible Guard in Acts of War

Last weekend Privateer Press held its annual convention Lock & Load in Bellevue, Washington, and announced a whole bunch of exciting things for the Iron Kingdoms, the setting for the tabletop miniatures games WARMACHINE and HORDES. I was at the convention signing copies of my new novel Acts of War: Aftershock, and perhaps not too surprisingly, the novel serves as a bit of a preview to one of those exciting announcements.

If you watched the keynote from Lock & Load, then you saw Privateer Press announce next summer’s new faction, the Crucible Guard. For those of you familiar with the Iron Kingdoms, you’ve no doubt realized the Crucible Guard are connected to the guild of alchemists called the Order of the Golden Crucible.

So, if you’re excited about the Crucible Guard (I sure as hell am), and you’d like a preview of what some of them can do, check out Acts of War: Aftershock, which features two upcoming models from the new faction, including one of their warcasters, Aurum Legate Lukas di Morray.

Here’s a little taste of Aurum Legate Lukas di Morray from Aftershock.


Lukas moved to a stand near the back of the armory where a suit of armor hung. Outwardly, it looked like a simple breastplate of yellow enameled steel with pauldrons, vambraces, and greaves. As Magnus got closer, he noticed the network of thin tubing that ran from the breastplate to the other pieces.

Magnus lifted the breastplate from the stand and set it on Lukas’ shoulders. He then noticed the strange contraption that occupied the same space as an arcane turbine on a traditional suit of warcaster armor. It consisted of half a dozen empty tubes, each about six inches long that jutted from the back plate in two rows of three.

Alyce stepped forward to help her husband with the rest of his armor. “There, on that table, you’ll find a case with twelve vials,” she said to Magnus, pointing at a low wooden table covered in ammunition crates.

Magnus found the case she’d indicated. Inside were a dozen vials of clear liquid with attached syringes. They looked like they would fit in the tubes across the back of Lukas’ armor. More of his serum.

Magnus watched as Alyce placed the syringes into the armor, pushing each one in firmly. Lukas grimaced as the needles punctured his flesh.

“They’re in,” she said.

Lukas took a deep breath and turned his right arm over, exposing the underside of the vambrace. A row of three studs or buttons rose from the steel plate, and he pushed the first one. A soft hiss arose from the back of his armor. He sighed like a man who finally had the one thing he most desired. The flesh on his face grew firmer beneath his beard, as if the weeks and months of his captivity had simply not happened. His back straightened, and his chest seemed to gain breadth and power. Aurum Legate Lukas di Morray was beginning to look like the war leader they had risked so much to free.


If you’d like to learn more about Aurum Legate Lukas di Morray and his wife Aurum Omnus Alyce di Morray, check out Acts of War: Aftershock, available below:

 

Get it in Print – $15.99
Get an eBook – $7.99

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

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 II

Week twenty-four and part two of the who’s who in Acts of War: Aftershock. This time we’re talking about the secondary POV characters, which are the antagonists for the novel. We get inside these characters’ heads but to a more limited degree than the primary POV characters. That’s not to say they aren’t important. Quite the opposite. In many ways these characters drive the story, forcing our heroes to make incredibly tough decisions that will echo into the next book and beyond.

Khador fans will certainly recognize these names, and once you read the novel, I think you’ll agree they’ve done the Motherland proud.

Supreme Kommandant Gurvaldt Irusk

Supreme Kommandant Gurvaldt Irusk was born to make war. Irusk’s meteoric rise to power is the product of sheer determination, devotion, and strategic brilliance. His instinctive grasp of tactics allows him to see weaknesses where others do not, his commanding presence inspires his soldiers to greatness, and his innate magical capabilities enable him to exploit every situation to the utmost. His accomplishments have inspired a generation of Khadoran officers and made his name known throughout western Immoren.

Perhaps the greatest military genius in the Khadoran army, and arguably in all of western Immoren, the High Kommand has named Supreme Kommandant Gurvaldt Irusk “the empire’s perfect officer.” He exercises absolute control over men and machines in the chaos of battle, and his accomplishments inspire awe and respect in both allies and enemies.

The invasion of Llael cemented Irusk’s reputation as one of the greatest military leaders in history. He began the campaign against Llael with a series of lighting attacks on the nation’s western cities and fortifications in the heart of winter. Not expecting an attack until spring when the traditional campaign season in the Iron Kingdoms began, these early assaults caught Llael completely by surprise. Irusk flawlessly coordinated his subordinate warcasters together with artillery, heavy infantry, and cavalry to win decisive victories against Llael time and time again. His attacks were performed with such speed and brutality that some parts of Llael surrendered without firing a shot.

Irusk is a perfectionist with an icy demeanor that promotes an air of absolute authority. He is devoted to the Motherland and despises the political machinations of men he considers beneath him, and he tends to negotiate in court with the same brutality he displays on the battlefield.

Irusk’s inability to capture Northguard in his initial assault stands as one of the few blemishes on his military record, and the empress’ scathing indictment of his failure shamed him deeply. After a short leave of absence, he returned determined to redeem himself in the eyes of his sovereign. When Irusk marched on Northguard a second time, he did so with the finest army ever assembled by the Khadoran Empire. The Cygnaran fortress fell after a single day, and Irusk personally raised the Khadoran flag over its ramparts. This was one of the highest points of his career.

Since that time, Irusk has endured a number of setbacks including Khador’s failure to secure the Thornwood in the last major clash with Cygnar. He believes this effort would ultimately have succeeded had he been given sufficient time and resources. Instead, the empress deemed the effort too costly and ordered him to withdraw to consolidate the empire’s other gains. While he understands the value of rebuilding Khador’s treasury, he considers the recent invasion of Llael by Cygnar to be a direct result of letting the enemy recoup its losses rather than forcing them to the breaking point. He intends to take whatever means are necessary to crush Cygnar’s recent invasion attempt.

Irusk enters combat with a saber that once belonged to his father, which he had transformed into the fearsome mechanikal weapon he now calls Endgame, a hand cannon, and a stunning array of arcane abilities. Though he is one of the greatest military minds in the Iron Kingdoms and excels at leading vast armies to victory, Irusk does not shirk from entering the fray personally. He is a formidable swordsman and his precise control of his warjacks and his human troops often make him more than a match for his counterparts in Cygnar and Llael.

Assault Kommander Oleg Strakhov

Assault Kommander Oleg Strakhov has spent decades carving a bloody trail through the kingdoms of western Immoren, eliminating high-profile targets and destabilizing opposing forces with well-orchestrated strikes. Strakhov stands as a Khadoran legend. Those who tell of his deeds speak of him as more specter than man, an unseen force capable of accomplishing impossible tasks under cover of night and leaving no evidence of his passage.

One of the most hated and feared warcasters in the Khadoran army, Oleg Strakhov has earned a well-deserved reputation for tactical genius and utter ruthlessness in battle. He is the consummate special-operations soldier and has served Khador for nearly two decades, though the particulars of his missions were only known to a select few until the invasion of Llael. Here Strakhov rose to prominence by eliminating many of Llael’s most competent commanders, including Archduke Alreg Vladirov and his command. The archduke’s removal early in the war was a crippling blow to the Llaelese.

Strakhov’s wartime accomplishments earned him the notice and respect of Kommandant Irusk, who called upon the kommander’s talents to help him create the new Assault Kommandos. Strakhov trained the kommando officers, forging them in his own image and instilling in them many of the tactics and brutal battlefield doctrines that made him so successful in Llael.

Strakhov has also been active in the hostilities with Khador’s greatest enemy: the nation of Cygnar. He led the Assault Kommandos in many battles against Cygnaran forces occupying the trenches surrounding the fortress of Northguard. There his Assault Kommandos were sorely tested but inflicted terrible casualties on the Trenchers opposing them. Eventually, they were instrumental in overrunning Cygnar’s forward positions in Irusk’s final attack on Northguard.

Many of Strakhov’s greatest successes involved covert missions where his improvisational skills were pushed to the limit. Fluent in multiple languages, Strakhov is an expert in operating behind enemy lines. He has performed feats such as disguising himself as a Cygnaran warcaster to gain access to city defenses during the Khadoran attack on Point Bourne. He subsequently infiltrated a Cryxian base to rescue Kommander Alexander Karchev before that revered warcaster could be turned into a weapon against the Motherland. Yet his skill and luck cannot always protect him from the risks he takes. Strakhov lost his eye in a brutal battle of wits and reflexes with Cygnar’s most esteemed gun mage strike team. Strakhov might as easily lost his life, so considers an eye a fair price. This setback only fueled his animosity toward Cygnar and its defenders.

Recently raised to the position of Assault Kommander, Strakhov continues to strike terror in the hearts of Khador’s enemies. Joined by his elite kommando escort and armed with a pair of mechanikal trench knives and a deadly death whisper carbine, Strakhov eliminates adversaries as readily either in the brutal press of melee or with a well-placed bullet from range and cover. He is skilled at using his warjacks and Assault Kommandos in ambushes or strikes against enemy positions, inflicting devastating casualties before the enemy can respond.

Note, the information in these two entries is drawn primarily from the Khador Command book (and some earlier resources).

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 9 Update Week 17 Update
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Week 3 Update Week 11 Update Week 19 Update
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Week 8 Update Week 16 Update

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