Have you ever had an anniversary sneak up on you? Well, that happened today. My wife’s Facebook feed came up with a five year old post where she had announced the availability of Eye of the Moonrat on Amazon.
That’s right. It has been five years since I became a (self) published author. I don’t know why it snuck up on me. Five years feels like it should be important. If I had a major publisher there might have been a special edition with new cover or something, I don’t know.
I thought this would be a good chance to look back. Many of you probably already know the story of how Eye of the Moonrat came to be. The main characters in my books have been around since my teenage years. Edge, Gwyrtha, Fist, and Deathclaw were character names in my role playing games, video games, and frequented my imagination as I kept notebooks full of evolving ideas.
My first draft of Eye of the Moonrat (Then called The Bowl of Souls) was written from the end of 2000 all the way through 2001. Dozens of rewrites (Including splitting the book into two) and 80 rejection letters from agents and publishers later I thought my dream of being a writer was dying. By the time 2012 came around I was burnt out.
I had several friends tell me that I should upload the book to Kindle. They told me it was a new platform and that people were getting rich selling their books. More importantly, publishers were taking notice and successful ebook authors were being signed to contracts.
I rejected the idea at first. I had looked into self-publishing many times and rejected the idea. Everything available was vanity publishing and that basically meant lots of money and trying to sell physical copies yourself. Even worse, if a major publisher did decide to pick you up they would only pay you for secondary publishing rights.
Nevertheless, in May of 2012 I was in a low place and decided to look up how to upload a book to Kindle. It was surprisingly easy. There were a few formatting issues but nothing I thought I couldn’t handle. The next thing I knew it was 2 AM. I had everything ready. All I had to do was hit submit.
On a whim, I did it. I published my book, knowing that I might be making a big mistake. In reality I had made a few mistakes. The formatting wasn’t perfect for one, and I didn’t have a finished cover. All I had was a photo of some woods in the dark. Some of my early kindle readers still see that photo when they pull up my book. (You can take care of that by going to your account and manage your kindle. There should be an update version next to Eye of the Moonrat and you can download the latest version.)
But the book was up. In order to get people to give me a chance I sold it for .99. A week later my brother Justin came over to my house and designed my original cover.
I went to Facebook and started begging friends and family to give it a try. I sold 90 copies that first month and though I knew where each of those sales had come from, I was encouraged. I hired a lady I met at a fiber festival to draw the second cover and uploaded Messenger of the Dark Prophet that July. Suddenly sales started to happen that I didn’t instigate myself.
It was an exciting time. I finished writing Hunt of the Bandham and released it in September. Enough money started to come in that my wife was able to quit her day job. In the summer of 2013 as I was working on Mother of the Moonrat, I quit my day job.
So here we are. It’s may 2017. I am working on my 13th book, the last book of the second Bowl of Souls Saga. Things haven’t worked out quite like I dreamed. I haven’t become rich and some months have been really rough, but I achieved my main goal. I write for a living. For that I am thankful. Thank you, dear readers for giving this guy a chance and for making this possible.
I have a gift for you. I don’t know how good of a gift it is. But it’s yours all the same. It’s my first Bowl of Souls story. You could even call it Pre-Bowl of Souls because I hadn’t fleshed out the world yet.
A few days ago I was talking to my daughter who is a burgeoning writer herself. I pulled out a thick old folder of mine filled with odd things I had written throughout the years. Mostly school assignments, but including some of my own little projects. The first thing I saw when I opened the folder was my very first attempt at writing the story of Edge.
It was late summer 1995. I had just turned nineteen and I decided that I wanted to write that book I had been planning throughout my high school years. I only made it thirty hand written pages before I fizzled out. No one had seen it since I showed it to my wife when we were dating.
I read that early story aloud to my daughter and I realized how much I had grown since I wrote it. It’s a bit ham-fisted. The description is lacking and the dialogue is cliche, the humor feels forced, but I like to think that the seeds of the writer I became are there. So I typed it up, word for word, only fixing glaring spelling and punctuation errors.
Some notes before you read: At the time I wrote this, I was really into comic books. I was also heavily influenced by the writings of R.A. Salvatore. My original version of Edge was a swashbuckling rogue. A mix of Han Solo and Drizzt Do’Urden. He’s a total scallywag. Fist and Gwyrtha were also very rough early versions of themselves. I’ll talk about it a bit more after you read it.
Here it is, warts and all. I had finished one chapter and was part through chapter two when I stopped. So it ends rather abruptly, just before a big fight scene that I was struggling with.
CHAPTER ONE: GOOD OLD-FASHIONED MALE BONDING
Pain! Pain seared every nerve in his body. Edge gritted his teeth and tried not to show it. The guy was good. Edge had never felt such horrible pain in his life. It was even more painful than the time he had bonded with Gwyrtha. Then he realized that the torturer hadn’t touched him that time.
Suddenly, a thunderous roar filled the room. An ogre that was shackled in the corner of the room ripped his chains out of the wall and charged the startled torturer. But before the torturer could scream for help, the ogre picked him up by the feet and slammed him into the wall.
Then the giant stood over the table that Edge was lying on and stared at him silently. Edge gritted his teeth and locked eyes with the beast. Sure that his end had come, he was determined that he would face it bravely.
“You,” a deep voice stated from a dusty corner of Edge’s mind.
Oh no! Edge thought. Then he looked with his magesight and saw the line of energy linking them.
“Great,” he moaned. “I’ve bonded with an ogre.”
Already he could feel the creature’s mind in the back of his head. Pretty soon, as the bond strengthened, he would always know what the monster was doing unless they were separated by great distances.
He sized up the ogre. It was about ten feet tall with massive arms. In fact, this thing was covered in muscles. Even though it was malnourished from being kept in a dungeon for weeks, it would be a very formidable opponent. Its face was not bad for an ogre, it had turned many a female head back home, but to a human it was pretty repulsive.
It had a bulbous nose, big bushy eyebrows, and one tooth that shot up about two inches past its upper lip. The rest of its teeth were in decent shape. It had even flossed regularly as the tribal shaman had told it to.
Wait a minute, Edge thought. How do I know all this? The bond must be strengthening already. Oh blackness! Why couldn’t I have a normal mager’s talent? It sure would help to conjure up some food right now, but noooo. I have to have the power to bond. What am I going to bond to next? A rat?
At least this would probably be the last thing he bonded to. No one in the history of people with Edge’s talent had ever bonded more than once.
“Okay, pal. What’s your name?” he asked.
“Look, we’re going to be stuck together for a long time so let’s start this off right.”
The ogre raised an arm and pointed to itself. “Fist,” a voice said into the back of Edge’s mind.
Oh, Just wonderful, Edge thought. It can mindspeak and I can’t.
Oh well. The bond would help it know what he was saying. “Alright, Fist. We’re trapped inside King Muldroomon’s dungeon with about five hundred soldiers between us and freedom. I don’t know about you, but to me that’s very bad odds. So how do you suppose we escape?”
The only answer was the meaty smack of Fist’s fist into his palm.
“I like your style, buddy,” Edge replied with a grin. He looked around, a plan already forming in his mind.
The room was fairly large. There were no other prisoners here, at least none that were alive. Edge would have probably ended up like the rest of them if his talent hadn’t chosen that exact moment to manifest itself.
He found some weapons among the torturer’s implements; a long slender whip with several jagged pieces of steel tied to the end, several rusty scalpels, and a dagger strapped to the dead torturer’s leg. Oh how he wished he had his swords, but these would have to do for the moment.
“Okay, Fist, let’s find you someth-.” There was no need to go on. Fist had already pulled a leg off of the torturer’s bench.
Edge tried the door, but as expected, it was locked. The guards had locked the torturer into the room with them and wouldn’t return to open it unless the torturer called.
He looked to the ogre. “Well, my friend, how about getting the door for me?”
Fist rained blow after blow on the door, but to no avail.
“Blackness! Someone heard that for sure! I suppose this means that they knew you were in here, huh buddy?” Edge remarked. “It’s a good thing that I happen to be the best lock-pick in Karpatha.” Which was a complete lie, but why not try? It couldn’t hurt.
It didn’t hurt, but it didn’t help either. Whoever built that place wasn’t stupid. They had prepared for every possible kind of prisoner.
Suddenly, they could hear the sounds of guards running down the corridor, having been summoned by the sound of Fist’s pounding.
“”It seems that King Muldroomon is prepared for everything, doesn’t it? So since we can’t force the door open, we’ll just have to let them open it for us.” That remark received a deep guffaw from Fist. Well, at least he’s got a sense of humor, Edge thought wryly.
They took their places at either side of the door and waited for what seemed like an eternity. They were about ready to think of something else when the door burst inward and a half dozen guards ran into the room.
Edge and Fist leapt out of their places beside the door and ran out into the corridor, slamming the door shut behind them. No normal pair of absolute strangers would have been able to pull that off without careful planning, but when people are bonded they can sense what the other person is about to do before they do it. It also didn’t hurt that both were veteran fighters.
Fist cocked his head and looked at Edge quizzically.
“I know, I know. We should have killed them, and in another situation I would have, but we just made Muldroomon’s soldiers look like fools. That, in turn, makes him look like a fool. Don’t ask me why, but I find it more fun that way.”
Fist gave an exasperated grunt and Edge heard that voice in his mind again. “What next?”
“Let’s move.” He started down the corridor. “I was drugged when they dragged me down here so I’m not sure which way to go. How about you?”
The ogre just turned around and started back the other way. He had been drugged too, but the jailers apparently hadn’t known the correct dosage for an ogre Fist’s size.
“You knew the right way? Why didn’t you tell me?” Edge complained. He really didn’t expect an answer so he was surprised when he got one.
“You’re in charge/”
Edge snorted. “Okay, if that’s the way you want it. But please, I’m always open to suggestions. Which way now?”
“Shh!” Fist’s acute hearing had picked up heavy breathing around the next corner.
Whoever it was knew that they were there, so why didn’t it move? Could it be another prisoner escaping? Probably not, but what else could it be? Surely one of Muldroomon’s soldiers would have charged as soon as he heard them. Edge was pretty sure that who or whatever it is was scared to death.
Fist reached out with his limited mindspeech and said, “Boo!”
Suddenly, an earshattering shriek echoed through the corridor.
“Way to go, Fist,” Edge said, not at all pleased. Someone was bound to have heard that. Edge ran around the corner and clamped his hand over her mouth. “The last thing we need to help us escape now is a screaming woman!”
Fist raised one bushy eyebrow, obviously not worried.
Edge looked down the stone corridor and saw a door several meters away. He dragged the girl, who was struggling all the way, down to it and kicked it in. He then pulled the girl inside and motioned Fist to follow.
“It wasn’t locked,” Fist said.
“I know, but I wanted to kick something,” Edge relied. Then he turned to his captive and whispered evilly into her ear. “Listen carefully, girl. I’m going to let go of your mouth now an-. Stop licking my hand! It’s not going to help you!” He paused, frustrated. “Now I am going to let go and when I do, if you scream, I’m going to cut your tongue out and feed it to my friend Fist over here.”
Fist played along and gave a hungry growl while licking his lips, all the while complaining mentally. “It’s cramped in here.”
He was right. The door had led into a maintenance closet, a rather small one actually. And with Fist’s bulk they were packed very tight indeed.
Edge nodded and removed his hand from the girl’s mouth. “Now, answer all my questions and don’t even think about escaping. There’s no room to move anyhow. What’s your name and what were you doing down here?”
“I am Elize M-Muldroomon. I-I was vi-isiting my- um, a friend when I heard a-a noise,” she said, obviously shaken, but trying not to show it.
The princess? Edge grinned. This was a very pleasant development. So she was visiting a friend in the dungeons, was she? Probably some lover that her father found out about. She could be their ticket out of there. Besides, he and Fist had a score to settle with King Muldroomon. A plan was starting to form in his mind.
He turned to the ogre. “Alright, Fist. We are going to split up. You find a way out of here. Wait for me about a mile north of the castle. The bond is probably strong enough by now that I will know how to find you when I’m finished. I’ve got to have a little chat with King Muldy.”
Fist grunted, turned and left without a word.
Edge looked back at the princess who seemed very relieved that Fist was gone. “Elize if you are a good girl and lead me to your pappy I’ll see what I can do about letting your ‘friend’ escape.”
“But my father i-.”
“No buts. Just yes sirs,” he said and without letting her answer, continued, “Now go. And remember, I’ve still got a knife in your back.” To emphasize that point, he gave her a little poke. That received a yelp and he had to cover her mouth again. “Don’t be stupid, girl! Now move!”
He removed his hand once again and she led the way down the hall. Edge tried to put on a show of nonchalance as they passed several guards. Oh great. Maybe this wasn’t the smartest thing I could’ve done.
He knew that if push came to shove, he couldn’t kill the girl. He’d had to do that kind of thing once before and it was something he had always regretted. Well, he would just have to hope that it didn’t come to that. But if it did he would think of something. He always had.
* * *
Fist decided to take the direct route. Of course it would be hard for him to take any other. He was far too big to hide in the shadows and his footfalls made too much noise for him to be quiet. Besides, any commotion he made would draw attention away from Edge.
So he ran down the corridors. When there was a turn he trusted his instincts and went in whatever direction felt right. Whenever a guard stumbled upon him, Fist would smash him to the side and keep going.
Finally, he came to a hallway that ended in a large door. With his acute ogre senses, he could smell fresh air. Fist went to the door and tried to open it, but it was locked. He was about to ram it down when he heard running steps behind him.
Just as the hapless soldier had thought his spear would pierce the ogre’s back, Fist turned around, grabbed the end of the spear and pulled it out of the now petrified soldier’s hand. He then looked straight into the terrified soldier’s face and mindsent, “Open it!”
The soldier did so gladly hoping that the ogre wouldn’t kill him. As soon as the door was opened, Fist slammed the soldier aside and leapt out of the door. This landed him right in front of a regiment of Muldroomon’s soldiers.
* * *
The girl led Edge to a thick cast-iron door. He could smell quite a stench coming from inside.
“Um, excuse me, Elize, but you were supposed to bring me to your father. Not your friend. We haven’t climbed any stairs. So I assume that we are still in the dungeon. Unless, of course, this is a one level castle!”
“I tried to tell you before, but you wouldn’t listen! No, you just poked me in the back and told me to shut up!” She laughed mysteriously. “Now just look inside.”
Edge looked through the peephole in the door and laughed aloud. “This is your ‘friend’? Well, hello, King Muldy! How’s the air in there?” But Muldroomon didn’t respond. “Muldy?”
He was so perplexed that he didn’t hear the woman’s bloody death gurgle behind him. Suddenly, he felt the point of a blade digging into his back. Maybe I won’t feel so guilty killing this girl after all, he thought. But then he heard an oh-so familiar laugh and realized that it wasn’t Elize behind him after all. “Hammy, is that you?”
“I have always hated it when you call me that. Well. I’ll just have to take comfort in the fact that you will not be saying it any more. I am going to kill you this time, you know,” said Hamford Malakerot, Muldroomon’s first in command.
“Oh, I have no doubt in my mind at all. In fact, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think I was dead right now,” Edge replied.
So, Edge thought. Muldroomon’s in here. That means that either Hammy’s taken the kingdom over or there’s someone else involved that I don’t know about.
He cleared his throat. “But before you do kill me, Hamford, I’m curious. What’s old King Muldy doing in that cell?”
“The same thing that you’ll be doing in a couple of minutes Edge. He’s feeding the flowers.” Hamford grinned evilly and Edge could smell the man’s putrid breath waft over his shoulder. “Elize even got to take the pleasire of doing him in for me. Didn’t you, honey? Oh, I forgot. She can’t say anything either, can she?”
Then it all clicked. “So that’s why I was captured and brought here. You needed a scapegoat. You didn’t need to have me tortured though, you idiot! I would have killed him myself if you had only asked,” Edge hissed venomously. “Oh well. At least I’ll be able to say that I rid myself of two enemies today.”
“You won’t be able to say anything in a few seconds, Edge.” Hamford’s words were punctuated by a loud crunch.
Edge turned to face Fist.
“He was right. I’m speechless!” he exclaimed. “What in the seven pits took you so long? A few seconds more and I would’ve had to kill him myself!”
“You’re welcome,” Fist replied, wiping the blood-stained table leg on Hamford’s jerkin.
Edge smiled and clapped his new friend on the shoulder. Then he looked around. “Now we’re rally in a mess, though. They’ll blame us not only for the death of Hammy, but for Muldroomon and Elize as well.” He thought for a moment. “It doesn’t matter to me. I’m already a wanted criminal here. But what about you?”
“I’m with you.” Fist mindspoke. The bond was strong enough at this point that he was able to send to Edge’s mind directly the reasons why.
“You haven’t got anything to go back to either, huh? Well, glad to have you with me. Gwyrtha is on her way here now. She always knows when I need her. Let’s go out and meet her.”
“I forgot to tell you,” Fist sent. What was left of the regiment of soldiers were on their way with reinforcements. Fist’s story was punctuated by the sounds of many running men echoing down the corridor.
Edge bent and retrieved his swordbelt from around Hamford’s waist. The scoundrel always had coveted his swords.
“You know,” Edge sighed. “For some reason, continuing to make good-old-dead- King Muldy look bad has lost its appeal to me. Besides, I could really use a good workout right now.”
That having been said, they prepared for battle.
CHAPTER TWO: GWYRTHA
They fought for an hour, cutting a bloody trail through the seemingly endless supply of guards. Edge desperately fought exhaustion, yet he still did not grow careless. Skillfully, he sliced his way through the enemy with a precision only seen in sword masters.
For a while he fought blindly, using only sound and smell to pinpoint the enemies’ location for he did not have the time to put down one of his swords to wipe the blood and sweat from his eyes. Fist sensed his problem and let out a roar so fierce that the guards halted momentarily. This was plenty long for Edge to clear his vision.
“Thanks, pal!” Edge grunted between deadly swings of his swords. “But next time don’t yell so close to my ear!”
So far, luckily for the two heroes, they had been fighting in the tight corridors of the castle, which made it relatively easy for them to defend. They were holding their own until they came upon a point where the corridor branched off in four directions. At this point they had been running out of guards to kill, but reinforcements came. From two directions.
From the north corridor came big trouble; Muldroomon’s court wizard, Dacron. He was a violet mager and always wore the color purple. Violet magers used a blend of fire, water, and wind in their magic. The nonmagers called them steam wizards.
Dacron was one of the most powerful magers in the kingdom and the most influential. In fact, he was probably next in line to the throne, now that Hamford and Elize were dead.
Luckily for them, from the south corridor came Edge’s reinforcement; Gwyrtha. She had followed Edge’s presence nonstop since she had laid her egg.
She was a unique rogue mare in that part reptile, part horse. She had scales covering most of her legs, head, and belly, but the rest of her was covered in hair. Her head and front legs were definitely reptilian while her hindquarters and back were equine. She was also unique for a part reptile in that she was warm-blooded.
Rogue horses live in cycles. For one month of the year they are fertile. During that month they leave their normal life and seek a mate. When the month is over they return as if nothing had happened.
Gwyrtha had left Edge to find a mate in the spring and after a long search she had found a rogue stallion that was part bird. Their child would be an interesting creature indeed if it survived.
Rogue colts rarely survived their first year because of the strange mutations that they were born with. Rogue horses are a rainbow mix of breeds. Their creator had experimented on many varieties. They ranged from bird to fish and from intelligent to unthinking. The only thing that they had in common was their equine side. In the thousands of years since their creation so many different variations had been born that it was almost impossible to document them all.
Gwyrtha’s particular attributes made her extremely fast and incredibly dangerous. The six-inch claws on her feet made excellent weapons and the two-inch teeth in her mouth were also very formidable. Her front legs were slightly shorter than her rear so at great speeds she would run solely on her hindquarters.
She wore a saddle of sorts. It was more like a leather blanket strapped to her back. Edge used no bridle, but simply held onto her mane as she ran. There was no need for him to direct her because she could tell through the bond which way that he wanted her to go.
Gwyrtha was of medium intelligence and although she couldn’t speak she had a vicious way of making her intentions known. Edge was just glad that she used the bond instead.
So there it is. You can see some of the undeveloped ideas. For some reason I thought that calling magic users “magers” made me somehow different. I’m also not quite sure why I made Fist unable to speak and gave him mindspeech and enhanced senses. Certain things about this early version of Gwyrtha don’t work at all for me now. The idea of her running on her back legs like a T-Rex or something seemed cool at the time, but now if feels awkward. Running on four legs is much faster.
Also, I have got to say that I’m glad I dropped the whole egg-laying thing and killing off Hamford and Elize right away. They became much richer characters.
My daughter read this and said, “Wow, Edge is mean.” I didn’t think of him as mean. This was the 90’s. He was comic book level snarky. As this was the beginning of the story, I intended to show his softer side later on. This was my action beginning.
At any rate, I hope you enjoyed this. This is a peek into my 19-year-old imagination. By the time 2000 came around I understood more about storytelling and what made a character interesting. I wasn’t as interested in starting out my story with a fully fledged elite warrior rogue. I decided to get to know Edge before he was Edge. Thus Justan was born.
Looking back it is easy to see all the pain that got me here. But I am grateful for the trials. Without them, I wouldn’t be the writer I am and definitely my characters wouldn’t be the people they are.
Once again, thank you for reading and as always, please spread the word. My books have reached a nice sized audience I think, but I am still a relative unknown. Those publishers never came calling. Without your help I wouldn’t be able to keep this going.
Trevor H. Cooley
May 20, 2017