Trevor H. Cooley Author of the Bowl of Souls Series.

The Ogre Apprentice – Chapter Two

Howdy folks!

I told you I would do this, so here goes. Chapter Two.

Some cool reveals in this chapter. This is stuff I have been wanting to get around to telling for a long time so this is pretty exciting. A lot of the chapters in this book are this way. There is so much information I want to tell the readers, it is a lot like Mother of the Moonrat in that way.

At any rate, here it is:

 

And SPOILER ALERT. If you haven’t read all the other books in the series, read those first.

 

 

Link to Chapter One HERE if you missed it.

 

Chapter Two

 

Fist sent threads of earth magic into the ground, causing a column of dirt to erupt from the ground under the oncoming giant’s feet. Charz, having seen Fist use this spell before, anticipated the attack and jumped, letting the force of the blast launch him into the air towards the ogre.

Startled, Fist dove to the side, barely avoiding the prongs of Charz’s trident as they pierced into the ground where he had been standing. “Hey! We’re not trying to kill each other.”

Charz chuckled and whirled to face Fist again. “You wake me up this early and expect me to go easy on you?”

“No,” said Fist. “But be careful. If you stab me with that thing, I might bleed to death before the wizards could heal me. I don’t heal as fast as you.”

Charz snorted. “I’ve been fighting for centuries. You think I can’t avoid a mortal blow when I want to?”

“I guess,” Fist said suspiciously. The real question was whether, in the heat of battle, the giant could control himself. He took several steps back and squared his shoulders. “Then let’s start again.”

Charz grinned and charged.

Fist sent threads of magic into the ground again, but enacted the spell sooner, launching the earth further in front of the giant’s feet. Charz felt the rumble under his feet and leapt, but this time the column of dirt struck him in the chest, knocking him backwards to land on his back.

Charz laughed. “Good one!”

But the spell had served a secondary purpose. The force of the eruption had also sent a cloud of dust into the air, setting up Fist’s next move. The ogre sent out a web of water, condensing in the air around the giant.

While Charz stood, the water and dust mixed creating a fine mist of mud that hung suspended in the air. Then Fist triggered an air spell and the mud was sucked against the giant’s body, hardening as Fist drew the moisture out. Within moments, Charz was encased in two inches of solid clay and looked like a sloppily formed sculpture.

Fist let out a whoop of excitement that the spell had worked. Darlan had been drilling the particulars into him for weeks, having him practice on various objects. This was the first time he had used it against a living combatant.

Fist paused, breathing hard. That spell had taken a lot out of him. In addition, his ear was bothering him again. The itch had become a throb. He ignored it as cracks began to appear in the statue.

The ogre took a few steps back and began preparing his next attack. He sent another web of water into the air. A cloud of fog-like mist began forming in the room.

Charz shattered the rock around him with a roar, sending pottery-like shards of hardened clay everywhere. The giant stepped out of the broken rock around his feet and swung around to face Fist, managing to look both angry and amused as he peered through the thickening fog towards the ogre.

“Good one, Fist. But I’m kind of mad that we haven’t struck any blows yet,” Charz said, shaking his trident, which was still encased in thick rock. “You have any magic left in you after that?”

“Yes,” the ogre replied, though truthfully he wasn’t sure whether he had enough left in him to make the next spell work. It was the biggest one and the most complicated. This spell was the main reason Darlan hadn’t wanted him to go with Justan and he definitely knew she wouldn’t like him trying it now, but he began to enact it anyway. He began increasing the vibration of the earth and air magic around him.

Charz smacked his trident against the ground but was only able to knock a chunk of rock loose. “And we’ll fight after you’re done messing around?”

“If I can still stand,” Fist replied, drooping slightly as he poured more and more energy into the vibration.

“You trickster, you’re about to fall over now,” Charz sneered and tossed his unwieldy weapon aside. He pointed at the ogre. “I’m gonna get at least one punch in, I’ll promise you that.” The giant charged again.

It was time. Fist roared, putting everything he had into the spell. He sent the vibrating and crackling threads of magic away from his body in a violent burst. Charz leapt toward him, his large arms spread wide.

The room filled with a blinding light as bolts of electricity blossomed into existence, arcing through the air using the thick watery mist as a conductor. For a fraction of a second, time stopped for Fist. He saw the spell clearly with his mage sight as well as his regular vision. White lightning filled the room, completely engulfing the oncoming giant.

He had done it. He had enacted the spell Darlan had told him about. The one that she had told him was too dangerous. Maybe now he could show her and she might change her mind and let him join Justan in Malaroo!

Then the fraction of a second ended and Fist was hit by the effects of his own spell. The same arcs of electricity that had struck the giant pierced through the meager barrier of earth magic that he had hoped to use to protect himself.

He barely registered the deafening crack of thunder that followed the lightning as the giant’s hurtling body struck him.

 

The next thing Fist heard were the words, “-you idiot!”

A hand wrenched his nose and the ogre’s eyes fluttered open. Darlan’s angry visage came into view and Fist grimaced. “Ow! What-?”

“That’s right, Fist. Wake up!” The wizardess pried back his eyelids and caused a flickering flame to appear in front of his face. For some reason she was kneeling beside him. She glanced away from him. “His pupils are responsive.”

“You mustn’t be so harsh with him, Darlan dear,” said an older woman’s voice. “He has been through quite a bump.”

Darlan didn’t look at the woman who spoke. “I will deal with my apprentice in my own way, thank you very much.” She placed her hands on Fist’s chest and he felt a slight tingle of magical energy enter his body. Fist groaned and tried to sit up but searing pain shot through him at the attempt and he collapsed.

“Stop moving, you big dumb ogre!” Darlan demanded, her face tight with concentration. “Stay still while I examine you.”

Where was he? He turned his head and saw a stark, empty room with gray walls. He was still in the testing center and he was lying on the dirt. Despite the pain, he felt sleepy and it was hard to focus his concentration.

Stupid! Squirrel barked and Fist felt the creature’s worry surging through the bond. He turned his head the other direction to see that Squirrel was sitting next to him. His little fists were clenched and one foot was tapping the ground.

I’m okay, Squirrel. I think.

Fist slowly realized that there were several other people in the room around him. It was hard to focus, but he saw Wizard Larus and Mage Ella standing nearby, both excellent healers. Charz was there too. Patches of his rocky skin were blackened and he was frowning at Fist while he spoke with Alfred. There were also a few others the ogre didn’t recognize. An old dwarf, a short-haired elf, and a female gnome were standing next to Charz, looking at Fist with their arms folded, amusement in their eyes.

The old woman who had spoken earlier was standing behind Darlan and looking down at him with a kind and sympathetic smile. She wore a white robe with an odd symbol embroidered on her sleeves in silver. Fist wondered why the old woman had just called Darlan by her chosen name instead of Sherl.

He tried to speak to the woman, but it was hard to stay awake. His deep voice was slurred as he said, “Wh-who are y . . .”

“Hey!” Darlan wrenched his nose again. “You look at me when I’m speaking to you.”

“Ow. I-I’m sorry Misstresss Sherrl,” Fist replied, forcing his eyes to stay open. He groaned. “Oh, I hurts all over.”

“Of course you do!” Darlan snapped. Her normally winsome features were pinched with anger and worry. “This is what happens when you get struck by a direct bolt of lightning.”

“Oh . . . right.” Fist’s eyelids began to droop. “Sso tired.”

“He has mild burns throughout his body,” Darlan announced, speaking to the others. “Even in some of his internal organs.”

“Ohh,” Fist said. The damage must truly have been extensive because there wasn’t a part of him that didn’t hurt. “Thhhat was how I feels. Like when I burnn my fingers, but all over. Hey, Misstress Sherrl. Whhhy do I sound drunk?”

“It’s a possible head injury, dear,” said the old woman looking over Darlan’s shoulder. Despite her sagging cheeks and wrinkles, the woman had vibrant blue eyes. Strange how much energy was in them at her age.

“You have prretty eyes,” he told her.

“Why thank you,” the old woman replied.

He returned his bleary gaze to Darlan. “Can I ssleep now?”

“No sleeping until after we’ve healed you,” Darlan said. “And focus on what I’m telling you.”

Had she been talking? “Sorry ‘bout that.”

“Don’t you ‘sorry’ me, Fist!” She waved the healers over. “Alright, Ella, you take his limbs. Larus, please see to his organs. You’re better at that kind of work than I am. I’ll work on his head. Let me know if you need my assistance.”

They crouched beside him and Darlan scooted over until she was kneeling above his head. She placed her hands at either side of face and nodded. All three of them began healing him at once. Fist cried out in surprise at the intensity of the magic that surged through his body. All thoughts of sleep ended and all he could do was clench his teeth and endure the sensation.

The healing went on for several minutes, Fist wincing as repaired nerves fired back up. The last thing that was fixed seemed to be his memory, because it wasn’t until they had nearly finished that he realized how much trouble he was in.

Finally, the tingle of their magic left his body and the healers stood. While Darlan thanked them, Fist climbed to his feet. He swayed a little, feeling almost as tired as he had before they had healed him. But this time, his mind was wide awake. The healers waved at him and he called out a thank you as they left.

Then Darlan punched him in the arm. “It was the ‘Cloud of Lightning’ spell, wasn’t it?” she demanded, shooting him a glare that he was sure would burn holes in his skin. He opened his mouth, but she didn’t bother to wait for his response. “Did I not tell you that spell was too dangerous to try on your own?”

“Yes, Mistress Sherl, but-.”

“Did you know that you stopped breathing?”

Fist’s eyes widened. “I did?”

“Indeed!” she snapped. “You are lucky that Charz was here to revive you.”

He turned grateful eyes on the giant. “You revived me? Thank you, Charz.”

“I ain’t talking about it!” the giant said.

“He was breathing the life back into you when we arrived,” said Alfred, holding back a laugh.

“I told you I didn’t want to talk about it!” Charz growled.

Darlan sighed, running a hand through her hair. “I was looking for you all over this morning. Luckily Alfred pointed me this way. I was right next to the testing center when Squirrel fell out of the tree next to me.”

“You fell out of a tree?” Fist asked in surprise.

Squirrel had climbed up the ogre’s body while Darlan was berating him. He was sitting on the ogre’s shoulder, his back to Fist’s head. I’m angry.

“He struck the ground, stiff as a stick!” Darlan said. “I fear the shock of what happened to you nearly killed him.”

Fist swallowed, a surge of guilt rising inside him. “I-I didn’t think-.”

“No you didn’t!” Darlan said. “You are a bonding wizard, remember? If you die, Squirrel dies too. Think these things through before you do something stupid!”

Fist’s shoulders slumped. I’m so sorry, Squirrel.

The old woman put her hand on Darlan’s shoulder and said sweetly, “Come now, dear. Look at the poor boy. He understands. You’ve berated him enough.”

“Oh have I now?” Darlan held her hand out towards Fist. There was something in her palm. “Tell me, Fist. What’s this?”

Fist squinted at the item on her palm. It looked like a small plant. “I . . . don’t know.”

“Are you sure? I found it in your ear while I was healing you,” she said accusingly.

“Oh, you shouldn’t put things in your ear, dear,” said the old woman, shaking her head.

“It’s a honstule sprout,” Darlan continued. “I’m surprised you could hear. Its little roots were digging into your ear drum. At the rate these plants grow, it could have done major damage in a few more hours.”

“Squirrel did it!” Fist declared, pointing at the beast.

Squirrel snorted and turned his nose up at the ogre.

“You shouldn’t place blame on others,” Darlan replied with a frown.

“He did!” Fist insisted. “He was being naughty last night. He shoved a bunch of seeds in my ear when I was sleeping.”

Darlan placed a weary hand on her forehead. “What am I going to do with you two?”

“Oh they’ll be fine,” the old woman told Darlan, patting Fist’s arm as she spoke. Her hair was silvery gray and she kept it tied back behind her head in a braid. She reached up to tuck a stray hair behind her ear and Fist noticed a rune on the palm of her left hand. This woman was named.

“Children always are,” the woman continued. “You know, your father was terrible with that kind of thing. Always sticking things where they shouldn’t go. His nose or ears, whatever holes were handy, really. Artemis was worried half to death about it. But I told him that the boy would be fine and I was right. He grew out of it.”

“I’m not a child. I’m twenty years old,” Fist said in protest, but then something she said struck him. “Did you say Artemis?”

“Yes, dear. My late first husband,” the woman said, smiling at some distant memory. “He was a sweet man. A good man. I still miss him terribly.” She shook her head, dismissing the memory. “But that was long ago.”

Fist blinked. Surely it was a coincidence. The woman was old, but surely she couldn’t be that old. Humans didn’t live that long. Did they?

Darlan cleared her throat. “Fist, I should introduce you. This is my grandmother, Mistress Sarine.”

Fist’s eyebrows rose. So he was right. “Your grandma? Then she was married to Justan’s great grand-.”

Darlan gave him a warning look. “Yes. That’s right, Fist. Not only is my Grandma Begazzi still alive, I found out last night that she’s actually better known as the ‘famous’ Mistress Sarine, one of the Prophet’s companions!”

Fist wasn’t well versed in human history, but he had heard Justan mention the Prophet’s companions. They were the group of warriors and wizards that had marched on the Dark Prophet’s palace. That meant that this woman would have been at the Prophet’s side when the Dark Prophet was defeated two hundred years ago.

“She is also our new council historian,” Darlan continued, a bitter note in her voice. “Another in a long list of facts I learned when she arrived last night.”

“Why Darlan, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you weren’t happy I’m here,” Sarine scoffed.

“I . . .” Darlan’s mouth worked for a moment before words finally spilled out. “It’s just sudden and bizarre, don’t you think? You’ve been alive my whole life without telling me. Even after my father and mother died and I thought I was completely alone! And suddenly you show up calling me, ‘dear’ like you had been around the whole time?”

“Firstly, I’m an old woman. I call everyone ‘dear’,” Sarine protested. “And I have been around! As much as I was allowed. I couldn’t come in person, but I sent you letters. And gifts!”

“Right . . . The packages from my mysterious auntie, living with the elves in Khalpany,” Darlan said.

“It was true. Except for the ‘auntie’ part,” she admitted. “But that’s where I’ve been. In the Pruball Elf Homeland.” She gestured at the elf standing next to Charz. “The olives I sent came from Kyrkon’s own vineyard.”

“Oh! You’re the one who sent Mistress Sherl the elf olives!” Fist said in understanding.

Darlan had been receiving boxes of Khalpany Olives every few months for years. The intense elven magic in them is what had been keeping Darlan and Faldon young for so long. As far as Justan had been able to figure, his mother was over 150 years old and his father at least a hundred.

Fist looked at Darlan. “But you said that an old client of yours was sending them.”

“My ‘auntie’ swore me to secrecy,” Darlan replied in a half grumble. “Her letters said that she was sending me the olives as part of a promise to my mother.”

“It was!” Sarine said indignantly. “I promised your mother that I would look after you and I did the best I could from afar.”

“I told you she wasn’t gonna understand, Begazzi,” said the gray-haired dwarf standing by Charz. He was dressed in brown travel clothes that looked like they needed a good washing and he had the oddest beard. His upper lip was clean-shaven, but the beard was so long that he had tucked the end of it into his trousers. “It’s gonna take a while.”

“Oh, Fist, I have been remiss!” Darlan said. “I should introduce you to these fine people as well. The dwarf here is named Bill. The elf is Kyrkon. And the Gnome is Maryanne.” She forced a smile. “They are Sarine’s bonded.”

Fist’s jaw dropped. “She’s a bonding wizard too?”

Darlan nodded half-mockingly. “Interesting how they left that part out of the histories.”

Sarine sighed, “Yes, dear. I am a bonding wizardess and a sorceress. Now do you understand why I had to stay in hiding? At the time of the ban, my name had become famous in the land as a wizardess, but I am a spirit magic specialist. I have no elemental talent whatsoever. I couldn’t hide in plain sight like some of the others.”

After the Dark Prophet’s defeat two hundred years previous, the Prophet had banned the use of spirit magic in Dremaldria. He had forbidden all of the Mage Schools from teaching it and had even taken all mention of it out of the schools’ libraries. The wizards that specialized in its use went into hiding. By the time Justan was born spirit magic was all but forgotten. Its existence hadn’t been acknowledged until the Prophet had lifted the ban just a few short months ago.

“I’d still be in Khalpany if John hadn’t sent me a letter saying that I could return,” Sarine continued. “The letter from Wizard Valtrek offering me the position on the council arrived only a week later.”

“Odd how he didn’t tell me about that,” Darlan said and from the irritation in her voice, Fist knew that Valtrek’s letter was news to her.

“Please understand, Darlan. I had no choice but to submit to exile,” Sarine said. “A command from the Prophet is a command from the Bowl of Souls itself. As a named wizardess, I could not disobey.”

Some of the hardness left Darlan’s eyes. “Please, Mistress Sarine, forgive me for being upset. Your dwarf-, uh, Bill is right. It will take some time for me to get used to this, but I’m . . . glad you’re here.”

Sarine put on a look of deepest understanding and grasped her granddaughter’s arm. “Oh, Darlan. I know. I know. It has been a difficult return for me as well. I never wanted to leave this school and now that I’m back-.” She waved an arm. “Well, it is so different. This big ugly building, for instance. It wasn’t here in my day. Do you mind if we leave this dreadful room and go outside?”

“Of course,” said Darlan, trying her best to sound as cheerful as Sarine. “Come, Fist. You should tag along while I think of a fitting punishment for your chicanery this morning.”

Fist blinked. “Uh, I think you mean skullduggery, Mistress Sherl.”

“Shut up and follow me,” she replied, leading Sarine to the door.

Sarine’s bonded began following after them, but the female gnome paused in front of the doorway and turned to face Fist. Maryanne looked young for a gnome, with long auburn hair that covered her droopy ears and a petite mouth that was turned up in an assessing smile. She was well over seven-feet-tall and lithely muscular, wearing a skin-tight suit of elf-made leather armor. She had a rune encrusted bow slung over one shoulder while a quiver bristling with arrows was slung over the other.

“So you’re bonded to Sarine’s grandchild, huh?” Maryanne said. She traced a finger down the muscles of one of Fists massive arms. “I think you’re kinda cute.”

She turned and trotted out the door and Fist looked back at Charz with wide eyes. The giant shook his head slowly and with a roll of his eyes said, “Gnomes.”

Alfred laughed.

 

END OF CHAPTER TWO

The Ogre Apprentice Cover Reveal

Howdy folks!

This one has been a long time coming. Or at least it has been a long time for me. I first came up for the idea of this cover back in August after polling my Facebook page. I asked whether or not Fist should be featured on the cover and I was surprised by the response. It was split with both sides equally enthusiastic. “Yes! I want to see Fist!” or  “No! Fist should stay in my mind’s eye where he belongs!”

Well, guys, I heard both of ya.

 

TOA-ebook

I decided to ask Renu to depict Fist, but not to show his face. Therefore he is facing away from us. Only Squirrel (wearing one of the vests Darlan made him) gets to be fully seen. The reason I chose this particular image is that I wanted to show the odd nature of Fist as an enormous ogre studying at the Mage School. He is wearing his black robes, denoting his strength in earth magic, and is also wearing his mace sheath strapped over the robes. It is a fashion faux pas to be sure, but what can I say? He’s an ogre.

Here are two of the most common I have heard from the few people who have seen it so far:

Q: Why isn’t Fist’s skin green?

A: He isn’t Shrek. Ogres in the Bowl of Souls world are big brutish neanderthal types with skin tones similar to humans.

Q: Why is Squirrel wearing a vest?

A: Darlan started making vests for Squirrel in Book Five. He has an assortment of different colored ones in his pouch and changes in and out of them often like a four year old who just learned how to dress himself.

Here’s the blurb on the back cover:

A Bowl of Souls Novel

Justan’s time in Malaroo isn’t going well. A deadly shape-shifting assassin seeks his life and he is struggling to win over Jhonate’s father.

Fist is the only ogre ever to train at the Mage School. He is determined to make the most of this opportunity, but his plans are derailed and his burgeoning powers tested when he receives a visit from the tribe he had long thought dead.

An army closes in on the grove, a new race of monsters emerges from the swamps, and a great evil grows in the mountains. The survival of the known lands may depend on the strength of The Ogre Apprentice.

 

I know you guys are wanting an update on the release date and I know I have been nothing but full of excuses the last two months. I’m sorry for that. What I can say is this. I am working on it. I am close. We are talking hopefully before Christmas. I feel terrible about the delay and I will post chapter two here on the site between now and then. Thank you all for your patience.

Please let me know what you think of the cover.

Trevor H. Cooley

The Ogre Apprentice – Chapter One

Howdy folks!

Well I was hoping to have the book finished by now, but I am still working on the ending. There is so much potential in it and I want to get it right. Unfortunately this means that the release is being pushed back a little bit more.

“How much?” you ask.

As little of a delay as possible. Once I finally have the book completed, my wife and I will do our final editing pass and we will release it immediately. When that happens I will let you know right here.

There have also been some delays in getting the cover finished. I hope to be able to reveal that soon.

So in the meantime, I thought I would try to tide you over with chapter one.

SPOILER ALERT if you have not finished Protector of the Grove, you should stop reading here. Otherwise, enjoy!

 

Chapter One

Fist’s dreams were disturbing and violent. This wasn’t unusual for the ogre. He had lived a life often filled with violence. It was part of him, something at odds with his gentle nature. What made these dreams stand out tonight was how vivid they were.

They began with a recurring dream. It was one that Fist had dreamt dozens of times since leaving the Thunder People tribe. It was always similar with only minor variations, and had become so commonplace to Fist that it didn’t cause him anxiety anymore.

He was wearing his apprentice robes and reclining, floating peacefully on a bed made of cloud, unafraid of being so high in the sky above the earth below. Life was perfect. After all, he was learning so many things and he had friends now and Justan had survived his meeting with Jhonate’s father. Fist relaxed in the fluffy softness, content just feeling the hot sun on his body.

His peace was interrupted by a thudding noise. He sat up and turned his head to see his father Crag running at him, his large feet obliterating the clouds beneath him with every step. Fist didn’t know how his father had gotten up there, but following closely behind Crag was an army of winged beasts, dark and terrible.

Crag yelled at him to stand up and fight, but Fist didn’t want to. He laid back on the cloud and closed his eyes, focusing on the warmth of the sun, the part of him that knew this was a dream willing the darkness to go away. But it didn’t work. The sounds of his father’s footsteps and the approaching army grew louder until Fist opened his eyes and Crag stood over him, blood running down his body from several open wounds. His face was as pummeled and swollen like it had been the last time Fist had seen him; beaten nearly to death by Fist’s own hands.

“Go away father,” Fist said sadly. “You’re dead.”

“Toompa!” his father yelled and swung his arm down in a mighty punch. Crag’s fist caught Fist in the chest and knocked him through the cloud. Fist watched his father’s disappointed face get smaller and smaller as he fell unprotected through the sky towards the earth below.

Normally Fist would plunge into water at this point, but this time the dream shifted and he never struck the ground. Instead, he was back in the mountains of his youth, at the edge of the Thunder People territory. His robes were gone and he was wearing only fur wraps like he had in the old days, but he was carrying the mace Lenny had made for him. It was a good thing too, because he needed it for the horde that approached him.

It was at this point that he forgot it was a dream. It was real and Fist was angry; angry and fearful because his tribe was under attack. His face contorted with rage as he swung his weapon back, its magic enhancing his speed. The mace was long and heavy with a spherical head. One half of the head was covered in wicked spikes, the other half with rough ridges and Fist put it to good use.

He punctured and tore through flesh with the spikes and bashed in the heads of the enemy with the ridges. He couldn’t identify the assailants right away. Their faces were blurry. But what did it matter? They fell around him as if they were made of melons, smashing and splattering to pieces, showering him with gore.

Fist exhulted. The battle was easy. The enemy’s attacks were weak, leaving nothing but superficial wounds on his skin. Why had he been so fearful?

He looked around for the rest of his tribe and found himself battling alone, surrounded by the enemy. Had the others fallen to the enemy or had they abandoned him? He didn’t know the answer, but he fought on, destroying the enemy with tireless strikes.

Then something caught his eye. A lone boulder rose above the enemy ranks. The faceless horde clawed at the rock, trying to climb it. Sitting atop the boulder was Squirrel’s leather pouch and by the way it contorted, Squirrel was still inside!

Fist shouted and began forcing his way towards his friend, but the enemy resisted. Something about them had changed. No longer did they burst apart and yield before him. They held firm, each one of them taking several strikes to bring down. Their weapons improved too. Several times Fist felt daggers pierce his flesh.

He ignored the wounds and fought on, bellowing for Squirrel to flee. The pouch continued to move as the enemy climbed toward it, but Squirrel did not come out. Fist arrived at the boulder and started to climb, pulling the enemy climbers down as he went, ignoring the fierce stabbings of the assailants behind him. Finally he reached the top of the rock and stood exhausted. Blood dripped from his body, some of it his, but most of it the enemy’s.

He looked down at the crowd surrounding the boulder and a haze lifted from his mind. The enemy was no longer faceless. To Fist’s horror, they were men and dwarves and elves and even ogres. These were people he recognized. Many of them he had met during the war. And he had mown so many down.

Fist shouted apologies, but their familiar faces didn’t seem to recognize him. They screamed mindlessly, clawing at the rock. Shaken, he picked up Squirrel’s pouch and peered inside.

Squirrel wasn’t there. In his place was a monster. It was a huge thing, a mix of wild beasts, and way too large to fit in that small space. Before Fist could drop the pouch it leapt out, increasing in size and bowling Fist over, sending him plummeting off of the rock into the howling masses below . . .

 

Fist’s legs spasmed and his eyes flew open as he awoke with a gasp. Breathing heavily, he realized that he was in his room in the Mage School dormitories. He was lying on his side in the oversized bed Darlan had procured for him and his head was pressed into his honstule flower pillow. He was also sweating profusely.

With a groan, he threw back his blanket and sat up. As he did so, a pile of seeds fell out of his ear, striking his shoulder and cascading down his hairy torso in a tiny avalanche.

“Squirrel!” he grumbled, brushing the seeds off of his body. Several of them had fallen onto his bed and he swept them off of his mattress with one large hand, knowing that he would have to sweep them off of the floor later, but preferring that to returning to a bed with little seeds in it.

This was a constant game Squirrel played. He had started it the day they had first met. Whenever Fist was asleep, Squirrel would hide nuts and seeds somewhere on the ogre’s body. In the beginning he had done it because he felt safe with Fist and it was his way of claiming Fist as his new home. But along the way as Squirrel’s mind had grown larger and more complex, his reasons for the little game had changed. For awhile it had become a test of his stealth as he tried to see how many seeds he could hide on Fist’s body without being caught.

Now Squirrel’s game was more of a prank, made all the easier because of large variety of food available at the school. People were giving Squirrel nuts and seeds all the time and as a result, Fist found them everywhere. Not just when he woke up in the morning, but everywhere he looked. Squirrel left them in the pockets of his robe, in his books, in his coin purse, and in every drawer Fist used. Squirrel thought it was hilarious.

Fist yawned and, from the stuffy sensation in his ear, he knew there were more seeds in there. He leaned over and shook his head, fumbling at his ear with one thick finger, trying to get them out but he was only able to dislodge a few. He smacked the side of his head, but to no avail.

Squirrel! he grumbled again, this time through the bond, not wanting to wake his roommate. Fist looked around for his bonded, knowing that the mischievous creature was close by.

A sliver of early morning light peered in the room through the one small window, illuminating a tidy place with two beds, two desks, and two wardrobes. Out of necessity it was the largest room in the dormitories and Fist shared it with his friend, Jezzer.

To Fist’s relief, he hadn’t woken the man. Jezzer had already risen, making his bed before leaving. The old man had a habit of waking early and was often up and gone before the ogre. Jezzer was sixty five and the oldest cadet at the Mage School in centuries. He claimed that the older he got, the less sleep he needed. Fist envied the man that ability.

Knowing that he was alone, Fist reached up and palmed the light orb that was mounted in the sconce above his bed. Wincing at the sudden brightness, the ogre’s eyes fell on Squirrel’s pouch. It was sitting on Fist’s desk where he had left it the night before, the runes stamped into it’s deerskin surface glowing softly to Fist’s magesight. It was a gift from Beth and she had made it well. It was nice and roomy, silk-lined, and had extra pockets for storage. The large lump in it told him Squirrel was still inside. The beast was ignoring him, pretending to be asleep.

Squirrel!” Fist commanded both aloud and through the bond. “I see you in your pouch. Come here.”

What? Squirrel replied innocently. His little head popped out of the top and he yawned, pretending that Fist had just woke him.

“You’re not fooling me,” Fist chided him. “Now get these seeds out of my ear.”

Squirrel let out a chattering laugh and exited the pouch, leaping from the desk to the bed to Fist’s shoulder in a series of bounds. His little laugh was an odd thing, sounding more like a snicker than anything else. He had just developed it in the months after the war. He was wearing one of the small vests Darlan had made for him. This one was red with tiny gold trim.

My seeds! Squirrel exclaimed, peering into the ogre’s ear.

“Yeah, you put them in there. Get them out,” Fist complained. His ear canal was itching now. “Why did you do it anyway?

It is funny, Squirrel said.

“No. Not funny,” Fist said. “And not nice.”

Though Fist couldn’t see him, he knew Squirrel was rolling his eyes as he reached one dexterous paw into the ogre’s ear. He messed around for a moment, pulling out seed after seed. It tickled horribly and Fist winced as he tried to stay still, hoping that the animal wouldn’t scratch him with his little claws. Finally Squirrel stopped.

“Did you get them all?” Fist asked, turning his head to look at him.

Squirrel stared back at the ogre, his mouth hanging open in a parody of disgust as he held out an arm caked up to the shoulder with clumps of ear wax. A small black seed was clutched in his hand. He let go of the seed, but it remained stuck to his hand. He shook the seed off and looked around for something to wipe his arm on, worried that he would stain his vest.

Fist could feel his irritation through the bond. The ogre snorted. “Don’t look at me like that, Squirrel. It’s your fault for sticking them in there.”

Sill stiffly holding his arm out to the side, Squirrel began walking down Fist’s arm towards the bed.

“Don’t wipe that on the blankets,” Fist warned. Squirrel let out a little grumble and hopped down to the floor, then went under the bed to wipe his arm on one of Fist’s dirty socks.

Fist stood and stretched. It was an abbreviated form of a stretch instead of the full stretch he wanted to do. When fully erect, the ogre was eight feet tall and the hair on his head brushed the ceiling. His morning stretch now consisted of arching his back and rotating his shoulders, his arms sticking straight out to the sides. His back popped in a series of cracks as he did so.

“I had such a bad dream, Squirrel,” Fist grunted and walked to the wardrobe to retrieve his clothes. “It felt so real.” Indeed, he had been able to feel the blood of the enemies sticking to his body. He’d smelled their viscera as it spilled to the ground. He felt a wave of nausea at the memory and swallowed. “Why did I have a dream like that?”

Squirrel didn’t respond directly, but Fist felt a trickle of sympathy come through the bond. This was often the way they communicated with each other. Even with the growth of Squirrel, many of the things Fist felt and experienced didn’t make complete sense to him. Yet the animal always tried his best to understand. Sometimes he even surprised Fist with his observations.

Fist tried to shake the dream from his mind as he dressed, putting on a button-up shirt and linen pants before donning his apprentice robe. The robe was voluminous and made of a light material so that it wasn’t too warm for comfort. The colors represented Fist’s magical strengths. The main color was black representing Fist’s strength in earth magic, while the blue and gold trim work on the sleeves and hem represented his secondary strengths in air and water. Darlan had even modified it, further since he was training to be a war wizard. She had added a runic symbol to the back, a large blue circle with a lightning bolt through it.

Fist looked at himself in the room’s lone mirror and shook his head. He had been wearing student robes for nearly six months and still didn’t feel natural in them. While wearing the robes he didn’t look like an ogre at all. Someone who had never seen an ogre might think him just a giant of a man with a brutish face.

He waved a dismissive arm at the mirror and turned to look at the large shield and breastplate that stood next to the wardrobe. Now those were the things he felt most comfortable wearing. Despite everything he was learning at the Mage School, Fist was a warrior at heart. At that moment he wished that he was in Malaroo with Justan. There were battles going on there. He could have been making a difference.

Frowning, he sat back down on the bed to put on his socks and boots. The boots were a gift from his half-orc friend Bettie and were runed to keep the leather strong and supple despite the punishment he put them through. He liked them. They were quite comfortable. The socks, on the other hand, were something he wore at Darlan’s insistence.

That thought reminded him of his first business of the day. He needed to tell Darlan what Justan been through the day before. He had spent the first part of the night talking to Justan about it through the bond and the ogre had promised Justan that he would let his mother know.

Fist stood and moved to the window. The dim light outside had told him it was early and a quick glance at the clock tower confirmed it. Darlan had told him she had a council meeting this morning and it would be at least an hour, maybe two before she was done. He scratched his head. What to do until then?

“What do you think, Squirrel? What should we do this morning?” Breakfast was being served at the Dining Hall. He could eat first, but then what? “Should we go to the library and study?”

No. Squirrel jumped back atop the table and shook his head, pulling a nut out of his cheek to chew thoughtfully. Boring.

As much as Fist enjoyed the library, Squirrel became stir crazy after just a few minutes. Lately this meant that the creature spent his time messing with people. The gnome librarian Vincent was his favorite target.

“Hmm.” Rubbing his itching ear, Fist opened the top drawer of his desk and pulled out a thin book. On the cover, written in Justan’s staccato handwriting was the title, Fist’s Book of Words. Justan had given it to him as a gift before leaving with Jhonate to work on rebuilding the academy. The pages were filled with complex words and their definitions, each word marked with a date.

Fist’s new word of the day was a tradition that had started back during their time at Coal’s Keep. It was a way for the ogre to expand his vocabulary and Fist enjoyed it. Justan hadn’t wanted the tradition to end while they were separated, so he had added enough words in the book to last the ogre a year.

“Let’s see,” Fist mumbled while flipping through the pages to find the current date. He ran a finger down the page. “My word of the day today is . . . skullduggery. Ooh. It means, ‘Underhanded and devious dealings. Trickery and scheming’.” He tucked the book away in one of his robe’s many pockets, a wide smile splitting his face. “That sounds like you, Squirrel!”

Squirrel cocked his head at him wryly.

“I know what we’ll do this morning,” Fist said, thinking of something that better fit his current mood. He pulled Squirrel’s pouch over his shoulder and held it open. “Let’s go visit Charz.”

Okay! Squirrel replied. He climbed to the top of the pile of books on the desk and dove inside.

Fist reached back into the pockets of his robes and withdrew a supple leather glove that he pulled over his large right hand. Then he used that hand to grab his mace from its resting place leaning against the desk. Protected from the weapon’s magic, he rested the haft of it on his shoulder and headed out the door.

The ogre didn’t get to carry his mace with him very often at the school. Though the increase in academy soldiers at the Mage School since the end of the war had led to a loosening of weapon restrictions, it was generally frowned upon for students to walk around armed. Darlan had arranged a few exceptions for Fist since he was training to be a war wizard, though. He was allowed to carry the mace with him when practicing war spells with her at the Testing Center or when sparring. This morning he planned to do both.

Fist smiled as he exited the building. It was the tail end of winter now and most of the region round about was still starting out each morning with a hard frost, but not here. Fist breathed in the fresh and balmy air of the Mage School and sighed. What a beautiful morning. He looked up into the blue sky and raised his arms, letting loose the mighty stretch he had wanted to do earlier.

One perk of staying at the Mage School was that it never got too cold in the winter. Or too hot in the summer, for that matter, thanks to the magic of the Rune Tower. Darlan had explained it to him once. Evidently, in a time long past, the Rune Tower had been infused with a special weather spell. Throughout the year it absorbed any excessive heat or excessive cold. It stored this energy, expelling it when needed to counteract the ambient temperatures and keep the Mage School grounds at comfortable levels. This allowed their gardens to continue producing food even in the harshest winters.

Charz’s quarters were located across the center square in a building next to Professor Beehn’s cottage. It was only a five minute walk from the dormitories, but Fist wanted to stop by the Dining Hall first and that would take him out of his way and all that walking around was going to suck away his time. Smiling, he switched the handle of his mace to his unprotected left hand and ran.

The magic of the mace increased his speed, helping him to run nearly twice as fast as usual. It had been an awkward feeling to get used to in the beginning, but he’d had the mace long enough by now that he was used to it. The downside of using the mace was that the increase in speed was tiring, which was why he carried it in the gloved hand most of the time.

Fist sped around the edge of the dormitory building and cut across the green towards the Dining Hall. The ogre made a fearsome sight, running at high speed with his wicked mace in hand. Luckily, it was still early enough that the area wasn’t crowded with students. Those few that were up and about took a few wary steps back when they saw him coming.

Fist switched the handle of the mace back to his right hand and slowed down just as he reached the open doors. He stumbled inside, his mace held high, causing several students to gasp. Breathing heavily, he lowered the weapon.

One old wizardess stood from her table and wagged a finger at him. “Be careful, ogre! Don’t you know that thing’s dangerous!”

“Sorry, Professor Landrine,” he said sheepishly.

“I don’t care what the new rules are. Weapons do not belong in the Dining Hall,” she grumped, sitting back down.

“Sorry,” Fist said again, bowing his head and hoping that she didn’t demand he leave and return without the weapon. Rules were one thing, but he was an apprentice. If Landrine told him to do something, he would have to do it. To his relief, she returned her attention to her breakfast and the open book beside her plate.

“Fist!” said a younger voice and the ogre turned to see his friend Neau sitting at a table nearby. Neau was a portly young cadet wearing a red and blue robe, showing his strengths in water and fire. Jezzer was sitting next to him in his gray robe. The two men had half-eaten plates of food in front of them. “Come sit with us. ”

“Oh, I can’t,” Fist replied. The two men were part of a small group of friends Fist had cultivated at the school along with Charz and Antyni the elf. He reached up and rubbed at his ear again. “I’m just grabbing something quick and then I need to go to Charz’s place.”

“He won’t like that,” Jezzer warned in his aristocratic tenor voice. “You know how he is about his mornings.”

“I know,” Fist said. The giant liked to sleep in. Some days he wasn’t up before noon.

“Then stay here instead,” said Neau. “We were talking about what happened last night. Did you hear about the newest council member?”

Fist’s ears perked up at that. There had been a lot of speculation over who the last member would be. The rest of the council had been silent on the matter, including Darlan. “Sorry. I’ll meet you at the library later for study. You can tell me then. I have stuff to tell you, too. You won’t believe what happened to Justan yesterday.”

The two students nodded and Fist went to stand in line. To his relief, the queue was fairly short and he didn’t have long to wait. He grabbed a dozen boiled eggs and all the cheese-filled rolls he could stuff in his pockets. The manager of the kitchens, Chef Richard, gave him a dour look and Fist explained that he was taking food for Charz. With a resigned grumble, the man stuffed a stack of sausages in a bag of waxed paper and handed them over.

The moment he left the Dining Hall, Fist switched the mace to his left hand and ran away, the sack of sausages clutched in his gloved hand. The quickest way to Charz would be to cut across the center square and head between the class buildings, but he knew there would be too many people there. So Fist took a more circuitous route, sprinting around the main part of the square.

He enjoyed the run. Moving at such a fast speed was the closest thing Fist could imagine to flying. He laughed as the wind whipped past his face, ignoring the stares of the passersby.

As he passed the buildings, the wide expanse of the grounds opened before him and he looked past the manicured lawns with their winding paths, to the wall that surrounded the school. Fist’s laugh faltered. If there was one obvious thing that showed the Mage School was different after the war it was the wall.

What had once looked like a fifty-foot-tall cliff hanging over the grounds was now only half its original height. Earth wizards worked on raising the wall higher every day, but it was slow going. The taller the wall became, the heavier it was and the more magic it took to get it to rise. In the beginning it had risen several inches a day, now it only rose a few inches a week. Some of the wizards predicted that, at the current rate of decline, it would take years to bring them to their former glory.

The other major change at the school was the academy presence. As Fist crossed the main road he could see the new cluster of buildings and barracks at the base of the wall. Until work on the new academy was finished, students were being taught here. It was part of a bold new relationship between the warriors and wizards, one that was hoped to be beneficial to all. Fist couldn’t see why it wouldn’t be.

Once he had bypassed the main square, he curved towards the storage buildings. While the class buildings were finely built with ornate trim work, these were little more than squat warehouses. Charz’s place was actually a section of one of the storage buildings that had been walled off for his use.

By the time Fist stopped at Charz’ door he was breathing heavily, his energy drained by the use of the mace. The last few months he had spent focused on magical studies had really reduced his stamina. Fist knew that Justan would have had him training more. He made sure never to bring it up during their late night talks.

He didn’t bother knocking. Charz would never have answered. So, his mace gripped in his gloved hand, Fist pulled open the heavy warehouse door and walked in, leaving it to hang open behind him to let some light in.

The interior of Charz’s place was dark and dank, almost cave-like. Wizard Beehn had built in a few windows, but Charz had boarded them back up. The light from the open door illuminated a room quite different from Fist’s. For one thing it was much larger, a necessity when housing a ten foot giant, with ceilings twice as high as Fist was tall. It was also a mess.

There were multiple dressers and wardrobes and desks around the room for the giant to use, but they were mostly empty. Charz was what Darlan called, ‘a pile person’. He kept his clothes piled on top of one table, his other various belongings piled on top of other various pieces of furniture. Scraps of garbage were cast around everywhere else.

As for the giant himself, Charz was sleeping in the corner of the warehouse farthest from the door. He was laying face down on a pile of fine mattresses that Beehn had hauled up from somewhere deep inside the Rune Tower. Charz thought the mattresses a hilarious waste since, with his thick rocky skin, he would have been just as comfortable sleeping on straw or wood shavings or gravel. Fist figured that the giant would have been fine with anything, as long as it was a pile.

The ogre walked up and prodded the giant with his foot. “Charz! Wake up.”

“Mpf,” The giant mumbled and planted his face more firmly into a mattress that looked to be covered with pink silk. The wide wet spot under his face told Fist that Charz had been drooling in his sleep. Fist nudged the giant again, but he refused to respond. The ogre pursed his lips, pondering the best way to wake him, preferably without getting beat on.

Me! said Squirrel and the fuzzy beast exited his pouch, a chunk of bread clutched in one hand. Fist raised an eyebrow. He didn’t remember putting a roll in Squirrel’s pouch.

Squirrel jumped down and scrambled across Charz’ back, heading towards the giant’s head. The little beast let out a little snicker of anticipation and Fist took a couple steps backward, knowing what was coming. “Careful, Squirrel. He might squish you.”

Squirrel crept in close, sneaking over Charz’s neck to press his furry face into the giant’s ear. He then let loose with a loud high pitched, “Chi-chi-chi-chi-chi-chi!”

Charz rose to his knees with a roar. Squirrel skittered away just in time to avoid the rocky hand that slammed into the side of the giant’s face with a thunderous crack.

“Gah!” echoed his booming voice. His mouth was wide open, his eyes confused.

“That’s enough!” Fist said in alarm. But Squirrel was already at the giant’s other ear.

“Chi-chi-chi-chi!”

Charz yelled again and grabbed for him. “Die, you fur-covered mosquito!”

One thing most people underestimated about the rock giant was his speed. Charz’s body was enhanced by magic and despite his size, he moved as fast as a man. Luckily, Squirrel was faster. The little beast darted out of his grasp, then slid down the giant’s back and skittered across the floor of the warehouse to hide behind one of the piles of trash.

“Calm down, Charz!” Fist said, holding out a pleading hand. He hastily began preparing a spell in the back of his mind.

“What the hell was that, Fist?” Charz demanded. He jumped to his feet, towering head and shoulders above the ogre. He was wearing nothing but a tight pair of small clothes and a heavy iron chain with a crystal pendant that hung around his neck.

“I came to ask for your help with something,” Fist said.

“Well that was a stupid way of doing it!” The giant growled, his lips twisted with rage.

“I didn’t know what Squirrel was going to do,” Fist lied.

“Yeah, right.” Charz said and some of the anger left his voice as he let out a wide yawn. “What time is it, anyway?”

Fist knew the giant wouldn’t be happy about the hour. He shrugged and generalized, “Morning time.”

“Morning? You woke me up early and you brought your mace?” Charz asked, eyeing the weapon. “You know better than this.”

“I know you like to sleep longer, but-!”

“And I was up late last night, too! The new council historian arrived and I had to carry all her heavy stuff into the tower!” Charz complained. “Blasted old lady with her trunks full of books . . .”

“I brought breakfast.” Fist lifted the paper bag. “Sausages and eggs and cheesy rolls.”

Charz sniffed at the savory smell rising from the bag and jerked it from the ogre’s hand. “I guess I do usually miss breakfast.” He stomped over to the nearest table and shoved a pile of empty liquor bottles off of an oversized chair. He plopped down onto it, causing the chair to creak in protest as he looked in the bag. “There ain’t that many sausages in here.”

Fist rubbed at his ear again. It really was itching something fierce. Maybe Squirrel had scratched him somewhere deep in there. “I was kind of hoping we could share them.”

“Don’t push your luck,” Charz grumbled, tossing a handful of sausages in his mouth. He spoke while he chewed, “You said something about eggs and rolls?”

Fist dug a half-dozen eggs out of his pockets as well as several rolls and set them down on the table next to the giant. He grabbed another roll out and bit into it himself. As with all Mage School food it was really good. The bread was crusty and the cheese was savory and, as he swallowed and took the next bite, he could already fill the stirrings of extra energy that only magic could provide.

Charz looked at the food in front of him and snorted. “More of a snack, really,” he said and tossed two eggs into his mouth, not even bothering to peel them.

Fist heard it crunching in the giant’s teeth and wondered what it was like? He had never tried eating them that way before. Did the shells have a flavor of their own? He pulled one out of his pocket and bit into it. He chewed, grimacing at the way the shell shattered under his teeth. Not pleasant.

Charz finished off another egg and bit a large roll in half. “What are you doing here, anyway? Ain’t you supposed to be studying with Sir Edge’s mom in the mornings?”

“She’s in a council meeting, so I thought I would come and get you to spar with me,” Fist replied. He took out another egg, but shelled it this time.

“Spar?” The giant raised a hairless rocky eyebrow as he chewed some more. “You mean you want to try out your new spells on me.”

Fist looked away from Charz and chewed the egg, wishing he’d had some salt and pepper. “While we are sparring, I will use my magic. So, yes. That too.”

The thing that made Charz an ideal sparring partner for Fist was the giant’s unique ability to shake off damage. The crystal pendant that hung from the iron chain the giant wore allowed him to heal from most types of wounds. Fist had seen huge holes blown into the giant by Justan’s bow. He’d even seen the giant half melted to glass. Both times, the magic had healed him back to normal.

“But you’re not supposed to be practicing those spells without Sherl around,” Charz said. He pointed a finger at Fist. “She says they’re ‘too dangerous’.”

“I know,” Fist said, rubbing his ear against his shoulder. “But we’re going to do it anyway and hope she doesn’t find out. It’s called, ‘skullduggery’.”

Charz frowned. “I don’t think that’s what that word means.”

“Yes it is. It’s my word of the day,” Fist replied. “It’s in my book if you want to look.”

The giant rolled his eyes. “Whatever you say. Still, you’re crazy if you think I’m gonna just stand there and let you shock me with lightning spells.”

“It’ll be more than that,” Fist promised. “We’ll fight, too. I need the exercise.”

“Yeah, right. If you really wanted to fight, you would have brought your shield and armor.” The giant upended the paper bag into his mouth, knocking in the rest of the sausages.

“I know you like the challenge,” Fist said in a tempting voice.

Charz’s attitude was quite different from the way it had been when Fist first met him. At one time, the thrill of the fight had been the only thing the giant cared about. That mindset had gotten him into trouble and he had spent a century imprisoned next to a cave. He was reformed now and wasn’t a danger, but the thought of a good battle still excited him.

“Hmph,” Charz said, his mouth full. He gave Fist a sideways glance, then swallowed. “You are one of the best fights in this place, I’ll give you that much.”

“Then you’ll come?” Fist said.

“I guess so. I-.” He slammed a heavy fist on the table, barely missing Squirrel, who jumped out of the way at the last possible moment. “Don’t you even think of eating my food, you little weasel!” He swung his hand, causing Squirrel to jump over to Fist and scurry into his pouch. Charz gestured at the ogre. “You tell him that I’m not forgiving him that easy. He’ll have to make it up to me.”

“He hears you,” Fist assured him. He dropped a roll into the pouch. Thanks for waking him. He received a satisfied chuckle through the bond in response.

“Alright, let’s go then,” Charz said. He stood and walked towards the door.

“You’re not going to get dressed?” Fist asked.

Charz’s shoulders slumped and he walked over to the table piled with clothes. He shuffled through them and pulled out a torn pair of pants and a shirt that wasn’t too badly stained. He began pulling them on. “I’m tired of these stupid wizards, insisting I walk around dressed all the time. I’m terrible on clothes.”

“I know what you mean,” Fist said. And he did. No matter how well humans tried to tailor clothes for him, they usually ended up damaged in some way. “Better material is what we need.”

“I know!” Charz replied. “I keep telling Alfred that all I need is a pair of pants that stretch.”

He bent over beside his pile of mattresses and picked up his trident. The three-pronged weapon was large and frightening, as tall as the giant was. The two outer prongs were sharpened like swords while the taller center prong was shaped like a spearhead. The metal had been etched with water runes and Fist knew wounds it made were slow to heal. His goal for the day would be not to get hit by that thing.

They left the warehouse and headed west towards the Magic Testing Center. It wasn’t too far away. Just a quick stroll and they were there. It was a large rectangular building consisting of rows of rooms specifically made for the purpose of testing out dangerous types of spells.

Fist stopped just outside the main door and opened Squirrel’s pouch. “You should get out, Squirrel.”

Squirrel didn’t argue. He usually liked to watch when it came time for Fist to fight, but this time he knew what kind of spells the ogre planned to use. He left the pouch and darted over to the nearest tree.

Fist and Charz entered the building. The female mage on duty saw the two of them approaching and smiled as she handed out a key. “Try not to break the place, you two.”

“Thank you,” Fist said as he took the key from the woman.

It wouldn’t be a problem. Each wall in the place was reinforced by multiple runes protecting them from magical or physical damage. They headed down the hallway and soon arrived at their assigned door. The rooms were all pretty much the same.

Fist opened the door to a space slightly larger than Charz’s place. It was wide and open and empty with a dirt floor. Perfect for the ogre’s purposes.

Charz walked to the center of the room and turned to face him, his trident at the ready. “Let’s get started.”

“Just a minute.” The ogre stabbed the spiky tip of his mace into the ground, then took off his glove and removed his robe. He then placed both the robe and Squirrel’s pouch into a rectangular trunk next to the door where it would be protected from his spells.

Fist picked up his mace, feeling the quickness of its magic overtake him.

“You ready?” Charz asked with an eager smile.

Fist sent out threads of earth and air, wrapping them around his body. He started the strands vibrating. Shimmering sparks of electricity flared up all around him. “Let’s fight.”

Charz laughed and charged.

 

END OF CHAPTER ONE

Chapter Two HERE

The Ogre Apprentice Update

Howdy folks!

I’m sorry that updates have been a bit sparse lately. October has been a rough month. My grandmother died and after I came back from the funeral it was difficult for me to get back into the flow of writing. It really sucks and writer’s block is something that I have had difficulty believing in in the past. For me it is usually just something that I can power through, but this time it was a bit different.

As a result, I am afraid there is going to be a delay in the release of The Ogre Apprentice.

I am up and writing strong again, but it looks like the release will be pushed back to mid November. I hate to do it, especially after posting here that it would be finished by the end of the month, but I have no choice. Fear not, there will be more upcoming news regarding the adventures of Fist and Squirrel soon. I will be posting chapter one later this week for your reading pleasure and I will be revealing the cover as soon as it is completed.

In the meantime, here is the back cover blurb: SPOILERS if you have not read Tarah Woodblade and Protector of the Grove.

Fist is the only ogre ever to train at the Mage School. Yet he forces himself to learn faster than the other students knowing that Justan will soon need him. Justan is far away in Malaroo, struggling to win over Jhonate’s father while a deadly shape-shifting assassin seeks his life, endangering those around him.

Fists plans are derailed and his burgeoning powers tested when he receives a visit from the tribe he had long thought dead. An army closes in on the grove, a new race of beasts emerges from the swamps, and a great evil grows in the mountains. The survival of the known lands may depend on the strength of The Ogre Apprentice.

Here is more information I can give you about the storyline. Like with Protector of the Grove, this will focus on two storylines. Mainly, that of Fist and Squirrel and that of Justan and his adventures in Malaroo. There is not much else I can tell you without spoiling a lot of fun revelations, but stay tuned.

Thank you for your patience,

Trevor H. Cooley

 

In the meantime, please check out the audiobook for Eye of the Moonrat, available on Audible, Amazon, and Itunes! Please give it a listen and leave a review. I need reviews!

 

Eye of the Moonrat Audiobook is available now!!

Hey folks! Great news.

Eye of the Moonrat is available on Audible right now! I had approved the audio files just over a week ago and I was just waiting to hear back from Audible. Well, surprise! It’s here.

Here is the link: http://www.audible.com/pd/Sci-Fi-Fantasy/Eye-of-the-Moonrat-Audiobook/B00OGHSQ54

EOTM-ebook
It will show up on Amazon and Itunes in the next few days.

EDIT: It is on Amazon and Itunes now. http://www.amazon.com/Eye-Moonrat-Bowl-Souls-Book/dp/B00OI2HPO0 and https://itunes.apple.com/nz/audiobook/eye-moonrat-bowl-souls-book/id929809441

I have already listened to it and James Foster, Audiobook Narrator does a fantastic job narrating it. Please listen. There is a sample on the page.

For those of you unfamiliar with Audible, here is how it works. It is a monthly subscription service. $14.95 a month and you get one audiobook a month at not additional cost, plus discounts on all the other books they have available. (Which is almost every book that has an audio form.)

They offer a one month free trial, so if you start the trial and get Eye of the Moonrat, you get it for free! In addition I get a bonus each time Eye of the Moonrat is someone’s first book as a member, so please go for it. I should note that I only get credit for it if the person who gets it stays a member for three months.

At any rate, IT’S HERE. Please share, especially if you have friends that only do audiobooks. I know there are many people that told me it is the only way they read.

Thanks,

Trevor H. Cooley

 

Early October Update and Eye of the Moonrat FREE This Weekend!

What a crazy month it has been since my last post. I have some cool news to share.

First, The Ogre Apprentice release will be late this month. I have been delayed a bit by the passing of my grandmother. She was a great woman and very important to me. I’ll miss her.

Second, I have received the finished audiobook files for Eye of the Moonrat. I am reviewing them right now and they sound great. James Foster did a fantastic job. You guys are going to love it. I will update you again when I am sure of the release date. As soon as I have finished my listen through, I will pass it on to Audible and their quality control review could take another week or two. I am hoping it is out by the end of the month but since this is my first go around with them we will just have to wait and see.

Third, the lovely and talented Renu Sharma is already at work on the cover for The Ogre Apprentice. I love the idea for the cover and I think you will too. I will reveal it as soon as it is finished.

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Lastly for now, Amazon is running a promotion for Eye of the Moonrat. The kindle edition will be offered for FREE from today, October 3rd through Thursday, October 7th. Please if you have not yet started the series, pick it up now. This is also a great opportunity for you to share the series with your friends. Please let them know that the book is free. They can pick it up and read it through the Kindle App on their phones, laptops, or tablets if they don’t have a Kindle. Link HERE

Thank you so much. You guys are going to love this new book. So much great Fist and Squirrel interaction!

Trevor

Book Eight Title Announcement and Audiobook Narrator

Howdy folks.

It has been a full month since the release of Protector of the Grove and the response was been wonderful.

August 20th was also the one year anniversary of the day I quit my day job of fourteen years to write full time. I really want to thank all of you for taking your valuable time and actually spending it on reading my books. And for those that tell their friends about them, thank you even more. It is crazy to think that this is my job. I still get a thrill every time I think about someone new reading about these characters that have occupied my mind for so long.

Now to the promised announcement. When I finished Protector of the Grove, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to name the next book. I knew the general plot, of course, but my wife and I argued back and forth about the title. There were several that I liked, but for one reason or another, they didn’t quite fit. Finally I came up with one that both my wife and I could agree on.

Book Three of the Jharro Grove Saga will be titled, THE OGRE APPRENTICE.

If you haven’t read Protector of the Grove yet, MINOR SPOILERS BEGIN

Yes, most of you have guessed what the title means. Fist has a major role in the next book. Somewhat like Protector of the Grove, it will mainly follow two parallel story lines. Fist’s and Justan’s, with Tarah’s adventures taking somewhat of a minor role for now. The release date is planned for October. (Sorry I can’t get more specific than that.) Stay tuned for more details as we get closer to the release.

END OF SPOILERS

Announcement number two has to do with the audiobook for Eye of the Moonrat. After going through many auditions, we found the person we felt best suited the job. His name is James Foster. He has a number of other books under his belt and he is professional and great to work with. You can read more about him and listen to samples on his site http://jamesnarrates.com/ or at Audible. Please contact him and tell him how excited you are to listen to Eye of the Moonrat.

He should be finished with the narration by the end of October and then we will need to submit it to Audible for approval. Again, stay tuned here for updates as we get closer.

Thanks,

Trevor

Mid-August Update and Kindle Unlimited

Howdy folks!

A lot has been going on since the release of Protector of the Grove. I have a couple minor announcements and one major one.

Auditions for the audiobook of Eye of the Moonrat are closed now. I will announce the narrator soon.

Work on book three of the Jharro Grove Saga is underway. I plan on an October release. I have a few titles in mind that my wife/editor and I are still debating about. I hope to announce that some time in the next week or so.

My major announcement has to do with Kindle Unlimited. As most of you know, Kindle Unlimited is a new program introduced by Amazon that is their attempt to create a Netflix-like program for ebooks. It is basically an online library where, for 9.99 per month, you can rent as many books  as you want for no additional cost. The program began last month and I have been unsure whether or not to join the program. LINK HERE

There is a lot of controversy in the independent author community about this program for a few reasons. In order for their books to be eligible, an author has to make their books exclusive to Amazon. This means that we can’t have our books available on any other platform. But since Amazon sales make up about 98.5% of my sales, that isn’t so big of a loss as it seems. The other concern is how much money an author makes from these rentals. The way it works is that Amazon budgets a certain dollar figure and puts this money into a big pot. This amount is divided up equally to all rentals where a consumer reads at least 10% of the book. So if Amazon budgets two million for the program and there are two million rentals, authors get paid one dollar for each time their book is rented.  This is good for writers that sell their books for 99 cents, but not so good for those of us who sell our books for 2.99 or more.

What writers get in exchange for putting their books into the program is added exposure. Hopefully readers that normally wouldn’t take a chance on an independent writer’s books because of the money cost involved will now download the book and give it a try. In addition all rentals count towards Amazon’s sales rankings and so far books that are in the program have been getting a nice boost.

Now I made Protector of the Grove and Tarah Woodblade part of the program a couple weeks ago to see what would happen and both books have been doing quite well. So after weighing the options, I have decided to make the entire Bowl of Souls series available starting today. I am giving this a 90 day trial at which point I will decide whether to keep the books in KU or not.

What does this mean for you, dear reader? Well, the only downside is that for the next 90 days my books will not be available on any other platform but Amazon. I apologize to those of you who prefer other devices, but there are kindle apps for your phones and tablets as well as your desktop computer. This will NOT effect books you have already downloaded (they won’t disappear) and it will also not affect the sale of physical copies. They are still available everywhere they once were.

The good news is that anyone who wants to give the series a try can do it for free as part of the Kindle Unlimited program. So please spread the word. If you have any friends that are fence sitters, this is the time to nudge them off. The downloads made using KU are rentals and not permanent purchases so keep that in mind. I think the most rentals you can have on your kindle at any time is ten.

I am excited to see if this helps increase the visibility for my titles.

Here is a link for those interested.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below. I’ll be sharing more news soon. Thanks!

Trevor H. Cooley

 

Post Book Release Update and Audiobook Auditions

Howdy folks!

So cool stuff is happening. Protector of the Grove came out last week. It is currently climbing the charts over at Amazon. Please spread the word, buy a copy, and post a review when you’re done. It’s how I stay afloat. Also feel free to contact me in the comment section (non spoiler please) or using the contact page (If you want to talk spoilery details or ask me a question)

I will get started on the next book soon, but in the meantime I am taking auditions for narrators for Eye of the Moonrat on audiobook. In order to qualify, you need to have your own recording equipment and go to ACX.com to sign yourself up as a producer. Then you can submit an audition recording to me there. I have a script segment you can download which is a scene from the beginning of the book. I’m not sure how long I will be taking auditions. It could be a couple weeks or days if the right fit comes along. https://www.acx.com/titleview/A3J0WX6LUKN6IQ

This means that hopefully we will be getting the Moonrat Saga books in audiobook format one by one starting this fall. Obviously several things have to come together before then, but I’m optimistic.

I will post more details here as they become available.

Thanks,

Trevor H. Cooley

Protector of the Grove has been released!

Howdy folks.

Awesome news! I just uploaded Protector of the Grove to Amazon.  It could take up to twelve hours for the book to appear but I often have readers tell me they see it within four to six. Please tell me in the comments below when you get it. I’ll come back and post a link when I know for sure the book is live.

UPDATE: It’s live. http://www.amazon.com/Protector-Grove-Bowl-Souls-Book-ebook/dp/B00M3I5EU8/

I have also already uploaded the physical copy of the book to Createspace. It should be available on Amazon within a day or two.

Whoo! This has felt like a long haul. The last month has been especially crazy with all the work I had to do. Twenty page days. Writing from noon to 3 AM. Exhausting.

POTGebook

Please tell your friends! Share on Facebook, Twitter, whatever. Get the word out. We need this one to be a hit!

Thanks for your support,

Trevor H. Cooley

 

Protector of the Grove: Chapter Two

Hey folks. I am getting closer and closer to releasing Protector of the Grove. I am working on the ending and doing some editing work. It is still on schedule for release later this month. I will let you know here and on my Facebook page when I am ready.

In the meantime, here is chapter two of Protector of the Grove to help tide you over. If you haven’t read chapter one, it is HERE.  Also SPOILER ALERT if you have not read Tarah Woodblade yet, stop reading this post and get it now. What the heck have you been waiting for? The events in these two chapters happen after the events of Tarah Woodblade.

Here is the back of the cover blurb for Protector of the Grove as a reminder:

“Jhonate’s reprieve from her father has been cut short. She is forced to return home to Malaroo, bringing Justan along with her. The journey she has avoided for so long has become all the more difficult because someone wants Justan dead.

The rogue horse Esmine, a mythical beast of remarkable power, has been captured by a troupe of dwarf smugglers. They are taking her to the nation Alberri where a gnome scholar awaits with a vicious plan to sacrifice the beast and bind its powerful soul to make a weapon of mass destruction. Tarah Woodblade must gather a group of warriors and rescue Esmine before she is taken to Alberri.

Evil stirs. Darkness is building. But can anyone trust Xedrion, The Protector of the Grove?”

Now that that’s out of the way, here you go:

POTGebook

 

Chapter Two

Jhonate ran away? Fist asked in surprise. Though the ogre was over a weeks’ travel away, lying in his oversized bed at the Mage School, his thoughts were clear in Justan’s mind. Their bond had a long range when they were both able to fully concentrate on the connection. It also helped that Justan’s magic was particularly strong. That doesn’t seem like her.

No it doesn’t. She was offended when her brother put it that way, Justan sent as he lay in his cot in the warehouse at the edge of Reneul’s ruins. The building used mainly to store equipment and rations, but the council allowed him a little corner to use as his own.

Justan had been offered a bunk in the officer’s quarters, but he had refused it. He didn’t feel comfortable there. He had never really been a student at the academy, much less an officer. Besides, Jhonate slept there and with the way she tended to listen to his thoughts, what if she listened to his dreams? Justan found the possibility shudder-inducing.

But Jhonate is good at running, Gwyrtha commented from her spot at the side of his cot. That was another benefit to sleeping in this place. The rogue horse could stay by him instead of sleeping in the stables with the horses. The more intelligent she became, the less she liked being housed with the animals.

Not like that, Gwyrtha, Fist said. The ogre could hear her from his side of the connection, though her thoughts were faint.

Ohh. You mean running in fear, Gwyrtha said. No, Jhonate doesn’t run like that.

Jhonate didn’t see it as running away at the time, Justan explained. At least that’s what she told herself. The way she explains it, she was just taking advantage of an opportunity. Sir Hilt had regaled her family with tales of the Battle Academy for years. So when she overheard her father and Sir Hilt talking about the possibility of sending one of his children to the academy, she decided to volunteer.

She ‘volunteered’? Fist said, his amusement rolling through the bond. By sneaking off into the night and pretending to be an envoy from her father?

Pretending? Why didn’t she ask her father first? Gwyrtha wondered.

She knew he never would have let her go, Justan replied.

Oh. Then she was running, she said matter-of-factly. Justan couldn’t refute the rogue horse’s logic.

What was so bad there that she wanted to leave? Fist wondered.

I don’t know, Justan said. I’ve gotten the picture that her father is overbearing but, knowing her, there has to be more to it than that. He shrugged. I’m sure I’ll find out more as we go.

When do you leave? Fist asked.

Justan could feel a hint of unease coming from the ogre. The day after tomorrow. I haven’t asked Hilt which route we’re taking yet, but I’m assuming we’ll stop by the Mage School on the way. That way you can join us. Fist’s anxiety rose and Justan paused. That is, if you want to come.

I do! The ogre said. It’s just . . . I have a lot to learn here right now and . . . Mistress Sherl might not let me.

Justan frowned. Do you have to refer to her as ‘Mistress Sherl’?

She says I have to, Fist said emphatically. She may be Darlan to you, but she’s Wizardess Sherl to the wizards and she says since the other apprentices have to address their masters properly, I do too.

Justan’s mother had taken Fist on as an apprentice when it was found out that he had elemental magic. Justan understood the logic, but it still felt strange.

Alright, but I think I can convince mother to let you come with me. Justan said and he could sense the ogre’s wince. Wait, you’re just making excuses, aren’t you? You must be having a good time there.

I am. See, Mistress Sherl made the other wizards let me bring Squirrel to class. Also . . . I have some good friends here now. We sit at lunch together every day and they even study with me at the library.

That’s good, Justan said, trying to sound enthusiastic, though he felt a sense of unease rising within him. Why did he feel that way? It was good for Fist to have friends. Who are they?

There’s Antyni. Fist pushed an image of the elf girl through to Justan’s mind. She looked odd wearing a student robe instead of her normal forest garb. They made her apprentice real fast. Somehow she remembers a lot of what Qyxal learned while he was here and her elemental magic’s real close to his too.

Justan nodded, remembering Qyxal’s funeral and the way the elf’s twin sister had linked with him before his spirit had passed on. That’s good for her. I’m glad you two are friends.

There’s also Neau. The ogre sent Justan an image of a portly young man wearing a blue robe with red trim. And Jezzer. This one was a thin older man wearing spectacles. His robe was gray. He’s new. He came here to learn how to use his spirit magic. The wizards say he’s good at blessing and binding magic.

That’s great for you, Fist, Justan said, pushing his unease away. You know, you really don’t need to feel bad if you don’t want to come with me to Malaroo. I understand.

No! It’s not like that, the ogre replied. I do want to come. I just . . . I’m not sure what to do. If you needed me to fight at your side I wouldn’t hesitate.

I know. And that shouldn’t be necessary, Justan said. I mean, it won’t be necessary. No fighting this trip.

You don’t sound sure, the ogre replied.

No. I’m sure. It’s-. It’s okay. Justan sighed. Look, we won’t make it down to the Mage School for another week yet. Think about it. Talk to my mother about it. See what she thinks. I’d love to have you with us, but I understand if you can’t. Do what’s best for you. Justan paused. This was the most awkward he had ever felt during a conversation with Fist. So, um, is there anything else interesting going on?

The new fire wizard on the High Council came today, Fist replied, glad for the change of subject. He’s named.

Really? Who is it?

The Mage School High Council had lost five of its seven members during the war. A staggering loss, but while the Academy had replaced its fallen council members within days, the wizards were still dragging their feet.

Master Barthas. He came from the Mage School in Alberri. Mistress Sherl knows him. She says his fire magic is just as strong as hers.

Barthas. The name sounded slightly familiar to him, but Justan couldn’t recall anything about the man. There were many named wizards he hadn’t met. The wizards he’d known were Mage School professors and most wizards didn’t stick around the school for long once they’d been named.

Oh! And there’s something else. Something big happened, Fist said excitedly.

Something big? Justan’s curiosity perked up.

But it’s a secret, Fist said mischievously.

Justan chuckled. So you’re going to bring it up and then not tell me?

I can’t. I promised, the ogre replied. But I can tell you that it’s good news.

A good-news-type secret. You’re going to leave it like that?

Yes, Fist said. You can see when you get here.

Justan sighed. All right. Well, good night. I’ll contact you again tomorrow and tell you what Sir Hilt says about our plans.

Good night, Justan. I . . . good night.

With that, their contact ended. The bond between them thinned until all that was left in Justan’s mind was a general knowledge of the direction the ogre was in. Justan put his hands behind his head and laid there in the darkness of the warehouse, his mind digesting the conversation he’d just had with Fist.

Of all the people in his life, Justan found Fist the easiest to talk to. Yet this time he hadn’t been able to put his thoughts together. Why had he been so unhappy with Fist’s good news? They were the things he’d wanted for Fist all along, weren’t they?

When he’d first bonded with Fist in Ewzad Vriil’s foul dungeon, the large ogre had been almost childlike in the ways of humans. Justan had wanted nothing more than to share everything with him and it had torn at him whenever Fist had faced adversity because of his race. Now Fist was finally gaining acceptance for who he was. Why had Justan’s first reaction to the news been to dislike it? Was it because these new friendships were keeping the ogre away from him?

A pang of guilt struck him. How petty and selfish his emotions had been. To make things worse, he knew that Fist had felt his reaction through the bond. The ogre was probably feeling terrible about wanting to stay at the school. Justan promised himself that he would apologize to Fist the next time they spoke.

He should be with us, Gwyrtha said. The rogue horse was, as usual, listening in.

I would prefer that too, Gwyrtha. But what’s important is Fist’s happiness. He needs to do what’s best for him.

But we are his tribe, Gwyrtha replied in confusion. He said so.

And we are, Justan sent. They were more than a tribe. Their bond gave them a closeness that couldn’t be found elsewhere in life. That doesn’t change no matter how far apart we might be. But we can’t force him to stay by our side.

The last four months being apart from Fist had been hard. Justan hadn’t realized how much he’d depended on his friend. Despite his relative newness to life among the goodly races, Fist had a surprising amount of insight. Justan knew that when he went to Fist with his problems the ogre would somehow help him find the answer. Now there was only a short amount of time during the day that they could talk and long-distance communication just wasn’t the same as speaking in person.

It had gotten even harder two months prior when Deathclaw had left with Hugh the Shadow on a mission for the academy. If Fist was Justan’s moral compass, Deathclaw was his best strategic advisor. Justan closed his eyes again and reached into the bond to find that bundle of awareness that was his connection with the raptoid.

Deathclaw was far away, farther than Fist, yet their link was nearly as strong. Justan fed his thoughts through the bond. Deathclaw. Can you speak with me?

Justan received a faint acknowledgement, telling him that Deathclaw had heard his request. He waited for the raptoid to be in a situation where they could speak. Hugh the Shadow was head of the assassin’s guild at the Battle Academy and he had his men do much of their work during the night. This made finding a good time to communicate a difficult prospect. Sometimes it would take hours before Deathclaw was in a position to reply.

Luckily, this time was an exception. Justan only had to wait for a few minutes before he felt the raptoid reaching towards him through the bond. Justan joined the raptoids thought with his own and their connection strengthened. The bond opened up until Justan could feel it solidify like a thick cord, bridging the hundreds of miles between them.

It has been a week since you contacted me, Deathclaw began and, though the raptoid tried to keep his thoughts free of emotion, there was a reproachful tone in his voice. I was beginning to wonder if you were well.

Justan was surprised at the disapproving note. The bond would tell you if something happened to me.

True. If you died, I would fall to the ground helpless, Deathclaw replied with a hint of sarcasm. Other than that, you could be in harm’s way and I would remain unaware and unable to help.

 I’m sorry. We’ve been quite busy around here and you haven’t been easy to reach lately.

Hugh the Shadow’s current mission was to hunt down the various remnants of Ewzad Vriil’s army that had become roaming bands of brigands. It was a task requested by the current leader of Dremaldria, Lord Commander Demetrius himself. They already had at least two other groups out doing similar missions.

Nevertheless, I ask that you try harder, Deathclaw replied. We have many periods of rest between raids. We could communicate then.

You’re right, Justan said. I promise to try harder. How are the raids going?

Hugh the Shadow’s ways are strange to me. His behavior is too relaxed, but I must admit that he is an efficient leader, Deathclaw sent. His men work together in a precise manner. They are eager to please him and do their killing well.

That’s good to hear, Justan replied, smiling to himself. When Hugh had approached Justan and requested Deathclaw’s aid Justan had pushed the raptoid to do it, thinking that working with the famed assassin would be good for him. How many bands have you hunted down?

We have destroyed seven. Deathclaw did a quick count in his mind. I have slain thirty of these men on my own.

Impressive, Justan said. And how are your lips? Are they working for you?

They are much better. I have . . . become used to them.

When Deathclaw had asked Justan to give him lips, Justan was trepidatious. He had known it was possible. After all, he had altered Gwyrtha’s body and Deathclaw’s cellular structure had a similar makeup. But the changes Justan had made to Gwyrtha were modifications to body parts that were already there. Deathclaw was asking him to create something new. Ewzad Vriil had transformed Deathclaw’s head into a humanoid shape, but his reptilian face had not been made for lips.

In addition, Gwyrtha had vast reserves of energy for Justan to draw on to make the changes while Deathclaw did not. When Gwyrtha’s body changed, she had to use massive amounts of energy to keep them in place. Gwyrtha hadn’t minded letting Justan draw energy from her to create Deathclaw’s new lips, but he hadn’t known what would happen if he succeeded. Once the energy was gone, would these new lips remain stable? Would they just wither away?

When Justan had brought his concerns to the raptoid, Deathclaw had wanted to go through with it anyway. The change had not been easy. Justan had been forced to create new skin, muscle, and nerve pathways, so that Deathclaw could feel with his new lips and control them.

A lot of experimentation had been involved. The process hadn’t been painful for Deathclaw, but sometimes Justan didn’t get the nerves right and the sensations were disturbing. After several days of modifications, Deathclaw finally had a set of lips that worked.

Then came the true test. Would they stay? When Justan withdrew Gwyrtha’s energy from the raptoid’s new lips, the tissue stabilized. Somehow, the blood magic from Deathclaw’s dragon heritage allowed his body to adapt and accept his lips as part of its new structure.

Then it had been up to Deathclaw to learn to use them. In the beginning it was hard. They got in his way and he kept accidentally biting them. But Deathclaw had a special talent for controlling his body and he soon figured them out. By the time he had left on his mission, he had even been able to use them in speech.

Evidently they were working even better now because Deathclaw seemed pleased. They feel like a true part of me. Sometimes I forget that I didn’t always have them. I am . . . grateful.

I’m just glad they worked for you. There were so many ways that could have gone bad.

But it did not, Deathclaw said. Was that the reason for your contact tonight? I sense there is something else you need to say.

Yes. Actually, something very important happened. Sir Hilt showed up here today. Justan brought the raptoid up do date, telling him everything that had happened since the named warrior had arrived with Jhonate’s brothers in tow.

You will leave immediately? Deathclaw asked, his mind calculating.

Yes. The day after tomorrow.

Then I should come right away and join you, Deathclaw said, coming to a decision. If Jhonate’s father is fierce enough to injure Hilt, he is quite dangerous. You will need me by your side.

Good, but-. We aren’t going there to fight with him, Justan said with a sigh. Why did everyone have to talk like he was heading off to war? I am just going there to meet him and Jhonate’s people. Nevertheless, I would feel better if you were with me. How far away are you from me now?

We are on the far side of your large city, Dremald. Hugh the Shadow calls it The Five Hills region.

Justan bit his lip. He was familiar with the area. That was near Castle Vriil. You are at least three weeks away by foot. Hugh the Shadow hasn’t taught you to ride horses, has he? he asked teasingly.

Deathclaw gave him a mental snort. Those animals would not wish me on their backs. Deathclaw was the height and weight of a man, but one look at his reptilian appearance and fearsome claws unnerved most creatures. Besides, I can run faster than you humans like to travel by horseback.

I’m faster, Gwyrtha remarked.

Even so, you might not catch up to us until we are already in Malaroo, Justan said. Deathclaw was indeed fast, but he wasn’t tireless. He’d have to stop and sleep.

I’m faster! Gwyrtha insisted.

Yes you are, girl, Justan sent in an attempt to mollify her, but then an idea hit him. She really was fast. Faster than any horse and with a nearly limitless stamina. Gwyrtha could run nonstop and meet Deathclaw along the way.

I do not wish to ride her, Deathclaw said, sensing where Justan was going with his thoughts.

Oh! I will get him! I will go and get Deathclaw and bring him to you! Gwyrtha said with enthusiasm. She leapt to her feet in excitement, nearly knocking Justan’s small cot over.

Whoa! Hold on, girl! Justan exclaimed, nearly losing his connection with the raptoid. You’re not leaving just yet. With a grumble, Gwyrtha settled back down and he returned his attention to Deathclaw. I think it’s the best choice. It’s the only way you could catch up to us in time. I can keep you two linked together and she’ll be able to find you along the way.

Deathclaw let out his equivalent of a frustrated groan, something which sounded like a hiss with a low gurgle on the end. Very well. I shall ride her. I will tell Hugh the Shadow I am returning to you. I leave in the morning.

We will speak again tomorrow night, once I have the details of our journey, Justan sent to Deathclaw.

Farewell, then, Deathclaw replied. He withdrew his thoughts from the bond and their connection faded.

I could leave now, Gwyrtha pressed, her thoughts restless.

Justan could sense the eagerness for a long journey within her. I know. But I want to wait until after I’ve spoken with Hilt. He may say something that alters our plans.

She laid her head down on her reptilian front claws. Waiting is boring.

I know, Justan said again. But for now just try to sleep. Time passes faster that way.

Sleeping is boring, she grumped, but obediently closed her eyes.

Justan yawned. He needed to sleep as well, but there was one last thing he needed to do first. He let his mind slip back into the soft whiteness of the bond and centered his thoughts. He reached out to sift through his bonds. He moved past his connections to Fist, Deathclaw, and Gwyrtha, ignoring his smaller bonds to his naming swords and his Jharro Bow.

Finally, he settled on his first true bond; the soul of his great grandfather Artemis. Artemis had been a powerful ice wizard and when he’d died his soul had become the Scralag, a terrifying ice elemental. This creature was sealed within a frost-covered scar on Justan’s chest.

Justan reached for the connection, feeling a chill breeze blow through the bond. He sent his thoughts inside to find that, as usual, the way was blocked. Justan switched to mage sight and saw the blockage clearly. It was a thick web of blue and gold strands; frost magic.

He felt along the blockage until he found what he was looking for. There was a crack. It was small, but larger than it had been even a few short weeks ago. The prophet’s suggestion was bearing fruit. As he had every night for the last four months, Justan pushed his thoughts close up to the crack and called out.

Great grandfather! Artemis! It is Justan. I’ve come to speak with you again.

There was no response at first. Then Justan heard movement behind the blockage, followed by a whispering hiss that vibrated with power. GO AWAY. I AM NOT NEEDED.

Though Justan knew he should have been used to it by now, the eerie sound still sent a shiver through him. The Scralag wasn’t evil, but it was harsh and unpredictable. His grandfather’s mind had very little control over its actions. Artemis! I want to speak with Artemis.

Justan saw a beady red eye peer back at him through the crack. LEAVE US!

The voice was insistent, but Justan didn’t move. He was encouraged by the fact that the frost elemental was actually speaking to him. This was an improvement. In the beginning all it would do was hiss threateningly. Now, after months of persistence, it conversed with him. He had even heard the faint sound of Artemis’ voice a few times.

Please let Artemis speak with me.

WE ARE RESTING!

Justan thought for a moment. How could he coerce his great grandfather to battle the elemental for control? What did Artemis need to hear? Perhaps the family angle would work. Please speak with me. I want your advice. I am traveling to Malaroo to meet the family of my betrothed and her father is not happy that we wish to marry.

Malaroo, said the Scralag, but its whispery voice sounded more human somehow; less terrifying. A dark place . . . Full of spirit magic . . . Home of the holy grove.

Justan grinned. He was there! Artemus was exerting control of the creature. The grove, yes! My betrothed is one of the Roo-Tan. They protect the grove.

Ah, the grove . . . to speak with the trees again . . . the trees . . . The whispery voice sounded wistful. Then a harsh tone interrupted the voice. GIVE THEM ICE! FROST THE LEAVES! . . . Ahh the grove.

Justan! Gwyrtha interrupted. Wake. Listen!

Not now, Justan told her. He needed to hold his great grandfather’s soul there as long as possible. The grove, Artemus, tell me about it.

The leaves . . . FREEZE THEM! . . . They never fall.

Justan, someone is coming! Gwyrtha insisted. Her head was up, her ears perked.

Justan felt her concern through the bond and knew better than to ignore her when she was so insistent. Whatever she wanted, it was important. I’ve got to go, Artemus. Please, continue to fight. Win control of the elemental. Be yourself again!

The voice softened again. The mother . . . Beware the mother.

Justan withdrew his thoughts from the bond and sat up. He extended the heightened senses given to him by his bond with Deathclaw. There were no light sources inside the warehouse, so he couldn’t see anything but a sliver of moonlight shining in through the crack at the front door. His ears picked up the tiniest of scuffling sounds from outside. Someone was walking around the edge of the building. Just one person.

What can you tell? He asked Gwyrtha. The rogue horse’s senses were far more detailed than his. Is it Jhonate?

No, Gwyrtha replied. Her steps are softer than this. She slowly stood and crept into the darkness towards the front doors. She sniffed, but there was no way for the scent to come into the warehouse. There are two sounds. Two someones.

Justan sat up, his eyes barely able to make out Gwyrtha’s form creeping in the darkness. It was probably nothing, but the intensity of her interest caused him concern. These people couldn’t be academy guards. They patrolled in groups of four and rarely came this close to the warehouse. It could be a couple workers out late for some reason, but it wasn’t common for workers to be out at the edges of the site at night, especially with how cold it was.

The soft noises moved around the edge of the warehouse wall and slowly approached the doors. Justan reached for the small light orb in the stand next to his cot, but paused. The sudden brightness would momentarily blind him. Instead, he pulled his blankets back and slid his feet into his boots. He was only wearing his padded winter underclothes, but he didn’t waste time dressing completely. Making as little noise as he could, Justan grasped his sword sheathes at the foot of his cot and slung them over his shoulders.

Gwyrtha crept around the wagons and boxes of stores and headed towards the door. Justan followed, making sure to keep to her path so that he didn’t bump into anything. The sounds had reached the front door and stopped. Justan saw the small pinprick of light that was the crack between the doors go dark as something passed in front of it.

Were they thieves, perhaps? Some of the workers deciding to make off with rations? The war had been hard on farmers all over Dremaldria and food was scarce. The vast number of hidden stores the academy had unearthed in the area after the war was one of the main reasons they had attracted so many to help.

The shadow stayed in front of the doors and made a slight noise. Gwyrtha suppressed a growl and Justan realized that the person outside was sniffing at the crack. What kind of person did that?

Not a person, Gwyrtha sent and she started a chant in her mind as she transformed her body. I am fast. I am hard. I am strong. I am fast. I am hard. I am strong . . .

She ducked behind a wagon as she changed. Justan couldn’t see her form in the darkness anymore, but he knew what the transformation was like. Gwyrtha’s patchwork body and tail were shrinking, her reptilian snout shortening. The scaled patches on her body were becoming harder, like armored plate, and the hairs on her body were lengthening and becoming stiff like wires. Her claws would lengthen, as would her teeth, making this smaller form truly formidable.

The doors creaked slightly as one of the figures outside grasped the handles. Justan had locked the doors as he did every night, but he reached up over his shoulders and gripped the pommels of his swords anyway just in case. He felt the power of his swords overtake him. The magic of his left sword, the one he called Peace, sucked all of his emotion away, leaving his mind in a state of pure calm. His right sword, Rage, stored those leeched emotions and converted them into energy, eager to unleash it as explosive power.

The doors gave a brief shudder as hands outside tried to pull them open, then found that they were locked. Next came a scraping noise as something was inserted into the lock. A lockpick? These did seem like thieves after all. Justan considered crying out and scaring them off, but thought better of it. Better to catch them in the act now then have them cause trouble at a later date.

Not persons, Gwyrtha insisted, then continued her chant. I am Fast. I am hard. I am strong . . .

Are you sure? Justan asked as he heard the lockpick manipulating the tumblers within the lock. They sure are acting like thieves.

They aren’t breathing, she replied.

Justan’s hands tightened on his swords. Not breathing? What could they be? All living creatures had to breathe didn’t they? Are you saying they’re some kind of magical constructs?

Don’t know.

There was a small click as the lock released. Then the doors opened outward, pulled by two figures wearing winter furs. Moonlight poured into the warehouse illuminating the objects nearest the doors.

The invaders certainly looked like regular workmen, one of them with thick blond hair and a downy beard, while the other one had short black hair and a goatee. They cocked their heads in unison and peered into the darkness where Justan and Gwyrtha hid.

Justan pulled his swords from their sheaths and stood, knowing that the moonlight wouldn’t reach far enough into the warehouse to reveal him to them yet.

Get ready to cut off their escape, he sent to Gwyrtha. Then he shouted with a commanding voice, “Stop! What are you doing here this time of night?”

He fully expected the men to react with surprise. Instead, both of them gave him a reassuring smile. If Peace hadn’t been draining his emotions, Justan would have shuddered. There was something wrong with their faces. Their smiles were a bit too wide, their teeth a bit too large.

See their mouths? Gwyrtha said. The rogue horse wasn’t feeling fear, just excitement at the prospect of a fight. No steam.

Justan realized that she was right. With temperatures this cold, everyone’s breath frosted in the air. No such steam flowed from their gleaming teeth. They stepped towards him.

“Stop, I told you! Lie down on the ground!” Justan said, readying himself to attack.

The two men said nothing. They raised empty hands, showing him their lack of weapons, and continued towards him, their steps slightly jerky, almost bird-like. Their overlarge grins stretched even further in an attempt to be reassuring, but Justan wasn’t fooled. Even if Gwyrtha hadn’t warned him, he’d have known something was wrong.

Justan crouched and slid silently to the side in the darkness, hoping to catch the things by surprise. But their heads swiveled to follow him and, as they stepped out of the moonlight, he saw their eyes glow softly. Justan swore inwardly. They had him at a disadvantage. These things could see in the dark. His preparations had turned on him.

Now! he sent to Gwyrtha.

Her dark form leapt from behind a wagon and bore one of them down under her. The thing collapsed under her weight without so much as a gasp of surprise. The second thing didn’t even look back at its companion, but continued towards Justan with its arms raised.

Gwyrtha pinned the strange thing to the ground, her front claws gripping its arms. Her rear claws snapped bones in its legs as her weight crushed them beneath her. Her sensitive eyes saw the creature clearly in the dark and it perturbed her that its expression didn’t change with the pain she had given it. It cocked its head at her and Gwyrtha finally heard a sound coming out of it. A wet noise issued from its abdomen and she felt something sharp strike her in the belly.

Justan felt Gwyrtha’s surprise and pain through the bond and launched himself at the thing in front of him, hoping to end the fight quickly. His mind shifted into the battle state that Deathclaw had taught him and time slowed. The creature’s pace didn’t change as Justan approached. He swung his right arm, bringing Peace down between its softly glowing eyes.

Peace cut through the skin of its forehead and struck bone. Time slowed to a crawl as the sword passed a sudden understanding through Justan’s mind. There was no emotion for the sword to steal from this foe. Its thoughts were strange and alien, but one thing became clear. The creature had but one purpose in being here. It had been sent to kill Justan.

Peace cleaved through its skull, but the thing felt no pain. There was no brain or vital organ within its head, just a knot of unformed flesh. The sword split the head in half, its edge wedging into the top of the thing’s spinal column.

Justan was still processing the information he had received when the thing’s arms shot forward. They made a squelching sound as they extended longer than should be possible. Then its hands grasped his shoulders. Only they weren’t hands any longer, but thick talons instead.

Justan jerked back, but Peace was still bound in the creature’s spine. The talons tore through the flesh of his shoulders, scoring bone and sinew. Luckily, Peace sucked the pain away and Justan was able to bring Rage to bear. His eager sword swung under its arms and pierced the thing’s belly. Justan felt a brief jolt of fear from it just as he released the sword’s energy in a concussive blast.

The explosion made no light, but there was a heavy thud as the creature’s body was hurled from Justan, separating into two pieces before colliding with crates and barrels of supplies. Its claws ripped free and Justan stumbled backwards, striking his hip on a handcart in the darkness.

Justan! Gwyrtha called out in anger and pain. Hurry!

Justan saw her form struggling with another in the blackness and darted for the side wall. The bond told him that she was hurt. Something had pierced the armored plates in her belly and more things were digging into her sides.

He couldn’t help if he couldn’t see. He stumbled over a piece of wood and was unable to raise his arms in time to brace himself before slamming his wounded shoulders into the wall.

He knew he was bleeding profusely. Blood ran over the backs of his hands as he struggled to raise his arms high enough to press the rune on the wall that would light the warehouse. If he hadn’t still been holding Peace in his hand, he wouldn’t have been able to do it, but the sword leeched away his pain.

He fumbled at the wall for a few long moments before his forearm struck the iron plate the rune was on. He was forced to drop Rage to the ground so that he could press his hand to the rune. A row of light orbs hanging from the ceiling of the warehouse glowed to life, bathing the area with white light.

Justan turned towards Gwyrtha’s struggle. She had the thing’s head in her mouth and its arms and legs pinned, but several long appendages like spider’s legs had grown from its torso and dug at her body. He bent and grasped Rage’s pommel just as Gwyrtha reared back, wrenching the creature’s head free from its neck.

She spat its head to the side and leapt back from the thing, but it refused to let go and she ended up dragging its body with her. Gwyrtha clawed at its appendages, knocking several of them away, but the one piercing her belly was stubborn. She gripped it and pulled at it, but it wouldn’t let go.

It won’t die! she exclaimed as the thing stood and pulled back, its legs having healed and its feet splitting into gripping claws.

“I’m coming!” Justan lurched towards her, hoping his arms had the strength to swing Rage at the thing. The sword’s stored energy had been depleted by the force of the blast, but Justan’s pain was rapidly filling it.

Gwyrtha spun and whipped her tail around, striking the thing in its side. The scales of her tail had formed spikes that raked the thing’s body as she knocked it back to the ground. The appendage finally tore free from her belly and she backed away from it, growling as blood poured from the wound.

Justan reached her side as the creature came quickly back to its feet. Several more clawed arms grew from the creature’s body and a new head began to form from the torn stump where the other head had been. This new head had large hawkish eyes and a wicked beak.

You are hurt! Gwyrtha said.

So are you, Justan replied.

Is your one dead? she asked.

“I hope so,” Justan said aloud. His eyes darted to the place where the pieces of the creature had struck and saw no movement.

The thing standing before them reached out with an appendage and speared the ruined mess of a head that Gwyrtha had torn from it. The flesh of the old head turned black and long spikes grew from it.

It doesn’t smell like one of the wizard’s monsters, Gwyrtha said, her eyes focused on the monster as it continued to change.

No. I don’t know what it is, but this is something different, Justan said. We’ll have to tear it to pieces like the other one, but I won’t be much use with my arms like this.

I’ll do it, she promised, her growl increasing.

Okay, here’s the plan, Justan said. You attack it. I’ll go through the bond and focus on healing you. The ability to heal his bonded was one of the few useful things his elemental magic gave him.

Good, she said, preparing to leap. The creature was even more of a nightmare now, its various limbs grasping, an amalgam of teeth and claws.

Suddenly there was a soft whistle as something darted in from outside the open doors, striking the creature’s side. The thing spasmed as arcs of electricity flashed across its limbs. It collapsed to the ground, jittering.

A short elf bounded into the warehouse, another arrow notched on his gray bow. He was old and weathered, his skin dark, his hair short and stubbly, and he wore nothing but a leather loincloth and a quiver slung over his back.

“Yntri Yni?” Justan exclaimed, glad to see the elf.

The ancient elf scowled at him and let out a series of reprimands in his odd language of clicks and whistles, all the while gesturing at the convulsing monster.

They watched in stunned silence as the Yntri bent over the creature and placed his head on its chest. Then he stood back and unstrung his Jharro bow in one smooth motion. The wood of the bow straightened, one end forming a spear-like tip. With a grunt of satisfaction, Yntri Yni stabbed his weapon into the creature’s thigh.

A brief squeal exited the thing’s bird-like mouth as it slowly turned to stone.

THE END OF CHAPTER TWO

Protector of the Grove comes out soon. It’s like days, maybe a week away. Tell me what you think in the comments below. I want to hear from you.

Thanks,

Trevor H. Cooley

 

A sample chapter of Protector of the Grove

 

Hey folks! I know a lot of you have been wondering what Protector of the Grove would be like, especially since Justan and Co had such a small part to play in Tarah Woodblade.  I’m including the first chapter of Protector of the Grove here and, as you can see, in book two Justan is back to being front and center as we follow both his and Tarah’s storylines.

SPOILER ALERT if you have not yet read Tarah Woodblade. This starts off right where the Tarah Woodblade epilogue ended. For those of you that bought the physical copy of the book, you have already seen this chapter as I included it in the back of that version.

Here is the back of book blurb:

“Jhonate’s reprieve from her father has been cut short. She is forced to return home to Malaroo, bringing Justan along with her. The journey she has avoided for so long has become all the more difficult because someone wants Justan dead.

The rogue horse Esmine, a mythical beast of remarkable power, has been captured by a troupe of dwarf smugglers. They are taking her to the nation Alberri where a gnome scholar awaits with a vicious plan to sacrifice the beast and bind its powerful soul to make a weapon of mass destruction. Tarah Woodblade must gather a group of warriors and rescue Esmine before she is taken to Alberri.

Evil stirs. Darkness is building. But can anyone trust Xedrion, The Protector of the Grove?”

Here’s the chapter. Protector of the Grove comes out later this month!

Trevor H. Cooley

 

POTGebook

 

Chapter One

As far as winters in Dremaldria go, this was a mild one. The rubble that remained of the city of Reneul and the Battle Academy was covered in a thin blanket of snow and ice. The area was a hive of activity despite the chill. Laborers in winter clothes climbed over the site, clearing rubble and rebuilding important areas.

The workers were a mix of war refugees and tradesmen from all around Dremaldria. The mood of these people was high. The academy paid well and the rebuild was moving along far quicker than anyone had hoped. With help from Mage School wizards and the dwarves from Wobble, the structures of the new academy buildings grew at a rapid rate.

Justan ran around one completed structure at the edge of Reneul’s ruins. The long rectangular building would eventually be a town government office. For now it was just in his way as he hurried to catch up to his future wife.

“Jhonate, wait!” Justan shouted as she came into view. Jhonate wasn’t wearing her usual hide armor, but was instead dressed for the cold, with a stiff coat over a thick woolen sweater and padded leather pants. Her breath frosted in the air and her cheeks were flushed pink. With the determined way she was walking, Justan was surprised she didn’t slip. It took him several long strides to catch her. “Where are you going?”

Jhonate didn’t answer right away and he fell in at her side, noticing how tightly she gripped her staff. Justan could feel the slow burn of her anger through the Jharro ring she had given him. The gift was a precious one, for it allowed them to communicate privately over short distances. Unfortunately it also meant she could listen in on his thoughts, something that had led to many uncomfortable conversations.

Jhonate’s strides were leading them through what used to be Reneul, heading down one of the roadways that had been cleared of rubble. He was pretty sure that she was heading towards the main camp, but Justan didn’t push her, content for the moment to walk along beside her. A smile touched his lips.

She was as fierce as ever, their betrothal hadn’t changed that. Her jaw was set in determination, her lips pressed into a thin line. A smile broadened Justan’s face. Ah, but she was beautiful. Her green eyes were striking even when they were burning holes into the world around her.

Those eyes darted at him to show that she was not in the mood to be admired. “I must speak with my brothers,” she said.

“Why didn’t you just tell Sir Hilt and my father that?” Justan asked.

“Must I tell them every thing I am thinking?” she replied.

“Well, no. But you did turn and leave while Hilt was mid-sentence.”

“I was done speaking with him on the subject,” Jhonate said, but slowed down, her glare turning to a frown. “Do you think I was rude?”

“Incredibly,” Justan said, though his smile didn’t fade. Jhonate was straight forward and honest in her conversations, a trait which often led to rudeness, but those that knew her were used to it. In fact, Justan found it endearing when it wasn’t complicating things. “He did come all the way here from Malaroo to speak to you, after all.”

“Hilt came to undermine me and deliver an ultimatum,” she clarified, picking her pace back up.

Less than a half hour earlier, Justan’s father had shown up with Sir Hilt at his side to announce that the Roo-Tan people were forming an alliance with the academy. As part of the agreement Jhonate’s contract was being severed. Her father had commanded that she was to come home with Justan in tow.

“He was your father’s messenger, yes. But you know that he didn’t have to come.” Justan replied. Sir Hilt was friends with Xedrion bin Leeths, but he didn’t work for him. “The only reason Hilt would come back so quickly, leaving Beth and their baby at home, is because of the affection he feels for us both.”

They quieted for a moment as they strode past a large group of workers. The men were laboring to clear the center of Reneul where the large arena had once stood. Justan had tested to join the academy in that very arena. Little but the foundation remained now. Justan felt a shiver as he was reminded of the sheer power of the explosion that had destroyed the academy. He had been working at clearing the rubble for four months and still it affected him.

“This is the third time he has come on my father’s request to fetch me,” she replied finally. “He has reasons beyond simple affection to come all this way.”

“Maybe,” Justan said, though he didn’t know what Hilt’s other reasons could be. “Listen, I know you are upset, Jhonate, but to tell you the truth, I’m relieved. Finally we can go to your father and get this over with.”

“Get this over with?” she asked, dumbfounded. This time she stopped completely and planted her staff into the ground before turning to face him, her hands on her hips. Several workers stopped their work to observe the conversation.

“Yes,” Justan replied, not backing down despite the intensity in her eyes. “We have been betrothed for over half a year now and I’m tired of the threat of your father looming over us. Now we can face him and get on with our lives.”

“Do you think I am foolish, Edge?” Jhonate asked, her eyes narrowed at him. She usually called him Justan when they were alone, but she found it disrespectful to call him anything other than his title when in public.

“No,” Justan said slowly, realizing that he was treading a thin line.

She raised an eyebrow. “Do you consider me a coward?”

Justan winced. “Of course not. Why would you-?”

“I am well aware of how much time has gone by,” Jhonate said. “And I am also fully aware that I could have cut my contract short at any time just by asking. Each delay I have made has been deliberate.”

“Okay,” Justan said, confused at where she was going with this. As far as he had known, her contract was the only thing keeping them from traveling to Malaroo. He had assumed that her reasons for staying out the year at the academy and fulfilling her contract was out of a sense of honor.

“No!” Jhonate said and Justan was reminded that her close proximity to him allowed her to sense his thoughts through the ring. “My original purpose for coming here was brought to an honorable conclusion months ago.”

“Then why have we been waiting?” Justan wondered. Everyone seemed so fearful of her father’s wrath.

She turned and strode forward again. I have not delayed out of a fear of my father!

Justan scratched his head and followed. Why hadn’t she talked to him about this earlier? Why couldn’t she just come out and declare her reasons instead of keeping them bottled up for so long?

“There is still just so much that needs to be done,” she said.

Justan still had no idea what she was talking about, but he let it go for now. If they were traveling all the way to Malaroo, there would be plenty of time for talk along the road.

Where are you going? Gwyrtha asked through the bond. The rogue horse sounded confused. Justan sensed that she was still back at the work site where he had left her and there was a bit of a commotion. He sensed laughter around her as well as frantic cries.

Gwyrtha, why is someone beating you about the head? he asked.

This old elf is tired of riding. Gwyrtha replied with a very un-horselike chuckle.

Justan rolled his eyes. Then let him down, for goodness’ sake! When he had last seen her, Yntri Yni had been clinging to her mane for dear life as she galloped past. Justan felt guilty for letting her continue her little joke. The elf truly was ancient; little more than wrinkles and bones. Surely such a rough ride wasn’t good for him.

He is stronger than he looks, Gwyrtha replied, but she slowed down enough that Yntri was able to leap down. She sent Justan an image of the elf tumbling quickly to his feet and shaking his fist at her, all the while berating her in his language of clicks and whistles. Gwyrtha chuckled again. This elf really likes me.

Justan sighed. She had changed a lot over the last few months, her mind sharpening quickly as if, by learning to transform her own body, she had somehow overcome some great hurdle in her development. Be nice. I’ll get back to you later.

She sent him an irritated grunt. I’ll see if Hilt wants to ride then.

Justan turned his attention back to Jhonate. He had fallen a few steps behind her and hurried to catch up. “You have to admit that this alliance between the Roo-Tan and the academy is a good thing.”

“Perhaps.” Jhonate’s brow furrowed. “I would never have believed father would agree to such a thing. At least not so quickly. My contract with the academy was a starting point, but I had imagined that, even with steady negotiations, our children would be fully grown before my people consented to an alliance with outsiders.”

Justan stumbled. “Uh, how many children did you expect we would have?” She didn’t answer the question.

They were quickly approaching the main camp. It sat at the base of what used to be the academy’s main gate and consisted of a long cluster of winterized tents and hastily constructed buildings. Smoke rose into the air from hundreds of cook fires and burning piles of scrap.

The partially-built walls of the academy rose high above the camp. Stoneworkers set large blocks of stone hewn from nearby quarries into place while wizards runed the completed sections with earth and fire magic. The dwarves and wizards had approved the plans together and everyone was confident that the new academy would be far superior to the old one.

Soon they were at the barracks; a long hall erected by the wizards when they had first arrived at the site. The building was two stories tall, its walls made from stone pulled up from the ground directly beneath it. The different coloration of the various layers of strata in the walls made it stand out from the buildings built by regular means.

Jhonate spoke to a guard and was directed to the room on the second floor where their new guests were housed. They headed up right away, but Jhonate stopped Justan just outside the wooden door at the top of the stairs.

“Before we enter there are things we should discuss,” Jhonate said, her eyes focused.

“Okay,” Justan replied.

She pointed a finger at his chest as she spoke. “I have things to say to my brothers and you are not to interfere. I wish I could ask you not speak to them at all, but unfortunately my brothers are likely to ask you questions.”

Justan smiled and shook his head. “You’re that worried about what I might say?”

“My people can be . . . prickly. It will be all too easy for you to say something that could offend them or bring down my father’s ire.”

“Jhonate, I have spent enough time around you to learn how to deal with someone ‘prickly’,” Justan said.

“That may be true, but I am easy to talk to in comparison,” Jhonate replied and Justan frowned at the implications. She added, “My siblings do not like the way my father dotes on me. They have often enjoyed finding ways to make him angry with me in the past.”

“Very well,” Justan said. “Then why don’t you just use the ring?”

“The ring?”

“Yes. If they ask me a question, simply tell me what to say to them,” he explained. “That way I won’t offend.”

Her eyebrows rose and she gave him an approving nod. “I had not thought of that. It is a good idea, Justan.”

“Thanks,” he said. She still had much to learn about the way their connection could be used.

Jhonate opened the door and they stepped in to a wide open room. The first half of the floor was taken up by rows of bunks and small chests where the academy soldiers could store their goods. Most of the soldiers were out working but there were multiple guard shifts during the day and several men were sitting at their bunks in various stages of undress. A few smiled as Jhonate brazenly strode through, but the ones that recognized her scrambled to cover themselves. Some of them saluted Justan. He smiled and nodded in return.

At the end of the main room was a short hall leading to the officer’s quarters. The rooms were small and consisted of little more than what the rest of the soldiers were given, but at least there was a bit of privacy. Jhonate’s brothers were being housed in the back, for the time being, in rooms that were held for visitors. These were more spacious, but just as starkly furnished.

Jhonate moved to the last door on the right and knocked. It opened a moment later and a tall man answered the door. He looked slightly older than her, but Justan could tell right away that he was one of Jhonate’s brothers. He had the same long black hair and his braids were interwoven with green ribbons, though they were pulled back from the side of his face in a different style than Jhonate’s. He wore an academy-standard winter coat but looked uncomfortable in it. The laces in the front were tied unevenly.

His chiseled face formed a frown. “There you are, sister lost.”

“Fullbrother Jhexin,” she said, returning his look. “Are you the best father would send?”

She strode past him into the room. Three other men were inside sitting on cots, each of them wearing similar clothing as the first.

Jhonate raised an eyebrow. “Qurl and Xendrol. I thought this was a joke before, but now I see that father is serious about this.”

One of the brothers uncurled, coming quickly to his feet. He looked to be older than Jhonate and wore black ribbons in his braids. He darted forward, his hand lashing out to deliver a ringing slap across her face. Jhonate didn’t bother to block. Her head was rocked back, but she did not stagger.

“You bring us dishonor!” he declared.

The blow caught Justan by surprise. His hands balled into fists and he took a step forward, his arm swinging.

Stop! Jhonate demanded through the ring, halting Justan’s fist inches from her brother’s face. I deserved the blow.

She stepped in front of Justan and met her brother’s angry gaze. “Are you one of those staying behind, Xendrol?”

He glared and shoved past her towards the door. Justan stood in his way, his bulky form crowding the door. Xendrol snarled and his hand moved to the wooden hilt of a Jharro sword belted at his waist. “Move, ‘dry foot’!”

Justan, several inches taller than the man, refused to back down. He ached to strike at this Xendrol. Brother or not, how dare he slap Jhonate?

Let him go, Jhonate sent to Justan and she said to her brother, “This school will be good for a man like you.”

Reluctantly, Justan stepped aside. Xendrol brushed past him and stormed down the hallway, muttering something about ‘father’s pet’.

“Who else did father bargain away?” Jhonate asked, looking at the others. “Sir Hilt says that two of my brothers are remaining behind to join the academy. Surely not you, Qurl. Father would not send away both his fourth and fifth born sons. Or have you fallen from his favor?”

“Your tongue is sharp as ever, Jhonate,” the man replied. Qurl looked to be the oldest of the brothers and had the bulkiest build, stretching the seams of his winter coat. Red ribbons were woven into his braids. “Father sent me here to make sure you don’t find a way to slither out of this.” He glanced at Justan. “Is this your betrothed?”

Jhonate turned to look at Justan and he saw the red welt that was already forming on her cheek. “Yes. This is Sir Edge, named at the Bowl of Souls. He is a great warrior and bonding wizard.”

Qurl stood, giving Justan an appraising look. He was just as tall as Justan and carried a Jharro staff slightly smaller than Jhonate’s in his right hand. “I have heard that you have a Jharro bow, Sir Edge.”

“I do,” Justan replied.

“May I see it?” Qurl asked.

“It is in my quarters,” Justan said, knowing instantly that he had already made the kind of mistake Jhonate had warned him about.

“Do you often let the tree’s gift gather dust?” Qurl replied, his voice tinged with contempt.

Justan saw Jhonate’s jaw clench. He realized that he had never seen her without her staff at her side. Justan kept his voice level. “I usually keep it with me, but I was clearing rubble when we heard of your arrival. I haven’t had time to retrieve it.”

“You leave your bow behind when you labor and yet you carry your swords?” Qurl snorted and gave Jhonate a wry look. “How low. Are you always so lax when teaching your pupils?”

Jhonate winced. He is right. I am sorry, Justan. I should have prepared you better before coming in here.

What should I say? he asked, wanting to make things better.

Nothing, she replied.

“You are being harsh, brother,” said the youngest of the brothers in the room. He was lounging on his cot, his winter coat unlaced down the front revealing a simple deerskin shirt underneath. His hair was more dark brown than black and he wore ribbons the same shade of green as Jhonate’s. “The trees do not require this.”

“This is true,” Jhonate said. “Father may require that the Leeths Clan keep our weapons at our side, but Sir Edge is not of our family.”

“It is about respect!” Qurl said through gritted teeth. He shot a promising glance at the younger brother.

Justan wanted to say something but kept his jaw shut. Instead he folded his arms, making sure the rune on the back of his right hand was clearly visible, and gave Qurl a level gaze.

“He is my betrothed,” Jhonate said. “I would not be with him if he did not respect his gift.”

Qurl snorted. “Perhaps. We have a long road ahead of us in which to determine the manner of your betrothed. Come, Jhexin. Let us see what these ‘dry foot’ warriors have to eat at this time of day.”

Jhexin nodded and the two Jharro wielders moved past Justan into the hallway.

“Wait, Qurl,” Jhonate said. “I have questions for you!”

“Ask the yearling,” the other brother said with a dismissive wave and they continued down the hall.

“Yearling?” Justan wondered.

“They are remarking on my youth, dry foot,” said the youngest brother, still laying back on the cot.

“Dry foot?” Justan said, confused.

“It is a derogatory term,” Jhonate said, frowning. “My people come from the marshes and most outsiders that come there fear to get their feet wet.”

She nudged her brother’s leg with her staff. “Sit up, Pelgroth, and show my betrothed more respect than the others!”

Pelgroth sighed and swung his feet over the edge of the cot. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his thighs. “Sorry, fullsister. And I apologize, Sir Edge. If Jhonate likes you, your feet must be at least partially damp.”

“And do I not warrant an embrace, fullbrother?” Jhonate said, raising an eyebrow.

A cautious smile appeared on her younger brother’s face. “Well, I suppose the others are gone.” He stood and wrapped his arms around her. “I missed you, Jhonate.”

“And I you, Pelgroth,” she said with a smile, returning his embrace. She placed her hands on his shoulders and pushed him back at arms-length. “You have grown much since I last saw you.”

“That happens when one is gone for over three years,” he said reproachfully. “With you gone, the clan’s clod-head ratio has been out of control.”

Jhonate’s smile faded a bit. “My one regret has been leaving you and Trincy behind.”

He shrugged. “We were quite angry with you about it at first, but that was just because we wished we could do the same.”

Justan found himself smiling. He liked this brother. “So you’re the other one staying behind here at the academy then?”

“I am,” he said, turning an appraising gaze on Justan. “And I am glad of it, too. Anything to get out from under father’s thumb.”

“Pelgroth!” Jhonate said reproachfully. “Do not disrespect father.”

“Come on,” he said. “It is not about respect. It is about freedom. You of all people should know that.” Jhonate pursed her lips, but didn’t disagree with him. Pelgroth spoke to Justan. “So, Sir Edge. You are the one who won my sister’s heart. How did you do that when she does not have one?”

Justan chuckled. “We both know that isn’t true.”

Pelgroth raised his hands and tucked them behind his head. “I think I like you, Sir Edge. Too bad. I think father plans on killing you.”

Justan’s smile faltered. Jhonate grabbed Pelgroth’s arm and sat, pulling him down to sit on the cot next to her. “You must tell me what has been going on since I left.”

“What do you want to know?”

“Everything.”

“You mean over the last three years?” Pelgroth looked incredulous. “Do you know nothing?”

“Very little, fullbrother,” she replied. “Sir Hilt told me a few things but I did not ask for more.”

“What does it mean when you call him fullbrother?” Justan asked.

“We share the same mother as well as father,” Jhonate replied.

Pelgroth wrinkled his nose. “Have you told him nothing of our people?”

“Just tell me what has happened,” Jhonate said, refocusing him. “All I know is that father is still Protector of the Grove and that he has refused to take another wife from the Prath Clan.”

“The Prath Clan is pretty soaked about it, too,” Pelgroth said, shaking his head for emphasis. “But they never have liked father anyway and he says he is done taking wives. I, for one, am glad of it. Our clan is enough of a snake pit as it is with seven surly women about. Besides, father has become too fixated on Tayle women. Can you imagine the outcome if he took on another wife from their Clan?”

“The Prath might take up weapons against us,” Jhonate said.

Pelgroth laughed. “Sure, they would arrive just in time to find that our other mothers had killed him in his sleep.”

“Do not be ridiculous,” Jhonate said dismissively, but her brow was knit in thought. Justan could sense her mind churning. “I suppose that means no more siblings then.”

“Did Hilt not tell you?” Pelgroth said. “Liz had a daughter about six months ago. Father named her Lizbeth.”

“So you have another sister?” Justan asked. That made twenty six children. When you had that many did another one even matter? Being an only child, he found the concept of having twenty five siblings a difficult one to grasp.

“Possibly two,” Pelgroth replied. He looked Jhonate in the eye. “Our mother is pregnant again.”

“At her age?” Jhonate said, her eyes wide. “Is that safe?”

“The nurses were worried, especially after what she went through with Trincy. The other wives wanted to stop the birth, but Listener Beth said she had a vision that both mother and the baby will live,” Pelgroth said. “The baby will be born some time this spring.”

Jhonate sighed in relief, one hand on her chest.

“Your people seem to have a lot of respect for Beth,” Justan remarked.

“She did save the grove, after all,” Pelgroth said. They gave him surprised glances and his nose wrinkled in confusion. “You are Hilt and Beth’s friends are you not? Did you not know?”

“I saw that she had a Jharro dagger, but I never asked her why,” Justan replied. “What did she do?”

“What did she-? She only fought her way to the top of the highest mountain and brought down a bag of Jharro seeds!” Pelgroth said, his face animated. “You should ask Hilt about it. Both he and Yntri were there when she did it.”

“New seeds . . .” Jhonate raised a hand to her mouth. “Then-.”

“A whole new section of the grove has been planted! Over a hundred saplings have grown and the old trees have wakened with new life! If not for the Roo-Dan, life couldn’t be better!” he said enthusiastically.

“The Roo-Dan?” Justan asked.

“Rag-tag villages to the east of the grove, full of witches and sorcerers,” Jhonate said, pulling on her lip thoughtfully. “A constant annoyance, nothing more.”

“More than an annoyance now,” Pelgroth said. “There are rumors that they have been banding together. Even father is worried. People are going missing.”

Jhonate dropped her lip and looked right at her brother. “Witches’ work?”

“Maybe,” he said with a shrug. “No one knows for sure, but whole villages of our people have disappeared. There is no sign of battle. It is as if they just wandered off.”

“That would take one powerful witch. Even Mellinda couldn’t do that,” Justan said. Bewitching magic could control lesser minds, but for a witch to take over a human mind, the victim would have to be a willing participant.

“Is this why father is making the alliance with the academy?” Jhonate asked.

“I do not know,” Pelgroth said with a shrug. “Father acts as if he is not worried about the Roo-Dan, but he sent Xeldryn and Sen along with two score warriors to investigate.”

“Then he is worried,” Jhonate said. She looked at Justan. “Xeldryn is the first-born son. Father prefers to keep him at his side.”

Justan shook his head. “If he was setting up this alliance to get the academy’s help right away, this is a bad time to do it. There is little we can do. We are stretched far too thin as it is with the rebuild. Besides, if he was sending for help, father and Hilt said nothing about it.”

“Then why would he go to such lengths for the alliance?” Jhonate asked. “Why send four of his sons away at a time like this?”

Pelgroth gave her an incredulous look. “Seriously, Jhonate? After all that father has gone through to bring you home, you still don’t believe?”

“What are you saying?” she asked, squinting in confusion.

“It is about you!” Pelgroth shouted. “By the marshes, why else do you think our brothers are so angry? With each successive time you rebuffed his requests to come home, father has gotten more and more angry. You saw what he did to Hilt the last time he came back empty handed.”

Justan swallowed at the thought of the new scar that ran from Hilts ear down his neckline. The dread he’d been feeling grow in his stomach at each mention of Xedrion’s fury reached a new depth of intensity. Jhonate was worth any obstacle he would have to overcome, but he was realizing just how much he didn’t know about the situation he was about to walk into.

“I am just one of his daughters and an unimportant one,” Jhonate said, though her voice was uncharacteristically weak and unconvincing. “He has ten now, after all, and I am number six.”

“You are and always have been his favorite, and you know it. Everyone knows it!” Pelgroth said. “Among all of us, besides maybe Xeldryn, he loves you best.”

“I don’t understand,” Justan said to Jhonate. “If he wants you home so badly, why did he send you here in the first place?”

“You have not told him?” Jhonate looked down sheepishly and Pelgroth laughed. “Father did not send her here. She stole off in the night and came on her own.”

END OF CHAPTER ONE

Chapter two can be read HERE

Protector of the Grove cover revealed!

Hey Folks!

Exciting exciting times around here at Bowl of Souls central. (By which I mean me sitting in my office and my wife stopping by from time to time to tell me to fix something.) I am nearing completion on Protector of the Grove! We are still on target for a late July release.

Today I received the finished cover for the book by the lovely and talented Renu Sharma and I have got to say, I like it a lot. Okay, I love it.

POTGebook

Click the picture for a zoom because you really should see the detail work here. It is stunning.

If you are wondering, yes this is Jhonate’s father, Xedrion bin Leeths, the titular Protector of the Grove on the cover. Note the work Renu did on the scars, the braids, the ribbons. All of it fabulous. Also, Yes, he is wearing  Jharro wood armor.

Here is the back cover blurb for those wondering what the book is going to be about”

“Jhonate’s reprieve from her father has been cut short. She is forced to return home to Malaroo, bringing Justan along with her. The journey she has avoided for so long has become all the more difficult because someone wants Justan dead.

The rogue horse Esmine, a mythical beast of remarkable power, has been captured by a troupe of dwarf smugglers. They are taking her to the nation Alberri where a gnome scholar awaits with a vicious plan to sacrifice the beast and bind its powerful soul to make a weapon of mass destruction. Tarah Woodblade must gather a group of warriors and rescue Esmine before she is taken to Alberri.

Evil stirs. Darkness is building. But can anyone trust Xedrion, The Protector of the Grove?”

Here is a preview for the full cover art for the print edition that shall be available a day or so after the ebook.

POTGpaperback

Did I mention its coming out this month? We are just weeks away. If you haven’t read Tarah Woodblade yet, pick it up now because it is required reading to fully understand what it going on with these characters now.

Once the book is out I will get to work putting together audiobooks for the Moonrat Saga. As of right now I have no idea how long that process is going to take, so please be patient with me there. Next on my list will be working on book three of the Jharro Grove saga titled NAME PENDING, Just kidding there, but I really haven’t decided on the title yet. I have several of them floating around. I might make you wait until you read the stinger at the end of Protector of the Grove.

Please comment below and tell me what you think. Also tell your friends because this is a great time to jump into the world of the Bowl of Souls.

Thanks and I appreciate all of you for your support,

Trevor H. Cooley

Site Page Update – Character Pronunciation Guide and more

Hey folks!

I just updated the site, adding several new pages and putting them under the heading Bowl of Souls Encyclopedia

This includes a Character Pronunciation Guide, a Bestiary, a Glossary of Magic Systems, and also the Interactive Map.

I did most of this work during the time I was without internet. I have avoided putting together a pronunciation guide for a long time because I feel that a reader’s relationship with characters is a personal thing. most readers come up with their own pronunciations in their head and to be told they are wrong can take them out of the story.  This has happened to me with other series including The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan as well as a few others. But I have had readers request one and as I started looking into getting audiobooks of the series done, I realized that it was going to happen sooner or later anyway. So here you go.

These pages are not complete and if you see something that I forgot, please don’t hesitate to let me know by either using my contact email or using the comments sections. Thanks and please let me know what you think!

Trevor H. Cooley

Tarah Woodblade available in paperback and June news update!

Howdy folks!

It’s been a while. There are multiple recent developments in my life.

I finally have internet in my new house. After 12 weeks of waiting for my request to pass from desk to desk at the cable company and waiting for the electric company to come in and replace a pole at my house, it’s finally here and installed. I have spent the last few days working on several projects that I could only handle online. (This is life as an independent author. You have to do everything yourself. No publishing company to handle things.)

First thing accomplished: Tarah Woodblade is now available in paperback!

I just received an email that the book is available for purchase on Createspace. They are the company that prints my books. The book will also be available on Amazon shortly.

Here is the Createspace link: https://www.createspace.com/4840254 . By the way, I make a bigger profit if physical copies of my books are ordered here than elsewhere, but if you have Amazon Prime you will save money ordering them there.

Here are my next projects:

1. Finishing Protector of the Grove. I am planning on an end of June/early July release date. (I am already working with the lovely and talented Renu Sharma on the cover and it is very exciting.)

2. Putting the Moonrat Saga on audiobook. I will be working with Audible to get a voice actor to partner with me on this. I have no idea what kind of timetable to expect, but this is happening.

3. I will be working with my buddy, Michael Patty, to update the map for the Jharro Grove saga.

4. I am putting together a character name pronunciation guide and general Bowl of Souls encyclopedia. I will include some of this in the back of future books and also be posting it here on my website for reference.

In other news, I am scrapping an idea I was working on for a Slenderman short story. I have been debating with myself whether to tell you all this, but I was going to release it as a surprise this fall between the release of The Protector of the Grove and the next book in the Jharro Grove Saga. What those teenage girls in Wisconsin were up to completely deflated my idea for the story. It was going to be a Creepy Pasta-style first person story. The problem is that it would have fed too much into the kind of stuff those girls were obsessed with and at the very least it would have made me look like I was either being insensitive, or I was just latching onto the idea as a lame publicity thing. Anyway, RIP Slenderman story.

I’ll end this post with a few Protector of the Grove teasers. Possible spoilers if you have not finished the Moonrat Saga and Tarah Woodblade yet.

SPOILER ALERT WARNING

The book follows two major storylines. The primary story is Justan and Jhonate traveling to Malaroo to meet her father. The secondary story follows Tarah and Djeri as they recruit some familiar friends from Coal’s Keep and chase after Shade and the rogue horse he has captured.

Expect appearances and/or Major roles from past players in the Bowl of Souls series including Willum, Tolivar, Lenny, Bettie, Hilt, Beth, and Yntri Yni to name a few.

Thanks everyone and keep your eyes on the site because this is where I will keep you informed.

Also, don’t forget to like the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/EyeOfTheMoonrat where I post things more often and follow me on twitter @edgewriter!

Trevor H. Cooley

 

 

Book Title Announcement and Cool Reader Story

Hey folks, it has been awhile. Things are slow down here on the farm, but I do have some updates.

First, I still don’t have internet here after a month of waiting. Charter Internet is the only game in town for true high speed internet and they are dragging their feet getting the installation done. As my new house is too far from the road for a standard installation, they have to change out a power pole and dig a new line in. They aren’t very good at communicating, saying only “We’ll let you know when we are ready to begin construction.” It’s a royal pain for a family who uses the internet for its lifeblood.

The good news, however, is that this hasn’t stopped me from starting on the next book. This brings me to my announcement.

The title for The Jharro Grove Saga, Book Two will be: Protector of the Grove

This book returns Justan and Co. to the lead characters in the story as Justan and Jhonate go to Malaroo to confront her father, while Tarah Woodblade and Djeri’s story takes them to Coal’s Keep to drum up support to help them rescue the rogue horse.

Estimated release date is early summer, June or July.

In other news, I recently heard from a reader in German with a request. His daughter had translated the prologue of Eye of the Moonrat into German and wanted to publish her translation in her school newspaper. I was touched by the request and gave her permission. Yesterday I received an email from him. The school newspaper had come out and he sent me pictures of the pages.

german prologue

Eotm Proloue German2

photo2

Thank you, Thomas. Tell your daughter I love it!

April Update

Hey folks, it may have only been a few weeks but it seems like much longer since my last post.

I’m currently writing this post from my parent’s house using my father’s computer. My family and I moved two days after Tarah Woodblade’s release. We have been in Tennessee since the 15th of March but we have not had internet service. We bought some farmland and the internet provider out here says it may be a few more weeks until they can get the cable out to our house. As a result I’ve had a strange sort of disconnect with the book’s release and for the first time I feel like I don’t really have my finger on the pulse of how the book has been received.

I have driven into town from time to time to update Facebook from my phone (also terrible reception at my new house but that should be fixed when the internet is up too) and I have checked the numbers as well, but it isn’t the same as my daily communication with readers.

At any rate, I have started on the second book in the Jharro Grove Saga and I am having fun getting back into the mind of Justan and Co. I hope to release this book early this summer at this point and now that the move craziness is over I should be able to keep on schedule.

I’ll update you when I have new info like the new book title and so forth. In the meantime please leave comments or reach me through the contact button and tell me what you think of the new book. Also please leave reviews on Amazon. Reviews truly are the lifeblood of Kindle sales.

Also I thought I’d tell you about someone I met here locally. She is the author of the Advent Mage Cycle and her name is Honor Raconteur.  I was quite surprised to meet a fellow fantasy author out here and we have had some interesting conversations. She is an independent author as well and we have similar stories as to how we got where we are.

I haven’t had a chance to read any of her work yet, but it is well reviewed. Have any of you read any of her books?

Thanks to you all for reading!

 

Tarah Woodblade is now Available

Hey, Folks. It’s time.

Tarah Woodblade is now available on Amazon for Kindle!

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IXGQVDS

TarahWoodblade-ebook

As in the past, this book will be exclusive to Amazon for the first three months and will be released to Nook, Apple, etc, after that. But why wait? If you don’t have a Kindle device, you can still read it. Download the free Kindle app for PC, Android, Ipod, Tablet, or whatever. The ebook is just 3.99.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&docId=1000493771

Please sound off in the comments below as you by it. Also please leave a review and don’t hesitate to tell me what you thought in the comments or using the contact button at the top of the site.

Thanks so much everybody for your patience. This book was truly a labor of love and I know you’ll love it too.

Trevor

Tarah Woodblade chapter 3 and update!

Well, folks, it’s crunch time.  It”s getting more and more stressfull here in Cooleyland with our big move coming up. I’m doing the writing while my wife is doing the packing and that has led to all types of fun times for all involved. The good news is Tarah is coming soon, (just weeks away).

In the meantime I thought I would post one last preview chapter for you guys to chew on. I hope you enjoy it. Let me know in the comments section below.

In case you missed them, read chapter one HERE and chapter two HERE.

 

 

 

Chapter Three

Tarah raised her arms, signaling a halt. The nobles jerked back on their reins, causing one of the horses to give out a nervous whinny. The trolls stopped their swaying and sniffed the air, saliva dripping from their open mouths. Luckily their eyesight was poor and the wind was blowing in Tarah’s favor. Like all common trolls they were tall and thin, with long wicked claws and large mouths full of razor-like teeth. Their skin had a greenish tint and extruded a glistening slime that had pooled on the ground around them.

Trolls are hard to kill, warned Tarah’s papa. Best to avoid them whenever possible.

“I know,” Tarah whispered, a shiver of fear rising up her back. Unfortunately, the creatures were standing in the middle of the road. She pulled her bow from its place over her shoulder and turned to Derbich. “Keep your voices low. They haven’t noticed us yet. Do any of you have a way to make fire quickly? Magic fire starters?”

“No.” Derbich answered, his eyes concerned.

“What are those things?” Bertwise whispered.

“Trolls,” Tarah said, but kept her focus on Derbich. “How bad do you need to be at the Mage School today?”

“Let’s go back to Sampo, Derbich,” Anna said, her voice a bit too loud. One of the trolls cocked its head and took a few steps in their direction. “We can come back tomorrow with armed guards.”

“Be silent, Anna.” Derbich turned a frown at Tarah. “I would much rather be there this evening, Miss Woodblade. That’s why I paid your man more than the standard guild rate.”

Tarah’s lips tightened. So her suspicions were right. She would have a nice chat with Bander when she got back to Sampo. “I can take you around ‘em. There is a ravine not far off the road. We’ll have to lead the horses.”

“I demand we go back to Sampo!” Anna protested. “I am NOT traipsing through the underbrush with creatures around!”

The trolls screeched at the sound of her upraised voice and began to run towards them. Tarah swore. “You three stay where you are. Don’t run unless they get past me.”

The trolls were coming fast. She would only have time for one shot and she had to make it count. Tarah reached back to her quiver and ran her fingers quickly over the fletchings, selecting an arrow she knew was steel-tipped. Gathering her concentration, she drew the arrow back and fired.

The arrow struck the lead troll between the eyes and drove deep into its skull. Tarah nodded in satisfaction as it tumbled to the ground. The other troll ran on heedless of its downed companion, its claws outstretched. Tarah dropped her bow and ran to meet it, her red staff in hand.

A troll fights without strategy, her papa said. Hunger is the only thought in its head. It’ll charge and swipe with its claws, trying to pull you in and bite you.

Yeah-yeah. Thanks a lot, Tarah replied. She was scared enough without the reminder. The thing was at least a foot taller than she was and by the way it barreled towards her Tarah knew that standing toe-to-toe with it wasn’t going to work.

Soon it was almost on her. Tarah darted to the side, just under it’s wicked claws, and swung her staff down low, using it’s momentum against it. Her staff cracked it across the shins and the troll fell forward.

It crashed to the ground so hard that Tarah heard the snap of breaking ribs, but the troll scrambled to its feet, heedless of pain, and turned to face her. Tarah planted her feet and the end of her staff met its face, striking it across the upper jaw and nose. The troll stumbled backwards as blood, teeth, and slime flew from its mouth.

For most creatures, such a horrendous blow would have ended the fight, but Tarah didn’t dare let up. Before the troll could right itself, she shifted her hands on her staff and swung again, her weight distributed perfectly to lend the blow as much power as possible. The staff struck its temple, shattering its skull.

The troll fell convulsing and Tarah struck again. Three more times, she bashed its skull, softening it up. Then, when its movements had stopped, she pulled an arrow from her quiver and stabbed through its fractured skull, pinning it to the ground.

Breathing heavily, she turned to see if the other troll was back up yet. When she saw that it hadn’t moved, she let out a sigh of relief and turned to face her clients.

Anne was staring at her, wide-eyed, her hand raised to her mouth in horror. Derbich gazed at her with respect, one eyebrow raised. Bertwise, on the other hand, wore an eager grin.

“That was amazing!” the young noble said and spurred his horse forward to get a closer look at the downed troll. Tarah raised her hand and opened her mouth to tell him to stop, but she was too late. As his horse lunged forward, she heard a loud snap.

“No!” she cried and rushed past the confused boy. A lump rose in her throat as she picked up her bow from the ground where she had dropped it. The impact of the horse’s hoof had split the wood down the middle. She glared at the boy. “You see what you did?”

“I’m sorry,” Bertwise said, confused by her reaction.

“Don’t worry, Miss Woodblade,” said Derbich. “We’ll buy you a new one.”

“M-my papa made it for me,” she said, her lips quivering. “It’s . . . not replaceable.”

Tarah Woodblade doesn’t cry. Tarah Woodblade doesn’t mourn. Not where she can be seen, Grampa Rolf reminded. Tarah swallowed her sorrow and swung the broken bow back over her shoulder.

“I insist,” Derbich said. “We can make an arrangement of some kind.”

Tarah shook her head, but felt an insistent nudge from her grampa and said, “We can settle up when we arrive at the Mage School. For now, I need to burn these things. Come on. Follow me.” She led them down the road and stopped them at the body of the first troll she had downed.

“It’s moving!” cried Bertwise.

The troll raised its head and began to push itself up from the ground. It opened its mouth and gurgled, releasing a rivulet of slime. Tarah could see the arrow slowly being pushed out of the wound as the creature’s brain healed. She swung her staff in a precise strike, smacking the end of the arrow and driving it back into the troll’s head. The steel arrowhead popped out through the back of its skull.

Anna yelped as the troll convulsed, then laid still. Tarah grabbed it by the leg. The troll’s skin was slick and rubbery and she fought a grimace off of her face as she began pulling it down the center of the road towards the second one.

“What are you doing?” Anne asked from atop her horse. “Let’s ride on.”

“We can’t, Madam Furley. They heal too quick. If we leave ‘em here, they’ll just attack the next person that comes down the road,” Tarah said, dragging the heavy troll past their horses.

Bertwise didn’t believe it. “How can it heal an arrow through the brain?”

“They don’t have much to heal,” Tarah replied.

“Troll brains are simple, Berty,” Derbich explained. “All they think about is eating. Besides, even if you cut their head off, they’ll just grow a new one and walk around as if nothing happened.”

“And the head you cut off will grow another body if you let it,” Tarah added, grunting as she pulled its body on top of its friend. “Once saw a troll cut into ten pieces. Two weeks later, came back to find ten trolls.” That was actually one of her papa’s stories, but Grampa Rolf would say telling tales was a good idea, whether the story was true or not. That’s how you grew your legend.

“The best thing you can do is leave something stuck through its brain until you can burn it,” Tarah continued. She looked down at the troll whose head she had smashed. The bones of its skull were already re-forming. She set down her pack and reached into the front pocket for her flint and steel. “Now hold tight while I set these things on fire.”

“Right there in the middle of the road?” Bertwise asked.

“Don’t want to burn down the forest,” Tarah said.

“I don’t like standing around here,” Anne complained. “What if there are more of those things around?”

“This won’t take long,” Tarah said through gritted teeth. If these people weren’t clients she would have chewed the woman’s ear off. Instead she kept her voice even.

“Don’t worry, dear,” Derbich said. “Trolls burn quite quickly. Their slime is flammable.”

“How efficient of them,” Anne grumbled.

Tarah turned her back on the woman and struck her flint against the steel, sending sparks onto the trolls’ glistening bodies. It only took a few strikes before there was a soft whoosh. The flames came up so suddenly that the horses shied away.

The trolls began to squirm as the fire ate into them and one of them jerked spasmodically, sending strings of burning slime across the road. One string landed on a slime trail the trolls had left earlier and Tarah rushed over as fire began to spread. She was able to kick dirt over the trail to stop the flame’s spread just before it reached a pool of slime at the forest’s edge.

“See, lady?” Tarah said. “That’s why I wanted ‘em in the middle of the road. Who knows how long they’ve been in the place leaving their slimy tracks every. . .”

Tarah’s voice trailed off. She walked to the edge of the road and crouched down. “No way,” she mumbled to herself, gazing at several slime-covered impressions in the ground. Their pattern was quite distinct.

“Do we really need to wait around here until those things stop burning?” Anne said.

“Just a minute longer,” Tara said. She opened her pack and reached deep inside to pull out a piece of folded parchment. She opened it and compared the ink drawings on the page to the impressions in the ground. They matched perfectly.

Gripping her staff tightly, she tucked the parchment under her arm and reached down with her free hand to touch the tracks. A deep hunger flashed through her mind and she snatched her hand back, frowning slightly. She couldn’t sense the mind of the creature that had left the track. The troll slime was in the way. She sat back on her haunches and looked at the piece of parchment again, her brow furrowed.

“Miss Woodblade? Is there a problem?” Derbich asked. The man’s voice was tinged with concern.

She shook her head and tucked the parchment back into her pack, then stood and turned to face them. “It’s nothing of importance, sir. We should move on.” He raised an eyebrow but nodded and Tarah added, “I’ll pick up the pace. We’ll still make it by dark if we hurry.”

She started on down the road towards the Mage School at a brisk jog, leaving the smoldering remains of the trolls, and the curious tracks, behind. The nobles had to urge their horses into a trot to keep up. To Tarah’s relief, they kept a slight distance, giving her time to mull things over.

When the drawing of the strange tracks had been given to her, Tarah had scoffed at the idea that such a creature existed. But now she had seen real proof. The tracks had belonged to a large beast with the front end of an ape and the rear end of a great cat.

She could feel her grampa’s smile. There was a lot of money to be made if she could track that beast down. Too bad the tracks had been so old. From the state of them, they had been left in the mud two rains ago and from the looks of the forest around, it hadn’t rained in quite some time. She bit her lip. The creature could be anywhere by now.

Tarah Woodblade doesn’t turn down an opportunity to make coin, Grampa Rolf reminded.

It’s too much of a stretch, grampa, she replied. Still, it was a lot of coin. She shrugged the thoughts away. She could worry about that later. The most important thing at the moment was to deliver the nobles to the Mage School.

Tarah kept up her pace and soon she was breathing heavily. She shook her head, refusing to slow. Three months of hiding had weakened her. Tarah Woodblade didn’t get winded. Not after a mile run. Besides at this speed, none of the nobles had bothered to speak with her.

The enormous Rune Tower loomed ahead and she ran on, her eyes taking in the scars of war all around her. The fighting had been heavy along this last section of road. Trees were broken, many of them charred, and huge sections of the forest had been torn up. Tarah didn’t let guilt touch her this time. This had been the result of battling with magic. Surely there was nothing one person could have done to help.

Tarah’s legs were burning by the time the walls of the Mage School came into view. She slowed to a walk, her jaw dropping. The walls had shrunk.

The walls used to be a marvel. Raised by powerful earth wizards, they had been fifty-feet-high and made of a single sheet of black rock and used to hang out overhead far above the ground, giving the oppressive feeling that they could collapse on her at any moment. Now, though they were made of the same black rock, the walls were maybe twenty-feet-tall at most. Tarah swallowed as she thought of the sheer amount of power that would have been necessary to bring those walls down.

The Furleys hadn’t seen the walls in their previous state. Anna gave out an awed gasp and Bertwise hooted in excitement. They urged their horses forward and soon passed Tarah in their rush to get to the gates.

Derbich let them race ahead, slowing down as he came next to her. “I must talk to the wizards, but I would like to speak with you afterwards if you don’t mind waiting, Miss Woodblade.”

Without thinking, she nodded and he hurried to catch up to his wife who was already at the front gate speaking to a guard and gesturing excitedly. Tarah walked on, watching as he caught up to them and calmed his wife. Before she reached them, another guard came from inside the wall and ushered the family through. They didn’t look back.

Tarah stopped and grit her teeth in consternation. Why had she agreed to wait? There was nothing to do outside but stand in the dirt and they could be gone for hours.

She looked up at the darkening sky. Surely there was no real need to stay. The Furleys had already paid the guild. If she started back to Sampo now she would be back at the Tracker’s Friend to throttle Bander by midnight.

She turned around, intending to do just that when she heard her papa’s voice chastening her, Be responsible, Tarah. If you see something dangerous in the woods, you got to warn folks.

Her shoulders slouched and she mumbled, “I know, papa.” Tarah looked back at the guards standing by the gate. There were two, one standing on either side of the wide gate, and both were looking her way. She headed towards one of them. He was a big man wearing a breast plate and carrying a spear.

“Hey you!” Tarah said and the man’s eyes widened in surprise. His face was weathered and a long scar wrinkled one cheek. “You in charge here?”

“Me? No. I’m just a student,” he said with a voice Tarah found high for a man his size.

“You’re a student?” she said, puzzled. “At the Mage School?”

A hesitant smile appeared on the man’s lips. “Naw. At the Battle Academy, Ma’am.”

“What’s an academy student doing standing guard at the Mage School?”

His smile faltered. “It’s a big place. Everybody helps with guard duty.”

Tarah frowned. The academy didn’t send students on guard assignments. More had changed than she’d thought. “I don’t have time to talk to a student. Where’s your guard captain?”

“Uh . . .” The student took a few steps back from the wall and looked towards the top of the wall. “Jerry!”

A helmeted head appeared at the top of the wall and peered down at them as it shouted back, “What?”

“This . . . lady wants to talk to someone in charge!” the student replied.

The person on the wall let out a sigh. “I’m coming down!”

A few moments later a guard dressed in full polished platemail walked from inside the gate, his helmet held under one arm. He was short, perhaps a full foot shorter than Tarah, but he had a wide-bodied frame. His shoulders were as wide as a man half again his size and his arms were huge. He approached them and Tarah realized from his stride that he was a dwarf. She hadn’t noticed right away because, unlike other dwarves she’d seen, his hair and beard were cropped short and neat. It reminded her of the way her papa kept his beard trimmed.

The student saluted him but the dwarf just scowled. “You call me captain when you’re on duty, kid,” the dwarf snapped. “And my name’s ‘Djeri’, not ‘Jerry’. understand?”

The man’s face reddened. “Yes, sir.”

Tarah found it strange to see such a young-looking dwarf addressing that grizzled man as ‘kid’. But then again the races with blood magic lived a long time. For all she knew, he could be hundreds of years old.

“Alright, Yerd, back to your post,” the dwarf said in dismissal and turned his eyes on Tarah. He raised one trimmed eyebrow at her armor and red staff, then met her gaze. His eyes were green. She’d never seen a dwarf with green eyes. “And what can I help you with?”

“You’re the guard captain?” she asked.

“No. Riveren the Unbending is in a meeting right now,” the dwarf said, his voice a deep baritone. “But I’m one of his sub-captains. You can speak to me.”

So Riveren was still in charge. The ‘Unbending’ moniker was new, but at least someone she knew had survived the war. “Okay, captain. I wanted to tell you that you guys have problems. We ran into trolls on the road here from Sampo.”

The dwarf didn’t look surprised. “How far from here?”

“About half way,” Tarah said. “There were two of ‘em.”

“Two trolls,” Djeri said, nodding. “Thanks for telling me. I’ll send some men down to take care of them.”

“Those trolls are dead,” she replied. “I burned ‘em and left ‘em in the middle of the road. The reason I’m warning you about ‘em is because there could be more. There was a lot of slime in the forest around the area. I had folks to guide so I wasn’t able to stay around and count tracks.”

“You killed them?” The dwarf looked her over again, his face thoughtful.

“Tarah Woodblade won’t be slowed down by a couple trolls.”

Djeri smiled. “You’re Tarah Woodblade? The hero of Pinewood?”

“I am,” she said and though she injected pride into her voice, something about the dwarf made her feel a little guilty saying it. “But I’m not from Pinewood itself.”

“I heard about you.” He gave her a respectful nod. “Most people thought you were dead, but the Pinewood folks said you were too tough to die. Where have you been?”

“It’s a long story,” she said quickly. “And it’s getting late. I really need to get heading back. I just wanted to warn you before I left.”

“Come on. There’s no need for you to leave just yet. Not when it’s just getting dark,” the dwarf replied and Tarah wondered where he was from. She had never met a dwarf that sounded so . . . human. “Why don’t you stay here for the night? Dinner’s just starting back at the barracks and there is a guest house open that you can sleep in.”

“I-I don’t know.”

“I insist,” he said with an encouraging grin. “Listen, the food here might not be dwarvish, but it’s way better than the turd soup they serve at the inns in Sampo. And I hear the beds at the houses are really nice.”

“Well . . .” Tarah hesitated. A bed sounded wonderful, but Tarah really didn’t want to spend the evening trying to explain where she’d been during the war.

Djeri took her hesitation as a yes. “Good. Yerd! Send a message to Wizard Beehn that we have a guest.” The big man nodded and ran through the gate. Djeri put an arm around her shoulder and urged her inside. “Thanks for warning me about the road. I’ll tell Riveren about it as soon as he gets out of the meeting. I’m sure we’ll send a patrol out at first light.”

Tarah sighed in acceptance and allowed him to lead her through the gate. The view inside the walls was pretty much the way she remembered it. The main road continued through vast manicured lawns to a cluster of class buildings and a clock tower at the center of the school. The enormous Rune Tower rose up behind it all, stretching endlessly into the sky.

That was the home of the wizards, the home of the Bowl of Souls, and more importantly to Tarah, the home of the greatest library in Dremaldria. Tarah had never been inside, but her mother had told her tales of it. She had always dreamed of roaming the library, reading the tales of the great adventurers of days gone by. But the wizards would never let someone like her in there.

Djeri paused to let her take it in, but he didn’t stop talking. “I’m sorry you had to deal with those trolls. We’ve had difficulty keeping the area clear. Ewzad Vriil and the moonrat mother left a lot of turds behind for us to deal with.”

Djeri led her to the left, away from the main road and towards the guard barracks. This area was much bigger than Tarah remembered. There were two new buildings and several neat rows of tents spread in the grass beyond.

As they came closer, Tarah could see men milling about as they came on and off the wall and heard the sound of sparring coming from the training grounds behind the buildings. “You seem to have a lot more guards than before,” she observed.

“Most of the men you see are students,” Djeri said with a shake of his head. “The majority of the graduates are either out on assignments or helping with the rebuild so our forces are stretched pretty thin. The wizards are letting us teach the students here until the new academy is complete.” The dwarf brought her to the largest of the buildings and Tarah caught the first scent of the food being served. “There’s so many of us here right now that the Mage School set us up our own dining hall. We’ve found it best to keep our students separate from theirs as much as possible.”

Tarah’s mouth watered and she realized she had hardly eaten all day. They entered a wide and open dining hall packed with tables and the clamor of talking men. At the back of the room, several servers wearing white aprons were standing behind tables laden with food, dishing it onto plates for the guards.

“The food line’s right here,” Djeri said, taking her to a group of men that were waiting to have their plates filled. “I’m sorry, but I’ll have to leave you here. I have other duties to attend to.”

Tarah frowned. “What am I supposed to do?”

“Just get your food and sit anywhere. No one will give you trouble,” he assured her. “I’ll tell Riveren you are here. I’m sure he’ll want to talk to you. One of us will return to show you to your guest house in a little while.”

The dwarf patted her shoulder and left and Tarah’s anxiety rose. As she watched the dwarf walk out the front door, she had to force the frown from her face. She replaced it with an expression of confidence and waited for her turn at the food, ignoring the curious stares of the men all around the room.

Her palms were sweating by the time one of the workers placed a large plate in her hands. She turned her attention on the food and gave nods to the workers as they piled various meats and vegetables on her plate. Each dish looked like a delicacy to her, covered with herbs and cooked to perfection. The last worker topped her plate with a large yeasty roll and Tarah stepped away eager to get started.

Now the question was where to sit. There wasn’t a completely empty table in the whole hall and the number of men watching her had increased. Sweat beaded on her forehead as she looked around the room and Tarah finally selected an empty spot on a table along the back wall.

There were four other men at the table, but none of them were looking her way. She sat at the end farthest from the men, setting her pack down next to her so that no one would try to sit there. The four men must have just finished a long shift, because they barely glanced at her with sleepy eyes before returning their gazes to their plates.

Watch and learn, Tarah. Watch and learn, said her papa’s voice and Grampa Rolf agreed. The best salesman is observant. Keep your eyes and ears open in every situation. You never know what opportunities may arise.

She didn’t care about opportunities in this place, but Tarah tried to listen to the conversations at the tables around her. Then she took her first bite and their advice was forgotten.

These academy men ate like kings. The roast beef was covered with gravy and fell apart in her mouth, the ham was smoked to perfection, and the roast duck had a sweet and slightly nutty flavor that made her wish she had the whole bird on her plate. The roll was soft and buttery, but the food that impressed her the most was a strange vegetable she had never tasted before. It was yellow in color and looked like a mix of tomato and squash, but had a smooth texture and a peppery tang to it.

As she ate, the weariness left her body and she realized that these academy men weren’t eating like kings. They were eating like elves. There was magic in this food. She felt like she could run all the way back to Sampo without stopping.

She was sopping up the last bit of gravy from her plate when she felt a tap on her shoulder. She looked up to see a guard in bulky plate armor standing beside her.

“You Tarah Woodblade?” asked a female voice.

“Yeah,” Tarah responded hesitantly.

The guard took off her helmet and Tarah saw a pretty face and a head of short-cropped blond hair. A horizontal line of black paint covered the guard’s face from nose to eyebrow. “I’m Kathy. Djeri asked me to take you to your guest house.”

“The dwarf sent you?” Tarah stood to find that this woman was almost as tall as she was and by the size of her plate armor, Tarah knew she must be very strong.

“He asked me,” the woman clarified. “Djeri’s a friend, but he’s not my boss. He was called into a meeting or he would have come himself.”

Tarah picked her pack up off of the bench beside her and shook her head as she shrugged it on. “You academy guards sure have a lot of meetings.”

Kathy smiled. “That’s what happens when you’re posted at the Mage School. Wizards love to talk. Come on. Follow me.”

They left the dining hall and walked back across the main road to the far side of the gates where a row of small houses stood. There were horses tied in front of one house and Tarah saw Derbich Furley standing next to them talking to a woman wearing mage robes. Tarah’s shoulder’s slumped. She had been hoping they would be staying somewhere else.

“This’ll be your place,” Kathy said, pointing to the house nearest the gate. She handed Tarah a key. “The wizards keep the place clean. We eat at dawn, but there’s always food in the dining hall, so you can sleep in if you want.”

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to sleep at all after that meal,” Tarah said. “I can’t imagine what it’d be like eating that food every day.”

Kathy gave a half chuckle. “Yeah, you feel amazing the first few times, but you get used to it after awhile. I hardly notice it anymore. Anyway, it was nice meeting you.”

“And you,” Tarah replied. The woman nodded, then turned and walked back towards the barracks.

Tarah glanced quickly over at Derbich and was relieved to see he was still talking to the mage. She hurried over to the door of the small house and unlocked it, hoping to get inside before he noticed her.

“Miss Woodblade!” Derbich called and Tarah winced. He said one last thing to the mage before jogging over to talk to her.

Tarah frowned inwardly, but said in what she assumed was a polite tone, “Hello, sir.”

“So you are settling in, then?” he asked.

“I’ll be staying the night,” she said. “But I plan on leaving in the morning.”

“Ah, we may be here a week or so,” he said, looking slightly disappointed. “Would you consider staying and escorting us back?”

There was nothing she could think of that she wanted to do less. “Sorry, I can’t. I’ve got other things I need to do back home.”

“Ah, I understand.” Derbich hesitated a moment. “Miss Woodblade, I feel I must apologize for my family’s behavior.”

Tarah blinked in surprise. “Not at all. They were, uh . . . fine, sir.”

Derbich shook his head. “Nonsense, I know how horrible they were. I must ask you to forgive them. They are out of their element. You see my wife is, shall we say, sheltered. This trip is her first time out of Razbeck. In fact, it’s her first time to journey anywhere outside the city by any means other than coach. As for Bertwise,” He let out a regretful sigh. “I’ve tried to imbue that boy with common sense, but the noble court has corrupted him. I’m hoping life at the school will be good for him. Perhaps the wizards will teach him some humility.”

“I’m not sure the wizards have any,” Tarah replied.

Derbich chuckled. “Well, at least this talent of his means he won’t be taking over the family lands when I am gone. His younger sister is much more of a leader.”

“I see.” Tarah nodded in understanding. People with magic talent weren‘t allowed to rule. It was a law established by the prophet long ago and the Mage School itself enforced it. “Well, I wish your family well.” She turned to head into the house, but the man cleared his throat.

“Wait, I still need to settle up with you,” he said.

“Settle up?” Tarah said, unsure what he meant.

“Yes, I paid your man earlier, but there is the matter of your broken bow to attend to.”

Tarah had been trying not to think about it. “I’ve told you it isn’t replaceable.”

“Surely there’s something I can do to help,” he insisted.

Tarah had the urge to yell at him. What was he going to do, bring her papa back from the dead to make her another bow? But at her grampa’s silent urging, she said instead, “What do you propose?”

“I’ve been thinking on that.” Derbich pulled a coin purse out of his coat pocket and fished around inside. “I know that the bow was an heirloom, but perhaps this will help.”

Tarah frowned slightly. “Even if you gave me a handful of gold pieces, it won’t buy me a bow better than I can make myself.”

Derbich’s brow furrowed and he placed four gold pieces in her hand. “I don’t know about a handful, but this should at least help with material costs.”

Tarah swallowed. That was more than she had expected. “It will help. Thank you, sir.”

Derbich gave her a calculating look. “But you saved our lives today. So perhaps I can offer you something better.”

“Better than gold?” she asked.

“How about steady employment?” he suggested.

“What do you mean by steady?” Tarah asked.

“As long as you wanted it,” he said. “From what I saw at your guild house, it seems the Sampo Guidesmen have come under hard times. Come work for me. House Furley may not be the highest house in Razbeck, but I could use someone with your talents. I can provide you with steady work and good pay.”

“Leave the guild?” If she had been asked the day before, she would have been tempted to take it. “I . . . appreciate the offer, sir, but-.”

“It is a standing offer.” Derbich reached back into his purse and pulled out a type of coin Tarah had not seen before. It was slightly larger than a standard gold piece. The outer portion was made of silver while a golden disk sat in the center. “This is a Furley House mark. If you are ever in the City of Beck, come to my estates. Show this to the house guards and they will let you in to see me.”

Never close a door, Grampa Rolf said. Any business contact is a good business contact.

“Thank you, sir,” Tarah said. She took the coin and deposited it along with the gold in her pocket. “I will think on it.”

He patted her shoulder. “That’s all I can ask. Now, I must wish you a good evening. I hope we can do business together again.”

Tarah considered his proposal as he walked away. A steady job with a noble house? There could be worse ways to live. It was the kind of life her papa would have wanted for her. But that would mean leaving Dremaldria for good. It would also mean dealing with people every day. Tarah shuddered and turned back towards the cottage door.

She stepped inside to find a tidy living space. The arrangements were nicer than any inn she had ever stayed at. There was a central area with a table, two chairs, and a small cupboard and two identical bedrooms sat at either side of the space. A vase of fresh flowers sat in each room, filling the house with a fresh scent.

Tarah picked one of the bedrooms and threw her pack down just inside the doorway. She glanced at the intricate pattern on the quilt covering the bed. The wizards sure did their best to make the place inviting to their guests. Tarah frowned. This place made her feel like even more of a fraud.

She sighed as she unlaced and removed her armor. The sweaty stench of her underclothes made her wince. Tarah used the washbasin by the bed to clean up as best as she could and pulled a somewhat cleaner set of underclothes from her pack. Oh how she wished she were home. To have clean clothes and sleep in her own bed would have been so nice. She pulled back the quilt on the bed and looked at the clean white sheets, sure that there wouldn’t be much sleep for her here. Then she sat on the bed.

Tarah let out a sigh of a different kind. This was no straw mattress like at the inns she frequented. It wasn’t even stuffed with cotton like the mattress at home. She laid back into the luxuriant softness and smiled as she pulled the silky quilt over her. This had to be stuffed with down of some sort, though she couldn’t imagine what kind of bird had feathers that soft. And the pillow . . . she rubbed her head into it and smiled at the faintly floral scent. No she wasn’t sleeping tonight. This was far too comfortable to miss by indulging in something as ordinary as sleep.

She was snoring softly within minutes.

(End of chapter 3)

Interactive map of Dremaldria

Wow folks, I am so happy with this. Check out what my friend Michael Patty helped me put together. Explore the world of the Bowl of Souls in a new way with this interactive version of our map. Just scroll over the locations to learn more.

http://trevorhcooley.com/?page_id=1972

Michael wrote the code and I wrote new descriptions for each major (non-spoiler) location on the map. I also tried to include some fun little tidbits that weren’t included in the books to make it interesting for you.

By the way, The War of Stardeon is doing great. Ranked #14 in Epic Fantasy on Kindle right now. Thanks for reading and please keep spreading the word!

Trevor H. Cooley