Jason Cosmo: Noble Cause preview, part 4

Greetings, Loyal Reader!

Following preview one, preview two, and preview three, we continue with Chapter 1 of NOBLE CAUSE:

Dark of skin and grim of eye, Malik wore the loose, flowing robes of a desert tribesman. He bore a curved sword in his right hand and a hooked dagger in the left.

“To the death?” I inquired, as I drew my broadsword. “Or will you settle for a good thrashing?”

“I will be satisfied when my blade drinks deeply of your blood and spills your life upon the ground, thus winning me eternal glory,” said Malik, bowing.

I sighed. “To the death then.”

Malik struck so fast I barely saw him move. Too fast for me to react in time. Fortunately, my sword was Overwhelm, the enchanted weapon borne by the Mighty Champion himself. Forged of the mystic metal miraculum, Overwhelm sliced granite like soft cheese. Among its magics was an onblade fighting intelligence which recorded every blow of every battle. Overwhelm dissected a foe’s fighting style on the fly, quickly learning to anticipate and counter his moves. My sword flashed upward to meet Malik’s, dragging my hand along for the ride. Malik’s scimitar shattered like glass.

Unfazed, he slashed at my face with the dagger. I ducked behind my shield, deflecting the thrust and swinging Overwhelm at Malik’s right side. He twirled away beyond my reach, hurling his broken sword as he did so.

I batted the missile away. Malik drew a short thrusting sword from a scabbard on his back and came at me again. His blade bit below my breastbone.

Read on to Part 5!

Best regards,
Dan McGirt

Jason Cosmo: Noble Cause preview, part 3

Greetings, Loyal Reader!

Following preview one and preview two, we continue with Chapter 1 of NOBLE CAUSE:

“So, then, who wants to kill me today?” I shouted.

A clamor arose from the gathered killers. They volleyed as much vituperation at each other as at me. The only thing uniting this motley crew was a desire to see me dead. There was much pushing and shoving. Mothers were insulted. Parentage was questioned. Vile epithets were hurled. Punches were thrown.

“Pipe down!” I said. “You’ll each get your turn!”

“Turns?” bellowed Kyril the Red. “Now it’s turns?” He stepped off line and raised his ax. “Enough waiting! Jason Cosmo, prepare to——arrgh!

Two beams of red light flashed across the dueling ground and punched a pair of holes through the big fighter’s chest. Kyril the Red took two tottering steps and toppled to the ground as Kyril the Dead. Smoke rose from his corpse.

The killers froze and fell silent.

“Merc!” I shouted. “What did I tell you?”

Mercury, eyes now hidden behind the mirrored lenses of his sunshades, shrugged. “He cut in line. You told me to manage the list, I’m managing the list.”

“What is this?” accused one of the killers. “A setup?”

“No, no!” I said. “It is all on the level! But you must wait your turn. Otherwise, the whole thing breaks down and you end up fighting each other instead of me. Wait until your name is called. If you fear another will kill me first, just remember: if you can’t be The Man Who Killed Jason Cosmo, you can always become The Man Who Killed the Man Who Killed Jason Cosmo!”

My little joke got a laugh and diffused the tension.

“One more thing before we start. If you are hoping to collect the ten million carat bounty, you’re too late. It was already paid out.”

“What?” cried a masked and mustachioed fellow clad in mauve. He wore a bandolier of throwing knives across his chest and pair of hatchets at his belt. He was the Mauve Marauder, a rising young bounty hunter. “Paid to whom?”

“To me,” I said. “I collected the bounty on myself.”

“My idea,” said Merc.

“Now see here!” said the Mauve Marauder. “That is hardly proper, collecting your own bounty! Bad form!”

“Most unfair!” said a dour gentleman done up in a black hood, skeleton mask and black leather chaps. He idly twirled a lariat. “I’m the Grim Roper! I rode six weeks from Ganopolis to nab you. You’re telling me it was all for naught?”

“Sorry.”

“Jeekers!” His rope went limp. He spat in disgust and stalked off through the park. The Mauve Marauder followed, along with several other disappointed bounty hunters.

To Merc I said, “I hate to waste their time.”

“You are too kind,” said Merc. He marked the list. “That brings us to Malik of the Seven Blades! You’re up!”

Go on to part 4!

Best regards,
Dan McGirt

Jason Cosmo: Noble Cause preview, part 2

Greetings, Loyal Reader!

Another peek at the current draft of the first chapter of the forthcoming Jason Cosmo: NOBLE CAUSE. Picking up directly after the first preview:

“Getting killed can wreck one’s schedule,” said Merc.

“You have no idea,” I said. “At first it was but an ambush here, a drive-by crossbowing there. But it reached a point I couldn’t walk to the pub without a running street battle. I’ve lost three homes in as many weeks. And forget spending a romantic evening with Sapphrina. Nothing spoils the mood like Nynja assassins coming through the skylight!”

Merc shrugged. “Depends what mood you’re going for.” He leaned close and said in a conspiratorial tone, “I can clear your calendar if you’d like.” He snapped his fingers, giving off a blue spark of mystic energy. “One shot, the way they’re bunched together.”

He wasn’t called Boltblaster for nothing.

“No, Merc!” I said hastily. “I have to fight my own fights or I’ll never live down my reputation as the most feared man in the Eleven Kingdoms!”

“That almost makes sense,” said Merc. “But not quite.”

“It’s the principle,” I said. “This standing engagement every Whooshday morning has really cut down on random attacks and ambushes. I won’t say I’ve scotched them all, but if word gets around you’re blasting my foes wholesale, no one will play along. Then I’m right back where I started.”

“Fair enough. So how can I help?”

“Just call the list. My usual assistant is ill today.”

Merc studied a sheaf of papers attached to the clipboard I handed him. “Appointments? I thought you took all comers.”

“Yes, but I give preference to those who sign up in advance.”

Merc rolled his eyes.

“Well, what would you do, Merc?”

“I’d find those who want to kill me and hunt them down first.”

“I’m the Champion of The Gods, Merc! I can’t do that if I’m to convince the world I’m one of the good guys.”

“Good reputation is overrated,” said Merc. “But as you will.”

Read Part 3!

Best regards,
Dan McGirt

Jason Cosmo: Noble Cause preview

Greetings, Loyal Reader!

Just to prove I haven’t totally abandoned Jason Cosmo to make a career of flogging Sarah Palin: Vampire Hunter, here is the most current version of the opening lines of NOBLE CAUSE. That said, I’ve revisited Chapter 1 dozens of times, so this could all change before publication, and probably will!

The big warrior twirled a battle ax around his head like it was a fly swatter—and me the fly. His long red hair was done in Malravian war braids, knotted around bits of metal and bone. This was the new fashion among Carathan street brawlers. Equally trendy was his brass-studded red and black designer cuirass from the Militas Pro collection. My own helm and coat of mail were no-brand hand-me-downs, as was my sword, but they served me well enough.

“Jason Cosmo, you die this day or my name is not Kyril the Red!” bellowed the ax-wielding fashion plate. His lovingly oiled biceps glistened in the morning sun.

“And if I refuse to die?” said I. “What then is your name?”

“Er, I think it would still be Kyril, wouldn’t it?”

“You tell me. But get back on line, Kyril, or not Kyril, or whatever you decide. We start at seven, no sooner.”

The other waiting killers laughed. Kyril sputtered. His face went as red as his armor. But he lowered his weapon.

“This is madness,” said Mercury Boltblaster. “I’m called reckless, but to invite your own murder? You’ve lost your mind.”

“I don’t invite my murder,” I said, clapping my friend on the shoulder. “I only try to make it less inconvenient for all concerned.”

“Thoughtful of you,” said the dusky-skinned wizard. “But your courtesy is misdirected. This is a gruesome lot.”

Mercury slid his mirrored sunshades down his nose and cast a gimlet eye over the gallery of rogues gathered at the dueling field near the duck pond in Pantheon Park. Each of them was eager to spill my blood.

The rogues, not the ducks.

“I find a bit of thoughtfulness goes a long way,” I said. “They’re going to try and kill me whether I cooperate or not. This way, they know where and when to find me, I know where and when the attack is coming, we don’t bother other people, and we can all better plan our day.”

With HERO WANTED, I was only touching up an opening scene I wrote 20 years prior. This is all new and I want to start NOBLE CAUSE with a bang. Does this grab you? Does it make you want to read on? (If so, read part 2 now!)

Best regards,
Dan McGirt

Jason Cosmo Rainy Daze ebook now available

Greetings, Loyal Reader!

I have at last completed and published the Jason Cosmo mini-novel Rainy Daze, now available at Smashwords.  Going by SFWA Nebula rules yardstick, the 12,000+ word story clocks in as a “novelette.”  But that is a silly word, so I’m calling it a mini-novel from here on.

Rainy Daze is set between chapters 6 and 7 of Hero Wanted. You do not need to read Hero Wanted to enjoy Rainy Daze. If you do, you will get a few references that other readers don’t, but that’s about it. The story stands on its own (to the extent it stands at all!) in what we might call a ‘narrative gap” in the action of the novel.

It took me longer to write Rainy Daze than I expected. This was mainly due to interruptions, travel and other responsibilities. But it was also me struggling to keep the story under control. As I may have mentioned before, for me it is much easier to write a book than a short story–for the simple reason that once I get going on a story, it is hard to turn off my imagination. I keep throwing in new ideas, wanting to go off on tangents, adding new episodes, etc. The opposite of writer’s block.  (What would that be? Writer’s unblock? Writerrhea? Lovely.)

Writing a good short story takes, among all the other writing skills, discipline. In a compressed space of a few thousand words, economy matters. I am usually–at least when writing in the Jason Cosmo mode–more of a turn on the taps and let my imagination run wild writer. Hence my 12,000 word “short” story, which is really more a string of related incidents.  I could expand Rainy Daze into a full novel by expanding some of the scenes, adding a few more incidents, elaborating on more of the back story, etc. Instead, I was trying to wrestle it down to a manageable tale.  The effort only increases my respect for the masters of short form fiction.

But I’m not trying to win any prizes. My aim is simply to provide Loyal Readers with a good yarn and a few laughs. Rainy Daze depicts one day on the road between Darnk and Brythalia. If you’ve read the earlier excerpts I posted here, you know that much. What you don’t know is what kind of trouble Jason, Mercury, Sapphrina and Rubis get themselves into when they enter a mysterious cave. To find out … go read Rainy Daze!

Then let me know what you think.

Best regards,

Dan McGirt

Jason Cosmo in Rainy Daze, Part 3

Greetings, Loyal Reader!

I had thought to complete and publish my first-ever Jason Cosmo novelette Rainy Daze several weeks ago, but other obligations have prevented me. Now I’m back at it. While I bring the tale to its mini-epic conclusion, I present another morsel to whet your appetite.

If you missed Part 1 and Part 2 of the excerpt, read those first.  Here is more of Rainy Daze.

***

We rode blind now, or nearly so. Ghostly lightning gave occasional glimpses of the trail ahead. Mercury continued to lead the way. His flameless lantern, an enchanted crystal sphere attached to a leather loop hung from the horn of his saddle, shone faintly. The dim glow was enough for the rest of us to follow without, we hoped, serving as a beacon for pursuers.

Mercury found the path with the aid of his sunshades. These wondrous enchanted spectacles absorbed sunlight during the day. The energy so gathered could could be released in various ways. One such use was seeing in the dark.

Though wet, chilled, miserable, and exhausted from a hard day’s travel, we dared not stop moving. Whatever was behind us, it was getting closer. The wailing sound above the wind was now discernible as a chorus of baying howls from multiple throats. Though he said nothing, I knew Merc was thinking what I was thinking: the Red Huntsman.

Every bounty hunter in the Eleven Kingdoms wanted to collect the fantastic ten million carat price on my head. The Red Huntsman was one of the most dangerous. Even in Darnk, where crime was rare and bounties were paid in pine cones, we had heard of his exploits. He was a powerful fighter, ruthless and unstoppable, who kept a pack of giant wolves as hounds. According to Merc, the Huntsman was last seen in Brythalia. If he had since come north and found our trail­­ this could be a long night indeed.

Or, for me, a very short night. Depending how things went.

“How long until we reach shelter?” I said.

“How should I know?” said Merc.

“I thought you might have come this way before.”

“Why would I? There is nothing of interest to anyone out—get down!”

Mercury grabbed my arm and all but yanked me from the saddle. The twins screamed. A large, dark blur swooshed over me and thwacked to the ground nearby, throwing up a geyser of mud and water that splattered us all. Not that we much minded, being already thoroughly drenched in mud and water.

“What was that?” I asked, righting myself.

Merc flashed a quick beam from the flameless lantern, revealing a gnarled and splintered tree stump newly embedded in the ground beside the trail. It had the circumference of a wagon wheel. Five men could not have lifted it, much less flung it through the air with such velocity.

Giants? Ogres? A renegade catapult crew?

“Stumpthrower,” said Mercury. “Off to the right. Probably aiming at the light. Not the brightest of creatures.” He extinguished the lantern. “Follow as best you can in the dark.”

“Wait! Stumpthrowers are real?” I said.

“Why wouldn’t they be?” said Mercury.

“I had almost convinced myself they are imaginary. Like the Jib-Jab Man.”

“The Jib-Jab Man.”

“The terrible, terrible Jib-Jab Man? He’s made up, right?”

“Some local flavor of boogyman, I presume?”

“Of the worst kind.”

“Then fifty-fifty he’s real or not. You don’t really know with those sorts until you look. And it’s best not to.”

“Fair enough. But what does a stumpthrower look like?”

“Imagine a badger the size of a rhino and twice as mean.”

“Yes?”

“That’s a stumpthrower.”

“Oh,” I pondered this. “What’s a rhino?”

Merc sighed. “Nothing you need worry about.”

The howls of pursuit once more broke through the wind.

“Worry about what is behind us,” said the wizard.

***

We pushed on through the deepening night. Our spent horses staggered across the rocky wasteland beneath the awful majesty of the towering dark clouds. The steady percussion of the thunder, and the implacable rain beat at us. No stars could we see, nor even the horns of the waning moon. A bewildering medley of distant roars and bellows and cries sounded at intervals from every point of the compass, keeping us mindful that many fell things indeed stalked these dread hills, heedless of even a storm so terrible as this.

At one point a fantastic red streak slashed across the sky. Whether it marked the passage of a comet, a dragon, or some winged fiend of the Assorted Hells, I could not say. But its ominous afterglow lingered for many a minute before fading like a dying ember. This did not help my spirits at all.

On a downward bend of the trail, Rubis’s horse, unnerved by one crack of thunder too many, nipped at my steed’s flank and darted past me, taking the second position. Sapphrina’s horse bolted after its companion. My steed, irked to be passed once, was not standing for twice. The beast shouldered her mount against the rocky bank, blocking the way. The jostling of the horses almost pitched Sapphrina from the rain-slick saddle. I caught her arm and steadied her as we remastered our mounts.

“Thank you, Jason,” said Sapphrina.

“My pleasure.”

“I’m sure.”

“The horses are cranky.”

“The horses are tired,” she countered. “Your wizard had best find a suitable rock to hide under soon or we’ll be walking the rest of the way to Brythalia.”

“I’m sure Merc knows what he’d doing.”

“Are you? Well, you’ve known him a whole several hours longer than I, but I can’t say I share your faith.”

“What do you mean?”

“He has no idea where he’s going.”

“Neither do I.”

“Yes, but you aren’t bossing us to hurry this way, hurry that way, on we ride!

I laughed at her impression of Mercury’s curt speech.

“You’re a fair mimic.”

“I have my talents,” she said. “As you may learn.”

We urged our horses up the next rise, joining Mercury and Rubis on a rocky overlook that gave a broad view of the surrounding country. We looked back the way we had come. A dramatically sustained barrage of lightning illuminated the hills. We saw, at last, what was chasing us.

“Dear Gods above,” said Mercury. “We’re doomed.”

***
That’s where I will leave it for now. Look for the full tale as an ebook at Smashwords.com soon!

Best regards,
Dan McGirt

Jason Cosmo in Rainy Daze, Part 2

Greetings, Loyal Reader!

Below is the next section of my Jason Cosmo novelette-in-progress, Rainy Daze.  Before you read this, you’ll want to back up to the previous post, and read Part 1.  And before you do that, you should buy Hero Wanted, the first volume of the Jason Cosmo series. (Or get the Hero Wanted ebook at Smashwords.) This story is set between chapters of Hero Wanted, specifically after Chapter 6 and somewhere between the lines of the first paragraph of Chapter 7. It isn’t strictly necessary to read the first 6 chapters of the book before you read Rainy Daze, but it may help.

***

Who blazed this trail and where it went, I did not know. Mercury didn’t know either, but the wizard led the way with resolute confidence. The path was steep and narrow and made more treacherous by the unending flow of water around the fetlocks of our steeds. Every ridge, gully and channel tracing down from the heights was awash with swift-flowing runoff. The river passed from sight as we picked our way between the hilltops, but its great roar contended with that of the storm.

Wind howled around us, flapping our cloaks, bending the trees and slapping at our faces with flying leaves and stinging raindrops. Terrible peals of thunder shook the ground and spooked the unhappy horses. Fearsome clouds blotted out the last remnants of sunshine, leaving our way to be lit by blasts of lightning that shot across the sky like tongues of white flame.

Never had I beheld such a tempest as this. The rains of Darnk were dull and monotonous. But this was like something out of the old stories, the myths of long ago. Had the golden chariot of Great Whoosh, God of Wind and Sky, overturned, spilling its cargo of thunderbolts across the clouds? Had Thunderhoof and Skysplitter, the ornery goats tasked with pulling the chariot, broken out of their pen and partaken of the fermented pomegranate whiskey that Freshlord, God of Fruits and Vegetables, kept in a clay jug behind his sacred tool shed?  Perhaps a massive cold front advancing through moist, warm air had triggered atmospheric instability leading to high intensity precipitation and an accumulation of charged particles released as a massive electric discharge that in turn superheated the air, resulting in the aerial shockwaves we perceived as thunder? I didn’t know. Yet whatever its causes, this was a downpour of legendary proportions. It could only portend ill.

I grew more uneasy with every step away from the river road. Darnkites were not by nature travelers. My homeland was so isolated from the rest of the Eleven Kingdoms that it didn’t even share a border with its nearest neighbor, Brythalia. Between the two realms lay this unclaimed wilderness of rocky hills and scrubby forest that now we crossed. All manner of beasts roamed the area—bear, goat, deer, boar, hobcat, and various fowl, including the noisome stinkbird.

But that wasn’t all.

Darnkites delighted to tell one another tall tales about the dangers beyond our borders. When we gathered in our drafty taverns or around the smoking dung fires at night, we spoke of the many fearsome creatures said to dwell in these strange hills beyond our stony pastures and familiar turnip fields. Gruffasaurs and grumpsnorts. The pearly-eyed horngrim and the irritable stumpthrower. Rock toads the size of small boulders. Bully beetles that would bore a hole in your skull while you slept and lay eggs in your brain. Bands of vicious goblins, brutal hobgoblins, and pretentious snobgoblins. The hairless boggins, who stole buttons in the night, and their magical cousins the frownies, who would gruntingly relieve themselves in any pair of boots carelessly left by the doorstep when the moon was full.

Nor were the supernatural terrors of the region limited to such third-class fairy folk. There were slithy troves here. Ghosts who drank blood. Scare hags. Phantom creepers. Free-range enchanted kettles that would cook anyone unwary enough to climb inside them. And the terrible, terrible Jib-Jab Man. Having heard these stories all my life, I had every reason to fear venturing cross country. Yes, it was possible that the monsters rumored to stalk these hills did not exist outside the alcohol-addled imagination of my countrymen. But maybe they did.

Maybe they did.

***

“What is that sound?” said Rubis.

“All is hear is wind and rain,” I said.

Night was near. Though we could not see the setting sun, the wet gloom grew gloomier.

“No, there is something more,” said Sapphrina. “There! Do you hear it?”

I did. Cutting through the storm came a distinct wailing cry. It rose and fell, then was gone. The sound was distant, but not distant enough.

“A raccoon,” I said.

“Raccoon?” said Rubis.

“That was no raccoon!” said Sapphrina.

“Could have been,” I insisted. “A scared raccoon stuck in a tree.”

“Are you serious?” said Sapphrina. “It sounded more like a lost soul.”

“Like the wail of the shanbee,” said Rubis, nodding.

“That’s it!” said Sapphrina. “The dreadful spirit whose mournful keening is heard when someone is about to die. How does the verse go?”

Beware the shanbee, ye who shan’t be,” quoted Rubis.

“Do you think so?” I said. I had not considered the possibility of encountering a shanbee.

“Much more likely than a raccoon,” said Sapphrina.

“Might be a lamia,” said Rubis. “Half-woman, half-beast. Devourer of men.”

“Only men?” I said.

Seeing the stricken look on my face, the twins laughed.

“Oh, Jason, we shan’t let the lamia have you!” said Sapphrina.

“We’re hardly done with your ourselves,” said Rubis. She licked her lips.

“But a shanbee could give us trouble,” said Sapphrina. She turned serious. “You don’t think it is one really, do you?”

“It is neither shanbee nor lamia,” said Mercury.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Because I’ve heard both and that is neither. Now, hush, all of you!”

The cry came again through the wind. It was distinctly louder.

Merc frowned. “We need to find a defensible position, and fast.”

“Why?”

“Whatever is out there—it’s hunting us.”

TO BE CONTINUED … AT SMASHWORDS.COM

I think I’ll leave you with that cliffhanger for now. I haven’t quite finished writing this tale, but plan to do so in the coming days. When I finish, I will release it as a multi-format ebook at Smashwords. In the meantime, you can pop over there and read my two Jack Scarlet tales and my 2008 Halloween story, Beginner’s Luck, as well as the full text of Hero Wanted.  By the way, if you enjoy any of those stories, please 1) recommend them to a friend and 2) post a review at Smashwords.  (And if you hate the stories, please warn your friends … but give them the link, so they’ll know exactly what to avoid!)

Best regards,

Dan McGirt

Jason Cosmo Novelette-in-progress: Rainy Daze

Greetings, Loyal Reader!

Today I have an excerpt from a new Jason Cosmo story to share with you.

Relative silence here at the Update lately, as I have been working on several stories, including polishing up the two Jack Scarlet stories I posted to Smashwords. But this is the Jason Cosmo Update, so I assume you’re here for an update on what’s new with Jason Cosmo, fascinating as my other writings may be. I thought I’d give you a sneak peek at what I’ve been working in recent weeks, a Jason Cosmo novelette called Rainy Daze. It’s a story within the story, set between chapters of Hero Wanted. Like a deleted scene, except it was never actually part of the book.  I intend to finish it soon and will publish the full tale at Smashwords when I do. For now, here is the opening of Rainy Daze:

Rainy Daze

A Jason Cosmo Adventure

True to Mercury’s prediction, it rained the next day. And the next. And the day after that. The downpour did not relent for five rainy days. The Longwash overspilled its banks, sweeping aside boulders and trees as it rampaged southward. The rising water forced us to abandon the track beside the river for higher ground. Alert for flash floods and mudslides, we picked our way along the hilltops.Hero Wanted (Chapter 7)

“This is not good,” said Mercury Boltblaster.

“Do you mean the rain?” I asked. “Because I agree.”

It was unfriendly rain, heavy, cold, and stinging. A rain that soaked us to the skin while slowing our pace out of dismal Darnk from headlong flight to fretful trot to tedious trudge.

“I mean everything,” said the dusky-skinned wizard.

“Like you being hunted by the Dark Magic Society?”

“Yes.”

“And me being the most wanted man in the Eleven Kingdoms?”

“That too.”

“Our violent encounters with the mercenary Black Bolts, that terrorist Zaran Zimzabar, and Natalia Slash?”

“All of it,” said Merc. “Plus having those two along.”

He jerked his thumb to indicate the other members of our party, riding a few yards behind as we followed the narrow river road up a muddy hill. I turned in the saddle for a better view through the wind-lashed raindrops. Sapphrina and Rubis were sisters, identical twins from Zastria, golden of tress, blue of eye, brown of limb, shapely of figure, and sopping wet. Sapphrina wore blue, Rubis red. Their scanty tunics, already so tight they might have been painted on, had shrunk and become partially translucent in the rain.

“I don’t see the problem,” I said.

“I’m sure you don’t,” said Mercury. “By the way, you’re about to ride off the road.”

I tore my gaze from the twins and nudged my horse back from the ledge. It was a steep drop down the hillside. Below seethed the raging, racing, rain-racked River Longwash.

“They’ve been no trouble at all,” I said. “And we did pledge to escort them to safety.”

“You pledged. I begrudgingly acquiesced.”

“Merc, they were kidnapped, sold into slavery, and chained up in a tower until we rescued them! Helping them get home is the only decent thing to do!”

“I didn’t say we should abandon them here in the wilderness,” said Merc, in a tone that suggested exactly that. “I said I don’t like having them along.”

I again glanced over my shoulder. Sapphrina brushed a long strand of wet hair back from her face. Our eyes met. She smiled. I smiled back.

“I do.”

“You won’t like it so much when the Black Bolts catch us,” said Merc.

I snapped my head around. “How do you know they’re still chasing us?”

“For one thing, this is the only road out of Darnk.”

“All roads lead from Darnk,” I said, nodding.

“What?”

“It’s a saying we have.”

Merc scowled. “What does that even mean? There is only one road to and from Darnk. We’re on it, and so are the Black Bolts.”

“But we left them in Whiteswab days ago. For all they know, we headed east.”

“Deeper into Darnk?” Merc scoffed. “I doubt even I could withstand the stench of central Darnk—and I’ve ventured to some foul locales indeed.”

“The slime bogs are a bit rank this time of year,” I admitted.

“That aside, the Black Bolts know we were in Offal because Dylan left two of his men posted there while he led the rest to Whiteswab.”

“I didn’t see them.”

“Zaran’s men gassed them to sleep with the rest of the city.”

“Then how would they know we were there? The city still slept when we left.”

“Because I stole their horses for your girlfriends back there.”

“What?” I looked back yet again, confirming what I already knew. The sisters were indeed mounted on black horses matching those Merc and I took from the Black Bolts in Whiteswab. I hadn’t pondered the how and why of that coincidence until just now.

Catching my eye, Rubis blew me a kiss. I blushed and gave a shy wave back.

“Or do you disagree?” said Merc.

“Say what?”

“I said those girls are a constant distraction and will likely get you killed.”

“Oh.”

“You didn’t hear me, did you?”

“Sorry.”

We reined in our horses at the top of the rise.

“Arkayne’s hood!” said Mercury. He shook his head. “This gets worse and worse!”

Sapphrina and Rubis caught up.

“Why are we stopping?” asked Sapphrina.

“We’ve run out of road,” I said.

On a normal day, the road dropped from this rise down to a long level stretch beside the river. But not today. Swollen up and egged on by the relentless rain, the Longwash had overleapt its banks and elbowed its way ashore, claiming all the low ground for itself. For at least the next mile or two, there simply was no road, only a frothy roil of waves and eddies and whirlpools and bobbing debris.

“We can’t ride through that,” I said.

“No,” said Mercury. “We can’t. Nor can we go back the way we came. Nor can we wait here for our pursuers.”

“Then what can we do, wizard?” said Sapphrina.

“We’ll make through the hills,” said Merc. “That stream coming down there has the look of a trail.”

“Through the hills?” I asked, the words squeezing past the sudden lump in my throat.

“Yes,” said Merc. “You know, high ground, away from the river? We’ll needs beware flash floods and mudslides. And our progress will be slow. But it will at least be progress.”

“But those hills are haunted!” I blurted. “And cursed! And full of monsters!”

“Really?” said Merc. “Well, that’s just delightful.  Follow me.”

MORE TO COME …

That’s all for now, Loyal Reader! Let me know what you think … if this is unrelentingly awful, there is still time to change it!

Best regards,

Dan McGirt

Secret Origins of Mercury Boltblaster: Boredflak!

Greetings, Loyal Reader!

Last post, I discussed how the D&D-themed comic strip Finieous Fingers was a direct inspiration for the entirely handwritten original Jason Cosmo episodes (which only a handful of Original Loyal Readers have read) . Now Finieous was the World’s Greatest Thief, whereas Jason Cosmo was, in  his original incarnation, a mercenary fighter.  So the main overall influence of the comic on my stories was the overall silly tone.

With one exception. Boredflak.

Boredflak was a wizard buddy of Finieous. He wore sunglasses. He owned a bazooka. The original incarnation of Mercury Boltblaster was pretty much Boredflak in prose. Here is Boredflak in action:

boredflak01

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