Jason Cosmo: Noble Cause preview, part 8

Greetings, Loyal Reader!

We continue our preview of Chapter 1 of Noble Cause, already in progress. If you need to catch up, start with part 1 and follow the links.

Haakon hurried on his way, dripping a trail of blood behind him. I regarded my remaining opponents. “Any others having second thoughts, now is your chance to leave!”

Two men bolted immediately, sprinting past poor Haakon. After a moment’s hesitation, another would-be combatant lost his nerve. Several more followed him.

“That thinned the herd a bit,” I said.

“Indeed,” said Merc. “I think that is it for bounty hunters and amateurs. Pros next! Contract killers, assassins, hitmen. Anyone here to kill my good friend Master Cosmo for pay. I’ve got Nestor Breen and the Boys! Blue Crew! Black Sheep! The mysterious Spider Guild! Or it might the miserly Spider Guild? Hard to read that spidery script. And something called Quik Kill!”

I knew Nestor Breen and the Boys by reputation. They were Reorganized Crime muscle, the bane of shopkeepers who fell behind in their protection payments, gamblers who reneged on their debts, and others who ran afoul of Caratha’s criminal element. The Blue Crew was a rival band of enforcers, blue-skinned Cyrillans who wore blue caps and capes to further emphasize their blueness. The Black Sheep were young bravos from otherwise good families—younger sons of aristocrats who stood to inherit little, considered honest work beneath them, but had no qualms about slay for pay.

I did not hide my disgust. I respected those who fought me to prove their prowess. My undeserved reputation as the most fearsome warrior to walk the face of Arden was hard to correct. Our martial age honored strength of arms. It was natural for men of the sword to seek out a challenge.

Nor did I look down on bounty hunters. They did a useful service. Their usual prey were outlaws, brigands, pirates, and other scoundrels. The Dark Magic Society had so smeared my name that most people believed me a blackhearted villain—and thus fair game for the bounty hunting brotherhood. I went easy on those I could not dissuade.

But hired thugs were another matter. They preyed on the weak and helpless. They lurked in the shadows, set traps, attacked from ambush, and enjoyed inflicting pain on their victims. With them, I would not hold back.

Few of Caratha’s top assassins had come after me. For the most part it was second-rate killers-for-hire like this lot who sought me out. I suspected some unknown mastermind was directing a steady stream of low grade thugs my way. I didn’t know why, but I welcomed the opportunity to rid the city of such vermin.

“Breen Boys, Blue Crew, and Black Sheep, I’ll take you all together!” I said.

Concluded in Part 9…

Best regards,
Dan McGirt

Jason Cosmo: Noble Cause preview, part 7

Greetings,  Loyal Reader!

Continuing our preview of NOBLE CAUSE, Chapter 1. If you missed the earlier episodes, start with part 1 and follow the links.  Here we go:

“Thanks. Who’s next?”

“Haakon Hookhand. Haakon!”

No one stepped forward. I scanned the crowd, spying a sturdy sailor who was missing his right hand. In its place was a wickedly sharp steel hook.

“Are you Haakon?” I asked.

He glanced around nervously. “Who me?”

“Yes, you. With the hook. Haakon Hookhand?”

He hid his right hand—or hook, rather—behind his back. “Maybe. I mean no! That is to say…it’s not what you think!”

“What do I think?”

Haakon laughed nervously. “Funny story really. You see, me and me mates were down at the Sassy Seahorse the other night, drinking rum and boasting, as we sailors will do. One thing leads to another and next thing you know I’m saying as I could take on Jason Cosmo himself.”

“Do go on,” I said.

“I didn’t mean nothing by it! It’s more like a figure of speech. Like I’m so hungry I could eat a horse! or I could arm-wrestle an ogre! More of an exaggeration than a declaration of one’s true intent. But then Seamus said as how you were taking all comers. He called me out! I couldn’t back down! I’ve been at sea for months. I had no idea you were in town or I’d have kept me fool mouth shout, and that’s the truth!”

“No doubt,” I said. “But signed up to kill me.”

“That I did,” said Haakon resignedly. “But it was the whiskey talking, I swear!”

“I thought you said rum.”

“Rum did most of the talking, but I’m pretty sure it was the whiskey as convinced me! Oh, I should never have turned to drink. Me mum said it would be the death of me!” Haakon fell to his knees. “I repent of it all! I swear by all The Gods, never will I touch another drop, just please don’t kill me, Jason Cosmo!”

He clasped his hands together in desperate supplication, forgetting that one of his hands was, in fact, a hook.

“You just hooked your own hand,” I said.

“Yes, I noticed.”

“That has to smart.”

“Aye,” said Haakon, through gritted teeth. “The pain is considerable.”

“Well, I can’t fight you now. So I guess you’re off the…er, list. Perhaps another time.”

“Oh, thank you, sir! Thank you!”

“You should have a surgeon tend your hand before it gets infected.”
Haakon scowled. “The last time I let a surgeon tend an injured hand of mine I ended up with this bloody hook! I’ll just pour some rum on and apply a bandage. It will be fine. Thank you again, sir, for your mercy and kindness!”

“You’re welcome. Be a good fellow and spread tales of my mercy if it wouldn’t be too much trouble.”

On to part 8!

Best regards,
Dan McGirt

Jason Cosmo: Noble Cause preview, part 6

Greetings, Loyal Reader!

Continuing our preview of NOBLE CAUSE, Chapter 1. If you missed the earlier episodes, start with part 1 and follow the links. All caught up? Here we go:

Malik’s speed startled me yet again. Swifter than a diving falcon, he closed the distance between us. With one hand he reached over my shoulder to grab my chin and yank my head back. With the other he sliced a serrated knife across my throat.

The serrations made popping noises as they broke off against my neck guard like the teeth of a cheap comb. I pivoted and smashed Malik with my shield, slamming him to the ground. I pinned him with a foot to the chest.

“That was eight blades!” I said, pressing Overwhelm’s point to his throat.
“You’re a cheater!”

“Am not!”

“Styling yourself Malik of the Seven Blades when you in fact have eight is, at the very least, disingenuous.”

“I was named for my Uncle Aktar.”

“Uncle Aktar?”

“Aktar of the Seven Blades.”

“Fine. So is this still to the death or have you reconsidered?

“I have reconsidered. If it is all the same to you.”

“It is. But I want to be sure you understand you’ve had your turn. Come at me with a ninth blade and these violent gentlemen so patiently waiting their turns are well within their rights to take you out.”

“I am done. Truly.”

“Better luck next time.” I helped him up. “Merc?”

“Nicely done,” said the wizard.

Continue to part 7.

Best regards,
Dan McGirt

Jason Cosmo: Noble Cause preview, part 5

Greetings, Loyal Reader!

Continuing our preview of NOBLE CAUSE. First read parts 1, 2, 3, and 4. The action continues now:

Malik’s sword bent in two. Though my enchanted armor, a hauberk and pants-of-mail combo, lacked a proper legendary name, it too was a relic of the Mighty Champion, bestowed upon me by The Gods. Made of miraculum, it was light and comfortable as silk pajamas, yet impervious to any weapon I had thus far encountered in my brief heroic career.

Even so, Malik’s hit would leave a bruise.

Malik jabbed his hooked dagger into my side. The knife broke.

That would also bruise.

“You’re Malik of the Four Blades now,” I said.

In reply, he snapped his arms in a peculiar motion. A pair of punching knives slid from his sleeves. These resembled brass knuckles with four-inch blades attached. Malik feinted, ducked, and again got past my guard. This time he went low, aiming a jab at my thigh followed by a slam punch to the crotch.

I winced more at the thought of the low blow than from any actual pain. The Cosmosuit protected my more sensitive bits as well as it did the rest of my body. The punching knives snapped like stale toast against a brick.

Angry now, I advanced with a furious flurry of thrusts and slashes. Had even half of my blows connected, pieces of Malik’s head and limbs would have flown in six different directions. His quickness saved him. Dodging and tumbling, Malik avoided my onslaught, culminating his evasive maneuvers with a standing reverse somersault. From mid-air he launched a pair of throwing stars at me. I raised my shield to deflect the razory projectiles. One embedded itself in a tree. The other whizzed past the head of a waiting fighter, severing his ear.

“Are we done, Malik of the Broken Blades?” I said. “Or must this still be to the death?”

Malik glared at me, but made no move to attack.

“Done, then.” I turned to Merc. “Who’s next?”

Go to part 6!

Best regards,
Dan McGirt

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