Saturday, August 12, 2017

Samantha Swords, an Inspiration

Samantha Swords

In doing research for combat in my books, specifically for Pelya Jornin, the main character of the Dralin and Wyvern Series, I came across a phenomenal woman by the name of Samantha Swords.  Samantha practices and studies European Martial Arts. She also works as cast and crew in the film industry including time at WETA. She's been kind enough to answer a couple of questions I've had about combat with a sword.

Her Tumblr and YouTube have oodles of information on swordplay and the culture surrounding it in modern day.

Samantha Swords on Tumblr
Samantha Swords on YouTube
Samantha Swords on Facebook

New Zealand/Aussie artist, actor, writer & sword-fighter, works in the film industry as cast and crew. Outgoing, adventurous & loving life!

European Martial Arts

Samantha is a student of European Martial Arts. In this video, she states:

Historical European Martial Arts are the martial arts of medieval Europe. Yes, they existed. They were very complicated, very beautiful, just as like the Asian martial arts are. And, unfortunately, they died out, which is why most of us don’t actually know about them these days. But for those of us who are completely crazy about swords, we have been recreating the arts from fighting manuals- books that were left from the people who actually studied in those ancient times.

Like much epic fantasy in books, the world of Ryallon has styles of swordplay similar to that used in Europe.  Granted my characters have magic at their disposal along with supernatural abilities, but the basics still apply.

Much of my writing of combat scenes stretches the abilities of a person beyond what's physically capable.  It's exciting to imagine someone whirling through the air while spinning blades.  However, I believe it important to add as much realism into the details. Pelya Jornin's timeline has her learning martial arts, both physically and intellectually, from the age of four.  She has talent and the work ethic to become one of the best in the world of Ryallon.  She's earned it rather than just picking up a sword and becoming an insta-expert like in many stories.

Weekend Warrior

Samantha is participating in an experimental live action event in September.

Her brief description of the event:

The Kingsmen are my faction in Weekend Warrior- an experiential live action event that will be filmed, documentary style, and challenge you in a new form of medieval-style outdoor adventure. 
I’m joining forces with Skip Lipman and Ron Newcomb of the Forge Studios- they’re well known for the series, ‘The Rangers’, and also Zan Campbell of Fell and Fair, and together we’re creating this event.

An Inspiration

I believe Samantha Swords is an inspiration for young women and anyone to explore their dreams and confront their fears to flourish.  Life can be hard to face.  Sometimes it's best to come with a sword in hand and the ability to use it.

All my best,

John H. Carroll

P.S.  The emo bunnies like her too.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Tesla Electric Car Swing Station Concept

Tesla Electric Cars

Elon Musk is beginning to deliver electric cars to masses this year with the advent of the Model 3

These cars look amazing.  I truly believe it's going to change the way we drive over the next 20 years.  Hopefully we'll get flying cars next.  Until that time, this is the future and present of cars and it's exciting!

Charging Stations

Technology has increased to the point where an electric car can be charged at a fantastic rate, but it still takes half an hour or longer to fully charge one.  (scroll to the bottom)

This is exceptional compared to where we used to be, but in today's world, many people will still consider it to be a reason not to buy.  People hate waiting (myself included).  There's another potential solution for the future.  It's a concept borrowed from the old west, which was borrowed from ancient times and the need to get messages from one place to the other with as little delay as possible.

Swing Station

In the old west, the Pony Express as well as stagecoach companies would have swing stations where riders and coaches could exchange for fresh horses.  This enabled them to continue their journey without delay.

Tesla Swing Stations

I consider this to be an unlikely scenario, but one that is interesting from a sci-fi point of view and whose potential is worth considering.

Tesla, or other companies could come up with a program where a person joins for a fee.  In exchange, they can drive an electric car to a swing station, and rather than wait for their car to recharge, they just move their belongings to another electric car.  At the next station, they drop that one off and switch to another.  Thus there would be limited wasted time on long journeys.

It could be a viable option for busy travelers such as salespeople.  No matter where they went, there would always be a Tesla waiting for them.  They wouldn't have to worry about maintenance or upkeep of a vehicle.

Some of the Challenges

People would have to make certain their belongings went with them.
If a person did any damage it would be an extra charge.
The program would be expensive in order to cover the cost of all the vehicles.
The program would only take place once there were enough cars to make a large inventory affordable.
People like the comfort of owning their own car.  It's unlikely they would want to exchange vehicles on a regular basis.
The current system of rental cars may be a better solution
It would be unnecessary in cities where there will likely be charging stations in most locations at some point in the next 20 years, negating the need for wait times.  If your car charges at the restaurant, or while you're at work, then there's no need to exchange vehicles.

Battery swap

A concept of exhanging batteries at stations has already been considered by Tesla, so the idea of Swing Stations, may not be feasible.

The reception of the battery swap concept was presented by Elon Musk to his customers, but received little support

The Boring Company

If Elon Musk succeeds in his Boring Company and Car Sleds, the sleds that transfer the cars could charge them at the same time, reducing the need for swing stations.  The swing stations would be more for areas where the hyperloop didn't run, such as in the open lands of the west.

In Conclusion

This is an esoteric concept idea, one of countless possibilities for humanity's future.

All my best,

John H. Carroll

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Editing tip: Ensuring all quotation marks are in your manuscript

Quotation marks

You most likely know the definition, but here it is from Merriam Webster

Quotation Mark

One of a pair of punctuation marks 

“ ” or ‘ ’ 

used chiefly to indicate the beginning and 

end of a quotation

So now that we have that out of the way . . . 


NOTE:  It was noted by Hitch on MobileRead forums:

What happens when you have a character using multiple paragraphs, for his dialogue? In that instance, you would always have more opening quotation marks then closing--and it would be easy to have an odd number.

In this instance, it is true that my double tap method below will not work.  I suppose I may be unusual in that I never allow my characters to have dialogue in two paragraphs.  I always intersperse actions and counter dialogue between.  If you write otherwise, than please do not use the method listed below.


When writing a lot of dialogue, it's easy to miss the occasional quotation mark, or even to add an extra.  When editing that dialogue, it's easy to miss it again.  In fact, more missing quotations can appear when you're rearranging sentences.

Readers tend to notice those missing and extra quotation marks, bless their little hearts.

While discussing this problem with a good friend, she mentioned a method to catch all of the mistakes with quotation marks.  It's a bit tedious, but highly effective.

ctrl-f, or the find function.

Here is a screenshot of my first book in which I have 4649 quotation marks (I'm currently re-editing it).  That alone is an indication that there's an error.  As you may have deduced, there should always be an even number of quotation marks.

So far, I've only found 2 missing quotations in the first 1000 words, but there will be more.  In my last 2 books, I had 23 errors in over 7000 quotation marks and 37 errors in over 6000 quotation marks.

How to perform the search

Now as you might imagine, 5,6, or 7 thousand is a lot of quotation marks to do a search on.  I developed a rhythm of double tapping.  That was better, but still not efficient enough.  I then developed a rhythm of multiple double taps.  taptap, taptap, taptap, taptap.  At the end of each double tap, I should be at the end of a sentence and the search number should be an even number.  If not, then I know I missed one or have an extra.  I go back over the last few sentences and fix it.

This is still tedious and takes a half hour to an hour to complete.  I switch from right hand to left hand about every 1000 quotation marks.

That's all there is to it.

It's fairly simple, but that's it.  It's the very last step I take before formatting and publishing.  It's one of those details that sharpens the quality of your book.  It will improve the readability and make it so the reader is less likely to put your story down and go off to do other things.

All my best,

John H. Carroll

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Smashwords July Sale

All but my most recent 2 books are on sale @smashwords for at least half off, including a couple of freebies. A lot of other authors have their books on sale.  Click here to follow through, and feel free to shop for others too. :)


All my best,

John H. Carroll

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Sidetracked, Book 4 of the Wyvern Series

"Sidetracked" is now available!

Book 4 of the Wyvern Series and the 10th book set in the world of Ryallon.  This is a continuation of Pelya's story from the Dralin Trilogy.

Book 4 of the Wyvern Series

War is an everyday fact of life for peasants in the Kingdom of Paruth. Ghosts of soldiers remember battles nobody won. Skeletons of abandoned houses mourn the echoes of families long gone. Smiles are few and far between on the faces of peasants. And none of their wise sayings make any sense.

Constant, dreary rain dampens Pelya’s spirits as she rides Honey through these forlorn lands. Her mission for the Cloudswept bank fell to a dead end in the dungeons under Riell Castle. Recovered papers may hold clues to the fate of the Rojuun named Rruum Tarrrii, but they’re written in an ancient language and only readable with the use of an enchanted monocle.

The influence of the Black Scale Guild is far greater than she ever imagined. Their leader, Tyeromaythan-Devourer of Gods, knows who Pelya is and wants her captured. The plots that banished her from Dralin and the Blue Wyverns are directly linked to the guild, as is her current mission.

Of greater worry to Pelya are her new friends Verna, Calren and an energetic wyvern by the name of Nervy. In the past, she has led friends to sorrow and death. Now, with a price on her head and her inclination to take on ever more dangerous missions, Pelya has every reason to believe she will bring these idealistic new adventurers to their deaths too.

Adventure is everything Calren had hoped and more. He had more treasure than he had ever dreamed of. They had plans to visit places he had only dreamed of. He traveled with the two most beautiful women in the world. However, neither show any interest in him. And no one had ever communicated how terrible killing someone felt.

Verna has begun to regret her excursion into human lands. Humans are cruel and violent. How they tolerate never-ending war is incomprehensible. If not for Calren and Pelya, she might despair of hope. Now she just needs to convince them to end all war and bring peace to the world. That shouldn’t be too hard.

Nervy wasn’t thrilled with his name. He adored Verna and her friends though. Traveling with them was far more interesting than flying around the forest and running away from dragons.

Clues lead the group to the lands of Lord Boagberll and his Huntmaster where the peasants have suffered worse than any other part of Paruth. They will find answers to the Black Scale Guild, the Cloudswept Bank and the Rojuun. They’ll discover even more questions. And maybe in the end, they’ll figure out how to do something about the war.

The Wyvern Series is a swords-and-sorcery series following the journeys of Pelya Jornin. After leaving Dralin, she travels the world searching out injustices and her purpose in life. Along the way, she makes many friends and even more enemies.

All my best,

John H. Carroll

Monday, June 26, 2017

Movie Review: Logan

Three Grumpy Old Men and a Violent Child

My Review

I recently forced my son to watch Logan with me.  Pretty sure that makes me a horrible father.

This is a horrible movie.  The good guys are miserable and really not worth rooting for.  The basic premise of the movie is that this world sucks and it's going down from here, so let's just slash everyone.  We should set a fabulously bad example for the only children left like us while we're at it.

The actors in this movie are far too good to give such a horrible script to.  If I was Wolverine, I would have slashed the script and stabbed the producers through the chin like he does to the bad guys no one really cares about.  If I was professor Xavier, I would have mentally convinced everyone not to waste their money.

My expression while suffering through the movie

I have no idea what the critics and fans who said this was good were thinking.  Maybe the little girl in the movie threatened to shove them in a locker after school and stab them through the door if they said anything bad.  Hard to tell.

I've been a comic book fan since before I could read.  I enjoy most of the movies related to comics and I'm not even too worried about whether or not they stick to canon as long as they're entertaining.  This was not entertaining.  I realized I've become immune to seeing fake blades and blood all over the place and it's become more of a yawn than it is impressive.  There's no shock value left to the gore.  They just do it to hide the fact that there's no real plot or decent dialogue.

I suppose I could go on, but I've already wasted my money.  I have no desire to waste further words.

All my best,

John H. Carroll

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Cloudswept, Book 3 of the Wyvern Series

"Cloudswept" is now available!

Book 3 of the Wyvern Series and the 9th book set in the world of Ryallon.  This is a continuation of Pelya's story from the Dralin Series.

Book 3 of the Wyvern Series

After banishment from Dralin and expulsion from the Blue Wyverns, Pelya Jornin is now an agent of the Cloudswept Bank charged with recovering valuables. The job allows her to travel the world while keeping her skills sharp. Past failures have led to a vow to travel alone so as not to endanger lives of those she cares about.

When the bank offers her an assignment to rescue one of the mysterious Rojuun, she jumps at the chance to learn more about them. Rumors of Rojuun attempts to enslave the human race have worried her since her first meeting with them in Dralin and more so since her failed mission in the mountains south of Swelth.

The mission takes her deep into the war-torn country of Paruth where women aren’t allowed to wear swords and magic is forbidden. Signs of the Black Scale Guild appear, bringing further intrigue along with grave danger.

Calren has avoided mandatory conscription into his lord’s army for as long as possible, but time is up. Rather than join the endless and futile war, he packs his things and abandons the farm for a life of adventure. But Paruth isn’t the sort of kingdom where deserters are tolerated.

Verna, a Druid wilder than the forest she grew up in, needs to escape heartbreak. She skips down the road to learn more about humans and discover why they try so hard to kill each other.

Pelya seeks answers to events in her past that sent her life spinning. She fears what those answers may bring. More than anything, she worries about the fate of those who would attempt to be her friends. Will her actions get people killed yet again?

The Wyvern Series is a swords-and-sorcery series following the journeys of Pelya Jornin. After leaving Dralin, she travels the world searching out injustices and her purpose in life. Along the way, she makes many friends and even more enemies.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Dralin, Chapter 1, new

New Chapter 1

As my writing has improved over the years, I've gone back over some of my earlier works to improve them.  In "Dralin", I removed the story of how Pelya's parents met because reviews showed me that readers gained a false impression of what the story would be.  Many didn't get past that to the true story.

However, when I removed that part and adjusted everything to account for its absence, the new beginning point felt weak.  While writing a battle scene in one of my later books, I came up with this idea for a new chapter 1 for Dralin that would be a better introduction to my writing for new readers.

It also introduces Kally Nevala, a character that appears later in the book.  It shows off some of Bobbell's skills and how his training benefited Pelya later in life.  The other characters brought in are Grinkin, Florsy, and Clutz.  Those three make an appearance in the second book, "Ebudae".  I thought it would be nice to show more of them to the reader.

The book will be updated in the next couple of weeks, but for now, enjoy!

Chapter 1

Frath avoided a puddle of corrupted magic as he peered around the corner.  Violet illumination from Ryallon’s two moons peeked through rainclouds to aid the feeble light of streetlamps.  Tilted wizard towers flanking the shadowy street faded into mist tarnished by mystical undertakings of the occupants.  Moisture trickling down the wall Frath had his gloved hand against also carried the taint of supernatural pollution.
The only person on the street was a hooded man carrying a bound boy over his shoulder.  He scanned the street in both directions.
Frath pulled back to avoid detection.  He held up a hand in warning.
Lieutenant Kally Nevala gulped audibly.  She clenched the hilt of her sheathed sword with a white-knuckled grip.  The daughter of a nobleman, she was too inexperienced to be on a mission in the Tower District.
Frath put a finger to his lips.
Kally nodded, her short, curly blonde hair bobbing around her pretty face.  Anticipation beat out fear in her hazel eyes.
Behind her in the alley were four of Frath’s best friends and the only ones who would take the risk of endangering their careers to rescue Kally’s brother.  In fact, they relished breaking the rules.  The entire group wore the brown tunic of the Dralin City Guard over polished chainmail and black pants.
Bobbell was short and thin-faced with blonde hair and a trimmed goatee.  He and Frath had grown up in the cruel orphanages of Dralin.  He was also a better thief and pickpocket than most people they arrested.
Grinkin, Florsy and Clutz had become quick friends with Frath when he joined the Guard.  They always fought dirty and used words that made hardened sergeants blush.  Florsy was the tallest of the group and skinny, although his ropey muscles held surprising strength.  He winked.
Clutz, the quiet one of the group, trimmed his fingernails with a throwing knife.  People immediately underestimated him because of his name.  He was a master of traveling over the tightly packed rooftops of Dralin.
Grinkin was stout and bald with a white mustache.  His unusually high-pitched voice didn’t match anything else about him.  A grin of excitement lit his face and he spun his sword in readiness.
The sound of knocking echoed through the street.
Frath looked around the corner again.
The hooded man stood at the doorway where Kally’s brother was supposed to be imprisoned.  The door opened.  With a last glance at the street, the man entered.
Frath drummed fingers on the hilt of his sheathed sword while turning back to look at Lieutenant Nevala.  “You’re sure your brother’s in there?”
“Yes.”  Kally stood straight.  “I’ll tell you my informant works for the Guard’s secret service, but that’s it.  She risked her life to find out this much.”
Grinkin grumbled.  “Just because you joined the secret service doesn’t mean you can trust everyone else in it.”
“I trust them less.”  Florsy nudged Grinkin with his elbow.  “Could be a trick.”
Frath blew hair out of his eyes.  “A guy just went in there with another boy over his shoulder.  I think we’re in the right place.”
Kally put a hand to her mouth to hide the involuntary gasp that came out.
“If the wizard got another boy, then Kally’s brother is probably mpphh . . .”
Clutz put his hand over Florsy’s mouth to prevent him from finishing the sentence.
Tears welled in Kally’s eyes.
Frath put a hand on her shoulder.  “Listen, it’s true that your brother’s likely dead, but we’re going to go in to at least save his body.”
Tears rolled down Kally’s cheeks.
Grinkin smacked Frath’s arm.
“Sorry.  That came out wrong.”  Frath ran fingers through his unruly black hair.  “Everything will be fine.  We can do this.”
Grinkin grunted.  “That’s better.  What’s the plan here?  You said you would have one by the time we reached the tower.  We’re here.”
“Yeah.  I’ve got it.”
They leaned in to listen.
“Bobbell will pick the lock.  We’ll work our way upstairs to the wizard’s workroom.  Those are always at the top.”
Clutz frowned.  “Some wizards have their workrooms in the basement.”
“They do?”
“Yeah.”  His eyes narrowed.
“Well . . . we’ll try the top first.  If it’s not there, then we’ll go to the basement.”
Florsy snorted.  “Brilliant strategy.”
Bobbell winked.  “Better than he usually comes up with.”
Frath tried to smack his shoulder, but the rogue was too fast.
“Can we even succeed?”  Concern was thick in Kally’s voice.
“Of course.”  Frath nodded.  “There will be wards and other traps.  If we get past those, there’ll be bodyguards.  If we get past those, every wizard has supernatural guardians, so we’ll have to face those.  We may have to face apprentices if he has any.  The wizard will be the worst.  Our uniforms protect us from some magic, but the spells he casts will shred those . . .”  He scratched his chin.  “Where was I going? . . .”
Florsy pointed at Frath and asked Bobbell, “Is he always like this?”
Bobbell chuckled.  “Yeah, his pep talks make you think stabbing yourself might be the easier way to go.”
“Sheela would agree with you,” Frath admitted.
“When are you and Sheela getting married?” Clutz asked.  “I know you have a child coming soon.”
“I’ll marry her as soon as I can afford a place outside the barracks.”  A rare smile came to Frath’s lips at the thought of his betrothed.
A rat with eyes tainted green from magical pollution tried to join the group.  Clutz kicked it away.  “You two have a baby due soon.  You shouldn’t be risking yourself on something as foolish as this, Frath.”
Please.”  Desperation filled Kally’s voice.  “My brother . . .”
“We’re going to rescue him.”  Frath stepped out into the street before anyone else could speak.  He hoped the others would follow.
Kally was immediately next to him.  They reached the steps to the tower in moments.
Bobbell slipped ahead to check the door.  He moved his hands and whispered in a mystical language.  A breeze affecting only him rustled his hair.  He made a sharp gesture.
Colorful runes hovering over the face of the door came into view.
Bobbell swirled his arms and continued his incantation.  The runes fizzled and then popped out of existence.
“Are we allowed to do that kind of magic?” Kally whispered.
Florsy nudged her arm with an elbow.  “Sure.  Just like we’re supposed to be breaking into a wizard’s tower in the middle of the night.”
Frath took a deep breath.  “You’ll need to forget about rules tonight, Kally.”
Kally set her jaw and readied herself.  “Yes.  You’re right.”
Bobbell took a pouch out of a secret pocket and knelt near the lock.  “I’m glad you’re all making so much noise.  It helps test my focus.”
Florsy nudged him.  “You’re welcome.”
Bobbell glared at him while taking picks out of the pouch.  He inserted three of them in the door.
Grinkin looked over Bobbell’s shoulder.  “How long will it take you?”
The lock clicked.  Bobbell grinned at him and put the picks away.
Clutz gave a low whistle.  “Impressive.”
Bobbell tried the door.  It opened a crack before chains stopped it.  He did a quick inspection.  “Three?  That’s a bit much.”  He pulled out a roll of twine.  “This is going to take time.”
“Put that away.”  Frath pulled him back.  He spotted where each chain was.  “Get ready for a fight.”  He gripped the railing for leverage.  Taking aim, he kicked the door where the lowest chain was.  The snap of the chain and the splintering of wood shattered the silence of the quiet street.
Bobbell winked at Kally.  “This is how most of his plans evolve.  Between his height and his strength, he usually ends up bashing anything that gets in his way.”
Clouds floated back in front of the moons.  Drizzle pattered the street and freshened the air.
The next kick shattered the middle chain and weakened the top.  Frath rammed the door with his shoulder, finishing the last chain off.
Standing in the middle of a room filled with dusty books and dustier furniture was a young woman in a robe.  A supernatural casting wind whipped her hair and robes.
“Spell!”  Frath jumped to the side and hit the ground in a roll.
Colorful language came from his friends outside.  One of the men yanked the door shut, trapping Frath in the room.
The woman thrust her arms forward.  The casting wind slammed into her back, skidding her feet forward on the carpet.  Shards of ice shot from her fingertips.
The first shards hit the door.
She followed Frath’s motion, sending the shards in a fan.
Frath jumped up out of his roll and ran to escape them.
Pain shot through his thigh as two pierced his leg, knocking him off balance and sending him to the floor.  The enchantments in his guard-issued pants prevented the shards from going far, but it was still agonizing.
The door crashed open.  His friends came through.
Clutz threw a knife.
Her spell finished and danger near, the woman drew a wand.
Clutz’s knife hit her in the chest.
Enchantments in her robe flared, protecting her from harm.
They didn’t protect her from Grinkin coming in high and Florsy coming in low.  Enchantments flared, but the magical swords provided by the guard cut through them, ending the woman’s life.
Kally ran to Frath and helped him up.  “How bad is it?”
Frath tested his leg.  Looking down, he saw blood seeping through the holes in the pants.  “It’s not serious.  I’ll be in more pain after explaining how it happened to Sergeant Gorman.”  He grabbed a cloth off a side table and tore it in half.
Bobbell snatched a small magical orb off a bookshelf.  “I can get you a new pair of pants from a pretty little requisition clerk, no paperwork required.”
Kally’s brow furrowed.  “How will you do that?”
“By dropping mine.”  Bobbell winked and slid the orb into a pocket.
Kally gasped.  “That’s . . .”  Her mouth closed.  “Did you just steal that orb?”
“Nope.  That would be unethical.”  He pointed at the stairs.  “I believe your brother’s that way?”
“Yes but . . .”
Grinkin guided her toward the stairs.  “You can file a report in the morning.  I’m certain your commanding officer will be more interested in a filched orb than what we were doing here in the first place.”
“It’s just . . .”
“Do you even know how to use that sword?”
“Of course.”
“Good.  Charge up the stairs and stab anything that gets in the way.”  Grinkin gave her a shove up the first few steps.
She looked back at him in shock.
“You’re the ranking officer here.  We’re on a mission to rescue your brother.  Lead the way.”
She looked at Frath for confirmation.
Frath finished his makeshift bandaging and drew his sword.  “Right behind you.”
Kally hefted her sword and took a deep breath.  She ran up the stairs two at a time.
Grinkin, Florsy and Clutz ran after her.
Frath popped his neck each way and tried to contain the anger rising in his chest.  It was rare that anyone hurt him and he didn’t like it.
“You still with me, Frath?”  Bobbell stared up at him with worry in his eyes.
“It looks like you’re starting to . . .”
“I’ve got it under control for now.”  Red tinted the edges of his vision.
“Does anyone in the guard know about? . . .”
Sounds of fighting came from upstairs.
“Let’s go.”  Frath jogged to the staircase.  He took them three at a time.
When they reached the next level, Kally was in the process of trying to pull her sword out of a bodyguard.  “Let go!”  She had her foot against the man’s chest and was tugging with all her strength.
The hapless stared in uncomprehending shock at the blade stuck in his body.  His own sword was on the ground and his arms were at his sides, too weak to fight.
 Two other bodyguards and a wizard lay on the ground near Grinkin’s crew.  Florsy looked up at the newcomers.  He nudged Clutz.  “Didn’t he say he was right behind us?”
Kally’s sword finally came free from the ribs.  She fell on her behind, her bloody blade clattering beside her.
The bodyguard lurched forward and fell on top of her.  The air that burst from his mouth was his last.
“Get off!”  Kally shoved him aside and backpedaled to escape.
“Do you think the wizard knows we’re coming?” Grinkin asked nobody in particular.
 “Nah.  We’ve been quite as sleeping mice.”  Bobbell jogged to the next flight of stairs and looked up them.  “Something doesn’t look quite right about these.”  He squatted at the bottom and ran his fingers lightly over the step.  “Keep an eye out for danger while I inspect these.”
Clutz drew a knife in each hand and positioned himself behind Bobbell.
Frath clenched and unclenched his fist around the hilt of his sword while resisting the urge to jump over the Bobbell and rush up the stairs.
Grinkin helped Kally to her feet.  “Slide the blade in parallel to the ribs rather than vertical.  It’s less likely to get stuck that way if your aim is good enough.”
“Yeah.”  Kally wiped spatters of the dead man’s blood off her face before retrieving her sword.  “That’s a lot harder in reality than on the training field.”
Grinkin squeezed her arm.  “First kill?”
“No, but . . .”  Kally shook her head.  “I’m ready to go.”
Bobbell made a sharp motion with his knife in between the steps.  “That should disable it.”  He jammed the knife in again, got to his feet and slammed his heel into the pommel of the knife, driving it all the way in.  “And that should prevent the mechanism from slipping on accident.”  He stood aside and gestured for them to pass.
Kally took a step forward, but Frath stopped her.  “I’ll go first now.”
“But it’s . . .”
Frath couldn’t contain his growl.  “It’s best I go first now.”
She backed away, her eyes wide.
“Frath . . .”  Bobbell held up a hand.
“I’m fine.”  Frath loped to the stairs before racing up them and charging into a circular room filled with odd items of magical construction on tables and shelves.  Odors of metal, wood and magical energy tickled Frath’s heightened senses.
A pair of wicked venom hounds stood guard at the bottom of the next set of stairs.  Fangs jutting from grotesquely shaped mouths held channels to venom that weakened anyone they bit.  Even their breath was toxic.
A bestial roar shattered the silence of the room, only it was from Frath’s throat, rather than those of the hounds.  His momentum  propelled him to them in an instant.
The hound on the right maneuvered to flank Frath.  The one in front hunched down, ready to leap.
Frath swung his sword in a diagonal downward arc as the hound in front jumped.  His blade cut through the head and shoulders, slicing through bone.  The impact carried the hound’s body up around as Frath spun.
The hound on the side snarled and leapt for Frath’s exposed flank.
Frath’s spin was as a tornado.  He brought his sword around with the first hound stuck to it.  In his enraged state, the hundred-pound body was like a feather to him.  He slammed the two hounds together and drove them into the floor.
His blade finished its journey through the first body and cut through the second in a mortal wound.
Kally’s voice came from behind him.  “By the gods . . .”
Frath yanked his blade out of the dead hounds, sending chunks of flesh and coarse hair flying.  He turned to the stairs, ready for the next level.
Bobbell rushed past.  “Let me check the stairs.”
Frath waited, chest heaving, not from exertion, but from battle rage flooding his marrow.  It amplified his strength and speed, but reduced his ability to think clearly.  Bobbell knew Frath had the rare condition and kept it hidden.  Most people with the condition died in battle at an early age or were put to death after they committed a killing rampage.
Kally touched his arm with tentative fingers.
A growl rumbled in his throat.  He needed to battle.
She withdrew the fingers.
Bobbell jumped up.  “It’s clear.  I think we’re near the top.  Expect to be hit with spells.”
Frath grabbed an orb of unknown effect and sprang up the stairs.  Bobbell’s warning was not lost on him.  Halfway up, threw the orb into the room above.
Arcs of lightning sprayed the air and thunder shook the beams above.  The lightning hit the orb causing greenish-blue cracks to appear over its surface.  It sailed into the room beyond Frath’s sight.
The briefest moment of silence made Frath halt despite his battle rage.
A shockwave of blinding light and thunderous sound shook the tower and made everyone’s heart stop a beat.  Debris fell from the ceiling, pelting their heads.
Frath shook off the debris and ringing in his ears.  In a few long steps, he reached the top of the stairs and scanned for his first target.
A wizard sat on the ground with blood trickling from his mouth and nose.  A dazed expression clouded his eyes and debris cluttered his beard.  A wizard’s staff with a blue crystal lay on the ground nearby.
The man and boy Frath had seen previously lay unconscious on the floor against the far end of the room.  With his heightened senses, he noticed they were both breathing.
In cages nearby were two other unconscious boys.
But the thing that caught his attention the most was an eight-foot golem made of wood with patches of what appeared to be rune-carved human flesh covering it.  Its eyes and mouth glowed with dark, unnatural light.  It banged its head with a clumsy fist to shake off effects of the explosion.  Burn marks charred its chest.
Frath decided it was the thing most likely to give him a fight worthy of his fury.  He bellowed at the creature.
The creature stopped hitting itself.  It saw Frath and bellowed back.
The ringing in his ears prevented Frath from hearing either bellow.  He attacked.
The golem counterattacked, swinging its fist.
Frath met the fist with a two-handed blow of his sword.  The impact shattered the golem’s fist.
The golem continued the swing, hitting Frath’s nose with splintered wood.
Frath’s nose had already been broken more than once and the fact that it was broken yet again sent him the rest of the way into his battle rage.  Liquid red tinted all his vision.  Rather than making it dim, it sharpened details.
The golem swung its other fist.
Frath met it with a ferocious backswing.  He had the sense to duck at the same time to prevent more damage to his crooked nose.  The blow shattered the golem’s arm and wrenched Frath’s shoulders.  He hopped to the side to keep his balance.
The wizard picked up his staff and struggled to his feet.
Kally arrived at that point to hit him with her sword.
Enchantments in his robe turned the blade aside.  Runes in the robe and in Kally’s sword flared.  He staggered backward and swung his staff at her.
Upon impact, it released energy that shot Kally through the air to slam into the golem’s side.
The golem stumbled while Kally crumpled to the ground.
Two of Clutz’s knives hit the wizard, causing his robe to flash in protection.
The wizard held his staff at the defensive.
Grinkin charged in to strike the staff with an upswing.  A burst of energy knocked the sword back, but the guardsman was ready for it.  He spun and came back around behind the wizard with a second blow.
Florsy hit the wizard from the front at the same time.  Runes in the swords flared.  The combinations of attacks took their toll on the wizard’s robes, weakening it enough that both blades made shallow cuts through to the skin.
Desperation filled the wizard’s eyes.  He backed away, swinging his staff.
Frath renewed his effort against the golem.  He slashed at its torso, cutting into flesh and wood.
The golem swung its damaged arms as if they were twigs swaying in a gale.
Frath dodged every swing.  He was faster than anyone his size had a right to be and with his heightened senses, it was difficult to harm him.
The golem charged forward in an attempt to slam its opponent to the ground.
Frath sidestepped and ducked behind the charge.  He brought his sword around against the golem’s back, knocking it to the floor.  He jumped on the golem’s back and hacked at it as though he were chopping kindling for a fire.
Grinkin, Florsy hacked at the wizard while Clutz and Bobbell darted in with quick stabs.
Kally regained consciousness and abruptly lurched to her feet before falling sideways and landing awkwardly.  She maneuvered to her hands and knees while trying to make sense of the battle.
The wizard had a dozen cuts through his spent robe.  His last desperate swing of the staff missed everyone.
Four swords pierced him with mortal wounds.  The men withdrew them at the same time, leaving him to collapse with a gurgling sigh.
The golem kicked and struggled to get up, but was ineffective without arms.
Frath continued hacking even after it stopped moving.
Grinkin took a step toward him.  “Hey Frath, it’s dead.”
Bobbell stopped him.  “It’s best to let him stop on his own.”
Kally crawled toward the cages.  “Tiyler.  Tiyler, is that you?”  She reached one of the cages and jerked on the door.  “It’s locked.”  She shook the bars.  “It’s locked.”
Bobbell ran over, pulling his picks out at the same time.  “I’ll get it.”
Clutz headed to a desk with an open book and papers scattered over it.  “I’ll try to find a key.”
Florsy removed a bejeweled necklace from the wizard’s neck.  “I’ll start grabbing valuables.  That’ll make it look like thieves did this.”
Despite her desperation, Kally gasped in shock.  “We’re members of the guard.  We can’t steal things!”
Grinkin grabbed wands from their rack on a table near the stairs.  “We’ll give most of it to charity, lass.  That way it’s not really stealing.”
“Most of it? . . .”
Frath continued chopping the golem, though it was hard to tell it had once had a shape by that point.
Bobbell conquered the lock and opened the cage.
Kally forgot her indignation as she scrambled in to recover her brother.  “Tiyler!  Tiyler, wake up.  Please wake up.”
The boy moaned and lifted his head.
“Thank the gods.”  Kally clutched him to her chest and rocked.
“Do you think Frath is going to continue until he has sawdust,” Florsy asked no one in particular.
Bobbell had the second cage unlocked in an instant.  “If that’s what he needs, let him.”  He went in to check on the other boy.
Clutz abandoned his search for the key and went over to the unconscious man and boy.  He leaned over the man and did a quick inspection before checking the boy and lifting him into his arms.
Frath stopped chopping.  The red left his vision.  He twisted his neck each way to pop it.  “Are we finished?”  He wiped off his blade and scanned the room.
Bobbell came out of the cage with the boy over his shoulder.  “Yeah.  Let’s get out of here.  Kally has her brother and we can take these other two to the Temple of Turqua.”
“Who is Turqua again?”  Florsy shoved some valuables into a backpack he found.  “I can’t keep up with all the temples in this city.”
Kally held carried her brother out of his cage.  “The Goddess Turqua can’t bear children, so she nurtures those without homes.  Can someone sheath my sword for me?”
Grinkin picked it up off the floor and cleaned it off as she had asked.  “I wish more women would ask me that.”  He winked playfully.
Kally smirked.  “I’m sure you do.”  She looked around once more.  “Oh, what should we do about the man who brought that boy in?”
“Took care of it.”  Clutz headed to the stairs.  “Let’s go.”
“You killed him?”  Despair cracked Kally’s voice as she noticed the pool of blood spreading under the body.
Frath put his arm around her shoulders and guided her out of the room.  “There are countless men in Dralin who steal children.  The city won’t miss that one.”
Kally choked back tears as she let the men lead her down the stairs and out of the tower into the night.  Rain fell on their heads as they made their way to the temple, hiding any that might have escaped.


Frath sat on the bench outside the temple with his arms resting on his legs and his head hung.  The others were inside seeing to the safety of the boys.  If they had parents, the temple would reunite them.  If not, they would try to find them homes outside of Dralin.
His nose throbbed and the cuts in his leg itched.  He had a couple of bruises in random places he didn’t remember getting.  Sergeant Gorman, who was in charge of Frath’s squad, would grill him when Frath got back.  He could hide the bruises and the cuts in his leg, but not the broken nose. 
Kally was the first to come out with her brother clinging to her side.  In a flash, she was at his side.  “Frath, drink this.  Quickly now.”  She clasped his jaw and held a vial to his lips while tipping his head back.
Frath grabbed her wrist, surprised by the abrupt action, but didn’t fight her.  Cool syrup flowed down his throat, tickling it with mystical energy.  As soon as it hit his stomach, the throbbing in his nose stopped and all bodily pains left.
“There.  Now you don’t need to worry about getting into trouble.”  Kally tapped the last of the syrup into his mouth and took the vial away.  She took a closer look at his face.  “Your nose is still crooked.”
“You . . .”  Frath stared at her with eyes wide.  “Healing potions cost . . .”
She stoppered the vial and tucked it into a belt pouch.  “My father will pay the cost.  It’s a small dose made by an acolyte rather than a full bottle by a priest.  There’s a chance you may grow an extra ear.”  She winked.
“They wouldn’t have sold it if it was bad.  Even that much is a fortune.  If you wanted me healed, a priest, or even an acolyte could have laid their hands on me for a fraction of the cost.  Why . . .”
Kally chewed on her lip, took a breath to answer, and then paused before saying, “To reduce the chance of discovery of course.  Healing drains energy and would have put you out of commission for days.  With a potion, it’s as though nothing happened.”
“Yeah.  I don’t hurt anymore.”  He stretched and tested his muscles.  “I’m a little tired and hungry though.”
“Like I said, it was made by an acolyte, so you’ll still feel some of the adverse effects.”
The others came out at that point.  “The boys are safe.”  Bobbell gestured for Frath to get up.  “We’re going to be late for roll call, Frath.  Let’s go.”
“We need to escort Kally’s brother back to his father’s estate.  Kally’s capable, but Dralin isn’t safe for a lone woman and boy.”
“You two get back to the barracks.”  Grinkin put a protective hand on Kally’s shoulder.  “We’ll ensure they get home safely.”
Florsy nudged Clutz in the ribs with an elbow.  “Yeah.  The only thing that would make our sergeant suspicious is if we showed up on time.”
Clutz rubbed his rib and chuckled.  “True enough.  Go on Frath.”
“Thanks guys.  I appreciate it.”

They exchanged farewells.  Frath and Bobbell used a few coins confiscated from the wizard’s tower to hire a taxi cart back to the barracks.