Monday, December 31, 2012

How to buy my books internationally.

My books are available through numerous online stores.  They are also available internationally.  Here are the countries you can purchase my books in each store


1. You can purchase from Smashwords from anywhere in the world as long as you have internet and a credit card. 
2. When you buy a book, you can download multiple formats for whatever you read on.

And those are the reasons why I will always advise you to purchase from Smashwords over any other store.  (There are actually many more reasons, but those are the big ones.)


Apple is the second biggest international store.  There are more iDevices (iPad, iPhone, etc) than any other type of reader out there.

Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United States, United Kingdom, and Venezuela.

Kobo - A Canadian company that was recently bought out by Rakatan, a Japanese company.

Honestly, if you're living in any of these countries, I'd recommend the Kobo reader over Amazon's Kindle.  Kobo gives every evidence of being a better company internationally than Amazon.  This list states that it's as of May 2012, but they distribute to Japan now too.

As of May 2012, our list of established territories includes:

Canada, United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Singapore, Hong Kong


Amazon is working hard to become the world's biggest online retailer.  They are very likely to succeed.  However, they tend to be combative and are actively trying to avoid taxes wherever possible.  This makes their entry into the international market difficult as they are pissing off governments from what I can see.  That said, they will succeed.  These are the countries where they have stores that are reported to me.

It is my understanding that they distribute to many more countries, but they add a $2.00 surcharge to each book.  Also, I don't receive the normal 70% royalty in these countries.  Amazon only pays 35%.  They are the only company that cuts royalties from other countries.  Amazon claims that they make books available in Canada and more than 175 countries worldwide.

Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Great Britain, Guernsey, Germany, Italy, India, Isle of Man, Japan, Jersey, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, San Marino, Switzerland, Spain, United States, Vatican City

Like I said, they claim to distribute to 175 countries worldwide, but if I understand correctly (and I may be mistaken) people have to log onto one of the other Amazon stores and they pay a surcharge for the books.

Barnes and Noble

It used to be that Barnes and Noble was only available in the U.S., but they have now expanded to the U.K. and are partnering with brick and mortar bookstores to sell their ereader.  After an infusion of cash from Microsoft, they are working on establishing a presence in new countries as well.

For three others, I contacted Smashwords and this is the information I received.


Has the US and Canada, though I hear they may be expanding into
other markets.


Doesn't consistently provide location figures, but has included
Australia, New Zealand, India, the UK, Canada, Mexico and several
African nations.


Predominantly has US sales, but also UK, Canada, Mexico and New

Monday, December 24, 2012

Attack of the Sugar Plum Fairies

Attack of the Sugar Plum Fairies

Just in time for Christmas, I wrote "Attack of the Sugar Plum Fairies, A Story for Demented Children", the fifth installment of the Stories for Demented Children.  It's a humorous adventure story featuring three pretty little sugar plum fairies and their quest for equal rights . . .

Stories for Demented Children

My first story for Demented Children, "The Emo Bunny that Should" has been wildly popular.  I then wrote Zachary Zombie and the Lost Boy, which is rated and reviewed higher than any other story I've written.  The series is becoming popular and probably creates the best chance of getting me noticed.

When I write these stories, I try to think of something or someone that wouldn't normally be a hero.  A common term is anti-hero.  Emo bunnies, rainbows, cows and zombies are definitely not the standard hero.  Then I put them in an odd situation and try to figure out what they would do.  Throw in a dash of humor and there you have it.

The snowflakes were added to the cover using a brushes pack for GIMP

The story

I decided a few months earlier that I wanted to do a Christmas story.  Various ideas came to mind, but some of them had been done and others just didn't really catch my imagination.  I honestly don't remember how I came up with this one, but it started with the title, "Attack of the Sugar Plum Fairies".

Next was figuring out the plot.  I had to have attacking Sugar Plum Fairies.  Why were they attacking?  How many of them?  It's not always easy to come up with something odd.  One of the biggest issues was that I had to limit how many characters I actually showcased.  In a short story, there is very little time to develop characters or a plot.  The key is to keep the characters to a minimum and the timeline of the plot to a single event.

I remembered in "The Emo Bunny that Should", I wrote about labor issues with the Easter Bunny and woodland creatures.  In it, I commented that elves had organized a labor union.  I decided to latch onto that idea and have it so that the Sugar Plum Fairies weren't treated fairly in the original contracts.  Then I came up with the concept that they always had to wear skimpy outfits and were being exploited.

At this point, I'd like to remind you that they are stories for "Demented Children", not normal children.  I gear them towards older kids too.  Plus, I think I have more adults reading these things than kids, so . . .

When I went to write it, I made up the three fairies that were the main characters.  Araedae is the leader of the group. She's brave and smart as any leader should be.  Sydae is the wise-cracking fairy and Zannae is an MIT graduate . . . because I needed a computer hacker . . . Remember, the title says "A Story for Demented Children".

I generally have little favorite parts of a story.  A lot of people may not notice them, or think they're all that great, but I find them enjoyable and fascinating to write.  In this book it was the descriptions of the fairies and how each had their own color.

An excerpt:   Her brilliant violet eyes sparkled in the light from the nearby streetlamp.  Every Sugar Plum Fairy in the world had different color eyes with wings and hair to match.

The tutorial I used to make the candy cane text.  It isn't the best tutorial, so I spent a lot of extra hours trying to get it right.


The Sugar Plum Fairies are tired of dancing for nothing. To make matters worse, the North Pole is freezing, they have to wear skimpy outfits and their poor little legs get worn out quickly. When the Elvin Labor Union was formed, the poor little fairies were left out of any sort of fair bargaining agreement.

The time has come for all of that to change.

Everyone knows Christmas Eve is the best time to attack the North Pole. Santa’s getting ready to deliver toys, the elves are partying and the reindeer have finished playing their reindeer games. Can the legendary North Pole withstand yet another attack? Will Christmas come to a screeching halt?

Join three stealthy fairies: Sydae, Araedae and Zannae, as they try to make life easier for all Sugar Plum Fairies. Will they be able to succeed in their mission? What’s happened to Santa? Will the elves stop the fairies from their task? And what secret is Mrs. Claus hiding from the world?

This is a short story approximately 4600 words long.


"Attack of the Sugar Plum Fairies" is also included in "A Collection of Stories for Demented Children", a compilation of all five of the Demented Children stories.  Each story can be had individually for free and I encourage you to download them.  I charge a token price of $2.99 for the collection in hopes of increasing my chances of becoming a self-supporting writer.  :)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Baby raising advice for Duchess Kate

Why I'm giving advice.

I figure since Snooki can offer parenting advice, so can I.  To let you know my qualifications, I've successfully raised one child and kicked her out . . . ummm . . . sent her off to college.  I also have two others pending.  One is 15 and the other is 9.  They'll probably make it until I can kick . . . send them off to college too.

So here goes.

1.  Don't drop the baby.

You won't find this step in most child raising books.  Which is silly because it's a rather important step.

2. Tell them you love them every day

Seriously. It makes at least a little bit of difference. I usually do it at least 2 or 3 times a day.

3.  Don't use duct tape for anything baby-related.

My wife made this very clear to me.  While duct tape is extremely useful for just about everything, that rule doesn't apply to babies.

4.  Same for WD-40.

See #3 above.

5. Give them hugs. Lots and lots of hugs.

Positive physical contact means the world. It might just benefit you too.

Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun, Madame Vigée-Lebrun et sa fille 
(pretty sure that's French for hugs. I may be wrong though)

6.  Don't pay attention to them when they're playing.

You'll give yourself a heart attack if you watch the insane things your children are going to try to do.  Let them learn social skills and how to deal with success and failure.  Be advised that hospital bills may occur as a result of following this advice.

7.  Let them have a pet.

Worms are the easiest to take care of.  I'm pretty sure they just eat dirt, which is probably what your child will eat at some point too.

8.  Guess.

If you don't know what to do next, then guess.  It's what most of us do.  Just don't tell your children that it's a guess.  Make them think you have it all under control.

9.  As an alternative to #8, ask for advice.

Just be aware that the person giving you advice is probably guessing too.  Either that, or they read a book, but the person writing the book was just guessing too.

10.  Survive the bad and cherish the good.

Your child will give you grey hair and make you cry. 
But then they'll smile and tell you they love you.  You'll be amazed at how wonderful that feels.

Well, Duchess Kate, I hope that helps you raise your baby successfully.  All my best and cheerio.

John H. Carroll

Monday, November 26, 2012

Is this what it's like for other artists?


I sit here listening to "Anti Gravity" by Lindsey Stirling while editing my book.  The sounds of her bow dancing across the strings of a violin blend with the wicked dubstep of modern technology.

I find myself trying to figure out how she thought to put all those notes together.  Was it difficult for her?  To me, it's like magic.  I'm so thankful for musicians who play their music for us.  But I wonder how they make it happen.  How can they see such things?

I've tried playing guitar.  I can't even get notes if I push down on strings on the fret bar.  It just doesn't make sense to me.


Painters are another type of artist that I'm astonished by.  They take oil or watercolor and spread them on canvas.  When they're done, there's a scene that pulls at the imagination.  How did they get that paint in exactly those blends to make it work?

I've tried painting.  I've ended up with a mess of colors.


Much like painters, Illustrators drop lines onto paper.  Those lines add up to make an amazing picture.  Add some color and you have a beautiful scene that I can stare at for hours, wondering what it would be like.

I try to do this.  My lines are shaky and out of order.  The image in my mind is translated into a stick figure with a messed up face.


I watch my wife make her jewelry.  I think about others that crochet, sculpt, sew and design buildings.  These people have a vision and use their hands to make it?  How do they do such things?

My wife took gears and chain.  She made a steampunk necklace that everyone wanted with those items.  She took buttons and made them into jewelry.  She puts beads together to make decorative chandeliers.  She makes chainmail earrings.  How does she see these things? 

If I try it, I get a string of beads that will likely break.  I'm not even going to try to crochet or design a building!


As I said,  I was editing my book.  You see, this is the 6th novel I've written.  I find myself smiling as I read.  I'm excited for the next paragraph, the next chapter and the end of the book, even though I know I'm going to cry yet again.

Writing is an art, no?  I see so many struggle with it.  Some try to start and get as far as a page before stopping and saying, "This is too hard."

I tilt my head in confusion when they say that.  It's not hard at all.

Don't they see the worlds expanding before them?  Don't they know about all the characters yearning to tell their stories?  It's all right there.  Can't they simply put the words down on paper?  Learn the craft of writing, making sentences, using punctuation?  How do they not understand how enjoyable it is?

Worlds open for me when I write.  I smile and craft sentences to bring characters to life.  It's incredibly easy, especially now.  The problem is that there just isn't enough time to write all the stories in my mind.

Is that what it's like?

For other artists?  Is it that easy to create music, paint a picture, craft a necklace?  Do those things desire to be created by other artists the way my stories do for me?  If so, I nod in understanding at how you must feel.  I admire you for what you do. 

Most importantly, I thank you for sharing that art with the world.

All my best,

John H. Carroll

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lighting in Fantasy Writing.

Cool title, huh?

Yes, it even rhymes!

Thank you.  I thought of it all by myself.

I'm very impressed.

So what's this about lighting?

Well, I was writing a description of a room as I do quite often in my books.  I got to the part about how the room was lit.  It's in a temple of the Goddess of Sunshine.  So the room is lit by globes of divine light.  Then I wondered how the globes stayed lit and realized I had no clue.  So instead of making up a technique, I had one of my characters muse about it.  This is what I wrote.  It's told from the viewpoint of Frath and it's in 'Pelya', the third book of the Dralin Trilogy.

Frath stared at one of the globes, wondering whether how the Goddess Reanna kept them glowing all the time or if Archpriestess Appana had some servant that secretly went around filling them with some sort of magical fluid.

That's a very good line.

Thank you.

You're welcome.

. . . Yeah, nothing comes after you're welcome, so you need to ask the next question.

Oh!  Sorry.

It's alright.

So, did this get you to thinking about lighting in writing?

Yes, yes it did.  Very insightful of you.

Thank you.

You're welcome.

So what about lighting in writing?

Well, I came to the realization that I have to know how every scene is lit.  It occured to me to wonder if other authors are the same way, or if it's just me.  In any case, I decided to list some of the ways I use to light areas.

That's very thoughtful of you.

I know, right?

Don't get cocky.

My bad.

Yes, yes it is.  So what are some of the ways you light areas?

I primarily write fantasy, so I like to come up with unusual, and often magical, ways for lighting.

What sort of ways?

Okay, now you're starting to interrupt with too many questions.


No problem.

Anyway . . . Shall we discuss natural lighting first?


Outside during the day, it's pretty easy.  There's a sun shining (providing your world has a sun, which mine does.  However, I often adjust that light with clouds, fog, dawn, dusk, rain, snow and various other weather affects.  The climate and vegetation affect it as well.  Trees provide shade, sunlight is harsh in the desert, winter sunlight is less effective at keeping a person warm.  Those things can affect the mood of the daylight and alter the impressions of your readers.

Sun-dappled forest.

Nighttime has a lot of options for adjusting light.  My world has two moons, Siahray is blue-green and Piohray is red.  When both of them are full, they cast a lavender light upon the night.  I can adjust the mood of a scene by having one full or not there at all to create a specific mood.

Starlight when the moons aren't out is another good option for nighttime.  Patchy clouds covering one of the moons can make a spooky scene while covering them with clouds can make it very dark indeed.

How about artificial lighting like the mystical globes in the temple?

Well, the most common artificial in a fantasy setting is going to be fire.  A campfire in the wilderness or a fire in the hearth at home are very common.  The source of fuel, such as wood in the forest or cow patties in the steppes needs to be considered as well.  Fire will be less common in the desert where there is little easy fuel.

In cities, a torch, essentially rags on a stick dipped in pitch, is going to be the easiest light.  However, it doesn't last all that long and isn't very bright.  It's great for adding to mystery though.  The guttering flames (torches always have guttering flames) cast lots of shadows and allow for things to come out of the murk. (murk is the darkness beyond torchlight.  Icky things hide there)

Those flames are guttering

Another option is candles.  They are very dim and can be held for hope, always slim when you only have a candle.  They can be all colors and more of them will more light.  You can also add candleholders, which are a nice addition to decorating a room.  Candles flicker as opposed to the guttering of torches.

It's a candle. True story.

Lanterns and kerosene lamps are a more advance option of man-made light.  They use liquid fuel with a wick and can hold a light for hours. On lampposts in a city, they can give the impression of technological advancement or wealth. You can always put a candle in a lantern for a different sort of effect.  The glass of the lantern can help protect the candle from wind.  Oriental lanterns are often made of paper with designs on them if you'd like to add an Eastern theme to your story.

Kinda useless in the daytime.

In truth, these natural lights were rare in historical times in our world.  Candles and torches require materials and work to make.  Not all people had those materials or even had time to do the work involved.  When the sun went down, it was very dark.  The lack of light can be especially useful in creating fear.  I've found that I almost always give my characters light.

In modern times, we have electricity and many more options, but I don't have it in the world of Ryallon, so I'm going to skip it.

What about magical light?

Ahh, now that's the fun part.  Ryallon is a high-magic world, so I can create technology-equivalent lighting.  The civilizations in my world range from barbaric to near-Victorian.

I use magical or fantasy elements to generate different types of light.  I also have underground caverns that contain luminescent plants.  I'll list some excerpts from my books to show the different ways light is provided in Ryallon.

Liselle's flame, from "Rojuun":

He followed them into the vacant building, ducking along the wall after entering the doorway.  A small blue flame appeared from Liselle’s hand.  She lifted it into the air and let it float above them as they looked around the room. 

Bioluminescent plants, from "Anilyia":

The temperature became cooler as the party traveled deeper into the ground.  Soon plants began to appear on the walls and ceiling.  The plants were rich with oxygen, which made it possible to breathe the air.
Bioluminescent fluids creeped through the plants, creating light.  It was similar to the glowflies in the forest, but much more powerful.  They were different from plants on the surface.  Their powerful roots dug deep into the rock, but at the same time secured the stone so that ribs and braces were no longer needed to keep the tunnel secure.

Nectar Globes, from "Anilyia":

This is from a Druidic city in the forest.  One of my favorites.

Round globe lights hung from various trees to light the city at night.  He had asked one of the Druids how they were lit.  The Druid told him that a specific type of nectar, which attracted glowflies, was placed inside.  More of that nectar was added every evening and the glowflies would spend the entire night on their feast, lighting the city in the process.  Between the thickness of the forest and the clouds above, it was dim enough for some of the globes to give off a soft light while they waited for lunch.

Ship lanterns and bell on Aermoirre, from "Kethril":

Aermoirre is one my favorite characters.  I could feel this scene while writing it.

Two lanterns shone with a magical glow on the main deck and one on the aft deck to go with the gentle illumination of the bell.  The mild creaking of wood and flap of sails was soothing.  Tathan could see ocean below and the lights of a port village a short distance ahead through the light snow.

Distra's purple flamed candles, from "Dralin":

“The candles are lit.”  She pointed at iron candleholders lined along the wall and at tables with stepped shelves to either side of the statue.  They all had candles with violet flames that flickered dimly, making the shadows dance slowly.
         “No.  Those are always lit.  Distra’s divine power keeps them aflame.” 

Pink torches in the tower of a wizardess, from "Ebudae"

A mat was on the floor inside and he wiped his feet off to reduce the chance of bootprints.  Magical torches flickering with bright pink flames lined a long hallway.  Frath did not want to sneak around in a wizard’s house, but the shadows beckoned.  He observed that they always seemed more substantial when cast by magical light.

Ebudae's magical lighting of all the candles in Pallon Estate, from "Ebudae"

Ebudae stood and concentrated on a four-pillar candleholder above the fireplace.  Pelya recognized a spell was going to be cast and gave the wizardess space.  The spell was simple, barely rustling her silken locks, but choosing what candles to light took focus.  Ebudae whispered the words of a spell and made precise gestures with her outstretched hands.
Yellow-green flames came to life.  At the same time, candles throughout the manor lit with the same flames.  She left the bedrooms and storage rooms dark, but lit all the common areas.  Lady Pallon normally had servants light the lanterns to make it bright, but Ebudae loved the mysterious and eerie light filling the room and hallway beyond.  “There, now it’s not dark.”  She smiled triumphantly as she turned back to her guests.


Those are just some of the ways I use lighting in my stories.  Nearly every scene in my books use light to adjust the reader's opinion of what's happening.  I like variety in color and types.  Each wizard has their own preferred color as well.  Liselle is blue and Ebudae is yellow-green for example.

To my readers,  I hope this gives you a little insight as to how I do things.  To other writers, I hope you found this to be intriguing and possible even helpful.

All my best,

John H. Carroll

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Pelya Chapter 1 - final edits.

In september, I posted the first chapter of Pelya.  You can find it here:

However, that was after I had edited it once.  I set my books aside for two months.  During that time, I let beta readers go through it.  Then I pick it up and go through it with a fine tooth comb.  I add stuff and take away stuff.  The story basically stays the same, but the quality is better, sometimes drastically.  I'm posting the finalized version of chapter 1 here.

You can read both to see the difference, if you're interested. :)

Chapter 1

“Well Sornin, I’m beginning to think that everyone in Dralin has decided to become honest today.”  Pelya grinned as she leaned against a lamppost on the sidewalk.  Activity bustled along the street and a breeze lazily carried the sounds of the city through the air.

Sornin responded with a snort.  Brown hair framed his narrow face and he always wore a severe expression.  Pelya trusted him implicitly though, especially since he had protected her back more than once, as she had his.  “You shouldn’t ask for trouble, Pelya.  Our shift’s only half done.  There’ll be plenty to go around at some point or another.”  He straightened the collar of a polished chain shirt that peeked out from underneath the standard-issue black and brown tunic of the Dralin City Guard.  “And thinking that everyone stopped committing crimes is pure fantasy.”

Their squad was patrolling the Orange Sash District, named after orange sashes worn by perfume-laden prostitutes to mark their profession.  Garishly painted bordellos lined the street and women called out from windows to potential clients below.  At the moment, they were in the center of the district where the clientele tended towards middle-class workers.  Ornate mansions catered to rich customers in the northern section of the district while run-down parlor houses were in the south.

Scantily clad male and female prostitutes on the street encouraged potential customers to enter the bordellos.  Most were respectful to the Guardmembers who kept them safe, or as safe as it was possible to keep anyone in the most dangerous city on the world of Ryallon.

Pelya stood straight and tugged on her black braid.  “Come now Sornin, we’re in for a long, evening, so it wouldn’t hurt to let a smile crack those lips of yours.”

He gave her a slight smile, more than most people received.

Pelya’s sapphire-blue eyes sparkled in the late afternoon sun as checked everyone’s positions.  There were six people in her unit, loosely organized, ready for battle if needed.  They walked the cobbled street without a specific formation to be less predictable.  A month earlier, on her nineteenth birthday, Pelya had become unit leader.  Sornin was her unit-buddy and second in charge.  The other three units in their squad were within hearing distance of the whistle around her neck, which made a piercing signal that carried over the sounds of the busy streets.

Pelya had spent her entire life in Dralin, raised by her father in the barracks of the City Guard.  She had taken to the sword as soon as she could lift it and was currently the youngest swordmaster in the Guard.  It was what she had striven for, but recently she had come to regret that decision.

Everywhere Pelya looked, people suffered.  Dralin had more crime than anywhere else in the world from what she had been told.  Patrolling the streets had made her believe it.  She couldn’t count how many murders she had helped investigate in the last year and that number didn’t compare to kidnappings and disappearances.

She looked around at the lurid buildings.  What couldn’t be seen from the street was the corruption that resulted in innocent young women being conscripted by criminal predators.  There were more gangs in Dralin than the City Guard could handle.  The best that could be done was to hold crime at bay so that it didn’t completely overrun the citizens.  It wasn’t enough for Pelya, but she didn’t know how to do more.

A group of men shouting nearby broke her out of her reverie.  They were exchanging bawdry comments with a group of prostitutes on a balcony.  There was nothing that needed to be done.  Thus far, the shift had started more peacefully than any she could remember.

The weather was pleasant with the heat of summer gone.  Rainfall the day before had washed much of the normal pollution into the gutters, leaving the smog lighter than usual.  Fall colors covered the trees and the threat of winter was still far away.  Pelya looked up at the puffy clouds in the sky and stretched.

“Does your father know Captain Fallamer has you stationed in the Orange Sash?” Yobi, a veteran Guardsman, asked. 

“Yes.  He’s mad about it too.  But he needs to understand that he can’t protect me from doing my job.”  Pelya remembered the yelling match they had about it the week before.

Yobi shook his head in amazement.  “I wouldn’t want to cross him.  I like working for Captain Fallamer, but she’s crazy for giving you this assignment.”

Joll, his unit-buddy, smacked Yobi on the shoulder with the back of her hand.  “Watch what you say.”  Joll was a short, young woman who was intimidated by Pelya’s six-foot frame.

“Daddy unnerves most people, although it is a bad idea to cross him.”  Pelya winked, more than happy to protect her father’s reputation.  She didn’t like Joll much; the woman wouldn’t look her in the eye.

A muffled scream seized their attention.  Joll pointed down a side street.  “A woman, taken into the alley by a group of thugs!”  Before she finished speaking, they all had their swords drawn and ready.  Not far down the street was a carriage with a broken wheel.  The driver who was checking the wheel saw them coming and took off in the other direction.

Pelya shouted orders as they dashed toward the alley.  “Leave him.  Watch for surprises!  Protect each other!”  Pelya gave her whistle two sharp tweets and a long one to let the other units in the squad know that they were investigating trouble.

Curious bystanders scurried out of the way.  The Dralin City Guard had a system for pursuit and the speed with which the well-trained warriors moved was remarkable.

A sharp turn into the trash-littered alley revealed the kidnappers dragging the struggling woman through the back door of a smog-blackened building.  The door slammed shut behind them.

Pelya led the rush forward.  When they reached the grimy door, two of her unit stepped to either side and prepared for entrance.  Sornin tossed a runeball that would detect if there were wards on the door.  It floated in front of the doorway for a moment, shining with a greenish light as it spun and did its magic.  All was clear.

Sornin retrieved the ball just as Pelya blew two long tweets on her whistle followed by a short one to indicate to the rest of the squad that her unit was entering a building.  She shattered the old door with a kick of her muscular leg.

Pelya let her eyes grow accustomed to the gloom as she moved inside a short hall with chipped paint on the worn walls.  She headed toward a door at the end, forgoing the two on the sides.  Sornin, entering behind her, signaled for the others to be ready for battle.  They advanced in staggered formation.

Sornin tossed the runeball at the door.  It flashed with red light as it drew in magical energy before disintegrating.  Detecting and disarming the ward had used up its enchantment.

Sornin and Pelya exchanged worried glances.  Red light indicated an alarm ward.  Even though it was disarmed, anyone inside would know someone was at the door.  Pelya felt uneasy about walking into a certain ambush, but the circumstances required instant action.

With another well-placed kick, she broke down the door.  Sornin dashed in with Pelya right behind.  They moved to either side of the doorway leaving a path for the rest of the unit to enter.

Ten fighters waited for them in the surprisingly large room.  The sight of expensive furnishings made it clear to Pelya that this was a place for criminal operations.  In contrast to the hallway outside, the walls had fresh paint, tapestries and expensive carpets.

A blonde man standing behind a desk glared at the intruders as though they were flies on his dinner.  He wore a fancy purple shirt, black pants and a fine sword at the hip.  Two men next to the desk held the kidnapped woman.

Sornin yelled, “Dralin City Guard!  Put down your weapons!”

The fighters lifted their swords higher and crouched, ready for battle.  Pelya realized they would fight, an undesirable outcome.  “No one needs to get hurt!  We just have questions.”  Joll and Yobi came through the door and moved forward, making space for the last two in the unit.

A woman in yellow robes moved her hands in precise motions while a supernatural wind whipped her hair around her face.

Pelya and Sornin realized why the fighters were holding back.  “Magic!” they both shouted.  In unison, Pelya’s unit cast fast protective spells, taught as standard training in the Guard.  It would complement protections already built into their uniforms.  They were just in time, saving them from the effects of the woman’s spell.

Pelya drew and threw a knife made to pierce magical defenses.  The wizardess had already begun another spell and wasn’t able to dodge the flying blade as it pierced her throat.  The gathered energy burst and sent her lifeless body flying against the wall.

Five, Pelya thought to herself.  That was how many people she had killed in her life, a number she hated.  She blew two sharp bursts on her whistle, the signal that they were engaging in battle.  Pelya prayed the sound would reach the rest of the squad outside.

The battle began.  Their foes were not amateurs, but few people were good enough to match a member of Dralin’s Guard.  Pelya had two men to deal with immediately.  Her sword darted through the air faster than her opponents could parry.  One fell.  Six, a number she hated more than five.

She stalled the other man with rapid parries.  Joll was down and would never get up again.  The rest were hard pressed.  Two more foes engaged Pelya.  She finished off the one she had stalled, seven, and focused on the next.  A quick move here and another there, the two were wounded.

Pelya reevaluated the unit’s situation and realized another of her unit was down.  As she killed another attacker, eight, Albin, a third member of her unit also fell.  Sornin and Yobi stood with her against the three hardened fighters that remained, their friends lying dead next to the fallen Guardmembers.

The blonde man moved forward, Albin’s blood dripping from his blade.  Ruthless brown eyes took measure of the intruders.  His nostrils flared as he closed the distance.

It was against policy for every member of a unit to die.  At least one of them had return to the squad and report the incident.  “Report, Yobi! Now!”  Pelya yelled.

Yobi took the order and went through the doorway, but three fighters waiting in the hall blocked him.  Sornin hastened to help clear the escape route.  Pelya stood in the doorway and protected their retreat.
The stranger with the hard eyes was in front of Pelya.  His sword clashed against hers.  Sparks of light and color flashed, showing that both blades contained magic.  He was a swordmaster and his enchanted blade effortlessly met every stroke of hers.

Her thrusts and parries became more desperate with each blow.  She tumbled to the side, coming up for better position.  One of the other fighters attempted to take advantage of the move.  A fast dodge put her behind the man.  She pushed him forward.  Without blinking, the swordmaster ran the man through and shoved him to the ground.

The swordmaster’s blade met hers again with a supernatural speed.  Closer and closer it came, as though the blade itself wished to drink of her blood.  He focused on Pelya with intensity, never giving her an opening.  There was power and experience in his arm.  He had spent more time wielding a sword than she.
Pelya sensed movement behind her.  She nimbly rolled out of danger.  A wicked thrust missed her back.  Pelya sprang from the roll just in time to see the mysterious swordmaster kill the treacherous fighter for interfering in his battle.

There is a moment after a person kills someone when they pause to take in the shock of it.  The hardest killer may have it down to an instant, but it is there.

Pelya struck in that moment, a quick thrust, tight and deadly.  It missed.  Anyone else would have died.
Pain stung Pelya’s cheek as she jerked her head back and tumbled away.  The swordmaster’s blade was sharp.  Pelya ignored the blood flowing down the side of her face and attacked.  The swordmaster smiled cruelly as he parried the blows.

The next slash cut her thigh.  Another cut the back of her hand as she tumbled and failed to take out his hamstring with a spinning swing.

He was too fast.  His blade bit into her forehead when her sword moved too slowly to counter.  Blood flowed past her eyes, impairing her vision.

Pelya’s back grew warm.  Time slowed.

Her blade met the man’s sword and darted forward to slash his chin.

The swordmaster was surprised, but he parried her next blow.  He was more surprised when another cut through his shirt to the skin of his chest.

Time slowed even more as their blades clashed repeatedly, neither gaining the advantage.  The warmth on Pelya’s back increased, spreading into her bones.  Shadows watched intently.

They separated.  The swordmaster rolled toward the desk while Pelya rolled toward the door.  For an instant, the opponents stared with the intensity of suns, memorizing every detail about each other.

The swordmaster dashed through a secret door held open by one of his fighters.  It closed behind them.
Pelya took a step forward before realizing that more Guardmembers were now in the room and that the remaining fighters had been subdued.  The kidnapped woman was crying into the shoulder of a Guard.
“Pelya!” Sornin said.  “Pelya!”

Everything was surreal as she turned to face him.  Normalcy came rushing in, causing her to stagger.  The heat on her back and in her bones lessened.  The shadows slipped into themselves.
Squad Sergeant Herman Melvor appeared next to her and grabbed her arm in concern.  “Pelya.  Are you alright?  You’re bleed . . . By the Gods . . . Your cuts are disappearing!  What healing magic is that?”
Pelya’s jaw clenched shut.  The dragon mark on her back prevented her from speaking.  It had slowed time and improved her reflexes during the battle.  Now it healed her wounds, but it also prevented her from talking about it.  She and her friend Ebudae had received the marks at the age of eleven after saving the child of a dragon.  Most of the time she didn’t even remember it was there, so insidious was the geas that prevented her from revealing its presence.
Squad Corporal Jecks touched fingers to Pelya’s sword in a calming motion.  “I’ve never seen anyone move so fast, you or him.”  Concern lit his grey eyes and filled his thick voice.  His uniform was immaculate as always.  He did everything by the book.
Pelya wiped and sheathed her sword.  She still couldn’t respond.  Sornin put a supportive hand on her shoulder while Yobi stood behind her protectively.
One of the squad wizards was trying to figure out the secret door while the other helped the squad healer look after the fallen Guardmembers.  Pelya realized that Sornin and Yobi were the only ones who survived.
Squad Sergeant Melvor was average height with brown hair, unremarkable in most ways, which made him dangerous because his opponents tended to dismiss or underestimate him.  Added to that, he fought dirty.  He had helped Pelya’s father raise her and she normally called him Uncle Herman.  His brown eyes showed that he wanted to protect her, but he was being professional.  “Report, Unit Leader,”
It helped.  Pelya’s jaw unlocked and she relayed the details of the incident.  “The unit heard a woman scream and began pursuit of two men who were dragging that woman into an alley.”  Pelya pointed at the woman who was still sobbing into the shoulder of a Guardsman.  The Guardsman looked at Sergeant Melvor with pleading eyes.

The sergeant ignored the look, leaving the man to suffer.  “Go on, Pelya.  What happened next?”
“We saw them enter this building.”  Pelya paused, still breathing hard from exertion.  “After Sornin checked the door for wards, I broke it down and led my unit into the building.  I whistled . . .”

Sergeant Melvor nodded.  “We heard your whistles.”

“We went through the hallway to this door and discovered an alarm ward on it.  The runeball deactivated it and I kicked in the door.”

“Did you check the side doors in the hallway?” Corporal Jecks asked.

“I didn’t,” Pelya said with a sinking feeling in her stomach.  She remembered the fighters who had come behind them.  “My instincts told me the woman was in this room and that we needed to get to her as fast as possible.”
Corporal Jecks nodded.  Pelya couldn’t tell if he approved or disapproved.  He was hard to read.
“There were ten armed fighters in the room, a wizard, the two kidnappers, the kidnapped woman and the man I was fighting.”  Pelya stared at the secret door.  The squad wizard still hadn’t figured it out.
One of the Guardsmen examining the bodies of the fighters stood and came over.  “A few of these fighters were once soldiers from the Kingdom of Deller.  I recognize tattoos on the base of the neck given to everyone who joins their army.  Theirs have additional marks to indicate that they were discharged dishonorably.”

“Good work, Private Wibben.”  Sergeant Melvor frowned.  “Do you have any idea why ex-soldiers from Deller would be here, Pelya?”
“No, Sergeant.  Sornin called for them to put away their weapons and I told them we just wanted to ask questions, but the wizardess cast a spell at us.”  Pelya pointed at the body.  “We warded ourselves, which protected us from the first spell.  I didn’t know if the wards would hold up against another.”
“Nice shot,” Corporal Jecks said.  “That’s your knife in her neck, right?”
“Yes.  The odds were against us and the wizardess immediately began casting another spell.  I believed it to be the only option.”
Corporal Jecks gave a sharp nod of approval.  “Good decision.”  It was the highest praise Pelya had heard him give anyone.
“What happened then?” Sergeant Melvor asked.
“The fighters attacked us and there was no time to do anything but fight back.  They were skilled.”  She looked at Joll’s body.
Private Wibben followed her gaze.  “They were very skilled to take out three Guardspeople.”
Pelya leveled her breathing.  “I ordered Yobi to run for help, but three fighters blocked him.  Sornin went to help while I protected their backs.”
Sornin said, “Pelya’s the best of us.  I believed she would be able to hold off the rest.”
“You made a good decision,” Sergeant Melvor said.  “Getting word to the squad was priority.  And I’d trust Pelya to guard my back any day.”  He smiled at Pelya and squeezed her shoulder.
Pelya resisted an urge to hug him.  “That swordmaster attacked me next and all my time was spent battling him.  He killed two of his own men, one to get to me, the other because the fighter tried to kill me.”
“He carried himself like a duelist,” Private Wibben said.  “I’ve seen the type.  They’re everywhere in Deller.  Although he was better than any I’ve seen.”
“Are you from Deller?”  Jecks asked.
Wibben shook his head.  “No.  I’m from Obda to the north of Deller.  Their soldiers make a nuisance of themselves and occasionally come to border towns for drinking and wenching.”  He looked at Pelya.  “I’ve never seen anyone move as fast as either of you.  There was magic involved.”
Pelya’s jaw clenched shut again.  She couldn’t talk about the dragon mark.  With a deft switch of thought, she remembered the swordmaster’s weapon.  Her jaw unlocked.  “He had a magical blade, superior to the standard Guard issue.”  She patted the sword at her side.  It wasn’t standard, having been a gift from Gilron Coodmur, the Guard’s weaponmaster, but it looked like one and few knew otherwise.
“If it makes him move faster, it’s a powerful enchantment.”  Jecks looked suspiciously at Pelya. 

“How did you move so fast, Pelya?”
Her jaw didn’t lock, almost as though the mark trusted her not to reveal its presence.  She rewarded its faith by deflecting the corporal’s question.  “I don’t think his sword was just magical.  I could feel it studying me, testing me.  I think it may have had a name.”
The statement drew gasps.  Magical weapons and other items were common, especially in Dralin, but a named item meant it had a soul.  It could think and influence the person that owned it.  They were incredibly powerful, priceless and dangerous.
“We need to know who he is and why he wanted this woman kidnapped,” Sergeant Melvor said.
The woman had finally gotten ahold of herself and was wiping her eyes with the sleeve of an extravagant dress.  “Because I’m the daughter of Chancellor Divathia.”
“Chancellor Divathia of the High Council?” Sergeant Melvor asked in surprise.  He thumped a fist to his chest in salute.  “Milady.”
She gathered loose strands of her auburn hair and put them in a makeshift ponytail.  “I did my best to fight them off, but they were too strong.  They killed my personal guards.”  She looked at a rip in the sleeve of her dress.  “Mother’s going to kill me for ruining this dress.”
Pelya winked.  “Blame it on the kidnappers and tell your mother they ripped it just to spite her.”
Hope lit the woman’s face.  “That might actually work.”  She came over and wrapped Pelya in a hug, nearly suffocating her with the heavy scent of jasmine perfume.  “Thank you for saving my life.  I saw your unit just before they dragged me into the alley.  It took all of my strength to get the hand away from my mouth long enough to scream.”  She stood back and looked up at Pelya.  “I will see to it that you are rewarded.  Mother will want to meet you.”
Pelya didn’t like that idea.  The High Council was the ruling body of Dralin and outranked even the Grand Assembly responsible for running the country of Altordan.  The twelve chancellors of the High Council were the most powerful people in the kingdom and it wasn’t wise to attract their attention, good or bad.
The woman sighed and shook her head.  “Of course you don’t want to meet her.  Nobody wants anything to do with her or me.  What’s your name, anyway?”
“My name is Pelya Jornin.”
Surprise crossed the woman’s face.  “I’m Yancy.”  She turned to look at the rest of the room and shuddered.  “Why am I still here?  There are so many dead people.”
Pelya looked to Sergeant Melvor, who nodded.  She led Yancy to the alley outside.  Sornin and Yobi followed.
“Finish gathering evidence,” Sergeant Melvor ordered Corporal Jecks.  “The messengers I sent should have reached Captain Fallamer.  She’ll be here soon.  I want everything ready to present to her.”  He then followed Pelya and the others into the alley.  “The captain will want to speak to you Lady Divathia.  We’ll arrange to get you home just as soon as possible.”
“I want Pelya to escort me.  I saw how good she is with a sword, better than any of my guards.”  Yancy studied Pelya.
Sergeant Melvor looked distinctly uncomfortable with the suggestion.  “I don’t have that authority, milady.”
A full squad of Guardmembers jogged into the alley, led by a female officer with short, red hair.  Her thin eyebrows furrowed in a frown at seeing Pelya, but she turned to Melvor.  “Report, Sergeant.”
Melvor began rattling off details about the incident.
Yancy grabbed Pelya’s arm, dragging her to a nearby wall.  “You’re Pelya Jornin, the Guard Brat, aren’t you?”
Pelya suppressed the urge to punch the woman in the face.
Yancy gasped and covered her mouth with both hands.  “I’m so sorry!  I didn’t mean it that way.  It’s just that . . . everyone calls you that . . . I mean . . . that’s not what I mean . . .”  She threw her hands up in frustration.  “I’ve messed up again.  I’ll never learn.  Everyone hates me.  I’m so stupid!”
Pelya set aside her personal feelings.  “I have no idea whether or not you’re stupid, but I won’t hold it against you if you are.”  She grinned at the look of shock on Yancy’s face.
“Oh . . .”  Yancy laughed.  “I like you, and I’m sorry I called you a Guard Brat.”  She paused and put a hand on her chin.  “Mother doesn’t approve of you though.  That’s a problem.”
“Yes, well I’m used to people not approving of me,” Pelya said in disgust.  “I don’t care, even if your mother is a member of the High Council.  I don’t care what anyone thinks of me or of my father for raising me in the Guard.”  It was a sore spot with her and to know that her life was discussed even within the High Council was offensive.
Yancy folded her hands in front of her and hung her head.  “I’m sorry.”
Pelya rubbed her brow.  She was drained now that all the energy from battle was gone.
“You’re shaking,” Yancy said.  “Are you hurt?”
“No.  I’m just tired and I killed . . .”  Pelya stared back at the doorway, remembering the bodies of the men and the death of her unit mates.
“Please don’t talk about it.  I want to be brave, but I . . . I’ve never seen anyone die until now.”  Yancy was pale as a ghost and looked about ready to faint.
“Lady Yancy Divathia?”  Captain Fallamer came up beside Pelya.  “I’m giving you a carriage to take you home.  It will be here shortly.  It’s my understanding that you wish Unit Leader Jornin to escort you?”
“Yes, Captain,” said Yancy.
“Very well, but she must return as soon as you are safely home.  She has a report to make.”
“Thank you, Captain.  I’ll see to it.”
Captain Fallamer gave Pelya a reassuring pat on the back.  “Come talk to me when you get back to the Guard District.”
“Yes, Captain.”  Pelya didn’t feel reassured.

If you are interested in the first two books: