Wednesday, November 25, 2015

5 years published

Becoming a writer

I self-published my first book, Rojuun, November 24th 2010 at the beginning of the Self-Publishing revolution.  I had high hopes and low expectations as to what to expect.  I discussed it with my wife and told her that self-publishing would likely ruin my chances to get a traditional contract.  However, the thought of going through years worth of rejections when I could put my book out there immediately just seemed foolish.  So I went for it.

I began writing Rojuun in January of 2010.  I had already written some terrible poetry and a couple of short stories.  I thought I had a pretty good idea of what I was doing, but the experience taught me a great deal.

2010 was a vastly different environment than now with self-publishing.  Everyone was trying new things.  Amazon hadn't figured out their algorithms yet, so when I put Rojuun free after finishing the next couple in the series, It took off with thousands of downloads.  Rojuun and a few of my other books are still free and those books draw new readers to my work every week.

Book 4 of the Ryallon Series: Rojuun FREE!

Five year plan

When I first published, I decided on a five year plan.  I would write as much as possible and do everything I could to succeed to a point where writing could sustain me.  I also decided at the time that if I turned out to be a complete failure, I would set it aside and focus on something else.

The reality is that neither of those happened.  I could have done some things differently along the way to create better success.  I should have reinvested some of my money into my books, but I used it to support my family instead.  My family comes before everything.  I would even give up writing to take care of them.  Also, the last few years have gone badly in many ways.  We've had to work through some very rough times, and continue to have to do so.  My last book took 2 years to write because of it.  That's a serious liability when publishing one's own work.  Optimally, I should be publishing 3 or 4 works every year.

That said, I've still achieved a fair amount of success, more than many have experienced.  I haven't counted my sales in nearly a year, so I can't give you exact numbers, but I've sold about 15,000 copies of my books.  I've made a reasonable amount of money, which has helped with the bills along the way.

And I've enjoyed myself. That's a big key right there.  I absolutely love writing. I don't write for others. If I did, then there wouldn't be so many emo bunnies in my books.  I write for myself. When I'm done, I share it with the world because it's cruel for an artist not to. The stories are still for me though.

What I've learned

There is a saying that you don't become a professional until you spend 10,000 hours doing an activity.  After doing some math where I included a lot of time in the past doing some game building for about 4 years where I wrote a great deal of dialog and story creation, I've far surpassed that.  I've also surpassed a million words of published work. I've completed 9 novels, 10 children's stories, 2 novellas, and 4 short stories. Does this mean I'm a professional?  Hard to tell, but it does mean I've put in the time. 

While writing all these books, I've learned to write.  It's a redundant statement, but it's real.  I've gone over and over every word I've written.  I've changed styles.  I've experimented with different techniques.  All the while, I've tried to write excellent stories about fascinating characters that stimulate the imagination.  I'm still learning with every book I write and striving to get better.

My current books won't ever reach the level of success of a JK Rowling or others like that.  I think I made too many mistakes along the way.  I developed a story line that was a little too large with too many characters to follow.  I should have focused down into some of the stories and developed them into adventure series.  It's something I will keep in mind for the future.

Where I'm at now

I just finished a re-edit of Dralin, which is the 1st book overall in the Ryallon Series.  I did one of those things where I wrote books 4,5,6 before 1,2,3.  However, the Dralin Trilogy is a much better prequel than some others that we'll avoid mentioning *coughstarwars123cough*

In doing so, I realized that I had lost some of my enjoyment and verve when it came to writing.  This book returns to the fun, banter and even silliness that my earlier writing had.  It's a blast and I love the characters in it.


Book 1: Dralin FREE!

Currently, I'm writing my 10th novel: Cloudswept, Book 3 of the Wyvern Trilogy.  It's going very well.  I expect to have the first draft of this book finished in late February if too many more things don't go wrong.

What the future holds

After I'm finished with this book, I'm going to write books 2 and 3 of the Crazed Trilogy.  I'm afraid I left the characters in that trilogy hanging, along with some very frustrated readers!

I also need to write some more Stories for Demented Children.  It's not near as popular as the Ryallon series, but I have some devoted readers of those.  I have a few ideas down for stories there.  I intend to do another Zachary Zombie story and possibly even an Emo Bunny that Should sequel!

I'm not the best writer, but I'm a solid writer that spins enjoyable yarns.  The characters have become real to me and many of my readers.  I believe that I will at some point support my family with my writing.  In any case, I'll keep plugging away.  I truly love writing.

All my best,

John H. Carroll

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Cloudswept, Wyvern Trilogy Book 3, Chapter 1


"Cloudswept" is book three of the Wyvern Trilogy.  This is the first draft of the first chapter.  Please keep in mind that it will be edited numerous times before being published.  That said, I'm actually very happy with it.  It's somewhat exciting, introduces the main character like it needs to, and it has the playfulness that I lacked in my previous book.

I hope this preview keeps you excited for the coming of the book.

I'm including an updated map of Nulanea, a northern continent in the world of Ryallon.

Chapter 1


Year 1393, Fifth Age

Being seven months after the events of Liquid.


The complex lock was taking longer to pick than Pelya liked.  Sweat-soaked strands of hair cascading around her face blocked her vision.  She refused to cut it or put it in a braid as she had done in the past.  It was irrelevant, as was the flickering light of enchanted torchlight from the hallway behind.  She needed the sense of touch, not sight in this instance.  Pelya steadied her breathing to calm anxiety that threatened to scatter her focus.

Four enchanted picks pressed against tumblers through the keyhole.  She needed a fifth, but there was no room for it.  Their magic kept them steady when Pelya’s gloved hand twitched from concentrated effort.  The uppermost pick had three prongs on it.  It should work if she could just manage to press . . .  The lock finally gave a satisfying click of success.

Pelya took the oft-used picks out to put them back in their worn leather pouch.  After rolling it up, she put it back into the secret pocket inside her form-fitting black tunic.   Mystic silver thread covered both the tunic and her dark-blue pants, providing powerful protections against physical and magical threats.  They would probably be needed considering she was breaking into a treasure room below a wizard’s tower.

A quick scan showed the hallway behind her to be empty other than the pit trap in the center of the floor.  Pelya stretched her legs, shook her feet, and adjusted the chain-reinforced leather sword belt around her waist.  Pouches hung from it with items to help her in her mission.  She was a master with the pair of enchanted swords that rested in sheaths at her hips.  Hopefully, those wouldn’t be necessary since her contract required she not kill the wizard whose tower she was breaking into.

Even though she was the one picking locks and evading traps, Pelya wasn’t a thief.  The wizard had stolen a shipment of powerful wizards’ staffs headed from Dralin to Juragdat in the Kingdom of Inizor.  The Cloudswept Bank provided insurance to the merchant shipping them.  If the staffs weren’t recovered, the bank would have to pay out a large sum in compensation.  They already owed a portion of money for the delivery being late.

That was where Pelya and agents like her came in.  For a fee, they recovered stolen goods, saving the bank a great deal of money.  An agent like Pelya cost a great deal though.  She was one of the best and her fee would negate any profit the bank might have made off the insurance.  Paying her was better than covering the entire cost of the shipment though.  It was in everyone’s best interest if the shipment arrived as it was supposed to.

What worried Pelya was that the lone survivor of the theft had mentioned the wizard controlled a golem made of stone.  Of course, the golem wasn’t the only thing that worried Pelya.  She peered into the bottom of the spiked pit where the remains of the previous agent of the bank rested uncomfortably.  Judging by the wounds, it had taken him a while to die.  She wondered if the wizard had stripped his gear before or after the man had succumbed to the end.

A small pile of dust at her feet was all that was left of the runeball that had enabled her to see it and the two traps on the door she had disarmed before picking it.  That had been her last trap-finding runeball.  Ebudae, her best friend growing up in Dralin, had made it along with a number of others Pelya had at her disposal.  Pelya had a request with the bank to either replace them or find her a new device that would do the same job.  Her expenses were part of the fee she charged.

The blood flowed normally through her legs again.  She couldn’t waste any more time.  After drawing her secondary sword, she hunched low, cracked the door open, and looked into the room.

No lights shone from inside.  The crack allowed light from the hall to enter, which wasn’t enough to see anything, but would allow anything inside to see her.

This was when her job was most dangerous.  Every option available to her had risks that could get her killed.  At least she was alone and wouldn’t be the cause of anyone else’s death.

Pelya flung open the door and darted inside to the left.  Her first thought was gratitude that the floor didn’t open into another pit trap.

Torches in brackets on the walls of the circular treasure room sprang to life, sputtering with enchanted flame.  Long crates made to hold staffs were stacked on the right side of the room.  There should be eighteen of them.  Other crates lined the walls along with a full bookshelf, numerous bags and assorted items on shelves.

Pelya’s next thought was consternation at the golem standing in the middle of the treasure room.  To her dismay, it noticed her.

A voice like rolling boulders emitted from it.  “Password.”  Crystalline black gems glowed with enchantment from a head made up of rock pieces molded together.

Pelya hated passwords.  She guessed.  “Carnivorous fairy.”

“Not password.  Intruder die.” It came after her.

Pelya drew her primary sword as she dashed to the side.  “Intruder die is a terrible password.”

Its body consisted of two large stones for the torso and two for each limb.  Rocks for the hands and feet mimicked a human’s shape.  Joints glowed with red light when it moved.  Each thudding step the golem took shook dust from the mortar.  It moved faster than Pelya anticipated.  It also showed intelligence in the course it took to intercept.

She reversed direction just before it reached her.  “Shall we dance?”

The golem skidded to a halt and swung its fist where she had been.  Had it connected, it likely would have crushed Pelya’s skull.

Pelya slashed at its arm with her primary sword.  It took a chunk out of the rock with a clang, but did no real damage.  That was a worrisome outcome considering the level of enchantment in the blade.  Runes flashed on the golem’s arm, proving mystical protection in addition to the fact that it was made out of stone.

It attempted to backhand her with the arm.

Pelya rolled backward, jumped to her feet, and dashed to the other side of the circular room.  “You don’t laugh at my jokes, you don’t want to dance.  You’re a very rude host.”  She shoved home her primary sword and grabbed a statuette from a shelf.  With a twirl, she tossed it in an attempt to distract the golem before dashing the other way.

The golem altered his chase to snatch the statuette out of the air.  It put it back on the shelf with gentleness belying its size and make.

It was a better distraction than Pelya had hoped for.  She pulled a runeball out of one of her pouches.  There was only one more of its type after this, another one she needed to replace.

The golem stomped toward her.

Pelya tossed the runeball at it and said the activation word.  Then she said, “Catch!”

The golem snatched the runeball out of the air.  It skidded to a halt and opened its hand to look at it.

The runeball had already begun its magic.  Pelya watched with the fascination she always felt while observing one work.

It disintegrated into liquid that melted the golem’s hand.  From there, it traveled up the arm.  The runes carved into the stone popped and sizzled as it streamed through the shoulder to the upper stone of its torso.  The effects slowed significantly.  Drops of melted stone splatted to the floor.

The golem stared at its melting body.  The effects were beyond its instructions on how to react.

Pelya slid her secondary sword into its sheath.  “You’re falling to pieces, golem boy.”

It looked at her.  Slurred words emitted from it.  “Passwerrll . . . intrugg.”  The enchantments holding it together gave out.  The remaining stones fell with a racket.  The runeball continued to liquidate them at a slower and slower pace.

“Tsk.  I’d hate to be the one who has to mop up that mess.”  Pelya raked her hair back and dashed to the door.  She was alone.  The pit was an issue though.  She had to carry out eighteen crates.  “Maybe being alone wasn’t such a good idea.”  There was still the issue of the wizard.  Most constructs like the golem had a focus that would alert its maker.  If that was the case, then she wouldn’t be alone for long.

Carefully avoiding the puddled golem, Pelya went to the crates and counted.  There were eighteen, just as reported.  Pelya took a scroll out of a protective pouch.  On it was a list of the stamps on each end of the crates.  Different wizards had made each staff to sell.  A broker had arranged the sale to a merchant in Juragdat.  Pelya took the time to make certain each mark matched.  A wizard’s staff was a valuable device only the wealthy could afford and only an archmage could afford one.  Her fee for the recovery wouldn’t cover the cost of one.

“What did you do to the master’s servant?!”

“I gave it a bath.”  Pelya mentally cursed herself for the lapse in awareness.  In an instant, she was on her feet with both swords drawn.  The scroll fell to the ground.  “Who knew stone melted when you washed it?”

There was only one man, a bodyguard by the looks of him.  “You’re a thief!”

“I am not.  What an appalling accusation.”

A wizard in his night robe burst into the room, shoving the bodyguard aside.  “A thief?!  In my vault?”

“I just explained that I’m not a thief.”  Pelya held her chin up high.  “Weren’t you listening?

The wizard’s face was ruddy with outrage.  “Just who are you and how did you get in here?  He gestured at the grey puddle on the ground.  The spell had run its course.  Pieces of stone stuck up from it, including the top of the head with the crystal black eyes staring up at its maker as though confused by what had just happened.  “And what did you do to my pet?”

“My name is Jerald, I came in through a hole in the wall and I gave your pet a bath.”  Pelya indicated the puddle with her sword.  “I think it’s allergic to water.  You might want to look into that.

The wizard’s finger shook in rage as he pointed it at Pelya.  “Kill him!”

The bodyguard frowned.  “I thought she . . . he was a girl, boss.”

The wizard leaned forward and held his arms out in disbelief.  “I don’t care.  Girl, boy, just kill whoever it is.”

“Right.”  The bodyguard drew his sword.

Pelya met it with her secondary before he could bring it into position.  With the flat of her primary, she slapped him in the face.  At the same time, she tripped him.

The bodyguard hit the ground hard, bounced once and fell unconscious.  His sword clattered to the ground.

Pelya looked down at him.  “Wow.  I would think a wizard’s bodyguard would have more skill.”

The wizard shrieked in outraged, “You killed him!”

“No I didn’t.”  Pelya rested her primary sword over her shoulder and put the other fist on her hip with the sword still in it, but pointed back.  “You’re making a lot of unfounded accusations.  I don’t appreciate it.  It’s very rude.”

“Rude?”  The wizard sputtered, his face redder than before.

“Yes, rude.”  She shook her head.  “I’m just not feeling very welcome here.”

“You . . . I . . . Of course you’re not welcome here!”

Pelya slammed her swords into their sheaths.  “Oh, well just come right out and say it.  Now I know how you really feel!”

He pointed accusingly at her.  “There is something wrong with you . . . you . . . whatever your name is.”

Pelya crossed her arms.  “Name’s Gilbert.  Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to point?”

“I thought you said your name was Jerald.”  The wizard frowned suspiciously.

“Well if you know my name, why did you ask?”  Pelya threw a hand up in exasperation.  She reached into a pouch with the other.

The wizard noticed her hand going to the pouch.  He stepped back to begin casting a spell.

Pelya acted fast.  If he gathered much energy, she could kill them all with backlash by interrupting the spell.  She yanked the runeball out of the pouch and threw it at him, saying the activation word at the same time.

It hit him in the face and exploded into powder.  Fear widened his eyes as he inhaled while beginning his incantation.  The powder put him to sleep instantly.

Pelya dropped to the floor and curled in a ball.

The energy of the unfinished spell crackled and hissed, but it hadn’t been formed enough to create an explosion.  The wizard fell limply, his head bouncing once.  The sleep spell in the runeball would keep him asleep for five or six hours.  The concussion might add a few to that along with a headache.

Pelya sprang to her feet.  She checked the bodyguard.  He had a concussion and possibly a broken cheek.  At least he was alive.  She reached into another pouch and pulled out a tiny sachet of sleeping powder.  Carefully, she dabbed some on her finger and placed it on his mustache.  The small amounts he breathed would keep him asleep for about as long as the wizard.  She then dragged him away from the door and made him as comfortable as possible.  She wiped the rest of the dust off her gloved finger onto his pant leg.

Her contract imposed a severe penalty for killing anyone.  The bank wished to acquire a respectable reputation in its dealings.  It made it easier to gain contracts and to deal with kingdoms that frowned on murder and vigilantism.

The pit in the hallway needed to be covered so she could move the staffs out.  There didn’t appear to be anything in the treasure room that could help her.  She went to the door only to discover that a plank was already placed across it.  That solved that problem, though it irritated her that she hadn’t heard them do so.

Pelya went back to the crates to recover her inventory scroll.  On the back of it were enchantments to open two of the crates.  The makers of the others hadn’t given access to the bank.

It took her a few minutes to get those crates out of the stack.  Carefully performing the enchantments, she opened each to verify that the staffs were there.  To her relief, they were.  One was made of entwined wood with gems and crystals bracketed to store and channel magic.  Even without the enchantments in the staff, it was valuable.  The other was a metal shaft with three orbs of power at the top in semi-circle brackets.  It looked powerful.  She closed and resealed them.  It was sufficient evidence that all the staffs were likely still within the crates barring any obvious visible physical damage.

Pelya checked over the wizard and bodyguard again.  They were both sound asleep.  The wizard snored peacefully.

There was no time to waste.  They would wake up eventually.  She wanted to put as much ground between her and the tower as possible before they did.

She grabbed the first crate and carried it down the hall and up a set of stairs.  Once at the top, she traveled along another hallway to a door she had come through.  Beyond it was a room with a hole of melted stone in the outside wall, the result of another of the runeballs that had destroyed the golem.

Pelya took the crate out into the night air to the road leading to the tower.  Both moons were out, shining brightly between wispy brushes of clouds.  Siahray was half-full in its waning cycle while Piohray was half-full in its waxing.  Together, they cast a lavender glow over the landscape.  Pelya put her fingers in her mouth and whistled loudly.  Then she went back to get another crate.

By the time she got back with the second, she heard and saw two horses and a cart coming up the road in the moonlight.  She put the crate on top of the first and looked around.  The tower was situated on the side of a hill in the rolling plains of Obda.  The wizard had no neighbors.  The road was little traveled and rough, but wouldn’t be hard to travel in the night.

Honey, her beautiful chestnut warhorse with blonde mane, glared at her.  Tied to a rope behind her was a sturdy mare pulling a skinny cart on two wheels.

“Yes, I know you don’t pull carts and that you don’t even like pulling horses that do.”  Pelya put the crate in the back of the cart.

Honey snorted.  She flicked her tail and hit Pelya as she walked by.

“Hey!  Don’t be like that.  You know I love you.”  Pelya tried to hug her neck, but Honey turned her head away and stepped aside.

“Wow.  I’m feeling very unappreciated today.”  Pelya pulled an apple out of a pouch and held it up.

Honey kept her head turned to the side, though she did eye the apple as if considering.

Pelya set it on the ground.  “Well, if you change your mind, it’ll be right here.”  She got the mare a bag of feed to keep her docile, though Honey seemed to have matters in hand . . . or hoof.  “I have to get the rest of those crates.”  She patted Honey’s rump.

Honey snorted.

It took two hours to get the wagon loaded and the crates tied down.  In that time, Honey ate the apple and stopped glaring at Pelya.

Pelya wiped sweat from her forehead with the sleeve of her arm and then took her gloves off and put them in her swordbelt.  She unhooked the mare’s lead from Honey’s pommel.  “There, all done.”

Honey was unimpressed.

Pelya climbed into the wagon’s seat and attached Honey’s lead to the side of it.

Honey was less impressed.

“I know.  You’re a warhorse and I should be riding you.  We just need to get this wagon to the Cloudswept Bank in Anukarda.  They can take it where it goes after that.  She released the brake and flipped the reins.

The steady mare pulled the cart down the road with no complaint.

Honey refused to discuss the matter further.

Publishing checklist for my book files

This is a checklist for altering my file to publish at each distributor.  This is the way I do it, though it will be different for everyone.  I'm doing this partially because it may be helpful to others, but mostly because it'll be helpful to me for future books.  Sometimes it's difficult to remember all of this.

First of all, my books are already formatted as I write.  I write them one chapter at a time and then put each chapter in a master file.  I add the table of contents and hyperlinks to all my chapters.  I also have everything formatted for submission to Smashwords, so there will be a lot of steps that you may need to do that I've already done.

This is the process for altering an individual file to all the sites I publish to.  Perhaps I'll go through the details of settings for each site one of these times.

This whole process took me about 6 hours tonight, taking into account making dinner for the kids and running one to play rehearsal.

0. Beginning format

I have a chapter 0 that I use as a template.  I've formatted it and set the formatting as the normal style that all my files use.  When I go to write a new chapter, I change "Chapter 0" to "Chapter 1" and save it as that chapter name.  I have a master book file that I insert each chapter into when I'm done with them.  This is also based on the new normal formatting style.

I keep things as simple as possible with fonts and formatting so that the book looks uniform throughout all the stores.  This helps to avoid issues.

0a. I set the font as Times New Roman 12pt. This is a personal preference. Use what you like.
0b. Set your paragraph style. It's on your home tab, paragraph style.  It's also on the Page layout tab. There's a lot of info here.  I set alignment left, outline level body text. Left and right indentation 0, First line .33, though I'd recommend .3 or .5. The emo bunnies liked .33 best, so I went with it.  I set before and after spacing at 0.  There's also the option of not using indents.  You can do block style.  If you do, then adjust it so that it gives you a space between paragraphs.   While writing, I set line spacing at 1.5.  Most people will use 2.
0c. While writing, NEVER use the tab button.  Did I emphasize that enough?  Use first line indent.  Tabs mess up formatting.

0d. I set my margins at 1".  That really has no effect on formatting the book, it's just a preference.
0e. Use Heading style 2 for each chapter.  Edit the heading style.  Format it, center it, increase the size of the font. Remove indentations for the heading style. Another thing I've learned to do is add a page break before.  This removes the need to add them later.  I increase the size to 16 for chapters and I underline them.  It's a personal style preference.

When working on someone else's file, I do a number of things:

0f.  Get rid of tabs: Ctrl-h (find and replace): ^t, replace with nothing.
0g. Get rid of extra spaces after returns: Ctrl-h: ^p and a space, replace with nothing.
0h. Get rid of extra spaces before returns: Ctrl-h: space and ^p, replace with nothing.

Note:  I highly recommend using heading styles.  It makes all the difference in the world with navigation and with creating tables of contents in Amazon and Createspace.

On the master book file:

0f.  Use Heading style 1 for the title.  Format it, center it, increase the size of the font.  Edit the
0g.  Add your copyright information.  This is a sample of what it could look like.  I add any artwork copyright info for the cover or inside illustrations here too.

2nd Edition
Published by John H. Carroll at Smashwords

Copyright 2011, 2015 John H. Carroll
Cover Copyright 2011 John H. Carroll

Cover photography by Tracy Carroll

I keep it simple, but that's personal choice.  I recommend registering your copyright as well.
0h. Optional: add a dedication.

1.  Smashwords.

1a.  Ensure it says "Published by John H. Carroll at Smashwords". (This will be different for other people, in case you were wondering.)
1b.  Change spacing to single spacing.
1c.  Add author bio.
1d.  Link author notes to table of contents.
1e.  Check all links.
1f.   Remove hidden bookmarks.
1g.  Publish to Smashwords.

(Note - I distribute to B&N and other stores through Smashwords, so I won't be adding the process for those stores.)

Copy Amazon version of word document file to Amazon folder.
Copy Amazon version of word document file to Createspace folder. (If applicable)

2.  Amazon

2a.  Remove "Published by John H. Carroll at Smashwords".
2b.  Add page breaks before each chapter.  If you've adjusted your Heading Style to automatically add these before, disregard this step.
2c.  Remove all bookmarks except the TOC bookmark if you make your chapter headings click back to the Table of Contents.
2d. Delete your Smashwords table of contents.  Go to the references tab and select table of contents.  Use this to create your table of contents.  It's where heading style comes in handy.  I have a tutorial on how to do that here:
2e.  Replace author bio with Amazon author bio.
2f.  Publish to Amazon.

Copy the original word document to Kobo folder.

2.  Kobo.

3a.  Save file.
3b.  Save as 'web page, filtered'.  (html)
3c  Use Calibre to convert html to epub.
3cc.  (wait for Calibre to update *sigh*)
3d.  Open file to ensure quality.
3e.  Publish to Kobo.

(Note - If you do wish to publish to B&N directly, this process will work for that too.  You can even use the exact same file if you like.)

4.  Createspace

This is a whole lot more complicated.  *sigh*

4a. In the reference tab, click "Table of Contents" and then Remove Table of Contents
4b.  ctrl-a (select everything).
4c. ctrl-shift-F9 to remove all hyperlinks.
Delete ALL bookmarks.
4d.  change paragraph formatting to 'justify'.
4e.  Open the 'page layout' - 'page setup' box
4f.  Margins (for a 100k word novel)  top: .75, bottom: .75, inside: .75, outside: .50.  Gutter: .25 (left)
4g.  Set 'multiple pages' to 'mirror margins'.
4h.  On the paper tab, set size to 6 x 9.  *This will be different if you're publishing your book under a different size.
4i.  On the layout tab, select 'different first page' (so you don't number the first page) and set header and footer to .35.
4j.  Insert page numbers.  First page different so the title page isn't numbered.  While in footer, go to page layout and remove first line indent.  This will not effect the main text.
4k.  Center title page.
4l.  Change font style and size of title to whatever the theme is.  (In the case of my Ryallon books, this would be Fairydustb, size 36 for the title)
4m.  Center each chapter, change font style and size 26.  Make this Heading style 2 for this document.  That way you can have word Create the Table of Contents for you.
4n.  Make the first letter of each chapter theme font style and size 16.  Possibly add a space between the quotation mark and the letter if needed for the style.  Make certain quotation marks are the same size as the letter.
4o.  Embed the font.  file/options/save/embed font/only characters in document/do not embed common fonts.
4p.  Go through and search for section breaks  ***  with ctrl-f.  Center them all.  ctrl-e.
4q.  Make certain the prologue, epilogue and author notes are all centered and font style themes are applied.
4r.  Make certain the end ### is centered.
4s.  Make certain there are no blank pages.
4t.  Go to the reference tab, click "Table of Contents" and then add a new table.  You can modify how each heading style shows up in the table.  On this one, you need to add page numbers, but not hyperlinks.  This is why you have to do it last so all the page numbers are correct.
4u.  Go into the insert tab, bookmarks, click on hidden bookmarks so all the bookmarks show up.  Delete them all.
4v.  When you create the table of contents using Word's reference tool, it links to each of the chapter headers even though you told it not to.  To correct this, click ctrl-a, which will select everything.  Then click ctrl-shift-F9 to remove all hyperlinks.

This may or may not help you, but perhaps it will give some a little insight as to the work that goes into submitting files to the different sites for publishing.

All my best,

John H. Carroll

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

My top ten favorite movies of all time.

A blog post about movies?

Yes, I needed to do a blog post and I decided to do one about movies.  Plus, I'm exhausted and can't focus enough to edit.  Plus I just wanted to do something different.

But you're a writer.

Yes, but one day I would like my movies to become books.

Well all right then.  Proceed.

Thank you.

These are my favorite movies.  Of all time.  I have not seen every movie available, so there may be one or two that you think I'm crazy for missing, but that's alright.  You may also not agree with these choices.  I don't necessarily say the are the best, just my favorite.

I invite you to tell me how terrible you think they are in the comments.  I'd even be curious to know what your top ten are.

1.  Fifth Element

 Best. Movie. Ever.

2.  Ever After

I love Drew Barrymore in this.  The story is wonderful and the feel of the movie is perfect.

3.  Lord of the Rings Trilogy

The books were like reading through mud.  The movies took the best parts and made the most epic fantasy series of all time a magnificent movie.
Liv Tyler can whisper to me in Elvish any day.

4.  The Avengers

I love super hero movies.  This one was that good.

5.  Valentines Day

I saw this with my wife and we both loved it.  It is one of my favorite memories of all time. :)

6. The Sound of Music.

Yes, I really love this movie.

7. The Fugitive. 

This is an excellent movie.  It's truly awesome.  If you haven't watched it, you need to remedy that.

8. The Philadelphia Story

Cary Grant, James Stewart and Katherine Hepburn are brilliant together.  They play off of each other perfectly.

9. Scrooge with Albert Finney.

Brilliant performance and one I've watched at Christmas with my family countless times, so it holds wonderful memories for me.

10. Star Wars.

  All of it.  I know that's cheating, but Star Wars is awesome.  The reason it's not higher is because of Episodes 1,2 and 3 . . . which I still enjoyed and not just because of Natalie Portman.  I don't care what my wife says.

That's your list?

Yes, that's my list.  Depending on my mood at any given moment, the order may change.

Why aren't there any movies about Emo Bunnies?

Because I haven't found any.

We're disappointed in you.



All my best,

John H. Carroll

Sunday, August 9, 2015

First Lines in my books

First lines

The first line of a book can make a big impact.  You know, like "A Tale of Two Cities":

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. —Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)


It was a dark and stormy night . . . —Snoopy (Actually, it was Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830))

So I decided to go through and make a list of the first lines of all my books.


Because before I can write the rest of the lines, I need a first line.  It seems a bit arbitrary, but someone decided that first would come . . . well . . . first.

No, really, why are you posting these lines?

Well, I thought about it . . .


Ahem . . . and I wanted to see how they measured up.  I want to know if they're any good.

Also, after looking them over, I'm hoping to gain some insight.

Insight as to what?

Ummm . . . Good question.  A lot of writers agonize over the first line.  It truly is important.  I spend a good deal of time on it, often a couple of hours total before publishing.  I'm never completely satisfied, but I go on and write the rest of the story.

I suppose I'm looking to gain insight as to how they relate to each other, insight as to how to make first lines better, and perhaps insight as to how to change these first lines to grab the readers' attention when they pick the books up (or read the samples online as the case may be).


Wow!  Push, aren't we!  Very well, here we go:

Ryallon Series

Dralin Trilogy
“Hello, pretty little miss." 

While in the gloomy ruins of an ancient city below Dralin, Ebudae and Pelya had discovered a temple dedicated to an unknown god. 

Sir Hamil Imbra, Knight Champion of the Goddess Reanna, floated high above the glasslike waters of Wraith Lake where the wisps of chaos drifting over its surface couldn’t reach.

Willden Trilogy
Tathan was a tall man of twenty-nine years with short, curly black hair framing a face tanned by travel.

Tathan made no sound as he walked toward the northern wall of the city, a place he liked to go to look at reflections of the moons in Trohiin Lake.  

“Vevin is Evil.”

Wyvern Trilogy
Pelya’s sapphire-blue eyes sparkled in the heavy afternoon sun.

Pelya sucked air into her lungs and ignored the sweat stinging her eyes.

Crazed Trilogy
Gurbin was hungry.

Stand Alone
Rain Glade
Rain opened her eyes as morning rays peeked through cracks in the eaves next to her straw bed.  

Stories for Demented Children

The Emo Bunny that Should
Emo the Bunny was sad.

Zachary Zombie and the Lost Boy
Tobias was determined to catch the emo bunny.

Drippy the Peg Legged Rainbow
Rainbows have existed throughout the universe since shortly after its inception.

Unholy Cow
“I hope they throw out some delicious leftovers,” Abel the raven cawed eagerly from a nearby branch.

Attack of the Sugar Plum Fairies
Light from tall streetlamps illuminated the snow that drifted lazily down to the cobblestones.

Elly zipped through a grouping of trees that provided shade for creatures of the savanna.

Naughty Nanoworms
Albert mumbled happily about the half-eaten Halibut Burger he had found in the dumpster at his 
favorite Fish Burgers fast food restaurant.

Zachary Zombie and the Wicked Worm
Zachary Zombie and his three zombie henchmen reached the secret entrance to the moss and ivy-covered tower they had spent days searching for.

Steampunk Roo
Governor Kevin Koala met Steampunk Roo at the edge of Steampunk City. 

Pow the Panda, The Case of the Rainbow Dragon
In the roaring year of 1925, business was good for a hard-working private eye in Chinatown.

Alien Coffee
Jillian tried to take a sip of her coffee, only to look at the barren mug in disgust before setting it back down with a sigh.

Short Stories
Blue Haired Alien Girlfriend
Lisa stared at the last of three orientation tapes with glassy eyes, her chin propped in hands with elbows on knees.

Test Pilot
“Who named this place ‘Moonbase City’?” 

Don't Ever Change
Lori walked through one of the smaller commons during lunch.

The Storage Room in the Grey Void
Hilda looked at her pretty dress.

What's your favorite?

I really like all the opening lines of the Dralin Trilogy.  The opening line of Liselle is great, simple but with a lot of meaning.  You can do a lot with just a few words.

"Vevin is Evil" is possibly the most powerful if you know what happened in the previous books of the trilogy.

But my favorite is:
Emo the Bunny was sad.

I think I like it, partially because of the character and the story.  It's very near and dear to my heart.  As far as the line goes, it's almost redundant.  It also sets the tone of the character and the story, which hold true to the first line.

What's your least favorite?

Zachary Zombie and the Wicked Worm
Zachary Zombie and his three zombie henchmen reached the secret entrance to the moss and ivy-covered tower they had spent days searching for.

I need to fix that.  It's not interesting at all.  Also, I use the word "for" at the end of the sentence.  It's a terrible word to use at the end.  Honestly, all of my later Stories for Demented Children have weak first lines.  I'll have to work on that.

So now that you're finished, did you gain any insights?

Well . . . yes.  There are a few I want to change right away.  I see what works and what doesn't.  That's 25 opening lines, which is a good sample size.  I think I can use this information to improve future works too.

I'd be interested to hear which ones are the readers favorites and least favorites too.  Please let me know in the comments, or on Facebook or Twitter.

All my best,

John H. Carroll

Saturday, August 1, 2015

"Liquid", Wyvern Trilogy Book 2: Chapter 1

This is the final edit of Chapter 1.

***************** SPOILERS ***************

You can find "Wyvern", Book 1 at these stores:

You can find "Liquid" at these stores:

Liquid Chapter 1

Pelya sucked air into her lungs and ignored the sweat stinging her eyes.  She deflected Commander Brynin’s thrust with her primary sword.  The ringing of metal on metal echoed off stone walls enclosing the grassy courtyard.  Her secondary sword flashed through the air in a counterattack.

The commander twirled through the air just out of reach.  Blistering sunlight sparkled off her short-cropped red hair.

Tina rounded a nearby tree to the commander’s flank.  She feinted low before turning a two-handed slash upward.

Steel chimed as the commander parried the blow with her enchanted blade.  Her bare foot came around to land a glancing blow on Tina’s chin.  The young woman’s ponytail flew around to smack her cheek.

Tina shifted her feet to regain balance and tried to sneak her blade into the woman’s side.  At the same time, Pelya swung both of her swords, one high and one low.

The high one made contact.

Commander Brynin flipped backward and landed in a crouch on her toes.  Shock registered in rose-pink eyes as a thin line of blood appeared on her cheek.  “You cut me!”

Tina crowed in triumph.  “She did!”

The commander saluted them with her sword raised.  “We’re finished sparring for today.  Well done, both of you.  Tina, you’re improving.”  She sheathed the blade

“I still can’t compete with either of you.”  Tina saluted the commander before falling dramatically to the grass, gasping for breath.  “Casting that protection spell you taught me makes it harder to get through the long battles, Pelya.”

Pelya also saluted the commander.  To Tina she said, “Yes, but each time you cast it, it takes a little less effort.  It’ll save your life as it has mine.”

Commander Brynin helped her niece up.  “Pelya was right to teach it to you, Tina.  I felt it resist my attacks.  I felt yours too, Pelya.  It’s quite the trick in addition to your ample skill.  That’s the first time your blade has ever touched me.  I must be losing my edge.”

“You’re slow as an emo bunny, Commander.  Hardly a test at all.”  She grinned.

Brynin put her hand on her hip.  “That’s why you’re sweating like a carnivorous fairy lost in the desert and why my niece was flopping on the ground, gulping air like a fish out of water.”

Pelya wiped a sleeve across her brow, thankful for the slight breeze rustling through leaves.  “I pay attention to your methods and learn every time we spar.”  She glanced over the condition of her swords, both her personal property.  The primary was made of light steel with runes of enchantment.  It darted through the air like a hummingbird when she swished it.  The secondary was shorter but deadlier.  The glistening metal stayed sharp and clean even without etched runes like those the primary had.  She sheathed them, took her gloves off and tucked those in her sword belt.

“I’ve noticed you learning my tricks and trying them on me.”  The commander waggled a finger at Pelya.  “You have natural talent, an indomitable work ethic and cunning.  You improve each time you engage an opponent.”

Tina pulled her russet hair out of its ponytail and ran fingers through the sweat-soaked strands.  “But you still cut Pelya a few times, Aunt Reela.  I can’t even do that much.”

Commander Brynin threw an arm over Pelya’s shoulders.  “That’s because I’m a swordmaster sixth class and she’s only classified as swordmaster second class.  She could qualify for third class.”  The commander ran a finger along Pelya’s cheek.

Pelya pulled away.

Brynin caught Pelya’s chin.  “I did cut you a few times, including once across the forehead.  I saw the blood.  Now it’s gone.”

Pelya’s jaw clenched shut as an intricate orange tattoo covering the left half of her torso exerted control.  It had performed the healing and didn’t like when people noticed.  The dragon mark was a reward from a dragon for saving its baby.  However, the magic of the mark physically prevented her from answering questions about it.  It remained invisible on her skin unless taxed to heal or protect her.

The commander narrowed her eyes.  “I sense my mind being pushed.”  She tapped one of her dangling earrings with a finger.  “If I didn’t have these little charms to protect my mind from enchantment, I’d probably forget yet again that you have no scars.  Tell me how you manage it.”

The tattoo heated in protest.  The muscles in her body tightened.

“Are you playing a game with me, Pelya?”

The dragon mark squeezed Pelya’s lungs and set her bones on fire.  She didn’t understand why it punished her when someone else asked questions.  Pelya fell to her knees, screaming through teeth clenched near to breaking.  Darkness surrounded the edges of her vision.

Brynin took Pelya’s cheeks in her hands.  “I withdraw my question!  Release her, foul geas!”

The pressure released, allowing a breath of desperate air to shudder down Pelya’s throat.  She collapsed into the commander’s arms, her muscles drained of strength.

“I’m sorry, Pelya.  No more questions.”  The commander helped Pelya to her feet and steadied her.

 “Let’s have some chilled juice in my office.”

Pelya clutched the commander’s shoulder for support.  It had reached the point where she no longer cared how many times the dragon mark had save her.  She wanted it gone.

A flash of heat burned her bones to punish her for the thought.  Then it hid from her memory until the next time it would be needed.

Pelya grunted in pain and sent a silent curse after it.

The commander helped her along a path bordered by flowerbeds.  When they reached the courtyard door, Tina opened it and stepped aside to let them in first.

The manor was cool after stepping in from the summer heat.  Tina and Pelya paused to remove their boots before stepping onto soft, expensive carpet that ran the length of the hallway.  Brynin’s feet were already bare as usual.  “Thank you for taking those off.  The carpet lasts much longer that way.  Besides, feet are happier out of the artificial prisons you two call shoes.”

“Those are boots, not shoes, Aunt Reela,” Tina said in her peppy voice.  Her smile lit twinkling grey eyes.

A corner of the commander’s mouth twisted in amusement.  There was a hint of familial resemblance in their thin noses and rounded cheekbones.  “They’re atrocious, whatever you call them.”

Tina held the door to Brynin’s personal office open.  The interior was lush with a beautiful whitewood desk.  To the left of the door was a sitting area with a whitewood table that matched.  Priceless tapestries and paintings bordered the window to the courtyard.  Wall to wall carpeting caught their steps in its soft embrace.

To the right of the door was a large globe with swaths of blue, brown and green.  Floating mystically around it were Ryallon’s two moons, Siahray and Piohray.

Commander Brynin took a seat in a comfortable chair behind the desk.  Pelya and Tina flopped into chairs across from it.  The commander leaned back and kicked her feet on the corner of the desk.  “Do the two of you know what Liquid Wyverns are?”

Pelya stretched.  “They’re powerful magical artifacts.  I saw one on a tour of the library at the University of Settatt when I was a recruit.  It moved and seemed to look at me.  If I remember correctly, they consist of a mixture of metals such as gold, silver and platinum in their liquid state.  Powerful archmages merge the metals with other ingredients and imbue the devices with more magic than can be placed into something solid.  Gems are added to focus power.”

“I won’t ask who told you all that.  I’m not in the mood to arrest anyone today.”  The commander folded her hands over her stomach.  “About fifty years after the Blue Wyverns were formed, communications became a problem for the fast growing organization.  When things went wrong far away, there was no way of knowing until messengers arrived with reports.  By then it was too late to rescue soldiers in danger.”

“Which is why the Blue Wyverns strive to engineer better highways in the kingdoms that employ us,” Pelya responded.  “We establish waypoints along them to increase the speed of communication.”

“I bet there’s more to it than that,” Tina said.

Brynin winked.  “Very good, my pretty little niece.”  She pointed a warning finger at both of them.  “I’m trusting you with one of the closest kept secrets in the Wyverns now.  This is confidential.”

They nodded.

“Academy Commander Vernt came up with the idea for Liquid Wyverns all those years ago.  They are now in twenty-two Blue Wyvern garrisons throughout the countries we operate in.  They act as a communication and tracking system for the Blue Wyverns.  Each one has a troop of Academy-trained wizards called Liquid Mages who interpret the messages sent between them.

Pelya gave a low whistle.  “That’s complicated and powerful magic.”

“Yes it is.”  The commander held out a hand and studied her fingernails.  “In addition to that, every recruit who graduates to become a Blue Wyvern is entered into the system using a drop of blood.”

“That’s why they wanted our blood,” Tina remarked.  “I never understood that.”

“Yes.”  Brynin dropped her feet to the floor and leaned forward on the desk.  “Now, the extraordinary thing about Liquid Wyverns is that they know the health of every Blue Wyvern.  Whenever a member dies, an alarm is activated in the nearest Liquid Wyvern.  A wizard will be able to tell how many soldiers have perished in addition to who they are.”

Pelya mouthed, “Wow.”

“The original Liquid Wyvern is at the Academy here in Settatt, which is the one you saw, Pelya.  As the Blue Wyverns expanded, keeping track of everyone was more than it could handle.  Another was created, and then another.  Academy Commander Vernt realized that a central device would have to be made to handle the growing number.  Thus, the Settatt Wyvern here at Headquarters was created.  You won’t see that one.”

“But I want to see it,” Tina said.

“Tough.”  The commander smirked.  “Vernt invited a few powerful archmages he knew to assist him in making the Settatt Wyvern.  It stands at fifteen hands tall and forty-two hands long.  Vernt wasn’t able to find a lone sapphire large enough for the heart.  Instead, he took a number of the largest sapphires he could get and cast them in a powerful heart shaped device that came to be called the Heart of Settatt.”

“You’re telling us a great deal.”  Pelya nibbled on a fingernail, a habit Tina abhorred.  “I must admit curiosity as to why.”

Brynin nodded.  “There’s a lot I’m not telling you.  But I trust you both and it’s important for you to understand the gravity of your assignment.”

Tina slapped Pelya’s hand away from her mouth.  “Which is? . . .”

“I’m getting to that.”  The commander stood and walked to the window.  “There are currently three magicians in the world capable of making the Liquid Wyverns.  One lives in Zimth, the Capital city of Swelth.  The White Talon Company should be picking up a newly made wyvern from him in twenty days.  Their task is to bring it back here to tune it with the Settatt Wyvern.”

“The White Talon Company is one of the best,” Tina said.  “Do you expect trouble, Aunt Reela?”

“I’ve heard a couple of whispers.  Your mission is to get in touch with my contacts in Zimth and investigate those whispers.”

Pelya raised her eyebrows hopefully.  “Any chance it could be the Guild of Scales?  Those papers I recovered last year mentioned they were out to ruin the Blue Wyverns.  If you’d just let me read them . . .”

“She did discover them after all,” Tina contributed, “along with exposing the old Recruit Commander who was sabotaging basic training.”

Brynin gave a long-suffering sigh.  “Yes, I know.  She’s obsessed with the man who killed most of her squad in Dralin.  As I’ve explained countless times, the papers are sealed away in a vault and can’t be opened except by order of the Council of Eight, which isn’t going to happen.”

Pelya leaned her elbow on the arm of the chair and rested her chin on her fist.  She stared at the globe and wondered where the man named Laen might be.

Tina patted Pelya’s leg.  “Do you think the Guild of Scales will try to steal the Liquid Wyvern, Aunt Reela?”

“No.  There’s nothing in the whispers that suggest anything about the Guild.”  Frustration crept into her voice.  “I don’t want you wasting time trying to make a connection that doesn’t exist.”  Brynin retrieved a jug with runes around its base to keep it chilled.  She poured them each a cup of juice.

“We won’t, Aunt Reela.”  Tina shot Pelya an apologetic look before asking the commander, “Do you want us to do anything besides investigate the whispers?  It’ll take us longer than twenty days to get to Zimth.  The White Talon Company should be on the road by then.”

Pelya leaned toward Tina and whispered loud enough for the commander to hear.  “She probably wants us to find out more information about the Rojuun.”

Tina chuckled.  ”Probably.”

The Rojuun were Brynin’s obsession.  Discovering information about them was one of Pelya and Tina’s permanent tasks.  A few years earlier, in Dralin, Pelya had met one and helped him rescue others that were imprisoned.  It was the last time she had seen one.

The commander didn’t share in their amusement.  “The White Talon Company will be on the road by the time you reach them.  Check with their Captain, Leacy Emaate, and make certain all is well.  Once you’ve done that, continue to Zimth.  I still want you to investigate the whispers even though I don’t believe there’s much credibility to them . . . and yes, see if you can learn anything about the Rojuun.”

“Where do we start?” Pelya asked.

“I have two contacts you can get in touch with.  The first is a merchant of exotic goods by the name of Tumera.  She has a store called the Tiwari Gem just off the City Market.”  Brynin returned to her seat and nursed the juice while she kicked her feet back on the desk.  “People talk to her easily, telling her stories from all over the continent and even beyond.  Her grandmother was a member of the Wyverns.  Tumera always loved the old tales the woman told to her.  She also knows to keep her ears open for word of Rojuun.”

Tina fidgeted in her chair, never one to sit still for long.  “Who’s the other contact?”

“Everyone calls him Idget.”

Tina frowned.  “That’s not encouraging.”

“Don’t let the name fool you,” Brynin said.  “He’s clever like a fox but acts the part of an ox.”

Pelya raised an eyebrow.  “You’ve become a poet?”

“I’d torture you by reciting some, but I don’t have enough rope to keep you tied to the chair.”  Brynin grinned.  “Idget is a thief and a sneak.  He pretends stupidity in order to loosen people’s tongues.  Don’t underestimate him.”

Tina’s brow furrowed.  “Is it safe to deal with a thief?”

“It’s never safe to deal with a thief,” Pelya said.  “They make some of the best informants though.  Just remember not to trust everything they tell you.  Always look for their true motive.”

Brynin nodded.  “Let Pelya handle him.  She dealt with far worse when she lived in Dralin.  To get in touch with Idget, you have to speak to Rymon, the bartender at the Black Moon Tavern.  Tell him, ‘horses are stupid,’ and he’ll get you in touch.”

“Horses are stupid?” Tina asked with a laugh.

The commander shrugged.  “I never learned the meaning.  I suppose I could, I just don’t care enough to do so.”

“Should we speak to the mage who’s making this new Liquid Wyvern?” Tina asked.

“Yes.  That would be Professor Klunjun of the Dayblossom Orphanage.  He’s an archmage, but few people know that.  I doubt he’ll know anything about the rumors.  His head is too deep into his work, but it won’t hurt to ask.  He lives in the northern tower, which is cluttered with books and magical items from what I understand.  He’s reported to be just as messy as his tower.”

“What about the city?” Pelya asked.  “I don’t know much about Zimth.”

“Mother took me there once,” Tina said.  “I nearly broke my neck gawking at the sights.  I think Zimth is one of the prettiest cities around.”

“It’s also one of the most disorganized cities in the world,” Brynin added.  “There isn’t a straight road anywhere in Zimth.  The buildings are oddly shaped and don’t fit quite right.”
Tina laughed.  “That’s true.  We got lost a few times, but that was part of the fun.  Can you give us specifics about the whispers you’ve heard, Aunt Reela?”

“Idget heard from one of his connections that a group of mercenaries was hired to create a riot around the time when the White Talon Company is supposed to pick up the Liquid Wyvern.  He wasn’t able to discern a connection other than the timing, but it’s my job to worry about those things.”

“Coincidences are often planned in my experience,” Pelya said.

“Exactly.”  Brynin steepled her hands in front of her chin.  “Tumera heard a pair of customers discussing the creation of an artifact.  They stopped talking when they noticed her.  It’s not much, but I don’t know of any other artifacts being created in Zimth.  She also sent me these.”  The commander opened a drawer and tossed three coins on the desk.  “This is the first time I’ve seen these.”
They were small with intricate designs on them.  Copper was the smallest of the three with silver and gold being similar sizes.  Pelya picked up the silver.  “You can find just about every type of coin that exists in Dralin, but I’ve never seen these either.”

“It’s called ‘uun’.  It’s what Rojuun use for currency.”  Brynin tapped each one.  “Four copper uuns make a silver uun and eight silver uuns make a gold uun.  Tumera got these from someone who escaped from Rojuun territory.”

Pelya’s head jerked up.  “Really?  What else did they tell her?”

“She said she has too much information to put in writing.”  Brynin pointed at them.  “That’s why the two of you need to get to Zimth as fast as possible.  Find and speak to the person Tumera got these from if at all possible.”

Tina sighed dramatically.  “Don’t you want us to take a few days off first, Aunt Reela?  We’ve been traveling since we graduated from the Academy and not a day’s rest.”

Brynin got to her feet and leaned her hands on the desk.  “You’ve had plenty of rest over the last week since you’ve been in Settatt.  Get going.”

That wasn’t entirely true considering Pelya and Tina had been debriefing the commander the entire time.  However, they weren’t about to test her resolve.  They jumped up and saluted her with the edge of their hands to foreheads.  Then they gave her hugs and headed out.


Pelya sat atop Honey, a spirited chestnut warhorse with flowing blonde mane.  Humidity caused Pelya and Tina’s undershirts to stick to skin as they rode out of Settatt on the graveled southern highway.  Sleeveless black tabards over polished chain shirts amplified the heat of the day.  A flick of Honey’s tail swatted flies hovering around her rump.

They stopped on a wooded rise to look back at the tranquil city.  It spread out through the valley and over hills to the north and east.  The sun shone with joy over the fact that it was summer, the season of its supremacy.

Dominating a rocky hill to the west of the city was the headquarters of the Blue Wyverns, a massive castle with rounded towers.  The main tower was eight stories high and watched over the city like a sentinel.  Pennants flew proudly above the towers and battlements.  It was the sort of castle bards sang about.

Settatt was the third largest city in Eddland after the Capitol of Auraroth to the west and Beltaddo to the south.  Its primary purpose was to support the Blue Wyverns, an all-woman mercenary group acting as the standing military for the country of Eddland.  They also contracted out to nearby countries for various purposes such as hunting bandits and pirates, security of remote areas, and protecting highways.  There was even an engineering division that built and maintained roads.

Though it hadn’t always been so, the country of Eddland was a wealthy country that thrived on trade.  In addition, it had a rich agricultural presence with vast farmlands, orchards and vineyards.  Due to the safety of the roads, Eddland had become a major trade hub for merchants.

A muffled drone of activity drifted from below to fade into the symphony of wildlife in the thick woods bordering the highway.  Birds chirped merrily in the leafy trees as they darted back and forth to catch insects.  The scent of warm leaves and flowered underbrush combined with dusty gravel.

Tina patted her dappled horse.  “I don’t know how many times we’ve ridden out of Settatt in the last year and a half since we graduated.  At least we get to leave the country this time.  I’m tired of investigating corruption in unimportant waypoints on the border or reports of abuse from officers like the one in Permo.”

They resumed riding.  “We’ll have to go through there on the way to Zimth.  It’s a nice enough town, especially since we arrested Captain Gurbell a few months ago,” Pelya said.

“The town isn’t nice, it’s boring.”  Tina tugged at her black tabard emblazoned with a white wyvern that marked them as Covert Services.  Dark-blue pants finished the uniform.  “Nobody likes us when we’re wearing these.  Even when we get rid of torturers like Gurbell they don’t trust us.  You’d think they’d be grateful after exposing the secret dungeon where she kept the people she kidnapped.  We rescued eleven townspeople, eleven.  Instead of giving us a party, they asked us how soon we’d be leaving.”

“Quit letting it get to you.”  Pelya wore the same uniform.  They were different from the dark-blue tabards embroidered with light-blue wyverns that most troops wore.  “When we get up tomorrow, we’ll change into our plain clothes.  The black sashes on our sheaths are sufficient to show our position to anyone who needs to know, but subtle enough not to draw undue attention.”  She referred to a black cotton sash with embroidered white wyverns.  They each had one tied around the neck of their sword sheaths.  Pelya’s was on her primary sword.  “You mentioned that Zimth is pretty.  How do you mean?”

Tina’s sweet face lit in remembrance.  She was a few months shy of Pelya’s age.  Innocence made her seem younger.  “The houses are round and painted pastel colors.  Each has a conical roof made of thatch.  Even businesses have at least one or two round sections.  You won’t be able to travel the rooftops like you did in Dralin.  They’re not close enough.”

Pelya snapped her fingers in mock dismay.  “We’ll just have to sneak around in the sewers.  Zimth has those, right?”

Tina gagged.  “I am not going into a sewer.  I’m sure I don’t know if they have them.  It’s not the sort of thing I pay attention to.

“You should pay attention,” Pelya said.  “It can be one of the best ways to get through a city unnoticed.  It’s also the method many criminals use to escape the law.”

“Then they can just escape.”  Tina shuddered away the idea and resumed her description of the city.  “Most houses have small yards with gardens.  The people of the country love their flowers.  Trees line the streets, large and small.  The people are polite.  They favor wide straw hats with conical tips that look like their roofs.”  She mimicked the shape of the hat over her head.  “And they tend to be short.”

“How short?”

“Just a few inches shorter than I’ve seen in other countries.  I’m one of the tallest women you’ll find from the Kingdom of Swelth.”

“Interesting.  I wonder why?”

“They probably don’t eat entire cows for lunch like you do.”  Tina grinned gleefully.

Pelya took a swipe at her, but Tina sidestepped her horse.  “The palace has lots of towers and buttresses.  It’s not built for defense so much as it’s made to look beautiful.”

“Is it as nice as Settatt Castle?” Pelya asked.

“It’s beautiful,” Tina assured her.  “You’ll love it.  Maybe we’ll find a way to sneak in and look around since you have an obsession with castles.”

“Daddy used to take me to Carnival to listen to the bards.  There were always tales of knights in shining armor riding out of pennant-topped castles.  Most of the knights I’ve met are disappointing.  I still have hope for castles.  One of these days maybe I’ll explore the world just to visit them.”  With a gloved finger, Pelya flicked a mosquito off the sleeve of her own shiny chain armor.  She had taken time to oil it properly during the past week.

“You’re such a romantic.”  Tina smiled.  “Although, knowing you, you’ll probably sneak into each one and find mysteries to solve.

Pelya chuckled.  “I enjoy sneaking around and solving mysteries.  When we get to Zimth, we’ll spend a couple of days exploring.  Perhaps we’ll get out of our armor and wear common clothes.  You like doing that as long as the garments meet your standards.”

“It’s not a matter of standards!  Those rags we wore at the rural waypoint near the border of Foauth weren’t normal.”  Tina made a face.  “And they had fleas!”

“For many people they’re normal,” Pelya pointed out.  “Poverty exists everywhere.  The guards at that waypoint were stealing from the poor.  It was despicable.”

“I still can’t believe anyone in the Blue Wyverns would behave that way.  They beat anyone who couldn’t pay their extortion.”  Tina shook her head in disbelief.  “When we reached the waypoint, Sergeant Malir was taking all the money and groceries that farmer and his family had.  When the farmer’s son tried to protest, she beat him.  Then she encouraged her squad to kick him while he was on the ground.”

Pelya grunted.  “I still don’t understand why people behave that way.  If everyone treated each other decently, the world would be a tolerable place to live.”

“For all your intelligence, you’re awfully silly, Pelya.  The world will never work that way and it would be boring if it did.”  Tina rolled her eyes.

Pelya gazed at the verdant trees and fell into silence.

“I’m sorry,” Tina said contritely.  She leaned on the pommel of her saddle.  “The fact of the matter is that I admire you, Pelya.  By the time you finished with Sergeant Malir and her squad, they were all lying on the ground nursing wounds.  You didn’t yell or call them idiots.  Instead, you explained the concept of decency to them and explained at length how they should treat people.”  Tina shifted in her saddle.  “Even in violence you’re considerate.”

“Hopefully they listened.”

The corner of Tina’s mouth quirked.  “I’m sure they did . . . except for the ones that were unconscious that is.”  She shifted in her saddle.  “Sergeant Malir was pretty.  You would think pretty people would be nice.”

A bark of a laugh escaped Pelya’s throat.  “Now who’s being awfully silly?”

“I’m pretty and nice.”  Tina stuck her tongue out.

Pelya chuckled and shook her head.  She wondered if the younger woman would talk the entire way to Zimth.  The thought of strangling the peppy woman was tempting some days, though they had become good friends.  She stretched toned muscles that made her more masculine than she would like.  “It’s a beautiful day.  Look, butterflies.”  She pointed at a field of flowers.  Spotted yellow butterflies fluttered between blossoms.

“Yes, delightful.”  Tina wasn’t to be sidetracked.  “What I’m trying to say is that you aren’t interested in just finding crimes and arresting people, you use your power to make the world a better place.  I swear if you could, you’d make certain every peasant and beggar was given a home and all the happiness they could ever desire.”

“That sounds wonderful!  Let’s do that.”

Tina threw her head back and laughed.  “Of course!  Happiness for all.  You’re one of a kind, Pelya.”

Pelya wasn’t in the mood for laughter.

Tina’s mirth died.  “What’s wrong with you lately, Pelya?  You’re never the cheeriest of people, but over the last couple of weeks, you’ve been downright cloudy.”

“I’m one of a kind, like you said.”  Pelya closed her eyes and inhaled.  Woody scents lingered over the gravel of the well-maintained highway.  Even in bad weather, the road would be easy to negotiate.  “We should travel into the late evenings and then get up early in the mornings, taking a long afternoon break when it’s hottest.  The journey will be easier on us and the horses that way.”

“Yes, fine.”  Tina wasn’t about to be diverted.  “You say one of a kind like it’s a bad thing.  You’re extraordinary.  Why wouldn’t you take pride in that?”

“Because I don’t fit in anywhere,” Pelya said in irritation.  “Even when I was in the Dralin City Guard, I never truly fit in.  They treated me like their mascot; put me on a pedestal.  Now, like you said, nobody likes us because we’re Covert Operations.”  She chewed on a fingernail.  “I don’t know what I want to do with my life.”

“Wow.”  Tina snorted.  “You are moody today.  You don’t know what to do with your life?  Keep going the way you are in the Blue Wyverns.  You’ll be able to take Aunt Reela’s job in twenty years or so.  You’ve got the ability.”

“I don’t want it.”  Pelya’s mood grew darker.  “She has to be too deceptive.  Even though the Blue Wyverns do good in the world, they’re susceptible to corruption.  I don’t want to be stuck between the rules and doing what’s right.  I definitely don’t want to compromise my morals.”

Tina shut up for a few minutes.

Pelya went back to staring at the woods.  Occasional clearings with cottages dotted the landscape.  Dirt paths led to unknown locations.  Pelya had a desire to ride along them to discover where they led.

“You don’t intend to remain with the Blue Wyverns, do you?” Tina accused.  “When are you planning on leaving?”

“I don’t have anything planned.”  Pelya had given it a great deal of thought.  “Who knows what the future holds?  Perhaps I will take your aunt’s job someday.  I might serve out my minimum time and then take off for some exotic location.  Then again, it’s possible that a god could strike me dead tomorrow.”

“You’ve already defeated one god.  That’s what forced you out of Dralin.”

“I was part of an army that killed an entity that was trying to become a god.”  Pelya sighed in frustration.  “Killing a High Chancellor was what got me banished from Dralin.”

“Do you think a god would really try to strike you dead?”  Tina looked around as if searching for an irate deity.

“I’m not looking to irritate the gods, but I’ve attracted the notice of a few.  Hopefully they don’t involve me in their silliness.”

Tina stared at her in silent contemplation while the hooves of their horses clopped along the gravel.
Pelya resisted commenting until she couldn’t handle it anymore.  “You’re staring at me.”
Tina snorted.  “You make it all sound so casual.”  She affected a snobbish voice and waved her hand like a noble.  “Oh, I meet with gods all the time.  We have tea on the veranda.  It’s quite lovely.”

Pelya rolled her eyes.

“You act as if all this is nothing to be concerned about.  You have powerful enemies, Pelya.  One of these days, it could make your life difficult.”

“One of these days?  It’s already made my life difficult,” Pelya retorted.  “If it kills me, so be it.”

“You’ve become jaded to the concept of danger, Pelya.”  Tina shook her finger.  “You’re too valuable to throw caution to the wind like you do.  You seek danger.  I’ve seen it before.  It’s almost as if you challenge the universe to give you a good fight.”

“The universe gives me a good fight whether I want it or not.  So let the universe bring its best!”  Pelya thumped her chest and threw her arms to the sky.  “I’ll take on everything it has to throw at me.”

Tina buried her face in her hands.  “Aggghhh!  You are so frustrating!  You’re going to get us both killed.”

“No.”  Pelya’s voice deepened with intensity.  Determination ran through her blood.  “I’m going to win every single fight the universe throws at me.”

Tina gave a rueful shake of her head.  “You know, I don’t doubt you will.  I just wonder what price you’ll pay in addition to what you’ve already suffered.”

Pelya wondered the same thing.  “The road is shady.  Let’s give the horses a little run.”  She kicked Honey forward without waiting for Tina’s reply.