Excerpt: The Barakoth of Glendor

The following scene is a brief excerpt from my recently-published fantasy short story, The Barakoth of Glendor. In this exciting adventure, the warrior Duna faces a powerful monster in the swamps of Glendor. At the same time, she wrestles with the emotional consequences of a recent battle.

Duna dragged the tip of her dagger across the surface of the water. The resulting ripple was the first movement of the waves since she had waded in. Her mouth settled into a scowl in response to the Orothkin’s question. “Nothing. Nothing but – Wait!”

Both warriors stood frozen as a patch of scaly hide broke the surface of the water just yards from Duna’s position. Her hand gripped the dagger’s hilt a little more closely. Tarquas stood ready, nocking an arrow on his bowstring.

The scales disappeared as suddenly as they had emerged, all without rippling the water. Duna’s eyes narrowed. They had known the Barakoth would be difficult to track in his own environment, but its stealth far exceeded their expectations. Seconds started to tick by. Would the creature resurface? Would it attack? Duna knew that at any moment, she could feel a powerful tail wrap around her legs and pull her under. She would never show weakness in front of the Orothkin, but behind her gritted teeth, the princess of the Intua felt a creeping fear climb her spine.

Although she couldn’t see it, the great Tarquas Ironglaive was apprehensive as well. But, like her, he would never let it show. His Orothkin pride would never allow it. Instead, a battle-hungry smile spread across his face, revealing sharp tusks almost an inch long. A calloused hand drew the bow back silently, holding steady aim at the Barakoths’s last known location. Waiting for the creature to fully surface may have been torture, but he knew the impending battle would be worth it.

For a few moments, the entire swamp was perfectly still. Even the ferrin had stopped its cawing. Then the water suddenly seemed to heave upward, an eruption of mud and foam. The massive figure of the Barakoth burst from beneath the surface. The scaled horror towered above Duna, with claws as sharp as razors, and five rows of serrated teeth in its enormous jaw. A roaring screech poured from the creature. Time stood frozen for one brief second, as the roar echoed among the trees, and the exploding water droplets hung in the air. Then Duna attacked.

To read the full adventure, visit Swords and Sorcery Magazine’s website, which you can find by clicking here.

New Book Excerpt

Thunder shook the night sky. The rain poured down in endless sheets. With the rain came a biting cold that seemed to gnaw its way through Carrick Doyle’s cloak. He cursed at the northern Irish winter. His horse clopped along, up to its ankles in mud, on the road to Slaghtaverty. The trees on either side were bare of leaves, their twisted silhouettes seeming to reach out their clawed branches as he rode past. It was pitch dark, but he thought he could see snatches of movement in the brief moments when the lightning lit up the scene.

The water in the air began to harden, coming down as sleet. He saw a glow up ahead. A farmhouse, or perhaps an inn; somewhere he could find shelter from the accursed night. He gave his horse a light kick in the side. She saw the light and – looking forward to a roof overhead as much as he was – she picked up the pace, slogging through the mud and sleet toward the light.

Around the next turn, the trees grew more sparse. Carrick could see the source of the light, a single candle in a window. It looked like a tavern, with its steep, gabled roof jutting out in the darkness. There was a stable too; a man met him there and led his horse to a stall. Carrick stayed long enough to make sure his mount was dried off and bedded down properly before turning to walk into the inn.

It was nearly as dark inside as out. The fire in the hearth had burned down low. Dark figures – most of them still wearing their traveling cloaks – huddled around rough wooden tables. The floorboards creaked underfoot, while the sleet pelted the windowpanes. With the fire so low, a chill permeated the tavern. As Carrick enters, he felt eyes turn his way. He couldn’t see the shadowed faces, but he could sense the suspicion and hostility in the room.

The innkeeper ignored him, though, as he made his way toward the hearth. Rainwater ran off his cloak in a steady drip, drip, drop that kept time with the heavy tread of his boots across the groaning floorboards. He sat down by the hearth, reaching out his hands toward the small circle of warmth. He could feel the eyes still lingering on him, but no one spoke. No one moved.

His eyes studied the rough establishment. There was no decoration of any kind anywhere. The plaster on the walls had faded to a dingy yellowish-gray, and there were no paintings or tapestries to break up the monotony. Apart from the fireplace, the single candle in the front window provided the only light. There weren’t even any mirrors to reflect the dull glow.

Carrick drew in a deep breath. He could smell the burning logs in the hearth, but there was no smell of food anywhere. The entire place seemed as dead and inhospitable as the road outside. He looked around again at the other guests of the inn, and pulled his cloak closer. He wondered if anyone had noticed that he carried no weapons.

He heard a faint sound of a horse whinnying outside. Moments later, the door was thrust open. Illuminated by a single, jagged lightning bolt, a woman stepped across the threshold. Inside the door, she pushed back her hood and looked around the room with a reasonable measure of trepidation. Small, delicate fingers plucked at the dripping cloak hung over her shoulders. As before, no one moved or spoke to greet the new arrival.

Her teeth were already chattering from the cold. Ignoring the eyes that seemed to hover on her, she made her way to the hearth and stood next to Carrick. He looked up from his seat, noticing the tension in her shoulders and the way her teeth were chattering.

“Innkeeper!” he shouted. “Can we get some more wood for the fire here?”

The innkeeper emerged from behind the bar, a lean, bony man with deep-set eyes and a strange smile on his face. As he stepped closer, his eyes seemed to reflect the firelight unnaturally. Carrick felt a chill on the back of his neck that had nothing to do with the time of year.

“Apologies, good sir,” the innkeeper responded, giving an exaggerated bow. As the man spoke, Carrick was almost certain he could see a glimmer of long canine teeth. “I’m afraid our wood has all gotten wet in the storm.”

Carrick glared at the innkeeper for a moment before pulling his eyes away from the man’s unsettling stare and even more disturbing smile. He turned instead to the new arrival, as the innkeeper shambled away.

“Won’t you sit down?” he offered, moving over to make room for her on the bench.

She turned to look at him in the low light. Her green eyes studied his face for a moment, while her hands brushed the rain from her wild red hair. Then, smiling politely, she nodded and took a seat on the bench.

Most of the other figures in the inn had turned back to their own business, and a few here and there were carrying on conversations in hushed tones. After another glance around the room, Carrick decided to break the silence between himself and his fellow traveler.

“What a wretched night this is,” he said, shaking his head. He extended his hand. “My name is Carrick Doyle. I’m on my way to Slaghtaverty.”

She accepted his hand with a smile. “Yes, it’s definitely a harsh night,” she agreed. “I’m Imogen Carlin, also on my way to Slaghtaverty.”

Her handshake was firmer than he had expected it to be. And for the first time, Carrick noticed the dark-handled dirk at her waist. Though she clearly felt nervous in this rough establishment, Carrick suspected she wasn’t as harmless as she had first appeared. Yet, something clearly had her spooked.

She noticed him watching her, and realized that her concerns must have been evident on her face. She chuckled softly, watching the fire playing in the embers of the hearth.

“A night like this can make you see things,” she said.

He raised an eyebrow in question. What had she seen in the night?

She shook her head. “Riding along, wind howling, the rain pouring down… A couple times I thought I saw shadows moving in the trees. It was dark, but…” Her voice trailed off.

Carrick cast another glance around the room. A few of the other figures in the tavern were watching them again, with several sneaking glances their way when they thought Carrick wasn’t looking.

He turned back to Imogen, lowering his voice. “But, what?”

She chuckled again, but her glancing eyes revealed her unease. “It’s nothing. I just thought I saw eyes, glowing at me through the trees.”

Carrick sighed. Yes, it was certainly one of those nights.

Lightning flashed outside the window. Thunder shook the glass less than a moment later.

Carrick leaned toward Imogen to whisper against the thunder. “Do you have a looking glass I could borrow?”

She looked up at him in some surprise at the unusual request. But, without answering, she reached into her travel bag and passed him a small mirror.

As stealthily as he could, Carrick turned the mirror first toward the kitchen and serving area. The innkeeper was nowhere to be seen in the reflection. Carrick angled the glass, turning it toward the tables where the cloaked figures sat. A low gasp escaped Imogen, but Carrick merely smiled.

In the reflection, they were alone in the inn, save for one figure in the far corner.

A Deeply Philosophical Post on Fun and Cartoons

As a teenager, I read the works of Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and Sabatini. Now I’m 25, and I somehow find myself watching old cartoons like G. I. Joe, He-Man, and Transformers. What on earth has happened to me?

Well, my sister seems to think my mind is deteriorating in my old age. Senility certainly seems possible, but perhaps I’m simply learning to appreciate fun. Don’t get me wrong; I definitely think that literature and entertainment are powerful tools for developing our minds and worldviews. All great civilizations are built on their literary legacy. But lately I’ve felt like too many books and films get bogged down in trying to be lofty monuments of philosophy. There are certainly some incredible classics out there to broaden the mind, but not every book or movie lives up to that. And I don’t think they have to.

If a writer or filmmaker feels they have a compelling story to tell, one that will resonate with and inspire audiences, then they should by all means tell that story. But I think a lot of writers feel like they have to produce something of philosophical import, or they aren’t a legitimate artist. And this belief isn’t remotely true.

Treasure Island is one of the great classics of English-speaking literature. Generations of audiences have devoured the adventure, and its been adapted to the stage and screen more than once. Yet, I challenge you to find a moral theme or philosophical lesson in the story. Is it any less a classic because it doesn’t make a bold statement or dramatically challenge your worldview? No. We enjoy Treasure Island because it is well-written, and because it is fun to read. No more, no less. Sometimes entertainment is simply meant to entertain.

That doesn’t mean I advocate filling your head with empty fluff. But I would like to challenge you to take a closer look at how you judge the merits of a book or film. Or, if you’re a writer like I am, perhaps you need to rethink your own writing. No one’s obligated to write a novel on par with Anna Karenina or Dante’s Inferno. Perhaps you’re meant – perhaps I’m meant – just to bring a smile to someone’s face as they lose themselves for an hour or two in a fantastic adventure that I created for them. And honestly, that is more than enough for me.

So, I’ll continue to challenge myself with deep, thought-provoking literature. And I’ll also take time to enjoy the simple thrill of adventure, and hopefully write a few adventures of my own.

Struggling to Finish

My stories don’t come to me in bursts of inspiration. They don’t leap out fully-formed, like Athena from Zeus’s forehead. Normally, I don’t even come up with a cool concept I’d like to explore. I don’t really know what the creation process is like for other authors, but my story ideas usually come in the form of an opening line. Like this little piece I’ve had rolling around in my head for the past couple days.

“The wind howled at their backs as they left the village behind. Although, it wasn’t exactly a harsh, cruel wind driving them out. It was more an irresistible urge, propelling them onward to new and better things.”

That’s it. That’s all I have. Looking over it, I think I detect a hint of Tolkien in the voice, but what I find frustrating is the abrupt end to the idea. I came up with this line, but I have no idea who these people are, or where they are, or where they’re going. What sort of story do I want to tell with this line? Probably some sort of an adventure tale. Perhaps a heroic quest; everyone loves those.

Maybe other writers out there can sympathize. When I venture into a new story, I am often left to explore it as the author as blindly as my readers do. The story forms on paper the same way it forms in my mind, as one event leads to another. This approach usually works out alright for short stories, but it’s horrible for longer works. Eventually the inspiration that started me on the journey fades, or the story becomes so convoluted that I am forced to abandon it. At this point in my career, I am an expert on creating opening scenes and chapters, with no conclusion to the story. My computer is littered with these aborted projects, while even more percolate in my brain.

When I look back over the unfinished tangles of good ideas, I’m forced to reach a conclusion about myself and about writing in general. Simply having an idea isn’t enough. Unless you are a one-in-a-million fluke, relying on your muse will never get you published. Trust me, I’ve written more stories than my school library had books, all without a penny to show for it. That leads me my primary objective moving forward in my writing journey: to finish what I start.

Inspiration is a beautiful thing. But discipline is the real backbone of the writer’s success. We can’t just throw out ideas and bits of prose like flowers at a wedding. Those random petals need to be collected and arranged into something whole, something beautiful. And, more often than not, that takes hard work.

So, what do you think? Do you struggle more with starting projects or finishing them? And what should I do with that opening I told you about? Make sure you follow my future musings to find out if I ever actually finish it. And best of luck to you on your own writing projects.