I've been quiet for some time now, but that's only because I've been busy trying to prepare The Last Stand, my first novella, for my beta readers. The current draft is nearing completion, and is expected to get at least one more pass for edits before it goes out to interested parties.
For those who don't know what The Last Stand is, it's a tale bridging the one year time skip between the first two books in my Legends of Galria series. It's a shorter work with less subplots, as is normal for a novella, and focuses on Dane's travels to a ravaged town called Mullead as he tries to solve the mass disappearances of nearly the entire township. The mission serves as his first time leading his troops without the help of an aide, and helps to show how he grows from a fresh recruit to a more competent lieutenant that he's supposed to be.
Here's a small excerpt from the beginning of the book:
26th Day of Vindicator
Rogust, capital of the human empire, rose up out of the misty vale along the western coast of Muriaj. The gleaming marble towers that kept watch over the city reached towards the sky like the fingers of giants clawing their way out of the earth. The city was nestled near a steep cliff that hung over the city called Eagle's Ridge. It cast a long shadow over the vale and everything in it. The Ivory Tower, home of Rogust's Academy of Arcane Sciences, stood at the top of a slope as tiered districts wound their way to the lowest point of the city.
Above all that was the Providence, the great palace of the Emperor. It was built on and around the Eagle's Ridge that hung over the city. It's towers burst from the ground and wound their way around the mountain, like marble branches trying to choke the life out of the earth through their sheer opulence alone. From the bottom of the vale, Providence stood impossibly tall over the city, and it was hard not to feel like the eyes of the Emperor were always watching.
The only way up to and into the Providence was through a cavernous entry way guarded by a U-shaped building consisting of four towers and a heavy iron portcullis. This was the primary military headquarters for the Imperial forces, and the cold, unfeeling stone structure served as the gateway to Providence.
Draped beneath the arrow-slits in the towers were the white-and-blue banners of Rogust, embossed with the regal R that had come to both represent their nation and the first Emperor, Roy Brinley. A long staircase made of stone brick worked its way up the slopes to military HQ, and it was flanked on either side by tall walls and towers for archers, making any advance towards Providence difficult and tiring for even the most tenacious of enemies.
Headquarters served as a home for many of Rogust's soldiers that were stationed in the city, making up what was known as the Imperial Army. Though every province and region had its own detachment, the Imperial Army in Rogust answered only to the Emperor's will and were deployed as the upper echelons saw fit.
Each boarding room had a small door that opened up onto a balcony during the summer months, affording individuals a chance to enjoy the fresh air and the sea spray without having to leave the base, which for most, was a long day trip down a mountainous flight of stairs. It was upon one of these balconies that Dane Trueshot, Lieutenant of the 81st Mobile Infantry Division, stood as he relaxed on his singular day away from duty that week.
Dane peered across the vale and watched the Azure Sea as ships from near and far came in to drop off their cargo before picking up more to head out once again. Though he wasn’t one for boat travel, despite having only been on a ship once before, he did enjoy looking at the ocean and smelling the salty tang in the air. He wore the comfortable green tunic that his partner, Aiden, had gifted him only a couple years ago, and it fit perfectly even though it was far too big for him when he’d first received it.
His thumb idly played with the golden band on his ring finger, the one that signified the union he and Aiden shared. Feeling the smooth metal beneath his skin was a comfort, to know that someone like him wasn't alone in the world and that he had someone to share his life with. Never in his entire lifetime had Dane expected to meet someone else like him, let alone someone as loving as Aiden Philem.
As if summoned by his thoughts, his partner entered the room that served as their unit’s bunk. Dane leaned back on the balcony railing and smiled at Aiden. The knorian was slightly heavyset, with a thin layer of fat padding his powerful muscles. His skin was darker than his own by several shades, as an indication of his heritage. He had a thin mustache growing, but he couldn't seem to get it past its infancy.
The knorian boy didn’t return his smile, and at once Dane knew that something was wrong. Aiden was busy looking gloomily down at the floor as he stepped into the room. His usual cheerfulness, something that Dane had come to appreciate when he was having a bad day himself, had been replaced by an almost sad sort of inattentiveness. Aiden didn't acknowledge Dane's presence until he spoke.
“What's wrong?” Dane asked, grateful that no one else was around to bother them. There would be no need to hide their affections or his concern for the lower ranking man.
“I got a letter from my mother today. The courier arrived a short while ago,” Aiden replied sadly.
"Well, that's good, isn't it?" Dane asked, puzzled.
"I guess," Aiden said, his voice becoming lower with each syllable.
Dane’s heart broke when he heard the boy speak. He was usually so calm and confident, and to see him in a less than perfect state of mind filled him with a sadness that he couldn’t dispel. Dane walked over to where his partner stood and lifted his chin up with a finger. He couldn’t help staring into the beautiful blue eyes that he’d fallen in love with. They shone in the sunlight pouring in from the window. Dane leaned forward and kissed Aiden, holding it for but a second before pulling away.
“We're all alone, so why don't you tell me what's bothering you,” he said softly. He didn't often need to be there for the other man, but come hell or high water, he was determined to try now.
Aiden leaned into the embrace, stealing a moment to themselves that they so rarely got to enjoy since being assigned to the Imperial Army. It was hot out and the proximity to the ocean made it exceptionally humid, but Dane welcomed the contact none-the-less.
“Mother's doing fine,” Aiden began. He stopped and breathed a heavy sigh as his body trembled. "But she says Seth has gone missing. He hasn't been back to the farm in months."
"He's disappeared before, right?" Dane asked as he stroked the back of Aiden's head, running his hand through the soft field of black hair that was always kept clean and trimmed.
"Never for this long."
"Oh." Dane fell silent, and continued to try to console his lover. He came to the realization that he wasn’t sure what advice he could possibly offer Aiden. He never knew his mother, and he still resented his father for the way he treated him as a child. The smile he held faded and his brow furrowed. He was determined to make Aiden feel better, but what advice could someone like him possibly offer?
Dane's thoughts turned to a time when he’d been worried about his own problems. He often sought the aid of an ursar monk named Othur that resided within a temple in the city. Dane was reminded of something Othur once said to him.
“Someone once told me that if we allowed ourselves to get so consumed by worry, we’d never be able to move forward in life.” He tightened the hug and held a hand against the back of Aiden’s head. “We can’t predict what’s happened either, so you’re getting yourself worked up.”
“So what should I do?” Aiden asked, sounding lost for the first time since Dane had met him. He’d never considered that the knorian boy could be so homesick and worried about his family. Aiden must have wrestled with such thoughts almost daily so that he could live out his dream of being a mage like his father before him.
“We’ll figure something out. Maybe you can take some leave to look after your family?” Dane suggested. “You couldn’t possibly be gone for long if you can just teleport there.”
Aiden shook his head. “Chestersfield is too far away to travel by a single portal, and even if I could do that, I don’t think Commander Digran would allow me to have any time away from my duties. He doesn't like me very much.”
"The Commander doesn't like a lot of people," Dane said with a weak smile. “Why not send her another letter and inquire about where he went? I could help you pay for one of those traveling bards to deliver it. I hear they’re very good at what they do and they can get it to her in no time.”
“I'm not sure what good it would do though,” Aiden replied.
Dane frowned as he quickly ran out of ideas to offer his partner. Was there nothing else they could do to help put Aiden's mind at ease?
“We’ll figure something out. Don’t worry.”
Aiden pushed him back a bit and in a hushed whisper, he said, “Someone’s coming.” At first Dane didn't hear the rushed footsteps outside, but as they drew closer he could confirm Aiden's claim.
The knorian wiped his eyes clear before the door opened and another soldier poked her head inside.
“Lieutenant Trueshot? Are you in here?”
The woman standing before them was every bit the model soldier. Her uniform was always cleaned and starched, and she always addressed other people as formally as possible, even when dealing with those that were lower in rank. She followed military protocol to the letter and more than once in Dane's short time at headquarters, he had heard her citing articles and laws when subordinates were out of line. This gave her a great sense of dignity and, Dane thought, a strong air of arrogance. Few people that he had met were able to simultaneously earn his respect and annoy him as much as Elizabeth Vedray managed to do.
“Yes, what is it, Sergeant?” Dane asked. He tried not to sound too annoyed by her intrusion, but it was hard not to be bothered by the fact she had ruined some alone time with Aiden. They so seldom had any time together that he sometimes worried they would never be alone again.
“Commander Digran wishes to speak with you at your earliest convenience,” Elizabeth said. What she meant in no simple terms was that their commanding officer wanted to see him immediately. There was no choice or convenience in the matter.
Without hesitation, Dane responded curtly, “I’ll head up to see him at once. Did he say what it was for?”
“Negative, though he said it was urgent.”
Dane and Aiden exchanged confused, but knowing glances. Everything was urgent as far as Digran was concerned. His shoes could be in dire need of polishing and it would be the most pressing matter in the empire, requiring the aid of his entire squadron to fix. In the month that Dane had been with the 81st mobile infantry division, not a day had gone by where he didn’t wonder if his placement was a cosmic joke to amuse some cruel god. The only thing worth being in Commander Digran’s unit was being able to be next to Aiden, and even that fact was barely enough to make it through the day. He shuddered to think he would be with the Imperial forces for five more years, and likely with Digran's unit for all of it.
“Thank you, Sergeant. You are dismissed,” Dane said and saluted her, to which she saluted back and left. Everything was done and spoken with such a fake and rehearsed quality to it that it merely felt as if he was going through some confusingly pointless ritual to achieve nothing of value.
“What do you suppose he wants?” Aiden asked, his previous worries all but buried under this new development.
“Nothing good, I assume.” Dane gave his partner a hug. “Are you going to be okay?”
“I’ll be fine.” Aiden squeezed him tight then added, “Now, you should get going before Digran gets angry.”
“That would imply he's ever not angry,” Dane corrected, eliciting a small chuckle from Aiden. The sound brought a smile to his face. He was glad he could say something that could get a weak laugh out of him, even if what he said wasn't all that funny to begin with.
Dane smoothed out the wrinkles in his clothes, gave Aiden a kiss while he still could, and headed up to Digran’s office. He prayed that he wasn’t too slow for the man’s fickle tastes. And if this urgent matter was something as insignificant as his scuffed boots... Dane's fists clenched at the thought as magical energies gathered around them.
He ascended the spiral staircase of one of the towers, which served as the only way to navigate between the many floors of the base. He ignored the lower ranked soldiers that saluted him as he passed them, not caring one bit to return the favor. He was in a hurry, and he didn't have time to address each and every soldier that he came across. He weaved past groups of people talking in the halls when he reached the top floor, and bee-lined down a thin corridor where the officer's rooms were.
Standing outside the commander’s office, Dane swallowed the growing lump in his throat. No doubt he’d be yelled at for not knowing ahead of time that Digran wanted to see him, and that it was somehow his fault he had to send Elizabeth to fetch him. Steeling himself for the shouting to come, Dane balled up his hand and knocked on the door.
“Lieutenant Dane Trueshot reporting in, sir,” Dane called out. He waited a moment, and heard his commander respond.
“Hurry it up and get in here!” his voice bellowed from inside. Dane cringed at the harsh tone he spoke in. It reminded him too much of his father, who had often spoken to him in such a manner, and it spawned a feeling of unease in his mind. Dealing with Digran would be significantly easier for Dane if he wasn't gripped by a nervousness brought on by those memories.
Fumbling with the door knob, Dane entered the room and shut the door behind him. Enough meetings with the man told him that Digran expected promptness when his subordinates were summoned before him. Dane stepped up to the man’s desk and saluted.
Geshtalt Digran was not the sort of man that Dane had expected to work under. Rarely had he seen the commander outside of his office, save for when he left headquarters to return to his home where he and his wife lived in town. The rest of his time on duty was spent in his office on his own or while chewing out a lower ranking soldier. How he had gotten to his position, let alone married a woman who could tolerate him for more than few seconds, was beyond Dane’s comprehension.
Digran was shorter than Dane was, with a shaven head that shone with the slick sheen of sweat. His brow creased as he frowned, with folds and rows of fat that bunched up above his bushy eyebrows. Dane likened the man to a gorilla with an addiction to sweets. He was corpulent, and his uniform strained to contain the mess it held. His too large hands were at the ends of long, thick arms, and though he’d never shaken the man’s hand, Dane surmised he’d be capable of crushing rocks in his palms.
“It’s about damn time you got here,” Commander Digran sneered. “As my highest ranking officer, I expect you to be here as soon as you are called. Is that understood?”
“Y-yes sir!” Dane quaked at the anger in his voice. He tried to remain standing as straight and rigid as he possibly could while he endured the scolding. “I apologize for my tardiness.” He didn’t think he was late at all, but there was no way to satisfy the commander’s otherworldly demands. The only thing he could do was apologize and hope that the scolding was short-lived so they could move on to whatever business Digran had for him.
The man curled one gorilla-sized hand into a fist so tight that his knuckles turned white. With a huff, he released his grip and said, “We’ve got a job out in the Kelial Plains. One of the villages in the Kelmore Province are claiming people are turning up missing or dead. There's also been a rise in bandit activity that may be related.”
Digran slid a piece of paper across the desk that Dane caught and lifted to read. It was unwrinkled, save for the crisp creases where it had been folding and sealed. A stain of wax could be seen where the seal was. Dane looked it over, and found that most of it was merely an expansion upon what Digran had said, but there were a few new details listed that surprised Dane.
"If this is the work of bandits, why does the Imperial Army need to get involved?" Dane asked. "The baron should have a retinue of soldiers on retainer to deal with the problem." Even Dane's hometown had a decent number of local militiamen in their employ for such a small village. They were mostly farmers who took up the sword during their off seasons or while on a rotation, but it worked well enough that their numbers made up for the lack of experience that a trained soldier had. There wasn't much reason for a baron from a remote province to need additional soldiers.
"This mission doesn't come from Lord Rohmer," Digran was quick to correct him. "One of the civilians living in Mullead traveled here and petitioned aid from... some soldier." The man shrugged, not caring to remember the person's name.
"Sergeant Nia Lampson?" Dane read aloud from the paper. "She's a local from Mullead.
“You'll be headed there to deal with the problem," Digran said. "I'm not sure why Lord Rohmer's men can't handle a small bandit uprising but none-the-less, some higher-up feels that it would be in our best interest to intervene.” Digran only seemed to be remotely civil when it came to his job. As long as one didn’t ask too many questions, the man wouldn't get irate. Dane did his best to keep his curiosity in check, and handed the report back to Digran. “I don’t need it. Read it more thoroughly. I’m sending you out with a squadron tomorrow. You’re leading it on your own this time, since I have Sergeant Vedray busy with other matters.”
“A-are you sure, sir?” Dane asked.
This would be his first operation without Elizabeth along as a military advisor. Though he was trained in the basic leadership skills expected of an officer, he had yet to take charge of the unit on his own. Additionally, his training had been through the arcane academy, and not through a formal military school. There were certain skills that he lacked, along with a wealth of knowledge about the empire that he otherwise would have had. There was a feeling of pressure in Dane’s chest. He was expected to lead and perform to Digran’s standards, and he was skeptical that would be possible.
“I need to know if you deserve your rank. Don’t give me that sour look, did you really expect me to never have you prove that you have actually earned it? Just because you can speak a few fancy words and do things that other people can’t doesn’t mean you’re entitled to more. I don't care for how you sorcerers treat Mundanes.” Digran frowned at him. Dane couldn't remember a time when he had done anything to a Mundane person, someone who couldn't perform magic, but he kept his mouth shut.
“I’ll pick your soldiers, but you’re on your own once you leave the city. You're to look into these rumors, meet with Lord Rohmer to find out what's really going on, and put an end to the problem without cocking things up. Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir!” Dane said with conviction.
“Good. Now get the hell out. I have work to attend to and you have to go prepare your supplies,” Digran said, giving him a stern look beneath a furrowed brow. "I hope I don't need to remind a wizened mage such as yourself on what you need to do?"
"N-no sir!" Dane replied as he began to compile a mental checklist of everything he'd need to do.
"Good. Get going!" Digran barked and waved him away, as if he were nothing more than a bothersome mosquito.
Dane saluted once more and scurried out of the room as fast as he could without speaking another word. He gave a sigh as he left and headed downstairs, relieved that he was no longer in the man's office.
Barring any issues with finding an artist and funding cover art, the book's expected release is going to be sometime at the beginning of Spring 2015. Once the rough manuscript is in the hands of the beta readers, I have a couple other projects to tackle. For one, I'm previewing my second book with a few individuals, and their feedback is being taken into account to improve the story and the direction it takes. I'm also beginning to draft a manuscript for a story called "Flamescarred" that provides an origin story and insight into one of the side characters from The Last Stand. He's a character I've absolutely fallen in love with and I really want to tell his story. This is likely going to be a much shorter work than even The Last Stand. I'm looking into having it serialized on a website (possibly Jukepop Serials) but I haven't finalized my decision yet.
Until next week! Thank you for your continued readership, kind viewer. :)