Monday, January 1, 2018

Update and Excerpt from Kid Sensation #6

Happy New Year!  The time has truly flown by, because it feels like just yesterday that we were entering 2017.  Hopefully everyone had a wonderful holiday season and is ready to start the new year with a bang.

Getting right to the point, I know that many of my readers are anxiously awaiting the next Kid Sensation novel.  I really hate talking about progress and estimated completion dates because it always seems like doing so jinxes things.  That said, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I'm really close to finishing and hope to wrap it up by the end of January.  However, my publisher still has to work her magic on the manuscript afterwards, so that an actual release date probably won't be until February, at the earliest. (And that's not accounting for the time my formatting guy needs to do his thing.)

Anyway, I thought it might be worthwhile to publish an excerpt from the new book, with the usual caveats, of course (ie, my editor hasn't seen this yet, etc.):


Despite having gone up against bad guys before, this was officially my first mission, the first one where my presence was actually sanctioned by the Alpha League. However, because of the individual we were about to face off with – Dream Machine – putting me (or someone like me) on the mission roster had almost been a foregone conclusion.
Technically, Dream Machine wasn’t a person. He had started off as an artificial intelligence – a set of complex computer programs designed to help people with dementia through direct interface with the human brain.
Initially, the project was considered a roaring success. Somehow, however, the AI not only outgrew its original programming but also became self-aware. Moreover, through its incipient work with those suffering from dementia, it had somehow developed to the ability to manipulate human perception.  In short, it could cause people to see hallucinations, among other things. Taking on the name Dream Machine (and a masculine persona), the AI had decided that it could best fulfill its original purpose of helping people by conquering humanity.  Thus, since escaping several years ago from the computer network where he was housed, Dream Machine had made world domination his top priority.
All of this flitted through my mind as we got closer to the elevator. Phasing through the roof, we found the interior of the elevator just as arenose and cobwebbed as the shaft we’d just left. Changing direction, I now moved us forward, taking us through the rusted-shut elevator doors.
The first thing I noticed when we emerged was light. Previously, we had been making our way through the subterranean tunnels and hallways in almost complete darkness. Now, however, there was a fair amount of illumination.
Glancing around, I saw that we were in a sizeable chamber that seemed to extend about a hundred feet ahead of us, as well as rise several stories in height. The light I had noticed apparently stemmed from two sources: electric bulbs that seemed to have been placed haphazardly throughout the place, and steel drums being used as burn barrels.
Much to my surprise, there were people scattered throughout the place – some old, some young, some alone, some with families.  I had no idea where they had come from or how they’d managed to find their way this far underground, but one look at their threadbare clothing, well-worn footwear, and the multitude of sleeping bags made it clear to me that they were homeless.
Picking up a minor twinge of surprise from Mouse, I leaned towards him and whispered, “They’re real.”
Mouse merely gave a solemn nod in response as he removed his goggles. Like me, he had clearly not expected to find people here, and my statement was an indication to him that these people actually existed, as opposed to being illusions fabricated by Dream Machine.
This was the real benefit of having me on this mission. Basically, Dream Machine’s illusions only appeared within the visible light spectrum. In other words, they only manifested within the range of the spectrum that was visible to the human eye. Ergo, people with normal vision were susceptible to the hallucinations he created, but someone like me – with my vision currently outside the visible light spectrum – couldn’t see them at all.  That meant I could tell what was real and what wasn’t. Moreover, my empathic abilities also served as a differentiator, since illusions don’t have emotions.
At the moment, I was picking up the usual emotions that one might expect from people dealing with homelessness: worry, fear, dread, and so on.  At the same time, however, I picked up on feelings of comfort, hope, friendliness, and the like. Basically, on an overall basis, it wasn’t much different that the sentiments I’d pick up from any random group of people. Thus, convinced that we were in no immediate danger, I placed Mouse and myself on the ground and made us substantial again. By that time, however, our presence had been noted.
Up to that point, there had been a multitude of conversations going on, but they quickly ground to a halt as those assembled became aware of strangers in their midst. Slowly, like the tide inexorably crashing on the shore, a wave of silence seemed to wash over those around us as all eyes turned in our direction.
I didn’t pick up on any indications of malice, but the sea of staring eyes made me wary.  Then, almost simultaneously (and so closely in unison that it might have been choreographed), everyone around us pointed towards the far end of the chamber, where another set of double doors was located. Quite plainly, they knew who we were (or at least why we were there).
Taking our cue, Mouse and I began heading towards the doors. As we walked, I couldn’t help but feel a slight bit of guilt as I noticed those around us huddling close to the burn barrels for warmth. Although we were on the verge of spring, it was still cold outside.  Assuming there was some kind of ventilation system down here – and there had to be for these people to get air (not to mention preventing the burn barrels from filling the place with smoke) – it was probably cold air that was coming in. Thus, while not as wintry as being on the streets, it was quite likely that it could get cold enough down here to get uncomfortable.
For Mouse and I, the League uniforms that we wore were not just well-insulated, but also loaded with so much technology that getting a chill was the last thing we had to worry about.  Needless to say, we hadn’t done anything wrong, but I felt guilty all the same about being warm and cozy.
In addition, I noticed that the space we were in wasn’t actually designed to be the huge chamber I initially took it to be. Upon closer inspection, I saw that Mouse and I were actually on the ground floor of what had been a multi-story facility of some sort. (In retrospect, I actually remembered floating past several floors as we had come down the elevator shaft.) From all indications, some portion of the structure had collapsed, leaving several rooms on multiple floors open and visible, thereby creating the semblance of a large space. Frankly speaking, it put me in mind of a wrecking ball that had smashed into the side of a building, leaving much of the interior exposed to the outside.
We were about a quarter of the way to the double doors when everyone – again, in synchronized fashion – dropped their hands. Presumably we knew which way to go at that juncture, so the chamber’s occupants (at least those on the same floor as us) busied themselves with hurriedly stepping out of our path, as if we had a disease they might catch. They still didn’t speak, however; they merely continued to watch us in stony silence.
We had almost reached the double doors when a young girl – about eight years old or so – dropped a doll she was holding as she stepped out of our path. I had just come abreast of her at the time, so I bent down to retrieve her plaything at the same time that the girl herself did. Our simultaneous action resulted in us almost bumping heads, but our comic timing was slightly off.  Thus, although we didn’t inadvertently head butt each other, her face did wind up close to my ear.
“Watch the shadows,” she hastily whispered, at the same time taking her doll (which I had reached first) from my hand.
I stood up, frowning slightly over what I’d just heard and trying to discern the meaning. I glanced at the girl, who had just been gripped firmly by the arm, pulled back, and shushed by a woman who presumably was her mother. Still pondering her words, I stepped forward to join Mouse, who was already at the doors (which appeared to be locked). My mentor looked at me expectantly. Knowing what he wanted, I phased the doors and we stepped through.
We now found ourselves in a spacious tunnel. The place was modestly lit with a few incandescent lights, which provided enough illumination that Mouse didn’t need his NVGs. A couple of darkened, recessed spaces in the tunnel walls indicated the presence of several corridors that presumably led to other areas.
“There,” Mouse said, pointing at what appeared to be a metal post with some blinking lights that stood in the middle of the tunnel. He ran towards it, with me right on his heels.
As we approached, I realized that the flashing lights were actually diodes on a small black box about the size of my palm. It was attached to the pole at a height of about four feet.  The pole itself was about nine feet tall and was not just in the middle of the tunnel, but also centered between two railway tracks.
“This is it,” Mouse said, pulling a thin cable from a pouch at his belt. “One of the computer hubs connected to Dream Machine.”
“That’s a computer?” I asked in surprise as Mouse used the cable to connect his tablet to a port on the black box.”
“Yeah,” Mouse assured me. “Why?”
I shrugged.  “I guess when I think ‘computer’ I envision things like a keyboard and monitor.”
“Dream Machine is an AI. He doesn’t need that kind of interface to interact with a computer program or software.”
“So why have lights down here?  He obviously doesn’t need those either.”
“That’s for our benefit - so we can see whatever he sends at us. Now get ready. Even with the distraction provided by the others, we can’t expect to go undetected.”
I nodded in agreement. Mouse’s last statement alluded to the fact that the two of us weren’t the only Alpha League contingent currently engaging with Dream Machine. Somewhere well above us and miles away, another team was making a direct assault on an isolated warehouse that had been identified as the AI’s main base of operations. With any luck, he’d be so preoccupied with the main team knocking down his front door that he wouldn’t pay close to attention to us slipping in the back.  In short, what Mouse and I were doing could be generally construed as a sneak attack on Dream Machine’s unprotected rear. 
What we were hoping to do, of course, was put a stop to the AI’s current machinations, which included uploading a malicious code to an orbiting communications satellite. Basically, in order to manipulate what a person was seeing or hearing, Dream Machine usually had to be in close proximity to the affected individual. However, if he could take control of the satellite in question (which is what the code was designed to do), it would give the AI a much broader reach – global in fact. In brief, he’d be able to influence the perception of almost anyone, anywhere on the planet. And if Mouse’s calculations were correct (which was usually the case), the upload would be complete in about fifteen minutes.
Needless to say, the easiest way to stop Dream Machine would have been to simply shut down the satellite.  Unfortunately, permission to do so hadn’t been forthcoming. Apparently the satellite in question had certain military applications, and making it go dark – even temporarily – would have compromised several sensitive operations. (The requisite bureaucratic decision makers had pretty much dismissed the suggestion out of hand.) Thus, we had been forced to employ our current stratagem.
I thought about all of this as Mouse went to work typing on his tablet. In addition to giving us access to Dream Machine’s systems, hubs like the one Mouse had connected his tablet to were used by the AI as an escape hatch – a means for him to make a quick getaway to the internet when necessary. Thus, we were not only hoping to use it to disrupt his current plans, but to also trap him but shutting down his exit route.
Without warning, I heard a noise like the growl of a large predator coming from somewhere nearby. Quickly, I spun around in a circle, trying to pinpoint the source of the sound, but couldn’t see anything. Moreover, I wasn’t picking up any emotional vibes from anything other than Mouse.
The growl sounded again – closer, and in a way that hinted at anger…or hunger.
“Polar bear,” Mouse announced in answer to my unasked question.
“Where?” I asked still looking around.
“Right in front of me,” Mouse stated, continuing to type without missing a beat. “Just took a swipe at my head with a massive paw.”
“I don’t see anything.”
“Good,” Mouse declared. “That’s the entire reason you’re here.”
I didn’t respond, but his words reminded me of why I had been included on this mission: my ability to see outside the visible light spectrum, which meant that I would be unaffected by any hallucinations that Dream Machine might employ.  Being able to separate fact from fantasy was absolutely critical at this juncture if we were going to stop him.
Unfortunately, although I wasn’t visually vulnerable to Dream Machine’s illusions, I was affected on an auditory level. In essence, I could still hear them, even though they weren’t visible to me. Thus, when I looked to where Mouse indicated the polar bear was located, I didn’t see anything other than mentor’s shadow cast against the wall.  With his fingers flying across the tablet as he typed, the image on the wall gave the impression of a mad composer trying to complete his magnus opus within the span of a few minutes.
After a few seconds, the sound of the growling polar bear melted away. It was replaced almost immediately, however, by an ominous creaking, followed by the sound of numerous heavy items thunderously striking the ground.
“Cave in,” Mouse said by way of explanation.
And so we continued for the next minute or two, with me hearing an odd new sound every few seconds, and Mouse identifying it for my benefit. It would almost have been a game of sorts, were the situation not so serious, because Dream Machine obviously knew we were here and was trying to run us off. But if this was the best the AI could do, we probably didn’t have much to worry about.
A deafening, animalistic roar suddenly sounded in front of me, catching me off guard.
“What was that?” I practically demanded.
“A dragon, by the looks of it,” Mouse replied.
“A dragon?” I repeated, unable to hide my surprise.
“Yeah – a fire-breathing one, at that.”
Okay, this I have to see, I thought. I cycled my vision back to the visible light spectrum, and sure enough – just as Mouse had said – there was an enormous, fire-breathing dragon right in front of us. It was winged and covered in gold-and-green scales, with a long, supple tail that whipped back-and-forth. As I watched, the creature’s nostrils flared and its diaphragm expanded; a moment later, its mouth opened and a stream of fire shot out, bathing me and Mouse in flames.
I had to give Dream Machine credit: his creation was beautiful and incredibly life-like. Even knowing that it wasn’t real, I still half-expected us to get burnt to a crisp. Thankfully, that didn’t happen, and when the flames died down the dragon was gone.
A moment later, however, I heard an odd clicking noise coming from overhead.  Looking up, I’m sure my eyes bulged as I saw a bloated, man-sized spider descending towards us on a silky line of webbing from its spinneret. Almost completely black and with mandibles clacking together spasmodically, it reached towards Mouse with long, spindly legs.  Unexpectedly, it lunged in an apparent attempt to bite my mentor’s head off. It was all I could do not to shout out a warning, but just before its fangs made contact, the spider disappeared.
Mouse gave me a quick sideways glance, but didn’t say anything. It was a sure bet that I’d given him some non-verbal cues that I’d switched my vision to the visible spectrum. (Plus he was no longer giving me a play-by-play overview of Dream Machine’s illusions, which suggested he knew that I could see them myself.)
A light suddenly began shining at the far end of the tunnel directly ahead of us. As I watched, it seemed to move closer towards us, like someone with a flashlight walking in our direction – except the light seemed to be held in a steady position. A moment, a noise like an airhorn reverberated through the tunnel.
No, not an airhorn, I thought.  A subway horn!
As if in confirmation of this, the rails on either side of us began to vibrate, and I heard the sound of a train car in motion – metal wheels grinding on metal tracks. Dream Machine’s latest illusion was headed right for us.
With the light shining in our faces, I wasn’t able to get a good look at the AI’s latest fabrication, although I imagined it was a full-length subway train. However, as it drew closer, the lights in the tunnel caused the train’s shadow to form on the wall, and I was a little disappointed to note that it was seemingly just a single subway car.
With klaxons going off in my head, the word leaped to the forefront of my brain – along with the dire warning of the little homeless girl. Thoughts racing, I reflected back on the illusions I had seen and suddenly realized that neither of them had cast shadows.  That meant…
I immediately – almost simultaneously – did three things:  I cycled my vision away from the visible spectrum; shouted a warning to Mouse that consisted solely of the word “Real!”; and phased the two of us.
The subway car – which was in no way an illusion – was almost on us at that point. The fact that he sent something real (and capable of causing us grievous harm) was a sure indicator that Dream Machine was no longer fooling around. He was intent on stopping us by any means necessary.
Thankfully, I had phased us in time for the subway car to pass through us harmlessly. Unfortunately, in my haste, I forgot to phase the metal post with the computer hub attached (although I had phased Mouse’s tablet). The train hit it at ramming speed, ripping the post up from the ground and dragging it along with it down the tracks. Mouse, who – to his credit – had never stopped working even when I’d shouted that the train was real, merely turned and watched as the post, now caught beneath the subway car’s wheels, spewed forth a bright shower of sparks. A moment later, accompanied by the squeal of grinding metal, the train derailed and crashed into the wall of the tunnel with a sound like a bomb going off. The tunnel shook for a moment, causing the lights to flicker briefly as dust came cascading down from the ceiling.
 A slight popping noise drew my attention to the floor, where I noticed some exposed wiring from several cables that had snapped when the post was dragged away.  The popping noise sounded again, in concert with a few sparks from the wiring.
“Please tell me that you stopped the upload,” I said as Mouse and I stepped back from what was obviously a live wire and I made the two of us solid again.
“Not enough time,” Mouse said solemnly.
I let out a sigh of disgust, furious with myself. I had failed miserably. The entire reason for me being here was my ability to differentiate reality from illusion, and I had allowed myself to get so distracted that it affected the mission.

“So, that’s it,” I said, feeling wretched. “Dream Machine wins.”

Friday, November 24, 2017

Warden (Book 1: Wendigo Fever) is in an Audible Promotion!

I'm pleased to announce that Wendigo Fever - the first book in my Warden series - is currently on sale for just $1.99 as part of Audible's "Treat Yourself" sale.

To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time I've had an audiobook included in any type of Audible promotion, so I'm pretty excited. The Warden series has been successful for me, although not on the same level as my other series so I was quite surprised by this (in a good way, I might add).

I wish I could say I did something to be selected, but I didn't.  (At least nothing that I'm aware of.)  As far as I know, the selection process for this is somewhat akin to being picked for the Kindle Daily Deal or Audiobook of the Day: it's something we mere mortals aren't allowed to glimpse.  Regardless, I feel blessed to have this opportunity.  For those interested in seeing what other audiobooks are on sale, you can look here.

***If you are interested in receiving information about my audiobooks - including new releases and free copies - please subscribe to my Audibook Newsletter.  (And if you do not have an Audible account, you can get a 30-day free trial and a free copy of the Warden (Book 1: Wendigo Fever) audiobook by signing up here.)

Friday, November 10, 2017

Social Media Three-Card Monte

Like most people these days, I have a number of social media accounts:  Facebook, Twitter, etc. Frankly speaking however, I typically use them only in connection with my writing: announcing a new release, connecting with readers, and so on.

Anyway, about a month or so ago, I'm messing around on Facebook, checking my messages and such, when I enter this area called "Message Requests." Holy Quacamole! It's got a bunch of messages in it that I've never seen before.  I feel bad because some of them are from readers of my series.  Even worse, several of them have been sitting there for years!

On top of that, there's another link that says "See filtered requests." Guess what? It's got more messages in it (and again, some are from readers). 

I immediately begin writing people back, trying to explain and apologizing profusely: "I didn't know these messages existed...  I just found them...  Please don't judge me too harshly..."  

Oddly enough, I went through a similar experience with Google not too long ago.  Apparently in your gmail account there's a closing quotation mark that hangs out near the bottom left corner of the page. When you hover over it, a little description pops up that says, "Hangout conversations."  I seemingly went for years without even noticing the symbol, but one day I accidentally clicked on it and guess what?  Messages popped up.  They were from people asking about my writing, and once again, they were years old. (And again, I hastily scrambled to reach out and apologize.)

In short, two of the accounts I generally use to connect with people seem to be hiding the ball when it comes to delivering messages.  I feel like I'm playing three-card monte, trying to guess where my messages might be.  (But to be fair, in the case of FB, I think this shuffling of messages is supposed to serve almost as a spam filter - i.e., messages in your inbox are from people you've friended, but "Message Requests" and "Filtered Requests" are from people you haven't friended.)

Of course, in the great scheme of things, this really isn't a big deal.  However, I like connecting with readers, and I hate to think that I may have given the impression of being a standoffish lout who's too good to hobnob with the people who read his work.  (What else do you think of a guy who blows you off for years?)  Anyway, I'm now keeping a closer eye on the aforementioned areas to make sure nothing else slips through.  However, I can't help wondering if I'm somehow missing similar chances to connect on other social media platforms.  Who else is playing a shell game with me and hiding the ball?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

New Book Release: Efferus (Fringe Worlds #2)

It is with great pleasure that I announce that Efferus (Fringe Worlds #2) has been released. I know that some readers have been waiting for this one, so I'm finally glad to get it out there.

I actually hit the "Publish" button on this late Monday night, but it seemed to take much longer than normal to go "Live."  (It apparently became available some time during the afternoon yesterday.)  Obviously, I've become spoiled, because in the past I've had books become available in just a few hours. Now waiting half a day seems like a lifetime.

As has become the norm, the page count is incorrect - the book actually has 351 pages as opposed to the 275 listed - but that's usually an easy fix. (Typically, I wait until the print copy goes live and then point the Amazon folks toward it in order to get an accurate page count.)

The cover was once again done by Isikol.  (Yes - I'm a one-trick pony in that regard.) I think he did his usual excellent work and I've very pleased with it. (Hopefully readers will be as well.)

Now, of course, it's back to the grindstone and trying to finish up the next book, which is Kid Sensation #6 (working title: Replication), with the intent to wrap it up as soon as humanly possible.

Monday, October 9, 2017

New Audiobook Release: Mouse's Tale

It is with a great deal of satisfaction that I report the release of the audio verison of Mouse's Tale: An Alpha League Supers Novel.

Mouse has undoubtedly been one of the more interesting characters from the Kid Sensation universe.  Needless to say, it was an absolute blast to finally tell his story, but it was also lots of fun to hear it.  (I know I've said it before, but I really enjoy hearing my characters brought to life this way - many thanks to my narrator, Mikael Naramore.)

Now, of course, it's on the next audiobook, which will probably be Efferus (Fringe Worlds #2).  I plan to release the ebook soon, so hopefully the audio version won't be too far behind.  And now, because I know many people are eagerly awaiting Kid Sensation #6, I go back to my writing.

***If you are interested in receiving information about my audiobooks - including new releases and free copies - please subscribe to my Audibook Newsletter.  (And if you do not have an Audible account, you can get a 30-day free trial and a free copy of the Mouse's Tale audiobook by signing up here.)

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Efferus (Fringe Worlds #2) - Done!

Earlier this week, I finally finished Efferus (Fringe Worlds #2). It is currently in the hands of my editor, so I'm hoping to release it soon.

Needless to say, this one took longer than I initially anticipated. That has, of course, impacted the writing schedule with respect to other books - including Kid Sensation #6.  Truth be told, however, I had started writing Efferus even before Kid Sensation #5, so it was long overdue.  (I'm sure fans of the series will echo that sentiment, as they have been asking for the second Fringe Worlds novel for quite some time.) 

That said, I'm excited to get back to the world of Kid Sensation and dive full bore into his next adventure (which - as I probably mentioned before - I've already started).  After that, it's on to the fourth Warden book, and then probably Fringe Worlds #3. (And - if I haven't mentioned it before - Kid Sensation #7 is already in the works.)

In short, I anticipate being busy on the writing front for some time to come. However, that's a good thing. (And if I can pick up the pace of the writing - which is the plan - that's even better.)

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Excerpt from Warden (Book 4)

So it's been a while since I posted anything - far longer than I intended (or even realized, to be honest).  Needless to say, the time got away from me, but I promise I haven't been idle.

For those interested, I'm still grinding away, trying to finish the next book (and I'm actually so close I can taste it).  However, someone recently asked if I could post an excerpt from something, so I decided to do so.

Frankly speaking, I actually have a pretty good stockpile that I could post something from, with the bulk of it being new material. However, I thought it better to post from something that readers would be familiar with, so here's an excerpt from the next book in the Warden series:


Errol jerked awake, knowing instinctively that something was wrong but not immediately recognizing what it was. His hand went automatically to his dagger, resting on the hilt as he sat up, trying to get his bearings.

The cabin was still dark, and he innately understood that he hadn’t been asleep for long. Through the porthole, he saw a remarkably clear reflection of the moon on the still surface of the sea. And just like that, he realized what the problem was: the ship – it wasn’t moving. Not heaving up and down, not rolling side to side, not surging forward. It was completely still (which was completely unnatural).

The hairs on the back of his neck rising, Errol raced for the door, the outline of which was framed by light coming from the other side. Yanking it open, he saw the lanterns in the hallway burning uncommonly low, as if their light were diminished by some unseen force. Pulling out his wand, he raced down the passageway towards the stairs, then up and out onto the upper deck.

Once out in the open, Errol saw that his earlier assessment was correct: the ship had come to an utter standstill. Moreover, the water around them was completely calm, the surface lying so flat and motionless that one could almost mistake it for dry land. Eerily, there was no wind, and none of the usual sounds associated with maritime travel – no birds cawing overhead, no waves slapping against the side of the ship, no creak of wood or flap of sail.

Turning his attention back to his immediate environs Errol saw Jaden standing nearby, wand in hand, along with several members of the crew. Jaden cast a quick glance in Errol’s direction, noting his presence, then turned his attention back to the main deck. Following his friend’s gaze, Errol saw a bizarre scene below him.

All of the ship’s wards were flaring, beacons of red light that practically bathed the vessel in crimson. The fact that they were active meant that something malevolent was nearby, and it took Errol almost no time to single out the danger: a hooded figure standing in the middle of the main deck.

It was taller than any man – at least eight feet in height. Its features were hidden by the cowl it wore, but Errol saw two glowing red eyes within the hood and garnered the impression of an elongated, inhuman face. A dark robe – soaked and dripping water onto the deck – covered it down to its feet, but the girth of it gave Errol the impression of a powerful body underneath. Moreover, the robe seemed to bulge and swell ominously in random spots, as if there were a roiling ocean underneath. It was immediately evident that this was some type of creature from the sea.

The air around it was heavy with magic, pulsing with a dark and foreboding power that Errol felt seeping into his bones. More to the point, their visitor gave off an especially sinister vibe; it was singularly dangerous – something Errol would have recognized even if the wards weren’t blazing like bonfires. Apparently the ship’s crew felt the same way, because a large number of them (with weapons drawn) had surrounded the hooded figure, although none dared get too close. In fact, he saw the captain standing directly in front of it, giving the thing his undivided attention. It was at that juncture that Errol realized the creature was speaking, its voice a deep baritone that carried easily – especially since, as Errol had already noted, no wind was blowing.

“–sspass on the sacred domain of the Each-uisge,” the creature said. “Men are not allowed here.”

“How are we supposed to know that?” the captain asked, sounding harried. Errol had to give the man credit; there few people other than wardens who would dare to face some monstrous fiend like this.

“You were warned,” the creature replied.

“Warned how?” 

“A messenger was dispatched. You tried to slay it.” Unexpectedly, a supple limb, like the tentacle of an octopus but seemingly covered in seashells, slid out of the robe and pointed to a dark, blood-stained spot on the deck.

“What, that weird bird?” the captain asked, almost incredulously. “It gave no warning – just let out a bunch of caterwauling that grated on everyone’s nerves.”

The creature seemed to take offense. “There are more tongues in this world than solely that of men. It is only your arrogance that makes you think otherwise. Now it shall be your undoing.” 

The captain’s eyes widened in alarm. “What do you mean?”

“You have encroached where your presence is proscribed, cast your nets where it is forbidden, and willfully attacked a consecrated servant. Each of these alone violates a sacrosanct tenet of the Each-uisge. Combined, your transgressions constitute intolerable heresy – a stain that must be wiped away. Your ship – your very lives – are forfeit.”

“What?!” the captain screeched. 

“Thus I pass sentence,” said the creature, acting as if the captain hadn’t spoken. “Now I execute judgment.” 

The air, already pregnant with supernatural power, somehow became even more gravid as three elongated tentacles, each brandishing a flaming sword, suddenly burst from the creature’s robe. And then it went on the attack.

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