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Chasing the Wyrm: Christopher Yan – Office of Arcane Affairs

To protect its interests, the U.S. government projects its power militarily, economically, and magically. It leaves the last to the Office of Arcane Affairs.

Christopher Yan didn’t ask for the job. A wizard born with the power to warp reality, the OAA calls on him to neutralize all arcane threats. Part spy, part fixer, part assassin, Topher searches for a way to make his unique gift serve both his country and his principles. When he makes an enemy of a rogue wizard serving a dying insurgency, he learns the limits his conscience can bear.

Getting Back on the Wyrm

So writer boy, what the fuck have you been working on? Truthfully, I find myself working only in small spurts. I have teased for a while now about a new full length novel, and I have finally gotten some time to sit down and edit. Hurrah for snow days.

I have a lot of trepidation about it. Not that I don’t think it’s a good book, but it is a somewhat radical departure from My Babylon. The style is there, but that’s about it. Chasing the Wyrm is an action adventure. It has magic, but it’s of the fantasy variety, not with a K.

Also, the main character is pseudo-military. Which I’m sure not many people are expecting from my non-violent-peace-loving-hippie-ass. But having known so many good men who have been soldiers, I am fascinated with their stories and how they honestly try to do the right thing in impossible situations. So while Chasing the Wyrm will not have the deep philosophical and religious questions of My Babylon, it still examines human nature and has serious undertones. Despite the main character’s lack of a clue.

So here’s another long excerpt from the novel. Give it a try. I think you’ll enjoy.

 

Chasing the Wyrm – A Christopher Yan, Office of Arcane Affairs Novel

Chapter 18

August 12th, 2004

 

I admired the collection of clay pipes sitting on Eddie’s desk. Like Johnny’s china, Edward Norrell, Chief of Analysis & Research for the OAA collected Presidential memorabilia. Except in Eddie’s case, the Presz were long dead. Each of the pipes bore a small gold placard next to it, “Theodore Roosevelt,” “Benjamin Harrison,” and I shit you not, “Abraham Lincoln.” I’d just spent the last three years studying under Mike’s genteel hand. With the constant mental abuse so close in memory I had yet to develop my trademark smarminess. I let the grown-ups talk.

“Are you up to date on the situation in Columbia?” Eddie asked Mike, who sat beside me, alert but relaxed.

“You mean the FARC?”

Edward, wearing tweed and chomping on an unlit pipe looked like an old college professor. I wondered if that pipe shared spit with a deceased POTUS.

“Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, one of the last communist rebel groups still holding out. They make their money by running protection for the drug cartels and kidnapping. Though I hear they lost one recently.” Mike crunched on an ice cube.

“Exactly. A French journalist actually, had the good fortune of escaping one of their prison camps and making it through the jungle alive. Interpol interviewed him upon his return, and it was recently fed into our database. Upon analysis, the video was flagged as a topic of interest for the OAA.”

Eddie stood up and refilled Mike’s scotch. I looked down at my glass of water. They never even asked.

While Eddie poured Mike talked, “Do you have a copy of it?”

With a wink, “Of course. I think you’ll find it fascinating.”

Without sitting down, Eddie maneuvered his barrel-shaped body around the desk and opened up a cabinet revealing a large monitor. He sank down into his leather chair, clicked his mouse a few times, and a video filled the screen behind him. He swiveled around to watch with us.

On the screen, white on blue lettering appeared. “LUNAR ABYSS NIGHT TOP SECRET/Re: FARC/Debriefing: Laurent Symington/Interpol/10JULY2004.”

It came in with the interview already in progress. The people spoke French, subtitled in English.

“Please say that again.” A man in a suit spoke.

The only person not in a suit looked away from the others. “He changed. He became something else. I’m not crazy.”

The suits nodded somberly.

The room contained all the trappings of your average interrogation parlor: table, uncomfortable chairs, bad coffee in disposable cups. They all must hire the same decorator. The camera focused on non-suit, I guessed the aforementioned Laurent Symington. He looked freshly shaven, comfortably dressed, haggard and nervous.

Everyone waited for him to continue. “What I am telling you is what I saw. Do you understand? No? I don’t understand. All I know is, I saw what I saw.” He lit a cigarette before continuing.

Okay, the difference between European and American interrogation rooms, I guess they still let you smoke in European ones. I noted with silent amusement the two tobacco-addicts in the room with me squirming.

“Okay, so there were these guys who came by every other week or so. I don’t think they were part of the FARC unit. Not that anyone wore uniforms. Unless you count the Che Guevara t-shirts, you know what I mean?”

That elicited a chuckle from the suit crowd.

“They might have been mercenaries, or Venezuelan advisors. They only talked to us when they wanted to give us orders or humiliate us. So I don’t know exactly who they were. They were all big men, not like the children the FARC filled their ranks with. They looked well fed, well equipped.”

He took three drags on the cigarette before he could continue. “So one day, one of the kids, I don’t think he could have been more than fourteen. Anyway, the kid is watching one of the mercenaries talk with the head honchos and trying to look all menacing. He goes to hold his rifle like the way he’s seen the Americans in Iraq do it, hugged up to the chest. He fumbles it. He must have had the safety off. Instead of just letting it drop to the ground he holds on and gets his finger caught in the trigger. It goes off, and barely misses the merc.”

The next drag burned the cigarette a half-inch by itself. He turned red, sweating, obviously traumatized by what he saw.

“The mercenary covers, I don’t know, ten meters in a blur. The kid freezes. The guy, he hauls back and then smacks the kid across the neck. It opens up and spurts blood like a fountain. It’s all over the merc, and he doesn’t flinch. In fact….”

The reporter stops cold, stubs out his smoke, takes a drink of coffee, and stares off into the corner. After two whole minutes, I know because I watched the counter on the video, one of the Interpol agents speaks up. “Go ahead. We know you’ve been traumatized. No one’s going to judge you.”

“No? Just keep me around for observation? Make me see a shrink?” He gets up and throws his hands in the air. “I’m saying this once and never again. I’ll deny it. I’ll say it was the stress. I don’t care if you’re recording this, I’ll never tell this story again. Do you understand?”

They all nodded.

He stayed standing, pantomiming the actions he described. “I’m looking straight at him you understand? And his hand, it’s not a hand anymore, it’s a claw. He brings it to his face. His face wasn’t the same anymore. It looked… he had fangs. And it looked like spots down his arm, like a jungle cat. He growled. I swear he growled. He licked the blood from his hand… his claw. He fucking licked it off!”

Laurent plopped down in his seat. “Then, in an instant, he was a man again. Still blood all over him, but a man. I don’t know. I’m probably crazy, but he couldn’t have slashed his throat like that with his bare hand. I swear he didn’t have a knife.”

They all kept nodding along with that, “you poor crazy bastard,” look on their faces until the video ended.

Eddie swiveled back, looking like a kid who just found his dad’s porno stash. Mike joined in the glee. I couldn’t believe they got off on this shit. Mike asked, “Do you have a theory.”

Eddie leaned back, “It’s a bit far south for it, but I’m guessing he’s describing a were-jaguar.”

Mike nodded sagely. “Didn’t Wade Davis describe were-jaguar beliefs in the Amazon river basin in one of his books?”

“Yes, the Columbian Amazon to be exact. He didn’t exactly call them were-jaguars, but he did describe shamans invoking jaguar spirits. In any case, Mr. Laurent’s intelligence also made it to the DOD. They think they have enough information to run a successful rescue mission to recover the remaining hostages in his former camp. Satellite and local intelligence indicate they haven’t moved. Cocky fellows. I’ve arranged for you and your new protégé to be attached to the Delta unit that’s going in. It would be too much to ask to bring us back a live specimen, but you could at least take some blood for the boys in the lab.”

This would be were Mike’s sensibilities and Eddie’s cavalier attitude parted ways. Mike grumbled when he agreed to the mission. “And having me and Topher there might prevent the Delta team from getting slaughtered if they run up against these things.”

“I’m sure that no matter what, you and Christopher will be an asset to the operation. I’ll let SOUTHCOM give you the rest of the details. Happy hunting.”

Mike got up and gave me the “let’s go,” look. He didn’t say a word to me until after he made it out of the building and lit up a smoke. “Get some sleep. I guess tomorrow you hit the big time.” He gave a reassuring hand on the shoulder. “You’ll do fine.”

Shit, I thought, I’m gonna die.

 

* * *

 

Two days later, we sat on folding chairs set up in an airplane hanger on a Columbian army base somewhere outside of Bogotá. Relaxed but alert soldiers, some in uniform, some in t-shirts and jeans, took up the other seats. Each one gave us the eye before they sat down. They didn’t have that clean-cut Marine look; neither did they look scruffy like the Delta guys I would meet later in Afghanistan. They weren’t trying to fit in with the locals here. Every couple of minutes one of the local officer-looking types peeked in on us, but for the most part, the Columbians gave us a wide berth. Mike told me earlier that we were posing as CIA Special Operations Group, gathering intelligence on FARC chain-of-command. I couldn’t tell if the Delta soldiers considered us baggage or bad-ass-motherfuckers. Maybe they were still deciding.

When the CO came in no one stood up or saluted, but they did give their undivided attention. None of the casual jokes, no one continued playing the dozens. Some even took notes. Lacking any form of self-discipline, I faded out while he gave coordinates.  The Blackhawks sitting nearby, the coming and going planes, the stories behind the soldiers’ eyes proved much too distracting for me. After the short presentation, everyone went straight to it, changing uniforms and checking equipment. I looked at Mike.

He shook his head at me. “We leave in forty-five minutes. The helicopters will get us as close as they can without being detected. We drop into the jungle, make our way to the FARC encampment, eliminate the guards, and lead the hostages out with making as little fuss as possible.”

Mike picked up on the fear in my eyes. “Don’t worry, Topher, just follow my lead. We’re looking for our objective, but I’m not going out of my way. Priority one is the hostages and the guy next to you, got it?”

“Yeah, I think so.” I watched as some of the Delta team changed out of BDUs into what looked like identical BDUs.

Mike answered the question without me asking. “The uniforms they’re putting on have no insignias.”

I looked at the BDUs we were wearing and noted they had nothing on them. “Why?”

“Even though the Columbian government has given us permission, it’s a political liability for them and for the politicians back home. If we fail, this mission didn’t happen. Plausible deniability.” He got up. “Let’s go get our equipment.”

We walked over to tables that held an assortment of belts, vests, rifles, pistols, grenades, and lots of things I didn’t recognize. I took Mike’s lead. We already had our sidearms, so we went straight to the rifles. Most guys took a short, black, metal and plastic, assault rifle. Mike showed me how it worked. “Galil ACE. Israeli made, the Columbians use it. Good weapon. It uses the NATO 7.62 round since the 5.54 has been known to tumble when penetrating soft cover—like leaves.” I nodded along pretending I knew that he was talking about.

Mike also took a helmet and utility belts with extra magazines and non-lethal equipment. The others took items by what looked like personal preference. Some wore vests, some didn’t, and those that did sometimes added extra ceramic plates. I looked at it longingly, but Mike passed the armor by. He did stop for a few grenades, but when I reached for one he smacked my hand.

We stowed our gear on one of the Blackhawks and walked off away from the others. For a minute, both of us watched the setting sun and enjoyed the cool breeze outside of the hanger. Mike took out a cigarette, lit it, and said, “Go meditate.”

I did my best to load my spells, basic stuff to make me stronger, faster, and more agile. I had my “reality twist,” thing where I could make it so a bullet misses or the shrapnel falls short. Basically, anything that can come down to a flip of a coin could be nudged in my favor. Plus, with a few minutes of concentration, I could lift anything lighter than a grenade with telekinesis. Pretty much all I had mastered by then. Also, I still needed to use physical motions to cement them in my consciousness. I hoped it looked more like some kind of cool tai-chi than a fat kid practicing karate on YouTube.

Keeping them going was the tricky part. This being my first time out of the barn, my mind kept straying. Throughout the process I had a hard time grasping what the OAA expected of me. I spent my days going to college. I guess they didn’t want me ignorant. Otherwise, I trained with Mike and a few times with Johnny and Eddie. My first summer I went through Basic with ROTC. This supplemented Mike’s lessons with firearms, hand-to-hand, and combat magic. After that, on weekends they shipped me around to military bases to go on exercises with the various special forces—Rangers, Recon, Seals. My body went from Halo-addicted-flab to lean cross-country-forced-march-with-ruck in no time.

Understand, I didn’t become an expert in anything. High intensity learning at warp-speed left gaps in my knowledge you could drive a tank through. And learning to drive a tank for a day does not leave you feeling empowered, it makes you realize how little you know.

Johnny and Eddie taught magic theory on occasion. Mike had just started my lessons in spycraft.

So I didn’t know at that time if I was supposed to be a spy, a super-soldier, a researcher, or pulling rabbits out of a hat at the next Bush family barbeque. Fuck, I still don’t know. I’m starting to lean towards, “all of the above.”

Lost in the day-mare of what was sure to happen when I got lost in the jungle, I failed to notice the Blackhawks powering up. Mike had to tap me on the shoulder and point towards our transport. I boarded with him, and force-smiled at the four others sharing our ride. They did not respond. Everyone, including Mike, took off their helmet, put it on the seat, and sat on it. I thought, fuck-the-what? and did the same.

Mike leaned in and whispered in my ear. “These things are armored for shit. One more layer of Kevlar between anti-aircraft rounds and your ass can’t be a bad thing.”

I nodded in agreement just as the engine noise began to rattle my teeth. Flying into the sunset, the three Hawks flew in perfect formation, weaving back and forth over the jungle canopy. Usually, at this point in the movie soundtrack, a nice inspirational sixties protest song swells over the sound of the rotors. Something like “Fortunate Son” or “War.” Mine was “Gunshots by Computer” from Saul Williams via Nine Inch Nails. I can only imagine Mike’s was Ride of the Valkyries.

I kept my eyes on my boots and my mind on my spells. No shots from the ground greeted us, and I assumed we approached without being noticed. Just as planned, we hovered over a clearing about ten clicks away from the FARC encampment. Delta dropped first, leaping calmly out the door attached to a repelling line. Mike stayed behind me. Insurance against me pussying-out. I put on my night-vision, grabbed the rope, hands sweating under my gloves, and leapt. I made a text-book drop, falling to one knee, checking my weapon, and moving out of the way. Before I could take stock of my surroundings, Mike landed behind me with a grunt. His legs bowed but he stayed on his feet, weapon in hand, cigarette lit.

We all rebel in our own little ways. Mike got his digs in. If I end up burying him, I intend to have “Do as I say, not as I do Topher,” chiseled on his tombstone. One, he didn’t wear his night-vision. We were under constant orders to never reveal our abilities to those without the security-clearance. Technically, Mike did not, but I knew he used magic to see in the dark, and I’m sure he left the Delta guys scratching their heads. Two, you don’t hold your weapon while you drop. You may have an accidental discharge. Three, no-smoking. He broke that one a lot. The OAA gave him slack on that. Wizards sometimes use a focus to remind them subconsciously they should be concentrating on their spells. Traditionally this meant wands or staves, Mike uses cigarettes. I use toothpicks. A lot easier to deal with considering the anti-smoking Gestapo. Also, the toothpick out of the side of my mouth didn’t attract attention like the pin-point red glow of a lit Lucky Strike in a jungle black as Dick Cheney’s asshole. The worst I could do was swallow it.

My anxiety rose conversely with the noise of the Blackhawks fading into the distance.  All too soon it became dead quiet, until my ears strained for noise. I found it. Chittering, hooting, squawking, chirping, and grunting filled the night around me. As my ears adjusted to the new decibel level, it seemed like a jungle-critter Lollapalooza. Before I could deeply consider which ones were poisonous and which ones would just take chunk out of my ass, we moved out. Delta team A took point. Mike and I kept pace with group B. We passed through the undergrowth silently. Nightvision made everything a varying shade of glowing green. They operated by a combination of low-light collection and heat sensitivity. I had no problem keeping track of my comrades as their forms glowed brighter than anything else around me. A combination of heat, humidity, combat gear, and nerves produced a river of sweat running down my back. My gloves felt soaked through, but I didn’t dare take them off for fear my bare hands would slip on rifle grip.

Einstein once said, “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.” While I stalked through the fierce Columbian rainforest, blood pounding in my ears, it seemed like an eternity, right up until the soldiers in front of us put up the hand signal to hold. Then time fucking stopped. We were there.

Mike broke rank, making his way to the front. Despite the looks of concern from our team, I followed. Delta B interspersed with Delta A. I figured out just then the second team’s job. They were there to protect me and Mike. I wondered what their superiors had told them. These guys are idiots so you need to watch their backs? Follow their lead? It remains a mystery to me to this day what the people we work with really think of us. There must be some level of resentment.

Without word Delta C slipped off to take up their positions on the other side of the encampment. Mike, and what must have been the soldier in charge took stock of the FARC base. They called it a base in the briefing, but it had no fence, no watchtowers, nothing that looked obviously like barracks. Having been raised in the ‘burbs, this was my first encounter with a type of building that could only be called a hut. Several of them in fact, sat in no particular arrangement in a clearing. The huts had thatched roofs, and sat on platforms raised by poles a few feet above the ground, and open holes for windows. One of the structures could be considered an actual house. It also lacked a foundation, but it did have a door, and glass windows, open, but covered with screens and even curtains.

The most curious thing about the camp was the three covered pavilions. Each one an open area made with poles supporting a roof made of the same vegetation as the huts. Two guards a piece casually watched over them. Before I could figure it all out, they called a huddle. The Delta leader drew the play in the dirt just like backyard football.

He pointed at the squares representing the pavilions. “A and B fan out at this position. C enters from the other side. Prisoners are kept in pits chained together here. These are the primary targets. They have orders to kill the hostages if there’s any sign of trouble. Guards go down on the first shot.”

He looked up and we all nodded in confirmation. “After that we search the smaller structures one by one working our way towards the larger one. I want no resistance when we’re removing the hostages. After we clear the house, we sort out the hostages, determine the best means of transport, and head for the extraction point. There may be more FARC out on patrol within earshot. C will set up a perimeter while we get things moving.”

Without comment we headed towards our positions. I was looking around for an empty spot at the tree line when Mike grabbed me by the shoulder and pulled me back. I spun to face him, and he shook his head and jabbed a thumb back. The meaning clear, I would not be a shooter. He took up a place and checked his safety. From where I stood I could see almost everything. C signaled with two laser flashes they were ready. I stopped breathing.

Burst fire sounded in unison. A chorus of radio chatter accompanied it.

“Tango down.”

“Tango down.”

“Tango down.”

All repeated in flat monotone as each guard crumpled to the ground.

Just as sudden, silence broke through. No one returned fire. Delta moved, synchronized in teams, crouched and silent. Upon reaching the first hut the lead man stopped and held up his hand. The second pulled out a grenade and smoothly lobbed it through the window. Everyone sank almost to the ground. A “whump” followed by a “crack” ended the brief quiet. Two more echoed the first as the other teams repeated the maneuver. Right after the blast two other team members popped up and searched the smoking ruin, except for one where the flimsy shack collapsed in on itself from the explosion. There were no survivors.

Each team went to their next target. Mike didn’t exactly say stay put, so I sneaked across the clearing to join the others. I suppose I made a tempting target.

The enemy fire came in the form of one undisciplined continuous spray. Instead of hitting the dirt like I should have done, I jumped and ran towards the others. At least I didn’t piss myself. Everyone turned their weapons on me. I think I screamed. Luckily, they did not confuse me for an enemy. Muzzles flashed and I assume hit the asshole behind me stupid enough to shoot back. I toadied up to Mike’s side and he resisted the urge to smack me on the head. His eyes did enough to emasculate.

As our team went to blow-up another hut, Mike turned and grabbed me by the sleeve. “C’mon Topher.”

He slunk away up to the house, and I followed. He stood to the left door, and I felt his magic gathering. In a swift motion he slammed the palm of his hand into the door and it broke open with a splintering of wood. Two reports from a pistol came out. Mike shouldered his weapon, leaned in, and let out three rounds. I heard a thump.

Keeping as low as I could I entered a sitting room, dimly lit with oil lamps. If it weren’t for the big guy in green fatigues bleeding all over the carpet from a hole in his skull, it would look like some rich prick’s vacation cottage. My eyes locked on him, his heavy moustache and open blank eyes. My stomach flopped once. The voice coming from a doorway broke me out of it.

“I’m in here. I’m unarmed.” He spoke in even toned Spanish-accented English.

Mike instantly pressed himself to the wall against the right of the opening, checked it with his rifle, then motioned me to follow. The room contained some bookshelves, a recliner, an end table with an open bottle of wine, and a guy in khakis with a white button down shirt, standing casually with his arms at his sides.

Through lips still clenching a cigarette Mike said, “Mr. Esquival, I’m with the United States government, we’re here to rescue you.”

It’s not that he didn’t look surprised, it’s that he didn’t look worried.

 

Chapter 19

 

So that’s where I heard the name Esquival before. It gets better.

Just then Delta team B rushed in. Mike turned to them, “These rooms are clear. Check the rest of the house.”

Two of them took Mike’s directive and the other two glared at us, presumably pissed that we went off on our own. The mission leader came in a few seconds after.

Delta Leader looked at Esquival, looked at Mike. “Who’s this?”

“He’s a hostage.” Mike said. It came out rough, with a scowl, like it tasted bad.

I could see Delta Leader roll over a few choice words in his head, and then settle on, “Let’s get him with the rest then.”

“Thank you.” Esquival said, and walked out past everyone like the cock of the walk.

Out in the camp, our guys were lifting hostages out of the pits. All of them were dirty, bruised, and otherwise in rough shape. Unlike our new buddy who looked showered and freshly shaved. I could tell he was rich by the way he wore his clothes, by his haircut, and his manicure. When I got a second alone with Mike I gave him the WTF look.

“Don’t ask Topher, don’t ask.” He lit another Lucky. “All I know is, Señor Esquival has friends in high places.”

I opened my mouth to ask more but he turned away. Was this whole fucking operation planned to rescue this one guy? To take my mind off it I made a feeble attempt to help with the other hostages. Our medic made a make-shift triage, tending to people as best he could, getting them hydrated and ready to walk through the jungle. One had to be carried on a stretcher. Those who could handle the extra weight got our vests.

Team A went out on point and the rest of us left a few minutes after. I volunteered to walk one of the hostages, a rail thin middle-aged woman who found the energy to smile at me when I took her arm. Those of us with a charge kept our nightvision off so we wouldn’t try to drag our hostage over terrain they couldn’t see. The darkness made for an entirely different experience. Not to mention we moved slower, with a larger group. This attracted every biting insect from miles around. Over and over I suppressed the urge to let go of her arm and slap myself all over. Ingrid, I found out her name later, seemed immune to the bloodsuckers’ advances.

We stopped every fifteen minutes to let them rest and give out sips of water. On the third stop the hairs on the back of neck stood up. Not bugs this time. A chill accompanied the feeling. Panicking, I realizing I had lost track of Mike. I looked for him, but couldn’t pick him out in the shadowy forms gathered around me. I did find Delta Leader, facing away from the group with his hand up to his ear.

In hushed tones I heard him say. “What do you mean lost?”

A pause later he added, “Hold your position. We’re going to regroup.” He gave the order to move out. Everyone kept their cool but I could tell something worried them.

Thirty paces out one of the team let slip an, “Oh fuck.” I never saw him bend down and pick it up, and by mercy in the darkness I couldn’t see the details, but I could tell he held in his hand a human head.

“Set up a perimeter.”

Delta went to work putting hostages in the middle and forming a circle around them. I pressed through the busy soldiers and shell-shocked hostages to get a better look at the head before our medic stuffed it in a body bag. Not Mike. Where the fuck is he? What the fuck did that? Why didn’t we hear anything? What the fuck am I going to do?

My sanity slipped a belt, but luckily I caught it in time. I stopped. Bit down on my toothpick and made sure I kept my spells on. When my breathing slowed a tick, I allowed my magical senses to reach out. I had spent months learning to keep my focus, sometimes while Johnny played German opera at full blast in my ear. Sometimes while Mike took shots at me with a tennis ball machine. None of that helped me go more than a few seconds without thinking about that severed head, hair soaked in blood, one eye open.

They weren’t trying to mask themselves, at least not magically. I’m not sure they knew how. It’s like when you know a fly is buzzing around your head but you can’t see it. You know by the pitch and the volume how close it is and how fast it’s moving, but you never know exactly where. We failed to see the thing that hunted us because we looked at ground level. They travelled in the trees.

I turned right in time to see a branch wobble in the air like a diving-board. A few of the Delta must have heard it because they looked in that direction. A new sound interrupted our search, a fast yelp, then a gurgling noise. We spun to see one of the soldiers being lifted up into the air by his neck. The form of the assailant showed bright green in our goggles, a somewhat hunched and long limbed humanoid, holding the stricken man by the throat with one hand.

Weapons went to shoulders but nobody could sight around the victim dangling in front of our target. With the one hand he flung the dead man at us, hitting two Delta with the corpse, sending them to the ground. Those who could opened fire. In one leap it covered at least five meters to the next limb big enough to hold its weight, landing gracefully on both feet. Bursts of fire raged around me, and I managed to get a round off myself before the thing disappeared from view.

Silence from everyone.

The medic called out, “Man down.”

The hostages sniffled, lightly sobbed, but held together. I felt myself coming apart. I’ve seen this horror movie. The Asian guy dies.

Where the fuck is Mike?

I turned to Delta for support. They maintained a professional firing line, systematically searched the trees for targets, and did everything calmly and methodically according to their training. Their faces told the real story. Not fear or panic, just a dawning realization they were in over their heads. That left me as the only one still here holding half a clue as to what just happened. This realization sparked a heated debate between my conscience and my shaking hands and legs. Ingrained Chinese guilt won.

Dragging my feet, I inched out of the circle of soldiers to lessen the distractions and background noise. It took all my willpower to overcome my survival instinct, loosen the grip on my weapon and close my eyes. I reached out again and caught the buzz, two of them. They circled around us, looking for an opening.

It came on quick, the vibration at first faint and non-threatening, and in a millisecond filling my head and making my heart clench.

“There.” I pointed, lacking the vocabulary to call out the direction. I think I said it in a manly authoritative tone and not a girlish screech.

Delta wheeled and filled the air with bullets. By the time I opened my eyes I could see it falling from its perch. It must have taken a dozen hits but it still landed on its feet and keep moving until another volley of three round bursts brought it down. I don’t know what part of my reptile brain told me to hurry up and make sure it was dead, but I made it to the spot first since I stood the closest.

Looking at the creature caused vertigo. Its bizarre unwholesomeness was accentuated by its lack of clothing. The wrongness of it, the sheer, “I’m not supposed to exist outside of nightmares,” quality made me feel like I’d been sucker-punched. It took effort to look at it directly. The face, a mix of human and jungle cat, though the eyes burned an unhealthy green unlike any living creature. The teeth over-spilled its mouth forming a misshapen jaw. Tawny spotted fur covered the ropey muscles of a creature meant to slouch, its arms long enough to reach the ground as it walked. It wore layers of necklaces from which dangled teeth and carved fetishes. Hanging from a strap across its back, a well-kept AK-47.

The soldiers rushed behind me and upon seeing it averted their eyes like Dracula from a cross. In the time it took to look back the teeth had almost receded, and the fur turned to course hair. In a few more blinks the thing became something that could pass for human. The Delta team staggered and swayed, a crowd of camo-dressed frat boys returning from a football game.

“There’s more.” I said.

“Back to positions,” the leader said through the com.

Most of them brushed it off well, a few still looked ashen and disoriented. As I continued to stare at the body I wondered if I sometimes had that effect on people. I had probably saw the worst of it since I arrived a second before everyone else. Then I realized that it had come straight at me. Which meant in all likelihood it singled me out. They could sense me. I jumped back and rejoined the others.

As we settled into watch mode Chinese guilt crept up on me again. If they wanted me, I could lead them away from the group. Maybe that’s why Mike took off. Oh fuck.

I approached the Delta leader. “Um, ah….” I made a point of looking for his non-existent arm patches, not that I could decipher them most of the time.

He cocked his head for a second. “Lieutenant?”

“Lieutenant! Hey… I’m gonna… go.”

“Go? You mean you need to relive yourself.”

“No! Not that. I’m gonna… split off. Find some cover away from the group.”

The sheer insanity of it left him speechless.

“I’ll be okay. I just think I need to find my own way to the extraction point.”

“Sir, I think that would be an extraordinarily bad idea. I’m responsible for your safety.”

I knew by the look on his face I had just made the shittiest day in this man’s life even shittier. “Yeah, I know, but I think they are after me.”

I could only imagine what went through his head. “Are you sure?” He asked.

“No, I’m guessing. But even if I’m guessing it’s worth a shot drawing them away from the hostages.”

The implications crossed his brow. “All I can do is strongly suggest you do not follow that course of action.” The message was clear. He may not understand what the fuck is going on, but if there was even a half a fucking chance of protecting the civilians, he was for it.

“I’ll be careful. Good luck.”

He nodded.

With fifty pounds of lead in my boots I headed away, both Delta and the hostages giving the stare reserved for dead man walking. Leaving the circle of human beings felt like leaving the light for the darkness. Without their warmth and reassuring breath my insides churned turning into Jell-O. I pushed it out, concentrating on detecting the… I guess the were-jaguars, before they smelled me. The annoying insects in my face and the screeches of frightened jungle critters didn’t make it any easier. A monkey called out in terror and I wondered if the wetness at my crotch was perspiration.

After a few minutes stumbling the buzzing came back and I crouched low. It fluttered indistinctly, circling around me. I felt safe enough to poke my head up because of the distance. Just in time to see the muzzle flash.

It fired full-auto, strafing a line between the two trees I stood between. Before I could raise my weapon my eyes saw nothing but pure white and I felt something punch my chest hard enough to send me flying back, flat on my back. I flailed, panicking in those seconds when I couldn’t catch my breath, all the air pushed from my lungs. I heard my own gasps and the sound of Delta returning fire as the bright light turned to shooting stars in my eyes.

Fuck, they use guns too. Something about it though registered in my primal or magical instinct. They didn’t kill this way. They longed to use only their teeth and claws.

I rolled left, grabbing my rifle as I went.

It landed where I was a split second ago, claws tearing into the earth, hissing with rage. He had hit my chest plate on purpose. He wanted to knock me prone.

I pointed my rifle up from the ground without really aiming and squeezed off bursts as fast as I could. It leapt straight up and into the trees so fast I couldn’t tell if I hit it. I shot two more times blindly just to keep it off me while I got to my feet.

I had to get it together. I had to find a way to spot it before it spotted me. The only way to do that would be to close my eyes and willfully shut out all other senses and let my magic find the target. Mike and I practiced this on a shooting range a few times with less than stellar results. I only managed to hit the target, not anywhere in a kill zone, maybe one in five times.

Despite my orders to stay closed, my eyes kept blinking open every few seconds. Funny how that survival instinct works. When I got them to cooperate, the thunder of my heart prevented me from concentrating. I breathed as slow as I could and eventually my Kool-aid pump followed. Again, the light buzzing sound entered my perception. This time, I gave up on any chance to see it with my nightvision and kept following it with my magic sense. It became more distinct, then coalesced into a dot floating in the middle of blackness. Then it flared, charging me, turning into the light of an oncoming train.

My weapon came up. Two bursts. The light stopped and faded. I opened my eyes.

It’s green and white form sprang to its feet only two meters in front of me. I smelled the rage on its foul carrion breath. Despite its fury, it couldn’t leap on me. It dragged a ruined leg as it charged, claws out.

Its gimp gave me just enough time to fire once more, using my sight, hitting it square in the chest. It fell just inches short of my feet, its claws still slashing the air instinctively. I put three more rounds in its head. It twitched, then stopped.

I don’t know how long I stood there, my mind blank, overwhelmed by my almost not victory. My rifle felt lighter, so I reached for another magazine. My only warning came from its growl above my head.

I screamed in its face as the claws penetrated my shoulders and I followed its momentum to the ground. Bowels and bladder evacuated. I saw its jaw open and the impossible tangle of fangs spread wide. The teeth came bearing down. A forty-five went off in my ear.

Its head jerked to the side but the claws tightened making me spasm beneath it. Another gun blast and it released me, landing beside me and flopping on the ground like a fish on the deck, refusing to admit it was dead. Another blast and it stopped.

A hand came down and I weakly reached for it. It pulled me to my feet despite the protest of my shoulders.

“Nice shot, Topher.” Mike.

 

* * *

 

Mike stripped the were-jaguars of their magical paraphernalia while the medic dressed my wounds. The pressure bandages wrapped under my armpits felt uncomfortable and reassuring. The rest of the trip went smoothly.

While Delta signaled for our ride Mike patted me on the shoulder making me wince. Despite making up for my fuckery, he still felt the need to treat me like the kid brother.

“What are you grinning at, Topher?”

I couldn’t tell if it came from the new respect and awe given to us by our soldier friends, or the pain medication. I kept up that goofy expression until the choppers landed and I watched Delta help the hostages on board. One hostage didn’t need any. He deftly hopped up into the Blackhawk like it was about to ferry him to the airport for his summer at the beach.

Mike detected the change in my expression. “You did good here, Topher. We saved a lot of people. “

Mike went cold as Delta loaded two body bags. We looked at each other and said everything there was to say with no words at all.

Underground

James L. Wilber

 

 

I blame my brother. All the shit that went down. All the people that suffered. I never wanted any of that to happen. But to be perfectly honest, I have a hard time feeling sorry about it. Still, I blame Zeus. I know he planned the whole thing. It would be nice if someone told me why.

He had come down from Olympus for the first time in years. That should have been my first clue. I had taken him out to a club because that’s what you do in Necropolis. It’s all about the nightlife. We stood on a balcony overlooking the dance floor, drinks in our hands. Below us, the well-dressed partiers writhed to a languid tune. I lifted a knowing eyebrow at him and he smiled at what he surveyed. He never saw shit like that back home. Olympus was all about pubs and “ladies night” and drink until you puke. In Necropolis, we did things in style.

“You don’t fool me,” he said, his booming voice cutting through the music.

I turned around and leaned my back against the railing. “Oh?” I swished the ice around in my empty glass. No need to yell. Talking in the clubs is all about pitch. My voice always managed to slither under and through the throbbing bass.

“You hate this. It bores the fuck out of you.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

But the bastard had already done it. He had planted the seed. Did I hate this place? This city? These people? Hate was a strong word. Bored, maybe. I had seen it all. Done it all. I had built this town to be my own personal playpen and now I was stuck in it. All the jaded pricks who lived here were obsessed with fashion, which included wearing a persona that pretend not to give a fuck about anything. They all went to great lengths to show each other how unimpressed they were. All of them were so wrapped up in the galleries and the clubs and the parties and their own fucking image. Not a single one of them noticed they weren’t actually living.

Zeus turned to face me. He stood out with his cream colored shirt, grey hair and beard. No one in Necropolis would suffer a grey hair to go undyed. Keep young and beautiful, that’s their motto. I guess I should consider myself lucky. My black hair and beard are still natural, even though I’m the elder.

“It’s not an irreparable problem,” he said, looking me in the eye. “You just need to get out. Get away. Stop worrying so much about your job.”

“Yeah, well if I didn’t worry about this place no one else would.”

“Perhaps, but maybe it’s not a place that requires all that much worry.” He drained his drink and softened his tone. “Look, I’m not saying quit. Fuck knows I don’t want the job.”

That’s one thing about my family. You can’t count on them for shit. Just ask our parents.

“What I’m saying is, get out. Take a vacation. Take a trip to the wine country. See something else than this gloomy fucking place.”

Actually, I liked the weather down in the valley. Cold and dark suited me just fine. But getting out didn’t sound too bad. I did like wine.

“Gather up an entourage. Take a limo. Just a day trip. Get trashed. Here….”He handed me an old pack of cigarettes.

I peaked inside and saw three perfectly rolled Js. “I don’t need this. I got plenty of coke.”

I went to hand them back but he waved it away. “That’s the problem. You take all that shit that winds you up. You need to relax. I’m telling you, this is the good shit.”

I looked at the joints again. They were, of course, just joints. “What makes them so special?”

“It’s a special hybrid. It’s called narcissus. It chills you out but doesn’t make you sleepy. I know how you hate that.”

Sleep always reminded me of being dead.

“Plus, it’ll get your pecker up.” He winked as he said it.

That sealed the deal. Not that I cared for an aphrodisiac, I just thought it best to keep it out of his hands. The last thing my brother needed was another excuse for a hard-on.

Chasing the Wyrm – A Christopher Yan Agent of the OAA Novel

If the subtitle made you think of James Bond, you’re on the right track. Here’s a preview of my next book, coming soon.

 

Part 1

 Top Secret – Eyes Only by Presidential Authority

From the Office of the President of the United States, Harry S. Truman

Executive Order 12334C For the Creation of the Office of Arcane Affairs (OAA)

By virtue of and pursuant to the authority vested in me under the National Security Act of 1947, and of all other authority vested in me, it is hereby ordered as follows:

I. I hereby establish within the Government a new agency, and prescribe its respective function and duties, as follows:

(A) To further U.S. interests in matters of the occult, including those pertaining to (but not excluded to) industrial production, economic manipulation, and military and intelligence applications. It shall be the duty of this agency to ensure U.S. superiority in all arcane matters and to protect Americans and their interests at home and abroad from arcane threats.

(B) The Office of Arcane Affairs shall be composed of:

The Secretary of Arcane Affairs

The Director of Interior Affairs

The Director of Foreign Affairs

The Deputy Director of Investigations

The Deputy Director of Commerce

The Deputy Director of Diplomacy

The Deputy Director of Intelligence

(C) The Office Arcane Affairs shall be responsible directly to the President, and be held accountable for providing knowledge on all matters of the occult, and remain vigilant to all threats, reporting them to the President as necessary.

To this end, the Office of Arcane Affairs shall have the following powers and duties:

1. To establish and operate a division responsible for investigating occult threats from within our borders and from our own citizens.

2. To establish and operate a division responsible for research and development of arcane processes which further U.S. economic superiority.

3. With the approval of the President, to act as diplomats to extra-dimensional beings.

4. To establish and operate a division responsible for gathering intelligence on arcane matters from foreign powers, and to conduct espionage and counter espionage using arcane practitioners and means.

Chapter 1

October 19, 2009

 

NSA Headquarters has its own exit off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway labeled “NSA Employees Only”. When you come off the highway, past a screen of trees and hills, you run into a friendly wall of sniper posts and barbed wire. I don’t work for the NSA, but I visit often, so they gave me an electronic beacon for my car. When someone without one of these nifty encrypted radio devices takes that exit, a nasty surprise waits for them at the end of the ramp. All of Ft. Mead goes on a heightened security alert. It annoys the battalion of Marines that guard the place to no end, and they don’t mind taking it out on you.

The base sprawls across the rolling green countryside, but all eyes focus on the sinister, shiny, black boxes, reflecting the massive parking lot that surrounds them, like alien obelisks from a sci-fi movie. The main NSA building consists of two attached structures, one short and long, the other taller and more square, both composed of black mirrored windows. No, not intimidating at all.

I stopped at the security building and some smart looking MPs checked my ID. “Christopher Yan, ODNI, Office of the Director of National Intelligence,” that’s the head of the entire U.S. Intelligence Community. The picture shows a smiling, half-Chinese, half-American male in his mid-twenties with high cheekbones and a spiky haircut. Perhaps handsome in that skinny-nerd Asian kind of way, I let others be the judge. All I know is that the girls in my high school never made a fuss over me. The guards gave me the once over and waved me in. I was on the guest list.

I gingerly rolled my agency issued Impala over the tire spikes and they directed me to visitor parking. Like your average stadium, those parking far enough out from the main buildings need to catch a shuttle to the front door. Visitor parking spared me this indignity. The number of people the NSA employees is classified. The parking lot could accommodate the population of Delaware.

One of things you’ll notice about guys like me, that is, intelligence officers, special forces guys, police in high-crime areas, anyone who often finds themselves in the unfortunate position of seeing the people they shoot up-close and personal, is that they are extremely aware of their environment. I don’t claim to be a bad-ass in any way, shape, or form, but I do have a knack for knowing where I’m going, and where I’ve been. I remember people and where I’ve seen them before, and I rarely get lost. I may not work at the NSA, but it’s fun to act like I do. I flashed a big smile and gave an enthusiastic “good morning” to all the receptionists I passed. I stopped to tell Miranda she looks good today. She’s tall and lean, with dyed red hair, cut in a bob at the shoulders. She wears glasses, and has freckles, very cute and self-conscious. She pretends that I don’t impress her.

After chatting up Mirada, I made my way through a maze of corridors to the elevators. I was about ten minutes late, not serious. Johnny waited for me there with a fake scowl. Johnny, and everyone calls him Johnny, but not to his face, looked trim and perfectly coiffed as usual, a nice GQ haircut with gray at the temples. He was wearing one of his impeccable tweeds. He goes to Scotland once a year to see his tailor. He plays golf for a week and has a dozen suits made. I’m very good at Nintendo golf, and was told just recently I should be wearing suits to work.

“Good morning Chris-to-pher,” he said in a lilting tone that only a gay man confident in his sexuality can achieve.

Jonathan Strange holds the title of Chief of Operations, under the Deputy Director of Intelligence, in the Office of Arcane Affairs. You have never heard of us.

Harry Truman created the Office of Arcane Affairs with a Top Secret Presidential Directive shortly following WWII. Apparently, we got a hold of a lot of Hitler’s occult research from the SS Ahnenerbe, officially the division of “Ancestral Heritage”, but they were the ones looking for Odin’s Spear and all that crap. Spielberg didn’t make that shit up. They really were looking for the Ark of the Covenant. Just like everything else, it scared the shit out of Truman, and he formed the OAA to research and combat arcane forces for the good of the ‘ole U.S. of A.. It wasn’t long after that the government found out that wizards walk amongst us and decided it was prudent to put a few on the payroll. Like Johnny and me.

Later, during the Kennedy administration, we found out that the KGB had some wizards doing a bang-up job as field officers. Not to be undone, Kennedy ordered the OAA to provide trained practitioners in the arcane arts to any intelligence service that asked for one. That’s my job. So while technically I work for OAA, I am bitch-boy for anyone under the ODNI. The CIA finds out that al-Qaeda has a guy who bends spoons? Call the OAA. Send Christopher. He can take care of it. ONI has a report of a strange, glowing, giant squid? Hey OAA, can Christopher scuba dive? Nothing worse than spooked spooks that don’t have a clue what they’re dealing with.

Wizards, however, are not dime-a-dozen. You get born with the gift – you do not get made. Our reports estimate the odds at about one in a million. That’s around 300 wizards total in the U.S. Rarer still, a wizard that the government knows about, and can cajole, harass, or coerce into working for them. So you see Johnny can wear anything short of rainbow colored bicycle shorts to work. They need us. This particular economics of scarcity is what saved my bacon in the end, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

We rode the elevator to the 7th floor in silence, and followed the twisting corridors to an office tucked into the corner, room 12370. Johnny hit the button for the intercom, “James, its Jonathan Strange.”

Jimmy buzzed us in.

The only light in the room came from the computer monitors, about thirty of them. Jimmy sat in the middle of them all, strapped into something that looked like an ultra-modern stainless steel and leather dentist chair. Three keyboards on swivel perches sat in arm’s reach. The whole thing could recline and swing about on a track so that the operator could view another monitor, or input on another device, without getting up from his chair. He gave out a, “What-up Topher?”

I approached his throne and we went into a minute long gang handshake, mostly to annoy Johnny. Jimmy looked like he hadn’t left his lair in days, which was probably the case. He wore a black stocking cap stitched with a picture of Curious George on the front, a testament to the temperature in the room, maybe about 60 degrees. A t-shirt, two sizes too big draped his skinny frame. It said “NSFW” in large red letters. No glasses though, Jimmy’s eyesight decided not to be cliché.

He loves it when I visit. We’re the same age, and all the guys in SIGINT/IMINT (signals intelligence/image intelligence) secretly or not so secretly idolize all of us in HUMINT (human intelligence). James Bond is the shit. Jimmy’s role is analysis; he combs over data collected from all sources and looks for certain patterns. Those certain patterns being occult activities. It’s a grueling thankless job. The few people in NSA who know what he does think it’s kooky or a waste of time at best. We could– probably should–be going through Jimmy’s superior, but Johnny likes his information straight from the horse’s mouth. Besides, we treat Jimmy right, and in return he takes care of us. The higher-ups give us the brush off.

Johnny gave an exaggerated sigh to feign his annoyance, and to move the meeting along. “How have you been James?”

“Can’t complain,” Jimmy shrugged. “You know how it is Doc; they keep us shackled in this cave until we dig up somthin’ massa’ likes.”

“Well I like what you showed me yesterday.” Johnny said, priming the pump a little. “Why don’t you tell Christopher about what’s going on in Sao Paulo.”

“Shit, I wish you were my boss,” he said to Johnny, and then turned to me. Using a bad Chinese accent he said, “The boys from Brazil have sent us something very, very, interesting.”

Jimmy let out a strained cough before continuing in his normal voice. “We’ve been working with ABIN, the Brazilian agency. Every year Sao Paulo hosts the finale of the Formula One racing season. Lots of rich Euro-trash and South American bankers flock to it.”

“Yeah, I follow Formula One,” I told him.

“Oh, from the tea and crumpets set are you? Anyway, so you know that big wigs and playboys crawl out of their hidey-holes for the event.” He turned back to his monitors. “You remember Super Bowl XXXV?”

“Tea and crumpets set, remember? Besides, why should I?” He waited for the question. It was all dramatics, but Jimmy likes to tell a story and we let him, since we’re his only human contact.

“I’m not a football fan either, but the Federal Bureau of Intimidation did something interesting during the game. They set up cameras with the latest in 3-D face recognition software. Faces are like fingerprints, each one is unique, and features can be plotted out into patterns recognizable to a computer, and searched through a database.” Jimmy was used to explaining the tech to Mr. Flintstone and the rest of his superiors.

“They were able to pick out 19 perps in the crowd with outstanding warrants which were scooped up by the Tampa Police. The ACLU went ape-shit about invasion of privacy, and we stopped using it here.” Jimmy made quote marks with his fingers, meaning that we just don’t tell anyone now when we use it in the States.

“Police in the UK still use it.” He went on. “So we teamed up with ABIN and they allowed us to install the system at Interlagos, the race track. We’re giving them the bad guys they’re looking for, and we’re keeping track of international players. Apparently a whole lot of Bond-types are Formula One fans, especially the European guys. I think half of MI-6 are there.”

This started to sound sweet. A spring weekend in Brazil watching the race and hob-nobbing, playing friendly spy-vs.-spy with my peers. All in all, not a bad gig. But my dreams of box seats, beautiful women, and expensive cocktails faded with the invasion of my common sense. They would never send me anywhere without a real mission.

Jimmy just kept talking. “Of course, we just use ears now. Each person’s ear is as unique as a finger print….”

I shook my head, “Wait a minute, they only opened the track to visitors yesterday. You saying you already found something?”

Jimmy smirked. “Oh ya.” He made a few keystrokes on one of his keyboards and the bio came up on the largest monitor.

I saw the picture and went stone cold.

Guest Post – Anthony DeRouen

I present to you another great indie author from the Magical Appreciation website – Anthony DeRouen. Anthony has just completed Precipice, the first book in the A Show for the Gods series. He has taken the time to write a piece on one of my favorite subjects.

 

The Magic of Velyn – A Loremaster’s Review

James has been gracious enough to let me hijack his blog for a day, and asked I give a post regarding how magic world in the world of Velyn. Initially my plan was to summarize the magic system in 500 words or less. However, after visiting the Scroll of Thoth Tumblr page, I’m confident the followers of James can handle the complete and compelling story of how the God of Fire introduced magic to his fellow deities only to be betrayed and cast out from the heavens.

In the beginning

Legend says it was Cassiel, the God of Fire who sired the era of magic. Children were randomly selected and gifted with the ability to wield the four earth elements. Fire, water, earth, air. Why Cassiel did this remains a mystery. Was it an action born from a desire to have children? To leave his mark on society before his time in the heavens was over? Or was it something else?  Something more sinister perhaps? Whatever Cassiel’s reason for passing on this gift to others was quickly followed, or countered in some instances, by his fellow chosen: Karael, the God of Life, Sofiel, the Goddess of Nature, Yofiel, the Goddess of Beauty and Illusion, and Asmodeus, the God of the Dead.

The power Cassiel inserted into the world of man had damning effects. Fearing a total collapse in society, the five gods hastily erected a set of rules and limitations. The first involved how the magic would be used. They decided on a split, one side became the arcane, the other half divine. No one man or woman could ever would both sides.  Children gifted with the arcane ability were raised to become wizards and sorcerers, if they so chose to be. Others born with divine blessings enrolled in special schools to become healers and protectors of the innocent.

Arcane and divine magic carried unique sets rules and limitations. One attribute related to both however, the energy pool casing or later named the Ometh-Rua. Within each gifted human this infinitesimal shell managed their natural and magical energy.  The shell limited their ability to expend energy. If a spellcaster burned through their magical energy they would still have natural energy to use, but roughly half of what a normal human carried. This trait alone prevented magic wielders from overpowering the populace.

Not everyone born of magical influence pursued – or even acknowledged – their inherent gifts. Some called the blessings a curse of the gods. Others who were born ungifted tried desperately to gain such power ultimately failed.

The Fire God Cast Down

Little is known of Cassiel’s demise. The God of Fire blessed the races of Velyn with many important gifts such as the ability to create fire and wield magic. Cassiel wished nothing more than to see the races of Velyn flourish without the Five Gods help. Theologists believe his dream to see the races of Velyn free contributed to his downfall. In essence, Cassiel stood as the only God not to contradict his gifts with curses. Where Karael blessed the world of Velyn with life, he introduced plagues. Yofiel graced the world with great beauty while subverting her efforts with vanity and greed. Theologists and priests in Velyn rarely agree on historical data; however, in the year 421 BC (Before Cataclysm) a great chill spread throughout Velyn. A thick marine layer covered the world, blocking the sun and remained in place for an entire day. No fires could be lit, no matter the skill and resources employed. Thousands of hearths were left cold; whole cities were plunged in darkness. Historians have called this day The Great Sadness.

Following the Great Ascension

For the chosen five who ultimately assumed the duties of the Creator and the Keeper, their time spent on earth was brief. Despite the numerous journals documenting their travels, meetings, and wondrous creations, much remained unfinished. Various orders and religious sects were charged with building opulent temples and devotional sites like the Path of Light and Heaven’s Tower in Kopani, the Orgalath in Stygia, the Garden of Heydeles in Prystan, and the Mausoleum de Sarta in Ferran, the final resting place of the chosen.

Arcane magic was heavily relied on during the construction of Heaven’s Tower. The architects, mason workers and carpenters simply didn’t posses enough skills or resources to build such a prodigious landmark. Many laborers had fallen to the deaths, or had materials crush them from above. Negotiations with the Kopani senate to reduce its height failed miserably. Citing their desperate need for help of a different kind the senate issued work proposals to half a dozen wizard orders. Only one responded favorably.  The Nijelon Order, a relatively new order fashioned more as a research group than construction or warfare. Arch Magus Quiledor eagerly accepted the senate’s offer and sent forth his brightest and most powerful wizards to Miris Halaan. Under the guidance of Kopani’s architects, the construction of Heaven’s Tower blossomed.

Three-quarters of Heaven’s Tower was finished, but the Nijelon wizards were tired beyond reckoning. They needed rest. Every day for two years they pushed themselves to the brink of exhaustion. Before long a handful of wizards exhibited symptoms of Garvedian’s Fatigue. A serious condition caused by the continuous application of external or internal magic. Arch Magus Quiledor was faced with hard choices, either remove his people from the site or develop a tool to aid their efforts. In his heart of hearts, Quiledor knew Heaven’s Tower would never see the light of day without his order. A failure of this magnitude would have catastrophic effects on the Kopani people, not to mention his order’s fledgling reputation.

Magic empowering magic

One night during a particularly harsh winter storm, within the bowels of castle Nijelon, Quiledor successfully crafted an object that could expand a wizard’s Ometh-Rua without interfering with its natural half. This metallic container – about half the width of his palm – was built using a precious metal found in the most dangerous region of southern Prystan.  He tested the glyph extensively throughout the winter into spring.  By utilizing a sample of the wearer’s Ometh-Rua, Quiledor masked the glyph into an exact replica, thereby doubling the energy pool. Satisfied his invention could do the job, Quiledor created glyphs for every wizard involved with Heaven’s Tower construction. In the months following the tower’s swift completion, the Velyn Supreme Council declared Quiledor’s order as the sole proprietor in all dealings with arcane and divine magic.

About the Book

Precipice is an epic fantasy adventure revolving around Danika and Kiruna Del Ray, two sisters born with unique mystical abilities who must retrieve a stolen book of magic before its power can be harnessed for evil. Together, they must battle to overcome an array of obstacles impeding their quarry, arising not just from the enemy, but also from allies who secretly work against them. Precipice is the first thrilling act in the A Show for the Gods series.

Purchase Precipice at: Amazon/Smashwords/Barnes & Noble/Sony

Get to know Anthony at: Facebook/Twitter/Goodreads/anthonyderouen.com

About the Author

Anthony DeRouen was born and raised in Redwood City, California. Anthony began writing short stories and fan fiction in 2008. He has published one novel and written two others in the A Show for the Gods series: Precipice, Diviner, and End of Dreams.

A growing passion for online role-playing games introduced Anthony to the world of fan fiction where he compiled numerous stories and articles for his fellow guildmates to enjoy.

In 2009 while drafting a fantasy article for a friend’s gaming website he fell love with the concept of a battle healer who defends a country not her own against sinister forces bent on releasing a terrible power. A number of plot lines were developed along with how the world would appear at the height of its economical and political strength in the beginning, and then deteriorate as events unfolded.

When Anthony is not writing, he’s playing MMO’s such as Guild Wars 2 and Everquest 2,or training for obstacle course runs.

Guest Post – T.C. Southwell

Earlier this year I joined Magical Fantasy Books to not only promote my work but to help other writers that share a love of magic.

Today, I’m introducing to you another member of the group, T.C. Southwell, author of the Queen’s Blade series. She has graciously provided a guest post on the how familiars work in her fantasy setting.

 

Familiars’ Relationship with Humans in The Queen’s Blade

James, thank you for this opportunity to share one of my favourite topics with you.

The relationship between humans and animals in The Queen’s Blade fantasy series is quite complex, and sometimes, it seems, can be a little confusing. Every person is born with a predilection to resemble a certain beast, depending on their character, and their familiar also moulds it, to a certain extent. Children bond with a familiar from the age of five or six, but it can happen as late as the early twenties. Finding a familiar depends on the child’s exposure to the beasts he or she has an affinity to. Generally, people who would bond with fish end up alone if they don’t spend time in the sea or a lake. People, however, are also drawn to those environments where their familiars are likely to dwell.

A familiar lives as long as its human companion, even if it’s a short-lived species, such as a butterfly. In this case, it will die when its companion does, but, if it’s a long-lived species and its human companion dies prematurely, the familiar will outlive him or her, and retain its uncanny intelligence. Animals will shun a human who has no love to give them, or who has an unpleasant personality. A human companion is able to communicate with his or her familiar through thoughts and images, give commands to it and receive information from it.

The only magical familiars are radiant dragons, which are also the only ones who are able to communicate their thoughts as words. While in other cases, the link to a human companion raises the intelligence of the familiar, the reverse is true of radiant dragons, which increase their companions’ intelligence and precognizance.

Domestic familiars will spend more time with their companions, due to their lack of fear of people, while shy wild familiars usually live in the wilderness. People bonded to wild familiars will also tend to live in rural areas and forest villages. Certain wild avian familiars will accompany their companions everywhere, although not into crowded places like alehouses. Even wild familiars that are not so fearful of people will generally stay outside if their companion goes into a crowded place. Dogs are the only familiar that will remain at their companion’s side constantly, and are also the commonest familiar. While horses, sheep, goats, pigs and cattle would also do this, they’re not usually welcome in houses and taprooms. Domestic familiars are commoner than wild ones.

If you enjoyed this post, I’d be honoured if you’d read Book 1 in the series, The Queen’s Blade, which is permanently free on Smashwords.

My Babylon Complete

My Story

An obsessed magician will do anything it takes to satiate his perverse needs.

My Myth

He turns to forbidden arts to manifest his will.

My Revelation

In doing so, he will bring about the end of everything.

My Babylon

A serial novel about the paranormal and dark desires. The story of a cursed young man who has an intimate view of the end of the world as we know it. My Babylon weaves elements of urban fantasy, erotic horror, and real-world occult practices, to form a unique personal tale that thrills, terrifies, and even enlightens.

In My Babylon, the magus, consumed with longing, seeks to create a replacement for his lost love using a grisly ritual that requires the theft of a body. Through her creation, he learns that he has a much bigger role to play, and that she may be a form of salvation not only for him but for others.

Get a copy of Book One: Body for FREE by signing up for my mailing list.

You can purchase each novella of the My Babylon series individually on Amazon Kindle, or buy the Complete Edition containing all five books on Kindle or in print.

Currently Available

Book One: Body

Where we learn of the magus and his desire.

Book Two: Rose

In this book, the magus reveals the source of his longing and depths to which he has fallen. Both his strength and his weakness come from a girl named Rose.

Book Three: Risen

In Book Three: Risen, the magus gains the object of his desire. Her presence not only changes him and his life forever, but attracts the notice of enemies he never knew he had.

Book Four: Host

In Book Four: Host, the magus learns about the powers that are arrayed against him, and that which he has carried all along.

Book Five: Beast

In this final episode, the magus unleashes the power that lurks within him and is consumed by it. Through the flames he is reborn to his destiny.

My Babylon: Complete – Kindle   Print

 

Book Six: Commentary

A collection of essays by the author on the magical symbolism and thoughts behind the series. Get it free by signing up for the James L. Wilber mailing list at jameslwilber.com.

 

My Babylon comes to Kobo July 30th.

y 30th.

Cover for the print edition of My Babylon

What the hell is this book about?

I think I’ve done a piss poor job telling people what my book is about. Here’s another sad attempt.

My Babylon is the story of a man obsessed with his lost love. He goes so far as to try and create a replacement for her using magick, which requires the theft of a body. His plan works, and of course, he doesn’t get what he’s expecting. Through her creation he learns that he has a much bigger role to play, and that she may be a form of salvation not only for him, but for others.

As usual, my friend Steve Loy does a much better job describing my books than I do. While he may not tell you the plot, he captures the feel of the story perfectly. Here are his reviews.

Book One: Body

My Babylon is a serialized novel in five parts. I’ve read all of them, but will consider each segment separately within its own review. This first episode, Body, is by far the most creepy of the five. The development of the misanthropic main character is every bit as realistic and unnerving as the main character in Dostoyevky’s Crime and Punishment, but with much more of a lean toward horror. The character is also equally as complex as that in Dostoyevsky’s other psychological tour de force, Notes From Underground. It’s interesting and unsettling to see the extents this character goes to rationalize his horrific behavior. Wilber certainly understands psychological character development.

Book Two: Rose

This chapter of the My Babylon series would not normally have been my cup of tea, so to speak, as eroticism doesn’t do much for me. But the care taken with the psychological development of the main character, as well as that of the title character, was everywhere evident and mesmerizing to watch unfold. Not for the timid this book, but well worth it. The main character’s motivations are laid bare here, which somewhat humanize a man who, from part one of the series, the reader might not have wanted to meet on a lonely street at night. Still might not, but you no longer see him as a monster.

Book Three: Risen

In this chapter of the story, the exposition is pretty much over and the plot really takes off. And, in true Wilber style, it takes off in a direction you don’t expect. Without giving too much away, it was fascinating to see the author’s play on “the monster”. He kind of makes you wonder where that role is best hung, on the actual monster or on the people who surround it. The main character enters a struggle over what he should do, why he should do it, and who might wish to do something to him. And all of this careens entirely out of his control. If you were disturbed by the main character so far, you’ll love the messes he gets himself into. The universe believes in payback.

Book Four: Host

In this segment of the My Babylon story, the protagonist continues his free fall through confusion and lack of control. His world is reforming around him and he can neither influence nor guess at its final form. We don’t get to that final form in this section, but we get some surprising and surreal double-takes as some of the thematic and plot questions are answered for us.

Book Five: Beast

This is the last segment of My Babylon, but it is by no means a long denouement. It begins at the ultimate climax of the overall story, but the resolution of those events is a long time coming. Whereas most books hit a climax and begin their downward curve to the end, this one maintains the tension for quite some time, and even ups the ante when you think it should begin letting off steam. In the end, you’re left with the sense of a masterfully conceived protagonist who gives credence to the idea of the unsympathetic character. It also maintains an orbiting cluster of supporting characters who are interesting in their own right but also necessary to the development of the protagonist.

Giant

Richard Matheson, February 20, 1926 – June 23, 2013