March 2014 – Andy Peloquin

Andy Peloquin

I am an artist – words are my palette

Month: March 2014 (Page 1 of 2)

discouraging-days

Discouraging or Revealing?

This weekend was the launch of my book, a moment I have been looking forward to for weeks now. It’s finally time that my name goes public, time for the world to see what I can do. I’m out there, and it feels great.

So, it was a bit of a blow when I went to check the numbers on my book sales and found them far, FAR lower than I had expected. I definitely wasn’t planning on being the next Scott Lynch or Brandon Sanderson, but I was kind of counting on a few more book sales than I had. The number of books sold almost looked like a cruel joke to me. My stomach sank, and I felt a twinge of discouragement.

What a great way to start a career as a fiction writer, right?! Truth be told, I’ve been struggling to stay positive since the weekend, but it turns out that this apparent “flop” is actually quite revealing!

Here’s what I’ve discovered thanks to my “unsuccessful” book launch:

  1. It’s a tough industry. With more than 300,000 Kindle eBooks sold on Amazon alone, who was I to think that my debut novel was going to make more than a ripple in the massive ocean that is book sales?
  2. It’s going to take A LOT of work. That’s right, I’m going to have to go about working hard just to sell enough books to break even. I’m nowhere near my goal of 120 books sold, and it’s going to take a lot of work to reach that goal. A LOT more than I was expecting to.
  3. Life doesn’t hand things to you just for being awesome. No matter how great I think my book is, there are probably many out there that are better. I could have “won the lottery” with this novel, but it’s not likely.
  4. It’s better not to “win the lottery”. Imagine what would have happened if I would have magically sold thousands of books in the first weekend? I would probably think that every word dripping from my pen is as gold and gems, and I’d definitely overestimate my value as a writer. I may be good, but I’m not THAT GOOD! It’s better that I work hard to build my platform and personal brand, as that will force me to spend time doing the little things that will make me successful as an author.
  5. It’s going to take A LOT of work. I repeat myself, but the truth is that I now have to go about building a platform of readers from the ground up. That means reaching out to new people, chatting and making friends, trying to get people to like me as a person before telling them about my book, and expanding my online personality the slow way. It’s much more work, but I think it will be better for me to do it this way.
  6. I’m going to have to be better. If this book is good enough to sell, that means I’m going to have to up the quality of any future books. I don’t even know if this book is good enough to sell, because everyone that bought my book did so because they know me and like me enough to throw me the proverbial bone. Anyone who buys my book from now on will probably be doing so because I made friends with them, they read a good review from a third party, or stumbled across it and bought it on the virtue of the book alone.
  7. I’m going to need to learn a lot more. I love to learn new things, so I’m approaching this as a challenge. If I can learn what it takes to become a writer that has a following and people that buy my books, I will have acquired a new skill–and not one that came naturally to me like writing did. It’s going to help me be better for the next time around, and I may even be able to help someone else find their own success!

Yes, it’s definitely a bit discouraging to realize that this is going to come a lot harder than I had originally planned, but I’m choosing to take away the lessons from it rather than putting away my pen and quitting. It’s a long, tough road ahead just to reach that goal of 120 books sold, but I’m going to keep pushing until I do.

Can you help me keep pushing? Drop me an email telling me to get working, or help me expand my reader base by signing up for my email list. Take a look at the book and give me feedback on the chapters you can find on my Books page, or just shoot up good thoughts for me.

The most important thing is that I keep working on it on my end, and I’m making this promise to whoever reads this post: I’m going to do it, no matter how long it takes!

 

In the Days is Now Live!

The book is officially live on Amazon:

Click here to find it…

Get it now before copies run out. (A small joke, I couldn’t resist!)

Book Cover - New

Please help me spread word of it by sharing this notice on your Facebook feed so your friends, family members, and acquaintances can see it.
Much appreciated, and I hope you enjoy.

P.S.: If you enjoy it, please drop a review on the Amazon page. Will help to boost sales/rankings drastically!

Part 1, Chapter 2 Cont…

The Captain-General of the Nightstalkers and I walked side by side, striding quickly to escape the sweltering heat of the crowded amphitheater.

Once free of the oppressive crush of bodies, I was finally able to take in a deep breath of air untainted by the smell sweat, body odors, and other scents I was determined not to decipher.

“Thank the gods you came when you did, Phoris. That spectacle sickens me, and I hate to sit there for even a moment longer than I must. Any longer, and I don’t know what I would have done. I hate to think of what horrifyingly bloody event will take place next.”

He grunted noncommittally. Was he even listening?

“You seem troubled, Phoris. Is all well?”

“Troubling news from home, Deucalion. My mother is unwell, and my sister is worried that she will soon go to join my father.”

I had met his family on a number of occasions when I was younger, but my duties in the capital had prevented me from making the journey to Ducasia for nearly a decade.

“That is troubling indeed. Perhaps you should take a few weeks to visit them. I know Angrion is more than capable of handling your duties here in the city, and I have been promising you leave for months now.”

“Thank you, Deucalion, but I believe it will not be necessary quite yet. I still have a few tasks that need my personal attention, but I will hold you to that promise when the time comes.”

“Don’t put off the visit too long, my friend. You will want to see your mother before she passes from this realm.”

“Aye, I know. It’s just…”

He was obviously struggling to get out the words. I let him think as I handed a few khadi to a nearby beggar child.

It was hard not to notice the poverty that had crept into the capital city. Men, women, and children dressed in ragged clothing hawked their wares, and beggars crowded the stream of patrons leaving the stadium.

Phoris’ words took my mind off the world around me.

“It’s hard to go back home and see the state to which Ducasia has been reduced. Carnalia is an ever-increasing threat to the north, and the Mexica to the south are becoming more daring with their incursions. What used to be prosperous, fertile land has now become arid desert, and my family is falling on hard times.”

The worry on his face had me concerned.

“It is hard for me to fulfill my obligations to my people when my presence is needed here, but the Empress’ safety is my first concern.”

“Which is why I am telling you to take some time off to visit Ducasia. A visit to your old stomping grounds will do you good.”

“Aye, you have the right of it, Deucalion. Very well, after tomorrow night’s ceremony is complete, I will take a few weeks’ leave to visit my family. Thank you for being a friend.”

“Of course. After all, it is the very least I could do after you rescued me from that horrible stadium.”

My small mansion was just around the corner.

“You can be about your business, Phoris. I’ll be safe in the short walk to my house. No doubt Derchon is still standing guard, with Traga slinking around nearby?”

“Of course, Lord Chancellor.” He rarely passed up an opportunity to poke fun at me.

“Oh, off with you. Will you be in attendance tonight?”

“If I can attend to the last few…complications…preventing my leave, I believe I will see you there.”

We embraced briefly, and he disappeared into the crowd in moments.

The stroll to my mansion was peaceful, the street empty. I saw no sign of Traga, but Derchon greeted me at the front entrance.

“Quiet day at the Imperial Games, Lord Deucalion?”

“It’s only Lord Deucalion in public, Derchon. Yes, everything was fine. Though the games were particularly unappealing this year.”

“That seems to be the way of things, sir.”

“At ease, Derchon. I’ll be going out much later tonight, but for the rest of the afternoon, I want to remain undisturbed. Is that clear?”

“Very good, sir.”

His face showed how difficult he was finding it to keep a smile hidden.

I discarded my robes of office, opting for a comfortable tunic instead. The scent of something pleasant and familiar wafted from the open door of my bedroom, bringing a smile to my face.

“My lord has returned?”

The delicious voice of Acacia accompanied the enticing scent.

“Yes, my dear, your lord has returned. I have a bit of time until I have to prepare for tonight’s ceremony.”

“Wonderful. I can think of a few ways to pass the time.”

The doors to my room swung open as I strode through, revealing the scantily clad form of a beautiful woman lying in my bed. Within seconds, the form of the beautiful woman was not clad at all—my robes soon joining hers on the floor.

Dressing for tonight’s ceremony would have to wait.

Part 1: Chapter 2

The Province of Ducasia, 15 years ago…

“And stay out!”

The tavern keeper’s hands were rough and his arms brawny, and the slim figure he propelled from his establishment flew a surprising distance.

Mud splashed on fine robes as he fell into the muck of the innyard, but the lad was far beyond caring. He had spent a hefty portion of the coin in his purse on drinks the previos night, and he was left with little to pay the bar tab he had racked up ordering rounds of ale and wine all night long. Finally, the tavern keeper had ejected him—less than gracefully—and the lad had little choice but to stumble over to where his horse stood placidly.

Mounting was only accomplished by a supreme effort of will, as the young man was seeing in triplicate after the wide variety of alcohol that he had consumed. He tottered as he rode, barely managing to stay upright in the saddle.

Swaying down the road, he was oblivious to the world around him. He hardly noticed when, a few miles from the inn, a group of rough-looking brigands barred his way.

“What…what…whatsh going on?”

His words were slurred and barely coherent.

“Look at the little lad, Trosco. So drunk he can barely sit up straight.”

“Seems almost a shame to relieve him of his val-yoo-bulls, don’t it Fragg?”

“Aye, but better he starve than us, eh?”

The larger thug—named Fragg by his comrade—had barely stepped forward to loosen the straps of the inebriated youth’s saddle when the thunder of hooves sounded nearby.

Down the road charged another youth, sword drawn and yelling loudly. So startled were the brigands by the sight that they actually took to their heels, scattering into the brush alongside the road.

“Well, that’s done and ended. I say there, are you alright?”

The concern on the second youth’s face was lost on the inebriated rider, who barely managed to cough out a few words.

“Shiny…sword…”

It was with a very dull “Thud” that the first youth hit the hard paving stones of the highway.

“Ouch. That’s going to leave a mark…”

 

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The pounding in Deucalion’s head was terrible—reminding him of the Norse war drums he had heard as a child.

“Ohh… gods be damned, my head.”

The second youth—the one who had saved him—stood up from where he sat tending the fire.

“You might not want to move too much, friend. That hangover is going to be a nasty one. What did you drink?”

“What didn’t I drink? Oh gods, turn off the light!” The standing youth smiled as he saw the prone figure, trying desperately to block the firelight from his eyes.

“We need the fire to keep away the night’s chill. Just turn away from it if it hurts your eyes.”

He carried a small clay cup over to the prone form of the moaning lad.

“Here, drink this. Tastes like donkey balls, but it should help with the head.”

The drink was even fouler than the youth had described, and the quickly-sobering lad barely managed to avoid retching. “By the gods, this is worse than the swill that inn pretended was ale. What is it?”

“Azalea tubers, oak bark, a few other plants. It works wonders for hangovers. I’ve had a good many of them myself, and that poison is the only thing that cures a pounding head.” The second youth smiled as he watched his companion wipe the taste of the concoction from his tongue with muddy shirtsleeves.

“Thanks, I guess.”

“Any time. What’s your name?”

“Deucalion. Yours?”

“I’m Phoris. Your clothes mark you as a stranger. Where are you from?”

“The capital. You?”

The odd clothes worn by the youth named Phoris were tailored in a style foreign to the young Deucalion, his skin darker than those native to Atateide.

“I’m from Iqbal, the capital of Ducasia.”

“That’s where I’m headed. Got a message to deliver for my mother.”

“The road takes me home as well. Want me to accompany you? Looks like you might need it—at least until you recover from that pounding in your head.”

“I’d welcome a traveling companion. I’m tired of drinking alone anyways.”

“Well then, Deucalion, come morning, we ride to Iqbal!”

In the way of youth, a friendship was formed on the spot.

 

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True to his word, Phoris’ remedy worked wonders for hangovers, and the two resumed their journey at the break of dawn.

Scarcely had they traveled half a league when the brigands from the night before accosted them once again.

“Looks like we’ve got ourselves some repeat customers, eh boys?”

Phoris looked unconcerend as the bandits moved towards him. The leader waved a rusty sword threateningly, while the rest hefted a ragged assortment of knives and cleavers.

“Give us your money, horses, and valuables boys, and we’ll let you run back to mommy unbuggered and unharmed.”

A smile grew on Phoris’ face.

“As pleasant as that sounds, friend, I too have an offer to make you fine gentlemen. Turn around and run back into that forest there, and I will let you off with nothing more than the beating your wives will give you for turning up with empty hands.”

The leader seemed puzzled for a minute at the steady stream of words spilling from the youth’s mouth. Phoris guessed he wasn’t the brightest of the bunch, nor the one with the most teeth. What few he had were crooked and rotting, making it easy for him to spit through them as he finally responded.

“The whelp wants a lesson, eh boys? Let’s give him something to cry to mama about.”

They advanced menacingly on Phoris, who remained calmly seated on his horse.

“Gentlemen, please don’t force the issue. I would have no choice but to use the flat of my blade on you—staining it with blood would dishonor the noble steel.”

“Be careful how you speak with your elders, lad. We may have to give you a good hiding before we’re done with you.”

“Well then, fine brigands, if you will permit me but a moment to dismount…”

He removed his coat once he had jumped from his horse, drawing his sword with a flourish.

“At your leave, gentlemen.” The genteel bow and salute of his sword mocked the snaggle-toothed leader, who responded with a vicious cut with his rusted sword.

Deucalion’s mouth dropped open as he witnessed the marvelous swordplay that followed. Phoris certainly had earned a right to his confident attitude.

The bandit’s rusted blade clanged loudly against Phoris’ weapon, and a flick of the young man’s hand sent the brigand staggering off to one side clutching at his wrenched wrist. The blade slapped against the back of the man’s legs with a resounding “thwack”, and the man yelped as he felt the sharp pain above his knees.

He rounded on the men watching the scene, their mouths agape.

“Well, what are you waiting for, you idiots? Get him!”

None of them moved until the bandit leader growled at them—rubbing the backs of his legs while yelling curses that would blister a sailor’s ears.

“Gentlemen, if you please, I don’t have all day. I do have quite a way to travel this day, so if you’d please hurry up with the lesson.”

Phoris’ mocking tone was too much for one bull-necked ruffian, who waded into the fray swinging a hefty meat cleaver. A few deft strokes of Phoris’ blade, and the man staggered away—wiping tears from his eyes at the painful stinging in his legs.

“You little cunt…”

The bandit leader had evidently regained his composure and fought off the pain, for he lunged forward with the rusty sword.

It was obvious to Deucalion that he had hoping to impale Phoris on the dull blade, but the lad simply flicked it away. The slap he dealt to the man’s face was hard, the flat of his sword causing the florid face to redden further.

“Please, gentlemen, I implore you to let us be on our way before things turn nasty.”

Phoris took a quick step towards one of the bandits standing a few paces away, but the little man dropped his short knife with a screech. Soon, nothing could be seen of him but the back of his cloak disappearing into the woods.

“What an excellent choice your friend has made! I wonder if anyone else would like to heed his wise advice and join him in the forest?”

Two of the more timid bandits scurried off in pursuit of their fellow, leaving three of their dim-witted comrades standing there gawping at the young man with the bright sword.

“Very well, then. Let’s finish this.”

Three quick dancing steps took him within reach of the nearest bandit, who received a hard slap across the jaw with the flat of Phoris’ blade. The large man who had rushed Phoris with a cleaver was dealt a blow on the nose. It set his eyes watering, breaking the already-crooked part in the process. The third man simply dropped his blade and ran when he saw Phoris coming.

“And then there was one.”

Phoris turned his attention on the remaining brigand, holding his sword like a severe schoolmaster preparing to give an offending pupil a switching.

The bandit leader approached cautiously, wary of the flashing sword that had dealt such stinging pain in the past. He knew the lad was toying with him, but there was nothing he could do that would enable him to escape now with his dignity intact—much less with anything of value.

Still, he thought, there’s always a chance I can get a lucky blow in and put an end to this stupid youth and his damned sword.

He renewed his attack, which lasted all of three sword strokes before he found himself lying on his back. The blade pointing at his neck was long and sharp, and it was held with casual ease by the young man with the menacing smile.

“Now, if I was you, I would start running, fast. I would keep running until I couldn’t run any more, and then I’d keep right on running. Let’s hope I never see your face again, friend”—the word was a threat in itself—”or else I might forget how to avoid spilling blood.”

The point of the sword dug into the bandit’s shoulder.

“Up you get. Nice and easy. And you’re off!” A swat to the back of the bandit’s legs sent him scurrying, stopping only for the moment required to gather up his friend with the broken nose.

Phoris and Deucalion had a hard time quelling their laughter until long after the bandit was well out of sight.

“I haven’t had this much fun since the last time I traveled through this region. There was a different idiot leading the bandits back then. I wonder what happened to him? All I did was take part of an ear—nothing too permanent.”

“So you travel through here often?”

“Oh yes, all the time. My father is the Duke of Ducasia, and he has me traveling around the province frequently to check on his holdings.”

“You mean you’re the son of Duke Eidus?”

“Did I forget to mention that? Sorry. Must have slipped my mind. Anyways, we must be off. Father is expecting me home within a few days, so we’ve only got enough time to stop at a few inns on the way there. Let me tell you about this one in Eredos. My friend, you will love the pies they have there…”

 

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The trip to Iqbal was all too short for the young men, who were forced to bid farewell to each other at the city gates. Each had their own lives to lead, and their paths would take them in different directions. At least for the next few years.

Phoris continued serving his father, becoming a Captain in the Ducasian Imperial Guard. Upon his father’s death, he inherited the title of Duke of Ducasia—a title he adopted with little relish.

The lad Deucalion—me—had returned home upon delivery of my mother’s message, and began training with the finest swordsmen Atateide had to offer. My education in the martial arts was soon to end, as I was sent off to travel the world.

The day came when the old Emperor Tathiros died, his loyal Chancellor and my mentor Lord Adret following him soon after. Whispers around the city hinted at a poison that had led to the madness of the Emperor and the death of my mentor.

The daughter of the old Emperor took the Imperial throne, raising me to serve by her side. The fact that I had no interest in politics made me the perfect person to serve the strong-willed, self-assured young woman.

When I was made Chancellor to the Immortal Empress Tatho, I was to discover that my old friend had been made Captain-General of the Imperial Guard. He was my immediate choice when I was tasked with creating a new unit to act as bodyguard to Her Imperial Highness, and his training has made the Imperial Guard the envy of the known world.

The thirty men comprising the Empress’ bodyguard were the finest men from around the world, each handpicked and trained by Phoris—the finest warrior on the continent. It was said that few in the world could best him with a sword, and none had tried in nearly a decade. His talents had been invaluable in training the thirty Imperial Guards, turning them into a band of professional of killers unrivaled skill.

The Legion of the Night was the name given to them by the Protectors of the Imperial Body—the guards that held the Imperial Palace. The name had been meant as a mockery, for the handful of men in the Legion spent their nights roaming the city on missions for their Captain-General. It soon became a name to inspire fear, for the men in the Legion were some of the deadliest warriors the world could offer.

Amongst themselves, however, they were called the Nightstalkers.

Book Cover - New

Part 1, Chapter 1 Cont…

“Do you even believe that the gods exist, Historian? Is it possible that mankind is truly controlled by a higher being—either male or female—that forces them to submit and do as ordered with no argument?”

“The gods provide mankind something to aspire to.” My logic was simple and sound—or so I thought.

“But is it really necessary to aspire to become something that destroys, maims, or kills?”

I had to agree.

“The gods of Atlantis are sanguinary in nature, I do admit. I have always preferred the Oriental belief in reincarnation according to one’s actions in life.”

“It does seem much more humane, Historian. Unfortunately, we have no choice but to submit to the practices made popular by the masses. Those promoted by that repulsive creature, Orgas.”

She shivered in disgust at the thought of the corpulent high priest. I had to admit that he was no favorite of mine, either.

“So, we are left to follow the polytheistic teachings of the masses, and the empress must be a devout follower for appearance’s sake. And yet, I question what is truly in the heart of the Immortal One when she is alone.”

“That is for your empress to know, and her Historian to wonder.”

“My liege.”

We both enjoyed these exchanges greatly.

“I question what you believe, Historian. You say you prefer the Oriental beliefs, but do you believe in the deities worshipped in the far off lands?”

“I must admit, Immortal Empress, the thought of a deity or deities having rule over me is unpleasant. I much prefer the unlimited power bestowed upon the ruler of Atlantis. I would rather receive commands from her wise lips than from some unknown being that I can neither see nor feel.”

“You have a tongue of honey, Historian, yet beware lest it becomes cloying. Were I not so fond of you, your head might find itself removed from your body.”

Her smile showed the emptiness of the threat.

“As you wish, Immortal One. To be completely honest, I do not believe in any deity. I believe that I am free to choose my own actions, choose whether they are right or wrong. Gods and deities are for those who think themselves less, thus they demand something to elevate themselves above their fellow man. The only being worthy to be called my ruler is my Immortal Empress, and seeing as I cannot worship you, I have none worthy of my adoration.”

“Historian, you are as egocentric a man as an empress could ask for. You serve me because it is in your best interest to do so.”

“Nonsense, my Empress. I serve only the Immortal House of Tah in their infinite wisdom.”

“Leave off the flattery, Deucalion. If I wanted cloying words, I would have installed Lord Armark in your place.”

I saw the man himself approaching.

“Speak of the devils, and they will find you. Here comes Atlantis’ most beloved noble as we speak.”

The empress followed my gaze, rolling her eyes as she saw the lord in question.

“Greetings, Lord Armark!” I called out cheerily to the heavily sweating man, who was just being admitted past the guards protecting the empress’ private booth from which she enjoyed the spectacles in the stadium. “What brings you to the stadium on such a fine day as this? Surely it is more enjoyable for you to be in comfort at home rather than amongst the sweaty crowds watching this barbaric spectacle.”

The man did not smile as he addressed me. “Your jests are as meaningless as you are, Historian. Beware, lest one day you try my patience beyond its breaking point.”

Rebuke complete, he turned his attention towards the figure seated next to me.

“Salve Imperatrix Immortalis. I apologize that you find yourself in the company of such a boor, when one so lovely as yourself outshines the sun.”

And thus began the fawning of Lord Armark—Lord Aardvark as I loved to call him thanks to his prodigious nose. His remarks lasted for a few minutes—each dripping with more honey than the last. By the time he had finished, the forced smile on the empress’ face looked to be paining even her. I knew it took every ounce of her self-control to restrain herself from calling for her Protectors to drag off the obsequious lord.

“Greetings, Lord Armark. You seem to have much on your mind, but I have little time to spare. I must be about my preparations for this evening’s ceremony if I am to arrive on time.”

“I had always thought your Immortal Highness greeted the day with such beauty without the need for adornments.”

Lord Armark truly was adept at pressing his thin lips to the backsides of those in power.

“What might I do for you, my lord?”

Her voice was tired and had an edge to it—a fact completely lost to the self-absorbed Lord Armark.

“I would request an audience with her Immortal Highness on a matter of urgency. I must resolve the issue with haste, therefore I humbly beg for your ruling.”

The Empress made a supreme effort to hide her distaste for the man as she turned to me.

“Chancellor Deucalion, when does the Imperial Court next convene?”

“Empress, you will be in attendance at the next turn of the moon—just three days hence.”

“Then you have your answer, Armark.”

“But, Immortal One, it is an important matter that must be resolved immediately.”

“Very well, Lord Armark, I consent to attend you immediately upon the rise of the sun. At the turn of the moon three days hence.”

“But, Empress-”

“Armark.” There was steel in her voice. “Push the matter further, and you may find yourself in my disfavor.”

He fought to keep the anger from his face as he bowed deeply.

“You are most gracious, Immortal One. Until the morning of the turn of the moon.”

Struggling to control himself, he backed out of the empress’ box. When he turned around, I saw the vitriol on his face as he pushed past the guards standing at the entrance.

Unfortunately for him, just as he forced his way between the motionless Imperial Guards, he bumped into another figure making his way towards us. The collision had disastrous consequences for the retreating Lord. He rebounded off the solid metallic form standing in front of him, and crashed unceremoniously into the wall.

He reeled from the impact, but managed to retain his feet as the commanding figure strode past. If looks could kill, Lord Armark would have impaled the man on thousands of poisoned daggers. He regained his balance—but not his composure—and straightened his clothing as he set off down the stairs angrily.

The smile playing at the corner of the empress’ lips mirrored my wide grin.

“It does the heart good to see Lord Armark, doesn’t it, Immortal One?” My whisper was low and mocking.

“Enough, Historian. You have a visitor, I believe. Captain Phoris.”

She nodded by way of greeting to the figure entering the box, and turned her attention back to the spectacle below.

“Salve Imperatrix Immortalis.” The salute was crisp and done with military precision. “My Lord Deucalion, we have matters that require your attention immediately.”

“My Empress, if you will excuse me…”

“Something you would rather do than spend time with your Empress?”

“Unfortunately, gracious ruler, my other duties beckon.”

“Working behind my back again, Historian? What secretive duty to attend to now?”

“Nothing of an urgent nature, Immortal One. Private business between old friends.”

“As you say. Now, do be sure to prepare adequately for tonight’s ceremony, as you will be accompanying me. I’m sure the High Priest will have an apoplectic fit if we arrived late.”

“You can be sure the rotund Orgas will have a fit over anything her Immortal Highness does that causes any interruption to his plans.”

The Lord Orgas, High Priest of Atateide was a notorious schemer—almost as adept at political intrigue as Lord Armark of Carnalia.

“Be wary of speaking your thoughts out loud, Historian. Should someone else overhear your kind remarks towards our high priest…” She trailed off with a wry grin.

“As you wish, Empress.” I sketched a deep bow, and had turned to leave when her voice stopped me.

“Oh, one more thing. I wish to speak to the High Priest in private after the ceremony tonight, and I would have you in attendance. Bring along a few of your Imperial Guard if you would. I never feel at ease around that man, and-”

“You can be certain nothing good ever comes from the scheming brain of the High Priest.”

“You can be certain interrupting me is never good for your health, Historian.”

“Your pardon, your Imperial Majesty. It is a mistake I shall never make again.”

I bowed low, but the sarcasm in her voice showed just how much she believed me.

“Of course, Historian. Now, don’t you have business to attend to?”

“I depart chastened and humbly ashamed. Until tonight, Empress.”

She had already turned back to the spectacle below as I strolled from the amphitheatre.

Book Cover - New

Part 1, Chapter 1

Part 1: Words of a God

Atateide—Capital of Atlantis

The 9th Year of the Reign of Her Immortal Majesty Empress Tatho

Chapter 1

It was my moment of triumph. Freedom lay just around the corner.

My feet pounded the hard-packed earth as I bounded up the stairs. I paused in front of the large gate that barred my way. It was raised, and I strode into the light. My opponent was a small, dark-skinned man standing a few paces away.

His sword was drawn, a small buckler grasped his arm tightly. I gripped my axe tighter as I strode forward to meet him. The light of the sun blinded me for a moment, but I walked resolutely on.

The man facing me was a swarthy Ethiopian. His tawny skin glistened with sweat, and his face was flushed. His bald head reflected the dazzling sunlight, his alert eyes taking in my every move.

He would have speed on his side—brute force my ally.

I stood a head taller than he. I was a giant among even my own people; the Norse. I had yet to be beaten in a fight, either with fist, axe, or sword.

He waited for me to make the first move, and my axe sang through the air with enough force to knock him off his feet. He dodged the blow nimbly and leapt forward —sword aimed straight for my heart.

I expected this. I would have a bit of fun before killing him. My spinning slash was so fast he could barely duck and roll out of the way of my axe, unable to complete his attack.

The toe of my boot in his side pushed him backwards, and he grunted as I heard something crack. That ought to make things a bit easier.

The wound didn’t slow him, and swung a vicious cut at my head. My axe blade got in the way, and his sword clanged harmlessly away. He rubbed his wrist, and readied himself for his next attack.

The crowd around us cheered, but for whom I couldn’t tell. The crowd was fickle—the hero of one moment biting the dust the next.

I waited, savoring the anticipation and fear I sensed in him. He seemed unprepared for an opponent so much larger than he, and my attacks forced him further and further backwards.

I quickly swung at his chest, forcing him to leap back to avoid decapitation. I rained blows on him to keep him off-balance, preparing for what I knew would be my final stroke.

He jumped to avoid a low blow to his knees, and I followed with a stroke at his head. When he ducked beneath the blow, I twisted my wrists with the force of the blow—reversing the direction and sending it slicing across his chest.

Only his speed saved him, but a gaping wound opened on his chest as my blade sliced through skin and muscle.

He made his move as he saw the opening—leaping forward, sword extended. I grabbed his arm and twisted it with all my strength, trying desperately to force the blade away from my neck.

He was strong, damn strong. His arm barely moved, his sword wavering an inch from my throat. We remained locked in this position for a long minute, both of us straining to break the other.

He pushed with all his strength. The sword plunged into my neck.

Crap.

 

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The crowd in the stands booed, their voices ringing loud as they mocked Bannulfsson, King of Fighters, bleeding his last into the dust of the arena.

I marveled at the fickle nature of the crowd. Ban had been the favorite for nearly a year now—defeating every challenger that faced him on the sands. Now that he had been bested by the dusky-skinned Ethiopian, he would no doubt be forgotten as the new champion reigned in his place.

The bloodthirst of the crowd made me sick to my stomach. The nobles and lords of Atateide were no better than the unwashed masses filling the stands. They jeered, booed, and cried as loudly as the others, and they called for death and spectacle in voices that showed their true sanguinary nature. Savages to the core, these so-called civilized rulers of the known world.

I wished I could leave the stadium, wished desperately I could be anywhere else. Unfortunately, my place was by my empress’ side, and the beautifully regal figure sitting by my side seemed to be enjoying the spectacle just as much as the crowd—though with a good deal more dignity.

Who am I, you ask?

My name is Deucalion, Imperial Historian, Commander of the Imperial Guard, and Chancellor to the Immortal Empress Tatho, Ruler of Atateide, the Lesser Eastern Isles, and the provinces of Atlantis. In the five years that I have served the Immortal Empress, I have seen the nation around me slip further and further into decay.

My disgust for the entire affair must have shown on my face, for the silky smooth voice of the empress interrupted my musings.

“A khadi for your thoughts, Historian.”

“They are pitiful thoughts, indeed, Empress. Hardly worth the khadi.”

“And yet, being your Empress, I command you to speak—on pain of death.” A sly smile flashed across her face.

“I was musing on the fickleness of the crowd below. One moment, they cry for a man’s blood; in the next, they celebrate him as the hero. Should they tire of the champion, they move on to the next—forgetting the one they revered but minutes before. Sanguinary and barbaric—human nature.”

“You’re not wrong, Historian. The crowd ever demands a greater spectacle, and the Imperial Games become more and more gruesome as the years pass.” Her eyes filled with a disgust to mirror my own. “I must pretend to enjoy the spectacle to please the crowds, and yet it sickens me. Who knows to what depths we will soon stoop to? The Gods hide their faces to see how we have fallen in our thousand years of Empire.”

“And yet, we have progressed in many ways, despite the barbarity of our human nature.”

I attempted to draw her into a debate—one of my favorite pastimes. The Immortal Tatho had an opinion on every subject, and I loved to find the holes in her logic. Or, just arguing for the sake of being contrary.

“Progressed? If you read the works of Scholar Attrius, he theorizes that the world is ever-decaying.”

Scholar Attrius—and all of his contemporary philosopers—were, in my opinion, rubbish on legs. They simply felt the need to express their views, but without logic to back up their claims. Excellent scientists they may be, but they were failures when it came to extemporizing on human nature.

“I must disagree, Immortal Empress. Our modern science has progressed beyond belief. The stars now consult our yearly calendar to determine what is the season, and we will soon have no need for the sun thanks to our ability to harness its power. The number of creations are doubling and tripling daily, and, while many of them are as useless as an inflatable pincushion, many of them are contributing to society positively.”

I could see the smile on the empress’ face as she warmed to the debate. She loved to prove me wrong—or simply order me good-naturedly to agree with the Immortal Empress’ point of view.

“Technology has advanced in our times, to be sure. But what of human nature? It is said that human sacrifice is not only practiced by the savage Mexica, but whispers of it filtering into our very own culture have reached my ears. Our own religions practice the sacrifice of animals—wasteful, useless slaughter that could be avoided.” Her arm gestured towards the arena below. “How is this not senseless slaughter? And yet, the High Priest Orgas insists that the gods demand it—demand proof that we still revere and honor them.”

We move on to religion, I thought, holding back my smile as she continued her train of reasoning.

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Life is a Circus Run by A Platypus

If you want an enjoyable and surprisingly addictive read, Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus by Allison Hawn is the book for you.

The book chronicles some of the ridiculous–and almost unbelievable– things that have happened to this author in her lifetime. It explains the benefits of working with pothead idiots, provides sage advice on why you should never pet-sit for anyone ever, tells you why having children is about as wise as placing your foot beneath a steam-roller, and gives great reasons why Subway is one of the greatest places to work if you want to be exposed to some pretty god-awful people. Plus, there’s stories in there too…

Surprisingly, there are actually morals to the stories she tells, though they’re definitely odd takeaways that will have you questioning your sanity as you read.

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All in all, it’s a great read, and I was lucky enough to interview the quirky author for this blog post. The questions all seem random, but they pertain entirely to not only the book, but the person herself. You’ll see by her answers that she knows how to spin an entertaining yarn:

Me: Where did you get the idea for the crazy title, and why a platypus?

The title was actually an accident. I have the worst time starting things. Once I get going I’m golden, but just trying to begin any task I often get stuck. Back in college I developed a habit of slapping a name and a cruddy intro on my papers just so that I could work on the meat of the work, and then go back later and change it. I titled my book “Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus” as a placeholder title until after I was done and could come back and replace it with something intelligent sounding. Then, I kind of forgot to do that last little bit. My publisher (Sweatshoppe Publications) loved the title, so it just kind of stuck.

There is a platypus in the title because I tend to name things with the strangest animals I can think of. The platypus was the one I had in my brain at that second.

Me: Did all of this stuff actually happen?

Allison:Yes, my stories are true. The only one where I took a few liberties, aside from changing names to protect the innocent, is the final one about being the bridesmaid at a wedding. I have been the bridesmaid at about fifteen different weddings at this juncture. I’m only twelve dresses shy of my own rom-com movie. The stuff I said in that story all happened, it just occurred at a variety of different weddings instead of just one. Otherwise, yes, my stories are true.

Me: What possessed you to write this book?

Allison: If I was feeling cheeky I would say Mephistopheles possessed me to write this book. However, in this case it was mostly my friends, who receive a constant barrage of stories from the crazy things that happen to me on a daily basis, who said, “Write all of this down or we’ll shoot you.” Since most of my friends own firearms, I took them seriously and wrote this book.

Me: Is the term “holy shitstorm” up for grabs? I want to make it the title of my next novel.

Allison: That is actually a term used by one of my good friends Kari, that I used with her permission. I’m sure she’d be willing to haggle with you though for the rights to it.

Me: Tell me about the practical joke with the saran wrap and a doorway. That sounds like a perfect April Fool’s prank.

Allison: First, you need to find a door that opens inwards. Then on the opposite side of the door frame stretch and tape sheets of plastic wrap over the opening. When your victim opens the door, oftentimes they won’t be able to see the saran wrap and will walk directly into the clear, clingy wall.

I perpetrated a ton of pranks in college, only about a quarter of which I got caught for.

Me: Have you ever tried to feed a tiger an apple while wearing a dress made of lamb’s meat?

Allison: No, but I have attempted to feed a camel that thought my entire hand was food.

Me: If the movie Titanic ever was to spawn a religion, as you thought in the fourth grade, what would it be?

Allison: I think it would be called The Church of the Ongoing Heart. It would be the sappiest religion of all.

Me: What would possess cows to rise up and overthrow their two-legged overlords? If there was such an uprising, how long would you wait before selling out mankind?

Allison: I think a cow uprising would probably have to do with either hay shortages or a species wide realization that humans turn them into hamburgers. As for selling out mankind, I wouldn’t. I would go down fighting the bovine invaders.

Me: You mentioned the “Armpit of the Nation”. Where would the “Elbow Crook of the Nation” be?

Allison: My vote is on Cedarville, Ohio. It’s a part of the country no one really notices unless something terrible happens to it.

Me: How the heck did you come up with the name “Smeraldina” for your pet rat?

Allison: I received Smeraldina when I was in college for a class called “Psychology of Learning.” I jokingly told my friend Charissa that I would name my rat after her. After I said this I realized that there were no fewer than four other Charissa/Karissa’s on campus.

I decided that instead of being the creepiest person ever to anyone named Charissa (“Your name is Charissa, that’s the name of pet rat! I’m sure you would like each other… Where are you going?”), I would instead name her after a character my friend played in a recent production of “Servant of Two Masters.” Hence the name Smeraldina.

Me: When you are older, will you buy yourself a motorized scooter and drive down the highway at 3 miles per hour?

Allison: No, I will buy a Harley and ride it through the hallways of the nursing home humming my own theme song to aloud.

Me: Where can one find a guard platypus? I want one for my house.

Allison: If I knew, I would have one. As it sits now, I only have two cats, and they stink at guarding anything that isn’t tuna flavored.

Me: Why did you buy so many Buicks when they were each worse than the last?

Allison: It is the unfortunate fact that I have been poor much of my life. Therefore, when it comes to buying vehicles I normally go for the “least expensive and still runs” option. Where I lived, there were a plethora of cheap Buicks, and so that is what my meager funds afforded me.

Me: One final question: You got any extra dough on ya?

Allison: Nope, sorry. I’m a social worker, they only pay us just enough that we don’t end up qualifying for our own programs and services.

 

“Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus” can be found at:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Life-Circus-Platypus-Allison-Hawn/dp/0615810950

Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/life-is-a-circus-run-by-a-platypus-allison-hawn/1115658836?ean=9780615810959

Sweatshoppe Publications: http://sweatshoppemedia.com/allisonhawn.html

Allison can be found at:

Blog: http://circusplatypus.blogspot.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/platypusringmaster

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7085837.Allison_Hawn

Twitter: @AllisonHawn

It’s an absolutely hilarious read, and worth every penny. It’s hard to believe so much has happened to one person, but that’s what makes it so much fun!

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Prologue–Part 2

They were but a few hundred paces from the tunnel through which they had entered the temple when the outcry began.

The voices of shouting guards could be heard, and the slap of sandaled feet on the hard stone floor grew louder.

The little man swore as he ran.

“Gods damn it. They probably found the dead guard.”

One last turn in the passageway, and they would find the tunnel and their way out of the pyramid.

A warrior screamed out in pain, a spear transfixing his thigh. He collapsed to the ground, blood rushing from the wound in his thigh.

“Eirin.” There was concern in the leader’s voice as he bent over the injured man.

“It’s bad, Captain.”

With a glance, the leader saw the artery on the inside of the leg had been sliced through. The man would bleed out in minutes.

“Leave me be. I’ll hold them off.”

A moment’s indecision was all it took.

“Gods be with you, Eirin.”

The leader grasped the wounded warrior’s forearm, his final farewell.

The last thing he saw as he rounded the corner was the bleeding man rip the spear from his leg. The man turned its sharpened edge on the guards that surrounded him. An honorable death.

The escape was well under way, with half of the party already crawling through the tunnels. Just a handful remained, and they were entering the hole as quickly as they could. Still, he wouldn’t breathe easy until they were completely out of the pyramid, out of the city, and out of the Gods damned jungle.

When finally only one other warrior remained beside him, he felt elation rise within him. We’ll make it. He motioned for the other man to enter the tunnel ahead of him.

That was when the group of guards rounded the corner.. Their war cries echoed loudly in the stone corridors, and they charged towards the lone figure standing in the middle of an empty passageway—a figure dressed in the robes of their ancient enemies

His orders had been clear. “You are Tepaneca warriors, carrying their weapons and wearing their clothes. No one can know who you really are. Kill all in your path.”

He squared his shoulders, his face set like flint as he stepped forward to meet the oncoming savages.

One guard made the mistake of being the first to reach him, and a crushed throat was his reward. The next guard received a bone-shattering blow from the blunt end of the Atlantean’s spear, and he fell screaming to the ground—clutching at his useless knee. A quick thrust from the spear’s blade opened the vein in his neck.

This was Captain of the legendary Nightstalkers, and the poorly trained, pitifully armed natives in front of him stood no chance. He was merciless, implacable.

A quick slice of the spear hamstrung the one nearest him, and a sharp blow from the spear’s butt shattered the collarbone of a second temple guard.

He slipped out of the path of a wild swing aimed at his head, and slammed the point deep into the eye of an attacker. A hard chop to the base of another guard’s neck caused him to flop limply to the floor—spinal cord severed.

The remaining guards saw only death in the eyes of their attacker, and they tried desperately to retreat. Their wails were cut short as the Captain’s spear mowed them down like a scythe through wheat, and within moments he stood alone in the passageway.

A noise from behind him caused him to whirl around. The wounded warrior—Eirin—barely stood, leaning on the broken spear for support.

“Captain.”

It was all the heavily bleeding warrior could say—every ounce of his effort was focused on staying upright.

“Eirin.”

“Get in there. I’ll make sure the passage is closed.”

The Captain nodded, allowing the dying man his final wish.

When he emerged from the other side of the tunnel, he knew the warrior had bled out in the tight passageway. His lifeless body filled the small tunnel, preventing any from following—a soldier’s last contribution to his commander.

He panted a prayer as he navigated the halls of the massive mansion.

Gods grant that the others have escaped.

He saw no signs of their passing, and he hoped they had escaped the city undetected. If his luck held as well, he could melt into the jungle to find his unit.

He was armed with nothing more than his short bow and a handful of arrows. The spear had been left in the heart of the final guard to fall beneath his onslaught. It will have to be enough.

His feet felt leaden as he ran through the city towards the gate leading to freedom. His group had been traveling for days, sleeping on their feet and pushing their bodies as hard as humanly possible. They had had to reach the captives in time to prevent their being sacrificed, and even so, they had only just managed to make it in time.

But days of marching with no sleep were catching up to him, and he felt his strength flagging. Water was scarce around the city—every creek, river, and stream had been channeled to irrigate the crops grown by the Mexica. His muscles ached, and the sweat streaming down his body had begun to wash away the dye.

Just…a…bit…more.

He was panting now, succumbing to the fatigue resulting from nowhere near enough sleep, food, or water.

The arrow that ripped by his head forced him to push himself even harder. The gate lay open in front of him, and he sprinted for the opening—missiles flying around him.

A lucky arrow slammed into the shoulder of the fleeing man, eliciting a growl of pain and bringing a sudden clarity to his fatigue-numbed mind.

Only one warrior stood between him and freedom. One very large warrior, carrying a very large club. One brave warrior that wanted to make a name for himself.

The bravery of the guard earned him an arrow in the gut, and a second one slammed into his paunch a moment later.

The sprinting figure barely slowed as he leapt over the slumping guard and raced through the gate towards the edge of the jungle. The pain in his shoulder was spreading, and he felt every ache and pain as he ran.

The jungle loomed, and he pushed into the thick foliage ahead. Not caring where he ran and unable to navigate through the dense vegetation, he forced himself to keep running in the one direction he knew: away from the city.

He could find his unit once he had escaped. It would be easy to–

His head snapped back as it collided with a thick tree branch, sending him sprawling to the floor. He tried to fight for consciousness, but the exhaustion, wounds, and lack of nourishment pushed him deeper into the haze.

The comforting embrace of unconsciousness claimed the captain.

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Prologue–Part 1

Yucatan – Land of the Mexica

The 10th Year of the Reign of Her Immortal Majesty Empress Tatho of the House of Tah

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The small group of warriors ran through the jungle, camouflaged in the colors of their surroundings. Their destination loomed ahead of them, the pyramid towering high above the tall trees around it.

A hand signal from the leader slowed the pack. Silently, the men hunkered low to the ground.

They fanned out quietly as they crept near the city wall. They scanned the area for alert sentries, but the only figure in sight was the sleepy form of a lone guard. No problem getting in.

One of the stealthy figures clapped a pipe to his lips. A thin dart shot out, embedding itself in the sentry’s neck. The sound of his rotund body hitting the floor was dangerously loud in the silence,  and the chair on which he drowsed clattered as it collapsed beneath his unconscious bulk.

Wincing at the noise, the leader gestured for the warriors to move from concealment and take position against the adobe wall that lay between them and their destination. They flattened themselves against the wall to avoid detection, but there were no patrols in sight.

Their clothes blended with the jungle around them, small bows held nocked and ready in their hands. They looked every inch the native, complete with dark skin dyed by the juice of the gerre nut.

At a signal, the warriors sprinted through the open gate, ignoring the prone form of the unconscious guard as they spread out inside the wall.

No guards awaited them inside—all were at the temple for the sacrifice. Their way was clear.

A door opened from a nearby hovel, a young boy emerging from within to chase a small into the street. He stopped dead at the sight of the warriors, his eyes widening as he opened his mouth to cry out in surprise.

The huge blond warrior clamped a hand down over the child’s mouth, the other hand striking the back of his head hard enough to render him unconscious. Even the slightest clamor could spell doom for their mission.

The small body of the unconscious boy was tied, gagged, and stowed inside a nearby hovel in seconds. He would be found, eventually.

The warriors waited in silence, eyes scanning the area to find any signs of life. All was calm. Cautiously, they slipped between the houses. Their steps led them towards the pyramid dominating the city.

The hovels soon turned to simple houses, which eventually became fancy mansions. The wealth of the city was evident here. They searched for a particular house, one they had been told offered secret access to the pyramid. The native had died screaming, but he had given them the information they needed.

Finding the house they sought, they pushed through the flimsy door to enter the empty building.

It was the only building on this side of the city built against the massive pyramid that was their destination—their only way in undetected.

The balcony on the second floor of the mansion gave them a clear view of the temple’s interior.

The sacrifice was about to begin, and they had little time to waste.

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The priests officiating the ceremony were bedecked in elaborately ornamental robes. The features, skulls, bones, and diverse paraphernalia that made up their costumes were meant to be threatening to the masses huddled at the steps of the pyramid, but to the warriors huddled on the balcony the outfits just looked foolish.

The only truly threatening part of the costume was the sacrificial weapons wielded by the priests. The stone blades were dyed red with the blood of the thousands of victims whose lives had bled out on the temple altars.

It was said by the superstitious Mexica that the weapons were possessed by spirits and demons, or by the souls of those sacrified to Huitzilopochtli—the bloodthirsty deity of war worshipped by these savages. The Mexica god thirsted for blood: Mexica blood, Mayan blood, any blood that would flow red and bright down the stone stairs of the temple.

Of the many gods worshipped by the Mexica, only this deity demanded sacrifice. This was the god that led them to battle, that required them to die a glorious death at the hands of their enemies, and that demanded that they raid the Atlantean mainlands to capture beautiful women to sacrifice.

The Mexica were warriors at heart, and they died as bravely as they fought. Despite the fact that they faced superior technology, weaponry, and tactics, they continued their incursions into the kingdom of Atlantis. On those rare occasions when they did manage to haul off victims for their sacrificial altars, the women and children were never seen or heard from again—a fate shared by those that attempted a rescue.

Most would have considered this a suicide mission, but the women captured by the latest Mexica raid were no ordinary victims. This, too, was no ordinary group of warriors sent to retrieve the captives.

A high priest emerged from the shadows within the pyramid, strutting onto the balcony overlooking the crowds below. Blood stained his ceremonial robes, a testament to the hundreds that had met their end at his hands.

A signal was given by their commander, but it was unnecessary. They all knew they had precious minutes left.

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The basement room they entered was dark and dusty, cobwebs covering everything after long months of disuse. It made the perfect exit.

The heavily muscled blond warrior grunted as he wrestled a massive casket away from the far wall, revealing a hole barely large enough for him to fit his broad shoulders through. He stepped aside to let the rest of the group enter the hole first, guarding the rear as the warriors crawled for long minutes through the stifling darkness around them.

Nothing but scuffs, grunts, and curses were heard as the small party inched forward. The warrior in the lead—a short, rat-faced man—held a small device in front of him. The palm-sized object emanated a thin beam of light, illuminating just enough of the tunnel for him to see where he was going.

“Move quickly,” the little man breathed as he crawled. “The light won’t last forever.” He hoped it would be enough.

The tunnel ended abruptly, a blank wall of earth and stone barring their way.

“Watch where you’re going, idiot,” the little man cursed. The warrior immediately behind him had planted his face into the leader’s unmoving posterior, an experience neither relished.

“Signal a halt next time, Traga,” the man following him complained.

“And how am I supposed to do that, Derchon?”

“Shut up and get on with it.” The third voice was commanding. The man to whom it belonged gave orders, and all obeyed.

The lead warrior’s fingers scrabbled around the blank wall of stone impeding their passage, and he smiled as he found what he was looking for.

He adjusted the device, twisting the small lens at the front to shine a pinpoint of light directly at a particular spot on the wall.

For long seconds, nothing happened. Then, with the ponderous sound of stone grinding on stone, the wall slid to one side—revealing an empty corridor beyond.

“Secret passages,” the man named Traga grinned broadly, “you’ve got to love them.”

One by one, the warriors slid into the torchlit hall, checking their weapons and adjusting their costumes. Their eyes darted up and down the various passages, scanning for any movement.

The one with the commanding voice spoke again. “They must all be at the sacrifice. We have little time left. Move.”

“Yes, Captain.” The one named Derchon saluted, motioning for the rat-faced man to lead the way.

They held their weapons awkwardly, unaccustomed to wielding the crudely-made clubs, spears, and arrows tipped with stone. Their bows were the sort used by the locals for hunting—nothing a true warrior would carry—but they would suffice. All of the poorly-crafted weapons were a necessary part of the ruse.

The weapons, garments, and body paint worn by the warriors bore the markings of the Tepaneca, the ancient enemies of the Mexica. Their garments were the bright purple favored by the Tepaneca tribe, and they had dyed their skin with the dark brown gerre nut native to Yucatan. The eagle masks covering their faces obscured their obviously Atlantean features—allowing them to pass through the wild lands of Yucatan in their native disguise.

The leader pictured the map of the pyramid in his head. The outer courts were no doubt filled with the bloodthirsty natives watching the sacrifice, and the outer temple would be empty of all the priests. The inner temple would be guarded, but the attention of the entire city would be on the high priest as he prepared for the sacrifice. Their objective lay near the pinnacle of the pyramid—a long climb that they had but minutes to make.

Thankfully, the stairs and corridors were empty, and the warriors began to relax as they realized that it could be easier than they had expected.

A shout behind them reminded them of where they were. An arrow took the single guard in the throat before he could do more than cry out in surprise, and he went down soundlessly. The thump of his body hitting the floor was eerily loud in the silence of the corridors.

Seconds dragged painfully as the group waited for more guards to flood the corridor, but the silence was unbroken.

“We got lucky, but let’s get this over with while we’re still undiscovered.”

The leader’s voice was the only command the men needed, and they quickly sprinted up the stairs—careful to remain quiet despite their speed. They had to reach the apartments at the top of the stairs before they were discovered, and the body on the floor would alert any passing guards to their presence. With nowhere to hide the body, it was a matter of time.

A door at the top of the stairs was flung open, and a priest leapt headlong down the stairs towards them. The manic grin on his face indicated massive quantities of peyote flowing through his veins. He had no doubt heard them running up the stairs, and the primitive spear he carried was poised to impale the rat-faced man through the heart.

The little man in the lead was too fast for the befuddled priest—but just barely. He threw himself against the wall, the spear grazing the outside of his thigh as he smashed into the hard stone with bone-jarring impact.

The priest’s momentum carried him down the stairs, past the little man still wincing from the pain, and straight onto the spear carried by the man in the second rank. Blood burbled from his lips as he fought to cry out, but the stone blade through his throat prevented him from making noise as he slipped lifelessly to the floor.

A quick glance at the rat-faced man showed the leader that the wound wasn’t serious, and he signaled for the ascent to continue. A few heartbeats later, they stood in front of a heavy door—no doubt barred from within.

“Derchon.”

The single word was accompanied by a tilt of the head, a message received by the burly soldier close on his leader’s heels.

The well-muscled soldier nodded and stepped forward. A second later, the heavy club he carried smashed through the door that impeded their progress. The flimsy wood used by the natives was unable to withstand the powerful impact, and the door crashed inwards—the warriors a heartbeat behind it.

The guards behind the door had been surprised, but they recovered quickly—though not quickly enough to prevent three of their number from being impaled on stone-tipped spears. The other guards reached for the weapons they had left discarded on the simple tables and chairs around the room, but they too died in seconds.

A massive figure hurtled through the doorway at the far end of the room. He had fingers the size of bananas, and his arms were banded with impressive quantities of muscle.  The little rat-faced man let out a half-squeak as the jailor rushed towards him.

Two arrows to the throat dropped the giant in his tracks. The little man nodded his thanks to the men who had loosed.

“Traga, Eirin.” The commands were crisp. We’re running out of time, the leader thought.

The two men slid through the doorway, weapons at the ready. The room beyond was empty, save for crowded cells filled with the captives they had come to release.

The leader motioned for the women to be silent as he entered the room. Any outcry now could bring the priests on the balcony outside rushing into the room. Thankfully, the torture of a native occupied both the sadistic priests and the bloodthirsty crowds below.

The rat-faced man thumbed a button on the little palm-shaped he carried, and within seconds the lock to the cells had been opened.

“Go!”

The words were spoken with quiet urgency, and the women followed the leader’s orders immediately. The command in his voice was obeyed without question.

He signaled for the one named Traga to take point, and his men ran alongside the captives as they fled from the prison where they had been held for sacrifice.

Taxes: Every Freelancer’s Worst Nightmare

The nightmare of taxes has begun!

In order to sign up for an Amazon account to publish books, you need a Social Security number. No big surprise there. However, for international writers – like myself – getting a Social Security number is impossible.

If a SS Number isn’t an option, Amazon asks for an ITIN or EIN.

The ITIN – or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number – is a taxpayer identification number for those that cannot get a Social Security number.

The EIN – or Employer Identification Number – serves a similar purpose, though, according to my studies, it:

“Is issued to anyone, including individuals, who have to pay withholding taxes on employees. It is also issued to entities, such as states, government agencies, corporations, limited liability companies, and any other organization that must have a number for a purpose in addition to reporting withholding tax, such as for opening a bank or brokerage account.”

My research into my tax situation led me to this brilliant article by a blog superstar named David Gaughran. It breaks down the process of getting the number to prevent Amazon from holding on to a sizeable chunk of your income.

The secret: getting an EIN instead of an ITIN.

In the comments section at the bottom of the post, there is a ton of advice on how to get the EIN number quickly and easily. Armed with the knowledge, I picked up the phone and made the dreaded call to the IRS.

10 minutes later, I was on the phone with a very nice woman whose name I forget. She was very friendly, made it incredibly easy to get the number, and I was done within 15 minutes. My EIN number was given to me on the spot, and I am ready to post my book to Amazon.

If there are any other international or non-U.S. writers out there wondering what to do about your tax situation, I urge you to follow the link above and find out more. It makes it very easy for you to get everything set up, and you’ll be done in no time. The dreaded tax problem can be put in your rear view mirror thanks to the advice you’ll find on that page.

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