I’ve reported on the work in progress, and I’ve talked about how much fun I had writing it, and now here we are, done and in e-print. Arron of the Black Forest, Book I: The Haunting of Dragon’s Cliff is now on sale for the Kindle, and will soon be available for the Nook—and other e-book formats to follow very soon.
THIS JUST IN! The Nook edition is available now.
There’s a lot I have to get used to with this whole e-book thing, to be honest, and some of those things are good, some are bad.
Well, I do have to admit that I still like to have the feel of a book I’ve written in my hands. The physical object does make it seem more real.
On September 13th, exactly two weeks ago today, I blogged about how I still had 10,500 words to write. And now the book’s for sale. That massively compressed timetable is amazing to me. Gone are the days of waiting, literally, months for the book to go from final edit to publication. The final edit of The Haunting of Dragon’s Cliff came back from Mel Odom on September 22nd. I had a little more work to do—a last pass through it—and that done, I was posting it to the Kindle Direct Store literally the next day.
That’s amazing to me.
And even with that fast edit, I know that if we missed something—if there’s a lingering typo or a stray gaff somewhere, I can fix it. And I can fix it without pulping a full print run—without destroying a single book. I just fix the mistake in the Word file and reload it. This can be done in minutes, for free.
I am blown away by that.
Take a look at that blog, too, which will fill in with more content and functionality as we, and the series, progress.
For now, though, how about a free preview of the complete prologue?
Despoilers of the Frozen Vast
Arron had to turn his face away from the bog ape’s fetid, blast-furnace breath, but still he pressed closer, harder into the great silverback’s unyielding bulk. With a grunt, Arron twisted his upper body to the left, but the ape didn’t budge. The muscles along Arron’s back and around his midsection twisted, threatening to crush his own ribs.
The bog ape’s lips pulled back in a quivering sneer that bared yellow, broken fangs turning orange from the blood that oozed from its diseased gums. Its hands were as rough as broken rocks on Arron’s tundra-tough skin, and it squeezed his left arm so tightly his left hand tingled and went numb.
“You’ll make me kill you,” Arron whispered into the bog ape’s gnarled ear.
He knew the silverback wouldn’t recognize the words—not like another man would—but at the same time, Arron was certain the bog ape understood him. Its eyebrows furrowed, its rheumy red eyes grew wet, and it opened its mouth.
With a great, huffing exhale, Arron pushed the thing away. He would have fallen onto his back, tried to get under the ape’s wide-spread legs, but he could barely manage a step forward. Arron stood knee-deep in the freezing black mud of the arctic muskeg. He had little feeling left in his toes, but his hard-soled boots of tough elk hide found some purchase. Arron couldn’t move the way he wanted to, but at least he could push forward.
The bog ape’s jaws crashed together just as Arron tipped his head to the left. Jagged fangs scraped a layer of skin from Arron’s right cheek. The slight wound stung, and heat flared under his skin. Arron closed his eyes, ignoring the pain, and pushed harder still.
When the ape went down, Arron went down on top of it. Mud splashed up around them, staining the bog ape’s already mud-spattered, silver-blue fur. Its coarse pelt scratched at Arron’s bare forearms. Though it let go of his right arm, the ape twisted Arron’s left arm enough that something popped in his shoulder and the barbarian let out a grunt of pain.
But his right arm was free.
Arron reached behind him for his axe just as the bog ape pulled its left leg up out of the thick mud. The familiar weight of the axe in his hand brought a grim smile to Arron’s lips. He didn’t bother raising the axe too high over his head. He didn’t need much space. The weapon was heavy and sharp—
—and he couldn’t move.
The bog ape’s foot—another hand, really—closed partly around Arron’s fingers, and partly around the axe handle. It twisted before Arron could even try to wrench his weapon from its grip.
“No!” Arron barked out when the axe came out of his hand.
Afraid the bog ape would use his own weapon against him, Arron lashed out with his right arm. Though the ape managed to keep the weapon out of Arron’s hand, the creature’s wild motions and the cold, slick mud that covered its foot made the handle slippery. The axe went flying, end-over-end.
The axe landed at the feet of one of the other bog apes, far enough away that neither Arron nor the silverback could reach it. The bog ape troop, perhaps thirty strong, stood around them in a circle, watching their leader, the alpha silverback, wrestle the human. They looked on in a way that seemed so human, so intelligent, so willful, that Arron’s skin crawled.
Arron’s people knew of the bog apes—had shared the taiga with them for generation upon generation, and he knew them to be brutish and cruel to each other, savage and unforgiving to any who strayed into their hunting grounds. But then the same could be said of Arron’s own people, the Twelve Tribes of the Black Forest. They had settled this dense wood, which stretched for hundreds of miles north to the lands of the midnight sun, for so long the memory of their coming had faded to legend. The Twelve Tribes lived in uneasy peace with each other, and the unforgiving land itself. They were simple folk, hearty and good natured, but fierce in battle and skilled at the hunt. And now, erased from the world. Arron had been living off the southern fringes of his tribal lands—alone and cold, exhausted and broken, trying in vain to find even one other survivor. But there was no one but him.
And the bog apes.
“A fair fight, then,” Arron grimaced at the big silverback, and winced at what he was sure was a gap-toothed smile from the creature.
The bog ape’s foot hit Arron between the legs, launching him fully up and over the silverback’s head. Arron protected his head with his right arm, but his left arm, still held firm by the ape, twisted and grinded. His shoulder popped again, his arm cracked, and pain sent red lightning sparkling across the inside of Arron’s eyelids.
He knew that if he lay there, suffering over a broken arm, the ape would take that opportunity to pull the limb free of his shoulder and beat him to death with it, or start eating it like a pork shank while Arron lay there bleeding, watching.
Arron grabbed a fistful of cold black mud with his right hand and whipped it up over his head. The bog ape had trouble moving in the muskeg and started rolling over, maybe trying to get to its feet, maybe trying to roll over on top of Arron to press him into the frozen swamp. Arron flinched back when the bog ape’s jaws crashed down again, almost taking his hand off at the wrist. He quickly changed direction and smashed the handful of black mud into the bog ape’s eyes.
The silverback screamed a surprisingly shrill wail and let go of Arron’s left arm. Dragging his shattered limb through the muck, Arron rolled to get to his feet, but managed only to make it to his knees before the great simian smashed him in the face with a rough backhand.
Blind as much from rage as the mud, the bog ape swung its heavy arm wildly once more, and Arron fell backward with a huff. He fetched up against a hard, cold wall of ice, and flinched from the sting of it. More afraid of the glacier itself than the bog ape, Arron threw his body forward. His long red hair, caked with drying mud, stuck to his face, blocking one yellow-hazel eye. The ape swung at him again and Arron dived forward under the frantic blow. The ape punched the wall of ice instead, and howled at the sound of fingers crackling like dry wood in a fire.
The apes that encircled them howled and stomped. The sound sent a cold chill up Arron’s spine.
The great silverback roared, and wheeled on him. His feet sinking, still not having found the solid ground somewhere under the frigid muskeg, Arron tried but couldn’t step back out of the ape’s reach. He raised his hands so his arms wouldn’t be pinned to his side, and the bog ape grabbed him around the chest, its huge hands digging into his ribs, pressing the breath from his lungs.
The bog ape drew him up and out of the mud, and with an ear-splitting scream, showed him off to his troop, which howled and stomped all the louder in response.
Arron looked up over the bog ape’s head at the wall of ice behind it. Though the ape was big—eight feet tall if it was an inch—the glacier towered above them both, a sheer wall of ice a thousand feet in height. It was the biggest cliff face Arron had ever seen, and inside it, encased in a frozen prison, a tomb of ice, was everything and everyone he’d ever loved.
A man stood locked in the crystal ice. The image distorted as though his entire form wept, but still his form and features were plain. That was how fast the ice came. One moment this man breathed the cool, damp air of the northern rainforest and then ice. Hard as rock, clear as glass, and cold as death, it suffocated everyone, entombed an entire culture. Very few of the tribesmen had made it far enough south to still be visible. Arron had seen a desperate few, locked in their final breaths, in the instant of recognition that it was over—that it was over for them all. But never before had he seen a man this close, this clearly.
And this desperate, screaming, running man was Arron’s only brother.
“Terron!” he called.
As the bog ape gibbered and screamed, roiling its troop to a murderous frenzy, Arron stared into the dead eyes of his brother. Terron hung just inside the very edge of the glacier, frozen forever in the act of running. His left hand trailed behind him, holding the hand of his son, barely four summers young. “Terron, I—”
What? What could he say to his brother, the chief of his tribe for only a year before the hated Heteronomy’s final vengeance befell them?
Arron, separated from his war party, trying to get back to the relative safety of the forest’s edge… He recalled the soldiers chasing him falling behind, though Arron had twisted his knee, and bled freely from an arrow he’d taken to the thigh. He couldn’t help thinking they’d let him go.
But then his leg failed him and he fell, face first into the freezing muskeg. He remembered struggling for breath. He remembered sinking. He remembered blackness, and his final prayers to the Elinym-Päristö. Then all at once he came awake, his face buried in the thick, sticky mud, and he had to peel his face away from it and gasp for air. It took him days—cold, lonely, desperate days—to finally get his bearings, and days more to understand the immensity of the disaster than had befallen him—and everyone and everything he’d ever known—while he lay, passed out like a weakling.
The bog ape began to squeeze him, and the rest of Arron’s breath fled his lungs but formed the words, loud enough to be heard even over the shrieking of the troop, “I am Arron of the Black Forest!”
And he kicked out with both feet, his right foot smashing the bog ape’s teeth to rest on its lower jaw, his left foot bashing against the side of its slant-browed head. Arron twisted, and if he had had any air left in his lungs at all he would have screamed from the sheer exertion of it. The silverback stopped screaming, but its troop did not.
Arron didn’t hear its jaw break, but he felt it. The ape’s grip faltered. The sudden slack of its neck breaking sent a quiver up Arron’s legs.
The ape convulsed. It dropped Arron, who fell to the freezing mud with a gasp.
The bog apes went quiet. Only a few of the younger ones still squealed, not sure what they were seeing. Females gathered them up and shuffled them back from the circle. The males began to eye one another, unsure at first what this meant.
Arron struggled for a breath as he staggered to his knees. He faced the wall of ice, the ghostly form of his dead brother, and for a brief moment he felt the pain of being alive, of being the last. He felt the eternal, agonizing loneliness of the sole survivor.
Coughing, finally dragging half breaths into his lungs, Arron stood and turned away from the glacier. His feet tangled in the slippery, cloying muck. Arron fell to his knees at the feet of a bog ape.
The creature stood on the root of a fallen black spruce. Arron looked up at the beast, its night-blue fur surprisingly clean, shimmering in the failing twilight. The young ape met Arron’s gaze and grunted at him, thrusting its jaw out to show perfect white fangs. In its right hand it held Arron’s axe.
Arron coughed again and tried to stand. If he was going to be beheaded by a savage bog ape—killed with his own axe—he wouldn’t do it on his knees.
But the ape stepped back. It held the axe in front of it. Its black eyes sparkled and it glanced at the axe in its own hand, then to Arron, then it jerked its head to the side, behind it.
Arron followed the bog ape’s eyes back to a stretch of firm, moss-covered ground. The bog ape troop had parted, opening the circle. They looked at him with a primitive reverence that made the hair on the back of Arron’s neck stand on edge. He reached out and took his axe from the bog ape, and the brute stepped aside, but its eyes bored into Arron’s.
He looked back once more at the glacier wall, to dead, frozen Terron and the boy, and the ape grunted at him. Out of respect for the man who bested their alpha male, Arron was being given an opportunity to go in peace, but that opportunity would not last forever.
And he knew he would not be welcomed back.
With a curt nod to the new alpha bog ape, Arron set his axe in the strap on his back and walked away from the frozen tomb that was the only home he’d ever known, never to return.
Feels nice to type that. . . .