We Sail Off To War E-Book Releases June 11th!

War has broken out in the Confederacy of Allied Worlds, and it falls to the brave men and women of the Naval Arm to defend their country against the Exile fleet. Over the gas giant Argo, they are losing. With few resources and little time to spare, they must find—and bring to battle—an Exile armored cruiser which has terrorized the spacelanes for too long.

Consider this the official announcement for my first e-book release. We Sail Off To War, a military science fiction novella, will be released in e-book form at your favorite purveyor of fine reading material on June 11th. Preorder it now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Apple iBooks.

Many Words Press will host some launch day festivities: come by the website on June 11th for some e-book giveaways, random chit-chat with me at the Conclave, and a Nathaniel Cannon choose-your-own-adventure story written live by audience vote.

Watch this space in the weeks to come for more information!

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The Long Retreat No. 86

Falthejn looked around the clearing. He must have missed them by minutes. Alfhilde would have taken them toward the bridge. Falthejn turned upriver, following the bank, and begged the Twelve he wasn’t too late.

Half an hour later, he thought he could hear movement through the underbrush, beyond the hedge to his left. An ontlig shout, much nearer than the noises of battle from the bridge still far upriver, rang out. No time to think it through. He drew his sword and crashed through the brush.

He saw Alfhilde standing ready to receive an ontlig charge, a dozen or so of the smaller sort, unarmored and unarmed beyond their claws, heading right for her. Up the slight rise in front of them, a large ontling stood, surveying the skirmish. Something about it seemed familiar, but Falthejn had no time to look more closely. Sif let out a strangled cry and collapsed, and Hrothgar took a few steps forward to stand next to his wife. Falthejn didn’t like their odds. Shouting back at the ontlig chief, Falthejn pounded toward the oncoming fight.

“What, so you think—” Alfhilde said.

“Rebuke me later,” Falthejn interrupted.

The ontr reached them. The diviner let Alfhilde make the first strike, then gutted an ontling swiping at her side. He rolled beneath a third ontling’s claws as Hrothgar sunk his hatchet into its skull. On his way up, he tripped another ontling, leaving Hrothgar time enough to free his hatchet.

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The Long Retreat No. 85

By midday, he felt as good as he ever did—physically, at any rate. He wondered: how much of his decision to leave did the poison account for? Some, no doubt: the poison’s effect on the mind was more severe than the army’s physicians had thought. Other patients had died too soon after showing the first signs to discuss the precise nature of the symptoms.

Ultimately, though, the answer was, “Not enough.” He had always tried to be different—to be better than others who carried the diviner’s coin. Clouded mind or not, he had failed. He had let his friends, pursuing his own peace by playing the safe bet at the expense of their peace on a longer shot. Fundamentally, he was gambling either way. He should have sought their counsel, and when they told him they wanted him to stay, he should have heeded them. Water under the bridge, as unfortunate as it was. He wondered if they might forgive him. They were, after all, better people than he.

A day’s worth of fast marching should have tired him out more than it had. Perhaps the miracle plant which brought him back from the edge of oblivion had helped. Perhaps he could find a telemancer to bring him here later in search of seeds.

The roar of the river came as a surprise, but only for a few moments. He came to the usually tranquil stretch of water where the road ended, and it confirmed his suspicions. The army had magiker with power over water, and those who could control earth and stone. Turn a tranquil river into a raging torrent, build a bridge over at the end of your new road through the wilderness, and confound any enemy who might try a crossing elsewhere.

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The Long Retreat No. 84

Unsteadily, he stood, but he was feeling better by the moment, aside from a thirst and a gnawing hunger. He went over to the plants he’d fallen through. He didn’t recognize them, so he plucked a few stems, wrapped them in a bit of cloth cut from his sleeve, and tucked them into a pouch on his belt.

A few minutes’ stumbling brought him to a small pool in his gully, fed by a brook which poured over a ledge at eye height. He drank his fill, sat heavily against a nearby tree, and planned the day ahead. If he continued to recover at this pace, he could be on the road soon, and if he could make his best speed, he could yet catch his friends. He had done his part to pull the ontlig army away from them. If he turned their way now, he would reach them not long before they crossed the river, and could keep anything from going wrong at the ford.

He leaned over and filled his waterskin. Little use in waiting around to see how he would be feeling, given how far he had to go. Best to get moving now: if he could manage the trip, he’d save a few minutes. If he couldn’t, he’d know soon enough.

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The Long Retreat No. 83

Birdsong woke him. It was early morning. His head felt like a mass of wadded cotton, and his throat was tight and dry. He swallowed painfully and rolled over.

The world swam, slowly coming into focus. He turned his head to one side, waited for his vision to settle, and saw the signs of his passage. Short, leafy plants lined the side of the gully beneath the outcrop from which he had plunged. A trail of crushed stems marked where he’d slid down.

He moved his arm and winced, but the pain in his side never came. Gingerly, he touched his wounds and held his hand up in front of his face. No blood. Wondering even as he moved if it was a good idea, he sat up.

Birdsong woke him. He pulled himself over to a tree, sliding along the floor of the gully. He raised himself to sitting by increments, leaning against the tree trunk. He drained the waterskin hanging from his belt and felt a little better.

He looked down at his side and blinked. The deep gashes had nearly closed. Bits of plant from the hillside were stuck in and around the wound, and Falthejn nearly laughed aloud. Fate was evidently watching out for him still. Even going mad on ontlig poison, his magic had put his feet on just the right track to keep him alive.

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The Long Retreat No. 82

The treetops proved a good way to travel. Ontlig search parties crisscrossed the forest floor beneath him, always a few hundred yards behind as he pushed to the northwest. When they fell too far back, he threw a stick toward them, to make some noise and get them back on the hunt. After an hour or two, he let them off the hook and left them behind. It should have been obvious to them where he was headed, and he could use some sleep, even if it was to be fitfully wedged between the first two convenient boughs he could find.

One trio of ontr, however, proved more persistent than the rest. Although they seemed not to know where he was exactly, they nevertheless refused to turn back to their camp, and every once in a while, he caught sight of them, striking out at random to try to pick up his trail. He could ill afford to have them stumble across him, and him alone—the whole point of this exercise was to convince the whole warband to follow him. He sighed, touched his side tenderly, and planned the fight. One had a crossbow. He could use that to even the odds somewhat—either take the weapon and kill the beast, or bait it into shooting one of its companions. Either way. Even wounded, he could fight two at once.

The ontligr searchers came nearer. Falthejn dropped to a lower branch, knees bending just so to take the shock of landing. He made no sound but the rustling of the pine needles. The first two ontr passed by. Falthejn steeled himself, tensed, and dropped at the third.

As he fell, it evaporated. He flailed for the merest moment before he hit the forest floor. Scrambling to his feet, he readied himself for the others. They, too, had vanished.

He frowned. He felt no evidence that they had left by magic, but he had very little idea of the extent of his enemy’s talents. Cautiously, he sheathed his sword and pushed ahead.

“Falthejn!” The shout split the night air—Sif’s voice.

“No,” Falthejn said aloud, spinning on his heel. This was all wrong. They were supposed to go on ahead.

“Falthejn!”

He turned again, following the noise, and sprinted toward it. Perhaps they could still be saved.

His foot caught a tree root, and he flew forward. He landed hard on his wounded side, slid off a rock outcrop, and tumbled down into a gully. He came to rest, face down, and did not move.

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The Long Retreat No. 81

A pair of ontr followed it, dragging a third between them. As he had thought: the ontling being dragged was one of the ones Sif had killed the night before, going by its mangled appearance and the shining bits of armor still locked around its limbs. The two ontr dragging it dropped it at the feet of the largest one. It stirred, not quite as dead as Falthejn had thought.

The largest ontling spoke in a loud voice, and though Falthejn understood none of it, the gist of the speech was clear: “So-and-so has failed us. He will pay with his life.”

The ontlig warleader raised his hands, and Falthejn felt the energy flow past as the ontling began to chant. The weave of the world twisted, then snapped back. A bolt of lightning appeared from overhead, followed immediately by a deafening thunderclap.

Falthejn blinked until his sight came back, and worked his jaw against the ringing in his hears. Before the ontlig warleader, there remained only a smoking crater—and the warleader was looking straight at Falthejn. The diviner froze. Ducking behind the tree, moving while the beast’s eye was on him, would be even worse. After a few long heartbeats, the ontling looked away for a moment, and Falthejn leaned back into his hiding place. Drums beat in the camp, along with the shouts of leaders rousing their troops.

Falthejn cursed to himself. Well, he had wanted to lead them off…

Focusing on his next few seconds, he ran out along a sturdy-seeming branch, jumped, and landed on another, connected to a different tree. He wobbled for a moment, found his balance, and grinned. That was a good trick. He moved toward his new tree’s trunk, then winced as the gashes in his side throbbed. Nothing for it, he thought, and took a running start down another branch toward the next tree in line.

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Commentary, The Long Retreat No. 81

Sorry for the late update—when I typed this on Monday, I had the time set wrong.

E-book progress is good: all of the elements are there besides the actual story, which is getting one more editing pass from me, and likely one from my lovely wife. Should be all set in a week or two, at which point I can set it up for preorder at my various planned distributors. The remaining month before the launch day will be planning launch day events, kicking off production on the next Nathaniel Cannon story, and nervously drumming my fingers as I await the day.

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