Neil O'Donnell

Neil O'Donnell

About Me

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Buffalo, New York, United States
Anthropologist, author, certified career coach, and musician who mixes all four interests as much as possible! Senior EOP Counselor at/EOP graduate of Buffalo State College.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

RRBC BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOK & BLOG BLOCK PARTY!


Happy Summer, Readers! Yes, I have joined up with a group of amazing authors to help showcase our collective works. While I write fiction and Non-fiction, it is the latter I wish to focus on in this post. Specifically,THE CAREER-MINDED STUDENT and RESUME ESSENTIALS: DO'S, DON'TS, AND IT DEPENDS . 

THE CAREER-MINDED is a practical college success guide that breaks down, step by step, what college students should do each year as undergrads to best prepare for jobs IMMEDIATELY after graduation. The book includes study skills advice, but it includes a significant amount of advisement on how to build up career-relevant experience PRIOR to graduating (I used this advice and was able to beat out Ph. D's for positions (when I had only a Bachelor's, but a good amount of experience attained through relevant jobs the summers after my Sophomore, Junior and Senior years  - none of those jobs were internships AND all of them paid well). This book was written to stop the cycle of college graduates having a degree and no experience other than one or two internships. FYI - I never had an internship - I found full-time summer jobs, which made a bigger (better) impact on my job search after graduation.

As for my second new book, RESUME ESSENTIALS, was written to provide job seekers with a straightforward guide to writing eye-catching resumes and cover letters (with 20 sample resumes included covering fields such as biology, journalism, fine arts, trades, computer science, business management, and even high school graduates). Why did I write this book? I found students were paying so called "professionals" over a hundred dollars for a resume, and the resumes they received were crap. MY STUDENTS DON'T HAVE $100 TO SPEND WITHOUT MAKING GREAT SACRIFICES! I kept this book short, sweet and inexpensive to give new graduates and career professionals a way to develop a resume when they can't afford to hire a resume writer. For the record, I am a nationally certified career coach and resume writer (CCPC) and a longtime college career & academic advisor.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Would the real goblins step forward?

I think it is safe to say that I do not subscribe to the typical view of the goblinoids. I developed goblins that are as unique a society as humanity, with compassion as likely a character trait as hatred or anger. Grier is my golden child. I'm proud of his development within PEOPLE OF THE SWORD as my alterations of his personality over more than a decade helped me cement my view on how goblins should be portrayed. Don't get me wrong... I love Tolkien's Middle Earth, but I can't see an entire race being all evil. I am not the first author to view goblins in such light. I just wish more authors would provide greater diversity amongst their novel characters, particularly with regards to goblins, orcs, gnolls, and trolls (Brother Thud ring a bell). Bring on the originality.

Monday, April 25, 2016

New Release by Ciara Ballintyne: IN THE COMPANY OF THE DEAD

Ciara Ballintyne has released a new work. Check it out!

NEW RELEASE Ciara Ballintyne’s Epic Fantasy ‘In the Company of the Dead’

Only a fool crosses a god, but Ellaeva and Lyram will do anything to get what they want.

InTheCompanyOfTheDead_300dpi_1842x2763 FINAL


Title: In the Company of the Dead
Author: Ciara Ballintyne
Series: The Sundered Oath #1
Genre: Epic Fantasy/Fantasy Romance
Chosen as a five-year-old orphan to be the Left Hand of Death, Ellaeva has nothing to call her own—nothing except a desire to avenge her murdered parents. Her duties leave her no time to pursue the man responsible, until both her work and revenge lead to the same place—the lonely castle where Lyram Aharris is serving out his exile for striking his prince.

Lyram is third in line for the throne, and when the castle is unexpectedly besieged, he fears his prince means to remove him from contention for the crown permanently. Ellaeva’s arrival brings hope, until she reveals she has not come for the siege, but instead she hunts the castle for a hidden necromancer dedicated to the dark god of decay.

Within their stone prison, Ellaeva and Lyram must fight to save themselves from political machinations and clashing gods. But as the siege lengthens, the greatest threat comes from an unexpected quarter.


Chapter 1
Premonition
Only a fool would split hairs with a god, least of all the goddess of death, but Ellaeva would count herself such a fool and consider it worth it—if she could get away with it.
She leaned across the knife-scarred timber of the tavern table.
“Are you sure?” she asked, her tone even and barely loud enough to be audible over the noise of the flute and the zither. Her work on behalf of the goddess Ahura, adjudicating the small war here in Dayhl, could only be abandoned in favour of a greater threat. If she was going to chase off after the man who killed her parents, she needed to be sure her arguments stacked up. The pursuit of personal justice wouldn’t be enough.
Is it justice or revenge?
No time to worry about that now. She tugged her black hood farther down over her infamous face, even though deep shadows blanketed the common room corner. She’d chosen a table far from the tallow candles mounted in their stag-horn chandeliers. There was no point taking chances; the black hair and porcelain skin of a Tembran would be remarked here among the platinum-haired Dayhlish. Besides, someone might recognise her.
“In Ahlleyn, sure as the spring comes after winter, Holiness.” The narrow-faced man across from her grinned, baring teeth more brown than yellow. The acrid smoke from the candles didn’t cover his pungent breath.
She half-stood, making an urgent, negating gesture as she glanced around, but the hubbub of chatter from the patrons and the music covered his slip. No one even glanced their way. On the far side of the room, away from the two blazing hearths, tables were pushed aside for dancing. She dropped back into her seat, her black robes fluttering around her booted feet.
Ahlleyn lay on the other side of the continent, months of travel by horse. If her informant was right and a Rahmyrrim priest had been dispatched there, he would likely be gone long before she arrived—unless she begged a favour, but she’d not do that for a lark of her own. However, if it meant catching the man who killed her parents, well then maybe she could come up with an argument that would hold water for a god. Old grief and anger, stale from a decade or more, stirred in her gut, and her fingers curled around the edge of the table.
Releasing her grip, she reached to the inner pocket in her robes where rested the smudged charcoal drawing of a man. Hard work and luck had helped her obtain that picture of the man she believed killed her parents—a man she knew to be a priest of Rahmyr. If she decided to act against her standing orders, then she needed to be sure it was the man she was after, and that he was involved in some act heinous enough to attract her goddess’s attention.
“Did you get the name of this priest? Or his description?” An unknown number of priests served Rahmyr, but she knew six by sight—six still alive anyway.
The thin man shook his head. “Nobody mentioned. I got the impression he’s already there, or on his way leastways.”
She scowled. No way to be sure then that this was the man she wanted. Begging favours of Ahura for her personal satisfaction was a risky business, especially if she neglected her duties, and perhaps it would all be for nothing.
With one hand, she flattened the map that curled on the table between them. The patrons behind them exploded with laughter at something unheard. Ignoring the noise, she stabbed her finger at an unmarked portion of the map in the foothills of the Ahlleyn mountains. If he didn’t know who, maybe he knew the what. “There, you say? What possible interest could Rahmyr have there? There’s nothing of interest at all.”
She lowered her voice even further as she uttered the name of the goddess of decay, and glanced around again. That name spoken too loudly would bring unwanted attention. But nearly all the tavern patrons were busy whirling on the impromptu dance floor or lined up to watch the dancers, their backs to her.
The nameless man leaned forward, treating her to another stomach-clenching blast of foul breath, and touched a spot perhaps half an inch away from her finger. A tiny, unlabelled picture marked something there.
“Here, Holiness.”
She squinted at the picture, letting his lapse slide. The image represented a holy place. There was an old shrine to Ahura somewhere in the Ahlleyn Borders, wasn’t there? And a castle built over it. “Caisteal Aingeal an Bhais.”
“That sounds like the name,” he agreed. “Never could get my mouth around them Ahlleyn words. Pink castle, I heard.”
She grunted. That was the one. “There’s still nothing there.”
Nothing of interest to Rahmyr anyway. The shrine wasn’t particularly important, and the castle held no political significance.
“What’s there,” the man said, “is Lyram Aharris.”
The premonition went through her like a blast of icy wind, stiffening her in her chair as the hand of the goddess brushed against her mind. A light caress, but from a giant, and so it sent her mind reeling. She clutched the table for support. Lyram Aharris’s reputation preceded him the length of the continent: eight years ago, at the age of twenty-seven, he’d brought an end to the centuries-long conflict between Ahlleyn and Velena through a series of brilliant military manoeuvres. He’d survived the Siege of Invergahr against near-impossible odds, brought the crown prince safely clear of the conflict, and fought the Velenese to a standstill using their own guerrilla warfare tactics against them. As a novice, she’d covered the tactics thoroughly as part of her studies. The man was a military genius. That he was third in line for the throne of Ahlleyn was the least there was to know about him—at least it was, until his king dismissed him from court. The rumours on everyone’s lips said he murdered his wife, even if no one could prove it.
What did Rahmyr want with him?


Ciara Ballintyne grew up on a steady diet of adult epic fantasy from the age of nine, leaving her with a rather confused outlook on life – she believes the good guys should always win, but knows they often don’t. She is an oxymoron; an idealistic cynic.

She began her first attempts at the craft of writing in 1992, culminating in the publication of her debut work, Confronting the Demon, in 2013. Her first book to be published with Evolved Publishing is In the Company of the Dead. She holds degrees in law and accounting, and is a practising financial services lawyer. In her spare time, she speculates about taking over the world – how hard can it really be?

If she could be anything, she’d choose a dragon, but if she is honest she shares more in common with Dr. Gregory House of House M.D. – both the good and the bad. She is a browncoat, a saltgunner, a Whedonite, a Sherlockian, a Ringer and a Whovian... OK, most major geek fandoms. Her alignment is chaotic good. She is an INTJ.

Ciara lives in Sydney, Australia, with her husband, her two daughters, and a growing menagerie of animals that unfortunately includes no dragons.

Monday, December 28, 2015

New Book - The Career-Minded Student

For too long, college students have gone about their undergraduate years without guidance, true guidance, on how to best prepare to compete for jobs immediately upon graduation (if not beforehand).  Those days are over.  As a career and academic advisor for 20 years, I have compilled my experience and guidance into a new book to help students achieve career success as soon as possible after completing a degree.  A book that should be read by high school students intent on pursuing college as well as current college students.  The advice worked for me, and it has helped many of my students excel in classes AND in their careers (yes - the book includes study skills).  Take care!


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

People of the Sword Sequel

The time has come!  In honor of my brother's birthday (Happy Birthday, Ned), I am posting the prologue and first chapter of the sequel to 'People of the Sword'.  In a major way, 'People of the Sword' was a prelude to a series, much like 'The Hobbit' was.  The next novel, titled 'Rise of the Celts', takes place 400 years AFTER the events in 'People of the Sword'.  Look for the new book's release in early 2016.  Hoping everyone is having a safe and fun summer.



RISE OF THE CELTS

Prologue

“Will Crarnock’s release free you as well?” Evren asked.  The goblin maiden held a firm tone as she addressed the hooded and cloaked figure before her.  Her grey-green skin was without mar, while her green eyes radiated with brilliance and vigor; all signs reflective of her youth.  The goblin warden who towered over the five-foot Evren, her husband of five years, was not so young.  For four centuries he’d watched over his people, just as he ever watched Humanity, with vigilance and purpose.  Yet, in secret, he also searched for the words, words that would free him of his charge.  Only Evren knew everything; only she understood his sacrifice, and he would not dismiss her query or her concerns.  Grier, the aged goblin warden, at hearing his wife’s question, removed his hood and stepped forward to Evren.  His wrinkled skin bespoke of Grier’s long vigil.  His crop of long white hair only enhanced the elderly image.
“The time, my love, is now.  Soon, our master will be free and Humanity will fall.  Never again will we suffer.”
“You have aged so these two last years,” Evren whispered as she gently caressed Grier’s left cheek.  “When we first met, few blemishes marked your face.  But, now, every day takes away more of my husband.  I fear I will lose you before this ends.”
“The final words are now mine,” Grier said as gently rubbed Evren’s arm; even Grier’s hand was marred with age.  “Crarnock’s release will restore me as well, that much he promised.  I have no reason to doubt him.”  Grier scanned the wood-plank cabin they occupied, taking in the mahogany furniture, fur rugs and wood stacks that did little to enliven the residence.  “Soon, very soon, we’ll return to the mountains, leaving the marshland behind.”
“Even these lands are home, as long as you remain, dearest husband,” Evren said as she embraced Grier gently.  Bathed in firelight, which emanated from the hearth, the couple held to one another for a time until Evren pulled back and stared into the warden’s failing eyes.  “You have lived more than a decade for every year of my life.  I can’t even begin to know or understand what you’ve witnessed, what you’ve endured.  Just know that I love you and will be here, always.”
Chapter 1
“As if you know better, Mayhem,” Braiden whispered as he entered Erin’s Glade, the pine forest that encircled the graveyard of Geary.  His only companion besides the full moonlight, an aging skunk Braiden took in some winters past, looked back in response to the gibe and then quickly turned to meander on through the trees.  Braiden struggled to move forward as the sleet-laden landscape currently resembled a quagmire.  “At least I kept us out of the mud,” Braiden said as the soaked-earth chilled his body and the scent of damp skunk overwhelmed his sinuses.  This time, Mayhem responded by straightening his tail.  “Don’t you go sticking that at me, ya little…”  Braiden cut short his tirade as Mayhem scurried into the brush quickly.  The young man instinctively crouched beside a large conifer and listened for what disturbed his companion.  Polar air seared Braiden’s airways as he passed minutes in silence, his breath the only whisper carried by the night air.
“Ya senile, old fur-ball,” Braiden said as he let out the excess air filling his lungs; it took a moment for his breathing to relax, which is when he heard the distant crunch of footsteps amidst the frigid ground and enveloping foliage.  The guttural language of goblinoids soon carried over the air; moments seemed like ages as he waited for the goblins to pass by.  From his vantage point, Braiden only saw a throng of hide-clad legs pass by; their grouping made it impossible for him to determine how many there were.
“I’ve got to warn the others,” Braiden whispered to Mayhem as the skunk emerged silently from the north.  Braiden then eased upright only to endure the embrace of a northern wind that spread out his cloak, like wings on a bat.  Underneath, Braiden wore druid garments indicative of a novice; he bore brown, woolen trousers, a grey, cotton tunic and fur covered boots, which covered his calves.  The wind subsided in an instant even as the young druid melted back into the forest; Braiden’s trek ended just as abruptly.  Silent and still he remained until he turned his head towards the goblins.  “My God, the sword,” Braiden said, his voice excited and fearful.  He instantly accepted the holy weapon as his charge and trudged on towards the graveyard, which he was in sight of within minutes. 
Braiden held the advantage over the goblins for he knew where the sword rested; its home was the small mausoleum located in the graveyard’s northeast corner.  As the goblins ransacked the tombs along the main, southern entrance to the graveyard, Braiden crept amongst the worn and dilapidated gravestones until he reached the mausoleum’s front door.  He took a moment to read the inscription on the weathered nameplate.
“Corrington,” Braiden said, mouthing the only discernable words.  The druid quickly regained his focus and pushed against the mausoleum’s stone door; it grudgingly moved a couple inches.  Braiden took a moment to rest and then tried again.  This time the door slid open about two feet allowing Braiden to squeeze through the small opening.  Starlight and moonlight breaking through the partly cloudy sky provided Braiden with enough illumination to find a torch secured to the wall.  He quickly pulled out and struck together fragments of flint and quartzite.  Sparks quickly ignited the torch head, generating a flame in seconds, heavy breath providing encouragement.  The torch fully illuminated the twenty by twenty foot chamber.  In the center of the chamber was a marble staircase that led to the lower halls.  Braiden descended the steps into a large chamber in the center of which was a crypt table where rested the remains of a mail clad and dust covered knight.  Braiden walked to the foot of the table.  After uttering a quiet prayer, Braiden moved to the knight’s scabbard; it was empty.  Braiden panicked.
“God help me?” he asked under his breath.  A faint, bluish light came from the head of the crypt table, and Braiden rushed to find the source.  It was the sword.  He reached out to grab the hilt, hesitating just before he touched it.
“Sword of all and nothing, forgive my touch,” Braiden said as his delicate hands clutched the cord-wrapped hilt.  “Better the sword be in my hands than theirs,” Braiden said.  The light faded the moment he gripped the hilt.  The blade, warm to the touch, was seemingly weightless, and Braiden felt his strength renewed as he lifted the ancient blade.  Thoughts of the pursuing goblins pulled the novice back to his charge.  He ran back to the stairs and up to the mausoleum’s ground level.
Once he reached the door, Braiden peered out into the night.  The goblins were about one hundred and fifty feet away, which left Braiden little choice but to run towards the village southwest of the graveyard.
“Get ‘em!” one of the goblins called out.  The six other goblins chased after Braiden while the remaining goblin ran into the mausoleum.  Wind at his back, Braiden maneuvered amongst the trees, his footfalls playing in a trio with the crusted snow and an underlay of leaves.  Branches overhead knocked in an eerie rhythm cloaking the sound of Braiden’s flight, but his obvious footprints amidst the snow and mud-laden landscape nullified that aid.  With moonlight to guide him, Braiden navigated through the forest to the village, but the goblins were not far behind, evidenced by the iron-tipped arrows that fell upon Braiden the moment the woods thinned out.  One and then another two came within a few feet of Braiden as he ran.  The fourth arrow struck true, piercing through the left shoulder area of his brown, hooded cloak.  The force of the hit forced Braiden to the ground and into a roll, which broke the shaft of the arrow and left the point embedded in his shoulder blade; the sword itself fell to the ground with little exhibition as its steel and brass form quickly thwarted inertia.
“AHHH!” Braiden exclaimed as his chin dug into a frost-encrusted patch of sod.  His left arm was completely numb, but adrenaline propelled Braiden to his feet.  Grabbing the sword by the hilt, Braiden ran on while thinking of ways to hide the sword, and one plan seemed best.  It took only a few moments to reach the building he searched for.  Picking up a rock from the road, Braiden threw the granite cobble through a window and entered the room within, which was the front room of the weapon smith’s shop.  After a quick scan of the swords displayed on one of the many sword racks, Braiden selected a bundled sword that was nearly as long as the one he carried, opened the cord-wrapped sword and exchanged one for the other.  He then ran to and exited out of the window he had shattered and fled down the road in the opposite direction the goblins were coming from.  They were only a hundred feet away when he exited the building.  Braiden, anticipating the coming arrows, dodged left and right as he made his way towards the large pond at the end of the road.  The arrows continued to rain down on him as he ran.  One struck true as he was within feet of the pond’s edge, forcing him again to the ground.  The arrow pierced into his back and out of the right side of his chest.  Blood flowed freely from the wound; Braiden knew there was little time.  Gathering what little strength he had, Braiden held the sword by the hilt and threw it with all his might into the pond.  Two more arrows slammed into Braiden’s back a second later; he was dead before he hit the ground.
* * *
Dead silence surrounded Grier from the moment he first stepped into the dilapidated citadel.  The upper-levels collapsed after the explosion claimed his master, leaving only a small segment of granite walls spanning a mere fifteen feet; a height that depreciated the citadel’s once magnificent shell, which pierced through the clouds above while Crarnock reigned.
“I know the words, master,” Grier said aloud.  Hunched with age and weeks with little sleep, the goblin warden relied on a maple staff for support as he leaned over to rest a jewel on the ground.  Standing erect once more, Grier looked mournfully at the jewel, whose very nature seemed to shift between a ruby and an emerald.  “Are you truly there, my master.  Too long have you been away, but now, I know the words.”
Stepping back several feet from the jewel, Grier let his staff fall to the ground and unhinged the clasp to his cloak.  As the cloak slid from Grier’s body, brown robes were revealed, adorned with no finery in stone, metal or cloth.  The words came with no musicality to carry them forward, a fact that discomforted Grier immensely.  “A human creation, no doubt,” Grier thought to himself as he continued to utter the words and phrases flawlessly.  He quickly lost all sight of the jewel as he focused intently on the spell, and as Grier spoke the last word, all energy drained from the goblin mage.  Then, within heartbeats of his loss, Grier felt his muscles and skin tighten.  An explosion quickly erased all sensation and forced Grier to the ground.  Once prone, Grier scanned the ruins for signs of life, and moonlight guided the goblin to a robe-clad figure at the room’s center; Crarnock, the Mage-King of Veron, stood where the jewel once rested.
***
Crarnock collapsed into a heap seconds after his release from the jewel; Grier crawled to the wizard’s side.  Crarnock’s breathing was shallow, but it grew stronger with each passing moment.  The wizard also shivered as the cold night air enveloped him, biting at his exposed flesh and every crevice.  Grier, after covering Crarnock with his fur cloak, simply rested his hand on his master’s back and waited for the wizard to regain consciousness.  After a few long moments, Crarnock opened his eyes.
“Master, are you all right?”
“Grier?” Crarnock asked in response to his apprentice’s question.
‘Yes, master.  It’s me.” Grier said in a comforting tone.  Crarnock looked at the elder goblin standing above him.  Even with the goblin’s wrinkled skin, white hair and haggard voice, there was no mistaking it was Grier.
“Help me up,” Crarnock said only to be find Grier’s hands immobilizing him.
“You should rest a moment, master.”
“How long have I been gone?”
“I don’t think now is the time to discuss…”
“How, long?” Crarnock asked in a threatening tone.  Grier took a moment before answering.
“Over three hundred years.”  Crarnock’s face revealed none of the thoughts that went through his mind leaving Grier no idea of what the wizard would say next.  His master did not remain silent for long.
“Where are we?” Crarnock asked as he scanned their surroundings.
“We’re in the remains of the citadel,” Grier said as he looked around at the dilapidated structure.  “I prevented its rebuilding so that the druids would not continue their watch.  I couldn’t risk their curiosity.”  Crarnock, listening intently to his true apprentice’s words, heard something for the first time.
“It would appear, my apprentice, you have mastered more than the magic.  Your grasp of the Carellan language has certainly improved.”  Grier smiled slyly in response.
“I’ve been busy, master.  Let’s move this conversation indoors where I can explain everything that’s happened.”

Chapter 2
“It’s not worth more than a gull weight,” Dirge said, trying to get a better price for the repair to his weapon.
“Dirge, you busted the hilt, the pommel and the tip.  My God, I’m surprised there’s anything left! What did you do, attack the walls of Paradok?” the exasperated blacksmith asked.  Dirge, standing just over six feet in height, felt dwarfed by the short yet heavily muscled smith who was berating him for again being careless with the sword, which was his only source of income.  “To be honest, I should’ve charged ya double.  As it is, I had to fit it with a new hilt after completely re-forging the blade.  It took me the better part of the afternoon.”
“One dove-weight it is,” Dirge said, not bothering to continue the debate.  He learned long ago to know when Gregory was firm on price.  Dirge reached down into a belt pouch, pulled out a silver coin and handed it over to Gregory who quickly slid the coin into his leather apron.  The smith handed the wrapped sword over to Dirge and then returned to his forge in the back of the shop without another word.
“Thanks,” Dirge said sarcastically, after which he left the shop.  Once outside, Dirge took a moment to adjust to the sunlight.  His deep, brown eyes blinked until he was adjusted to the bright, noon sun.  Few clouds were in the sky, but the early autumn day was far from pleasant as a cold north wind made the already chilly day seem like a mid-winter morning.  Dirge huddled into his woolen cloak in an effort to fight off the frigid temperature while continuing his walk towards the southern end of the village where two horses waited; one a brown stallion, and the other a grey stallion with patches of black and white spread over its entire body.  Dirge walked up to the stallion and attached the bundled sword to his horse.  He considered inspecting Gregory’s handiwork, but quickly determined it a waste of effort in the cold.  Gregory was the best smith in the region, and Gregory’s ability to work metal was matched only by the smith’s resolute character.  The sword was well crafted and ready for anything.
“I see your sword is whole again,” said a deep voice from behind him.  Dirge turned around to Myrkien Tynsier approaching, laden with two large sacks.  “We’re all set for the trek.  Do you think we’ll need anything else?  Now’s the time, cause I’m not making another trip until the weather improves.”  Myrkien, who stood several inches taller than Dirge, was muscular with black hair that stretched to his shoulder blades.  Myrkien focused his blue eyes on his brown haired companion and waited for a reply as he tied the sacks to his saddle.  There was only one response he wanted to hear; Dirge didn’t disappoint.
“No worries, brother-mine.  I’ve had my fill of this place for now.  What about the commotion down the lane?” Dirge asked as he nodded towards the gathering of people at the opposite end of the village’s main thoroughfare.  Myrkien looked over his shoulder to the area where the sheriff now directed the activities.
“They found a druid with arrows lodged in his back.  I think it was an acolyte.”
“Who?” Dirge asked.
“I’m not certain.  The sheriff thinks the arrows are goblin made.”
“How the hell did goblins catch a druid unaware?”
“I don’t know, but we best move on.  The sheriff’s not an admirer of ours.  If he finishes his investigation while we’re in sight, he may just decide to accuse us of the murder.”
“I wonder if the goblins broke out Gregory’s window?  He told me some kids probably did it, but I wouldn’t put it past the goblins.”
“I don’t know about that,” Myrkien said as he climbed into his saddle.  “I doubt goblins are dumb enough to risk waking an arms master in the middle of the night.  Let’s go, Leland,” Myrkien said, using Dirge’s birth name, as only Myrkien did.  “We’re losing daylight.”
* * *
Dirge and Myrkien’s trek to their cabin, shrouded in mist, followed the trade-road, which paralleled the Casenovia River on to Verrod; the well-traveled route provided western Dongalians access to the markets of Verrod and the plethora of other trade routes that ended at that great city.  The brothers never ventured that far eastward.
Hours after departing Geary, Myrkien and Dirge turned north, following a lightly tread path into the northern woodlands.  Unlike the hard-packed earth of the trade-road, this path, obscured by an overgrowth of thickets and grape vines, was littered with cobbles and exposed tree roots.
“Hard to believe the military once relied on this path for transporting men and materials to Paradok,” Myrkien said as he dismounted.  Dirge likewise climbed down from his saddle and led his horse to where his brother stood.  While the horses feasted on grass and drank puddle water, Dirge crouched down to examine the surface of the path.  “How’s it look?”  Dirge did not answer the query, instead scanning further along the path for prints and any disturbance of the water-laden vegetation.  Dirge then closed his eyes and reached out to the sounds and smells of the woods.  “Leland?”
“Aside from a few squirrels, rabbits and deer, the path remains undisturbed,” Dirge replied, his eyes still closed.  The fragrance of pine, damp leaves and wet fur weighed heavily on the air, but those scents failed to obscure one repulsive odor, which brought a smile to Dirge’s face.
“What is it, ya smirking fool?” Myrkien asked.
“Something disturbed a skunk earlier, but it’s moved on.”  Standing, Dirge looked into the overhanging branches, a cacophony of birdcalls offering reassurance the brothers’ path was clear.  “The cardinals and chickadees seem undisturbed; I think we’re good to go.”
“What makes you say that?”
“They’d be out of sight and quiet right now if there were any threats about.  Come on.  The sooner we’re home, the sooner I can start repairing the roof.”  Dirge started walking his horse forward along the path.
“Little brothers are scary,” Myrkien muttered as he followed behind Dirge.  “Mind you don’t fall of while you’re fixing the shingles.  It’s too cold out to be digging a grave.”
“Your cooking will do me in before gravity does,” Dirge chided his elder brother.  A second later, as Myrkien marched up along side him, Dirge head jerked forward; responding in kind to a slap to the back of his head.
“Just keep moving, little brother.”
* * *
The brothers reached their one-room log cabin just as the sun casts its final rays against the darkness.  Located on one of the larger hills northeast of Geary, the structure was nearly invisible, its walls mostly concealed by the pines, spruce and apple trees scattered about the landscape.  Yet, all of this foliage remained ever dwarfed by the lone silver maple that towered over the cabin.
“It’s too late to start fixing the roof, Lee.  Wait till the morning,” Myrkien said as they stopped to rest at the crest of the hill.
“And if it rains?” asked Dirge.  Myrkien smirked as he scanned skyward.  Purple and crimson hues cast from the setting sun illuminated the gathering clouds whose elevation and emaciated forms consoled the elder brother.
“No rain will fall for hours.  Besides, the maple will look after us.  Unsaddle the horses and then come help me with dinner.”
“By your command.”
* * *
Dirge walked the horses into the small barn behind their home.  Unlike the house, the barn received continual maintenance and was Leland’s sanctuary.  Aside from the stalls for the horses, the barn housed his workbench and tools. Littered about the bench were also scraps of wood, the remnants of his multiple projects, which ranged from small jewelry boxes to storage trunks.
‘It’s good to be home,” Leland whispered as he escorted the horses to their respective stalls.  After removing their horses’ saddles and bridles and checking hooves for damage, Leland fed Myrkien’s charger, Dorin, an oat and barely meal before turning his attention to his mount, Primus.  “Good journey, my friend.  A wee bit rushed, I admit, but it couldn’t be helped.  You won’t be holding that against me, will ya?” Leland asked Primus while patting the horse’s side.  Primus looked up from his feed-bin and stared at Leland, all the while chomping on his meal.  After a moment, the horse leaned backed down and continued to feast.  “I’ll take that as a no.”  Leaving the horses to their supper, Leland walked over to his work area.  The chestnut bench resembled a butcher’s block in design, reminiscent of the unadorned style Leland favored; no engravings or molding with a subtle, seed-oil stain.  Leland laid his right hand on the bench-top and rubbed the surface to feel the grit and sawdust, which remained from his last project.  For a moment, Leland closed his eyes, letting his other senses take in his sanctuary.  The calls of chickadees and cardinals played disparate tunes, while the scents of pine and charcoal brought back memories of his father’s workshop decades past.
“I remember, father,” he whispered.  It was at that moment Leland’s hand felt the cold iron head of his father’s tack hammer.  The son opened his eyes as he grasped the tool.  It was all that survived a fire, which consumed his father’s workshop.  “I remember everything.  Goodnight, Da,” Leland said as he attached the hammer to his belt and exited the barn.  It was to be the last time Leland would ever set foot in the barn.
Inside the cabin, Myrkien busied himself with lighting several candles before tending to the fireplace.  By the time Leland entered the cabin, a crackling fire provided warmth and illumination; Myrkien was already preparing for dinner.  The journey from Geary left little time to hunt.  Fortunately, Myrkien’s deft aim with his bow and keen sight secured two rabbits; Leland’s lack of aim, meanwhile, mortally wounded a dead oak, but otherwise secured nothing for dinner.
“Horses set for the night?” Myrkien asked as he secured the already cleaned rabbits to spits.
“We pushed them hard, but they’re as content as we are to be home.  I don’t think they’d appreciate another night under the stars, especially with the north winds coming so strong.  Can I help with anything?”
“Nope, all set here,” Myrkien replied.  After setting the spits in place over the fire, Myrkien brushed a mixture of chestnut oil, pepper, basil and crushed rosemary over the meat; within little time, the resulting aroma enveloped the cabin.  Leland learned early in life that his brother made even the must mundane ingredients into a meal fit for kings.  Stepping away from the fire, Myrkien walked to and opened the east window.  For long moments he watched the night extinguish the strained sun rays, leaving behind a quarter moon and distant stars spread amongst a growing cloud cover.
“We should think about checking out the area,” Myrkien said, finally breaking the silence.  “If goblins are making a move on the town, then those of us in the outer-regions are even more vulnerable.  I don’t like the thought of their being out there unchecked.”
“You thinking we should set a watch?” Leland asked.
“It’s probably not a bad idea.  At least ‘til they’re caught,” Myrkien said, after which he moved over to the fire and rotated the spits.  Leland, meanwhile, moved about the one room cabin lighting a few lanterns in preparation for a quick patrol.  The cabin itself was sparsely filled with furniture, the actual fixtures being two cots, three chairs and two large chests.  There was also a large table on which rested an assortment of pots and dishes the two used for cooking and serving their meals.  Setting two lanterns on the table, Leland took the third and walked towards the cabin door.
“I’ll take a look about.”  He proceeded to don a fur parka and arm himself with a bardiche.  “Don’t start dinner without me, all right?”  He exited the cabin without waiting for a reply from Myrkien, and Myrkien, for his part, did not bother cautioning his brother to be careful.  Lee was the best tracker anywhere and one of the best swordsmen as well.
Leland returned from his quick patrol to find Myrkien plating the rabbits along with some roasted potatoes.  Hot cider was already on the table, a delight Leland welcomed after his stroll in the artic outside air.
“Anything?” Myrkien asked as Leland finished drinking a bit of cider.”
“I walked over a good quarter mile and saw not a track or twig outta place.  The way the raccoons are scrambling about, I doubt there’s anyone, goblin or otherwise, within miles.”
“Then let’s eat.”
* * *
The brothers ate in virtual silence, all energy drained from the day-long trek home.  After finishing their meal and cleaning up, Myrkien sat down at the table for his customary shot of whiskey.  Leland drank a mug of tea at the table while looking over his father’s tack hammer as if the tool would provide more insight into his father’s life.  The hammer’s mahogany handle was worn smooth from Leland’s constant handling.  He knew every nick his father made to the hammer, as well as all the damage his own use caused over the years.
“What’s on your mind, Lee?”
“Just wondering where he got this from.” Leland replied.
“I gave you that as a keepsake, not as a token of sorrow.  What’s really bothering you?”
“There’s just… a lot I don’t remember.”
“You were young when it happened, little brother.  Sometimes I’m surprised you remember him as much as you do.  I’ll take first watch, I’m not really all that tired.  We can delve more into this when you’re more awake.  Sound good?”
“You sure you’re up for first watch?”
“Yeah, I’ll be ok.  Go get some sleep.”  Leland nodded towards his brother and then headed towards his cot.  After taking off his over-garments, Leland slid under his blankets and quickly fell asleep.
Myrkien waited until he heard his brother’s routine snoring before he started moving about.  He took a couple minutes to throw two logs onto the fire and set the tea pot on some of the larger embers.  He then moved a chair closer to the fire and sat down after wrapping his blanket around his shoulders.  As Leland’s snoring quieted, the crackling of the fire drowned out all other noise, and Myrkien drifted into thoughts that long held the focus of his life.  As he did every night, Myrkien thought back to when he and Leland lived in a village well south of their current home.  His first memory was of Leland’s mother, who was pregnant at the time, and Leland’s father, Arwedd.  The astute and forthright parents looked after Myrkien as if he were their own son; that fact led to his calling them mother and father.  In short time, Leland was born and their rag-tag family was complete, although life was far from easy.  Arwedd died when Leland was four at which time their mother worked at a number of odd jobs in order to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.  She was also an avid church participant who pulled the two of them along with her constantly.  They eventually joined the choir where both boys became good vocalists, Leland a solid alto and Myrkien a commanding baritone.  It was during one performance that Myrkien’s voice conjured an effect that captured his attention and heart instantly.
He no longer remembered the song he was singing, he just remembered the result; an intense burning sensation passed through his body after which his left hand became frost covered.  Nauseous and sweating profusely, Myrkien exited the choir loft and fled to the sanctity of the church hall where he settled amongst the empty pews.  Myrkien remembered looking at his hand and trying to shake the frost off it.  He was amazed at how his hand remained unaffected by the frost that encased it, and he just spent the next few minutes watching the crystalline covering melt.  Myrkien spent every day since then trying to determine how it happened and how he could replicate his actions.  Day after day, and year after year, he searched out every text he could find that would enlighten the boy about the magic he once conjured, but Myrkien found nothing.  History books spoke of wizards from ages past that could cast spells of frost and fire, but they were believed to be legends meant to scare children.  Myrkien knew magic existed; he knew he did not imagine the incident.  Leland was the only one he entrusted his experience with, and Leland eventually thought of something to help his search.
“Why don’t you look through the Church’s library?” Leland once asked.  It was a good thought, which the wizard-hopeful took to heart.  Myrkien snuck into the village church and went through every book, twice.  Nothing that dealt with magic could be found.  Myrkien eventually went through all four churches in the area and found nothing.  After moving to Geary, Leland and Myrkien hired out as hunters and furriers for the local businesses, and when goblins first started to attack local homesteads, they hired out as guards for the sheriff.  Leland constantly confronted the inept sheriff on his lack of initiative throughout the times of trouble, leading to his banishment from the local militia.  This left the two brothers with only one option; they became little more than ‘thugs for hire,’ as Leland liked to say.  For Myrkien, any activity was nothing but a distraction from the magic he sought to conjure, but he discovered long ago, that the answers he needed we far from home.
* * *
“Myrkien.  Myrkien.  Wake up,” Leland whispered as he shook the elder brother into consciousness.  Myrkien jolted awake and nearly fell out of his chair.
“What, what’s going on?”
“You feel asleep,” Leland said.  “Come on, why don’t you go to bed.”
“I’m ok,” Myrkien replied after which he yawned, stretched and sat up in is chair.  “How long ‘til morning?”
“I don’t know.  Do you want me to cook you some breakfast?”
“Yea.  Some oatmeal would warm my bones.”  Leland went to the fire and threw on a couple logs, which helped kick the fire up in little time.  After filling a pot with water and oats, Leland placed the pot on the fire and then crouched by the flames to warm up.
“Winter’s coming early this year,” Leland said.  Myrkien nodded in agreement, but said nothing in reply.  “Are you ok?”
“Just tired I guess,” Myrkien finally said.  “I’ve just been thinking is all.”
“About what?” Leland asked, though he guessed magic was at the heart of his brother’s thoughts as it usually was.
“I just think we’ve exhausted our options here.  I mean, what is there left for us?”
“I don’t know.  But what else could we do, Myrkien?”  Myrkien went to offer some suggestions when a voice called from outside.

“DIRGE! TYN! HELP!” a deep, male voice called out.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Return of the Sagan

The novel is finally finished and about a week away from it's release.  To say I am excited is an understatement.  'The Return of the Sagan' is my first full-length SciFi novel, which chronicles the adventures of the crew of the U.S.S. Carl Sagan, a generational starship that returns to Earth after 300 years to find the planet void of human life.  What caused the disappearance of Humanity?  Is the Earth able to be resettled?  The novel will present these questions and more while incorporating real technologies with the hypothetical to keep readers intrigued and inquisitive.  My hope is that every reader will consider her/his part in our ever-developing planet and the course we are set on as a species.  Best wishes to all.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Finish Line Crossed: Sagan is done

Me and 'Vlara' after riding through the countryside.
It's been a year since I started the journey writing the novel 'Return of the Sagan', and I am happy to say the complete draft is finished.  Book cover designs are being worked on and I am giving the manuscript a thorough proofing, but it is all coming to an end.  Things I learned from this experience are:

1) Writing scifi/dystopian novels are a hell of a lot of fun.

2) These genres help writers stretch and gain new insight into paths to take in other work.

3) This is not my last scifi novel.


As an aside, I also will have a scifi/fantasy short story released in an anthology soon (just received word that my story was accepted for the final cut and will be in the anthology).  I will release more info shortly.

What's next?  The sequel to 'People of the Sword', which is long overdue.  On a positive side, a lot of the novel is written and the complete outline is set.  The sequel takes place 400 years after the 1st in the series.  I plan to release some excerpts later this month and will keep everyone updated.  Take care, and happy reading!