This is a sampling of my recently edited (by Stephanie Dagg)
Secrets of the Ebonite Mines.
|Cover Art in Progress|
There is a lot of ground to cover, several story lines going on at once, the revelation of a budding, mutual attraction that may lead to a romance soon enough, Rose's feud with the Shadowhands, and plenty of other magic and mayhem!
Here is a smattering sample of chapter 2, where I introduce you to an integral group of Highwaymen tucked away discreetly in the mines and dilapidated village of Hollow Hill. They are the Blackstone Brotherhood. So, without further ado, meet Xorgram Eboneye! (And special thanks to Nick Titano again for his creative help with some of the characters and other things!)
Also, thanks to William Kenney for the cover art and I've provided samplings of his WIP as well.
Xorgram Eboneye stood at the top of the watch tower, using his one good and deeply blue-colored eye to peer out over the horizon and into the morning skyline. He then removed a telescope from his backpack, lifted his eye patch and held the device over his prosthetic, very unique right eye. That prosthetic had many special qualities. The telescope, when combined with it, magnified his vision by tenfold, making things in the distance appear as if they were happening right in front of him.
The prosthetic eye, which he’d had implanted years ago, was made for him specifically by Fuddle Mucklewink using the rare shadowsteel material of the mines found below Hollow Hill. Fuddle was a brilliant gnome inventor and one of his oldest friends and allies. The new eye enabled Xorgram to somehow tap into his optic nerve, allowing him to not only obtain clear vision, but to also see into other planes if he so willed it. This particular gift required great effort and was a feat that he could only perform occasionally, and was something he’d discovered accidentally.
He surveyed the vast and many areas surrounding the dilapidated village he called home for signs of activity. Once a wagon, caravan or group of travelers was spotted, he could send his brethren to relieve them of their goods and coin.
He smiled as he thought of how smoothly their operations were going and how efficient the Blackstone Brotherhood had become here over the last few decades, perfecting their procedures and developing a careful system. It had taken him years to come up with the proper distance, techniques and tactics with which to apply his thieving carefully enough to not be discovered. He was extremely proud of this particular group of highwaymen. This thought made him hold the smile for several more minutes before returning his attention to the valley to the north.
There was no sign of movement or life that he could see immediately in the vast expanse that was called Heartwood Valley. The valley was their usual stomping ground, sandwiched between the Oakcrest Mountains, the Amrel Forest, Hollow Hill and the eerily foggy Lake of Souls. Its proximity lent itself well to their incursions and provided sufficient cover from which to perform their raids without detection. And the mist from the Lake of Souls was just beginning to pour into the valley.
The fog derived from the warm waters that fell from the Blackstone Mountains, where a waterfall emptied into the Lake of Souls and caused a misty effect each and every morning. That was a particularly good time for the Brotherhood to execute their work—then and in the cover of night, of course.
“Anything?” called a gruff voice from behind, pulling him from his thoughts. He turned to regard one of the coven, which is how he and the entire Blackstone Brotherhood referred to the thirteen leaders he placed in charge to help him run the day-to-day operations.
He looked down on one of his best and most seasoned raid leaders named Amtusk—a grey-skinned half-orc with remnants of auburn hair and a goatee that matched growing sporadically on his face. He spoke through a mouth framed by a pair of large tusks.
“I’m itchin’ for a fight!”
“I’m bettin’ ye’ll be needed soon,” called back Xorgram as he stepped forward and leaned over the railing of the watchtower deck, staring wide at the ruins of Hollow Hill.
Xorgram and his confidantes had long ago decided to leave the settlement in shambles so that any passers-by would not think it occupied. It remained in the state in which Ashenclaw herself had left it…charred ruins of a once-teeming village.
“Why dontcha go fetch me some breakfast, instead o’ cryin’ and complainin’,” Xorgram called down once more to the half-orc, scratching his raven-black beard.
“Aye,” called the half-orc from below as he brandished an ebon-hued axe and used it to salute Xorgram. “I’m wantin’ only to put this new axe-head to the test, if you want to know the truth!”
“Yer time be comin’, so be ready when I’m callin’, Amtusk,” Xorgram ordered as he regarded the newly-crafted shadowsteel weapon with a wide smile. He couldn’t help but see how this most recent development by his miners and engineers would give their entire organization a major advantage—mostly in warfare—and they might even make a few coins if they could perfect the metals and sell them to the highest bidders.
Once Xorgram sent the word out of how their new weapons worked, their reputation would spread across Wothlondia and the Brotherhood might grow into something altogether grand. With the new sections of ebonite they’d recently uncovered in the mines deep beneath their village, the head miner, Skilgo Firehammer, would certainly be busy! Xorgram had set Skilgo, a Slagfell dwarf and expert miner, to the task immediately. Not only had Skilgo been put to work, but all of the rest of the miners had been digging for months now in that section to uncover more of the ebonite veins, and they had recently revealed a mother lode!
Xorgram also had his cousin and closest friend, Kilkutt Axegrind, the master-smithy, working tirelessly along with his understudies. They worked night and day to reshape the ebonite, reforming it into shadowsteel, which was in turn used to create some masterfully potent weapons and armor. That wasn’t even mentioning what Fuddle could do with the stuff, thought Xorgram gleefully.
Xorgram surveyed the area carefully once more and considered that with the weather breaking, more and more caravans would be traveling within his boundaries. He whipped his head around and cleared the strings of black hair from his vision and scanned using the telescope. He panned west and then, as his gaze headed back toward the east, he could see what looked like a caravan.
“Well, I’ll be...” Xorgram muttered.
To the north, as if in answer to his needs, came the mist from the Lake of Souls. It started out slowly each morn, but as the minutes passed, it thickened over the bottom of the valley and covered it for miles. He smirked at his good fortune and removed the telescope from over the ebon orb that sat in place of his right eye.
“Amtusk! Forget about me breakfast! We got us a carriage headed down from the northwestern hills!” he called out, retracting his lens and replacing it in his belt. “Get a party together with some crossbows in the hills above and get me some goods!” It was shaping up to be a good year, Xorgram thought.
“Aye!” Amtusk called and ran off to heed his leader’s commands.
“The princess is complaining again,” called a silken voice from the other side of the watchtower. Xorgram stared down to see Cassia, his mistress and a seasoned raid leader, calling to him from below. Her blonde hair danced freely in the cool breeze.
He hurriedly climbed down the watchtower and landed in front of her. He looked around to see that no one was nearby, grabbed her by the hair, pulled her low and kissed her hard on the lips.
“Now, what ye be sayin’?” Xorgram asked replacing her into an upright position. He adjusted his leather pants and then ran his stubby fingers through his own disheveled, black hair in a vain attempt to make himself more presentable to her.
“The princess,” she began to say with a certain malice in her tone that quickly dissipated, “requires some behavioral adjustments.” She wiped her mouth and spat at the floor in front of him.
“Send Skuros to pay ‘er a visit,” ordered Xorgram as he smacked her hard on the right buttock. “If the taur don’t be scarin’ her, nothing will.”
“Very well,” she agreed, looking back at him with a sly grin. “Or maybe I’ll just bleed the wench meself…”
“Ye’ll be doin’ none o’ that, me pretty,” Xorgram ordered. “Be at me bedside tonight, though and I’ll punish ye fer mouthin’ off to me.”
The blonde woman merely shrugged at the rugged dwarf, then called back to him. “Or maybe I’ll feed her to Iron Belly,” she teased as she departed with a glint in her light brown eyes and a cruel smile on her face that yet maintained a genuine beauty.
Xorgram watched the woman go, thinking about the huge tyrantian worm that made its home beneath the ebonite mines with its gaping maw, huge mandibles and as yet unknown length and which they affectionately referred to as Iron Belly. He recollected the first time he had encountered the thing, which was coincidentally the same day he’d lost his right eye.
He shook that thought from his mind as his vision couldn’t help but follow Cassia as she walked away, watching her hips moving side to side under her tight leather pants and her shapely legs crossing over in front of each other. Her twin rapiers were also hanging low on her belt, one on either side, their weight aiding in pulling down the top seam of her pants to reveal just the hint of lighter skin below her tan line. She glanced back to catch him staring at her and then turned back, no doubt smiling to herself.
Xorgram quickly turned his considerations back to his daily tasks although his eye found Cassia’s form a few more times as she continued on her path into the mines.
Once Cassia was out of sight, he headed toward the entrance of the village and saw the last of Amtusk’s raiding party piling out of the gates. He watched as they shut those same gates behind them.
He breathed a deep sigh and adjusted his eye patch, giving in to the memories of the horrible troll, Bilonus that was responsible for taking his eye as well as his once-stunning features. Xorgram frowned visibly at that thought. But then a smile began to form as he recalled that the troll had been devoured by Iron Belly. He headed back to the top of the watchtower once more, smiling ear to ear in vengeful satisfaction.
|Cover Art Stage 2~Is that a Dire Bear? Yep!|
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