Back to the flesh and blood readers. As I've been telling you, for the last few months I've been hacking away at the main story in my upcoming release, Guild Files Volume 2: Reagent Protocol. While I haven't fielded any questions, I'm sure there are some, so I'm going to try and answer a few.
First off, is Reagent Protocol a sequel to Subject 12? No. I already answered this, but I'll go into a little more depth here. While it's not a direct sequel (in fact, it takes place during the events of Subject 12), it sets up characters that make appearances in Rogue, and it expands the overall universe in ways that I plan on taking advantage of.
Second, is Reagent Protocol an anthology like I had discussed before? Yes and no. It will bundle Banshee, which you should be familiar with (if you're not, click that link), and the story I just finished the rough draft to, which is about Shawn Doolish, a 200 year-old shadow mage who has left the Villain's Confederation and joined the Heroes' Guild. Current word count on the Doolish story is over 67,000 words. Banshee clocked in around 10,000 words, so we're looking at probably around 80-82.5K words total when I get some reader feedback and do my editing. And no, I haven't done the Guild Intelligence file(s) for the main story yet.
Third, what does Reagent Protocol mean for the publication of Rogue? Well, obviously I haven't worked too intensely on Rogue while I've been working on Reagent Protocol. While I need to keep many irons in the fire so I don't get too burnt out on any one project, the lion's share of my attention does go to the project that I feel is of the highest priority, and that usually is the one that I feel the most inspiration for. In this case, Rogue just didn't make the cut that often. I'm still working on it, I swear, it's slow going. I do, however, plan on making it my next Guild Files release.
Fourth, do I still have plans for an anthology of short stories set in the Guild Files universe? Not as such, no, and certainly not immediately. I do, however, plan on possibly tacking another short story or two into Reagent Protocol, provided they fit the criteria for a Reagent Protocol story. I'll explain what I mean about that in the actual publication.
Fifth, is there any way you can read the rough draft and give me reader feedback? To be honest, possibly. I've had a couple of offers and, even if I haven't responded to them, I've heard them and remember them. The issue at hand is twofold. Of highest priority would be the fact that I need feedback both on the story as I've presented it. Is it good enough? Are the characters believable? Are they exciting? Is the story plausible within the constraints of the universe? Are there any gaping plot holes... That's a lot to ask of anyone, especially someone I don't know, and that doesn't even cover the other part. If you think you can handle all that and get back to me in a timely fashion (by Monday the 27th), I'll consider the first three people who contact me with a valid e-mail address. Drop me a line on Google+, Twitter, or in the comments here. Thanks!
Those were the only questions I could really think of, so I'll wrap it up here. I'd planned for a character map of the main characters, but this is getting long already and will only get longer from here.
Now, on to why many of you might be interested in reading this blog post at all, the excerpt. Keep in mind three things. This is a rough draft. That means what you see here may not bear any resemblance to the opening of the published story. Secondly, this won't be the same excerpt as you'd get from Amazon when I get the book published. That will, if memory serves, be substantially longer than what I'm posting here, and cover at least in part a different section of the story. Third, I will not change this when I publish. Consider it a glimpse into the creative process if you so wish. If it stays the same, then you'll know I did good. If it changes dramatically, you'll be able to see the difference. Also, though this goes without saying to anyone who has read Subject 12, there's a content warning for language. You have been warned. So, with those things in mind, enjoy!
The day was hot, as hot as Alaska ever got this far inland and north. The dust kicked up by the landing plane drifted away on the gentle breeze, the perfect touch to finish off the lovely day, but both Guild members were thirsty and a little irritated from both the long walk and the total lack of cloud cover. The air might not have been particularly warm compared to where Ergone had been born and raised, but the sun felt hot. She could feel it prickling her skin wherever it was exposed.
“This berk better be worth it,” she said to herself.
“Don’t fancy the walk back, love?”
Ergone shot him a dirty look. He smiled and raised his hands in submission. “It’s just the way I talk. I don’t mean anything by it.”
“Two years we’ve known each other and I’ve told you to knock it off what feels like every damn day, Skorp. Don’t make me chastise you in front of the newbie until we have a chance to feel him out, alright?”
“I’ll try. Can’t promise more than to do my best, now can I?”
Ergone stared at the plane as it taxied back from the other end of the landing strip. Something about it gave her an odd feeling. The noise from the twin engines was enough to drown out any casual conversation anyway.
“I hope he doesn’t expect anyone to carry his luggage,” Skorpion shouted over the engine roar. “He can hire one of the Narboski brothers to haul it back to the hall on his own damn time!”
She didn’t bother to reply. The wind had shifted and the smell of the engine exhaust hit her like a heavy pillow. Suddenly the air felt thick and hot and like the breeze had evaporated. Her vision focused on the tiny aircraft’s door as adrenaline pumped into her system, the sound of the engines coughing as they died ringing in her ears like twin gunshots. She felt like running away and she didn’t know why.
“Hey, Skorp? Do me a favor and don’t go anywhere.”
“I wasn’t planning on it. What’s up? One of your hunches?”
“Yeah. Be on guard but don’t do anything too obvious.”
“Right.” His stance shifted into one far more alert than the playfully-insolent one he’d been in a moment before. “If we have to dance I’ll wait for your lead.”
“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” she said, watching the door pop open.
The pilot stepped out first, yawning and stretching as he normally did. He waved at the pair of supers watching him and cracked open the cargo compartment, levering one of the sides back and fishing inside for the luggage. Two black suitcases appeared and were placed gingerly on the packed soil. Only when they were on the ground did the sole passenger disembark.
Ergone gasped as a wave of discomfort washed over her.
The newcomer was of slender build with hair long enough to brush his shoulders, though it was graying at the temples. On his fingers were several rings with various stone settings glinting in the light. His clothing was black and resembled military-issue battle-dress, though the blouse wasn’t buttoned and his undershirt was a green so dark it would have appeared black except in contrast to the ebon fabric covering most of it. He squinted at the sun and waved his hand over his head. The area around him dimmed instantly and followed with him as he moved to pick up his luggage.
“Shadow mage,” Ergone breathed, her stomach slowly twisting into a knot. “Oh, fuck me, a shadow mage.”
Skorpion was about as magically-inclined as a chimpanzee with a twig and a termite mound, but even he shuddered at the sensation of Ergone drawing deep-earth energies to herself and slamming down a magic shield thick enough it actually warped the light traveling through its insubstantial form. She muttered half-heard phrases as she summoned the power of the stones and trees around them.
The newcomer straightened and, spying the two supers, waved cheerfully at them. He said something to the pilot and pulled an envelope from the breast pocket of his battle-dress blouse, handing it over with body language from both parties involved that indicated refusal wasn’t acceptable and that what was being given was a gift. When that was completed the stranger picked up his two bags and started walking toward the pair of supers waiting for him.
“On my mark,” Ergone growled through gritted teeth. “Take him from behind. Don’t give him a second to prepare or react...”
“Hi,” the man said, smiling brightly. “I’m... surprised there isn’t a car. No problem, though, right? After all, walking is good for the constitution.” He dropped the bags and extended his hand toward Skorpion. “You would be The Scorpion, correct?”
Giving Ergone a quick glance he relaxed his stance slightly and shook his head. “Just Skorpion, mate. With a K.”
“Ah, right. Right. I’ll remember that. And you,” he said, recognizing that his offered handshake wasn’t going accepted and turned to Ergone, “would be Ergone.” His smile faded slowly. “You’re a witch, aren’t you? Well, they said there would be surprises.” If he noticed the shield – a certainty, she reminded herself – he gave no indication.
He bent over and opened one of the bags, rummaging around for ten seconds before saying “Aha!” and straightening. He didn't call attention to how tense Ergone had gone at the sudden movement. “My file.” A large crypto-pouch, sealed with an official Guild biometric lock, dangled from its carrying handle in his left hand. “It’s keyed to open only for you, madam.”
Ergone stared at the pouch for a second longer than even she was comfortable with. Then she looked up at the earnest face and affable smile, back to the pouch, and realized that she had to make a decision right then as to whether she was going to give up her only chance to defend herself if he was anything other than he appeared. She chose not to.
“This is going to be difficult, isn’t it?” The smile faded from his face. Sighing, he replaced the crypto-pouch in his bag and zipped it shut. Straightening again, he flashed Skorpion an embarrassed grin by way of apology and then nodded to himself before removing a ring from his right hand. He brought the stone to his lips and kissed it, causing Ergone to snap her hand back; energy crackled and hissing around the ring so strongly even Skorpion could see and hear it. Ignoring this reaction, he slipped the ring back on and brought his hands behind his head with exaggerated slowness in an attempt to keep Ergone from releasing the pent up magic in her hand.
His fingers worked for three and a half seconds before he got the catch released. A black chain appeared between trembling fingers and a small pendant emerged from under his shirt. He wrapped the chain around his right hand and brought the pendant up to his lips. He whispered “Behave” before extending his arm, slowly, toward Ergone. The smile reappeared but with a brittle edge.
“I didn’t take it from anyone or use anyone to make it, madam. It is entirely mine. It will behave for you as long as you are careful to handle it lightly and don’t tease it.”
Ergone’s mind went blank except for a phrase burned into her memory from sheer repetition. Every treatise, every scroll, every lesson she’s uncovered, heard, read, or translated had said, in one form or another, the same thing.
A shadow mage never surrenders the Beast he wears around his throat, for to do so the mage would surrenders whatever is left of a blackened soul.
“Maybe this will help make up your mind,” the mage said quietly but with a very resigned note to it. He flicked his fingers and the shield exploded, but all of the energy dissipated away from them instead of violently grounding itself in each of the people standing there. “I’m a level five.”
Ergone, gasping with shock, released the pent-up energy in her hand into the ground with a purple spark that was momentarily brighter than the sun. Skorpion, fed up with knowing he was missing about three quarters of what was actually going on, snapped. “Would someone please tell me what the fuck is going on here?”
“This gentleman has just proven to me that he is on the level,” Ergone breathed, her eyes locked on the small cage hanging from the black chain. Something inside its midnight-black interior moved. “Because if he wasn’t he could have killed both of us and there wouldn’t have been a thing we could have done.”
“Don’t say that. I had plenty of time on the walk over to feel out your shield and find its weak points. You’re actually very good.” Sincerity oozed out of every pore as his smile returned. “Go on, take it. It won’t bite if you don’t provoke it, I promise.”
The books had warned her against ever touching a shadow mage’s caged... Actually, they’d never gone into detail about what it was, simply that she should never touch it. Come to think of it, they’d never told her why she shouldn’t touch it, just that “badde thinges have happened to thofe unwary enough” to have done so.
The mage sighed. “Ma’am, I promise you, as long as you treat it with respect it won’t harm you. Regardless of what you may have heard, it’s really quite tame.”
“Oh, for the love of,” Skorpion said, his irritation finally getting the better of him. “If you won’t take it, I will!”
“Don’t!” Ergone and the mage shouted in unison as Skorpion reached for the necklace.
“Do not touch it,” the mage continued, pulling his hand away. “While it might behave for myself and for the lady here it would not hesitate to devour one who is not... aware of what it is they hold.”
“Bollocks this,” Skorpion replied, shaking his head. “I’m going to grab some bitters at the store. Come along if you like or stand here pulling your pud. Either way, sod this shit.”
They watched him walk away until he was out of earshot. “That could have gone better,” the mage hazard, glancing down at his necklace and the caged darkness that twisted within. “I’m sorry, I’m not used to dealing with people who don’t know the risks.”
“Skorp’s a good man in a pinch, but his patience can wear thin quickly. Wait until you meet Ookami. He’s a frigging werewolf, if you can believe that.” She coughed. “Not that I have anything against werewolves, of course.”
“So I was told. Look, I’m making a mess of this. Are you going to take this or not? I’d feel better if you did, honestly, because you know what I’m giving up. If the others don’t trust me it’s not a big deal. If you don’t trust me this whole situation will go down the toilet faster than an unwanted pregnancy on prom night.”
Well, folks, that's the excerpt. I hope it whet your appetite for more! As you can see, I have been working. Is it of the same caliber as Subject 12? I can't say for sure. I just know I enjoyed the characters and I'm looking forward to sharing the rest with you when it's ready.
On a final note, I will say that I'm planning on having the cover for this book professionally done. While I'm proud of the jobs I did on Subject 12 and The Grand Granger, I just don't have the mental or emotional resources to spare to dig around for an inexpensive stock photo to doctor up, and the last time I looked I couldn't find anything that fit my mental image of what I wanted anyway. I found a place where I can get it done inexpensively and of high quality, so I'm planning on farming it out to save myself the hassle.
Thanks for reading!