Killing the Dead (A Tale of the Assassin Without a Name 2)

Killing the Dead is the second story in my "assassin without a name" series. The first is Fine Wine, also available to read for free here on my web site. If you enjoy these first two stories then I encourage you to head on over to Amazon to continue with the series.

"I am authorized to offer you double your normal rate because this job is a bit... abnormal."

I put my wine glass down, letting the smoothness of the '74 Crusus Sabeler slide down my throat and settle in my stomach before I responded. "Abnormal... how?"

I'd been enjoying a bottle of the shiraz when I saw the man poke his way through the wineshop's front door. That he was looking for me, I'd no doubt, for after a quick scan of the room's interior he headed straight for my table, asked my permission to sit, then did so. Right away, I saw that there was something different about this gent. He was middle-aged, with the thinning pate and speckled gray to prove it. The skin of his face was white from lack of sun and he had the smooth and uncalloused hands of a scrivener or a scholar. Neither profession earned enough to cover my fee. I was about to tell him so when he introduced himself. He said his name was Father Kem, here as a representative of a church whose name I promptly forgot. A holy man, come to see me? Abnormal was right.

He'd arrived incognito, dressed in a white tailored shirt, embroidered vest, and plain trousers. Despite the lack of a cassock, I wondered for a brief moment if he was here to absolve me of my sins. No such luck. He was here to add to them.

"We wish you to dispatch a man… who is already dead."

I narrowed my gaze at that, taking another sip of my wine and hoping it would make the words replaying in my mind clearer. It did not. "You want me to do what?"

Kem's lips turned in a brief smile. "I understand you may think me cracked. But, I assure you, the request is genuine, as is the proposed fee. The man you are to, ah, kill, is—was—named Ashunde Roe. He was a bishop amongst our clergy before he met his end. That end, as you might imagine, is of considerable importance, for Bishop Roe was purged."

That was the clergy's way of saying he'd been burned alive. It was a fate experienced by only the worst of sinners: dark witches, demon-mongers, necromancers, and probably some others I didn't want to know about.

"Ashunde strayed from our ranks," Kem said. "He was caught delving into the debaucheries of necromancy."

Ah, necromancy. I spent my time sending people to their graves. Necromancers spent their time raising them. A vicious cycle by anyone's measure.

"You'll excuse me," I said, "but I still do not see why you require my services. If the man has been reduced to ashes, what more can I do to him?"

Kem took a moment to sip from his own wine glass. In my experience, a man’s choice of drink told a tale all its own: Father Kem had ordered a serviceable merlot, nothing fancy, but a vintage some considered an exotic import of sorts, for it made its way to our fair city from distant lands only once every few years. The story the red told about Father Kem was of a man who sought worldliness, yet a streak of conservatism impeded that quest and kept him close to home. In short, Father Kem was a man who played it safe.

"If only the story ended there," he said, "then we'd not be having this conversation at all. I assure you, though: I do not waste your time. We have it on good authority that, tonight, when the clock strikes midnight, Ashunde will rise from the dead. When this happens, we wish you to use this to kill him, once and for all."

He slid a long, narrow something wrapped in vellum across the table. Picking it up with one hand, I immediately knew by its shape and balance that it was a long knife or similar weapon. But there was something about the weight... I undid part of the covering to see that it was indeed a knife, but one made of purest silver. Not the best choice of metals for a killing weapon. I told him so.

"The blade is blessed, imbued with the power of our god. Made as it is, it is proof against the undead, and will banish Ashunde the moment he rises."

That sounded well and fine, but... was I missing something? "If he's ashes, why not just scatter them?" Hard to come back from anything when you were scattered to the Four Winds, or so I imagined.

Kem shifted in his seat. Lights in the room, already dim, seemed to go darker, and the murmur of conversation hanging about the room melted away as I leaned in to hear the good father's whispered voice. "We erred when we performed the purging ceremony. Not with the procedure itself, mind you, but in doing it in the first place. You see, Ashunde secretly wanted this, to be reduced to ashes by holy fire so that he might be born anew as a particularly evil sort of undead. A vashu, this creature is called. It took us many long nights deciphering books from his private chambers before we realized we'd stepped right into his trap. We—I—came to you the moment we realized there was no time to lose."

Normally, this far into a conversation, I'd already have arranged a transfer of funds and started planning the job in my mind. But like Kem had said, this job was anything but normal. Which meant I'd keep asking questions until I felt comfortable with it. "Why me? Surely one of your own—a holy knight, perhaps—would be better suited?"

Kem frowned at that. "Knights are not so easy to find on such short notice. Others—bravados—could not be relied upon to remain discreet. As I am sure you can imagine, if word spread amongst the populace that one of our own was practicing the dark art... Well, it is a scandal we'd just as soon avoid."

"Then why not just go yourself?"

The suggestion set him squirming in his seat. "My particular skills... That is, my talents do not lie..." He left off, searching for words.

He was confirming what the merlot had already told me. I waved away any need for further explanation. "You were saying about why scattering the ashes wouldn't work?"

"After the purging, we placed Ashunde's ashes in an urn before the altar of our Lord where they could bask beneath his glory. Scattering them would have been the final step in the ritual, and surely would have ended this trial then and there. But the urn and its contents were... stolen. The thief was an associate of Ashunde's, a man named Hesul, who we discovered was one of our very own temple gardeners. It was only because he remained lurking about that we caught him at all, but by then he'd already secreted away the urn. After some convincing, he told us where he'd taken it: to an empty crypt inside the Aikon Cemetery."

"So then I need only go to this cemetery, locate the urn, and scatter—"

"Scattering the ashes will not work."

I tapped my fingers, waiting for an explanation.

"It seems Hesul added a bit of lime and some water to the urn. After some stirring, Ashunde's ashes would have become a very hardened—"

"Concrete." Clever.

"Yes. Now you see why scattering the ashes is quite impossible."

I gestured with the vellum-wrapped knife. "Maybe you should have brought me a silver hammer?"

The priest ignored that. "The job, then, is for you to enter the cemetery, locate the crypt, then drive the blessed weapon into the risen apparition's undead heart. Or the proximity of it, anyway. Do you accept?

I wanted to say no. I almost did. But I needed the work, and, more importantly, the money. My last job, which had been a while ago now that I thought about it, had not gone well. I'd exercised leniency; my reputation had suffered for it. Time heals all wounds, though, and made people forget, too, and so I only needed to hold out for a little while longer before I was regarded as trustworthy again. This job, while not exactly what I wanted, was at least what I needed.

"Yes," I said, "but I want triple my normal rate. Abnormal jobs require abnormal fees."

Kem pursed his lips at that. But he thought it over a moment and then agreed.

"But there is one thing you should know." Father Kem took a deep breath, and then he said without pause, "While the church has come to you in this time of need, do not misconstrue our intentions. A man such as yourself... That is, a man who makes his living taking the lives of others, will never have absolution granted unto himself. It is only because this task does not involve killing per se that my superiors allowed me to move forward with this at all. All this being said, should you choose to cancel our arrangement, then I will understand completely."

I may have thought at first that the man was here to offer me absolution, but that doesn't mean I was expecting it. "Do not trouble yourself over my soul, Father. What I do... I made peace with it long ago, and have no trouble with where I'll be going when I leave this life behind. Now, about my payment..."

We made the necessary arrangements—half now via a bank note slipped across the table and half when the job was done—before Kem gave me directions to the cemetery and to the crypt. The priest was barely out the wineshop's door when I got up to follow in his wake.

I had a dead man to kill.


I'd never been in a cemetery before. Right away, the place gave me the creeps. Cold, silent, and dark as pitch. No moon tonight. I didn't know if that was good or bad. Not a night for witches; they did their best work under full moonlight. I hoped the same could be said for necromancers.

Kem's directions—or, rather, Hesul's—proved true, and so I found the crypt quickly enough. It was grey granite, with large, stone doors and gargoyles at the edges of a peaked roof. I'd barely had time to approach the place when a voice sounded behind me.

"You ain't no priest."

I turned to find myself facing three men. They were rough looking, unshaven, with thick arms and shoulders. The one in the center held a gas lantern that he must have had hooded, else I would have seen its light sooner. All three of them carried thick sticks which labeled them more hired thugs than undertakers.

With the crypt at my back, they had me ringed in, or so they thought. If they had pressed their advantage right there, they might have had a chance. But they hesitated, no doubt because the man's statement had been correct: while my clothing was the right shade of black for a priest, my tunic, tight-fitting pants, and hooded cloak were not the attire of a holy man.

Neither were my weapons.

I drew both dagger and knife—not the silver one given to me by Father Kem but my killing blade—and went for the smallest of the three. I wasn't interested in ending him, only getting by, and so I bloodied him with a cut deep enough to give him pause but not enough to do any serious harm. He hollered in pain and moved in such a way that a gap opened before me. Before the next nearest could close it, I leapt through and ran.

Though I slipped into the dark almost immediately, they pursued, the wounded one all the while barking a verbal litany at my back. The louder he yelled, the easier it was for me to work my way around them and back to the crypt.

The doors were heavy, but I put a shoulder to one and just managed to open a space wide enough for me to slip inside. I flicked my gas lighter to life, seeing right away that dust on the floor was undisturbed from the entry all the way to the three sarcophagi resting inside. No one had been here in a very long time. I exited the crypt, restored the door to the closed position, and left the cemetery with the thugs none the wiser.

Those men hadn't been guarding the crypt. They were waiting in ambush. Waiting for a priest. I had a pretty good idea which one, as well as some theories as to why. But they were just theories, and I'd half a mind to void what obligation remained to me right then and there. Assuming Kem didn't cancel the bank note, I already had half the money for a job that looked less and less like a killing and more like something else. I'd been hired for the former, not the latter. But another unfinished job meant another mark against my reputation. I pretended to think about it some more, but really I’d already made up my mind. Father Kem and I were going to have another conversation about the abnormal.


Finding Father Kem's temple was easy enough. Getting over the short wall surrounding the gardens was even easier. But locating the priest... that was another matter entirely. The temple grounds were immense. Fortunately, it was late enough that I was able to prowl quickly and undisturbed. I found the rectory and promptly shimmied up a drainage pipe to the roof. Picking a locked access door, I was soon padding through the dimly lit halls of the building's interior. The sound of a conversation coming from behind a closed door gave me pause, and no sooner had I drawn close enough to eavesdrop when the door opened and out came the very man for which I'd been looking.

He never even glanced in my direction, but started down the hall the opposite way. I followed, keeping a discrete distance at first but creeping closer until I was nearly on top of him. Then I grabbed him from behind. With a gloved hand covering his mouth, I put him up against the wall and let him see it was me. Slowly, I withdrew my hand so that he could speak. He probably would have were my knife not at his throat. I hadn't come to kill him, though. Only to seek answers. But he didn't need to know that just yet.

"There were no ashes in the crypt," I said. "There was nothing, except for a trio of hired thugs waiting for a priest, though I think they would have been perfectly happy bashing my head in instead if I'd let them."

Kem took a moment to digest what I'd said. Gradually, as he realized I wasn't going to kill him outright, and as my words sank further in, the wide-eyed look of fear began to fade from his visage. "Hesul lied. It's the only explanation."

"Yes." I wasn’t entirely sure he hadn’t set me up until that moment. Something in his voice told me he hadn't. "The question is why."

"I-I don't know."

"I think I do." I'd worked it out on the way over. "Hesul told you about the crypt assuming you'd be the one to dispose of the ashes. He hired those men prior to that, telling them where and when to wait for you."


"That depends. Tell me, how did you find out about Ashunde?"

"He tried to recruit me to his cause. I'd been working beneath him for some time. I never even suspected... Perhaps something I said during one of our conversations made him think I might be sympathetic. I was not. I turned him in."

"I see." That explained a lot. "Hesul was acting in his stead, seeking revenge and..."


"Those men were armed with clubs, not knives. Maybe they meant to beat you to death, or maybe they only wanted to hit you over the head and take you captive. Either way, I think we need to pay Hesul a visit. You haven't purged him yet, have you?"

Kem flashed me a look of admonishment. "We only purge the truly evil. Hesul is alive and well. We locked him in a storeroom downstairs. In fact, I had just finished reporting to my superior and was on my way to check on him when you waylaid me."

"Well then, by all means, allow me to delay you no longer." I gave him a half-bow to which he returned an expression only half-perturbed.

I followed Father Kem to the rectory's kitchen, down a narrow stair, and to the storeroom. One look inside was all either of us needed to see that things were amiss, for Hesul was gone.

"Where would he have...," Kem said. "Perhaps to the cemetery?"

"No. The ashes weren't there. You said they were stolen and that you found Hesul not long after. How long?"

Kem thought a moment. "Not very. We placed the urn before our Lord's altar at three bells. It was noticed missing half a bell after that. We found Hesul lurking behind the chapel almost immediately thereafter."

That gave him maybe forty minutes to mix the ashes into concrete and carry them somewhere before coming back to be caught. Halving the time to accommodate for the return trip and taking away some more for the mixing, how far could he have gotten in ten or fifteen minutes? Not far. Probably not even past the temple walls. I told Kem as much. The priest's expression became one of annoyance, directed wholly at himself for having believed the man's story in the first place.

"You said Hesul was a gardener, right?"

Kem nodded.

"Is there a tool or supply shed somewhere on the grounds?" I was thinking of the lime.

Kem's face lit up. So was he. "All of the gardening supplies are stored in the stables."

"Then I'll bet that's where he took the ashes, and himself."

Kem told me where to find the stables. Immediately, I made for the stairs. The priest looked like he meant to follow until I turned and told him to wait here. He didn't protest. If anything, he looked relieved.

I turned back to the stairs and dashed up them. I'd a job to finish.


The stables were empty but for the usual horses and priestly carriages. I even found the alcove where the gardening tools and supplies were kept, but there was no Hesul and no urn. Then I heard the sounds of voices coming from... beneath me? I started looking for a way down. There were no obvious stairs, but, in one of the empty stalls, I noticed enough of a disturbance in the otherwise matted hay to raise suspicions. Closer examination revealed a door set into the floor.

I tightened my gloves and took a deep breath. Then I lifted the door and, seeing the ladder I expected, slid down it with only the instep of my boots and a loose grip with my hands to slow my descent. The second I hit the floor, I drew my killing knife and dagger, then spun around.

"You are not Kem," said the one who must be Hesul. Fancying himself a clergyman of sorts, he wore a non-descript habit and an expression on his face that spoke of the harm he meant me… or Kem, since it was he who he'd been expecting. Clearly, Hesul gave Father Kem more credit for his daring than he deserved.

Hesul was not alone: I recognized the three bruisers from the cemetery. Not just thugs, after all.

All four of them stood at the other side of a circle that was carved into the stone floor and rimmed with runes. At the center of the circle was an urn I felt quite confident held the hardened ashes of Ashunde.

Hesul spoke. "Our master wanted Kem as his first sacrifice, but no matter. The time of rising is nigh, and you shall do."

I was flattered.

"Take him!"

The three bruisers—still armed with their clubs—began moving around the summoning circle, mindful of not crossing its lines.

I wasn't nearly so careful. With my knife in one hand and my dagger in the other, I charged right into the middle of it and—wincing even before my soft-shoed foot had hit the urn—kicked it as hard as I could. I was hoping Hesul had lied about cementing the ashes. He had not. Kicking the urn hurt about as much as I expected it might, but it also had the intended effect.

Hesul's eyes went wide as it clattered across the floor, end over end. Though the top fell off, nothing but a small amount of dust came out. The clanking urn distracted the other three enough that I was amongst them before they knew what was happening. This time, I showed no mercy. I dropped the first one with a slash to the throat. The next, I gutted with my dagger. The third had enough time to raise his club, but that was all. I slashed his belly open, then, as he fell, opened a chasm in his neck. He wasn't dead when he hit the floor, but he didn't last long past that.

Hesul had spent the time chasing the urn which had bounced off a stack of dusty old crates and settled into a corner. Now, with the urn secured in both hands, he turned to face me. "You will not stop my master! It has been ordained that he shall rise this night of all nights! Nothing—not you, not the priests—will prevent that from happening! We shall be reunited! I need only invoke the ritual and he shall be born anew!"

In my experience, there are two problems with zealots:

The first is that they just don't know when to shut up. I let the idiot blather on, waiting for that last statement: Ashunde wasn't going to spontaneously rise from the dead without help from someone else. That was good to know.

The second problem with zealots is that they thought they were invincible.

I flipped my knife in my hand, then let it fly. Hesul's diatribe became a choking gurgle as blood spurted from his throat. The urn clattered to the floor. Hesul followed it there, twitching and choking until, finally, he didn't make any noise at all.

I retrieved my knife and, before leaving, kicked the urn one more time, just for good measure.


Father Kem was waiting outside the back door to the rectory's kitchen. Though his face grew curious at my limp, he only asked, "It's done, then?"

"Neither Hesul nor Ashunde will be bothering you again." I told him about the hidden room beneath the barn and, after a moment's hesitation, about the bodies. I'd killed men on holy ground, and while I couldn't fall further from the damnation I already faced, I did find myself oddly concerned with what regard the good father might have for what I'd done.

"There was no other way?" he asked.

"None." When it's life or death, I put my opponents down… for good. It was a policy that had kept me alive up to this point.

Though Kem had turned a shade whiter, he gave me a nod of understanding. He and his fellow clergyman were not wholly unfamiliar with killing after all, I reminded myself.

I remembered the silver knife, and held it out to him. If this night held any good at all, it was that I had not had to use it. Kem took it without comment.

There wasn't much more to say, and we would have parted company then had I not asked, "When you gave me that speech back in the winehouse about absolution, were you speaking solely for the church or for yourself? I only ask because you said the idea to approach me was your own."

I'd said I didn't care about facing damnation. What can I say? I did.

"As a holy servant of my god and church," Father Kem said, "my word is always representative of..." He stopped, sparing me the remainder of his practiced doctrine. Then he sighed. "The church oftentimes takes a hard stance against men such as yourself. But my own thoughts… I think all men deserve a chance to make amends."

It was enough for me.

"G'night, Father."

I turned and walked into the dark, wondering if I'd taken one step closer to perdition this night, or one step back.

Next Steps

The adventures continues in The Killing Knife, available for free at Amazon. Give it a read and please remember to leave a review.

Avoiding Fantasy Tropes

I'm wrapping up my second novel, a fantasy/steampunk adventure novel which I'll likely blog about in more detail soon. But as I begin to think about my next novel, I already know there's some things that I want to stay away from and some things I want to try. I'm calling these my "story rules". Think of them as guidelines; not necessarily set in stone, but I'm going to look to them as I start outlining. If and when I violate one of them, I'm going to have to rationalize such rule breaking (only to myself, of course).

As an example of a rule, a writer of fantasy might have one called "No elves". Another might be, "No quests". I saw a list geared towards writing science fiction once where one of the rules was "No FTL".

Some people don't like setting these sorts of boundaries. I suppose going in already having decided to do or not do something can stifle creativity. These are probably the same people who feel outlining creates the same barriers. To each his own, I say. Personally, I like planning things out beforehand. This is just another way to help in that process.

So, without further adieu, here are the rules I will be using for my next novel.

1.) No traveling

For this novel, I want everything to happen in one place. In my first novel, The Hall of the Wood, it's a journey (of non-epic proportions) just to get to where the action is happening. Even when they do get there, they're running around in the woods quite a bit. I guess the latter can't be helped, whether it's the wilderness or a city. They can't exactly sit in a room the whole time. But, for this novel, I want the story to take place in only one place. No traveling about. I have a pretty good idea what sort of setting I'll be using, too.

2.) No ancient relics

No devices of ancient origin with powers waiting to be revealed.

3.) No fated heroes or special ancestry

Everyone has a past, but in this story no one will have a past all that extraordinary or far-reaching. Sure, they may have heroic or villainous deeds in their background, but it will be their background and not some legacy passed down from generation to generation.

4.) No characters with dark, personal secrets or pasts

Not all main characters have to have dark secrets hidden away to be gradually revealed to the reader. Such secrets all too often have something to do with the current antagonist. I'm as guilty of this one as the next writer. It's a trope that works well, albeit readers can sometimes grow tired of it, right? In this next novel, no deep, dark secrets. It's a road I just don't want to go down on this one.

5.) Minimal or no magic

I lean more and more towards this anyway as my world-building moves away from sorcery and to a sort of pseudo-science. I'm finding it's much more interesting than trying to think up the next great magic system or leaning too heavily on one that's already been done to death.

6.) Do have a strong supporting cast of characters

Main characters should be strong, smart, and daring, but they shouldn't be the only ones with the brains and the brawn. In this novel, the main character is going to be average in some ways, but exceptional in others. But one of the first things he does as the story gets rolling is setup his support infrastructure. I mean, where would Special Agent Jethro Gibbs be without his team? (sorry, the wife's got NCIS on in the other room)

7.) Do have villains who are motivated by more than just greed

Greed is nice, but all too often it can become the sole motivating force behind a villain. This tends to lead to flat or boring villains that we've all seen too often.

8.) Do research pertinent topics thoroughly

I research, but only enough to make it sound like I have some idea what I'm talking about. I'd like to take that a step further by infusing some authenticity into my writing. I don't know how this one will go; I'm all for basing certain things on reality, but I write fantasy, so… If nothing else, I have certain topics in mind that I'll like to read up on, if only to give myself ideas.

Fine Wine (A Tale of the Assassin Without a Name 1)

"Fine Wine" is a short piece I wrote in about an hour, with several edits following that initial brain dump. It started with a single sentence that just popped into my head: "Abelard ate a lot. That was why, after I'd slashed my knife across his belly…"

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Abelard ate a lot. That was why, after I'd slashed my knife across his belly, I half-expected his bulbous stomach, chock full of the tender roast, broccoli, soft rolls, and the most delicate shiraz I'd ever sampled—all served just an hour before by his fat merchantship's very own staff—to come tumbling out like a too swollen jellyfish. But something about the cut didn't feel right, and though Abelard clenched his hands to his gut and fell to his knees as I expected he would, there wasn't even a single, glistening trickle of gastric juice seeping out from between his fat fingers.

Seized by a moment of disbelief, Abelard gasped as realization of what had happened hit him. It's not every day a man falls prey to an assassin, especially after having just wined and dined said assassin at his own table. It's not a usual part of my fee, the wining and dining, but I don't pass it up when it can be arranged.

His lardship moaned, and fell to his back, still clutching his gut. Strange that there was no blood...

I sighed. Killing a man when he was down was too much work. Not very sporting, either. "Get up," I said.

"Why have you betrayed me, my friend?" Abelard asked between moans as he curled himself into the fetal position.

I'd passed myself off as a fellow merchant, come to the city to move some goods. "I did not betray you," I said, "for I was never loyal to you in the first place. Now, get up." It was a hard thing to ask of a man who'd just been eviscerated, but Abelard appeared to be holding his insides in well enough, so not completely out of boundaries, I thought.

"You've killed me, my dear, dear friend. I bleed, and soon I shall die."

I sighed again. I'd been warned about Abelard's theatrics.

I started to clean my knife—I'd need both hands to lift his bulbous body back into a standing position—when I noticed there wasn't anything to wipe off. I narrowed my gaze, holding it to the dim candlelight. Son of a—the damn thing had a nick in it! My best killing knife. Oiled, polished, and so sharp it cut flesh like hot butter. It was new, too, which annoyed me even more. I jammed the knife into its home at my belt, then grabbed hold of the front of Abelard's suit coat with both hands. Grunting, I heaved him to his feet.

Abelard stayed standing, barely, his eyes closed and his face turned from me. He was visibly shaking. Couldn't blame him for that.

"What have I done to provoke your ire, my friend?" he asked between clenched lips.

"Shut up. I'm not your friend." I knocked his hands away and felt at his 'wound'. His coat and shirt were cut, but there was something hard—not soft flesh—beneath it. I ripped the opening wider and raised an eyebrow at the leather money belt—stuffed full of coins—fastened quite snugly just above his bulbous waistline.

"You wear a money belt in your own home?" I asked.

Abelard had been in all day, so there'd be no reason for him to be wearing such a thing. Unless he'd been prescient enough to prepare himself for a hasty, moment's notice departure. Too late for that now, though.

"One can never be too careful." He took his own turn examining himself. When he realized what had happened, he laughed a quick, sharp laugh that died on his lips the moment he looked into my eyes. There wasn't anything humorous there.

With shaky hands, he undid the coin-stuffed belt and held it out to me. "Take it, my friend." He gestured with a flabby arm. "It's yours. Only... let me live. I beg it of you."

I knocked the money belt from his grasp. "I've already been paid."

"Yes, but—"

This was supposed to have gone down quick. The only thing keeping Abelard from screaming for help was the fact that his staff was gone for the night. Too bad they'd have such a big mess to clean up in the morning. I slid my knife from its sheath for the second time.

Abelard visibly shrank from sight of it. I reached out lightning quick, grabbing hold of him.

He did scream then, but it was such a low, pitiful sound I almost felt sorry for him.

"Sorry, Abelard, but you've made your last bad deal. You must have really pissed some people off for them to want you dead this way." Evisceration was a slow, painful, horrible way to die. It was to Abelard's fortune that I was here. I'd make the first cut like my employer wanted, let it bleed for a while, then follow it up with a quick stab under his arm and into his heart. No one would examine him that closely to notice the mercy stroke. I wasn't a complete monster.

"W-Wait!" Abelard said. "I can offer you more than just coins if only you will spare my life! I have other wealth, my friend! An estate outside the city—it's yours! My place in the Silver Gentlemen's Club—though it will pain me to surrender it—for you... Women! I know the best—"

"You have nothing I want. Now, let me finish this. I have an appointment at Lady Bellum's later this evening, and I'd rather not keep my Crusus Sabeler, '74, waiting."

Abelard wasn't giving up. "If not those things, then perhaps..." He looked about the study, perhaps hoping for some sort of inspiration. It didn't matter. He had nothing I wanted. Then something must have hit him, for his face lit up. "Lady Bellum, did you say? Her ladyship runs a fine wineshop, yes? I believe they carry a full line of honeyed and—"

"What's your point?"

"Wine, my friend! I saw you how fancied the syrah at dinner! A fine blend, made from grapes picked from my own vineyard. 'Tis a spicy combination of blackberries and pepper... one of our finest! Seasonally rare, too, my friend. We only produce so many bottles."

"So you'll give me a bottle for sparing your life?" I asked, not amused.

"No! I mean, not a bottle, but a full year's supply!"

He had my interest. There weren't very many things I'd trade a life for, but the syrah had been exquisite: soft on the tongue, satisfying going down, with only the faintest hint of spicy pepper left behind. It'd be tricky satisfying my employers. They wanted blood. They might just send someone else out to finish the job. Plus I'd take a hit on my reputation; I wasn't known for leniency. I'd have to make my next job... messy.

"Make it a five year supply and you've got a deal," I said, countering.

Abelard visibly blanched. "Five years, my friend? Five years is such a long time, and life can be so dangerous. One never knows—"

"No, one doesn't." I pressed the flat of my blade hard against his belly.

Abelard turned a shade whiter, but he was already nodding in agreement. "Five years it is, my friend. Only leave an address and I will arrange—"

I stepped away. "Have a bottle a week sent to Lady Bellum's." I could see him already doing the math in his head. A bottle a week for that many years... "Tell your coachman to put it under my name. Miss a delivery, and I'll be back."

Abelard nodded, his jowls quivering.

I put my knife away, then I turned around and left. I always was a sucker for a fine wine.

Next Steps

The adventures continues in The Killing Knife, available for free at Amazon. Give it a read and please remember to leave a review.

The Hall of the Wood, now on

My fantasy novel, The Hall of the Wood, is now available on the Barnes & Noble web site. This comes courtesy of Smashwords, which signed an agreement with BN to distribute eBooks through the Barnes & Noble site.


The retail price is the same as everywhere else: $0.99.

You can also purchase The Hall of the Wood from this site in PDF format, from Amazon in Kindle format, or from Smashwords in a plethora of formats.

The deal that Smashwords inked is a good one, I think. It gives the writer a single point of submission, and since Smashwords also signed similar deals with Amazon and Sony, you're widening your distribution with minimal effort.

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Sell Your E-books in the Amazon Kindle Store

I've been interested in Amazon's Kindle digital book reader since its inception (though, admittedly, I didn't start blogging about it until the second version came out). I haven't bought one yet because I'm waiting for the inevitable price reduction, but that doesn't mean I haven't been exploring its features and some of the content for the device.

The biggest source of content for the Kindle is, of course, Amazon's Kindle Store. The store features a lot of e-books. A quick run down of some of the categories:

Fantasy 5,267 e-books
Science Fiction 7,299 e-books
Mystery & Thrillers 13,570 e-books

Total, there's over 300,000 titles available for download to your Kindle. That's a lot of books.

I recently discovered one of the best things about the Kindle store: anyone can post products there. JA Konrath clued me into the possibility, and he does a nice job of breaking down some of his own sales numbers. You can see that he's had no small success at it thus far. Granted, Konrath is a published author, so his name is out there via other, more traditional channels, but he also puts forth a lot of effort online as well. Nonetheless, is the possibility of an unpublished writer posting his or her work to the Kindle store gold waiting to be mined? I plan to find out.

As of a couple of days ago, my novel, The Hall of the Wood, is available for purchase via the Kindle store:


I wanted to make the price $0.25, but $0.99 is the minimum allowed price. The one catch is that, of course, you must have a Kindle to which to download the e-book to. So, if you've already spent $300 for the device, what's another $0.99? ;-)

The concept of an unpublished author finding success in this channel is a challenge. As noted above, there are over 5,000 fantasy titles available for purchase in the Kindle store. How to make my novel stand out amongst those? For one, I created a book cover. Nothing fancy, but it gives the potential buyer something to look at other than "No image available". Second, I gave it a product description, which is the standard blurb taken from my web site:

Jed's wife and unborn child are dead, killed by a legacy he dare share with no one. Seeking a reprieve from his guilt, he sets out for his former home, the Ranger Hall of the Wood. Along the way, he discovers all is not well. Aliah Starbough, a friend from Jed's past, sends him a chilling warning: the rangers are dead, the Simarron Forest, thrown into peril. Nearby Homewood has issued a plea for help, a summonings which Kayra Weslin, knight errant, and her chronicler, Holly, answer. Along with Murik Alon Rin'kres, an Eslar sorcerer who harbors a secret purpose all his own, the four attempt to unravel the mystery of the missing rangers. They soon find tales of their disappearance frighteningly untrue.

The third way to gain attention is through customer reviews. This one is huge, and the one that in my mind will allow us as writers to break free of the traditional agent/publisher dependency. It's a stamp of approval, a guarantee of quality, a statement saying that your book is not crap. Customer reviews, to a point, validate a book's worth. In general, low reviews indicate a lack of quality. High reviews, the opposite. This is not to say that every review should be taken as gospel. But given enough reviews and a trend should emerge.

I often read of the struggle authors undergo in finding an agent or publisher. There's really no rhyme or reason to it: the decision-making is subjective, and how often have you come across a published novel that, to be frank, sucks? I've begun to doubt the vindication that supposedly comes with having your work blessed by a "real" publisher, and let's face it: business models change. We might be witnessing the beginning of the end for traditional publishers here. If not that, certainly a sea change in the way we purchase and read books.

The Hall of the Wood has been available as a free pdf download for a long time now. As Konrath points out, Amazon's web site gets a lot more traffic than his own. That volume has a lot of potential to increase sales. Selling on the Kindle store seems like a real no-brainer to me.