Excellion: The Greatest Weapon

            In the year W.D. 8, the Alliance of Humanity and the Free Beings Alliance were deeply embroiled in The War of Destruction. However, even using golems, undead, and other magic-born monsters, the Alliance of Humanity was often winning or losing battles by the slimmest of margins and only ever achieved an easy victory in situations where the enemy was greatly outnumbered or underequipped. It was then that he heads of the Alliance of Humanity’s leading factions—the Templars, the Holy Knights of the White Rose, the Order of Nazklu, and Civilization Forward—commissioned three brilliant archmages to create a superweapon against which no army, no city wall, no fortress could stand…In the name of sparing soldiers’ lives and bringing a swift end to the war, of course.

            These three archmages were the master alchemist Kaldron Andersmith, the great enchantress Torrinz Dallimoora, and the unmatched elemental wizard Vinwald Kayne. Under the codename “The Bevelle Project” they set to work on the most powerful magical weapon ever to be created—Excellion.

            To this day, no one knows the full details of the research and development process for Excellion, or even what it looked like. It has been described as a canon, a sword, a great metal golem, an amulet, and even a magical beast. What is known for sure is that when Excellion was finally unleashed in the year W.D. 13, its pure destructive might turned the tide of the war. In a single strike, it could take out hundreds of soldiers or blast an entire city to cinders. Some say that when Excellion was used against the city of Ruuan, it left some victims as nothing more than shadows permanently scorched into whatever stone surface they were nearest to at the moment of the attack. Others claim that Excellion’s attacks left a lingering poisonous miasma in the air which killed many would-be survivors slowly and painfully as its effects tore their bodies apart from the inside out. Still others say that exposure to the effects of this terrible weapon could corrupt the souls or flesh of survivors, twisting them into frightening monsters in a matter of weeks. Truly, it was a horrific weapon…and the Alliance of Humanity used it at every excusable opportunity.

            Horrified and dismayed at the way that the weapon that they’d created was being used, Kaldron, Torrinz, and Vinwald plotted to stop the carnage once and for all. First, they burned the weapon’s plans and all research notes having to do with it. Next, they hunted down all of their research assistants and any who had ever wielded Excellion and wiped it from their memories completely. Then, they stole Excellion itself and sealed it away in a secret location known only to them, which they erased from their own memories as soon as they were far enough away.

            The seal to Excellion’s hiding place is a powerful seal which can only be broken when three special amulets are placed in the door. These amulets were divided up among the three archmages, who each hid their own in a different corner of the world before erasing their locations and all information about Excellion’s workings and creation from their own minds. All that they allowed themselves to remember were the weapon’s destructive power and the fact that they had made sure that it could never fall into the wrong hands again.

            Naturally, the leaders of the Alliance of Humanity tracked the three rebellious archmages down in an attempt to recover their great superweapon. Due to the excellent job they did of covering their tracks, however, the Alliance got absolutely nothing for their troubles. Kaldron, Torrinz, and Vinwald, as punishment for their traitorous act, were burned at the stake. But, it is said that they all went to their deaths smiling, claiming that although the law said that they were being put to death for hiding Excellion away, they knew in their hearts that Karma herself was executing them for the weapon’s creation. That divine justice, they announced, was something that they gladly accepted.

~

            And that’s the story of this artifact of doom, folks! Join us next week for a peek at Wolfsbane’s first training session as a rookie hunter. Until then, you can download a free digital copy of The Rebirth and Awakening of Wolfie Star-Runner from Smashwords.com with the promo code PH45V through June 30th. The giveaway officially starts on June 1st, but the code is active right now…So, you know, think of getting early access to the code as a sort of thank you for reading the blog. You can also social media stalk me on Twitter and Pintrest if you’re into that sort of thing. Thanks for reading, and enjoy that free book!

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The Glorious Rivalry: Dwarves vs. Orcs

            When Origia first created the intelligent races of the Earth, their distribution was very different from the present day. For instance, humans could only be found on the continent of Mali and in the southern regions of the continent of Arlia, while the nagas never ventured out of their native land of Indus and windigoes were only found on the western continent of Diirlin. It was in these early years, fifty-five millennia ago, when the stern mountains and wind-swept plains of north-west Arlia were home to the dwarves and orcs. The orcs occupied the plains and the foothills, while the dwarves made their homes in deep caves within the mountains. However, from the very beginning, they were not the best of neighbors…

Dear Gods! You Just Met!

            It was the fifth year of existence for the intelligent races, but billions of years had already passed since the gods had begun remodeling the universe and hundreds of millions of years since Origia had introduced the first single-celled organism. Finally, the Earth was complete, with intelligent life, Origia’s great experiment/improv show, as the cherry on the sundae. It was in the spring of that very year, in the foothills of the Alidar mountains, that the dwarves and orcs first crossed paths.

            On that day, a party of orcish hunters and a party of dwarvish hunters were both stalking the same moose. Neither party realized that the other was about—so well hidden were they both from their prey and each other—until both groups struck at once with their throwing spears. Unfortunately, neither hunting party was willing to share the kill. Instead, they began bickering over who had the rights to it.

            The orcs tried to claim that it was theirs and theirs alone due to the fact that an orcish spear pierced the beast’s heart, making that the killing blow. However, the dwarves claimed that it was a dwarvish spear to the beast’s throat which had killed it and, besides, the orcish attack counted for nothing because they had women in their hunting party and, according to the dwarves’ early laws and customs, women could not be hunters. Infuriated, the women of the orcish hunting party retorted that it was the dwarves’ spears which counted for nothing because they were so short, which obviously meant that they were children—and ugly children at that—meaning that they had no business out hunting by orcish law. The dwarves then insulted the craftsmanship of the orcish spears and things only went downhill from there as the two groups continued to bicker and insult each other until, finally, the disagreement came to blows.

            In the end, as the two groups bickered and brawled, a band of pixies stole the moose right out from under their noses while they were distracted. This only made both groups even angrier at each other, immediately starting the relationship between these two proud races off on the wrong foot.

Metaling Neighbors

            For the next few generations, the orcs and dwarves clashed over and over again over hunting grounds and matters of personal and tribal pride. Soon, they had even divided the land into territories just to avoid running into each other. However, every once in a while, there would still be a dispute over where these territorial borders lay and nasty arguments and taunts exchanged from just across said borders. Things began to heat up between the two races when the orcs and dwarves almost simultaneously discovered how to smelt metals—coper and tin to be precise. Once they discovered the secrets of metalworking, and how superior metal was to stone for creating weapons, the world became a much more dangerous place.

            Now, at first, the extent of their rivalry with metalworking was simply all about who was making the best weapons and tools. Both the orcs and dwarves have always been very inventive peoples, with the orcs having invented the first stone axes and the dwarves being the ones who invented scissors. (Yes, stone scissors, held together with sinew and with sturdy sticks for handles.) They would show off their newest creations, with metal tips and metal blades, in contests centered around hunting or preparing food, making sure to rub in their opponents’ faces just how much sharper, shinier, and more sophisticated their creations were at every turn.

            Things took a turn for the worse, though, when the orc chieftain became jealous of how much easier it seemed for the dwarves to find good ore in the mountain caves than the orcs could down in the foothills. Spurred by envy and ambition, the orc chieftain gathered a band of his warriors to drive the dwarves from the nearest settlement and take the caves for their own. Naturally, this brutal attack did not go over well with the dwarf chieftain and the two races went to war with each other for the very first time.

            Since this was the first war that they had ever had or heard of, no one knew how long the fight would take…or even had anything resembling an actual strategy. They just rushed each other’s settlements with torches and weapons, or two groups of warriors would just run at each other and start stabbing and swinging. It was a bloody three months, with lots of casualties on both sides and a flurry of technological advancement as orcish and dwarvish smiths examined their rivals’ creations—plucked from the field of battle as the spoils of war—for the first time.

            Eventually, the war was ended. On the orcish side, this was initiated by the chieftain’s wife, who was getting fed up with the fact that hunting was taking a back seat to fighting and there wasn’t enough meat to go around anymore. On the dwarvish side, it was the tribe’s shaman, who was sick of always running out of medicinal herbs to heal the wounded. The two arranged a meeting between their chieftains and would not let them leave, holding battleaxes to their leaders’ throats until a truce was finally settled upon. This took fourteen days.

            The impact of this war in the long term was that both the orcs and dwarves began to spend a greater amount of time training warriors and developing ever-greater weapons, leading to the proud warrior cultures which survive to this day. However, as time went on, the two races’ knowledge of metals increased, paving the way to the creation of alloys such as bronze and the smelting of ever-harder metals such as iron and mythril. At every step, they have always been competing with each other to see who could work the more difficult metal or develop the strongest alloy. So, both in times of war and peace, their eternal rivalry has helped to push the field of metallurgy ever forward.

I Can Do Anything Better Than You!

            As the ages rolled by and the races of the Earth began to venture beyond their native ranges and intermingle with each other, several different tribes of orcs and dwarves eventually split off and settled in other regions, making enemies, allies, and trade partners just like everybody else. However, it seemed that wherever the orcs went dwarves were sure to follow, and wherever the dwarves appeared a group of orcs weren’t far behind. Of course, they brought their ancient rivalry along with them everywhere they settled.

            Occasionally, there would be another war between the orcs and dwarves, but more often (especially in the developing metropolitan trade cities of the early civilizations) disputes were settled with drinking contests, weightlifting contests, trials of skill and courage…and the occasional bar brawl. Basically, anything that could be made into a competition, orcs and dwarves would settle their differences over it. Even to this day, orcs and dwarves are the masters of “yo’ mama” jokes and other cutting insults thanks to thousands of years of sharpening these skills against each other and are able to take these remarks to dizzying heights of both hilarity and vulgarity.

            In fact, the very complexity of the Orcish and Dwarvish languages is due to their rivalry as well. In their efforts to one-up each other in the power and nuance of their words, the orcs and dwarves created highly tonal languages with enormous vocabularies and staggering phonetic ranges. Though neither race prizes writers, poets, or bards particularly highly, they are still sticklers for ensuring that their children are able to speak their native tongue flawlessly in every respect…and Common as well ever since that language was developed. In fact, some joke that the greatest rivalry between the orcs and dwarves is not in combat strength, weapons technology, or metallurgy…but in who can more masterfully correct everyone else’s grammar!

            Luckily, as the ages have worn on, the rivalry between these two peoples has become less bellicose and more friendly. Millennia of competition between them has fostered a mutual respect for their rivals, and many tales from both cultures speak of certain individuals from the other side of the fence in complementary, even absolutely glowing terms. Orcs and dwarves have even fought and worked together many times. Sometimes it has been begrudgingly, but at other times their cooperation has been quite willing. For instance, when the trolls of Fortann attempted to take over the mines of Mount Linnoas, the orcs of Kaox—nearly five hundred miles away—heard of it and sent a force of nine hundered and eighty-three fighters to come to their aid. They didn’t know them, had never traded with them, never battled or drunk together…and yet, they came to help.

            Now, mind you, when they attacked the trolls they did yell, “Nobody makes war with the dwarves but us!” Still, they came to help out total strangers of a rival race, which was still pretty honorable when you think about it. Mention it to any dwarf or orc, however, and they’ll pretend it never happened. Thus is the nature of this glorious rivalry.

~

            Thanks for reading. That’s it for this week, folks. If you liked this, you might want to give other articles under History or Races a look. Join us next week for more tales of interest! Until then, you can download the sample version of The Rebirth and Awakening of Wolfie Star-Runner (.mobi for Kindle, .epub for basically everything else) or Wolfie Star-Runner Plays with Hellfire (.mobi, .epub) to check out the books for yourself. You can also find me on Twitter and Pintrest if you enjoy stalking people on social media, and check out This Video to learn how to get the full digital version of The Rebirth and Awakening of Wolfie Star-Runner for free from Smashwords.com this June!

            Also, if you’ve read the books, don’t forget to rate or review them on Amazon, Goodreads, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Shelfari, iTunes, Kobo, or any other site where books are reviewed or the Star-Runner Chronicles series is sold. Or, you could drop a tweet with the hashtag #WolfieSRImpressions to give a bite-sized rundown of your thoughts. Even negative feedback is welcome, so long as you speak up.

            So, until next time, take care and have a wonderful week!

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Paws to the Stars

            The following is an ancient verse recovered from a half-burned book of unknown origin…

 

 

Paws to the stars,
Runneth he,
Runneth he.

Eyes to the moon,
Form like the waters,
Heart roaming o’er,
Mount’ to sea, through all others.

Paws to the stars,
Seeketh he,
Seeketh he.

Secrets of the soul,
Paths through the wilds,
New, unknown forms,
Open eyed like a child.

Paws to the stars,
He is free,
He is free.

To explore all roads,
To be fierce or tame,
To discover,
To recover o’er again.

Paws to the stars,
He is key,
He is key.

Unlocker of knowledge,
Father of technique,
He is the spark,
To advance skills unique.

~

            What an odd old poem. I wonder if it means anything…Eh. Probably not.

            Thanks for reading! Join us next week when we learn all about the ancient rivalry between the Orcs and the Dwarves! Until then, you can download a free sample of The Rebirth and Awakening of Wolfie Star-Runner (.mobi for Kindle, .epub for all other devices) or Wolfie Star-Runner Plays with Hellfire (.mobi, .epub) to read at your leisure. Also, check out this video to learn how to get a free full digital copy of The Rebirth and Awakening of Wolfie Star-Runner from Smashwords.com this June!

            Already read the books? Don’t forget to rate or review them on Amazon, Goodreads, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, iTunes, Shelfari, Kobo and other places where books are rated, reviewed, and discussed. Or, if you want an even more convenient way to state your opinion, just tweet a few words, an emoji, or some kind of image with the hashtag #WolfieSRImpressions. Even if you didn’t like the book, I want to hear from you…and you…and you over there tweeting on your smart phone while you’re on the computer. Yeah, especially you, pal! You’ve got no excuses…

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Star-Runner Chronicles Monster Manual, Entry #6: The Man-Eating Bush

            There are many species of monsters which stalk the lands of The Star-Runner Chronicles world. Forests can be especially treacherous places, in fact, because even the greenery may be out to get you! In particular, one should beware of the bushes…for some have a taste for flesh! (P.S.: Sorry for the lack of creature portrait this time. I just didn’t have it in me this week…)

Man-Eating Bush Fast Facts

Creature Type: Plant
Elemental Type: Herb
Elemental Weakness: Fire
Size: 2 to 5 feet tall
Weight: 16 to 40 pounds
Defense: High
Strength: Medium
Speed: Low
Magic: Medium
Habitat: Forest, the gardens of obvious villains
Diet: Meat, especially unwary travelers
Subspecies: Nom-Berry, Asshole Azalea, Bad Seed, Nibble Weed, Fool’s Pot
Most Applicable Tropes: Plant Mooks, Man-Eating Plant

 

            Sometimes, when traveling through the woods, it seems like there’s something waiting to eat you around every corner, behind every tree, under every rock, hiding inside of every bush…But, what if even the bushes are trying to eat you? This is exactly what goes on when you are traveling through the territory of the dreaded man-eating bush…

Appearance and Anatomy

            The man-eating bush is a perfectly camouflaged killing machine. It looks exactly like any normal bush with its body densely covered in branches and leaves which sense out victims by detecting their body heat. Beneath its clever camouflage is a round, woody body with a huge mouth filled with three rows of razor-sharp, thorn-like teeth. This mouth is only revealed when the bush attacks its prey. Behind that mouth is a stomach filled with powerful acid which dissolves its food, bones, hair, and all. As it cannot digest metals, it gathers any dissolved metal in a special organ beside the stomach and hacks it up as a large pellet. These metal pellets are actually quite valuable to those who know how to separate the different metals for commercial use.

            This menace is not rooted to just one spot, however. It is able to pull its roots up from the ground and slither along on them from place to place. This allows the man-eating bush to chase after its prey at speeds of up to fifteen miles per hour as well as creep along and stalk a victim through the woods.

            The man-eating plant’s wooden skin is flexible, but strong enough to take direct hits from large caliber firearms with only minor damage. This, along with the thick covering of tangled branches around its main body, makes it very hard to kill with conventional weapons. Instead, if one wishes to successfully defeat this heavily armored creature, one must attack it with fire magic, flame-based magi-ammo or enchanted weaponry, or a flamethrower. Even then, it still can take quite a beating before finally succumbing to the flames. Generally, the rule is that you don’t stop attacking until its ungodly high-pitched squeals go silent.

Diet

            Man-eating bushes are strict carnivores. They do absorb water from the soil through their roots, but they do not photosynthesize like normal plants. In fact, their leaves contain no chlorophyll at all and their green color is just for camouflage purposes.

            Though people are their favorite meal, they have been known to eat a variety of wild animals. The smallest specimens will eat such creatures at badgers, rabbits, and wolves. The largest, however, have been known to devour bears, deer, and even moose. In the event that these voracious creatures extend their hunting grounds to a farm, professional mercenaries are called in to deal with the threat. It is not advised for anyone lacking mid-level fire magic or real combat experience to tangle with these creatures, as the inexperienced and ill-equipped are very likely to end up as plant food.

Habits

            Man-eating plants do not sleep. They are awake and actively searching for food at all hours of the day and night during the spring, summer, and fall. They are able to sit still for many days at a time as they scan the area for prey, and only move to give chase or find a better hunting spot. They only sleep during the winter. At that time, they dig their roots deep into the ground and fall into a state of hibernation so deep that even being set of fire won’t wake them.

            Every spring, man-eating bushes gather deep in the woods to mate. However, there is no competition and there are no elaborate mating rituals to be seen. Instead, they simply gather together, grow flowers all over their branches, and shake furiously to spread their pollen to each other. Once the man-eating bushes have exchanged pollen, they then go their separate ways and in two weeks’ time produce seeds. These seeds are dropped over the course of the next week and those which are lucky enough to germinate instead of being eaten by miscellaneous wildlife grow into new man-eating bushes within a matter of days.

            Incidentally, it is advised that human, orcish, goblin, and gremlin women of child-bearing age stay away from the deep woods during springtime if they are not using merkwier amulets. It turns out that if a woman of one of these races inhales man-eating bush pollen while fertile, she will become pregnant and eventually bear a child who is half man-eating plant! Such beings possess the same intelligence and emotional capacities as their mother’s race with the added ability to speak to plants, but also can eat nothing but meat, possess voracious appetites, and grow very sluggish (even down-right lazy) during the winter months.

~

            That’s it for this week, folks! Join us next week for…well, I’ve got a couple of ideas, but it’ll be good, I promise! If you liked this article, others under the Monster Manual and Magic categories might be right up your alley. Also, be sure to check out a free sample of The Rebirth and Awakening of Wolfie Star-Runner (.mobi for Kindle, .epub for basically every other device) or Wolfie Star-Runner Plays with Hellfire (.mobi, .epub), and grab the books from Amazon, Smashwords, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, or Kobo if you enjoy them. You can also check me out on Twitter at @DanielleVFreman or poke around my Pintrest page if social media is your thing.

            Already read the books or a sample? Don’t forget to tell the world what you thought with a rating or review on Goodreads, Shelfari, the aforementioned fine retailers’ websites, or on the Twitter hashtag #WolfieSRImpressions (.gif, meme, and emoji reactions accepted). Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you again next week!

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Star-Runner Chronicles Monster Manual, Entry #5: The Sludge Monster

            There are many species of monsters which stalk the lands of The Star-Runner Chronicles world. In the swamps, bayous, and wetlands of the world lurks the sludge monster. Halfway between single-celled organism and multi-cellular creature, it slinks its way through moist regions single-mindedly foraging for food. Join us as we discover more about this dim—but dangerous—lifeform

Sludge-Monster-Portrait

The sluuuudge monster! The sluuuudge monster! The sluuuuuuuuuuuudge mon-ster!

Sludge Monster Fast Facts

Creature Type: Slime
Elemental Type: Water/Herb
Elemental Weakness: Non-Elemental—Chi branch
Size: 2 to 20 feet tall
Weight: 3 to 3,000 pounds
Defense: High
Strength: High
Speed: Low
Magic: None
Habitat: Swamps, Bayous, Wetlands, Sewers
Diet: Meat, assorted plants, and feces
Subspecies: Green Sludge Monster, Brown Sludge Monster, Black Sludge Monster, Mottled Sludge Monster
Most Applicable Tropes: Blob Monster, Obliviously Evil

~

 

            The sludge monster, one of the most grotesque and gloopy denizens of the damp. They are a known hazard to travelers in swampy areas because of their indiscriminate appetite for all things organic. But, are these creatures truly mindless or in actuality malicious?

Appearance and Anatomy

            The Sludge monster looks much like a brown, muddy green, black, or multiple-mucky-colored mass of opaque, lusterless slime. They range in size from a two-foot-tall pile of goo to the rare twenty-foot-tall monstrosity of muck. They possess no eyes, mouth, or any appendages whatsoever, and move in the same fashion as an amoeba—one pseudopod extending and pulling the body along to its position, then being reabsorbed into the main mass as the next one extends forward.

            Sludge monsters have no teeth, claws, or internal organs. Instead, much like a slime mold, they are composed of multiple microorganisms living as one loosely organized mass. The sludge that they produce helps to keep the microbe colony together, and also contains digestive enzymes which slowly break down their food once it has been engulfed. These enzymes are, luckily, not so powerful as to begin dissolving skin or hair on contact and cannot eat through metal or plastic armor, so most adventurers can be engulfed but still have a reasonable chance of being rescued. The main danger of being engulfed by a sludge monster is suffocation. The mass will not infiltrate a live body, but will cover the mouth and nose to cut off its prey’s air supply. So, it is recommended that if one is ever engulfed by a sludge monster, one should take a deep breath and hold it before the nose and mouth are drawn in instead of wasting one’s breath screaming.

Diet

            Sludge monsters are omnivores, and will eat anything organic—plants, animals, dead leaves, carrion, rotting garbage, even feces. They are not very aggressive hunters, however, and actually prefer stationary or very slow-moving meals. For instance, they will pursue a turtle on land, but once the little guy hits the water, the sludge monster will not follow far because their swimming speed is just too quick to bother with.

            They also have an aversion to fae, fae-beasts, anyone with fae or fae-beast blood, and anyone or anything infused with fae or fae-beast magic. This is why, when traveling through sludge monster territory, it is generally recommended to wear fae-enchanted armor if at all possible…especially when traveling alone. No one knows quite why they dislike all things fae, since fae and fae-beast magics are no more effective than most other types of magic against them. One old folktale suggests, however, that the first ever sludge monster broke a pixie’s wing and he got even by tormenting it with his nastiest tricks for a whole century to teach it the proper respect. As silly as it sounds, that’s the best explanation anyone has come up with so far.

Habits

            Sludge monsters, for all the danger they pose to unwary travelers, are actually quite lazy. They do not have the intelligence to understand concepts like “danger” or “fear”…or any emotion at all, really. They only know “food” and “not food.” They eat to live and live to eat—rinse and repeat until dead.

            Though thousand-pound sludge monsters have been found and reported, they commonly don’t top fifty pounds, and only every few decades is a two-hundred-pounder ever discovered. Larger, heavier sludge monsters are generally the result not of their natural life cycle—their reproductive cycle consists of a small clump of microbes breaking away from a larger sludge monster when it reaches one hundred to one hundred and fifty pounds. Instead, they come to be due to an over-abundance of food in an area. When sludge monsters sense that there is a high concentration of food in their habitat, they will merge together into a larger organism to better take advantage of the bounty. The only thing that can stop a sludge monster of this size is to take its food away or kill it.

            Speaking of killing a sludge monster, due to their composition and their alignment with both the water and herb elements, they are notoriously hard to kill. Elemental magic does little to stop them, and melee and ranged weapons barely scratch them. They only seem to be seriously harmed by one type of non-elemental magic—chi magic. Why this is, no one is certain, but it is theorized that since chi magic directly manipulates the magical energy within the user and/or target’s body, it interferes with the connections between the individual organisms which make up a sludge monster colony, thus causing confusion and cell death when they are hit with it directly. No one has tested this in the lab as of yet, however, because sludge monsters are difficult to contain and chi users are more often practical mages than experimental mages.

~

            That’s it for this week, folks! Join us next week when we learn all about the notorious man-eating bush! If you’re new, feel free to archive binge here on the blog. If you liked this article, others under the Monster Manual and Magic categories might be right up your alley. Also, be sure to check out a free sample of The Rebirth and Awakening of Wolfie Star-Runner (.mobi for Kindle, .epub for basically every other device including Nook, Kobo, PC, and iPad) or Wolfie Star-Runner Plays with Hellfire (.mobi, .epub), and grab the books from Amazon, Smashwords, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, or Kobo if you enjoy them. You can also check me out on Twitter at @DanielleVFreman or poke around my Pintrest page if social media is your thing.

            Already read the books or a sample? Don’t forget to tell the world what you thought with a rating or review on Goodreads, Shelfari, the aforementioned fine retailers’ websites, or on Twitter with the hashtag #WolfieSRImpressions (.gif, meme, and emoji reactions accepted). Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you again next week!

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Loyalties

Spoiler Alert: The following story occurs at around the same time as the final chapters of Wolfie Star-Runner Plays with Hellfire and contains some spoilers for the first book. Reader discretion is advised.

Augusta 28, 1043 P.W.D.

            A warm summer breeze blew in from the south as Orin Knash stood before the IWHA District Headquarters in Bevelle, ruffling the bangs of his short black hair while he adjusted his glasses. It had been quite a while since he had been to this imposing stone building, with its façade of magnificent stone arches, tall spires topped with spiky cast iron stars, and the statues of founding members tucked into the niches lining the outer walls, staring blank-eyed and ominously at him. The twenty-one-year-old would not have been here at all, except…

            “Hey, Orin! Long time no see, man!” a familiar male voice suddenly called from his left. He looked up only to see a flaxen-haired young man about five feet, nine inches tall with a pair of pistols holstered at his sides trotting up to him.

            “Ah, Blake. So, they’ve called you in too, it seems,” Orin replied calmly. “Let me guess, you have an appointment with the Deputy Director as well…?”

            Blake started and blinked in surprise, then said, “Yeah…at three o’ clock…Why?”

            “So do I, at exactly the same time,” Orin said, turning to the building once again. “This is no coincidence, then. We will likely meet with Emily as well.”

            “Emily too? You sure?” Blake asked.

            “Yes, quite positive,” Orin said. “Well, come on. We shouldn’t keep Deputy Director Azmodius waiting.” And, with that, he began making his way toward the enormous steel double doors, with Blake quickly falling into step beside him.

            “But, what makes you think that?” Blake continued as they entered the lobby of the building, its towering columns and high, vaulted ceiling towering over them as their boots clicked upon the gleaming white marble floors. “I mean, not unless you think this has anything to do with…?” He did not need to utter another word; the concern in his blue eyes and voice said it all.

            Orin nodded. “Yes, that is exactly what I was thinking as well,” he replied coolly, despite being quite worried himself. “That Wolfsbane—always getting himself into these foolish situations…”

            Wolfsbane Bendis had been one of Orin’s rookie squad mates, along with Blake Hardcort and Emily Vardell. Even in the old days he had been something of a magnet for trouble, always the source of whatever mad side-story wound up accompanying their day-to-day activities—whether it was a dangerous mission or a routine trip to the store for a gallon of milk. Shy and odd, but a highly skilled fighter with a strong sense of justice, Wolfsbane was also strangely difficult to dislike. Then again, he was wild-aligned. People of that elemental alignment were always charismatic despite any quirks or awkwardness that should rightfully have made them annoying or embarrassing to be around…A “lovable dork” as both Blake and Wolfsbane’s own sister, Flood, had described him.

            The only people who seemed immune to his natural charm were Ren Ascot and his despicable gang of bullies. Orin, for one, was quite glad to have heard of Helga, Vale, and Monty’s untimely demises. Why, he had even allowed himself to crack a smile. He had never believed the part about Wolfsbane’s self-termination, however, and was quite relieved when his parents’ counter report and all of those nasty rumors about Mr. Ascot began to fly…Rumors he had remorselessly spread and added to.

            “Yeah. It’s good to see that’s one thing about him that’s stayed the same,” Blake chuckled as they reached the front desk. They showed the receptionist their hunter’s I.D.’s and she waved them through toward the hallway which housed the elevator to the third floor. Things were quite silent between the two of them until they stepped into the empty elevator, at which point Blake continued, “Hey. You think he was really bitten, or was that just a lie?”

            Orin sighed. “Why ask me this, when you and I both already understand his nature?” he replied. Blake pestered him for dodging the question, but he dared not say more. For all he knew, that elevator might have been under surveillance…and he despised being spied on.

            The elevator stopped with a high-pitched chime and the doors opened to the crimson-carpeted and expensively decorated hall outside of the Deputy Director’s office. As they exited the elevator, Orin spied a familiar young woman sitting on an upholstered bench beside the office door. She was quite lovely, with long brown hair pulled back into a high-slung ponytail with a hot pink ribbon and big, beautiful brown eyes with long, thick lashes. Her black T-shirt was cut just low enough to show the barest peek of her cleavage—just enough to be sexy, but not so much as to be unflatteringly revealing—and two bandoliers of throwing knives were strapped across her chest, crossing over each other in the shape of an X.

            “Yo! Emily! Orin said you’d probably be here too!” Blake greeted cheerfully as they made their way over.

            Emily hastily looked up from her boots, then narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips in disapproval at them. “What the Hells are you two doing here?” she asked. “I don’t have time to mess around, I’ve got a meeting with Deputy Director Azmodius a—”

            “At three o’ clock?” Orin interrupted with a quirk of his eyebrow as he once again adjusted his glasses.

            “Yeah! How did you know that?!” Emily cried. “You been spying on me or something?”

            “No, we just happen to have the same appointment,” Blake said casually. “You know what that means, right?”

            But, before Emily could answer, the grandfather clock across from the bench struck three and the door to the Deputy Director’s office opened, revealing the black-clad form of its occupant.

            Deputy Director Azmodius was a middle-aged seraph with white hair which was cropped into a neat bob with straight bangs which framed an effeminately handsome face, grey-blue eyes, and the pale complexion of a porcelain doll. The two pairs of feathery white wings upon the fae’s back were folded close to his body, just barely peeking out from behind his shoulders and sides. All of his pale features and his rail-thin physique mixed oddly, unsettlingly, with his jet black business suit, dress shirt, shoes, and tie, making him appear more ghost-like than anything. Deputy Director Azmodius smiled warmly at them as he opened the door…a smile which managed only to chill Orin to be bone. ‘Why are the top brass always so disturbingly artificial?’ he thought, suppressing a shudder.

            “Ah, so good to see that all of you could make it!” Deputy Director Azmodius said in a friendly tone which carried the same faint undertone of falseness as his smile. “Orin Knash, Emily Vardell, and Blake Hardcort. I haven’t seen you since your promotion ceremony! It still amazes me how quickly the shorter-lived races grow from children to adults!”

            Emily stood and saluted as she replied, “It’s good to see you again too, Sir, and it’s an honor to have been called here to meet with you.”

            ‘Speak for yourself,’ Orin thought, keeping his face neutral despite his desire to scowl in disgust at this man.

            “Thank you, my dear, but enough with the formalities,” the Deputy Director said. “Please, all of you, step into my office. We have a matter of great urgency to discuss.”

            Orin and the others followed him into his office, a large room lined with bookshelves and expensive pieces of art and antique furniture. At the very end of the room, right behind his desk, was a large stained glass window depicting the death of the Spartan warrior Thunder Bendis at the hands of Azmiroth Diamondback at Inixx Hill during the War of Destruction. That was a great victory for the Templars and a crushing defeat for the Free Beings, so it was not at all surprising that such a scene would be displayed in the office of a high-ranking IWHA official. Under the circumstances, it also felt terribly ominous…Thunder Bendis was one of Wolfsbane’s direct ancestors, after all.

            The Deputy Director sat down in his high-backed, plush, black leather desk chair and motioned for the three to take a seat in the less ostentatious, but no less plush, black leather chairs set before the elegantly carved mahogany desk. “There we are, all comfy,” he said, still in that faux-amiable tone. “Now, on to business. You three must be bursting with curiosity over why I’ve called you all here.”

            “Not really,” Orin said coolly. “The reason could not be more obvious, actually. Our rookie squad mate, Wolfsbane Bendis, is at the center of a storm of controversy concerning his current status. Living or dead, human or werewolf, retiree or traitor…it’s got the entire werewolf hunter community in quite the uproar at this point. Naturally, you called us—his old squad mates—in to take part in the investigation. Am I correct in assuming that this is the case, Mister Deputy Director?”

            For a fraction of a second, Deputy Director Azmodius’ affable smile wavered and a spark of disgust flashed across his eyes. Then, just as quickly, the mask was repaired and he replied, “Astute deduction as always, my lad. We already have an internal affairs team looking into the case, but we have also decided that bringing in investigators who are…a little bit closer to Mr. Bendis may be useful. After all, the three of you served with him for two years as rookie hunters. Surely it would not be very difficult for you to track him down and determine whether he is still human…or if he has become one of those monsters.”

            “Well, yeah, I guess that makes sense,” Blake said, leaning back casually in his seat. “I mean, who better than his closest buddies to send to check something like this out. If you want my expert opinion, though, Sir, I don’t think he’s the type to go wolf. Ren’s always been a bully, on the other hand, and pretty self-centered and spiteful to boot. I’ll bet anything Wolfsbane just decided to switch careers and Ren got all pissy about it. Still, it’ll be fun to catch up with him. Knowing Wolfsbane, he’s probably already got himself into some wild situation or another.”

            Emily nodded. “Yeah, I always thought being just a plain old adventurer suited him better than being a hunter too,” she said. “He’s always been kind of soft, and just being near him seems to be like inviting all sorts of chaos into your life! It’s like trouble follows him everywhere!”

            “Yes, and now, it seems, that trouble affects not just those in close proximity to him, but the entire IWHA as well,” The Deputy Director sighed, the concern in his face and voice just as subtly false as his friendliness. “Your mission, lady and gentlemen, is to seek out Wolfsbane Bendis. If he is human, he will be allowed to live. If he has become a beast, however, he is to be terminated with extreme prejudice. Either way, the results of your mission are to be reported to me as soon as you have carried out your orders. Is that clear?”

            “Yes, Sir,” they replied in unison.

            “Good. Then you are dismissed,” Deputy Director Azmodius said. “Good luck to you all.”

§§§

            The three exited the office, and subsequently the building in silence. Once they exited the Regional Headquarters, their only conversation consisted of deciding upon a place to grab a bite to eat and discuss their mission…which ended up being a small tavern on the west side of the city. It wasn’t a fancy place, and not the type of establishment that one would take the family either. Instead, it was the kind of noisy dive that adventurers, mercenaries, assassins, and bandits regularly frequented. The smell of tobacco and marijuana smoke hung in the air, and beings of many different races sat around round wooden tables or at the bar, eating, drinking, laughing, and arguing in tones both boisterous and hushed.

            Orin, Blake, and Emily took a seat at a table in a far corner of the establishment, just two tables away from the bar, and ordered a round of hard cyder and three orders of the house special—a spicy gumbo with crawfish and river squid. After their food and drink were delivered and the tavern maid had gone off to check on another group of customers, the silence was finally broken.

            “This is not good,” Orin sighed, his lips pursed in concern as he stared down into his gumbo.

            “You can’t say that until you taste it, Orin,” Emily said, her mouth already full of food. “This is actually pretty tasty! River squid is pretty hard to get right, you know.”

            “No, I don’t mean the food,” he said, “I mean the situation with Wolfsbane. His life is in very real danger.”

            Emily took a swig of her cider and said, “So, you don’t believe that he’s gone wolf either, huh?”

            At that, Blake burst out laughing. “Seriously, Em? If he’s still alive, there’s no doubt in my mind he’s gone wolf!”

            “But…Wait, you told the director—”

            “A big fat lie! Really, Emily, which is more like Wolfsbane to you? Sitting by and watching his team be sacrificed without a fight, or tackling a raging psychopath with nothing but pure grit and a hunting knife?”

            “Ascot had broken him down pretty bad, though,” Emily replied. “I mean, the Wolfsbane we fought beside would totally have done that, but…people change.”

            “He’s right, Emily,” Orin said, looking up and sliding his glasses up the bridge of his nose with his index finger. “We all know that Wolfsbane, even at his most frightened, is a fighter. We also know that his sense of self-preservation is strong, he has always had his doubts about the Code…and then there are his natural lupine tendencies.”

            At that, Emily glared at Orin, her eyes blazing like the fires of the Fifth Hell. “You shut your mouth right now,” she demanded angrily. “Wolfsbane was always weird, sure, but to even suggest he’s a filthy mutt on the inside…”

            “It’s not a suggestion. All three of us know he’s always had some pretty high-level lycanthropic tells, even when he was human,” Blake said with a shrug. “I mean, remember that time he got pinned by that one werewolf…and Wolfsbane freakin’ growled at him!”

            “Not to mention how he would occasionally twitch like a dog in his sleep,” Orin added, “and how restless fidgety he would always become during the full moon. Face it, Emily, as much as you detest werewolves…one of your closest friends has always been one.”

            “That’s enough!” Emily cried. “You don’t know what you’re talking about! Wolfsbane Bendis was born a perfectly normal human and if he was stupid enough to get bitten and become a damn mutt instead of killing himself like he should have…then I’ll slit his throat myself!”

            Orin sighed and shook his head. “Then you will have to kill me first,” he said plainly.

            “And me too,” Blake agreed.

            “You two would honestly defend him if he became one of those…those things?!”

            “If he has been turned, it is highly unlikely that he has killed anyone,” Orin said, “and no doubt his uncle will have arranged for someone to teach him how to handle his powers properly.”

            “And besides, Wolfsbane’s not the kind to haul off and turn into a murderer just because he’s a werewolf anyway,” Blake said with a nod. “He’s more the type to lock himself up or stay as far from people as possible if he thinks he’s really dangerous. I mean, remember how long it took him to stop hesitating or throwing up on low-level missions? He’s got no stomach for hurting people he feels are innocent.”

            Emily turned away from them and smiled sadly. “No, the human called Wolfsbane Bendis definitely hated to kill anyone who hadn’t actually hurt anyone themself,” Emily replied, then her expression darkened once again, “…But if he’s been turned, the monster that’s taken his place would rip a child to shreds in a heartbeat! If he’s become one of those creatures, go ahead and defend him if that’s where your loyalties lie…but I’ll kill all three of you if that’s what it takes.”

            “Then we’ll knock you out and tie you to a chair if that’s what it takes,” Blake replied with an impish smile. “Isn’t that right, Orin?”

            At that, Orin couldn’t help but smile slightly and let a short huff of a laugh escape his lips. “Yes, quite,” he said. “Allow your hatred to destroy our friendship if you wish, but we will simply keep you prisoner until you come around.”

            All in all, it did feel good to be teamed up with Blake and Emily once again. To be sure, Emily’s hatred of werewolves had still not abated, even after having finally slain the woman who murdered her adoptive family almost three years ago. Still, once the subject of their conversation began to shift away from their current mission, it had begun to feel just like old times. Really, the only thing missing was Ritrian scolding them for arguing amongst themselves and Wolfsbane trying too hard to seem cool…or, at least, normal.

            ‘Yes, it will be good to see him again too,’ Orin thought as he took a sip of his cider. ‘Don’t get yourself killed before we meet again, you idiot…’

~

            Uh-oh, looks like some real drama is going on behind our hero’s back! Join us next week for a new Monster Manual article! Until then, check out more from the Short Stories section of this blog or download the free sample of The Rebirth and Awakening of Wolfie Star-Runner (.mobi for Kindle, .epub for basically everything else) or Wolfie Star-Runner Plays with Hellfire (.mobi, .epub) and see what all the fuss is about. Also, you can find me on Twitter at @DanielleVFreman for…uh, I don’t even know what to call it anymore. Thanks for reading and hopefully I’ll see you next week!

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Q&A About the Star-Runner World Blog

            Hi, everyone! I’m sorry it’s been so long since my last article, but between murdering my Writer’s Block, writing, research, and adjusting to a few big real life changes, I’ve been having a hard time squeezing in time for the blog! Well, now I’m back, and I’ve decided to mark the return of the Star-Runner World blog with a Q&A session. This would be an FAQ…but people don’t ask me any questions, so…Anyway, here are a few questions that you may have had about the blog that you may have been too shy to ask, and their answers!

Q: Are any of the short stories here on the Star-Runner World blog cannon to the actual books?

A: Why, yes. Yes they are. Every single one of the in-universe short stories here on the blog is 100% cannon to the series…Though, you should take Silver’s guest post with a grain of salt, seeing as how it was a remembrance from his early childhood and—knowing him—probably hammed up a bit here and toned down a bit there to serve his own purposes.

Q: I really like the Monster Manual segments. Will you be doing more in the future?

A: Yes, I plan to make many more Monster Manual segments. They’re a lot of fun, because I love creature design.

Q: Do you draw the pictures for the Monster Manual yourself, or is there someone else doing them for you?

A: I don’t have any partners on the art front so, just like the covers of my books, I do all of the Monster Manual art myself. Though, if I ever got a chance to collaborate with an artist whose work I like, I wouldn’t mind having a guest artist get involved.

Q: Falcon is my favorite character in the whole series! How come you haven’t interviewed him yet?!

A: I would love to, but the guy keeps ditching out on me. So many secrets with that guy…I’m sure he’s avoiding being interviewed to keep them intact.

Q: How could it have taken you so long to update this blog? I mean, how long does it take to slap together a few paragraphs about your own fictional universe and post it online once a week? A/My 12-year-old can do it!

A: A common misconception for people who aren’t actually creators themselves is that the creative process is not only uniform for everyone, but works in a reliably mechanical way. For me, writing a post for this blog (or anything really) starts with the inspiration. Then, I slowly form things up in my head and eventually a rough draft in Word. Usually, I write up my blog posts between Wednesday and Friday every week. Because I like to make sure that I’m only posting interesting, entertaining content, if I’m not properly inspired or feeling just plain burnt out, no blog entry will be written that week.

            After the rough draft, I then leave the entry alone until Sunday, when I proofread, edit, and post it. If there are additional materials required, like artwork, the cooling off period is when I prepare it. Simpler pieces can be done with just my trusty Wacom tablet and PhotoShop Elements in an hour or so. More complex drawings, however, I prefer to sketch out by hand with a pencil and a piece of paper, then digitally ink and paint them, so they take a little longer. All of that is what takes me so long.

Q: Where’s the third book already?!

A: Alright, that’s a question about the books, but I’ll let it slide. Wolfie Star-Runner’s Amazing Voyage South is coming along, and I’ll hopefully be done writing it by this fall. The editing is another matter, since my editing partners have…no sense of the word “deadline.” So, I may finish the book by September, but the editing won’t be finished until November because they like to mosey and procrastinate their way through. That’s also why I can’t name specific launch days for my books, just timeframes. A paid professional would work more quickly and efficiently, but that would cost me $250 that just I don’t have, so…Yeah, can’t be helped.

Q: How can you be publishing books if you don’t have $250 to cover an editor?!

A: Like I said, unpaid editing partners. If you would like me be able to afford the services of a professional editor, you can help by buying a copy of both of the currently published books as gifts for everyone you know. That would help immensely. (The previous statement is only half sarcasm.)

Q: When are you going to profile some more of the races of your world?

A: All in good time, my pretty. All in good time…

Q: What’s with all of the secrecy surrounding the Hellfire Lord Goramesh? Even his interview is vague…

A: Because the guy is a walking spoiler, that’s why. If you really want to know more about this Devil of Flames than I’m willing to leak, go read Wolfie Star-Runner Plays with Hellfire. Don’t worry, it’s alright with me if you start the series with the second book. I wrote the series in a way that allows readers to jump in on any book, but not be totally lost. Besides, you can always go back and read Rebirth and Awakening after if you liked the second book enough.

Q: Will there be a short story about *insert character, group of characters, or desired scenario here*? I’d really like to see that.

A: You’ll just have to wait and see. I have quite a few ideas for shorts to post on this blog. The one that I plan to post next week involves Wolfsbane’s old rookie squad mates, so stay tuned. 😉

Q: I thought that Inferno’s magic lesson was adorable! Are there any plans to make that into a recurring feature like the Monster Manual?

A: Possibly, if I can convince him to write for me again. I don’t think he’s forgiven me for the last time, though…

~

            Well, that does it for this week. Join us next week for that story about Wolfsbane’s rookie squad mates. In the meantime, you can download the first few chapters of The Rebirth and Awakening of Wolfie Star-Runner (.mobi for Kindle, .epub for basically every other device) or Wolfie Star-Runner Plays with Hellfire (.mobi, .epub) for free…and leave a tweet at #WolfieSRImpressions with your reaction. If you liked the sample enough, you can buy the books at Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com, Smashwords.com, Kobo.com, and even the iTunes store!

            Also, feel free to archive binge around here for several much better entries! Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful week.

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