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Black Gate Online Fiction: “The Gentle Sleeper”

By David Evan Harris

This is a complete work of fiction presented by Black Gate magazine. It appears with the permission of David Evan Harris and New Epoch Press, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part. All rights reserved. Copyright 2013 by New Epoch Press.

Arland surveyed the gates of the estate, wondering how he could get inside to kill Baron Weller.

His friend Markum was already napping in the carriage, the stale, smelly cigar clamped firmly in his mouth. Arland had once told him that he might as well smoke rotted fish, and Markum had said that fish were too hard to light.

Arland checked the angle of the sun. Maybe two hours before dark. Already he was growing weary with the weight of what he carried high above. Even if he could sneak it inside, it would do him no good while it was still light out.

Arland wondered if this estate was where they had taken Marraine, whether she might still be alive within those walls. He had a sudden, powerful image of those bright green eyes studying him across the game board, the ghost of a smile touching her lips as she sipped from a mug of spiced cider, her signal that he was about to lose again.

He pushed away an image of what she might look like by now. Weller would have had her for a week. Wishing her life, he realized, might not be a kindness at this point.

Arland had just resolved to return to the waiting carriage, to roam about for another hour or so, when the Baron’s guards surrounded him with swords drawn. Two of them woke Markum and questioned him briefly. No one was better at playing stupid than Markum, and he saw the driver shrug and shake his head before driving away.

They did not question Arland at all, but marched him inside without a word.


Baron Weller was stocky but fit, with blond, tightly curled hair that gave him a boyish look. Thick spectacles hung from a chain about his neck. Baron Weller’s poor eyesight was nearly as well known as his cruelty.

The Baron sat at a long raised table, the remnants of a meal scattered about. He was using a long knife to pick something from his teeth when they brought Arland in. Three large, unlit braziers lined the wall behind the table. Black draperies hung from ceiling to floor, covering the walls completely, save for the four large glass windows that still brightened the room, and a wide oak door with an open iron deadbolt that somehow looked ominous.

A tall, dark haired woman with large front teeth sat to the Baron’s left. Arland felt a stiff breeze in his face and knew it came from her. He watched her face. She gave no sign that she sensed what he had brought with him, which even now spread to a thin, invisible carpet across the high ceiling.

To the Baron’s right, a white-haired man with a reddish nose slouched with his elbows on the table, cradling a cup of wine. He appeared to be about Arland’s age. An opaque orange prism pulsed on his chest. A powerful Adept, to be sure, but the Elemental concerned Arland more.

“You are older than I expected,” the Baron said, squinting at Arland. His voice was high and rich, but his words were slightly mumbled as he worked the knife in his teeth.

“Do I know you?” Arland asked.

The Baron grinned and nodded to his guards, who withdrew silently.

“Tell me your name,” the Baron asked.

“Edward. May I asked why I have been detained?”

“Your occupation?”

“I am a merchant.”

“In the city to trade, then?”

“Hopefully.”

The Baron withdrew the knife, flicked something from its point, and jabbed it into the table. He lifted a small golden bell but did not ring it.

“Why were you standing outside my gates?”

“To see you, of course,” said Arland. “To inquire about a license for trade.”

“Of course. What do you trade?”

“Spices, mostly. Some silver. Sometimes gems.”

“Hmm. Not weapons?”

“No, not usually.”

“Yet you visited several smithies.”

Damn, thought Arland. So he had been followed for some time. He managed a small smile.

“I visited many of your shops and trades. I like to judge the prosperity of a city firsthand. Get a feel for the energy in the city. Its mood. Its profitability.”

“So you did. Cobblers, tailors, tobacconists… perhaps you were merely curious. Or perhaps you sought to spy on us.”

“I would make a poor spy,” Arland laughed. “I would hardly have sought you out, my lord, if I were spying on your city.”

“We’ll get to that,” said the Baron. “Do you trade in garments? Fabrics?”

“Not usually, but I am sure I can find something if my lord is looking for something in particular,” said Arland.

“I’d have thought you a wool merchant,” said the Baron. “Seeing as you spent so long looking at a flock of sheep.”

“I was a shepherd as a boy,” Arland said. “I can tell a lot about a city’s prosperity by looking at its livestock. Particularly its sheep.”

“And by its garbage as well?” the Baron asked. “You journeyed from the pens to the Heaps. I can’t imagine two worse smelling places for a man to pass his time.”

“Why yes, by its garbage,” Arland agreed. “What better way to judge the richness of a people than by the value of what it throws away?”

“This is ridiculous and a waste of time,” said the Adept, draining his wine. The Baron spared him an annoyed glance, but the Adept ignored him, refilled his cup, and sipped some more. The Baron watched him a moment, then dipped his head and chuckled.

“Dorrick is a bit drunk,” said the Baron. “But he stays sharp, somehow, and is nevertheless correct. Your lies are foolish. You knew from my first statement that I know who you are.”

Arland spread his hands and tried to look confused.

“You are Arland,” the Baron continued. “First Elder of the House of Elementals in the Kingdom of Corland.”

“You are mistaken, my lord,” said Arland.

“Marraine described you perfectly,” said the Baron. “From your height, to the tangled hair, to the gray in your beard, to the scar across your neck. She claimed you were much stronger than you looked, but that is not hard to believe, since you do not look very strong at all. She even described your fondness for open-toed sandals instead of boots.”

“My name is Edward,” said Arland. “I am a merchant.”

“You are an assassin,” said the Baron casually. “The Gentle Sleeper, they call you. A man of little magical strength but with perfect control, who can stop the air from reaching a man’s lungs, or foul it as he breathes.”

“What nonsense,” said Arland.

“You’ve come to kill me, I expect,” the Baron continued. “And I expect you realize by now that you have failed, and that an unpleasant death will begin for you quite shortly, but will not end for some time.” The Baron leaned back in his chair, holding the bell against his chest, watching Arland.

“Does this mean you don’t want me to find you some clothing?” Arland asked. The Baron smiled.

“Vera here,” he said, gesturing to the woman to his left, “is, as you may have surmised, a Wind Elemental, like yourself. Only she is very, very strong. Two years ago, there was a village near the Corland border that displeased me, and Vera, quite literally, blew it away. She can keep that breeze up all night, if need be, and she assures me that you will not be able to affect my breathing, or push any poisons towards me, while it is blowing.”

“My lord, I have no idea how to persuade you of your error,” said Arland. “I came here to trade goods. To make some money for me and for you. Is this how you treat visitors to your city? Very well, I shall take my business elsewhere.”

“You should also know,” continued the Baron, “that there are two archers concealed behind the drapes. If I do have any trouble breathing, if I so much as clear my throat, they will shoot you. In the knees. And you will die very slowly.”

This, Arland knew, was a lie. There were three archers, not two, and he knew exactly where they were. An archer was concealed in an alcove on either side of him, and another above and behind the Baron. He could sense each breath every one of them took, feel the change as rich air was drawn in and foul air expelled. He also sensed two guards in the hall through which he had entered. The archers and the guards, he believed, could be dealt with.

Still, with an Orange Adept at his side, and with Vera blowing air away from Baron Weller, there was little Arland could do at the moment.

“Take him to the back, Weller,” said Dorrick, pinching his red nose and wiping wine from his lips. “Convince him to tell you the truth. It’s what you do best.”

Arland thought that the Baron would rankle at being addressed this way, but the man’s smile broadened, and an expression that looked alarmingly like hunger flickered across his face. Vera’s mouth pursed in what Arland believed was distaste.

“Soon enough, Dorrick,” said the Baron, rising to his feet. “But for now I think I have a better way to have Master Arland tell us the truth.” And with that he rang his little bell.

For several moments Arland heard nothing. Then faint sounds reached him through the oaken door, quickly growing louder. Arland’s heart began to quicken, and his muscles tensed, as he realized that what he was hearing was the muffled but unmistakable sounds of a woman screaming.

“Stop,” he whispered, suddenly sure of what he would see when the door opened.

Soon Arland could distinguish the sounds of footsteps and something being dragged, but these sounds were intermittent, for the screaming was nearly incessant. Dorrick drank deeply and refilled his cup yet again. Vera was looking deliberately away from the door, but the Baron was staring straight at Arland, watching him avidly as the latch turned and the door swung steadily open. The screams, no longer muffled, suddenly filled the room.

Two guards pulled a woman by her wrists, dragging her on her back. It was obvious that her right shoulder was dislocated, and she screamed with all her strength at every pull. The guards left her moaning in front of the raised table, not five feet from Arland, then brusquely exited, closing the oaken door behind them. The woman eyes were closed, leaking tears, and she was shuddering with every breath.

Her hair, once raven and glorious, was shorn. Her lips were battered and bleeding, the left side of her face was swollen and bruised, the left eye swollen shut, and there were burn marks across the other side. The fingernails of her left hand were gone, dried blood still crusted on her fingers, and her right thumb appeared broken. The riding garments she had been wearing when they had taken her had been replaced with or reduced to rags, and he saw festering cuts and bruises and burns everywhere. Her left ankle appeared twisted and broken.

Arland had known this was Marraine even before he saw her face, and when a single green eye opened and met his, he nearly sobbed.

“Marraine,” said Baron Weller, and she flinched at the sound of his voice. “Do you know this man?”

The single eye closed. She did not respond.

“This is not necessary,” said Arland. “I will tell you everything.”

“Dorrick?” asked the Baron.

The Adept looked annoyed. He set down his cup of wine and pointed a forefinger at Marraine.

“Wait!” said Arland. “I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you! Don’t do this!”

A bright, thin beam of orange light shot from the tip of Dorrick’s finger, striking Marraine in the neck. She convulsed, her back arching, unable to stop herself despite what this did to her shoulder, and she screamed again, though this time her voice seemed strangled.

“Stop!” Arland roared. “Stop! It’s me! I am Arland! I am Arland!”

The Baron gave a curt nod of his head and the orange stream of light disappeared, Marraine’s screams with it, though she whimpered as her body settled back to the floor. Dorrick returned to his wine cup, unconcerned. Vera was stone-faced.

“That was your fault,” said the Baron. “Stupid of you to lie. What did you think would happen?”

Arland took a single step towards Marraine, who was moaning softly.

“No,” said the Baron. “Unless you want Dorrick to give her another jolt?”

Arland froze, seething and horrified. He stared at the Baron, breathing hard. The Baron was tapping his lip with his forefinger, suppressing a small smile.

“Well,” he said. “It occurs to me that we have a problem.” Arland said nothing, watching him as the Baron poured himself a small cup of wine and sipped.

“It occurs to me that there is a possibility that you are lying now,” said the Baron. “That perhaps you are simply squeamish, willing to say anything to spare your ears the sound of someone suffering.”

“I am Arland,” said Arland quietly. “I will answer your questions.”

“Hmm, yes, well, but you see, that puts me in dilemma,” said the Baron. “If it turns out you are indeed the Master Elemental, the Gentle Sleeper, well that would mean you were lying before, when you said you were Edward the Merchant. How could I believe anything you tell me? I would certainly hate to waste several days breaking you, only to find that you had nothing to tell me, except of course where I might find cinnamon at a good price.”

“I will tell you what you need to know,” said Arland, trying to put as much conviction in his voice as he could. His eyes flicked to Marraine, who was now weeping.

Traveling here with his half-formed plan of saving or avenging her, his mind had reviewed for him the myriad manifestations of their friendship. She, far more than anyone else, had brought him through when his wife had died, eighteen years ago. Twice he had helped her plan the defense of the city when the Jylla had attacked with what was left of their army. He had taught her how to ride, and she had taught him the names of the stars and constellations.

They had played Conquest against each other, once a week, for over twenty years. Over a thousand games, most on the board he had bought for her. He had beaten her forty-eight times, managed a draw on well over a hundred other. Mutual friends could think of no one else who had beaten her more than twice.

There was no evidence of her intellect now. Only pain.

“I have it,” said the Baron. “A solution both practical and humane.”

Baron Weller stood and leaned over the table, squinting for a better look at his victim. “Marraine, I think, has told us all we need to know,” he said. “A most productive discussion, to be sure. She’s told us of the city’s defenses, the number of soldiers, the layout of the palace, where the King sleeps most often. She told us that you would be coming to rescue her, which is why I had you followed even before you traveled here. She’s even told us of protection surrounding Rachelle.”

Now Arland managed a chilly smile, and the Baron raised an eyebrow.

“You’re going to move against Rachelle? Best of luck.”

“You may have a point,” said the Baron with a shrug. “Certainly Rachelle is the only Gold Adept I have ever heard of. But that is Lord Forge’s problem, not mine.”

Arland blinked in surprise. He and Marraine had thought an alliance between the Baron and Forge unlikely.

“My problem is you,” the Baron continued, “and what to do with Councilor Marraine.”

“You’ll never let her go,” Arland said.

“Of course not,” said the Baron, waving a hand. “Marraine has been very useful, but her usefulness, I think, has come to a close. She is an enemy of this state, as deserving of a long and painful death as you are. But, as it happens, your arrival, the opportunity for you to serve as her… proxy, combined with my need to reassure myself of your identity, presents an alternative.

“So here is what we will do. I am offering you one final act in your role as a Wind Elemental, and an assassin. I will ask Vera to deaden the air between you and Marraine, and I will allow you to give your gentle sleep to the Councilor here.”

“No.”

“Ah. Seems cruel of you, sir. But as you wish. Should I call the guards? Have her taken to the back again?”

Arland did not speak, watching Marraine intently. Her head rolled and she looked at him with her good eye. She tried to mouth something, but he could not understand. At last she nodded, and his heart broke as he realized she was begging him to kill her.

“I am not a patient man,” the Baron said. He lifted his bell once more, but Arland raised his hand. He took several deep breaths and held Marraine’s gaze as long as he dared.

“I’m so sorry,” he said.

She mouthed something else, which might have been I love you.

Arland closed his eyes, letting his senses spread through the ocean of air around him. The strong breeze Vera was generating was like a scar across the vapor landscape. There were pockets of thinness and density, updrafts and down, the weight of his burden trying to fall from the ceiling, the ebb and flow of air drawn into lungs and exhaled. Traces of perfume and sweat and smoke still wafted in the room. The Baron’s breath was quick and intense, the Adept’s wheezy and labored, Vera’s slow and steady. The archers’ were all regular as sunsets. Marraine’s was ragged, shuddering.

Tortured.

It was a simple thing, in the end. The air between he and she quieted, Vera withdrawing her touch. Every time Marraine exhaled, he caught the spent air, kept it in a cloud around her nose and mouth, so that the spent air was drawn back in again.

“Well?” said the Baron.

“He’s doing it,” said Vera.

Marraine’s single working eyelid was closing slowly, her body slumping against the floor, all the rigidity of her pain left behind. Her skin seemed to darken. She took one great, shuddering breath, and then she was still.

The Baron squinted down at her for a long time, watching for the rise and fall of her chest, but Marraine did not move. He looked at Vera, who looked hesitant.

“I sense nothing,” she said. “The breathing has stopped.” The Baron beamed.

“Master Arland,” he said. “How very nice to meet you. We have so much to talk about.”


Arland watched the sun as he talked, reciting for them the details of every assassination he had ever performed. He described seventeen such killings, though in truth there were only four.

The sun seemed to defy him, refusing to move, and he was so tired. His back and feet ached, and his head felt like it was going to explode. He had never possessed great power, and his head pounded mercilessly from the strain of holding his burden against the ceiling.

He had also been busy in other ways.

Vera, though very strong, did not appear well-trained. Her senses did not seem sharp. Worse, she and the Baron seemed to believe that the wind she threw against him would stop him from controlling the air near them, as though he had to push through her power to exercise his own. While she would no doubt win any direct contest of strength between them, and while the breeze was strong enough to protect them directly, nothing stopped him from reaching other parts of the room.

Very subtly, he had been changing the mix of the air breathed by both the hidden archers and the guards in the hall. Each would now be feeling the first hint of drowsiness.

And Vera’s control, though adequate to shield the Baron, was not quite fine enough to protect the Adept.

Dorrick apparently knew his limits, and had severely curtailed his drinking. So Arland was helping him get drunk. As the alcohol evaporated from his cup and the decanter, Arland caught it, sending clouds of spirits back down the Adept’s throat with every sip he took.

“Why are we listening to this?” Dorrick suddenly blurted. His words were slightly slurred, and his brows knitted, as though confused by his own state. “Every word said out here is a lie. A waste. Of time. Take him to the back.”

“I think you’ve had enough,” said the Baron sharply. Dorrick met his stare and deliberately raised the cup to his lips. The Baron pinched his nose and scrunched his eyes.

Was the room beginning to darken? Arland could not be sure. The sun was certainly low, but it had finally moved out of view, and might simply be obscured by clouds.

“Any good interrogator allows the subject to tell his story without duress,” the Baron said. “It is part of the process, for comparison later. But, as I said, I am not a patient man, and I do think you should be tucked away before Dorrick here drinks himself senseless.”

The Baron reached for his bell.

“Let me ask you,” said Arland. “Why did you take Marraine? It was an act of war. You know where this will lead.”

“Of course,” said the Baron, his hand veering and now taking his own cup of wine. He raised it as he answered, as though making a toast. “To the destruction of Corland.”

“Surely you know that whatever Marraine told you will no longer be true by the time you get there.”

“Really?” asked the Baron. “Will you grow more soldiers? Build more ships and weapons? Will you reconfigure your castle?”

“Rachelle will still be there,” said Arland.

“And so will Forge,” said the Baron. “Leading an army of Adepts. Even Rachelle will not stand against such power.”

“Raw power, in my view, is highly overrated,” said Arland.

“Says the man with little raw power himself,” said the Baron with a smile.

“Let me tell you a story I tell my students,” said Arland, shifting his feet and glancing at the window. “May I have a chair, by the way?”

“Why, no.” Arland shrugged. “But please, tell me what wisdom you offer to the brand new Elementals you teach.”

“Power, I tell them, is a most difficult thing to measure,” Arland said. “I tell them of two brothers, John and Brian. John was an Adept. An Orange, as a matter of fact.”

“Here here,” said Dorrick, raising his glass.

“Brian was an Earth Elemental, with a particular affinity for metals. Now the brothers, they did not like one another, for each believed that the other was stronger, and they were jealous. Their father, who was rich, left his fortune for his sons to divide. His riches were kept in a vault of crystmetal, impervious to magic. The vault could be opened only by a single key, which the father kept with him always.

“When he died, the key was delivered to his sons, so that they could open the vault and divide the riches. The herald who brought the key saw the avid and dangerous looks on their faces, and he was afraid to hand it to either, so he lay it on a table between them, and the contest began.

“Brian used his Elemental magic to draw the key to himself, but John, who had power over magnetics, pulled it back the other way. Each strained to the limit of his power, and the key was suspended between mighty forces — the Elemental who pulled at the metal itself, the Adept who pulled with lines of magnetics, and neither could move the key at all, for they were equally strong.”

“So what happened?” asked the Baron, smiling indulgently. “Do they struggle to this day?”

“John at last used his magic to melt the key, just a bit, so that it was barely soft. It was still metal, still drawn by magnetics, so his pull was not lessened, but Brian’s mastery of the key disappeared the moment it lost its rigid form. The key flew to John, who cooled it, and he raised it in a triumphant salute.”

“So John got the riches,” the Baron asked. “What a touching story.”

“No,” said Arland. “The soft metal bent when he pulled it. He was never able to remake the key exactly right, and the vault was never opened.”

The Baron chuckled and Dorrick rolled his eyes. Vera shot a look at Marraine, then at Arland, who ignored her.

“So your point is that power must be used wisely,” said the Baron. “You intimate that a struggle of such magnitude will destroy Corland even if I win, that there will be nothing left to occupy. But you seem to think that I want Corland. I do not. I want Corland destroyed. I will cut a path from here to the capitol, and when I get there, I will tear down its walls, kill half of its citizens and all of its royalty, and remake it as I see fit.

“And you, Master Arland, are going to help me. You are going to tell me everything you know, over and over. You will try to think of new things to tell me, to please me, to keep me from asking you questions. Your stories, your time, is at an end.” The Baron reached once again for his bell.

“I have a message for you,” said Arland. “From the king.” Again the Baron stayed his hand, looking at Arland impatiently. It was definitely dimmer in the room now. Arland had no idea if it was dark enough.

“Then deliver it,” said the Baron.

“It is for your ears only,” said Arland.

“You may speak in front of these,” said the Baron. Arland shook his head. “Do you honestly think I will consent to being alone with you, oh Gentle Sleeper?”

“I am commanded to deliver it only to you,” said Arland.

“I am your new master,” said the Baron. “You will tell it to me now, or scream it for me later.”

“There are reasons that only you should hear this,” said Arland, letting his eyes flick towards Dorrick. The Baron snorted, but he looked at Dorrick all the same. “Perhaps I could write it down for you?”

Baron Weller looked at Arland for a long moment, glanced once again at Dorrick, then rang his bell. Arland tried to slow his own breathing, tried to ignore the pain in his head. Again he heard footsteps and the latch being turned. The same two guards entered. Vera’s wind blew all around them, and he realized that if they were here to haul him into the back, there would be no way to stop them.

“A quill and some parchment,” said the Baron. “And light these braziers.”

“I’ll do it,” said Dorrick, lurching to his feet as the guards exited. As the Adept touched each of the braziers, they burst into flame. The one directly behind the Baron guttered slightly from the fringes of Vera’s breeze, which had not faltered for an instant.

Arland allowed himself a sigh. He had been afraid that Dorrick would provide the needed light by causing his prism to brighten.

One guard returned a few moments later with a quill, some ink, and some parchment. At the Baron’s nod he handed them to Arland. Bracing the parchment with the palm of one hand, he began to write.

“My eyes are not so sharp as they once were,” he said. He wrote carefully, using the ink sparingly, and making the words as faint as possible for the Baron’s famously poor eyes.

“This is pointless,” said the Baron testily as he watched Arland write. “You know that I will read it aloud anyway, so why do you not simply tell it to me?”

Arland did not answer, and the only sound in the room was the scratching of the quill on the parchment. As he wrote, he focused on the archers hidden behind the drapes and the guards in the hall, changing the air they breathed very quickly, and in a moment each had slumped silently into unconsciousness.

When Arland finished writing, he signed with a flourish and held the parchment for the guard. The man took it and handed it up to the Baron, who was donning his spectacles.

The nearest brazier was about three feet behind him and to his left.

Arland stole a glance at Vera. The young Wind Elemental was watching the Baron. Arland turned his attention towards the ceiling.

Unseen, the gas blanketed against the ceiling rolled itself into a tight ball and drifted towards the Baron. Arland drew pure, rich air from about the room and mixed it into the ball of gas.

The Baron squinted at the message Arland had scrawled, tilting his spectacles to try to bring it into focus. At last he stepped back, under the light of the brazier.

The now-oxygenated ball of methane Arland had collected from the pens and Heaps dropped like a meteor. Arland took a step away from the Baron as he read the note:

“Not all my deaths are gentle.”

The Baron’s head snapped up just as the ball of gas hit the torch.

The explosion was louder than Arland had expected, and the heat and force of it were much worse. He heard the guard cry out and fall even as Arland was propelled backward, his eyebrows and beard singed, blisters rising on his face. The table was lifted and toppled as the Baron’s body slammed into it. He could not see Dorrick or Vera. The braziers were blown apart, burning embers everywhere, and the draperies burst into flame. Arland stumbled but did not fall, then lunged clumsily towards the oaken door and slammed home the deadbolt.

Then he turned to Marraine.

Keeping her breathing had been the hardest task of all, forcing the air into her lungs so slowly that no one would discern the rise and fall of her chest. He kept the mix so that she would remain unconscious, then stooped and hoisted her over his shoulder.

Men were banging against the oaken door now, but the door through which he had entered was for the moment still clear. He closed his eyes and checked for breaths, sensing none in the room save Marraine’s. He sensed the harsh breath of two people rushing towards him from the hall outside. With the last of his magical strength he gave them the Gentle Sleep, then carried Marraine from the room, trying to brace her shoulder as best he could.

He met three other rushing guards on the way out, and, hoping that they were not the same as those who had arrested him earlier, shouted that there had been an explosion, that the Baron had been hurt.

In a moment he had reached the gates. Frantic people were everywhere, rushing towards the burning estate with buckets of water. Arland made his way through them, following the smell of stale cigar to Markum and the waiting carriage.


David Evan Harris2

David Evan Harris’ first fiction sale was “The Mudslinger,” in Black Gate 11. It was one of the most acclaimed stories in the issue, and Grasping For the Wind said “Harris has the makings of an epic fantasy… I look forward to more.”

His last story for us was “Seeker of Fortune,” which Tangent Online called “Exceptional. A must read”:

David Evan Harris, in “Seeker of Fortune,” creates a fascinating reality in which luck can be manipulated by Fortune Stackers… John Sherman is one such talent… For a while he was engaged to Ronnie, the strongest Stacker known, until he watched her kill an entire family just to take out her target. John left her at the altar on their wedding day, and her fury promised a hard death if she ever caught up with him. Unfortunately (fitting for a Fortune Stacker), John finds his work leading him back to Las Vegas, the city he’d vowed never to return to, Ronnie’s stomping grounds.

How John survives his encounter with Ronnie makes for an incredible chase scene that I would stack up against (pun intended) some of the best from the Matrix movie trilogy… Exceptional. A must read.

About himself, David says:

Even after all these years, writing fantasy is still more fun than writing legal briefs, and readers, including judges, often have trouble determining which genre I have submitted. One kid in college now, another starting soon, another starting just when the debt is starting to decline from the first two — my plan of retiring on short story royalties may need to be revisited.

Author photo by Steve Harris.

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