Sorceress Enraged: Opening Chapter

Hey all,

It’s a little late, but here’s the opening chapter for Sorceress Enraged. (previously titled Sorceress Triumphant until I decided to rename it after the Pronoun closing up shop preorder issue. Le Sigh.) By the way, this is the unedited version since it’s with the editor, so forgive the rawness. And, yes, I’m still planning for a December launch. Thanks for being patient!

Prologue

 

 

Never had the sound of the ocean crashing against the cliffs failed to soothe him, but the restlessness of an unknown future had drawn Draydrak here to the edge of his self-imposed prison, and this dawn the seas failed to calm his rising unease.

Soon, the Divine Ones would call upon him to serve. He felt it in his soul. Yet, for the first time in his existence, he wasn’t sure if he was strong enough to succeed. Or even if that was his wish. He was weary of his role.

As this planet’s sun cleared the horizon, its light stretched across the sky in a white-gold glow. The perpetual beauty of the act wasn’t lost on him. It represented hope’s ever renewing promise.

New beginnings.

The one thing beyond his power to give himself. And not unlike all the mortals upon the mortal plane, he craved the one thing he himself could not have.

A hundred thousand times each moment his power bestowed the gift of new beginnings upon all the souls of the universe. Many mortals feared it, fought it, terrified to accept his embrace, his greatest gift, not understanding that it was merely a new beginning. Hope. The promise of life eternal as ordained by the Divine Ones at the beginning.

The one thing forbidden to him.

Death.

But Lord Death could not succumb to his own power even though he would willingly embraced it for the chance to absolve his greatest mistake and end the rivalry between he and his sister.

In the past, he had tried. Even falling upon his four swords to no avail. His magic was tied to his twin’s and hers to him. Once, long ago, when he and his twin had first started their war, he had attempted to kill her and sent her back to the Divine Ones for healing.

To the woe of all the Realms, the Battle Goddess would live as long as her twin existed and Draydrak could not die.

Their war had threatened to destabilize all of creation until the Avatars had been reborn into the Magic Realm and showed him a way to imprison his wayward sibling.

Thus, the duality curse had been born, trapping both twins in their respective temples.

Draydrak had gone willingly. His twin had not. Even trapped within her temple, she still sought to continue the war, raising armies and setting them loose every few thousand years.

The Avatars returned each time to put an end to the rebellions. Until this time, when his twin had found a way to manipulate even the Avatars.

War was coming again and this time he wished an eternal ending to this on-going strife. He wanted a new beginning for them all, especially his sister. She needed healing only the Divine Ones could grant.

But first, he needed to win the coming war and find a way to strike a fatal blow that his twin would not be able to escape.

“Dray?” The ocean breeze tried to steal the words of the speaker, but Thayn was too determined to let anything, even an innocent breeze, interfere with his plans. “Might I have a word with you.”

Thayn was always there to draw him from his melancholy thoughts. Draydrak shifted his weight and glanced over his shoulder to an outcropping of rock where the gargoyle elder perched.

“Of course, my old friend,” he said as he turned to face the much smaller gargoyle. Boulders crumbled under Dray’s hooves as he turned his back on the ocean and the ever-seductive call of renewal the rising sun represented. “Speak.”

The gargoyle’s ears flicked forward and back, betraying some small hint of uncertainty. At last, he said what was on his mind. “My Lord, the entire council felt the arrival of two new gargoyles in this realm. But they are unlike any to come before them.”

Ah. His gargoyle legion had felt the arrival of his twin’s newest experiment.

“I am aware,” he confirmed. “They are my sister’s doing.”

“Of course, but do you wish us to raid the Battle Goddess’ lands and capture these two?”

There was a hint of excitement in the old gargoyle’s expression.

Dray hated to dash his general’s hopes, but he feared these two were not born of Divine will, were instead firmly his sister’s creatures, or would be before long. Although, that was yet to be determined. Perhaps they could still be reasoned with, persuaded into doing what was right.

“No, I’ll not waste gargoyle lives on such an endeavor until I’ve learn more about them myself.” Draydrak paused and glanced back towards the rising sun. “If I find them worthy of saving, then I will act, but if they are just another soul turned by my sister’s corrupt power, then I will free their souls to return to the Divine Ones.”

“But, my Lord. One of them is female. A female gargoyle, surely this is what the Divine Ones prophesized long ago.”

All. Of course, his gargoyles would wish to believe the coming of the first female gargoyle would mark his own mate’s arrival as the ancient prophecy said.

“I am sorry my old friend, I very much doubt this is Divine will.”

The gargoyle huffed out an amused snort. “It’s not for myself I ask, or even the rest of the gargoyle Legion—the dryads suit us well enough. I had hoped for your sake this would signal the beginning of the prophecy.”

Dray’s lips curled back from his fangs as he grinned down at Thayn. “Foolish old gargoyle. I am too set in my ways to want a mate. Besides, what female would be brave enough to court death?”

“The female the Divine Ones chose for you, I would assume?” The gargoyle replied with dry wit.

Draydrak chuckled and gestured at his own body with all four of his arms. Once he’d made his point, he folded his arms and allowed his wings to expand to catch the ocean breeze.

But it wasn’t his physical form that he was worried about. It was within his power to take other shapes for short times. No, his true fear was rooted in what had happened to his sister. She had once been loyal to the Divine Ones. At least until the day her mate, the Shield Bearer, had decided he wanted the power over life and death and was willing to kill Draydrak to secure it.

When Draydrak had killed his twin’s mate, her grief over losing him had twisted her soul until she became the darkly obsessed being that now wanted to rule all of creation, so every living creature would feel the sorrow she now felt.

That’s what love had done to his twin. He would avoid such a fate at almost any cost. So far, the Divine One seemed to concur for they had not used their Avatars to birth another demigod into the universe to become his mate.

“Well, then, if you’re not going to order the gargoyle Legion to invade your sister’s territory, what are your orders instead?”

The old gargoyle wasn’t going to give up just yet.

Dray had no time for foolish prophecy or equally foolish romantic old fools. No, he would deny fate, prophecy, and even meddling old matchmakers.

“Continue training the young ones as you have been,” he said, but then surprised himself by adding, “And send more gargoyles to scout along my sister’s domain. I will see what I can learn about her two newest projects and discover if they are slaves or willing servants. If the latter, and should they attempt an escape, I want some of my army near to collect them and bring them here.”

And just like that, he felt Fate tightening her clutches. Still, he didn’t take back his words. Rescue mission or assassination attempt, foiling his sister’s plans for these two would be a worthy use of his time.

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Anna had been following a river for most of the morning when she spotted what look like a path cutting along one side of the valley. Her first thought was that it was a game trail since she hadn’t seen any signs of civilization since she first arrived in fantasyland yesterday.

Last night she’d found a spot to shelter beside a fallen tree and used her night vision goggles to scan for signs of hostiles. There’d been nothing but wildlife. Deer and wolves were plentiful. So too were the large hairy mountain goats. She’d even spotted a big cat-like shape on the opposite slope.

Fantasyland looked a lot like the Rockies. Well, if one removed roads, towns, and people.

This morning she’d started out near dawn and travelled alongside the stream she’d landed in yesterday, eventually coming to the river she now followed. Not once in the fifteen kilometer hike had she seen another human or other fae. Which made her wonder if the locals knew better than to venture in the direction she was headed.

She hiked for another three kilometers and then spotted something that made her halt and crouch low. After a moment, she rose from her crouch and then slowly traversed the rocky ground until she reached a large outcropping. She used it to hide herself.

Peering through her scope, she scanned the terrain ahead. A break in the thinning greenery was what had first caught her interest. The view through her scope confirmed it was too uniform for a game trail.

Someone had built a road to cut through the mountain pass and a road almost always went somewhere. It had probably been running alongside the river all along, it’s location hidden by the thick tree canopy. Now that the greenery was sparser, and she could clearly see the pale line of the road.

This one led up out of the valley and began to snake its way up toward a pass in the mountains. The higher up the road climbed, the sparser the cover. Fewer trees and shrubs meant less cover to hide her movements.

While that was unfortunate, it wouldn’t stop her. This road led in the direction her magic said Shadowlight lay. She thanked whatever god was responsible, for as long as that magic tugged her closer to him, she knew he still alive.

If he was alive, she could rescue him.

She scanned the rustic road again before rising from her crouch behind the clump of boulders. It would be too dangerous to use the road even if it would make her track marginally quicker. Anna hadn’t seen any patrols, but that didn’t mean there weren’t any.

Jogging cross country might take a little longer than following the road, but it was better than getting captured.

After hoisting her pack, she adjusted it and then checked her gun. Once everything was in order she broke into a lope.

“Hold on, kid. I’m coming for you.”

 

***

 

Anna stayed close to the road for the rest of the day. The sun was just beginning its dissent when the road reached the narrow pass she’d seen earlier. The trees were thinner here, the ground rockier. Staying close to the western side of the pass, she hid herself using shadow magic.

She marched two more kilometers before the pass dumped her into another valley. Instincts screamed a warning, telling her this one wasn’t empty of habitation. Glancing around, she slipped between the cliff wall and a section of rock that had fallen from above.

After Anna had inched her way up the rock pile, she peered up towards what she’d only glimpsed before. Blinking against the glare of the setting sun, she studied the mountainous city carved out of the northern slope of the valley.

This, then, was the road’s destination. Midway up the slope, pillars cut from a blood-red stone rose up out of the ground and flanked the road. Studying the rise of the land through her scope, she saw where the road merged into stairs two thirds of the way up the mountain.

From her present vantage point, it didn’t look like the slopes on either side were scalable without climbing gear.

Not good.

If she wished to go farther, she would need to call upon her gargoyle shadow magic after dark and attempt the climb with the hope no one discovered her. There was no way she was turning back now. Her eyes trailed up higher to study the fortress or city or whatever one called an evil overlord’s abode.

Regardless of the dangers, she was going to infiltrate that place.

Shadowlight was somewhere inside.

Beyond the fortress’s tall, impenetrable outer walls, she saw the high peak of what was likely a temple. That was Shadowlight’s most probable location if Daryna’s intel was accurate. Anna would have a better idea once she scouted around. First, she had to get inside without getting caught.

She scowled at the sun. To gage by its position above the horizon, it would be at least another forty-five minutes before it was dark enough for her shadow magic to hide her fully.

Crouching down behind her present sheltering outcropping of rock, she pulled food and water from her pack. She’d eat and then cross the valley floor and see if there was any other way inside besides the front door.

 

Advertisements

Never Ever Will I Ever Do A Preorder Again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Boo Hiss. Somewhat unhappy author here. (Although, not really surprised either.)

 

I just got an email from Pronoun.com saying they are closing up shop. They’ve been around for a couple years and Pronoun was Macmillan’s indie publishing platform experiment. My books were already everywhere except Google Play (since GP is closed to new authors) so I decided to give Pronoun a try back in August to expand into the Google Play marketplace. I liked the Pronoun platform so much I decided to list my next two preorders with them for all retailers. (Sorceress Triumphant and Citadel: Warship of the Spire).

Anyways, with Pronoun closing shop I decided to pull both preorders now instead of later. They will both still publish on or near their original planned publication dates, but if you have already preordered them, unfortunately they are now cancelled. You won’t be charged, but you will have to repurchase them once they are live. Sorry for the inconvenience. Boo Hiss, Pronoun!

Now I have to figure out how to get my books back up on Google Play since I had a growing readership there and they’ll no doubt be looking for the other books in my series.

If you are a Google Play reader, I’m so sorry!

If you were one of the readers who preordered one of the two books above. I’m so sorry, but the good news is that those title will still publish on all retailers accept Google Play. (Though I’m still hoping to one day get on the waiting list for the Google Play publishing platform.)

 

Sorceress Triumphant now available for preorder!

FB_sorceress_4

Hey all:

SORCERESS TRIUMPHANT, BOOK 5 IN THE GARGOYLE AND SORCERESS TALES, IS NOW AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER!

https://books.pronoun.com/sorceress-triumphant/

While Lillian and Gregory have their hands full trying to track down Commander Gryton, learn the Sorceress’ true allegiance, and prepare for an imminent invasion, Corporal Anna McKenzie has her own set of problems. And surprisingly, it doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that she’s been converted into a gargoyle by a well-meaning cub.

No. Her new gargoyle nature is something she’ll come to grips with…eventually. Having the same gargoyle cub abducted by an evil demi-goddess? That’s another story altogether.

Anna has never failed to accomplish something once she’s put her mind to it, and her mind is now firmly set on seeing the young gargoyle freed at any cost. And if the evil demi-goddess gets in her way…the Lady of Battles will be in for the fight of her immortal life.

 

Or if you’re new to the series, grab book one for only 99c this week only!

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Sorceress-Awakening-Gargoyle-Tale-Book-ebook/dp/B006EAMITG/

Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/sorceress-awakening-lisa-blackwood/1124240814?ean=2940153363837

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/sorceress-awakening/id1150971701?mt=11

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/ebook/sorceress-awakening

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Lisa_Blackwood_Sorceress_Awakening?id=Vp4kDwAAQBAJ

books2read linkhttps://books2read.com/u/bappax

 

Happy Release Day to Dominion Rising.

It’s finally here! I’m very excited for the release of Vengeance: Warships of the Spire as part of the Dominion Rising anthology.

For one thing, it’s going to be huge. In every way. This beast of an anthology is over 5000+ pages.

For another, big badass Warships! What’s not to love about a hero packing enough power to reduce a solar system to rubble? Not that he would, of course. He’s the good guy after all, and, really, he’s a big softy. But yeah. More power! And his partner, Liv? She’s pretty badass at times herself.

If you haven’t already grabbed your copy, Dominion Rising will be 99c for the next week. Don’t miss out.

 

DOMINION RISING

Find all the Sci-Fi and Fantasy reads you’ve been craving in one fantastic set!

Whether it’s alien invasion or dark fairytales, heart-pounding galactic adventures or cyberpunk romance, Dominion Rising will satisfy with a thrilling mix of 23 BRAND NEW novels set in fantastical realms. Sword and sorcery, far-flung galactic empires, alternative history, epic magic, slipstream futures: this collection of carefully selected, exclusive novels is sure to please and delight readers of speculative fiction.

Over five thousand pages packed with aliens, faeries, vampires, gargoyles, warriors, telepaths, space pirates, starship captains, hapless mercenaries, street urchins, robots, cyber-enhanced humans, badass heroines, and lost princesses.

Dominion Rising brings you a galaxy of talented authors, including New York Timesbestselling authors Gwynn White, Margo Bond Collins, Tom Shutt, Felix R. Savage and Erin St Pierre; USA Today bestselling authors P.K. Tyler, Anthea Sharp, S.M. Schmitz, K.J. Colt, Dean F. Wilson, Lisa Blackwood, Marilyn Peake, JC Andrijeski and Erin Hayes; and award-winning and Amazon bestselling authors S.M. Blooding, Melanie Karsak, Timothy C. Ward, Daniel Arthur Smith, Tony Bertauski, Rebecca Rode, Cheri Lasota, Ann Christy, Becca Andre, Logan Snyder, Ella Summers, and Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy notable Samuel Peralta.

Dominion Rising is a limited edition Fantasy and Sci-fi collection of unparalleled value. Grab your copy today!

 

Kindle: http://smarturl.it/DominionKindle

Nook: http://smarturl.it/DominionNook

Kobo: http://smarturl.it/DominionKobo

iBooks: http://smarturl.it/DominioniBooks

GooglePlay: http://smarturl.it/DominionGooglePlay

 

 

Warships of the Spire: Vengeance

18423848_1537694956242035_5979713323271989780_n

Hello everyone!

My first co-author project with S.M. Schmitz is now finished and sent off to the boxset coordinators. It was a blast to write and I think my fantasy readers will like Vengeance and Liv enough to follow along on their adventure even if there are numerous pulse cannons in place of mage globes and gargoyles. 🙂

Here’s the landing page with buy links for the Dominion Rising bundle if you want to know more.

Anyways, here’s a sneak peak at the opening chapters.


When rogue AIs steal everything that matters most, the only thing left is vengeance.

As the flagship of the Spire Empire, Vengeance is a legendary AI whose broken heart has proven his greatest battle yet. But his new telepathic link, a little girl named Hayley, finally teaches him to love again—until rogue AIs attack her planet and level her home in a storm of fire and destruction. Vengeance is left with only one hope in his potentially immortal existence: the chance to avenge his innocent link.

Twenty years later, a young engineer joins his crew, and he’s inextricably drawn to her. But the closer he tries to get to her, the harder she pushes him away.

Olivia Hawthorne risks everything—her friendship with her telepathic sisters and even her life—to assume a new identity so she can serve aboard Vengeance. After suffering at the hands of rogue AIs, she should be wary of trusting one again, even her old friend. And yet, she can’t seem to stay away from him.

But when rogues raid Spire colonies, Vengeance and Liv must learn to overcome the fears shackling them to the past. Because if they want to survive, they’ll have to seek vengeance together.


Chapter 1

Vengeance glanced down at Hayley as the child skipped beside his humanoid drone. Back aboard his warship body, joy flickered through his primary consciousness. Amused, he found himself smiling, because one day, this small, unassuming child would safeguard his existence as well as thousands of other lives. Her blond hair bounced in its ponytail, and her skin always seemed a bit paler as twilight approached. Surprisingly, the girl looked nothing like her genetic profile had suggested she would, and for seven years, he’d wondered if last minute changes had been made to her genetics. But if there were answers for him, they remained hidden behind repeated insistences that nothing had been changed, that human DNA could be unpredictable.

Hayley held his drone’s hand as they walked back toward the dormitory where she lived with the other girls who would one day serve as links to other Spire warships. Vengeance squeezed her little hand and pointed to the lake in the distance.

“Do you see the bradan leaping from the water, Hayley?” he asked.

She squinted at the shimmering water as a silver crescent sliced through the late afternoon sky. “What is it?”

“An animal,” he explained. “They live in the water but need air to breathe so they leap from the lake. They’re quite docile.”

Hayley looked up at his drone. When he smiled down at her, she smiled back at him and those strong emotions of happiness and protectiveness surged through him again. “What does docile mean?”

He laughed and told her it meant bradan were tame and wouldn’t hurt her if she ever went into the lake to swim.

“I don’t know how to swim, Ven,” she reminded him.

“I know,” he assured her. “I don’t forget things.”

“Oh, I forgot,” she said with a giggle.

“We need to return before it gets dark. The house mother will worry about you.”

“Do you have to go?” Hayley sighed. “I like it when you visit.”

“I like it when I visit you, too,” he offered affectionately. “You’re a remarkable girl, Hayley. You have a strong gift.”

She smiled up at him again and bounced happily on her feet. “And one day, I’ll be your link.”

“Yes,” Vengeance laughed again. “One day, you will. That means we’ll be friends for a long time.”

She nodded and pulled him along the path. He let the little girl drag him behind her as she skipped to the dormitory. He would’ve let her drag him anywhere. The child had completely enchanted him from the moment he’d first met her before she was born. As a telepath created to serve the Spire, she’d been engineered in the Telepathy Breeding Laboratory, where he’d visited her often. Even as a fetus confined to an incubator, he’d regularly reached out to her mind and comforted her. His presence always seemed to calm her.

“Next time you visit,” she said, “let’s go to the lake so I can see a bradan up close.”

“Next time,” he promised.

Hayley twisted around, and he had to stop and steady himself so he wouldn’t run over the small girl. “Do you swear, Ven? Do you swear you won’t be gone too long this time?”

He’d only been away for thirty-three days, but it had probably seemed like a lifetime to a seven-year-old girl. But the Spire had no plans to send him far from Nualla and the Telepath Development School during her early childhood. She didn’t know that, though, so he knelt in front of her and took her other small hand in his. “I’ll return in a few weeks. And I’ll bring you a present you can use at the lake.”

Hayley’s blue eyes lit up, and she bounced happily on the balls of her feet again. “And you’ll teach me to swim?”

Vengeance pretended to think about it until she stopped bouncing and pouted instead. “All right,” he said. “But they’ve tried to teach you already. You’re a bit stubborn, Hayley.”

She fixed him with her most innocent look and retorted, “Probably because I’m meant to be your link, Vengeance. A warship as old as you will need a stubborn link.”

Vengeance blinked at her before laughter erupted from his drone’s chest. While this body had been engineered so he could more fully interact with his crew, he could also feel with it much like a human could. And the way this little girl made him laugh was the most enjoyable emotion he’d felt in centuries.

“Old?” he repeated. “You make it sound like I’m a wrinkled man with gray hair. I must be halfway to the scrapyard then.”

Hayley grinned. “Your hair is still brown and you don’t have wrinkles, but you’ve been around a long time, Vengeance. Mother Doris says you’re one of the oldest Warships in the Spire.”

“Well,” Vengeance said as he released one of her hands so he could rise, “Mother Doris is right.”

As they reached the dormitory, he knelt before her again so he could hug her goodbye. Hayley threw her arms around his neck, and he promised her one last time that he’d return in a few weeks to take her to the lake. She reluctantly loosened her grip, and Vengeance waited outside until Doris, the AI house mother, arrived and took her hand, closing the door behind her.

With Hayley no longer his drone’s main focus, he opened the mental conduit between his drone body and his primary neural core. All was well aboard his ship’s body, which was stationed in orbit while his crew enjoyed the peaceful environment of Nualla. This planet had served as the residence for new telepaths for as long as Vengeance had existed, and Liv was right: He was quite old.

But since his sentience had been created to power and control his warship body, as well as numerous maintenance drones, combat sentinels, and drudges—whose physical forms could be repaired or replaced as needed—he wasn’t limited by time in the same way as a being whose body was entirely organic.

Even his warship body had undergone replacement twice in his existence.  As long as new links kept him connected to the Spire and viable, he could potentially live forever if he wanted to.

Years ago, he’d admitted to his current link, Renee, that the daily minutiae of overseeing his crew no longer held the appeal it once had. The last three hundred years had been lacking something vital. The Spire Empire had fallen into routine, and so had he.

Coming here to Nualla had sparked long-absent emotions to ignite once again in his core personality. It had been close to six hundred years since joy, curiosity, and empathy had cascaded through his neural pathways.

And all because of a child. A young telepath so adventurous, so full of life and the need to explore the universe that she’d managed to do what his last two links hadn’t: revitalize an older model warship AI.

The link component of his core personality expanded, and Renee’s humor flowed down through his neural pathways ten seconds before her words embedded themselves in his consciousness. “I know you were thinking about the past millennia. I have a simple answer for you: You were bored out of your mind.”

“I’m an AI. We don’t get bored,” he answered along their telepathic link.

“AIs don’t lie either. But I’ve been around long enough to know that’s a line many of your kind take great joy in skating very, very close to.” Again, a hint of humor permeated his mind. “You were bored until I put in the application to the Nualla Telepathic Development Project. Admit it.”

“Perhaps,” he admitted aloud, although saying it felt like he was betraying Renee, as if she hadn’t been good enough to fulfill the role of link telepath.

“Vengeance, your thoughts and emotions are in no way a betrayal of me. I’m glad a child’s love was able to pull you out of that armored shield you built around your core-self long before we met.” Renee’s humor vanished as she recalled painful memories, both her own and Vengeance’s. “When I was assigned to you, I knew your history and you knew mine. Admit it, Big Brother, we’ve made a good team if for no other reason than we understand one another.”

“You’ve been a gift, Sister. Your friendship has been invaluable.” Vengeance paused, his eyebrows pulling together as he realized where Renee was. He could easily locate any of his telepaths, but he’d been so deep in thought, he hadn’t been paying attention to their whereabouts. “You’re already at the spaceport?”

“Yes. I’ll see you soon. The transport is prepped and ready.”

Vengeance’s drone hurried to the spaceport, and he’d just entered when Renee joined him from a side corridor. He’d known her for centuries and when they were separated, Vengeance often found himself missing her physical presence even though they remained connected through their link.

“How is she?” Renee asked. She put her arm through his as they walked the long hallway toward the flight deck and the waiting transport.

“As full of energy and inquisitive as ever,” he answered, smiling as he remembered the day’s trip through the woods and her constant questions about everything that caught her attention.

“Good,” Renee replied. “She’s a good match for you, Ven. She’ll keep you young.”

Vengeance snorted and eyed her playfully. “Young? I think that stopped being a possibility about a thousand years ago.”

Renee ran her free hand through her long red hair and sighed. “I think I forgot what it was like to be young about a hundred and fifty years ago.”

“You’ve hardly changed—” An emergency dispatch from his primary core suddenly overrode his friendly bantering. Two and a half seconds later, alarms sounded throughout the spaceport.

And that could only mean one thing: Nualla was in danger.


Chapter 2

Renee let go of his arm as they both raced toward the transport ship.

“What is it?” Renee asked him through their bond.

“Emergency dispatch,” he said as he boosted his connection to his primary consciousness aboard Vengeance. The planet disappeared under his feet, along with his surroundings. Only Renee was still “real” to his drone as he merged with the neural pathway of one of his sentinels aboard the ship.

His long-range scanners reported six incoming vessels. They ran silent, no communication or other signals to announce themselves. Unless a Spire ship was on the hunt, vessels never ran silent. It violated protocol.

The first thread of battle readiness stirred in his core, and he started the activation sequence of his heavy drives and weapons’ systems. According to his latest hive sync, there were no reported activities in this region of space and no other ships due to arrive at Nualla for another three days.

Alarmingly, the newcomers traveled at top speed and crossed in range of his long-range sensor arrays within seconds.

“Captain, be advised we have six unauthorized inbound ships running silent.” Even as Vengeance issued the command to the bridge, he continued to assess the incoming ships. Something was terribly wrong here.

“All crew, report to main battle stations.” Vengeance said as he issued the ship-wide command to his crew as he continued to gather data on the inbound vessels. “Danger imminent!”

He didn’t recognize the individual ships, but they were Spire warships that were coming in weapons hot. And they had no business around Nualla, which was a heavily guarded colony with two newer model battlecruisers and an advanced orbital weapons array.

His long-range sensors continued to feed him data. Their hull designs were familiar: four Dread Hunter class battlecruisers, one lighter armored Corradin Class Destroyer, and one Sloughad scout-ship built for speed and agility. Each of the models were smaller than him but packed enough fire power that he couldn’t be certain of the outcome in a battle with them.

The Warhawk, one of Nualla’s two assigned battlecruisers, broke orbit to intercept the incoming ships. The battlecruiser’s consciousness reached along the hive-mind to Vengeance, where they instantaneously exchanged battle plans. Together, they updated his twin brother, the Wolverine, who was in geosynchronous orbit on the opposite side of the planet.

The six unknown ships slowed, but they were still heading for Nualla.

Vengeance attempted to communicate with them again, but each warship ignored his demands for them to state their purpose. They’d reached the outer edge of the Nuallan solar system, though, and now, Vengeance recognized the ships: Basilisk, Warhammer, Relentless, Warlock, Danforth, and Agrona.

He’d never met these six warships in person, but clearly, their actions were hostile, and Renee and Hayley were still below on the planet.

“Crew to battle stations. This is not a drill. Six enemy ships on approach. Three minutes out. I repeat. This is not a drill. Proceed to battle stations,” Vengeance ordered.

As his crew rushed to their stations, he continued to prime his weapons and cycled up his triple layered shields to full strength, although he doubted it would do much good against six of his brothers and sisters.

He brought his heavy drives, which powered normal travel, online, and the hull under his sentinel’s treads shook with a familiar tremor. He tracked his crew as they made their way to assigned stations. Unfortunately, like Renee and his drone, many were still planetside.

Even if he’d had his full crew, it wouldn’t have changed their odds. They were hopelessly outnumbered.

Governor Alistair, the AI stationed on Nualla who oversaw the colony’s day-to-day administration and security, might not have been battle trained like the warship AIs, but he’d already come to the same conclusion as Vengeance and the other two Nuallan warships. The first evacuation alarms blared to life across the planet as the orbital weapons arrays came online.

Even if the odds weren’t in his favor, Vengeance would hold his position for as long as the citizens needed to escape. Governor Alistair, efficient as only an AI could be, was already prepping every transport on Nualla.

As Vengeance put himself between the enemy ships and Nualla, the invaders opened fire.

***

Vengeance’s drone dropped out of hive sync with the rest of his consciousness, and he returned to Nualla where Renee waited for him. “Warships,” he breathed. “Rogues.”

All around them, the spaceport had erupted in chaos. The shrill wailing of the alarms mixed with the shouts and screams of frightened humans attempting to find transport off Nualla.

“Did you learn why they’re attacking the planet?” she shouted. “How did so many go rogue at once?”

Vengeance shook his head. He didn’t know the answer to either question.

An explosion at the south end of the spaceport caused the ground to tremble. Through a clear viewing portal, a tall pillar of fire, ash, and smoke reached up to the sky. More weapons fire razed the city beyond the spaceport.

“One of the ships slipped inside our defenses. Wolverine is engaging,” Vengeance told Renee as he continued to scan for damage, estimating where the next strike was likely to fall given the battle taking place above the planet.

Renee pulled on his arm to get his attention and insisted, “I’m useless down here. We need to get back to the ship, Vengeance! Now!”

“I can’t leave yet!” he shouted back. “Hayley is still at the school.”

Renee’s shoulders sagged, and she shot a worried glance toward the windows of the spaceport. “You’re right. We need to rescue the girls,” she agreed. “I’ll go on ahead and take the next transport to the warship. You make sure the girls get to safety.”

Another explosion, closer this time, ravaged the spaceport. Chunks of the upper story crumbled and rained down on those below. Maintenance drudges and military sentinels poured out of the north hangar bay. Their identifiers marked them as part of the planetary garrison.

He linked his drone to Alistair’s network and discovered that Basilisk had deployed sentinels to the surface. The garrison sentinels were attempting to intercept them so they could give the citizens time to reach the shuttles and transports.

A brief image of Hayley, so spritely and mischievous as she chased him around a field with small purple and red flowers in bloom, barreled through him.

This young girl who’d given him a new purpose was in grave danger, and for the first time in a long time, he was terrified.

“The rogues haven’t targeted the dorm yet. I can get Hayley and the other girls and be back here by the time I dispatch another transport,” Vengeance said.

Renee grabbed his arm and forced him to look at her. She’d paled, which only made Ven’s sense of urgency and desperation that much greater. “You need to hurry. I think I know why the rogues targeted this planet. They’re after the telepaths.”

“Hayley,” he whispered. Of course the rogues had come for the telepaths. They were an irreplaceable asset all warships needed to function—even rogues needed the telepathic link that prevented an AI from tearing his own mind apart during the throes of sensory deprivation caused by transit.

“Vengeance, once the rogues get a mental lock on the children, they’ll be able to track their exact location. We need to get to the girls before it’s too late!”

As if to reinforce Renee’s theory, his primary core alerted him to an orbital insertion by an enemy transport. The reentry vector would put the likeliest landing site on a flat patch of field behind the school.

Vengeance needed more boots on the ground if he had any hope of rescuing the girls before they were taken off the planet. When the garrison sentinels drew near, he broadcast his intention to rescue the girls at the school. Alistair’s sentinels halted and turned their faceplates with glowing red optical sensors in his direction.

“Warship Vengeance requests that four sentinel units accompany Link Renee to our waiting transport. The rest will follow my command until the other telepaths are safely evacuated from the planet.”

“Nuallan sentinels acknowledge Warship Vengeance’s authority,” Alistair responded.

Vengeance glanced at Renee and quickly squeezed her hand. He didn’t like leaving her side, but they were almost to the transport and once there, she’d be far safer. “Take care, Sister.”

“Watch yourself and protect those girls.”

Vengeance nodded. He would die to protect those children.


Chapter 3

Aboard his warship, Commander Lisk barked, “Vengeance, report!”

Renee had just boarded one of his transports so she could reach the warship currently engaged in battle with two determined opponents. Warhawk and Wolverine, the Nuallan warships, were busy with their own battles. Vengeance was particularly concerned about Warhawk. The smaller battlecruiser had sustained substantial damage to seventy-nine percent of his hull with breaches in sixteen locations. His port side engine had been completely destroyed, and his shields were almost depleted.

Vengeance was faring better, but his own opponents were keeping him hemmed in, unable to help Warhawk without leaving the planet and evacuation ships more vulnerable than they already were.

Commander Lisk barked again, “Vengeance, report!”

“Link Renee is now safely on one of my transports, and my drone is taking a squadron of sentinels to fight the enemy units converging on the school,” Vengeance answered using the ship-wide comm.

Commander Lisk grunted in acknowledgment then shouted for more reports about what was happening on Nualla. The last enemy weapons fire had knocked out his close-range sensors so the energy webs were only displaying warnings and error reports to the crew.

“Large parts of the city and spaceport have sustained damage. The evacuation is still underway. Twenty-three ships report that they are already accelerating away from Nualla. The enemy ships show no interest in following them,” Vengeance reported.

Commander Lisk leaned forward in his chair. “For now. We’ll make sure they don’t have a chance. Have the individual fighters flank and provide escort for the—”

A blast from an enemy’s cannon penetrated Vengeance’s shields and struck his hull. The bioskin absorbed and dispersed much of the impact, but Vengeance still rocked hard to the side before thrusters matched the force.

“Sustaining rapid-fire pulse cannon damage. Port side energy admitters have failed causing the foremost shield arrays to weaken. Diverting power from all other admitters to compensate. Shields holding at twenty percent,” Vengeance told his crew. “Returning fire.”

“Vengeance, can you identify what models are attacking you?” Lisk asked, his voice tense.

“Birth stamps on hulls identify them as Basilisk, Warlock, Relentless, Danforth, Agrona, and Warhammer.”

“Look out for Warhammer,” Lisk advised. “He has energy harpoons.”

“He’s bringing them online now,” Ven replied.

“Don’t let him sink his claws into your shields,” Lisk ordered. “It’ll hamper your maneuverability too much and weaken your shields.”

“I’m aware of that,” Vengeance snapped.

Flashes of weapons fire lit up the screens, revealing glimpses of the enemy ships against the darkness of space. Two seconds after Warhammer released his harpoons, Vengeance returned fire with secondary weapons’ arrays. While Vengeance was battling Warhammer, fire from the three enemy ships made Vengeance shudder under their attack.

Enemy fire began to breach his shields where energy harpoons had latched on and diverted the shield’s resonance. As his shields continued to weaken, his hull shook under the impact. His sentinels remained upright, but the crew was getting knocked around.

They were likely to get far worse if the tide of battle didn’t swing in his favor soon. However, since he was much older than his two opponents and had been built during a time when the Spire was less peaceful, he had one weapon they lacked.

“Bringing main fusion cannon online,” Vengeance announced. Deep within his engineering section, just a few decks above his primary core, his secondary power station came online and diverted power from the rest of his extremities.

“Vengeance, no!” Lisk protested.

All over the ship, lights dimmed and screens went dark. On the bridge, the energy webs blanked out, plunging the room into darkness.

“Diverting all remaining power to main weapons’ array,” Vengeance told his crew.

“Damn it, Vengeance!” Lisk yelled. “You can’t fire on them while we’re this close!”

Vengeance knew the risks, of course, but if he didn’t do something, Nualla could be lost. And he couldn’t lose Renee or Hayley.

Vengeance’s voice drifted out of the darkness. “Main Fusion cannons at eight-five percent and climbing. Nine-five percent.” His exposed hull continued to take a battering, but he was a Neit Class warship and had been designed to take more punishment than the newer, lighter models.

“Targeting Warhammer. Firing main fusion cannons. Full strength, continuous ten second burst,” Vengeance announced.

During the initial blast, Vengeance was blinded by radiation and battle damage but within seconds, his other systems normalized, and his shields and sensors both came back online. “Assessing damage.”

Throughout the bridge, energy webs flickered back on. Their feeble glow grew stronger, weaving lights and colors together until the space battle was pictured once more. Danforth, Relentless, and Basilisk were still engaged, but Warhammer was dead, the deep wound in his hull still bleeding fluids and sparks of energy.

Warhammer’s corpse rotated slowly in space, drifting toward the planet’s surface in a decaying orbit.

Warhammer destroyed. Radiation levels inside my hull are minimal. Scrubbing commenced where shields were insufficient,” Vengeance said as he locked on to the next target.

Lisk may have thought Ven’s decision to employ the fusion cannon was madness, but Hayley was on this planet. And if he had to, he’d destroy every last Warship of the Spire to protect her.

***

The strip lighting running along the ceiling flickered, occasionally blinking out altogether and leaving only the emergency lights to illuminate the dormitory. Dust and smoke swirled around the room. Hayley and the other girls huddled together in small groups, clinging to each other in absolute fear.

Although the ground had stopped shaking and much of the noise of the battle that had raged above them had subsided, hinting that the upper orbit assault was over, Hayley didn’t want to leave the safety of her dorm—not until Vengeance came to rescue them. No enemy could withstand a Spire warship, especially one as strong and battle-tested as Ven.

He would come get her and the other girls. Ven would never abandon her.

The sound of heavy treads echoed down the corridor outside their dorm, and Hayley perked up. Sentinel drones approached the room where she cowered beneath her bed with her best friend, Amelia. Several of the other girls were similarly hidden but cast terrified glances in her direction. Perhaps those were Ven’s sentinels, and he’d come for them at last.

The door opened, and those heavy boots clanked into her room. A girl behind her whimpered. Hayley had just risen to her knees to peer over the bed when both the frame and the mattress flew across the room and clattered against the wall. A twelve-foot tall robot towered over her. Hayley whimpered, too.

She’d seen Vengeance’s sentinels up close many times before, but this wasn’t one of his. And for the first time, she was reminded that a sentinel was an elite warrior drone used in ground combat rather than another playmate.

This sentinel bore the identification stamp BAS-3157-255. She wasn’t familiar with this AI. She knew all the Spire warships that came to this planet, and none of them began with the letters BAS.

“Who are you?” she asked, her voice quivering. She wanted Ven.

This new sentinel didn’t answer her. Instead, he scanned the room with a deep-search wave then must’ve deemed the area secure because he sheathed two of his forearm mounted pulse cannons. His black armor shifted out of the way to allow the weapons to slide smoothly back into their housings.

Another large cannon that had been perched on his shoulder deactivated and folded down the length of his back, smoothing out until it just looked like black armor. The sentinel took a step closer then bent at the waist, lowering his upper body so his facial optical sensors were level with her eyes.

While the sentinel’s massive body was vaguely humanoid, his head wasn’t. It was too wide at the top and narrowed down into a fine point. Three sets of optical sensors marched down the length of his face, giving the sentinel a fierce appearance, as if no detail could possibly escape his six eyes. Sprouting from the back of his head, thick rope-like appendages cascaded down past his bulky shoulders. Thin bands of red glowed along the cords, turning brighter toward the ends. With Ven’s sentinels, she’d always thought the appendages gave them the illusion of waist-length hair. But for some reason, with this unfamiliar sentinel studying her, his tall, dark, armored body and the cords dangling from his head were terrifying.

The appendages moved as if stirred by a breeze then one slid away from the rest and stretched toward her cheek. She could feel the slight heat it gave off, and she wanted to scream but sensed it was testing her. Hayley held her ground, proud that she didn’t flinch or pull away. After a seemingly endless moment, the tendril returned to the others.

Hayley blinked at the sentinel, and her gaze trailed down to his identification marker again. And then she realized BAS-3157-255 didn’t have the authority to visit Nualla, which meant he must have been the enemy Vengeance had been fighting.

And he was here, which meant Vengeance was likely dead. A new rush of tears flowed down her cheeks.

Hayley backed away from the sentinel, but he reached down and picked her up with one hand. She protested by screaming and kicking at the metal drone, but he held her away from his body and stomped out of the room as more sentinels entered to collect the other girls. A transport ship waited outside, the gangplank lowered in preparation for takeoff. Hayley looked toward the sky, clinging to the hope that these sentinels had only slipped past the warship she’d grown to love and he wasn’t dead, that he would defeat the invaders and save them all. She screamed Ven’s name one last time as the sentinel carried her aboard the waiting transport.

But Ven never came.

What book should I write first?

I’ll be finishing up my co-author project for the Dominion Rising boxset in the coming week and that means onward and forward with a new project. So…which one will it be? You decide! 🙂

 

Forgot to mention that Sorceress at War in now available everywhere

It’s been out for over a week and I’m only now realizing that I forgot to mention to my blog readers that Sorceress at War is available everywhere ebooks are sold. (Well, not Smashwords yet, but I’ll be uploading my full catalog with them next week.)

Amazon (US):  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0719GHMRB

Amazon (UK): https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0719GHMRB

Amazon (Canada): https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B0719GHMRB

Amazon (Australia): https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B0719GHMRB

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/sorceress-at-war

Google Play (Should be here shortly): https://play.google.com/store/books/author?id=Lisa+Blackwood

iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1220725025

Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/sorceress-at-war-lisa-blackwood/1126067600?ean=2940154236376