Yearly Archives: 2019

Author Showcase – Jaci Burton (Hot to the Touch: Brotherhood by Fire Book 1)

OLD FLAMES BURN WHITE-HOT

Firefighter Jackson Donovan doesn’t look back—as a rule. So when his past comes roaring back to life in the form of not-so-damsel-in-distress Becks Benning, the last thing he wants to do is relive old times. No matter how tempting she makes it seem…

Now thanks to his two interfering brothers, Becks is living with him while she looks for a new place and tries to pick up the pieces of her tattoo business that went up in flames. Which means a grown up, smokin’ hot Becks is in his house, digging up old wounds. And despite his better judgement, the more time he spends with this smart, artistic, incredible woman the more he wants her in his bed—and his future.

Becks always had it bad for Jackson. Unfortunately for her, not much has changed—he’s still honorable, hard-working, sexy as sin—and closed off. But there’s more than one way to get to a man’s heart and if Jackson doesn’t want to recall old memories, she’ll just have to help him make new ones. Because now that she’s found Jackson again, she’s not letting him go.

 

 

Preview courtesy of Jaci Burton’s website

 

August 2005

They’d gotten separated from the rest of the group when the downpour started, but that happened sometimes. Jackson hoped the rest of them were okay in the tents. For tonight, it was just him, Rafe and Kal.

They’d been lucky to find this abandoned piece of junk house, so they could have a roof over their heads during the storm. Jackson was on lookout tonight, because you never knew who might be prowling for space, or the cops might come and bust them and the last thing they needed was to be dragged back into some shitty foster home worse than the last one.

Foster homes were a crapshoot. Sometimes you got lucky and they were decent. More often than not you got people who were in it for the money, or the system was so overburdened with kids you ended up shuffled from one home to another and you couldn’t even remember anyone’s names. They sure as hell didn’t remember yours. And then sometimes you got the mean ones. At fourteen, Jackson could handle himself. Rafe was getting there at thirteen, but Kal was only twelve. As the oldest, Jackson was responsible for looking out for the younger ones. His brothers. Not by blood, but they were still his brothers.

No, they were better off on their own where they had each other’s backs and no one could ever hurt them again.

Tonight they gotten lucky and had a place to sleep out of the rain. They’d scored a whole pizza some jerkoff had left uneaten on his back porch while the dude was inside having an argument with his girlfriend, so they had full bellies. Rafe and Kal were asleep on the floor in another room while Jackson stood watch. He gazed out the living room window of the old beach house, watching lightning arc across the Atlantic Ocean. The storm was a bad one tonight and the rain was coming down hard.

He walked away from the water view and made his way to the front of the house. He scanned the street out front to make sure it was still clear. Because of the rain, no one was wandering around, which made him feel more secure.

Not that you could ever feel completely safe. Not when you lived like they did.

He pushed off the wall to wander around. Lots of windows in this place. He’d bet it was killer when the sun was out. But tonight the rain made it cold, so they’d shut all the windows earlier. His boots creaked on the worn wood floor. As he moved from room to room he could imagine a family with a couple of kids and maybe a dog running this joint. They’d probably have nice furniture, some cushy-looking couch where they’d all cuddle together and read at night.

He could still remember what it was like to have a family, though that had been a long time ago and there was no point living in the past. He wasn’t gonna get that life back.

Anyway, this was a decent beach house, and maybe someday it would get fixed up. Or maybe torn down. But tonight, it was their shelter and they didn’t have one of those very often.

Having made a circuit of the place, he returned to the living room and sat down in the corner. He leaned back against the wall and settled in.

Jackson woke up coughing, something burning his lungs so badly he couldn’t breathe. He tried to open his eyes, but when he did they burned.

He fought to suck in air, found his voice so he could call out for Rafe and Kal. They didn’t answer. His stomach tightened as he saw flames lick up the wall across the room.

Oh, shit. Fire. He didn’t want to die. He didn’t want his brothers to be dead. Tears pricked his eyes as he tried to see through the thick, black smoke. He pushed himself onto his hands and knees, trying to remember where the door was, what room the boys were sleeping in. Had they been right next to him, or had he moved into another room? His brain was fuzzy and he couldn’t remember.

He coughed, the smoke entering his lungs with every breath he took. He pulled his raggedy T-shirt over his mouth, trying to stifle the smoke. He had to get to Rafe and Kal. He was the oldest. It was his job to save them.

He called out to them, rasping out a cough with every few words. But he kept at it. They had to hear him. If he could hear them, he could get to them. Then they’d figure a way out. Because no way were they dying in this piece-of-shit building today.

Finally, he heard voices. The sound was faint, but he wasn’t imagining it. He’d definitely heard it. It was them. It had to be them. Which meant they were alive. He crawled toward the sound, his own voice hoarse as he yelled out in response.

“I’m here! Hang on.” The smoke grew thicker and he could feel himself slipping away, but sheer determination kept him conscious. He was their brother. They’d been through so much together, had survived so much together. This fire wasn’t going to get them.

When he saw the light and the tall shadow looming over him, he thought maybe it was too late. He was dead and this was some dark angel come to take him away. But then strong arms scooped him up.

“It’s okay, buddy,” the dark angel said. “I’ve got you. You’re safe now.”

Jackson shook his head and gripped the angel’s arm, barely able to stay conscious. “My . . . my brothers.”

“They’re safe, too. They’re outside. Come on. Let’s get you out of here.”

Jackson sighed in relief and let himself fall into the darkness.

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Review of “Wild Willful Heart” – W. Boone Hedgepeth

Take a wild megalomaniacal trip into the American spiritual and Cultural Revolution of the 1960s-1990s, as a young southern man gives fresh perspective to the propaganda, bad marriages, a collection of strange gurus and some bizarre mystical places. For many years, author W. Boone Hedgepeth was a magnet for unusual occurrences of an ethereal nature which vigorously affected the world around him. Suffering a life threatening illness and after a near death experience, Boone goes on an adrenalized journey from the American south and across the country seeking answers. Here, force of will and prayer are the proven best weapons against very unusual circumstances. Literally seeking the face of God, the author plunges into the magical medicine of his native ancestors, the new age metaphysical movement, Christian fundamentalism, and other wild and life-changing experiences before coming out of the fires to the other side.

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(review request submitted by the author for an honest critique) 

 

There is so much I want to touch upon regarding Wild Willful Heart. Please be patient with me as I share my thoughts on many aspects of Boone’s story.

 

Mormonism

I’m not too familiar with Mormonism (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). I grew up in a Pentecostal church and my minister only spoke of our beliefs. While reading Wild Willful Heart, I learned both religions believed in the power of prayer and the Holy Spirit.

However, Boone disclosed some bizarre facts about Mormonism that had me shaking my head.

1.) For over 100 years, Mormons believed there were six foot tall beings living on the moon because an early church leader named Orson Pratt had said so. This was debunked after the moon landing.

2.)Mormons believed their “magic underwear,” which had Masonic markings on it, was knife proof and bulletproof. It had to be worn everyday to protect the righteous wearer from evil.

I’m not sure why anyone would believe such nonsense but, then again, atheists wonder why people believe in GOD so to each their own, I guess.

 

Like many people, Boone questioned organized religion. He used words like hypocrite and hypocrisy more than once. I can understand why he used these key words. I’m not saying all churches or church members are hypocrites. What I am saying is I can fully understand why some people are losing their faith in GOD, churches, and religion as a whole.

 

Mental Health

As Boone embarked on his vision quest, he discussed troubling times from his past. At thirteen, he began to hear voices in his head, which instructed him to end his life. He assumed every teen experienced these voices as they transitioned into adulthood. As a teen, I began hearing voices too. I didn’t speak of them. The voices are scary. You feel alone, afraid of your own mind. Like Boone, I also live with bipolar disorder, depression, and suicidal thoughts. I truly believe MORE people should discuss mental health because we need to end the stigma of mental illness. If we don’t, if we shame those with mental health problems, people who are suffering won’t seek help. A person who thinks there’s no help, no understanding, will end their life. I, personally, don’t want to see that happen. Everyone needs the opportunity to feel safe to discuss their issues, to get the help they need, and to live a long, happy life.

As for Boone’s experience with drugs and alcohol, it happens with most teenagers. IMHO, I don’t believe illegal drugs and liquor should be consumed if you’re battling a mental health problem. It can and will make you more self-destructive. Boone discussed this during one of his flashbacks. Boone, I applaud you for being so forthcoming with your struggles with mental illness, mental health hospitals, liquor and drugs.

 

Apparitions and UFOs

Many people have claimed to see sprits and UFOs. I’m not sure if spirits are real or just a play on eyes, a figment of our imagination. However, if you believe in life on other planets, then the possibility of UFOs is plausible. Maybe, just maybe, spirits are real. And maybe, those sightings of UFOs do hold some merit as well. Bravo Boone, you made me stop and evaluate their validity.

 

Vision Quests

Vision quests are popular because many people seek enlightenment, a connection to all things. They want to find answers, peace, or a purpose in life. Boone went on several and he spoke of the physical, emotional, and mental toll it took on him. It changed his life; it was cathartic. After I read about his time on the mountain, I began to wonder if I could benefit from one. Maybe after reading his trials, you’ll consider participating in one as well.

 

Summation

You don’t have to be a religious person to read Wild Willful Heart. You only need to have an open mind and few hours to spare on this (under) 300-page story.

 

Heart Rating System:

1 (lowest) and 5 (highest) 

Score: ❤❤❤❤

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Author W. Boone Hedgepeth
W. Boone Hedgepeth studied history at the University of South Florida for four years. He spent 35 years in business and copywriting, with 11 years as a lay minister in his free time. His favorite places are the mountains of North Carolina, and any good waterfront restaurant in South Carolina. His hobbies include classic cars and RVs, listening to swampy blues, and reading the Bible. W. Boone Hedgepeth lives with his wife on the coast of South Carolina.
 
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Author Showcase – Karissa Laurel (The Norse Chronicles)

 

Midnight Burning

Solina Mundy lives a quiet life, running the family bakery in her small North Carolina hometown. But one night, she suffers a vivid nightmare in which a wolfish beast is devouring her twin brother, who lives in Alaska. The next morning, police notify her that Mani is dead. Driven to learn the truth, Solina heads for the Land of the Midnight Sun. Once there, she begins to suspect Mani’s friends know more about his death than they’ve let on. Skyla, an ex-Marine, is the only one willing to help her.

As Solina and Skyla delve into the mystery surrounding Mani’s death, Solina is stunned to learn that her own life is tied to Mani’s friends, his death, and the fate of the entire world. If she can’t learn to control her newfound gifts and keep her friends safe, a long-lost dominion over mortals will rise again, and everything she knows will fall into darkness.

 

Arctic Dawn

Alone and exhausted after her month-long sojourn as a shooting star, Solina Mundy flees to southern California to lie low, recuperate, and plot a survival strategy. The one person she trusts to watch her back is her best friend, Skyla Ramirez. But Skyla has been missing for weeks. The arrival of a dangerous stranger and the discovery of a legendary weapon of mass destruction force Solina out of hiding and back into the fight for her life.

Solina knows she won’t last long on her own. She must find out what happened to Skyla and unite her contentious allies if she hopes to track down this devastating weapon before her enemies use it to burn the world to ash.

 

Molten Dusk

While recovering from a devastating betrayal, Solina becomes increasingly drawn to Thorin as he helps her hunt down Skoll, the mythical wolf who vowed to kill her. If she can find and destroy the beast, she’ll bring a swift and brutal end to her enemies’ schemes. But nothing ever goes as planned in Solina’s strange new world.

During her search for Skoll, Solina uncovers a plot to unleash a battalion of legendary soldiers and launch an apocalyptic war. Before she and her allies can locate the fabled army, several ghosts from her past return to haunt her. Solina must fight for life and the fate of the world, or her hopes for love and a peaceful future will go up in flames.

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Midnight Burning Excerpt

As if he sensed my reticence, Val made the move that he must have thought would convince me to agree. But it was the wrong move. He swooped me into his arms and kissed me, hard and possessive. For a heartbeat I saw an image of the earth sinking into a sea of fire, but reality returned in the next moment. Val’s kiss was brutish, like he was trying to claim me. I didn’t care for it at all, and I shoved at him. “Val, stop it,” I said, turning away to gasp for breath. I reached for my fire, but I never got the chance to use it.

This time when Thorin appeared, it wasn’t in his usual silent and sudden way. His arrival was loud, like a steam train roaring into the station, crashing against Val and slamming him into the wall. I gasped and jumped out of the way.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Val?” Thorin raged like an angry giant. Fee-fi-fo-fum, indeed. “She made it clear that she wants you to leave her alone.”

Val shoved against Thorin, his biceps bulging from the effort, but Thorin held him in place.

She came to me,” Val said. “Apologizing, hoping to make up. Why don’t you ask her what she wants?” Val’s eyes darted to mine. “C’mon, Solina, tell us. You want me to keep my hands off?”

Thorin shoved him again. “It was a lot more than your hands.”

“Who do you think you are, Thorin? Her father? Her jealous lover? I know for a fact she’s never laid a hand on you.”

“You don’t know anything,” Thorin said.

Val’s certainty wavered for a second, his eyes flickering between me and Thorin. “Bullshit,” Val said, finally working up the force to push Thorin away. Val stormed over to his bed, grabbed the messenger bag containing his things, and slid the strap across his chest. “This is all bullshit.”

Fire simmered just under the surface of my skin, pushing like shaken champagne strains against a loose cork. The little devil on my shoulder urged me to let it out, convert all my feelings into a messy conflagration and burn down both Val and Thorin. Fortunately my voice of reason spoke louder. By the time I recovered my composure, Val was already out the door and making his way down the hall, so I turned my indignation on Thorin.

“What the hell?” I said. Thorin glared back at me, his eyes black and bottomless. “Who asked you to interfere?”

“Last night you announced to the whole house you were finished with Val. Then I come around the corner to find him plastered all over you, and you didn’t look like you were enjoying it.”

“Irrelevant!” I screeched. Thorin was intent on making me the damsel in distress, and I was sick of being underrated.

Thorin folded his arms over his chest and glared at me. “Who knew you were such a fickle creature, Miss Mundy?”

“It’s irrelevant because I was perfectly capable of handling Val on my own, but you always underestimate me. I’m not helpless. And stop calling me Miss Mundy. We both know you only do it to get under my skin.” I raged at him over the inconsequential because I didn’t want Thorin to know the depth of my confusion and hurt. Val’s insistence on treating me as some trophy to claim felt like a metaphorical fist squeezing my heart.

Thorin stepped closer and leaned down so that we were nose to nose. “And you continued to humor Val just to get under my skin.”

“Why won’t you understand that what happens between Val and me has nothing to do with you?”

Thorin leaned in even closer and dropped his voice. His warm breath brushed my cheek when he said, “Why won’t you understand just how wrong you are about that?”

“What are you saying?” My voice went dry and raspy as Thorin’s closeness filled my senses. My heartbeat changed from a frantic gallop to an anticipatory lope. My body was so quick to betray my convictions.

He brought his lips mere millimeters from mine and then stopped. His scent was thunderstorms and burnt sky. He cupped my face in his hands and rubbed a thumb over my lower lip. His touch was lightning, and it brought forth images of boiling clouds the color of bruises and winds like artillery, tearing into an army of shadows bearing claws and teeth. He growled, cursing in a language I did not recognize. If I’d had to guess, it probably translated to something along the lines of “damn it to hell.” Then he shook his head, and in a rough and broken voice he said, “I’m not like him. I won’t make his mistakes.”

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All the stories in The Norse Chronicles can be purchased separately.

See below for those links and for A Norse Chronicles novella, not found in the collection above. 


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Karissa lives in North Carolina with her kid, her husband, the occasional in-law, and a very hairy husky named Bonnie. Some of her favorite things are coffee, dark chocolate, super heroes and Star Wars. She can quote Princess Bride verbatim. In the summer she’s camping, kayaking, and boating at the lake, and in the winter, she’s curled up with a good book.

 

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Author Showcase – CJ Matthew (Sea Dragon Shifter Series)

~ BOOK ONE ~

Elusive billionaire and sea dragon shifter, Murdoch Rudraige lives in the shadow of his successful twin and is tired of not being taken seriously within the Clan’s international shipping conglomerate. 

Until Annalisa Bartello, an employee from California, crashes into the front gate of his seaside estate and assumes Murdoch is his twin brother. She is risking her life to bring them proof of a corporate traitor and he is lying to her. 

Murdoch knows immediately that she’s his mate – but how can she love him after she learns he’s the screw-up twin and a sea dragon? 

Until it’s settled, Murdoch isn’t willing to let her out of his sight. Not until he’s certain she is safe, and he has had time to figure out how to explain dragon shifters to the curvy human. 

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~ BOOK TWO ~

Devlin’s predictable life was about to implode… Thanks in part to a mystery woman’s New Year’s Eve kiss. And a competitor’s unprecedented appeal for help.

Sea Dragon shifter Devlin was comfortable with the routine of his Tokyo-based shipping executive job and his solo existence. Until the unexpected events of New Year’s Eve tipped his entire life on edge. Was he ready for the challenges? Was a crash course in drastic change a bad thing?

Like discovering the feisty human female is his fated mate?

And working with her, a virtual stranger, to track down a bomb toting madman?

You’ll love this book because everyone enjoys watching an odd couple become a team and work through their issues together.

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~ BOOK THREE ~

Whenever his Sea Dragon chieftain called, Liam’s life went to shitte…
Hunters attacking the Druid’s secret island? 
No sweat. Call a Zodiac Shifter Guardian. 
Just not him… 

Sea Dragon shifter Liam Rudraige was up to his eyeballs managing Muirdris’s shipping business at the Port of Dublin, plus the Port of Cork expansion, and all the while dodging stalker salesmen.
Until the boss called…and Liam was forced to swim the fastest undersea route to the Druid’s magical island sanctuary.

NY public relations guru, Heather Daniels, despises belligerent sales reps. Seriously, what could be worse? 

Transferring to Ireland to discover she’s expected to clean up after her stalker-zilla predecessor. The aggressive jerk left a real mess. And the first executive listed on her make-amends-inventory, Liam Rudraige, has disappeared.

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~ STAY TUNED, BOOK FOUR ~
~ Coming the end of May 2019 ~ 

 

~ FUTURE RELEASE, BOOK FIVE ~
~ Coming July 2019 ~

 

 

~ CHECK OUT THESE WONDERFUL SERIES BY CJ MATTHEW! ~

Deadly Reboot

Survival Reboot

Maximum Reboot

Extreme Reboot (TBA)

 

 

Blood Tide

Risky Tide

Dangerous Tide

Lethal Tide

Toxic Tide

Fatal Tide (TBA)

 

The Colonel’s Daughters, A Quintet

A Major Seduction

A Major Affair

Compromising the Captain (TBA)

 

 

Stay connected with CJ Matthew at any of these locations…..

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Author Showcase – Jeffrey L. Kohanek (A Kingdom Under Siege: Wardens of Issalia, Book Four)

Note from the author, Jeffrey L. Kohanek: A Kingdom Under Siege is available now through the Wardens of Issalia boxed set (see link below).  It’s also available to purchase on its own in print format (see link below). Mark your calendars because on May 14th, you can download it to your e-readers. 

 

~~ On sale for only $0.99 until May 10th! ~~

1,300 pages of MAGIC, SECRETS, INTRIGUE, and BETRAYAL
________________________________________________________________________
An enemy nation rises, fueled by subterfuge, assassinations, and fire-powered weapons. A team of young agents must infiltrate and eliminate this threat before all is lost.

Includes the COMPLETE Wardens of Issalia series — novels that combine for over 75 5-star Amazon reviews and 150 Goodreads 5-star ratings. 
  
Books in this boxed set:
______________________________________________________________
1. A Warden’s Purpose: Wardens of Issalia, Book I
2. The Arcane Ward: Wardens of Issalia, Book II
3. An Imperial Gambit: Wardens of Issalia, Book III
4. A Kingdom Under Siege: Wardens of Issalia, Book IV 

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An enemy threatens the kingdoms of Issalia, bent on conquest with the desire to vanquish Chaos magic forever.

The Empire has returned. Assassinations, subterfuge, and betrayal have fueled a rapid rise to power – a rise backed by fire-powered weapons. This enemy army swells with superior numbers and threatens the western kingdoms of Issalia.

With King Brock gone, the domination of Issalia is merely a matter of time.

The wardens, agents from a clandestine organization known as ICON, work in secret to stop this radical enemy. Trained as spies, warriors, rangers, inventors, and magic-users, the wardens have successfully reduced the enemy threat, but by doing so, they leave the Empire no choice.

War is certain. The attack is coming soon.

The kingdoms must stand against the Imperial Army’s advanced weapons and superior numbers. The wardens and Chaos magic offer slim hope, but a leader is required to achieve victory – a legend whom many believe is dead.

Join the battle. The fate of Issalia hangs in the balance.

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The ship continued to rock from side to side, the motion beginning to affect Brock as nausea set in. He opened his eyes, folded the map, and slipped it into his pocket as he made for the door.

Stepping outside, he found the sails filled with the gusting wind and the snow changed to a steady drizzle. Two ships ran even with the Razor while the other five in the armada trailed behind. To the port side, Brock then noticed another fleet nestled in a protected bay.

Brock turned and climbed the quarterdeck as sailors scurried about the distant narrow-bodied longships. “Ri Star? What are they doing down here?”

The Ri Starian crafts raised anchor, the oars at their sides moving the longships toward deeper water as the Razor and the trailing armada sailed past. Tenzi called for another sailor to take the helm while she dug out a tube with glass on each end. She aimed the tube toward the ships, looking through it as the Ri Starian vessels unfurled their sails.

With shock, she gasped. “Flash cannons! They plan to attack!”

Considering what he knew of Ri Star, Brock recalled his previous interactions with Queen Olvaria. In his two decades as King of Kantaria, he had only met Olvaria three times. Despite her polite exterior, Brock had always sensed a hard edge to the woman. She often argued that her queendom was small and lacked resources. If not for their diamond mines, Ri Star had little bargaining power when it came to trade.

With Ri Star consisting of nothing but Ilsands nestled in dangerous waters, they had naturally developed Issalia’s premier navy. Manned by tough, experienced sailors and a crew of oarsmen below deck, Ri Starian longships were the fastest in the world. Having those vessels armed with flash cannons was a frightening prospect.

A flash of green fire and a puff of smoke billowed from the lead Ri Starian ship. A boom followed, and a projectile hit the trailing vessel of the Torin armada, sending a blast of splinters into the air.

“This is bad.” Brock’s tone was grim. “Queen Olvaria has thrown her lot in with the Empire.”

Another longship fired, also striking the trailing Torin ship, this time near the waterline. The wounded vessel rocked, tilted to one side, and turned toward shore, but it was too late. The ship was sinking while sailors and passengers scrambled for the lifeboat.

“We have to stop them!” Brock put his hand on Tenzi’s shoulder. “Slow down so the rest of the armada can pass us.”

She turned back toward the enemy fleet. “Once we are in range, they are going to fire at us.”

“I know, but I don’t have a choice. Just trust me.”

“Fine.” With her face in a scowl, Tenzi bellowed out orders, sending sailors up the masts to lower the upper sails.

Brock leaped down to the main deck where he spotted Stein. The man stood at the rail watching the trailing ships, his attention shifting toward Brock as he drew close.  

“Stein! I need you to run below deck and instruct the other arcanists to begin applying Reduce Gravity augmentations to the deck. I want a large rune drawn near the bow, one in the middle, and one near the quarterdeck. Have them stack augmentations.”

“Stack them? You know what will happen.” Stein’s expression revealed his doubt.

“Just do it.”

As Stein ran to the stairs and disappeared below deck, Brock darted back to Tenzi’s cabin. He burst in and searched the room, his gaze falling on the small, round table bolted to the floor. With his boot heel against it, he gave it a shove but it didn’t move. He then picked up the chair and swung hard. The chair smashed into the table, scattering broken wood pieces onto the bed and across the floor. Brock gripped the tilted tabletop and lifted, tearing it off the base with a loud crack. He then set the tabletop on the floor and began to carve a symbol into the wood with the tip of his dagger. Once finished, he picked up the tabletop and ran back outside.

The drizzling rain continued, driven by the wind and leaving the deck slick. Razor had fallen behind most of the fleet, and the last remaining vessel was nearly upon them. Stein and the nine other arcanists were on deck with a group at the bow, a group in the center, and a group right beside Brock, near the stern. A man in the nearest group hurriedly traced a symbol with a chunk of coal. The diameter of the rune was half the width of the ship.

“Be sure to get the symbol exact!” Brock warned. “A misdrawn rune will kill us all!”

Still clutching the three-foot diameter table, Brock scrambled up the stairs to find the Ri Starian fleet less than a quarter-mile behind them.

“Tenzi!” he hollered. “Raise the sails the moment you see this rune activate!”

Without waiting, he closed his eyes and embraced the anxiety of the moment. The raw and angry energy of Chaos surrounded him, and he drew it in as easily as drawing a breath. Within seconds, a raging torrent of raw power surged throughout his body, threatening to tear him apart. Brock opened his eyes and gazed upon the rune he had etched into the table. It flared to life with a fiery glow, and Tenzi commanded her crew to raise the sails.

Brock ran across the quarterdeck and, with a grunt, threw the tabletop toward the Ri Starian fleet. It spun like a disc, the charged rune etched in the wood pulsing and fading as the tabletop struck the water.

boom and a blast of green flame burst from a cannon on the bow of the nearest enemy vessel, launching a metal ball toward Razor. The projectile hit just below the quarterdeck with a massive crack that sent Brock, Broland, and Tenzi stumbling. It smashed through the rear of the captain’s cabin and emerged out the other side, destroying the quarterdeck stairs in a burst of splintered wood.

“No! Not again!” Tenzi roared in frustration.

The floating tabletop then turned pure white and the churning ocean around it began to freeze. A thunderous crack came from the ice and it expanded in a roar of pops and snaps. The air over the center turned the drizzle to snow that thickened into a swirling localized blizzard.

Razor rocked and began to rise out of the water, sending those on board stumbling as the craft lifted upward. Brock leaned against the rearmost rail and watched the expanding ring of ice race toward them, far faster than the ship sailed. He glanced backward to see the Reduce Gravity runes on the deck, again pulsing with the next augmentation about to take hold.

“Come on. Just a little more lift,” he urged, nervous that the ice would reach them too soon.

The ship lurched and rose up higher, tilting as the hull came out of the water and the wind pushed against the sails. Broland fell into Brock, both of them rolling across the quarterdeck until they wedged against the port side rail. Tenzi held tight to the wheel. The sailors and arcanists toppled to the deck, many sliding across it before slamming into the rail. A sailor on the main mast slipped, spun, and dangled by a rope briefly before falling into the ocean.

Brock pulled himself up and peeked over the rail. The ice ring had expanded beyond their position, the ocean now a white, choppy, uneven surface of frozen waves. The trailing fleet crashed into the ice in a massive collision, damaging hulls and launching crew members overboard. The sailors who landed on the ice did not move.

As the Razor floated away, tilted at a hard angle a hundred feet above the ocean, the ice continued to expand. In the distance. Brock spotted a lifeboat from the sinking Torin vessel, fighting the churning waves as it headed toward land. Between him and the ship, the sea had become an island of ice, two miles in diameter. Ten Ri Starian longships were locked in the ice and would remain there until the augmentation expired. Even then, Brock suspected that most of those vessels were too damaged to make it to shore. Those ships will no longer be a problem.

“That was too close,” Broland said.

“I can’t steer!” Tenzi spun the wheel with no response. “The rudder is useless! We are drifting toward the cliffs!” She cupped her hands to her mouth and bellowed, “Lower the sails!”

Tenzi leaped off the quarterdeck and ran toward the main mast, which was unmanned. The sailors in the other two masts worked frantically to lower the sails while Tenzi scaled the main mast. Brock climbed his way up the angled deck to the starboard rail and looked down. They had passed most of the fleet with only the lead ship still ahead of them.

“Broland, follow me.” Brock leaped over the broken stairs and landed on the main deck, almost falling on the slippery, tilted surface.

With Broland following, Brock bolted to the closet beside the galley and opened the door to reveal three ballistae, three-foot long bolts, and long coils of rope. As the sails came down, the deck began to level, making it easier to stand.

Joely appeared beside the door. “What can I do?”

“Both of you, help me with this,” Brock said as he lifted one of the heavy ballistae.

Once the weapon was out the door, Brock returned to the closet, grabbed two coils of heavy rope, and threw one over each shoulder before scooping up a ballista bolt with a grappling hook on the end.

“Broland, Joely, Stein,” Brock said as he moved past them. ”Carry the ballista to the bow.”

As the trio scrambled to pick up the ballista, Brock looked up to find only the lowest sails still unfurled. The ship had slowed and leveled but was still headed toward the cliffs.

With Broland, Joely, and Stein in tow, Brock led them to the prow. The Razor was now even with the leading ship – the craft a few hundred feet to the starboard side and a hundred feet below them. Kneeling, Brock tied the two coils of rope together and then tied one end to a massive cleat normally used when docking. As he secured the other end to the eyelet on the ballista bolt, he issued instructions.

“Rest the ballista on the rail and hold tight.” He turned to Joely. “You know this weapon. We only get one shot. Make it count.”

Joely nodded, eyeing his target while Brock cranked the launch mechanism back, inserted the bolt into the ballista, and held on tight.

Joely tilted the ballista upward and moved it slightly to the right. He pulled the release trigger, and the bolt launched, the recoil sending Brock, Broland, and Stein stumbling to the deck. The coil of rope rapidly unwound as it slid over the rail, chasing the projectile.

Brock scrambled to his feet and watched the bolt fly toward the other ship. It hit a sail, tearing it. Reaching the end of the rope, the grappling hook recoiled and leaped backward, spinning around the main mast before latching on. The rope drew tight and the Razor lurched, causing everyone on board to stagger.

Razor’s prow dipped and tilted toward the ship towing them. Their direction altered slightly, but the cliffside was approaching fast. The cliff drew close…too close to avoid. A deep grinding sound came from the hull. Razor lurched and shook as it scraped across the cliff face. Moments later, the sound ceased and the ship slipped free.

A glance over the rail provided a wave of relief. They had cleared the obstruction and were now heading toward open waters. Brock wiped his brow and turned to find Tenzi glaring at him, her fists on her hips.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“I have a hole in my ship, thanks to you.” She gestured back at her cabin and the broken stairs.

Looking through the opening, Brock was able to see the cliffs behind them, slipping into the distance. “Yes. I’m sorry about that.”

Tenzi crossed her arms and stared north, toward the trapped longships, now appearing as dark specs in a field of white. After a moment, she sighed. “I know you did your best. I just wish they would stop firing flash cannons at my ship.”

Brock moved closer and put his hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry, Tenzi. However, look around you. We are a hundred feet above the water. You may have a hole in your cabin, but I am willing to bet that Razor is also the first flying ship. Ever. It should make a great story next time you’re having drinks with other sailors.”

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