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Book Spotlight – The Heatstroke Line


Hot off the presses! THE HEATSTROKE LINE by Edward L. Rubin is available now! 



Author: Edward L. Rubin
Publisher: Sunbury Press
Pages: 223
Genre: Scifi/Cli-Fi (Climate Change Science Fiction)
Nothing has been done to prevent climate change, and the United States has spun into decline.   Storm surges have made coastal cities uninhabitable, blistering heat waves afflict the interior and, in the South (below the Heatstroke Line), life is barely possible.  Under the stress of these events and an ensuing civil war, the nation has broken up into three smaller successor states and tens of tiny principalities.  When the flesh-eating bugs that inhabit the South show up in one of the successor states, Daniel Danten is assigned to venture below the Heatstroke Line and investigate the
source of the invasion.  The bizarre and brutal people he encounters, and the disasters that they trigger, reveal the real horror climate change has inflicted on America.

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Book Excerpt:

They were in some sort of garage, with several other vehicles and various pieces of equipment scattered around. The two men who stood beside them, watching, were the ones who had taken him out of the auto-car, one white, one black, both very big. Three people approached from a doorway to Dan’s right. In front was an attractive woman with blond hair, wearing an elegant leopard print dress and the long, pointed shoes that were the latest fashion. Behind her stood a man and a woman, both much bigger, and dressed in work clothes like the two men who were guarding them.

The woman in the leopard dress looked at her wristlink, then at Dan and Stuart, and smiled at them in self-satisfied manner. She motioned to the woman beside her and then to one of the two guards, and they led Stuart, still complaining about his arm, through the doorway they had come from. Then she turned toward Dan and motioned to the man beside her and the other guard, who grabbed Dan’s arms and started to lead him toward the same doorway.

“Who the hell are you?” he said, trying to turn toward the woman. “Are you aware that we’re part of a diplomatic mission from Mountain America to Jacksonia authorized by President Peter Simonson? I don’t know what you’re trying to do, but if you – – – “

One of the men let go of Dan’s arm, grabbed his cheeks to force his mouth open, and plunged a plastic gag into it. Dan felt himself choke and struggled for breath. The gag had a slightly sour, greasy taste. Then both men grabbed his arms again and led him through the doorway. Dan suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of dread, stronger even than he had felt when the men first pulled him out of the car.

Beyond the doorway was a narrow corridor with dirty green walls covered with beads of water. Clearly, they were underground. The men lead Dan through the first opening along the corridor and into a small, dimly-lit room with three chairs facing a transparent plastic window. Through the window was another room, painted grey and brightly lit. Dan was forced into the chair at the back of the room, his handcuffs were removed and his arms were strapped to the armrests, and then, to his increasing dread, some sort of metal device was placed over his head and tightened so that he was forced to look straight ahead into the room beyond the window. He felt saliva dripping down his chin. The woman in the leopard dress came in, sat down in the chair placed to his left and closer to the window, looked at him up and down, then crossed her legs and turned to the window.

A moment later, Stuart was led into the brightly lit grey room by his two guards. All his clothes except his undershorts had been stripped off. He had always been slender, but now he looked emaciated and pathetic. He was obviously in pain. Dan felt tears coming to his eyes despite his own discomfort. The woman turned to him, smiled, and then turned back to the window. By now, one of Stuart’s handcuffs had been removed and re-attached to a metal loop that was built into the wall. The two guards left and Stuart was alone in the room, one arm fastened to the wall, the other hanging limply at his side.

With a sense of horror, but not, for some reason, of surprise, Dan saw a dark shape fly through the air and attach itself to Stuart’s thigh. It was a biter bug, shiny black and nearly three inches long. Stuart jumped and writhed, turning one way and the other, but Dan didn’t need to see clearly to know what was happening. The bug’s six legs had plunged immediately into Stuart’s skin; now its two sharp mandibles, each half an inch in length, were folded under its body, tearing his flesh. Blood welled up from under the bug, and as it moved down his leg, it left a trail of raw, bleeding flesh behind. Stuart clawed weakly at the bug with his other arm, which was obviously disabled. That didn’t matter because Dan knew that tearing a biter bug off your body was virtually impossible. As soon as you started, its legs dug deeper, and you would wind up tearing out a chunk of your own flesh, which was just as painful, and somehow more awful, than letting the bug continue for the half minute or so until it was satisfied and flew away.

Dan wanted to yell. He heard the words “Why are you doing this” form in his throat, but he couldn’t speak. He tried to lift the chair to get out of the room, to smash the window, to kill the woman sitting calmly next to him, but the chair was bolted to the floor. He couldn’t move — he couldn’t even look away. The first bug was gone, leaving an oozing wound behind, but two more bugs had been released and attached themselves to Stuart’s body, one to his chest and one to his arm. Helpless and in agony, he was trying to pull away from the wall and he was screaming. No sound came through the window and the silence, compounded by Dan’s own inability to speak, made the scene somehow more horrible.

Dan closed his eyes. If there was nothing else that he could do, he could at least deny this woman the satisfaction of making him watch his friend be tortured. Beneath his sorrow, fury and horror, he sensed another feeling, some indefinable nausea that lay deep inside him. After a few minutes, he felt compelled to look again. Stuart had collapsed and was lying against the wall. There were four or five bugs on his body now, and one was on his cheek, moving toward his eye. He was still writhing, but had also begun to shake compulsively. Blood was oozing from bug tracks on his arms, legs and stomach, covering his body and dripping onto the floor. He was going into shock; they were killing him. Dan had never felt so angry or so powerless. It was hard to believe that this was real, that Stuart was really dying, that in a few more minutes he would cease to exist. The bugs flew away, one leaving a pool of blood in his eye socket, and then three more, five more, came flying in. Dan closed his eyes again. They were wet with tears; he felt himself sobbing and gasping for breath through the greasy gag.

Suddenly, there were people around him, three or four. They released his head, unstrapped his arms, stood him up, handcuffed his arms behind him again, turned him around and dragged him out into the corridor. In the process, he caught a glimpse of Stuart’s prostrate, motionless body through the window, covered in blood, with bugs still crawling over it. Once in the corridor, he was dragged a short distance, through an opening, and into an even narrower corridor. One of his captors opened a door and he was pushed into a brightly lit grey room. The steady sense of dread that Dan was feeling congealed into panic. They were going to set the bugs on him the way they did to Stuart. They were going to kill him. He was going to die.

His gag was removed, his handcuffs were opened, and then one arm, still cuffed, was attached to a metal loop in the wall, just the way that they had done to Stuart. Then all the guards left the room and closed the door behind him. He was alone. In front of him was a large plastic window, dark and blank. The woman was sitting behind it, he was certain, and she was going to watch as the biter bugs killed him.

How could this be happening? He felt a roaring in his head, he couldn’t think. There was something he had to figure out, something he had to make sense out of, but he didn’t know what it was. Would he really die, would he really stop existing? What about his children and Garenika? “If I die now, I’ll never see them again” he realized. “No, there will be no ‘I’ not to see them. The world will come to an end. It can’t be, it can’t be.”

He heard the unmistakable, high pitched buzz of a biter bug flying toward him through the air. Instinctively, he knew what to do—he had been trained in Mark Granowski’s department before he went to central Texas for a research project. The bugs flew in straight lines when they were attacking. He waited until it almost reached him, then slapped it with his free hand. It fell to the ground with a sickeningly solid thud, but right side up. Black and huge, it crawled a few inches, its long mandibles opening and closing. Even though he had his shoes on – he realized that they hadn’t taken off his clothes – he knew there was no point trying to crush the bug; its carapace was much too hard. After a few moments, the bug’s wings started vibrating, it rose up in the air, and flew toward him once more. Again, he slapped it and it fell down right side up. The hideous thing crawled a few inches and rose up again. Once again he slapped it and it thudded to the ground, right side up again. Its wings vibrated, it rose up and flew toward him, he slapped it hard and it fell down again, this time on its back. Immediately, he stamped his foot on it and felt the satisfying crunch as its body cracked beneath his shoe.

But what was the point, he asked himself a moment later. They could release another bug, five more, fifty more. The pain would become worse and worse and he would die, just like Stuart. No, not just die — the world would end, there would be nothing. The roaring in his head returned, the sense of dread and disbelief. It couldn’t be. He heard himself bellowing “No, No, No, No.” There was a high pitched buzz behind him, and as he spun around, the biter bug slammed into his upper arm. He felt its feet dig in, and then the burning, searing pain as its huge mandibles, now tucked under its carapace, began to tear his flesh. He could only stare at it in horror. Blood rose up under it and turned his light blue shirt sleeve sickly purple. The bug moved slowly down his arm, leaving a track of bloody, torn up flesh, visible inside the inch-wide tear in his shirtsleeve. The pain was unbearable. He couldn’t believe that the twenty five or thirty seconds that they bug was on him seemed so long, and he felt a moment of relief when it finally flew away, dripping blood behind it.

He had to organize his thoughts, there was something that he had to do, but what was it? How could he stop existing? Would he live somehow, because of his research? Would he live in the memories of Josh, Senly, Michael and Garenika? But he wouldn’t be here, there would be no world for him. An image, a memory, suddenly came into his mind. He was walking across the University of Utah campus with Garenika. They had just met, he had said something to her and she laughed, in a soft, silvery tone, and he wondered if they would end up having children together. Now he saw his home in Arches Park City. His father was reading to him, his mother came into the room with the poster of the Milky Way, the one he had wanted and that hung in his room when he was growing up.

After a few minutes, he realized that no more bugs had come. A sudden surge of hope passed through him. He was afraid to even form the thought, afraid that it would somehow preclude the actuality. But the door opened, one of the guards came into the room with a suppressed smile on his face, removed the handcuff from his wrist, removed the other part from the loop on the wall and walked out with it. The lights in the room suddenly dimmed. Dan sank down onto the floor. He took the bottom of his shirt and pressed it against the wound on his arm, as much to relieve the burning pain as to staunch the flow of blood. He became aware that he was sobbing, but whether it was with relief or anguish was impossible for him to say.

Several hours later, the door opened, and before Dan could react, a tray with clothing, a plate of food and an inflatable mattress was pushed into the room. The door closed again. The clothing was an ordinary, open collar white shirt, a pair of dark brown trousers and dark green undershorts. Dan became aware that the front of his own pants was wet and realized he had pissed himself when the bug attacked him. Next to the clothes was a large blue, disinfectant bandage. Slowly and deliberately, Dan stripped off his clothes, wrapped the bandage around his arm, which immediately felt a bit better, and put on the clothes he’d been given. Looking around, he saw an open hole in the opposite corner of the room, walked over and peed down the hole.

He went back to the tray, took a bite of one roll. All at once, he felt nauseated, ran to the hole and vomited. He couldn’t stop; he vomited repeatedly and convulsively, long after there was anything left in his stomach. The roaring in his head returned, he felt intensely chilled and his body began shaking uncontrollably. After what seemed like a long time, the shakes and chills subsided, but they were followed by a slowly intensifying fear. Suppose they turned off the lights and began to fill the room with water. He could feel himself being forced to the top of the room, feel his head pressed against the ceiling when only a few inches of air remained, feel the water filling his nose and mouth as he gasped helplessly for breath. Suppose the walls of the room began to close from both directions, pressing against his body until he was trapped tiny, pitch black space. Suppose they raised the temperature until searing air burned his lungs with every breath as he began to suffocate.

Dan tried to calm himself. He wondered if he should use Jiangtan –why hadn’t he thought of it when he was watching Stuart die — but somehow didn’t think that it would help. Had the bread been poisoned? That wouldn’t make any sense. Clearly, they meant to keep him alive. Were they holding him for ransom or as a hostage for some political purpose? In any case, once the Mountain American government found out about it, they would arrange for his return, he reassured himself. He decided he should try to sleep; he was obviously exhausted. He inflated the mattress, lay down, and closed his eyes. The biter bug wound on his arm was still throbbing and his head ached. He tried to think his college days, of his evenings with friends, of nineteenth century novels, of Garenika, but it all seemed thin and pointless. Finally, his thoughts returned to his early fascination with astronomy, and he pictured himself touring the moons and planets of the solar system and then venturing out among the undiscovered worlds that orbited the distant stars.



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About the Author

Edward Rubin is University Professor of Law and Political Science at Vanderbilt University. He specializes in administrative law, constitutional law and legal theory. He is the author of Soul, Self and Society: The New Morality and the Modern State (Oxford, 2015); Beyond Camelot: Rethinking Politics and Law for the Modern State (Princeton, 2005) and two books with Malcolm Feeley, Federalism: Political Identity and Tragic Compromise (Michigan, 2011) and Judicial Policy Making and the Modern State: How the Courts Reformed America’s Prisons (Cambridge, 1998). In addition, he is the author of two casebooks, The Regulatory State (with Lisa Bressman and Kevin Stack) (2nd ed., 2013); The Payments System (with Robert Cooter) (West, 1990), three edited volumes (one forthcoming) and The Heatstroke Line (Sunbury, 2015) a science fiction novel about the fate of the United States if climate change is not brought under control. Professor Rubin joined Vanderbilt Law School as Dean and the first John Wade–Kent Syverud Professor of Law in July 2005, serving a four-year term that ended in June 2009. Previously, he taught at the University of Pennsylvania Law School from 1998 to 2005, and at the Berkeley School of Law from 1982 to 1998, where he served as an associate dean. Professor Rubin has been chair of the Association of American Law Schools’ sections on Administrative Law and Socioeconomics and of its Committee on the Curriculum. He has served as a consultant to the People’s Republic of China on administrative law and to the Russian Federation on payments law. He received his undergraduate degree from Princeton and his law degree from Yale.
He has published four books, three edited volumes, two casebooks, and more than one hundred articles about various aspects of law and political theory. The Heatstroke Line is his first novel.

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VBT – Light in My Dark


About the Book

Title: Light In My Dark

Author: William Dresden and Jean Gilbert

Genre: YA Fantasy

Sixteen-year-old Harper Deveraux has longed for an adventure ever since her mother died of cancer four years ago. Much to her dismay, she is stuck in Glen Eden, a small mountain town in upstate New York that does little to fuel her hopes and dreams.

Another year of high school has begun, and with the Moon Dance only a few weeks away, Harper suddenly finds herself torn between the affections of two boys: her best friend Jack, and a new boy from the City named Knes who might not be from this world.

Strange things begin to happen in Glen Eden when Harper uncovers a mystery that involved her mother and a realm shrouded in darkness that lies beyond the wall… A realm that Knes intends to take her to. Only Jack stands in his way.

Light In My Dark, is an action-packed modern YA fantasy, filled with dark forces, love, and self-discovery.

Authors Bios

William Dresden is an author and award-winning screenwriting. He spent several years as a script doctor and pursued the dream of writing hollywood blockbusters. Now he mostly writes fiction and enjoys spending time with his family and friends. William currently lives in Virginia with his wife and two children.

Jean Gilbert is an award winning speculative fiction writer from New Zealand. She is a Core member of SpecFicNZ, and is also the coordinator for SpecFicNZ Central. Jean’s novels include the Vault Agency Series: Shifters, Ardus, and The Vault. You can find her short stories Blonde Obsession in Baby Teeth: Bite Size Tales of Terror, and Pride in the Contact Light Anthology.



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Spotlight – A Pact of Lies by Matthew Siegard

A Pact of Lies banner


Fatebreaker Saga, book one
396 pages
Released: February 13, 2016
Cover and map illustration by Christopher Schramm


In a medieval-era world of great men and new nations rising from the ashes of a fallen empire, Raven is a talented pain in the ass. A cynical, arrogant thief and fleecer, he has a dagger and lockpick up his sleeve and a comeback on his lips. He was once the younger brother of a boy who was prophesied to be an invincible warrior, and who was killed for that mistaken belief. Now he has only venom for causes and talk of destiny, happy to be a successful nobody. But when a mysterious job goes bad, he finds that the secrets he holds are vital to the coming war between the republic of High Iyanor and the necromantic dominion of Kishoria.
He is captured and coerced by an Iyan captain into guiding an expedition to find a long-forgotten weapon before the Kishorians can reach it. He joins a team of soldiers and mages, and if the danger were not enough, his party includes not only another fated young warrior but a member of the jotunn race that killed his brother. Bitterly, he leads them beneath the Temple Among Worlds, and they fight through barbaric goblins and cosmic monstrosities, navigate dark mazes, and sabotage horrific traps. Raven is distrusted, but only he knows that he has been courted by the Kishorians with a promise: betray the Iyans, and walk away wealthy.
When plans fail, heroes fall, and deadly secrets are revealed, Raven’s cynicism and self-interest is tested by the valor of his companions. He might lead his allies to ruin… or he might use his dark reputation to lure his enemies into his most daring con yet.

About the Author

Matthew Siegard lives in Gainesville, Florida with his beautiful fiancé, who encouraged him to finally stop editing and take a go at publishing. He works as an analyst during the day, and saves writing about sword and sorcery for after hours (mostly). He reads a great deal of historical non-fiction, along with classic and contemporary genre authors such as JRR Tolkien, HG Wells, George RR Martin, and his favorite, Jules Verne.

Matthew currently organizes the Gainesville Fiction Writers group in his hometown, facilitating discussion of writing approaches and tough critique of each other’s work. He’s happy to write in any genre, but is focusing now on epic fantasy, although the closest he has ever come to actual medieval warfare was fainting while learning about 19th century surgical techniques in a Civil War fortress.

Twitter: @matthewsiegard


The gods must have had stronger throats than Raven’s, because while his burned, the spirits of the desert blew one vast sheet of iron wind across the sand dunes. Raven had long since abandoned his vest and jacket, and wore his smelly old undershirt wrapped around his head, and a kerchief to cover everything under his eyes from the stinging sand. He walked eastward—at least he thought it was eastward, judging by his rare glimpses of the sun through the storm—and doubted that he could have made the journey to the city of Cleon even in fair weather. At least the sandstorm kept the vultures away. They could have their fill after he was dead, but Raven hated the thought of those bastards getting friendly when he was still puttering along.
Climbing a dune and squinting through the rush of a billion flying barbs, Raven found nothing familiar. He could not see far, but there was no sign of any rock formation that might offer a cave and shelter, or a dying animal from which he might carve some sustenance, or a broken-down caravan from which he might “borrow” some water. All he could see apart from sand was a trio of fearsome animal-headed totems, warnings by the desert nomads for the civilized peoples to keep away. Not a problem, he thought.
He pressed on. The skins on his belt were bone dry, and the skin on his arms was red and cracking from the dehydration and barrage. Perhaps there was an upside to dying here, Raven thought. If his body were never found, maybe that little weasel Vaclav would worry from time to time that Raven was still out there, pursuing his revenge. The same went for the dozen or so other people that Raven hoped would suffer for fear of him. Perhaps he could remain on the earth as some kind of wraith; there were tribes in Mongut who made it sound almost like child’s play to remain bound to the world after death, not that he had remembered how they said to actually do it. He had long since conceded that no gods would vouch for his virtue and that the Great Judge would have no part of passing him on to Paradise, but if damnation allowed him to torment all the people who irritated him in life, at least he could keep busy for the first several decades of eternity.
For now at least, Raven was still alive, and he heard something. Something that sounded not at all unlike neighing and muffled galloping along the sand through which he trudged. It took his mind a moment to grind back to his grim reality, but then he immediately dropped prone to the ground, and waited under the blanket of driving sand. Two horsemen flew past, heading… southwest-ish he estimated. They either ignored him or hadn’t seen him, and he raced off after them, his grunts resonating in his own ears. He had no chance of catching up to the galloping steeds, of course, but he quickly came upon the camp to which they rode. He crept up behind a rock formation and peered down into the small valley it overlooked, where a camp was set up.
It was an Iyan military camp… Republican Guard… Ninth Legion, Raven determined by the orange banner bearing the outline of a spotted salamander–not quite Raven’s favorite animal. They must have just been one company, judging by the number of tents; he saw fewer than a hundred men, but there were likely more either in the tents or on patrol. They were dressed appropriately for the weather, their eyes protected by thin gray netting under their helmets to block most of the sand. Considering that all tents were pegged down and horses corralled, they had been here for at least several hours, and judging by the minimal guarding and lack of defensive emplacements, this was a base from which to coordinate a search, not some larger provocation against desert nomad tribes.
Raven produced a short monocular from his satchel and examined the camp more closely. Though his vision was obscured by the flying sand and his necessary distance from the camp, he believed he spotted a saurite among the humans, engaged in some conversation with two other soldiers. The saurite’s form was distinct, and judging by the pattern of conversation, one of the soldiers was there to translate for benefit of the other. This was definitely a search operation. Saurites–lizard-men most often hailing from the swamps in southern Iyanor and river banks throughout the world–were famous for their acute senses and skill as trackers in many environments, and some of the swamp tribes had friendly enough relationships with the Iyan Republic, as they had little use for each other’s land. This saurite was wrapped in a longbow and quiver, a belt and loincloth strapped with basic supplies and a curved knife, and a horribly gaudy bandana covered in bright feathers that identified him as an accomplished hunter. Or maybe a saurite queen; Raven knew little of the ugly skinks.
Raven pulled back the spyglass and surveyed the entirety of the camp once more. Though his throat burned, he could wait until nightfall now that opportunity awaited him. If he were impatient or a notch more desperate, he might have made his move now, attempting to take advantage of the sandstorm to obscure his movements. But now was not the time. Even in the Iyan desert, on the frontier of the civilized world, opportunity was everywhere for those who were patient, and more importantly, unafraid to get their hands a bit dirty.
Under cover of night, the desert was cool and calm, the air fresh. A half-mile east of their camp, the saurite and a young Iyan southron soldier patrolled side-by-side, sweeping northward. They were observant but relaxed.
“Gannix kopka se phelam, Kevork?” the Iyan asked.
“Sis por kalesko fu kopka,” the saurite answered, his voice deep, words accompanied by a trilling from the back of his throat.
“Fu kopka seem kalesko wo ne hexlu,” the Iyan joked.
“Sis mug kopka qui bru miga mix sim.”
The Iyan laughed and nodded in agreement.

The saurite stopped short and clasped his hand on his companion’s arm, stopping and silencing him. His bulbous eyes widened and his nostrils flared, sniffing quickly. Saurite smell was not quite as acute as Saurite sight and hearing, but in the uncluttered air of the desert, a stray odor did not evade a veteran hunter. The saurite sniffed and soon settled on a direction for the disturbance.
“Kra human mok,” the saurite said with a tinge of hunter’s excitement, drawing the bladed longbow from his back, along with a trio of slender arrows that he balanced easily in his long, muscular fingers. The bow was a fellfang, its limb carved from the great black klaymer trees of the deep swamp and affixed to a scythe-like blade running parallel to the wood. In close combat, the saurite would grip the wooden limb with both hands and wield the weapon as a kind of sword. It was an elegant weapon, one born from saurite woodwork and the blacksmithing of their human trade partners, and the hunter was fluent in its use, sensitive to the weight of its every component. He kept it ready for use at a blink’s notice as he led his companion toward the unknown quarry.
Just over a dune to their west, a man clad only in frayed pants lay face-down in the sand. The soldier was quick to rush to his aid, while the saurite first studied the surroundings for any indication of an ambush. Satisfied that none awaited them, the beastman too came to the unconscious man’s side, and the soldier held up his head and patted at his cheek, trying to provoke a reaction from his closed eyes and faintly wheezing mouth. The fallen desert traveler had the look of a northern Iyan or a Sade, or perhaps a highland Algostine, judging by his light hair and how easily his fair skin had burned. His lips were dry and cracked, and his eyelids flickered dreamily.
“Come on, friend, we’ve got you taken care of,” the soldier said, tipping his canteen to the man’s lips. The fallen traveler wasn’t lucid, and his eyelids continued to flicker, but his lips opened and sucked in the trickle of water, and when it was done, he slipped a slow moan.
“Kras kleeton jam mericon,” observed the saurite.
“Cimminosha,” said the soldier. Pulling the man to his feet, he said, “Slas humics harak!”
They lifted and carried the man together, holding him between them with his arms wrapped around each of their shoulders, his feet somewhat stumbling along as they carried him back to camp.
“That’s right, friend!” the soldier said. “Keep walking. Get that blood flowing, and we’ll get you up and moving on your own in no time!”
His prediction was immediately fruitful, for the man planted his feet and pulled at his two rescuers’ shoulders to smash their two skulls together at the forehead. The Iyan and the saurite were instantly unconscious, collapsing into the desert sand with simultaneous plops. Raven clapped his hands and shook off the sand caked in his hair.
In his journeys, Raven had seen the river saurites of the eastern lands up close–vicious buggers–but not the swamp-dwellers of southern Iyanor. Bards had made them out to be small dragons, but this was more like a large iguana. The creature’s face was slightly elongated, with a loose sack of skin under its chin that inflated and deflated with each silent breath. The scaly skin was mostly lime green, but with some darker texturing around the cheeks and circling the bulbous eyes. A thin spine ran from its nose to its tail, which waved gently in the creature’s rest. Raven wondered if that was normal, or if the creature was only pretending to be knocked out. Probably involuntary he decided; if he were any less of a gentleman, he would have slit the thing’s throat just to be sure.
It wasn’t the beastman that interested him, but the soldier, who was stirring. As the Iyan’s head began to shift in the sand and his fingers tremble, Raven grabbed the sword from the man’s scabbard and locked his head in a choke hold.
As the soldier gargled for air, Raven stuck the sword to his chest and demanded, “Name!”
Recovering some of his senses, the soldier blurted out, “Ack! Kieron Clame, squadman! Republican Guard of High Iyanor!”
“Commanding officer?”
“Who are you?”
Raven slid the blade lower, to his stomach.
“Ahh! Sergeant Palapanit! Ugh! But he’s returned to the city for the night! Meeting with some Sky Mage! I don’t know why! Corporal Farfax is in charge while he’s gone!”
“How many other companies are stationed out here?”
“I can’t…”
The sword shifted a few more inches down.
“Gaggh! Four companies, the entire second regiment! Epsilon company’s two miles north, Kappa’s eight to the southwest. Sigma…”
“Who’s in charge of Kappa?”
“Captain Dior!”
“Excellent. Now tell me your mother’s maiden name.”
“… What?”
Raven squeezed his arm tighter. Though the soldier flailed, he quickly lost consciousness and sank back onto the sand. After checking the saurite again to verify that he was still out, Raven went to work on the young soldier, starting with his canteen.
Moments later, he was walking toward the camp in a Republican Guard uniform: a blue-painted iron cuirass; bronze greaves, bracers, and a helmet painted with yellow salamander spots; and dark leather gauntlets and skirt. His belt held the xuparia, a mid-length, double-edged sword, and a smaller kurio short sword as an auxiliary; Raven’s spare dagger was strapped inside his boot, above the ankle. The armor was tight around the midsection and a hair short in the arms, but the key to having it look right was to move quickly and confidently, which Raven could do, despite having only skeletal knowledge of the particular military unit he was infiltrating, and despite being within shouting distance of a soldier and a southern swamp-swimmer who would wake up very angry at him soon enough. Most of the troops at the camp were gathered around fires or on watch. He went right for a pair of soldiers–simple armsmen and not landed knights from the looks of their plainer armor–who sat lazily on boxes of grain. They ate scraps of bird meat off the bone and watched over the makeshift corral of ropes and pikes, which enclosed eleven or twelve horses, mostly Wakari Ashen, a fine breed of warhorse.
“Where’s Sergeant Palapanit?” Raven demanded, adopting a reasonable facsimile of a northern Iyan accent.
“In town,” answered the plump soldier with a thick moustache. “Why?”
“Dammit,” Raven said, briefly waving his journal. “Captain Dior has a message for him. Has to get to him immediately. I’ll need to take a horse.”
“Where’s yours?” asked the thinner, older soldier with a glass eye.
“Reared up after seeing a damned snake a few miles back, and fell onto a rock. Broke its leg. Had to put the judgéd thing out of its misery.”
Moustache squinted, seeing with only the light of a campfire and the stars. He said, “You look terrible. You look all…”
“Dried up? Thanks for noticing,” Raven said, helping himself to the small tin of water set beside Moustache. After a long gulp, he explained, “I shouldn’t be telling you this, but we think someone’s been poisoning Kappa’s water supplies. A friend of mine got it bad, and might not make it through the night. It’s gotta be those judgéd sand-drinkin’ nomads if you ask me.”
Glass Eye paused from sipping from his own tin. “Poisoned?”
“Yeah. I’m so damned parched, I’ll trust that you guys haven’t gotten hit yet, but keep an eye out,” said Raven as he loosed the strongest-looking filly, tossed on a saddle, and mounted while Moustache helped to hold it still. “Thanks. Command’s trying to keep this a secret for some reason, so let’s keep what I said between us. Just stay alert. Look out for strange people around the camp.”
“You think they’re coming here?” asked Glass Eye, unnerved.
“We’ll see, but I’d watch those horses. Thieves always go for the horses before anything else. Good luck, my friends. Hi-ya!”
Raven galloped into the darkness to the east.

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