Last week, a fantasy anthology came out that contains, amongst other great entries, another short from my Necrolopolis universe. Check out Songs of Valor for the short story “On a Wing and a Train” where Addy has to infiltrate an elven Root Way train to rescue a ghost at risk of exorcism by the undead-hating race of pointy-ears. And, while he’s there, potentially save the world from a soul-devouring demon. Oh, and his only backup is a succubus who has a tendency to go her own way when she’s needed the most. Will our necromancer hero survive long enough to complete his mission? There’s only one way to find out!
Oh, and did I mention that Larry Correia, David Weber, and Glen Cook all have stories in this anthology? I’m sure you’re coming for Adelvell and Necrolopolis, but make sure to stick around for those heavy-hitting writers, as well. They never disappoint!
Oh, and did I also mention that the guy with the glowing hand and skull is Adelvell, the protagonist of my Necrolopolis stories? It blew me away when Rob Howell told me he’d be on the cover! I saw the image and initially thought, “Oh, hey, one of the aforementioned heavy hitters has a necromancer in his story! Awesome!” Then I found out it was Addy and, well, mind blown.
In other anthology-related news, I have two stories due in and around March 31st, one for the sci-fi anthology reboot of the Starflight game series, and another for the urban fantasy thriller Hit World universe. After that, there are more stories due for at least three or four other anthologies of various genres and themes, with at least two of those additions to the Necrolopolis universe. Most of these haven’t been announced to the general public yet, and I forget which ones have been, so for now the veil of secrecy is on all of them. When I know I can mention them, I will!
In the meantime, here is a short excerpt from “On a Wing and a Train” available in Songs of Valor! Get it free with Kindle Unlimited, for $4.99 in Kindle EBook, and it’s also available in paperback!
“I need to get away for a few days,” I muttered.
“Careful what you wish for,” a sing-song voice answered.
I jumped and spun around, the sack of skulls slapping my backside. A beautiful lady stood nearby, her red irises shining in the gloom. “Mina? Mortus, you scared me!”
Mina’s blonde ringlets danced about her face as she laughed. “Sorry, Addy! That wasn’t my intent.” She clasped her hands behind her back and leaned forward. “Well, maybe a little. It’s rare to see a necromancer who gets spooked so easily.”
Of course. I held up the sack. “I was coming to see you.”
“Mr. Landas again?”
“Yes, and these ‘relatives’ of his haven’t paid their interment fee, nor do I think they can afford it.”
“I see.” Mina made a face, but her smile soon returned. “I’ll take care of that. You need to get to the Hall and gather your things. You’re needed for an assignment outside the city.”
Did I mention that concurrent new moons often brought ill tidings? My stomach churned. The last time I’d left the city on official business, I had chased down a gang who carved up ghouls and sold their limbs to amputees and wealthy eccentrics. It hadn’t been pleasant.
“What’s the situation?”
“Oh, nothing as messy as last year.” She removed a letter from a blouse pocket and held it up. “An old friend of mine was killed and has returned as undead. She needs our help.”
Were it anyone else, this seeming nonchalance at a friend’s death and reanimation would be disturbing. But, Mina was an immortal being who’d spent centuries managing the affairs of the restless dead. Many of her friends had likely walked this same path.
The skulls’ chattering grew louder. I shook the sack to quiet them, but they only squawked more. I raised my voice as I asked, “She can’t reach the city on her own?”
“She has to be careful of her movements at the moment.” Mina took the sack of skulls from me. The chattering ceased the instant her fingers touched leather. No matter how cheerful her disposition on most days, one did not cross Lady Grimina, the half-human daughter of Mortus, god of death. “It’ll be dangerous, so I’ve asked Lilana to tag along.”
“The proprietress of Oblivion’s Joy?” I blurted. Heat instantly flooded my cheeks. “Er, not that I’ve ever been there, mind you.”
“Uh-huh.” Mina’s eyes twinkled. “Normally I wouldn’t believe a man who reacted that way, but you’re a special case.”
In truth, I had been to the city’s succubus brothel on several occasions, but only for drinks. Lilana, the teasing minx, refused to accept my patronage beyond that, and it was the same with any necromancer. That afforded me a lot of frustrated time to witness how much coin she and her kind earned from both the living and the undead still capable of such things. I wasn’t sure who was thirstier: the clientele, or the shape-shifting demonesses.
I frowned. “Why Lilana?”
“The target is a mutual friend of ours.” Mina tapped the letter with a finger. “She’ll keep you safe.”
“Safe? Can’t I use my magic?”
“I wouldn’t recommend it, not where you’re going.”
“Oh, don’t worry so much.” Mina slipped her free arm through mine and pulled me down the street. “It’ll be fine.”
“How is this fine?” I murmured as I stepped onto the wooden platform at the edge of an icy lake. A mix of humans, gnomes, dwarves, and elves milled about, but I kept my distance. “How is this even a good idea?”
Lilana leaned close, her tan face shadowed by a broad-brimmed hat. “What’s the matter, Addy?” Her hot breath smelled of jasmine. “Nervous?”
We faced a dark, knotty root twice the height of a man. This was a tendril of A’Ealfarnien, the World Tree, and one of many such entrances into the Root Ways, a magical roadway the elves controlled.
I shivered and drew my traveler’s cloak tight. “Of course I’m nervous. Elves don’t hold necromancers in high regard.” An understatement. Necromancy carried the death sentence. “If I’d known this was the job, I’d have refused.”
“So you’ve said every day for the last week. And yet here you are.” She arched an eyebrow. “Why?”
On the way back to Necrolopolis Hall the evening I dealt with Mr. Landas, Mina had filled me in on more details. Lilana and I were to travel to the Graendelvale Marshlands and board a living carriage train in order to smuggle an undead elf out of the Root Ways. Her interment fee had been paid in full, with a bonus for the danger involved for me. And the danger for her was even worse than for me. If discovered, she would be exorcised immediately. That meant her soul would be obliterated, never to cross the Veil into the afterlife.
My duty in this situation was clear, and the bonus money didn’t hurt, either. If all went as planned, we’d be back in the odorous confines of the city within a week, two if our undead charge wasn’t ambulatory. Still, I couldn’t shake the fear that something awful would happen. Damn those new moons. “What if we get caught?”
“Why, Addy, if that were to happen, I’d unfurl the black wings wrapped around my tight little body, scoop you up, and fly us to safety.” Her smile stretched enough to reveal a fang. “As to whether you survived what happened next…well, we’ll have to see.”
Before I could entertain the thought, an oblong section of the root slid open, revealing a tunnel filled with blue luminance. A wave of balmy air blew out of the portal, and the sudden warmth against my freezing cheeks sent another shiver down my spine. The blessedly hot air carried a low rumble that steadily grew to a roar. “Here’s the root train,” Lilana said. “Try not to gape like a fool.”
A series of linked cylindrical carriages made of living wood and glass soared past the portal, first as a blur and then with more detail as the train slowed. Each carriage was a work of art unto itself: richly colored wood panels adorned the outer walls; trim so freshly painted it looked wet bordered each window and doorway; leafy canopies adorned the rounded roofs, fed by water misting from the root’s ceiling; and ornate scrollwork ran along the carriages’ bottoms, the runes glowing with soft white light.
Lilana jabbed my arm. “You’re gaping.”
I snapped my jaw shut, but the sense of awe remained. The whole setup raised many questions. Where had the elves come up with such an idea? How had they grown the train carriages? How did they even fit? The root wasn’t physically big enough to hold the train and all that empty space between the ceiling and the carriages’ canopies. And what happened when the World Tree’s tendrils shrank the further they went from the trunk?
Fae magic was a wondrous thing, indeed.
As the train came to a halt, a single carriage filled the oval portal. Its doors opened and a forest sprite drifted out on fluttering wings. “All aboard!”
Lilana and I hung back in the rear as everyone lined up. A group of dwarves huddled nearby, miners if the pickaxes and hammers were any indicator. They laughed and carried on about how much ale they’d pound down between here and their destination.
A drink wouldn’t be a bad thing right about now, that was for sure. I licked my lips, and tried to steady my nerves as we boarded the train.
Lilana pressed a hand
against my back and gave me a gentle push. “No going back now,” she whispered.