Preview of Book Two of the Aeternum Chronicles

Preview of Book Two of the Aeternum Chronicles

Artwork by jakejk

The Battle of Masada

Anzien vaulted over a fallen log as she sprinted through the forest, her braided red hair trailing behind. Fat raindrops fell from the sky, penetrating the canopy above and soaking the hood of her dark green cloak. Masada’s war horns blared once again, temporarily drowning out the faint sounds of steel clashing, and soldiers dying. It had been two days since she’d left Tectum Caverns, choosing to return to Masada instead of aiding Khalil’s raid on New Arcadia. She had run through the night, driven more by worry than a desire to fight. Even so, she wasn’t sure whether or not she’d made it in time. Simeon better not have gotten himself killed.

Wet leaves brushed against her face as she ducked under a low bough, then leapt over a large, moss covered log. Her heart pounded in her chest, and adrenaline filled her veins, obliterating her fatigue. After a long, exhausting night, she was finally close. Close enough to smell the smoke, though she still couldn’t see it. She burst from the trees into a small clearing, glancing up at the darkened sky as she ran. Should be morning by now.

She was stopped in her tracks by a drawn out, bloodcurdling death-cry up ahead. Instinctively, she drew the dagger at her side, and the short-sword sheathed on her back. Her training kicked in, and she kept her head low as she ran quietly toward the chilling sound.

She ducked behind a tree, having heard unsettling tearing and crunching noises ahead. Peering around, she spotted a hairless, gray-headed creature crouched over a lifeless body. The creature’s arms jerked violently as it worried at the fresh corpse. She moved in closer, and its head suddenly popped up, cocking to one side. Anzien held her breath and waited. After a moment, it went back to its kill, carelessly discarding unwanted organs and bones over its shoulder.

She leaned back against the tree, attempting to control her breathing. You’ve been trained for this. Trust your instincts. She tried to talk herself down, but was unable to unravel the knot in her belly. At least my hands have stopped shaking. She took a deep breath, readied her weapons, and charged out from behind the tree.

She took one step and froze. It’s gone. Only the mutilated corpse remained. Fear gripped her. Your training…remember your training! She glanced around nervously. The trees! Hasai hide in the trees! A crash of thunder fractured the sky, and she looked up to see the bloodied gray creature falling silently toward her from the branches above. She raised her dagger and deflected its black blade, then rolled away and rose to face it. A flurry of guttural whispers filled her head, threatening to drown out all thought. The creature’s black mouth moved in a blur; its eye sockets were grown over with sinewy spotted flesh. She was easily a head taller, but in this case, size was no indication of strength. How many times had she imagined this very moment? Easily more than a thousand, yet nothing could have prepared her for the real thing.

It bobbed its head twice, then launched at her. Anzien defended, using both weapons to block the flurry of attacks. It was all she could do to keep its claws and blade from her flesh. It’s so fast! She sidestepped and deflected a blow, then swung her short-sword toward its exposed flank. The creature easily dodged it, leapt up, and brought its blade down toward Anzien’s head with both hands. She realized her mistake and raised her dagger to defend, but it was too late. The black blade slid off her dagger and slashed across her cheek as she jerked her head away. Warm blood streamed down her face and pooled in the neckline of her cloak. She leapt back, resisting the urge to drop her weapon and clutch the wound.

The hasai made a throaty, clicking sound, excited by the sight of her blood. Anzien steeled herself. She would not die here. Not while Simeon still needed her. She flicked her wrists, re-gripping her blades so they pointed toward the ground. “You’re going to regret that,” she growled, and charged with a scream. She feigned high, then spun low, deflecting an attack overhead. Leveraging the momentum from her spin, she kicked the mangy creature in the ribs. It flew sideways into a tree, and bounced off onto the ground. Before it could recover, she leapt, driving both blades into it—one in the chest, and the other into its sword arm. The hasai was pinned, but far from dead. It writhed beneath her, its free arm raking a fresh wound down her neck. She grunted from the pain and grasped it by the wrist, slamming it down. Wrenching her short sword free from its chest, she drove the blade down into the fleshy eye socket of the unnatural creature.

The whispers faded as its black mouth went slack, and its pinned arm no longer fought for her throat. Anzien’s chest rose and fell as she stared at the dead hasai. I did it, she thought. She should have felt relief, but there was a nagging worry at the back of her mind. Suddenly she remembered, Away! She snapped out of her shocked state and leapt off the creature, just as a low boom assaulted her eardrums. Landing roughly on the forest floor, she arched her back to avoid a pointed rock jabbing into her ribs. Stupid girl! she chided herself, Still as green as the first day of training! She rolled off the rock and gently touched the wound on her cheek. The blood appeared to be clotting. She’d been lucky it wasn’t deeper.

Anzien sat up. Her eyes grew wide at the stasis sphere surrounding the dead hasai. Small motes of dust and leaves were frozen in mid-air, and rain drops had begun to accumulate on the outer edges. Her heart sank. There, still embedded in the dead hasai, were her short sword and dagger. They would be stuck like that for days, along with anything else that entered the sphere. Preceptor Crane would not be pleased.

She would have to find more weapons, if she hoped to keep Simeon safe. It was a role she had taken on long before she and her little brother were exiled from New Arcadia. Even with blood on her face and the rain pouring down, memories of that time still lingered. Light coruscated through the raindrops frozen in the stasis sphere, and they glowed just like the luminous blue bugs that used to appear over her family’s front lawn in summer. Staring at them from where she sat on the forest floor, Anzien’s mind wandered back to a simpler time.

The first firebugs of the season had begun to float lazily over the grass, flashing their bulbous blue lights. Summer had arrived, and with it, a break from the usual pressures of classes, tests, and homework.

Tag, you’re it!” Simeon shouted with a grin as he slapped her arm and ran across the front yard. At nine years old, he was still at an age where playing such games didn’t make him self-conscious.

Anzien on the other hand, was nearly sixteen, and wanted nothing more than to be treated as an adult. She rolled her eyes, then gave in. “You are going to regret that!” she called, sprinting after him.

Anzien dove, reaching for Simeon’s ankle. “Gotcha!” she called, grasping it and sending him tumbling onto the grass.

“That’s not fair!” he shouted, grinning broadly.

“I’ll show you not fair,” Anzien threatened, pulling on his leg.

“No!” he cried, but it was too late—Anzien had already begun mercilessly tickling his ribs.

“Okay, okay!” he gasped between breathless giggles. “You win!”

Anzien grinned and sat with her legs folded beneath her, while Simeon lay on his back, panting.

“Dinner time!” Their father’s voice called from the front door, and they both turned toward him.

“Your lucky day,” Simeon said, sitting up and wriggling his fingers threateningly.

“Hah!” Anzien laughed, standing up. “You’ll just have to save it for next time. On your feet! You know how Dad gets when we’re late for dinner.” She ruffled his shaggy brown hair, and helped him up.

The familiar, slightly charred smell of their father’s cooking wafted down the hall to greet them as they stepped inside.

“Gourds again?” Simeon muttered.

“Shush,” Anzien scolded, though she secretly shared his lack of enthusiasm.

They stepped into the dining room, and Anzien noticed the table was only set for three.

Her father walked in carrying a large covered dish with two oven mitts.

“Where’s Mom?” she asked.

There was a barely perceptible flash of concern on his face, which he quickly masked with a smile. “Oh you know your mother, always working late…I hope you’re hungry!” He set down the covered dish, and lifted the lid. Steam rose up, along with the pungent aroma of overcooked gourds.

“Oh boy,” Anzien did her best to sound genuine.

Simeon grimaced, and Anzien elbowed him.

“Mmmmm!” he said unconvincingly.

The truth was, her dad was a horrible cook, but Anzien thought his effort was endearing, and didn’t want to hurt his feelings.

“I know my culinary repertoire isn’t exactly le meilleur…”

Anzien rolled her eyes, smiling. “It’s great Dad, thanks.”

After eating as much as they could stomach, Anzien and Simeon helped clean up, and set about relaxing for the evening. The hours passed, and there was still no sign of their mother. Anzien sighed. “Come on, Sim. Time for bed.”

“But I’m not tired!”

“I don’t care. Get moving,” she said, standing.

Their mother was around less and less lately. Her dad said it was work, but Anzien suspected it was something more. ‘We’re on the verge of a major breakthrough,’ she would say. That was how she justified it, but how could a cold, sterile lab be more important than their family? Anzien had seen where she worked. It was mind-numbingly boring; therefore, there had to be another reason she was gone so often, though ultimately, it didn’t matter what that reason was. Her mother was once again absent, and it fell to Anzien to fill the role of caring for her brother.

The clash of steel and screams of the dying drew Anzien out of her reverie, pulling her attention back to Masada. She took a deep breath and crept toward it as quietly as possible. Skirting wide around another skirmish, she eventually arrived at the tree line marking the divide between the forest and the fields surrounding the town’s outer walls. She took one look at the desperate scene, and her heart sank.

Having first heard of the impending attack two days ago, she had been hopeful for the survival of her fortified town and its people. That hope was now dead, and from its corpse rose a deep, foreboding dread. The sheer numbers alone all but guaranteed defeat.

A swarm of beasts surged against the wooden palisade surrounding the town’s southern defenses. Thick siege ladders had been propped up against the tall spiked logs, and dark shapes were climbing up over them. Anzien had helped build the spiked pits awaiting them on the other side, but judging by the size of the attacking force, they would likely be filled with bodies by now. A bolt of purple lightning forked across the darkened sky, illuminating a sea of frenzied, feral monsters as they clawed and climbed over each other, desperately scrambling to reach the besieged town. Anzien glimpsed a tall figure amid a mass of hasai. As the lightning faded, two white eyes remained, glowing in the darkness where the tall figure had stood. Breaker. She shivered.

At that moment, a ten foot section of the log palisade collapsed in on itself, crushed from all directions by some unseen force into a perfectly smooth wooden sphere. Large, snouted, feral beasts began pouring in through the gap.

Simmy! Anzien darted along the tree line, away from the main combat, toward northwestern side of the town. If memory served, she would find a secret hatch in the wall beside a guard tower there. She located what she hoped was the tower, and readied herself to leave the cover of the trees. It was a five minute sprint to the wall, during which she would be unarmed, and fully exposed. Small skirmishes had broken out across the field, but the fighting was nowhere near as intense as it was toward the southern side of town.

She leapt out from behind the trees and sprinted across the open field. The wind blew her hood back as her boots pushed off against the soft ground. A quick glance right revealed two man-sized, misshapen creatures. They were covered in coarse fur, and fighting over the remains of one of her people. The beasts yanked and tugged with their teeth, grunting and growling with the effort. It was like nothing she had ever seen.

She looked left, and saw another one across the field. It rose to full height and turned toward her. Standing erect, it was easily half again as tall as she was. Her breath came in quick short puffs as she pumped her arms and legs faster than she ever had in her life. Three guttural barks carried from behind over the sound of falling rain. They were answered a moment later. She glanced back and saw the barking beast loping after her on all fours with long, powerful strides.

Anzien clenched her jaw and willed her legs to carry her faster. The creature’s heavy limbs pounded on the wet grass, now close enough to hear. She was still too far from the walls. I’m not going to make it. Mastering her fear, she prepared to turn and fight with only her hands and feet as weapons.

“Get down!” a woman’s voice called from the tower.

Anzien dove forward, rolling into a ball. Thwyp-thwyp! Two projectiles flew overhead, and she rolled to her feet at a run. She knew without looking that the beast was dead, and that more were coming.

With her eyes trained on where she believed the hatch in the log wall to be, she concentrated on speed. They know I’m coming. One hundred steps. Fifty…thirty. Still the hatch remained closed. Fifteen. She slowed to a jog and stopped before the blocked passage beside the tower. Maker, it was this one, wasn’t it? She turned and saw three more beasts, loping after her on long, powerful limbs.

Anzien pounded on the log.

A muffled voice shouted from the other side, “It’s stuck! I can’t get it open!”

She took a step back, and charged into it with her shoulder. The wood held, and she bounced off painfully. She shook her head to clear it, and charged again. Her shoulder exploded with pain as she crashed into the log. This time it gave, her weight flipping it up. She careened through the opening, bowling over the soldiers on the other side. After tumbling to a stop in the thick mud, she quickly stood and hurried to help close the log hatch. More soldiers joined her, pulling the log back down. Anzien slammed the draw bar across it, and a deep thud shook the whole wall less than a second later.

Her chest heaved as she stood, staring at the barrier. One foot of wood was the only thing standing between her and evisceration.

“Anzien! You’re alive!” one of the soldiers cried, snapping her out of her daze. “You look like hell.”

Flooded with the euphoria of evading death, she turned to face the grinning defender and fired back, “And somehow still better looking than you.” She would have smirked, but her face hurt too badly to try. “Thanks for the help, Taybor.”

He nodded, still smiling. “Wasn’t me who shot that ugly beastie through the eye at three hundred paces. Only one person here could’ve pulled that off.”

Anzien nodded. Dulari. She was the best archer Masada had ever seen, and she knew it.

“She’s still up there, pickin’ ‘em off where she can. Have you ever in your life seen beasts like these? And here I thought Crane was the scariest thing alive.”

Anzien understood why Taybor wasn’t more afraid—he hadn’t seen the front of town. “Situation report?” she asked.

“Been pretty quiet back here, but last I heard, those monsters were pouring over the wall in no small number.”

“How long ago was that?”

“Not more than ten minutes.”

Anzien swallowed. Ten minutes was an age in battle.

“Listen to me. Gather these soldiers and retreat through the Wyrewood.”

Taybor shifted on his feet. “All due respect Anzien, but you’re a Runner…not my commanding officer, and we have orders to guard this tower.”

Boil it. I don’t have time for this. “Taybor,” she gripped his shoulders, “There are Breakers out there. These walls won’t protect you from them. I’ve got to go find Simeon, but I’ll be back. If you’re not gone by the time I return, I’ll carry you out by your belt-strap!”

She pulled up her hood and ran past the inner barricade, down a pathway lined with small, functional wooden buildings. Her boots splashed on the muddy road leading through the center of town. She made for the town hall, where Simmy and the other new recruits should be holed up. “He shouldn’t even be here,” she muttered. She still remembered clearly the shock of learning he’d enlisted three weeks ago. Simeon was by no means soldier material, but his naïve desire to make her proud led him to think it was a good idea to join the Ko’jin at fourteen years of age. If anything happens to him… She continued running and passed a group of soldiers, who were rushing to provide support to another part of the town.

The hall was up ahead—one of the few stone buildings in Masada, used for everything from trials to public celebrations. Right now it was a fortified bunker.

She jogged up to the entrance, and immediately noticed something amiss. Where is the guard? She approached and banged on the heavy wooden doors. “Open up! It’s Runner Tsierig!”

A voice cracked as it called from above, “It’s Anzien, let her in!”

There was a loud thunk, and the iron-banded wooden doors slowly swung open. She was greeted by a group of nervous adolescents, most still at the dawn of their teenage years.

She looked them over, and they stared back with wide eyes.

“Her face…” a girl said quietly from the back.

Despite their unease, there was a current of excitement running through them. Anzien found what looked to be the oldest one and addressed him, “You. What’s your name?”

“Recruit Lewson,” he said, saluting with a fist over his heart.

“Someone should be stationed outside the door…Where is my brother?” She looked to the stairwell and called, “Simeon?”

“I’m up here!” he answered over the stone railing above, then jogged toward the stairs.

“There was someone guarding outside,” a female recruit said, “but he left.”

Lewson nodded. “Once we realized he was gone, we stationed two recruits upstairs to keep watch.”

Anzien nodded. They weren’t fully incapable, then. Recruits weren’t meant to fight. Had it been up to Anzien, they would be in the Shattered Peak Stronghold with the civilians and children. As it was, they were ordered to hold position in the town, so as not to bring shame upon themselves. A stupid excuse if I’ve ever heard one, she thought. What does shame matter if you’re dead?

Simeon reached the bottom of the stairs and ran over. “Anzi!” His smile faltered when he saw the blood covering her face and neck. “Are you okay?” he asked, worry creasing his brow.

She smiled from the corner of her mouth that wasn’t covered in blood. “I’ll be fine.” She stepped up to him and placed a hand on his shoulder. He seemed to relax a little, though he still looked worried.

She changed the subject. “Have you seen anything from the balcony?”

“Just some soldiers running down the road…too dark to see more than that.”

She nodded and looked over the small group that had gathered. She counted thirteen of them. It was more than likely none had fought with anything more than a practice sword.

“I need weapons,” she said, scanning the large, open room. As recruits, they themselves would have nothing more than a standard issue utility knife. The Command Strategy Room, she thought, remembering the blades mounted on the wall there. She walked briskly to the room and pulled open the door.

A long, polished wooden table stretched the length of the chamber, and sure enough, blades lined the walls, crossed and mounted on wooden plaques. She pulled down a long dagger and short-sword, testing them for sharpness before sliding each into their respective sheathes. She turned around. The young recruits had followed her, and were looking eagerly up at the weapons.

“You, you…and you.” She chose the oldest, most competent looking ones, and armed them. Simeon was not among them. He’d be just as likely to cut off his foot as to properly defend himself.

The crowd of recruits parted to let her pass, and she strode to the large wooden doors at the main entrance. Muffled bellows from the town’s war horns could be heard through the thick wood. Anzien turned to face the recruits.

“I’ve got to report in at the front lines. They’ll need a Runner to spread the word if the battle has turned.” Which it likely has already. “Get a body on that balcony and watch for attackers. She looked at Simmy. “You ring that bell if anything comes knocking. Understand?”

He nodded.

“It’s too dangerous for you to leave now, but I’ll be back to lead you out. Until then, sit tight, and keep quiet. Help me with this draw bar.” They lifted the bar and pushed the doors open to let her out.

Simeon called out to her as she left, “Anzi.”

She turned to see his face, stricken with fear and worry. She hardened her expression, doing her best impression of Preceptor Crane.

Simeon clenched his jaw. “Stay safe.”

Maybe he was growing up. She nodded and ran out into the rain. As she neared the front lines, she spotted a slain warrior lying in the road, his blood mingling with the rain and mud. She recognized him immediately. Baeron. He was another Runner from her squad. She knelt down and closed his eyes, then drew her weapons and continued cautiously down the road.

After several minutes of splashing through the streets and cutting through alleyways, the war horns grew louder, as did the shouting and ringing of steel. Anzien burst out from between the buildings into a scene of pure mayhem. Monstrous attackers poured over and through the walls. Piles of wood and debris marked efforts to block the gaps, but the dark shapes were easily climbing over them. One of the watch towers had completely collapsed, engulfed in flames. Much as she’d expected, the spiked pits inside the walls were filled with the dead—a gruesome welcome mat for those that followed.

It was a grim sight. She would have called the battle lost, even without her tactical training. There were several large barricades still standing between the horde and the town. Archers rose up from behind them, firing arrows, and ducking back down to nock. Between the barricades and the walls, men and women fought desperately and died at the hands of the inhuman attackers.

Anzien scanned the barricades, searching for her commanding officer. She ran to the closest one and ducked down behind it, next to a man wearing an officer’s badge.

She shouted to be heard over the chaos, “I’m looking for Preceptor Crane! Do you know where he’s stationed?”

The commander stood and shouted, “Burn the walls! Set them alight! Send these devils back to the wretched pit they spawned from!”

The archers drew arrows from nearby buckets, and lit them from sheltered torches placed along the barricade. They loosed, and the wall ahead burst into flames. The beasts that had been scaling the log palisades shrieked in pain and tumbled down as their fur caught fire. Anzien watched with concern as the carnage unfolded before her.

“Last I heard, he’s at the eastern line of defense, about three-hundred-fifty paces that way,”—he pointed in the general direction—“but that was an hour ago. They may have fallen back by now as others have.” It was impossible to see very far through the rain, smoke, and fighting.

Anzien nodded, rose, and sprinted in the direction he pointed. She ducked behind two more barricades, then found him at the third. He too was shouting orders, calling out formations and directing archers.

“Preceptor Crane!” she called.

He turned toward her, the tension of battle deepening the lines on his face. “Anzien. So, you’re still alive”—he took in her marred face and the dried blood on her neck—“though just barely by the looks of it.”

“Alive and kicking, Preceptor.” She placed a fist over her heart in salute. “What messages shall I run?”

He lowered his voice so that only she could hear, “You know as well as I do the town is lost. I’ve sent Runners to the northeast and western posts, alerting them to retreat.”

“I think I found one of them,” she said gravely. “Baeron’s body is back along the main road, in the residential quadrant.”

“Boil it all!” Crane stood up and shouted more commands, directing his warriors to fall back. The wall was now an inferno. It was only a matter of time before the whole thing came down.

“You’ll have to complete his mission. The western post is to retreat immediately. Once you’ve done that, I need you to head south along the River Crete until you reach Tethys Lake.” He glanced over his shoulder and shouted, “I said fall back you useless dregs! Have you got mud in your ears?” He turned back to her with intense focus, “Between Tethys Lake and the Ironwood is the garrison town of Loch Fyne. They must be warned of the impending attacks.” He gripped her shoulders, his eyes drilling into hers. “Thousands of lives are at stake, Anzien. You must not fail. Do you understand?”

Another garrison? I thought Masada was the only one… Anzien nodded, “Yes Preceptor.”

He released her shoulders. “We’ll hold them off here as long as we can. Get my soldiers to safety.”

“Understood, I won’t let—”

She was interrupted by an ominous tolling from the town hall bell tower.

Anzien looked back toward the town with dread. “The recruits!”


That’s all for now! If you’ve already read Recreance (Book One), and are hungry for more, be sure to sign up for my reader’s group below. You’ll receive a free copy of The Gathering Mask, a novella set in the same universe.

If you haven’t had a chance to read Recreance yet, you can learn more about it, and download it here.

Sneak Peek of Recreance Chapter One

Sneak Peek of Recreance Chapter One

Update: Recreance is now available on Amazon – Grab yours here!

Launch date is fast approaching, and things are ramping up here as we prepare for the debut release of Recreance: Book 1 of the Aeternum Chronicles on May 16th 2017!

I’m very excited to share with you the first chapter as a sneak peek of what’s to come. Without further ado, here is Chapter 1.

Fourteen hundred years after discovering the secret to eternal life, a battered humanity recovers from centuries of conflict known as the Aeternum Wars. Ruled by the all-powerful Ministry, what is left of humankind huddles in the geo-magnetic powered settlement of New Arcadia.

Chapter 1: Curiosity

It was a foggy, late fall day, and it was the last ordinary day Oren Hart would ever spend in New Arcadia. Deep within the colony’s residential ring, tiny dew droplets formed on the worn playground equipment in Periculum Park. The area was all but deserted, and the late day sun did little to burn off the strange fog hovering amidst the trees.

Oren collapsed into a swing. Its rusty chains squeaked as he pushed off gently with his feet. The low lying mist seemed out of place, but then it wasn’t unusual to have odd weather this time of year. The atmospheric generators could only do so much, and keeping crops alive in the outer ring was a priority for obvious reasons.

“I’m so nervous, Clem. It feels like I’ve already frozen up, and I’m not even in the exam room yet.” Oren shook his head and pushed the curly hair out of his eyes. He was tall for his age, bearing the lanky frame of an adolescent still fumbling through the final stages of puberty. “Seven days until vocats. There’s no way I’m going to be ready.”

“It’s not that bad,” Clementine said from the swing beside him. “Worst-case scenario, you end up cleaning toilets for the Ministry.” She grinned mischievously and jabbed a finger into his ribs. The smile brought an amber glow to her cheeks. She wore her raven-black hair the same as usual: pulled back into a ponytail, bangs swept across her forehead. The fact that Oren was two years her senior did little to dissuade her from teasing him. He buried his face in his hands and groaned.

“Come on dummy. I’m only joking. You’re going to do fine. Look at your father—big brains run in your family.”

“Says the girl who skipped two grades,” he muttered. “My father…” Oren ran a hand through his hair. “When he finds out I’ve failed he’s going to ship me off to the quarries. Clem, I’ll have to haul rocks all day…”

He waited for a response, but none came. “Clem?”

“Did you see that?” she asked. “Something moved out there.” She pointed to the forested edge of the park, toward the setting sun.

“Are you even listening to me?” Oren squinted in the direction she was pointing. “There’s nothing there.”

“I saw something moving. I’m going to check it out.”

Before he could object, she was on her feet jogging toward the trees.

“Clem! Hey! Wait up!” Oren leapt out of his swing and ran to catch up. I hate it when she does that.

“Shhh.” She motioned for quiet and slowed to a walk as they passed into the wood. Oren strained to see deeper into the fog, muttering under his breath.

There!” she whispered, pointing ahead.

Something was definitely moving. Clem crept forward and crouched behind some thorn bushes. Anxiety settled like a stone in the pit of Oren’s stomach, and he ducked behind the thick trunk of a nearby cedar. Peering around it, he could see a faint gray figure, crouching next to a small stream up ahead. Probably just some animal taking a drink, Oren thought. Clementine crept closer to get a better look.

“Clem wait,” Oren whispered. “It could be dangerous. We should go back…it’s getting dark.”

She ignored him and continued forward.

Why do I even bother?

She took three silent steps and froze.

“What is it?” Oren asked quietly. She reached back and covered his mouth. Seconds later, five dark, hooded forms leapt from tree to tree up ahead. They jumped down silently, forming a half-circle behind the oblivious gray figure and froze. Without warning, they pounced in perfect unison. Before their victim could turn around, she was pinned to the ground, struggling and screaming.

They stood her up, holding out her arms. One of the attackers stood behind her and roughly gripped her head, forcing her to face forward.

“What are they doing to her?” Oren whispered.

The forest grew darker, and a deep, throbbing vibration permeated the air. Oren felt nauseous. Whatever it was, it tugged him forward, producing an unsettling sense of vertigo. He looked down at his feet and realized he had been unconsciously leaning back to maintain his balance. He grimaced, and held tightly to the cedar he had hidden behind.

As if from the darkness itself, a human form melded into view from between the trees. It glided effortlessly toward the woman and slowed to a stop before her. Oren glimpsed an ashen white face, staring out from beneath the hood of a long black cloak. The creature pushed its hood back with gnarled bony hands, and Oren gasped. It wasn’t the pallid skin stretched thin across its skull that struck fear into his heart, nor was it the nearly non-existent nose, marked by two ragged holes in the center of its face. It was the overly large, rippling white eyes peering out at the helpless woman, ensnared in its trap.

“Your time is up, recreant” Its voice was deep, hollow…guttural. Oren could see crimson, blood-stained teeth when it spoke. He reminded himself to breathe.

The woman’s captors lifted her up off the ground, and her dangling legs were pulled toward the terrifying creature. She tried to turn her head away, but it was roughly jerked forward by the hooded figure behind her.

The creature waved a hand dismissively, and they set the woman down, stepping back. She bolted for the stream, but her body jerked to a stop mid-stride with one foot touching the ground. A solitary second passed, and she was violently spun around through the air until she was face to face with the white-eyed horror. She writhed as it spoke, inches from her face.

“Who—helped—you?” Each word dissolved into the next.

The woman’s back arched. Her arms and legs were pulled back, and the air behind her began to ripple.

“You will tell us what you know of the Ko’jin.”

She tried again to turn her head.

Her interrogator casually held out a hand, palm up, and slowly curled its fingers. The rippling bubble of air behind her contracted and her back arched further, eliciting several loud pops. She screamed in agony, startling some birds out of a nearby tree. He opened his hand slightly and she quieted, panting wildly.

Sobbing, she cried, “I don’t know, I don’t know!

His fingers contracted again, as did the force binding her. Blood vessels stood out on her forehead as she cried out in pain. Oren wanted to look away but couldn’t. Any more and her back would snap like a twig.

Again it relented.

Out of breath and still sobbing, she lowered her head and spoke. Oren could only catch a few words.

“I don’t … who they …  … communicated … written …”

“Someone inducted you. Give me a name!” Oren thought he detected a note of excitement in the questioner’s hollow voice.

She hesitated, and he growled at her, “Your kind are pathetic. Weak in both physicality and resolve. You. will. be. BROKEN!” The last word echoed in Oren’s ears from inside his own head.

Clem jerked backwards, coming to her senses. She gave Oren a terrified look and whispered, “Run!”

Oren snapped out of his trance, and the mortal danger of the situation crashed into him. Clem grabbed his sleeve and they ran as quietly as they could through the underbrush back toward the park.

From behind, a female voice screamed, “KHALIL! HIS NAME WAS KHA—” Silence followed.

Clem and Oren hit the grass of the park at a full sprint. They ran without slowing until they reached the corner store three blocks away. Ducking behind the building, they leaned against it, panting wildly. Oren bent forward with his hands on his knees.

“What…was…that?” he said between gasps, “We…we have to tell someone! That woman…”

Clementine was tough, but even she looked visibly shaken. “We tell no one,” she said urgently after recovering her breath. “Did you see those armbands? Those…things were Ministry, Oren. Unless you want to end up like her, you can never tell anyone about this. Ever.”

What? No, I don’t understand. There’s no way those…things were Ministry,” Oren stammered, and his panic threatened to return. “The Ministry aren’t monsters. I’ve seen Wards helping people.”

Listen,” Clementine leaned in and said, “You have no idea what they’re capable of, and if you want to keep all the blood on the inside of your body, you will keep your mouth shut.”

“Okay fine, look, I won’t tell anyone.”

Clem relaxed. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes.

“What do you think it was? The white-faced…thing, I mean.” Oren asked, unsure whether or not he really wanted to know. “Its eyes…”

“I think,” she said, then lowered her voice to a whisper, “I think it might have been a Breaker.”

“A Breaker? What’s that? How do you know?”

Quiet! Don’t say it so loud,” she scolded. “Before he left…my father…he worked for C-SEC.”

Oren furrowed his brow.

“Civilian Security,” Clem explained impatiently. “He was a city ward.”

Oren’s eyes widened. Clementine rarely, if ever spoke of her father.

“Years ago, when I was little, I remember him coming home late one night. It was the night before my seventh birthday, and I was too excited to sleep. Had I known I’d be the only one to remember I was turning seven, I wouldn’t have been awake,” she said matter-of-factly.

Clem’s eyes looked inward as she recalled that night. “I crept out of my room, and peeked around the corner. My Dad was sitting at the kitchen table. His uniform was unbuttoned and messy, which was strange. Mom was boiling water for tea. She was actually halfway lucid back then…things changed a lot after he left. Anyway, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. He looked worried, but also angry or something. I’d never seen him like that before.”

Oren pictured Clem’s mom and dad sitting at a small table late at night as she told him what happened.

“It was a routine drug bust. That’s what they told us. Same old, same old. Bust down the door, arrest the bad guys, and clear the house. Nothing we hadn’t done a hundred times before. So we get to this rundown shack in Seventeen West, and right away I can tell something’s up. No lights on, first of all, which ain’t all that unusual, but this place was quiet…dead quiet. I mean it, not even a stray dog barking. There’s almost always some racket goin’ on in the slums.

“So we get into position and bust down the door, only this time there were no drugs. There wasn’t even any perps inside, unless you count the scrawny old dusker huddled in the closet of the back bedroom. So we haul the guy out, who by the way has completely flipped his scrit at this point. We get two steps out the bedroom door, and something bad goes down. I can’t even explain it, Grayce, but the feeling in that shack changed. It was like the world forgot which way was up.

“I look at Haverford, and he’s lookin’ back at me. Neither of us knows what’s up but we can both tell something’s off. Then it happens. This—thing walks into the shack, only it’s really more sliding than walking. It looked old Grayce. I mean really old, like, the kind of old you only see in museums. And its eyes…they weren’t right. It moved toward us, so we drop the dusker and back up against the wall. I swear to god it looked at me with those eyes and growled. Growled! Like a boiling animal!”

“Shhh, you’ll wake Clementine,” Grayce warned, but he ignored her admonition.

“So here we are, cornered like rats in a cage, when the thing says in the scariest, blood-boiling voice I ever heard, ‘Leave us.’ Haver was out of there faster than a dust-junkie chasing his next fix, and I’ll be damned if I wasn’t right behind him. I don’t know what that thing did to the dusker, but the sounds coming from that shack were…unnatural. Later Haver tells me he’s heard of guys like that before. Said it was a Breaker…top level Ministry interrogator. I’ll be boiled before I look one in the eyes again.”

Oren leaned back against the dirty stucco wall of the convenience store, trying to imagine what it must have been like for Clem. Her eyes were still distant. They sat there like that for a while. “I don’t think I’ll be sleeping tonight…or ever again,” he said.

“It’s getting late,” Clem said, “we should probably get home.” She stood and brushed the dirt off the back of her grass-stained jeans.

They walked together in silence down a residential footpath that paralleled the levi-track. It was quiet, save the occasional Ministry levi-transporter zipping by. The night lamps flickered on, casting a dim yellow light on the path.

A low rumble reverberated through the night, and subsided just as quickly.

“Does it sound to you like the quakes are happening more often?” Oren asked, trying to get his mind off earlier events.

Clem seemed to be lost in thought. “More often? I hadn’t noticed.”

“I guess I could be imagining it, but it seems like they’re lasting longer too. I don’t know. It’s probably nothing…Hey Clem?”

She looked at him, obviously still troubled. She was usually better at hiding it.

“If things ever get…rough, at home I mean, you know, you can always come over, right? My parents love company, and they’re always telling me I need to be more social,” he laughed awkwardly.

“It’s fine,” she said tersely. Her expression softened. “I mean, thanks, but I can handle it.”

“Okay, right.” He nodded, and they continued walking. The night air cooled the sweat on Oren’s skin. They arrived at a hedge-lined walkway leading to a modest, two story home. Warm light emanated from the windows, and figures moved inside.

“Hey,” he said. “You wanna come in for dinner? My mom always makes extra, and—”

“No that’s okay,” the words rushed out of her mouth. “I’m already late, and my mom’s going to flip if I’m not home to clean up.”

“Got it. Well,” he paused, “be safe, okay?”

She smiled, exuding confidence. “Safe is my middle name, lamebrain. See you tomorrow.” She turned and continued south toward the apartment complexes beyond the edge of his neighborhood. He stood for a moment, watching her go.

“Tifl!” a voice whispered loudly from behind. Oren nearly jumped out of his skin, and spun around. The footpath was empty. Seriously? Could more weird stuff please happen to me tonight?

“Up here,” the disembodied voice called.

“Are you…in a tree?” Who hides in a tree?

The voice didn’t answer, but some of the branches moved, and the face of a dusk-aged man with wrinkles around his eyes peeked out between the leaves. He was mostly obscured by shadows.

“There is not much time. You must leave New Arcadia,” he spoke with a calm urgency that sent shivers up Oren’s spine. “Tonight.”

“What? Who are you?” Oren asked, backing up. He had spent his entire life in New Arcadia, and would spend the rest of it there too, as would every other human being as far as he knew.

“Who I am is not important. Listen to me, something terrible is coming. If you do not leave now, it will be too late. They are coming for you and your family.”

The blood drained from Oren’s face and he took another step backwards. “You’re insane. You better get out of here before I call the Wards.” His voice was shaking. After everything else that happened today, he was a hair’s breadth from fleeing in blind panic.

Oren turned and ran for the front door. He placed his hand on the doorknob and glanced back to see branches moving in a tree further down the street. He rushed inside, closed the door behind him and leaned back against it, taking deep breaths.

“Oren? Honey is that you?” his mother’s familiar voice called from the kitchen.

“Yeah mom, it’s me.” He took one more breath, doing his best to regain his composure.  A savory aroma wafted through the air, the kind that only comes from hours of slow roasted beef. He was so distracted by the day’s events that he hadn’t noticed how ravenous he’d become. Oren kicked off his shoes and walked in, relieved to be back in the familiar setting of his home.

He stopped, noticing for the first time that the living room was full of people. They were standing around and seated on couches, snacking on vegetables and chatting with one another.

The Ascension celebration! Everything else that happened that day fell away. Oren’s heart sank. This was the last time he would ever see Noni. Technically she was his double-great elder Magdalene, but he had always just called her Noni. She had lived nearly one-hundred and fifty years, and would soon be raised by the Ministry to pre-eminent status.

Oren’s Noni sat in a large, padded, throne-like red chair, formally decorated with elaborate, embroidered antimacassars. It was raised on a small platform, up against the wall beneath a portrait of the Patriarch. Oren secretly hated the gaudy painting, and was glad his father only brought it out when company was over.

His Noni had never looked so majestic. Her smooth skin and straight-backed posture belied a depth of years. She was specially dressed for the celebration, and her auburn hair, which was normally tucked up in a bun, cascaded down over her shoulders in thick, opulent waves.

She slowly swirled a glass of red wine, looking across the room at Oren and smiling with sad eyes. “My dear Oren, come and sit with your Noni for a moment,” she called to him over the din. Oren maneuvered his way through the crowded room, smiling and trying not to bump anyone. He sat in a chair beside her. She placed a hand on his. “Sweet child, I can still see the sunrise on your face. Remind me, how many years since you arrived in this world?” Her voice was gentle and soothing.

“Seventeen, Noni,” he answered.

“Ah, eheu fugaces labuntur anni,” she said quietly to herself. Oren was used to her quoting poets and philosophers, but he’d never heard that one before.

“What’s that mean, Noni?”

“It means that I will miss you very much, little sunbeam.”

They sat in silence for a moment.

“Are you…nervous? About the ceremony?” he asked with trepidation. It was strictly forbidden to criticize or question anything to do with Ascension.

“I won’t lie to you child, it is not the easiest idea to adjust oneself to.” She took a sip of wine. “I will be fine, you needn’t worry yourself.” Oren felt her hand twitch.

“I understand,” he said looking down. “I know you have to go, and that it’s supposed to be better…” Oren told himself he was going to be strong, and not cry. “I just wish it wasn’t so soon.”

“You are not alone in that,” she said gently. “Listen, I have something important to tell you.” She leaned forward and beckoned him closer so that no one else would hear. “My time here is limited, little one, and there are some things you should know before I’m gone.” Oren looked up at her expectantly. “Your father is a good man. He controls his own destiny. Most other men believe what they want to, their lives shaped largely by their desires. They condemn what they do not understand, and destroy the reasons for living so that they may live. You must be different, Oren.”

He looked into her blue-green eyes questioningly.

“The coming winds bring small change, but great things come from small beginnings. Other things,” a hint of a smile crossed her lips, “collapse of their own weight.”

Oren furrowed his brow, attempting to decipher the meaning behind her words.

“You are still young, child, and have much to learn of the world. Do not take all you hear at face value, and do not value all you face without careful consideration.”

Oren nodded, “Yes Noni.”

“Good boy,” she said smiling fondly. She cupped his face in her hands. “Above all, remember that no matter how bad things get, you must not despair. We are capable of far more than you could ever imagine.” She looked for a moment at his face, then said, “Now be a good son and help your mother in the kitchen. She has many mouths to feed tonight.”

“Yes Noni,” he repeated, standing up and making his way to the kitchen. He had a lot to think about, and spent much of the night trying to process it all. His chest ached fiercely at the thought of never seeing Noni again. He knew in his head that it was right for this to happen, but his heart was conflicted. He helped to clean up after all the guests had gone home, and when the end of the night finally came, he collapsed onto his bed and fell asleep still wearing his clothes.

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H.G. Chambers Ground Crew

H.G. Chambers Ground Crew

Hello Everyone!

Thank you for the “likes” and showing interest in Recreance – even before it’s come out!  As one of the series’ earliest fans, we’d like to invite you to join the H.G. Chambers Ground Crew!

What is the Ground Crew, you ask? It’s an elite group of influencers and early adopters who get inside access to exclusive content and promos in exchange for helping spread the word about Recreance, and other future titles written by yours truly.

As a member of the Ground Crew, you’ll have my eternal gratitude, and the opportunity to…

Get a whole bunch of awesome stuff!

  • First 10 members will receive a free autographed copy of Recreance paperback version (available early June)
  • First 20 members will receive a free eBook version of Recreance (available mid May)
  • Get early access to exclusive content, including sneak peeks of unreleased books
  • Participate in Ground Crew members only polls including the chance to name a character in a future book
  • Access to the Ground Crew Facebook group where we can chat about anything and everything, including fun on the ground tactics. It’s a place where I’ll answer questions about writing, the business, my books, or your books (should you be writing one).
  • Super Contributors (those who share and promote more than most) will receive even more special goodies in the mail!

Here are some things you can do to share Recreance and the Aeternum Chronicles series…

All you need to do is…

Read your free copy of Recreance, and tell a friend or family member what you think of it. If you enjoyed it, an Amazon review would be even more powerful and appreciated.

If you really like it, and want to do more, here are some additional ways to get involved:

  • Discuss the books and share promo materials with friends and family on social media to spread the word.
  • Sign up for the newsletter
  • Post before/after book launches on facebook and/or twitter (copy provided so it’s as easy as copy/paste/share).
  • Buy Recreance the first week of release, which helps it get on the bestseller lists.
  • Share your (honest) review of the book via Amazon.
  • Ask your local library to order Recreance by H.G. Chambers.

Remember, do whatever you feel comfortable doing, even if it’s just one thing…though of course I’ll be your biggest fan if you do them all!

Even if all you do is tell or email your friends/family about Recreance, that would be amazing, and will start to build momentum ahead of the book’s release date (May 15, 2017). The more people you tell the better.

Ready to join up? Click the button below and be one of the first!

Thank you for your support!

All the best,

H.G.

Cover Design for Self Published Authors

Cover Design for Self Published Authors

Coming up with a good cover for your book is not easy. There are so many considerations, and they can vary greatly depending on genre. Once you actually have an idea, finding the right artist can also be tricky and expensive. Having just recently gone through this process myself, I thought I’d offer up a few tips based on what I’ve learned. Note that many of these tips may be broadly applicable, but my focus was on fantasy and sci-fi.

What should the book cover do?

  • Convey the genre of your book at a glance
  • Engage your intended audience
  • Remain consistent with the feeling of your story
  • Clearly present the Title and Author names (not too busy)
  • Look good as a thumbnail (relevant to eBooks only)
  • Remain consistent with other books in the series

Steps for creating a cover for your book

1. Look at relevant examples

Head over to the kindle website and search for best selling books in your genre. Save the images of the ones you like and keep them in a folder for reference. Remember, you’re going for a “feeling” here. You don’t want to copy the exact format of another book, or yours won’t stand out.

2. Get something down on paper

So maybe you have some ideas of what your cover may consist of, but like me, you have very little skill as an illustrator. Even if your best artwork consists of stick figures, crooked lines and uneven shapes, do your best to get your ideas down. Don’t take too much time here, just something. Here’s a rather embarrassing example of my early efforts.

 

3. Shopping for an artist

This can be an incredibly time consuming process…but it can also be lots of fun! Here are some resources for finding an artist for the cover of your book:

Deviant Art
A fantastic website for finding illustrators. Just search for what you’re looking for (i.e. desert fantasy illustration). Once you find artwork you like, send the artist a message and ask them if they do commissions. I’ve contacted many, and found the range to be anywhere from $200 – $1,000. Make sure you ask about typography as well, as some require you to do this yourself or have someone else do it.

Fiverr
This resource can be hit or miss. You will definitely find cheaper artists, but you get what you pay for. There are lots of talented artists, but be prepared to hit language barriers, deal with the occasional fraudulent seller, and sift through a lot of not so great stuff. The most important thing for this site is to LOOK AT THE ARTIST REVIEWS. Don’t hire anyone without reviews.

Sometimes it’s easiest to just go with an artist who focuses specifically on book covers. If you’re lucky, you may find a pre-designed book cover that fits your story.

Here are some book cover specific artists:
https://humblenations.com/
http://www.tomedwardsdesign.com/
https://ebooklaunch.com/

4. Working with the artist

Now that you’ve finally found your DaVinci, it’s time to share with them your vision. Some artists like a lot of direction, some prefer to take the ball and run with it. Either way, make sure you are as clear as possible on your ideas. This includes explaining what parts you’re flexible on, and what elements must be included.

If the artist is experienced, I’d recommend giving them the leeway they need to bring your vision to life. If you have a disagreement, remember, they are the professional illustrator, and probably know more about things like composition, light, colour, etc. than you or I do.

If the artist is green, they may require more direction. Some will ask you to be as explicit as possible.

Important: Make sure you are involved throughout the process! Ask them to provide a rough sketch (or multiple for you to choose from), give feedback and make changes in this early stage. It will save you and the artist a lot of time/trouble.

Ultimately, your success is the artist’s success. Remember, these people work for money – don’t expect them to make huge changes late in the game, or start over from scratch without charging to do so.

5. Give credit

This may not seem like a big deal, but I can assure you artists really appreciate it when you credit them for their work in your book. It’s also incentive for them to do a good job – would you want to put your name on something you’re not proud of? Didn’t think so!

Bonus

I’m in the final stages of cover design for Recreance. Here are some rough sketch ideas for the project so far. The artist I’ve been working with is Rob Joseph (found on deviant art). Below are some concept sketches he came up with. Check back soon to see the final cover design!

 

Blurbs are hard!

I don’t think I need to tell you how important a good blurb is. The small bundle of words on the back of your book have the arduous task of representing the thousands of words within. It’s no secret that a blurb can make or break a book.

After spending days, nay weeks refining the blurb for my own book, Recreance, I have finally landed on what I hope is the final (though let’s be honest, these things are never really finished). I am not an expert, but I thought I might share some tips and information that I came across along my journey. Without further ado…

Step One – Research

If you are writing a blurb, or thinking of writing one, stop. Open up a browser, search “bestselling <your genre here> amazon” and read the blurbs. Pick books that look like they fit the theme of yours, and maybe a couple that don’t. Read at least 15-20, and refer back to your favorites as you write.

Step Two – Write (within the rules)

Dive in, but remember these key rules:

It is commonly stated that a blurb should do the following things:

  1. Introduce the world (more common in fantasy)
  2. Introduce the character(s)
  3. Explain their plight
  4. Convey what is at stake for the character
  5. Create Intrigue (most important)

Books with multiple character streams (e.g. Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings)
In some cases, the blurb is broken up to give a little tidbit for each character. If you plan to do this, it is critical that you create a common theme (e.g. war, religion, famine), or at the least a geographical relationship (e.g. across the ocean) to link one character to the next.

Length
Most will recommend you keep your blurb under 200, or even 150 words, though I have seen best selling authors go over. If the text will be on the back of a printed book, you will have less room to make it long. If it’s for an e-book, you might be able to get away with a few extra words.

A taste of your writing style
Use the same writing style that you do in your book. Give readers a taste of your prose, and maybe even a peek into your character’s personality.

Tense
You will want to write your blurb in the present tense. It helped me to think of this as if I were explaining it to a friend, or listening to a movie trailer. Keep it current, keep it punchy and if you can, keep me wanting more. The present tense rule isn’t hard and fast though. You can get away with past tense when sharing details about the world, or explaining how a character ended up where they are now.

Step Three – Refine

Be ruthless. Trim it down. Yes, that line was amazing, but is it absolutely necessary? Does it build intrigue? If not, cut it. You want to make sure every word has a purpose.

Step Four – Feedback

Now that you’ve toiled for hours and hours, writing, refining, and throwing away only to start from scratch, you finally have what you hope is a decent peek into the world you’ve created. It’s perfect! Isn’t it? Maybe it is, but chances are other people will catch things you missed.

Unless you are selling your book to hundreds of thousands of version of yourself, you will want other people to give their take. Share it with family, friends, other authors, and be prepared to make changes. Keep what changes you like, reject the ones you don’t. Tell them what you are trying to accomplish (see step 2).

Above all, don’t take offense! These people have taken time out of their day to help you – they deserve your gratitude.

Step 5 – Promotion

Congratulations! You did it. Now use your new blurb to promote your book left right and center. Remember, though “finished”, it isn’t set in stone. You can always go back and change it (on copies you haven’t printed, anyway).

And Finally

Here is the blurb for Recreance, Book 1 of the Aeternum Chronicles.

Coming soon:

Recreance

Book 1 of the Aeternum Chronicles

Available May 2017

When death is overcome, life may never survive.

Fourteen hundred years after discovering the secret to eternal life, a battered humanity recovers from centuries of conflict known as the Aeternum Wars. Ruled by the all-powerful Ministry, what is left of humankind huddles in the geo-magnetic powered colony of New Arcadia.

When his parents are murdered by Ministry Breakers, seventeen-year-old Oren is forced to flee into the deadly Miralaja desert, leaving behind his best friend Clementine, and the life he once knew. As clues of his past fall into place, so too are the dark designs of the Ministry laid bare.

Back in New Arcadia, Clementine is driven to the streets, where she is faced with a choice—steal, or starve. Not one to give up, Clem adapts and thrives, using her mastery of geo-tech to earn a small fortune, and a large reputation. Everything was going brilliantly until she took a job infiltrating a Ministry Defense building. Now she too must flee New Arcadia with a dark secret she dares not ignore.

On an epic journey of secret magic and ancient mysteries, Oren and Clementine find themselves fighting not only for their own survival, but for that of all citizens of New Arcadia.

 

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Map Illustration Complete

I am very excited to share the map illustration that will appear in my upcoming novel, Recreance: Book 1 of the Aeternum Chronicles.

The map was hand drawn by the very talented Hiru Walisadeera (mysticmaps), who I found on fiverr.

As a little peek into the process, I’ve included my chicken scratch original image that I provided as a guide for the artist.

Rough Sketch of Eastern Half of Illyria
Final Artwork for the Eastern Half of Illyria