Burn the Map

...and the atlas and the guide book and the GPS and everything else that thinks it knows where you're going. 'Cause I'll tell you a secret, friend: They don't have a clue.

Welcome, traveler!  Is it a new world you're looking for, or perhaps a very old one?  Either way, your journey begins as soon as you click one of the links to the left (or up above, if you're inclined to the mobile devices).  Think of them as portals to other times and places... I mean, you could think of them as simple navigation buttons, but if you're going to do that, there are zillions of websites you could visit.  But you didn't.  You came here.  So saddle up, suit up, buckle up...  Grab your blaster, your sword, your spellbook...  Basically do whatever it takes to feel ready for adventure and dive into stories where no explorer or mapmaker has dared set foot.  Oh, and I almost forgot...  Where you're going, you might as well burn the map. 

News Galore

Yes, it has been quiet around the website again, but the good news is that I have been up to my ears in writing projects all the same.

The biggest project in the works is a full-length conclusion to "Identity" and Community, which is tentatively slated to be published in January.  Keep your eyes here for announcements on title, cover art, and sneak peaks.

Also in process is a collaborative sci-fi novel I am working on with an old friend from high school.  It is my first writing collaboration, and I am very excited about it.  In all likelihood we will self-publish it electronically, with sequels or other projects to follow.

Tell me what you think!  Do you have questions about the projects?  What kind of behind-the-scenes glimpses or other content would you like to see here on the site?  Leave your thoughts below in the comments section..

Community is LIVE!

As I've hinted here and posted elsewhere, I have been building up to the launch of of a novella sequel to last year's short story, "Identity".  Well, Rogue Phoenix Press has now e-published the follow-up novella, Community!

The story is launching at a download price of $3.99.  Click here to buy directly from the publisher in HTML, PDF, or Kindle formats, or you can purchase from Amazon or Barnes & Noble for your Kindle or Nook.  Look below for a sneak peek!

Chapter Two

Eight years earlier...

A storm raged across the late afternoon sky, lashing Joseph with cold, stinging rain. He pressed his back against the base of a jagged cliff, inching his way toward the cave mouth to the right and the glow of firelight flickering from within. No sound could be heard over the gale, but he knew what might otherwise have reached his ears: the sounds of heavy labor, metal picks on hard stone.

Beyond that, he couldn't know what to expect in the cave. Rumor had it the enemy, King Ludvarch, or one of his nobles at the very least, had enlisted a rogue's gallery of wizards and treasure hunters to locate the grave of the Mad Sorcerer Dalviir, Scourge of the Fourth Dynasty. Joseph had doubted the rumors, and even if they were true, he didn't see what it could harm. Most scholars agreed Dalviir, if indeed he ever existed, had been no more skilled than any other wizard of his day, certainly not able to create enchantments that could still be active now, some five centuries after his death. Legends grow with time, after all, and what story doesn't benefit from a terrible villain?

Still, something was happening. Joseph's scouts had noted an increase of enemy movement in the area despite the absence of any apparent objective. Joseph's captain was convinced some mischief was afoot, magical or no, and had dispatched the hunter and his band to investigate. Now, as Joseph made his way to the cave, his six scouts would be converging on it from other directions, but unfortunately the sudden squall made it impossible to see or hear them.

At last he crept to the edge of the cave mouth, peering around the corner to see what transpired within. By the light of two iron braziers guttering in the damp wind, he noted seven large brutes smashing the back wall with pickaxes, transplants from one of King Ludvarch's "client states", no doubt. Nearby were three men-at-arms keeping watch and another man in red robes poring over a sheaf of charts and ancient runes spread out on a makeshift table of supply crates.

One of the workers grunted, and a footman craned his neck at a dark patch in the wall where the brute had been working. "Master Viraz," the footman shouted, "we're through."

The red-robed man looked up from his papers with an irritated frown that twisted into a predatory smile when he saw the hole in the wall. He pulled back his hood, revealing a short brush of black hair over olive skin. "Splendid," he crowed. "I'll take over, now that I'm sure where to apply myself." Viraz paced to the hole, his movements so fluid he seemed to float in his robe, put his hand to the wall, and began to chant.

Joseph looked around for the rest of his scouts, knowing robed men and mysterious chanting made a troubling combination, but still saw nothing in the gloom as the wind and rain buried the sounds of anything farther away than a few feet. His bow was strung and ready, but he was badly outnumbered. Ludvarch's colonial conscripts were notoriously unpredictable; some would switch sides in the hopes of gaining their freedom, but others hated foreigners as much as Ludvarch did. Joseph was forced to assume any workers for an assignment like this would be chosen from the more partisan category. If the workers were unpredictable, the wizard was downright inscrutable. A shot from Joseph's bow might slay him as it would any other man, or it might be blocked, redirected, or nullified by any number of sorcerous protections, and if any of them had signs or traces to reveal their presence beforehand, Joseph had no idea what they were. Normally he took his shot and hoped for the best, but without support he could just as easily doom himself and the mission by revealing his presence. In hindsight he shouldn't have been surprised to arrive well before his men; they were accomplished woodsmen, but for all the training he'd given them, none approached his skill. Very few men did.

As Joseph willed his scouts to hurry or his situation to otherwise improve, the wizard, Viraz, finished his brief chant, and the wall around the hole disintegrated into coarse sand just long enough to flow downward onto the floor before hardening back into stone, leaving a portal as wide as a door and perhaps two-thirds as tall. Light from the braziers crept inside, revealing a stone slab in a small, round chamber, all obscured by dancing webs of shadow. Viraz stooped and walked inside, breaking the crust of brittle stone that had flowed over his feet, and Joseph dared a backward look into the gloom. He could see one of his scouts, probably Tobias, judging by his gait, jogging in from the north, opposite the cave mouth, and motioned him to be silent. Once the man was closer, he gestured in their code of simple hand signals, "Where are the others?" Tobias shrugged. Inside, Viraz shouted for help, and one by one the tall, broad workers squeezed into the room, the largest two being forced to their hands and knees to pass the makeshift door, followed in turn by all but one of the footmen, who kept watch in the outer cave.

At last four other scouts arrived, quickly explaining through hand signals and mouthed words that the sudden rains had swollen a stream course at the bottom of the ravine they'd been following. They lost Jerome. Joseph nodded with a frown, frustrated over the deaths of Thatcher and Donald two months before. Jerome's loss would not have happened on their watch. Hesitating no longer, Joseph pointed to Ulf, his toughest fighter, then motioned to the guard inside. Ulf rushed forward with his long knife drawn, silencing the watchman permanently. Joseph had no desire to duck through the low, inner door to be stricken down without a fight, so he arrayed his men in the outer cave, flanking the small door and out of sight. On the far side were Klaus, his second, Ulf and Richard, the newest recruit; Joseph stood across from them with Tobias and Nathan, still his youngest man, though he'd been with Joseph over a year now. They stood with their bows at the ready, waiting for the enemy to emerge into their ambush.

A worker came out first, and the bowmen tensed and waited, bent on delaying until the last possible moment to launch their attack, lest the remainder barricade themselves in the cave until the wizard could concoct a means of victory or escape. A second worker emerged, followed quickly by the wizard himself. In his hand was a glowing sphere, not much smaller than his fist, its light pulsing red. As one, Joseph and his men drew their bows, and the motion caught the wizard's eye. Before they could reach even half-stretch, he swept his fist at the trio across from Joseph, the orb's light blazing through his fingers. Their bows and clothing incinerated instantly, and the three fell to the ground with agonized screams, the reek of burning flesh smoking through the chamber. Joseph's group loosed their arrows. Tobias, to Joseph's right, didn't have a clean shot at the wizard; his arrow took a workman in the chest. Joseph and Nathan aimed true, but their missiles caught in Viraz's clothing as though it was the densest oak. The wizard stretched forth his hand again. Joseph dove to his left, tackling Nathan into what he hoped was safe cover behind the crates, but Tobias was consumed by a blinding flash of flame.

Joseph protected the young scout with his body and peered over the crates, now blackened and smoking, at the wizard, sure his life had reached its end. His heart longed to see Delia just one more time, and he cried a silent apology that he would not be coming back to her. Viraz strode toward the cave opening, looking into Joseph's eyes. Joseph stared back, unflinching, waiting for the wizard to raise his hand. Viraz only smiled, his gaze as cruel as it was dismissive, and walked out of the cave into the slackening rain, his men trailing behind.

After a minute had passed, Joseph finally breathed again and let his charge sit up. "What are we going to do?" the young man asked, terror in his voice.

"You're going straight back to the captain to explain what has happened here. If all else fails, someone has to know. And me...I'm going after them."

If the preview sparks your interest, click straight to Rogue Phoenix Press, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble to download your copy today!  If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask via comments here or directly to me through the Contact form.  I look forward to reading your reviews of the story on all the sellers' websites!

On a Quest...

Greetings and well met, readers and surfers of the web! Those of you who have been keeping track may have noticed that my updates and story posts have become a bit sporadic of late.  There is a valid reason for this that I probably should have shared sooner.  I was hoping to wait a little longer to reveal the surprise, but I feel I owe my readers an explanation sooner rather than later...

I have been devoting virtually all my writing time to a new project - a novella-length follow up to last year's short story, "Identity".  I still have a little more work to do before sending it off to my publisher, but once that's done, I will do all I can to make up lost time here at Burn the Map.

That said, I'm very excited about the novella I've been working on, and I hope you'll all be excited as well when it is released.  If you haven't downloaded your copy of "Identity" yet, scroll down and click on "Older" below for an excerpt and links to download the story from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or directly from the publisher, Rogue Phoenix Press.  The new story is going to pick up right where the prior installment left off, so you won't want to be playing catch-up when the novella launches.

That's all for now.  I appreciate everyone's patience, and I look forward to hearing from all of you in the comments or via the contact form.

"Identity" is LIVE

Some of you may be wondering, "What gives?  No chapter post this weekend?"  The answer is that I did not want to detract from the excitement of today's launch of "Identity", my first short story e-published by Rogue Phoenix Press!

The story is launching at a download price of $2.99.  Click here to buy directly from the publisher in HTML, PDF, or Kindle formats, or you can purchase from Amazon or Barnes & Noble for your Kindle or Nook.  Look below for a sneak peek!

Joseph, a solitary hunter, has discovered an elven girl being chased by a search party through his woods.  Though she calls him by a strange name, he agrees to help, hiding her in a secluded spot and striking out with some of her clothing to leave a false trail...

 

After another half-mile, he turned right and leaped out of the stream on the same side he'd entered, heading toward his most recent campsite. He hoped it would appear to the hunters that their quarry was trying to double back and confuse her trail. The dogs might pick up his real scent once they reached the camp, but he was all through these woods every day, half the time dragging bleeding game or offal. If they could pick up his freshest trail amidst all that, then they would eventually find him wherever he fled, so he pinned his hopes on the belief that they couldn't.

With practiced movements, he scaled a large poplar and shoved the elf's clothing scraps into a high fork that was invisible from the ground. When the dogs took to baying at an obviously deserted tree, with any luck it would force their masters to assume they'd lost the trail.

With a couple of deft leaps Joseph was back on the ground, retracing his steps to the stream as closely as he could without running into the hunters. He trusted his stealth, however, and ventured close enough to catch a glimpse of them through the underbrush as they passed; three large men on black horses with two more on foot looking for sign and holding the dogs. The riders were not heavily armored, but they sat their saddles as though accustomed to being so, and their faces were cold and stern.

He considered climbing a tree and felling them all with arrows, but he had no quarrel with them, no notion of why the elf girl had felt compelled to run in the first place, no just cause to do these men harm. Trusting his speed as much as his stealth, he observed them for a time, but they spoke little and gave away nothing that helped him to understand the strange goings-on in his woods.

Finally, once confident they would not immediately pick up his trail from the campsite, he sped back to the stream and the elven woman waiting in the bank dug-out. She was clearly overjoyed at his return, but he motioned for silence and she remained so.

"Now," Joseph said quietly, keeping one ear open to the forest sounds outside the recess, "just what is going on here? Who are you?"

"I am Kaillë Windsong, daughter of the chieftain of the Windrider clan."

"How do you come to be here, and in such a state as I found you?"

"My village was attacked. Many died and many fled. I have been running for nearly two days. I do not know why they still follow me."

"Why do you call me Azrith?"

Now the elf was clearly puzzled. "I don't understand."

"I don't know you. By your introduction, I take it you didn't expect me to, but you seem to believe you know me, and you call me this name I have never heard. I would have that explained before things get even more out of hand."

"It is the most ancient legend of the Windrider clan. In the hour of greatest need, when wicked men attack, the survivors will find Azrith, a man of the wood who will bring deliverance."

"I am sorry, Kaillë, but I am not this man."

"But you must—"

"My name is Joseph, and I'm a simple hunter. I don't plan on 'delivering' anybody today."

"But there was more, and everything rings true...apart from the name. Isn't it possible—"

"It isn't."

"But—"

"I will hear no more of this! You say you do not know why these men are after you?"

"No."

"Well, it's plain enough you aren't carrying anything, so it must be something about who you are. A chieftain's daughter could fetch quite a ransom."

"No," Kaillë disagreed, "there would be no one to pay it. Father and the rest of my family did not survive." Her voice was even and calm, betraying no pain or anger.

Damn her elven stoicism. Scream, weep, do something. "Alright," he continued, "not for ransom...then what? What could they possibly gain by your death or capture?"

"I'm sorry, Az...Joseph... I truly do not know."

"Well, I'll..." Suddenly Joseph stopped speaking, tilting his head toward the mouth of the dug-out. "The birds are alarmed. Your enemies must be searching upstream. If they pick up a scent again, we're done for. We have to run."

Kaillë stood and Joseph was glad to see she had already gathered and tied his oversized cloak so she could move quickly. He motioned for her to follow, leaping over the fallen alder and dropping on the far side. Once there, he turned, reaching up to help the much shorter elf down from the crest of the fallen trunk. Just as their hands clasped, a raucous horn blast smote the woods, followed by the frenzied barking of two dogs. Kaillë had been spotted.

Joseph's mind raced. He never doubted his skills in the woods, but they had not been pitted against human minds since the wars. Despite the strangeness of his situation, he felt a pang of guilt for failing to note the enemy's approach before it was too late, but there was no time now for apologies. Instead, he clenched Kaillë's delicate hands and dragged her down from the tree, pulling her into his arms as he darted into the woods, sensing the limp weariness in her frame as he carried her.

He had to move, had to get them into thick enough brush that the men were forced to abandon their horses, at the very least, for he could never hope to outdistance mounted hunters. Still, he realized even that tactic would not be enough, not now. As he moved from the stream, he knew the dark-clad men had seen him, however briefly. Now that they had reason to follow this other scent, they had no doubt picked up in his camp. Now that they were this close to a fresh trail, there would be no evading those dogs.

One problem at a time, Joseph chided himself. He knew of a place half a mile into the woods where he thought he could force the riders to foot, draw them into a marshy part of a feeder stream course, gain the high ground. He just wasn't sure he could get there with a spent elf maid in tow.

He barely had the time to try. Charging uphill, he passed a deer run that paralleled the stream and was horrified to realize by the approaching cadence of hooves that the hunters had found it, thundering toward his path just yards behind. Digging his feet into the earth, he tried for a desperate burst of speed into the brush, but with the sudden hiss of a whip, the breath seized in his throat, his feet flying out from under him as Kaillë tumbled from his arms.

If the preview sparks your interest, click straight to Rogue Phoenix Press, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble to download your copy today!  If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask via comments here or directly to me through the Contact form.  I look forward to reading your reviews of the story on all the sellers' websites!

Weekly Updates

For any of you who have been checking back regularly for new content, Burn the Map is happy to provide updates when new content is posted.  Just go to the "Contact" page, enter your info, and check the update request box at the bottom of the form to receive a brief description and link when new content goes live.  Nothing fancy to slog through, just handy-dandy links delivered right to your inbox to get you into the stories even faster.  Enjoy!

The Experiment Enters Phase 2

It has been a long couple of weeks as folks have found their way here, but what should we expect from a place off the edge of the map?  Nonetheless, "Nobility" has edged out the competition, so get ready for the next chapter this weekend!

The other stories will stay up and may continue to accumulate votes.  When "Nobility" has gone as far as it can, perhaps I will return to one of the others if there seems to be enough interest.

Thanks for everyone's support so far.  Happy reading!

"Likes"

I've had a couple people ask about "Likes" on the stories not getting counted.  It takes awhile for them to show up in the count for whoever is clicking them, but on the site admin interface I can see them right away, so don't worry about it.  Basically, if the little heart under the post is turned red, you're good to go.  Thanks!

New Content, July 12

Hello, travelers!  The Experiment is still running.  If you haven't read that post, below, do so now!  Speaking of which, have you ever been to an event where somebody is trying to whip up the crowd, and when the crowd cheers he does that predictable "Is that the best you've got?  I can't hear you" bit that is sometimes awkward and always annoying?  Well, this is going to have to be that part of the show 'cause five total votes is not going to get the next chapter of any of those stories up, and even if it was, we've got a tie!  So tell a friend, tell a neighbor, heck, tell a stranger as long as you're in a well-lit and populated area!

Still, I'm not totally without heart.  I've posted a different story, "Outside", in the Finished Stories folder, so head over there to tide yourselves over until we have a clear victor in The Experiment.  There is still a little twist, though:  There is something unusual about "Outside," or, more specifically, about a very common word and its place in the story.  Can you figure it out?  Put a comment here or on the story itself if you think you know!

The Experiment

For the first activity here at Burn the Map, I'm going to run a little experiment.  Under the Active Stories heading, you will see links to four pieces of flash fiction (in other words, very short stories).  A careful observer will note that each of these begins with an exciting (or ominous) heading: "Chapter 1".  I know what you're thinking: But how can it be Chapter 1 if each post is a self-contained story?  Well...they could be self-contained stories.  They could also be the first page in an awesome story yet to be written!

So what do you do?  Read each of the stories and "Like" your favorite, or your favorite two, or, heck, all of 'em if you really want to.  Once a certain, super-secret vote threshold is reached, the leading story will get turned into the first chapter of a longer saga that you will get to watch unfold right here on the site, getting a rare opportunity to glimpse a story as it is being written, warts and all.  After you've voted on your favorite(s), your next task is to get excited about seeing the new story get started, so excited that you tell all your friends about the site and send them links to your favorite story for them to vote on, which is the only way to ensure that the super-secret vote threshold is reached before you get fits from the sheer anticipation.

In case you're coming back to this section to reread it after perusing all four stories, thinking you must have missed something because at least a couple of the stories don't seem like they could possibly keep going, I say this:  Trust me.  I have a plot device.

And So It Came To Pass...

Welcome, traveler!  Burn the Map is now officially live!  The formal launch is still a few days away, but to anybody who wanders by before then, we are up and we are running.  Check back at this link regularly for the latest updates on what is happening around the site.  Look around and enjoy yourself!