Welcome to one of the June 21st stops on the blog tour for the Sisters of the Storm series by Guy Estes with Silver Dagger Book Tours. Be sure to follow the rest of the tour for spotlights, reviews, author guest posts, and a giveaway! More on that at the end of this post.
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Hail and well met to you all! My name is Guy Estes and I’m the creator of the Sisters of the Storm series of heroic fantasy novels. The protagonists are Aleena Kurrin, gifted warrior, and Baezha Ambrose, gifted sorceress/warrior. Triad is the first book, and it’s Aleena’s story, though I introduce Baezha. Reckoning is Baezha’s story. The Eighth Hell and Lords of Illusion are straight-up sword and sorcery adventure. In The God Makers they have to face unresolved issues from The Eighth Hell, including forgiving themselves. Though a series, I make each story a stand-alone. One of my pet peeves is when I see a book that looks interesting, then I see it’s the fifth in a series and I have to read the other four to understand the one I’m interested in, so I make mine so that anyone can start the series with any book and understand what’s going on.
So where did the Sister of the Storm come from? Aleena and Baezha started out as Dungeons and Dragons characters I played back in high school (class of 1989). Aleena was a fighter while Baezha was a ranger. Both advanced to such a degree that there was no longer any point in playing them – they were all but guaranteed victory. So I started writing about them when I was about eighteen (I am now fifty, so that’s how long those girls have been living rent-free in my head). My mother is a writer, as well, and I’m currently helping her get her book ready for publishing on Kindle. She writes Hallmark Channel-type stories, and she published a biography on Bass Reeves, one of the first African-Americans to serve as a deputy U.S. Marshal, some years ago. I saw her write – along with its attending frustrations – and decided to write about my characters in the D&D world; the game was no longer fun for me, but those two characters just wouldn’t leave my head.
Then I started thinking about publishing and I realized the D&D world was the property of TSR, so unless I wanted to limit my publishing options to Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms, I’d have to create my own world, which I did. I also made Baezha a sorceress with fighting skills as opposed to a ranger. I then spent the next couple of decades getting rejected by every publisher in the genre. Then all the advice said to get an agent, so I then spent the next few years getting rejected by a long list of agents, but through it all I kept polishing my stories. I just couldn’t give it up. It’s a compulsion, or obsession. Or both. Probably some sort of mental illness the medical profession hasn’t identified yet. But then Amazon made self-publishing a breeze, and here we are.
Of course, the looming issue with self-publishing is quality control. I run all of my novels through editing programs like Autocrit. Then I have them professionally edited. The only one I didn’t have professionally edited was Reckoning, and it shows. There are a number of typos and formatting errors. If you shop around, you can find editors for reasonable prices. For example, most of these novels are over 100K words. The editing service I use, Frostbite Publishing, charges .005 cents per word, so that would be $500. This is actually a pretty economical price. Most other places will charge $800 or more. If you care enough about your content and giving your readers your very best, this step is indispensable.
I have a professional artist, Paul Abrams, who I found on Devianart, do the images, and I put in the lettering via canva. Paul’s prices vary, but I think the most he ever charged me for a cover was $400. I’ve had people really love the covers, liking how they weren’t the photoshopped images so common to self-published novels (and how I put my girls in armor that actually protects their vitals). The cover is what gets the reader’s attention first, so this step is vital.
So to any aspiring self-publishers out there, these services are absolutely crucial. As for other writing advice? Well, take it all with a few grains of salt. For example, one of the most common pieces of advice you’ll find out there is “never use adverbs.” Recently I saw the same thing about exclamation points, and it’s absurd. Adverbs and exclamation points are standard parts of the English language. To be more accurate, both should be used sparingly. Sometimes, such as in the previous sentence, an adverb is what’s called for. The same goes for exclamation points. Another is you should only use “said” as dialogue tags. In other words, “he said.” Maybe “asked” once in a while, or “replied,” but that’s it. Again, I disagree. To wit:
“I could’ve defeated you any time I chose,” he said.
“Not on your best day,” she said.
As opposed to:
“I could’ve defeated you any time I chose,” he sneered.
“Not on your best day,” she shot back.
I think the second example paints a much more vivid picture in the reader’s mind. I could go on and on about writing advice, but really it’s sort of like how Captain Barbossa described the pirate’s code: “They’re more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.”
As for what lies ahead, I’m writing the sixth installment of the Sisters of the Storm, as well as the first of a series starring a cast of neo-Pagans dealing with crime, the paranormal, and a bit of romance titled Clann na Morrigna that takes place in the fictional Colorado town of Nightshade.
Sisters of the Storm Book One
by Guy E. Estes
Published 1 November 2013
Genre: Epic Fantasy, Adventure
Page Count: 330
Add it to your Goodreads TBR!
It’s one thing to be gifted by the gods. It’s another thing entirely to figure out how to use that gift.
Three of them are born at once. Some say they are gifted – Chosen – by the gods. Others say they are so aberrant even the gods cannot stop them from existing. Three of them living at once is unprecedented… and dreaded.
Aleena is a gifted warrior who only wants the world to leave her alone. Anlon is an equally gifted warrior who wants the world under his boot. Baezha is a gifted witch whose intentions are unknown, even to her. Both Aleena and Anlon are skilled, proud and jealous. Their rivalry is inevitable, yet Aleena knows Anlon is a brother in addition to a rival. Jealousy, mercy, forgiveness and vengeance threaten to consume all she loves.
Yet what of the third Chosen, Baezha, a powerful sorceress quietly watching the other two? And will the gathering of this triad result in balancing the equation into order or unbalancing it into further madness?
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“I saw two girls, a blonde and a brunette, and a blond boy. They would grow up to possess the extraordinary beauty and talent that could only belong to the Chosen. Two would be warriors and one a sorcerer. One would be taken. One would be exiled. One would be driven mad. I could see no more than that.”
“Those who are Chosen are chosen by the gods?”
“That is one belief. However, being one of them you need to know everything. Some whisper that the Chosen are not blessed by Tamura and Donya at all, but that they are creatures of evil. The extraordinary skill of the Chosen, they believe, simply isn’t natural. In addition to uncanny skill, the Chosen are remarkably beautiful and have eternal youth. Even if you live to be a hundred you will never look a day older than thirty. Moreover, your beauty will be immune to destruction. Scars will completely fade. Some people see the combination of eternal beauty with unnatural skill as proof that the Chosen are demonic. They believe that, rather than sending the Chosen, the gods protect humanity from them by making them rare, as if they were such an aberration that even the gods couldn’t always stop them from being born.”
“So which one are they?”
“That, I believe, is entirely up to the individual Chosen.”
“And I will have to face all of this?”
“Yes,” Rita nodded, “but fear not, Aleena. The gods do not give us tests we cannot pass. What does it mean to be Chosen? That, my child, is a question you will spend your whole life answering. And we will help you as best we are able.”
“And a fair number of them feel I’m the Death Breeder herself.”
“I do not think they are so numerous.”
“What they lack in numbers they compensate for in volume.”
“Yes, I know. But we also know why they speak such. Envy possesses their tongues.”
“As does fear. Let’s not fool ourselves, Mistress. They have always feared me to a slight degree. Now they’re terrified of me.”
“A few speak ill of you, but most praise you. Think how Constance feels about you. Think how grateful her family is to you for keeping their daughter safe. Aleena, has it occurred to you that you did exactly what the gods fashioned you for? Yes, you brought death and destruction to eight of your fellow men, but in doing so you gave life to all who would have been their victims. No one else there last night could have done that as well as you. By destroying some lives, you saved untold others. Destruction enabled preservation. You are a warrior, with all the warrior’s instincts and skills, yet you have no desire to conquer or dominate. Doesn’t that seem odd? Perhaps, instead of a conqueror, the gods meant for you to be a guardian.”
The slavers brought a child out. The little girl had seen perhaps six summers. Lorn had acquired her shortly after they entered the city.
“Come here, little darling,” a slaver breathed. “It’s time you learned what your master will expect of you.”
The slavers’ revelry came to a smashing halt when they heard a high-pitched alien shriek that froze the very marrow of their bones. The slave traders whirled at the terrible sound, confused and scared, one of them fainting dead away. This blonde girl, who had been so complacent and cooperative the entire time they’d possessed her had, suddenly and without the slightest warning, exploded into some elemental force that was whirling six paces of iron chain in a figure eight pattern as if it were nothing more than a hemp rope.
Aleena heard the dragon coming, making her heart fling itself against her breastbone even harder than it had been. The air in her hole was disturbed by its sniffing. It stirred her honeyed tresses and tugged at her billowy, formerly white shirt. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath in an effort to relax. Her plan required that her anticipation of the dragon’s actions be perfectly accurate. If she guessed wrong, if the dragon did anything even slightly unexpected, she would die. She had no contingency plan. There had only been time to devise this desperate ploy.
The scene of the desert valley outside her hole was abruptly replaced with one of rust brown scales as the dragon’s snout came into view. The creature’s entire head was about eighteen hands long, which equaled Aleena’s height. She continued her efforts at calming herself. The snout tempted her warrior’s aggression, but there were no vital organs or blood vessels in it. Even if she pierced the tough scales, she would only anger the beast.
Wait a bit longer. Then a far better target will present itself. I hope.
She heard the brute rumble with what could only be described as satisfaction as the lips, snaggled teeth and all, curled into a hideously human smile. Then a great glaring yellow thing was but a single pace from her hole. The yellow thing had a black center. Aleena contemplated her reflection in the dragon’s triumphant glare.
The young witch emerged from her trance, her brow slightly furrowed. She’d had another vision of Anlon some time ago, but now she suddenly had one of this girl. In her visions of the girl, the name Aleena Kurrin bobbed to the surface of the witch’s perceptions. The witch knew Aleena was Chosen the instant she saw her. Aside from being Chosen, how were Anlon, Aleena and the witch connected? Where was this all going? The witch knew there was a destination, but what was it? Unlike Anlon, Aleena did not chill the witch’s soul. Indeed, she left the witch feeling somewhat relieved.
Easy, she cautioned herself. Remember what happened the last time you allowed yourself to hope.
She sighed, feeling like a young eagle standing at the edge of the nest, staring out into the vast space that awaited her, her wings young and strong, but untried.
You know this impasse cannot stand.
Even though the ancients said multiple Chosen were certain doom, the witch resolved to undertake further divination to solve this riddle. Wherever this was going, whatever was to happen, she was a part of it. She needed to know.
Aleena saw the man in the cage directly across from her and noticed that he looked more like some abomination nature never intended to exist than he did a man. His arms reached his knees. His face now had a muzzle where his mouth and nose were, and only about half of his skin was visible due to the long hair that was sprouting from his body. And he had been receiving the same treatments that Aleena had. With the impact of a lightning bolt, Aleena’s mind cleared and she suddenly realized the purpose for the entire program she was being subjected to. They were going to make their profit off of her. They were going to make her fight, even if they had to turn her into a beast to do it.
Another set of gates opened, and Anlon strode into the arena like a lion striding amongst his lionesses. He seemed to almost float above the ground as he fed off the praises of the audience. His armor was similar to Aleena’s, and he carried his favorite weapon; a longsword. After gracing the crowd with his smile and salute, he strode towards Aleena, his stride eloquent in its statement of purpose, his face a stranger to mercy. His stare, hostile and relentless, seemed to lance down at her from a great height, though Aleena was as tall as he was. She sighed a third time as she saw just how difficult it would be for her to put her plan into effect. Anlon stopped a few paces away to commence the customary baiting between contestants.
“I called you sister,” he said. “I opened myself to you, and in return you have brought us to destruction.”
“It doesn’t have to be. We fought together, Anlon, side by side. You and I. Brother and sister. Chosen and Chosen. Is this the way you want to end it?”
“You leave me little choice.”
“I have given you every choice, Anlon! I told you how these games work so that you would be able to choose. Which do you value more? My love, or theirs?” She finished by gesturing to the crowd with her head.
“No! You’re trying to muddy the waters! You were jealous! You were jealous when they praised me over you and you started spewing your venom. Marcus told me. He was honest enough to tell me about my own sister. He told me how they turned you into some sort of beast. He told me how my own sister planned to kill me in the arena and use that victory to bargain for her freedom.”
Aleena’s mouth dropped open. “What in the seven hells are you talking about? I told Marcus no such thing. No such thought ever entered my head.”
“Anlon, why would I be so foolish as to tell my captor my escape plan?”
“Do you see how you twist things around to serve you? Finally, after all these years, I have my chance at achieving greatness, while you are chained to this stadium and your cell and your twisted philosophies. You could not bear to watch me win my deserved fame and your mind cracked. You are so desperate for escape you are willing to kill your own brother to achieve it, for once you kill me who will be left to fight? Once you’ve slain the best you think Marcus will have no choice but to release you. You destroy your rival and achieve fame and freedom all at once.”
“Don’t deny it, Sister.” He spoke the word in a scornful hiss. “I know damn well you saw me as a rival because I saw you as the same.”
“Part of me did,” she acknowledged, “but most of me saw you as a brother.”
“No,” Anlon insisted, shaking his head. “Marcus explained everything. He told me how those sorcerers brought out your bestial nature. You are nothing but a scheming hussy who will do anything, use anyone to get what you want.”
“You’re going to take Marcus’s word over mine? The word of a man in the flesh trade means more to you than the word of your sister?”
“Enough of your babbling! I know damn well what I believe and deserve, and I’ll have it even if -“
“Even if you have to slay your sister? What prize could possibly be worth that?”
Anlon looked at her, his mouth agape. Then he closed it and moved towards her, his sword starting to whirl.
“Then you’ve made your decision, Brother? Marcus’s word is more valuable than mine? The crowd’s adoration is worth more than the love of your only sister, the only one capable of understanding you? You wish to be alone with the hostile monkeys?”
Her words made him pause, and his eyes left her face as he absorbed what she’d said. Lightning flashed, followed by the slow roll of thunder.
In her dream, the witch saw Anlon striding forward, an army at his back. Between Anlon and the witch stood Aleena. They were surrounded by a dark, grey wasteland. The witch had had this dream before, and it had left her feeling anxious, torn between what she knew she must do and what she feared. But in her visions she’d seen Aleena and Anlon in the arena. She’d seen their last battle. That knowledge drove the fear from her heart and replaced it with the calm certainty of one who not only knew what she must do, but who had resolved to do it. The young eagle no longer feared the void she was about to spring into. Now she welcomed it.
Aleena, the beautiful light bringer, stood alone against her foe. The witch began walking towards her. Aleena turned and looked at her, her face undecided between hope and fear. The witch looked straight at her and made her a promise.
“I am coming.”
“This,” Anlon told her, “is but a prelude to what lies ahead, Sister dear. My sword and armor are every bit as powerful as yours, as is my talent. You did hold the upper score in our little game, but once again we are tied. The final battle should be most interesting.”
“After all this time,” Brona went on, “I still cannot hold my head up high. Even after I poisoned Auron and cleared the way for you, you lacked the gumption to take what was yours. You just stood there and let Cahir take your place on the throne. Cahir was never defeated by his inferiors. Cahir would never have –”
Anlon’s golden blade swept up, and Brona’s headless body fell. He snatched her head off the floor and held its face above to his.
“Are you proud of me now!” he roared at her. “Am I not worthy of your praise! Am I not loved! Am I not a worthy son! Is your godsdamned head held up high enough now!”
He sobbed as he threw her head to the floor. Then he turned his gaze, red and glassy from tears, onto Aleena. A blinding flash of lightening jolted the amphitheater, to be followed by a mighty peal of thunder.
“Now, Sister,” he hissed, “I shall finally have peace. I’ve rid myself of her contempt. Now I’ll rid myself of yours.”
Aleena sighed and shook her head. Then she drew Firethorne and slung the sheath as she started towards him.
“Well, then I suppose that’s fine with me! I tried to help you, I spared your life when you had no intention of sparing mine, and you have somehow found a way to be insulted by this. You complain about the hostile monkeys, yet instead of rising above them you’ve become their king. So, by Nevawn’s claws, if that is how you want it, so shall it be!”
Aleena had gained the floor and was striding towards him. Lightning flashed and thunder boomed.
“So shall it be!”
Sisters of the Storm Book Two
by Guy E. Estes
Published 14 Januayr 2017
Genre: Epic Fantasy, Adventure
Page Count: 512
Add it to your Goodreads TBR!
She won’t hesitate to take on any demon from any of the seven hells, but none of them are as terrifying as the ones in her own mind.
Baezha Ambrose is a gifted sorceress. Aleena Kurrin, her adoptive sister, is a gifted warrior. Together they have faced countless foes, but now Baezha must face what she fears the most – her past. She’d fled her home town of Oleppo after her world ended in fire and blood and left her crippled with guilt. In the years since, the forces that destroyed her world have taken over Oleppo and grown stronger. Now she must return to Oleppo to sort things out.
The Watchers is a secret society of religious zealots fanatically devoted to the extinction of magic. Baezha’s extraordinary talent with magic makes her their most hated enemy, and they bring all of their obsessive fanaticism to bear on her. The Order of Entropy is a faction of sorcerers dedicated to destructive magic. They see Baezha as an intolerably dangerous rival, and they know precisely how to hurt her. They know her sordid past better than Baezha herself.
Crippled by guilt and fighting a two front war in a city that has made her very existence a crime, Baezha will need all the help she can get. She has but one ally, her sister Chosen, Aleena, who is as powerful in war as Baezha is in magic. With Aleena’s help, Baezha shall bring a reckoning to the evil that destroyed all she loved. Or that evil will have its final victory over her.
Though listed as book 2 of the series, this is a stand alone novel.
“I did something once, when I was a girl. I survived it, but I shall spend an eternity paying for it.”
“You are my sister,” Aleena told her. “I will follow you wherever I must. I will help you in any way I can, whether that be standing before the Ashoga, giving you a shoulder to lean on or hacking every one of your enemies into pudding.”
“Rest assured, your friends will also be thoroughly schooled. I will be the terrible thought that keeps them awake at night. I will be the reason they fear the dark. I will be the shadowed horror that haunts their thoughts and dreams.”
“Knowledge without ethics is a very dangerous combination, Baezha.”
“I never took philosophy all that seriously, Baezha. But this I do know – the living have options. The dead do not.”
“Dagrith will be very pleased to know you’ve returned! At last we can be rid of your pestilence. We can pull out the last, vexing weed. And we’ll find out if you can scream anything like your heathen father.”
“Tell me, Basil,” she said, her voice subdued and calm but threatening, like a panther’s purr, as she placed her other hand on his chest. “Did he sound anything like this?”
“Ah, yes. Your cruelty to your female servants is legend. Such hatred of women can only be the product of fear.”
“Fear?” he scoffed. “Hardly!”
“Perhaps your mother spanked you one time too many,” she went on, unperturbed. “Perhaps the first time you dropped your trousers for a girl she laughed. Perhaps it’s just in your nature to be a homicidal misogynist. I really don’t give a damn, Dermot, because you raped my mother, and if you didn’t have reason to fear women before, you son of a bitch, you sure as hells will before I’m done.”
“The Order of Entropy hunts you. They are many.”
“Not as many as they were before they started hunting me.”
“The time for creatures like you is past. A new power is rising, one that will unite the world under a single, shining beacon of hope.”
“What of those who don’t want to live under your beacon?”
“They are offered the greatest gift of all. Those who spit the Blessed Father’s wondrous gift back in his face are not fit to live among those who want it. The True Realm has no place for such despicable creatures. They will be purified of their insolence, the world cleansed of their filth.”
“Scream for me, Ian,” she commanded in a venomous whisper hissed through bared teeth. “Scream for me.”
“We have freed Oleppo from darkness and oppression.”
“You’ve simply replaced one variety of darkness with another.”
“If it saves even one life it is worth it.”
“How many lives has it cost, you myopic bastard?”
“Get back, witch,” he said, his voice hoarse. “Get away from me, creature, or pay the consequences!”
Baezha cocked an eyebrow. “Oh? And what might those be?”
“Leave me in peace, Baezha, or the streets of Oleppo shall run red! You will watch as I rejoice in the blood of your filthy kind! I shall destroy everything you have ever loved!”
Baezha leaned in close to him, her face inches from his, her eyes nighted depths that glared into his very soul. When she spoke, each syllable was as final as the whack of a judge’s gavel.
“You. All. Ready. Have.”
“That bitch is a beast.”
The Eighth Hell
Sisters of the Storm Book Three
by Guy E. Estes
Published 8 May 2018
Genre: Epic Fantasy, Adventure
Page Count: 530
Add it to your Goodreads TBR!
The most dangerous women in the world dare the most dangerous place in the world.
The Shingora, a place known and dreaded by all, the name driving those who hear it to mutter prayers and make signs for protection. None who have gone to that island ever came back… until now.
The trade guilds sent an expedition there, hoping to find a wellspring of natural resources. Only one man returned, his experience having reduced him to gibbering madness. Now the guilds are sending a new expedition, three hundred strong and armed for war, to learn the fate of the previous one and rescue the survivors… if there are any.
Joining them are the Chosen sisters: Aleena Kurrin, the Battle Queen, gifted by the gods in war, and Baezha Ambrose, the Witch Queen, gifted by the gods in magic. Sworn to recover any survivors, they are joined by a host of new friends and brave an island teeming with bizarre creatures. And on the Shingora, everything kills.
Yet an even darker discovery awaits them in the Shingora’s depths, an unnatural horror far worse than anything the island’s sinister reputation ever hinted at. And while immersed in all the island’s perils, a traitor threatens the company from within. With treacherous enemies at their backs and engulfed by a horde of abominations, the sisters will be tested as they’ve never been tested before… and even those Chosen by the gods have their breaking point.
Though listed as book 3 in a series, this is a stand-alone novel.
“You and Baezha have both established solid reputations for guarding the trade caravans,” he said. “Indeed, it is said that bandits have avoided caravans you were known to be guarding. Some are calling you the Death Queens.”
Aleena raised an eyebrow.
“Are they? I hadn’t heard that one.”
“Some of the merchants running the caravans say you’re rather… independent.”
Aleena shrugged. “I suppose that depends on one’s definition of independent.”
“Disobedient,” Bertard said, somewhat impatient. “You’ve been known to defy orders.”
“Because the orders, coming from a merchant completely ignorant of battle, were suicidal.”
“Perhaps you assume too much?”
“A merchant trying to command me in battle makes as much sense as me telling him how to market his wares. When I am hired to do a job, I am honor bound to do that job to the best of my ability. They hired me to guard them, not jeopardize them.”
“And obeying orders from someone ignorant of war would jeopardize the caravan you were hired to protect,” Geron said.
“Good morning,” a man’s voice sang out.
“Gods damn it,” Aleena muttered as she polished off her sausage and egg biscuit.
Dylan came up to them, his self-satisfied smile in place. He wore a shirt of mail. Aleena was licking a bit of grease from her fingertips.
“I can think of something better for you to lick, Vixie.”
“Your blood from my blade?”
“Such wicked darts you hurl, but you’ll come around.”
“So certain, are you?”
Dylan looked at her as if she’d questioned his very existence. “Of course. All women do.”
“And you base this on the smashing success you had yesterday?”
“All women love me,” he assured her, grinning. “Some of them simply don’t realize it yet.”
“Obviously you don’t know Aleena,” Baezha told him as they started past him, “She delights in being the exception to the rule.”
“Aye,” Beka said. “She’s none too fond of rules.”
“She breaks them on general principle,” Oksana added.
“I’m not that bad,” Aleena protested as she joined them.
Reegan left and Graff went to his cabin. He poured himself some wine and stared out of the porthole as he gave the matter further consideration. If he’d been a spiritual man he would’ve thanked the gods for handing him a resource like Reegan. He might very well eliminate his biggest obstacle without getting his hands dirty.
Perhaps Aleena had an enviable reputation as a fighter, but Graff had years of experience with intrigue. He’d climbed the ladder in the fight masters’ guild, moving amongst other men who craved glory, all of whom wanted to lead the pack. One thing it taught him was what tools to use; earnest young men made such wonderful tools. Graff was a past master of the game, and if he read Aleena right, she was no game player. The quiet ones never were. She was too direct, too honest. He chuckled.
Too simple minded.
She was no game player. He was sure of that. She might be a master warrior, able to slice small moving targets into multiple pieces, but when it came to matters of intrigue, plots and counterplots, she was out of her depth.
“I heard you used your ‘gift’ to melt a man,” he said.
“Oh, for the love of the gods,” Baezha said, throwing her hands in the air, “I melt one man into a puddle of pus and I never hear the end of it!”
A banshee-like screech slashed through them, and something pale launched itself out of the bushes, tackling a man. Reegan and Graff stabbed it with their swords. The rest of Reegan’s corps joined them. They surrounded it and jabbed their spears at it. Their foe, having shredded its victim, pounced on another man and ripped into him. The other men backed away and the rest of the company got a clear look at the thing.
It was a quadruped with pale, leathery skin, and a face that was an absurdly huge grin due to its long, jutting fangs in the underslung jaw and the total absence of lips. It was about the same length as a wolf, but heavier. Its limbs were thick and powerful, its heavy feet bearing massive claws of dirty ivory, and it had no tail. It raised its bloodstained face from its victim’s belly, strings of flesh dangling from its crystalline fangs. It had multiple eyes, large and completely black. Four were arranged on the front of its face in a square while a single row of two ran back along each side of the head.
Two arrows thudded into its side. Its only response was to charge the archers.
It stood eight feet high, on two legs, its pale hide covered in reptilian scales. Two horns grew from the top of its head, curving back and up, and it had a tail. It looked at the captives with red eyes and made a sound that was somewhere between a hiss and a growl. The other creatures cast their gaze to the ground as the pale one made more hoarse vocalizations, accompanied by gestures. The gargoyle things looked at the captives and began moving in their direction.
Cora took a breath; she’d been preparing to act. The hand that gripped her bow also held three arrows. She could get off those three arrows in three seconds. She couldn’t go to full draw when shooting at that rate, but at this close range she reckoned the arrows would penetrate deeply enough to pierce vitals. She took a fourth from her quiver and nocked it as Geron drew his sword and dagger and the others readied their weapons. The things closed in, hissing and barking.
“Oh, enough of this,” Cora muttered as she drew and loosed.
“What is this place?” Ruald asked.
“It’s an alchemical workshop,” Flynn said as he came forward with his two apprentices. “They were a good-sized operation, whoever they were.”
“You don’t know?” Graff said.
“The guild had no one here, certainly not enough to man this.”
“Perhaps they kept it a secret.”
“Something this big would not have been kept completely secret. There would’ve at least been whispered rumors. Look around for any papers or journals. Whoever was here certainly kept records.”
“Which they likely took with them,” Seth said.
“They left other supplies behind, which implies an intent to return. If so, they might have simply left their records here rather than risk losing them during a journey.”
“What kind of work were they doing?”
“Difficult to say until we find some records.”
They spread throughout the room, looking in drawers and small cabinets. Aleena approached the cages like someone approaching the edge of a cliff, but the cages held no occupants, though some had dark stains on the floor.
“I know what they were doing,” Aleena said in a voice so quiet so that only those next to her heard.
She stepped within striking distance, but before she could strike Graff’s arm snapped out and his hand latched onto her throat. He then lifted her off her feet like she was a tankard of ale. She struggled and kicked, but his hand was like an iron collar on her neck, his arm as hard and rigid as an oak limb. Everyone stood frozen with shock. A few hours ago she’d taken him down like he was a novice. Now he handled the Tigress of Sharlea as if she were a kitten. His initial blow had sent her flying, and now he held her off with ease. Reegan sniggered. She saw an empty flask lying on the sand, and then she knew what happened. Graff looked at her, an ominous gleam in his eyes as he grinned.
“Now the first Death Queen loses her crown, but fear not. Baezha will be joining you soon enough.”
Lords of Illusion
Sisters of the Storm Book Four
by Guy E. Estes
Published 6 February 2020
Genre: Epic Fantasy, Adventure
Page Count: 398
Add it to your Goodreads TBR!
The Shrouded Masks, a sect of assassins feared above all others because they have a unique advantage – they’re doppelgangers, giving them perfect disguises. Everyone thought they were exterminated decades ago. Everyone was wrong.
They have returned from the brink of extinction seeking vengeance against those who sent them there – the royal family of Bukahr. To protect themselves from assassins who can take the forms of their most trusted people, the royals hire two who are not easily impersonated, the Death Queens – Aleena Kurrin, gifted warrior, and her adoptive sister, Baezha Ambrose, gifted sorceress. But things aren’t as simple as they first appear.
The masks the royals present to their adoring public are much prettier than the faces that wear them. For them, appearances trump everything, including Aleena’s strategic advice, making a difficult job even more difficult, and Baezha is sure they are keeping secrets that could prove vital. As Aleena learns about their adversaries, she discovers the relationship between the royals and the assassins may not be as simple as the king said, and she suspects the assassins want something more than blood vengeance, something worse than murder.
Add a secretive king, a haughty queen, a scheming princess, an arrogant prince, and a hostile guard captain to shapeshifting assassins and the sisters are once more tasked with the impossible. And if Aleena is right, the Shrouded Masks intend something far worse than their deaths.
Though listed as Book 4 in a series, this is a stand-alone novel.
Following proper application of a battle axe, one generally doesn’t need to go around checking for survivors.
“Make ready, lads,” Aleena told the guards. “Something’s afoot.”
She went from scanning the crowd to scanning the buildings behind them. Every balcony bore admirers, cheering and waving; every balcony except one. It was empty, the open doors behind it showing a dark room, its curtains waving in the breeze. Aleena fixated on it. Her gift gave her such a masterful understanding of strategy and tactics that her ability to anticipate an opponent bordered on psychic.
Even as she placed herself directly between the open doors of the deserted balcony and the princesses, she saw something dart from the doors in a blur of movement. It struck her breast plate with a terrific impact, glancing off the polished steel, up the slope of her right breast and over her shoulder as it knocked her back into the sedan and staggered the bearers.
“Steady on, you clumsy fool,” Jarella scolded.
The crowd laughed.
“Guards,” Aleena yelled, “surround the princesses, shields up! Baezha!”
She turned to Baezha and saw her looking up, sword in hand. Aleena joined her. A man with a dagger in his hand was falling straight towards the sedan. The crowd screamed. Baezha caught him using telekinesis, holding him up in the air. Then she drove him into the cobble stones, stunning him. She cast a sleep spell on him so they’d have a captive for questioning. Aleena was about to go after whoever was in that dark room when several firepots came arcing over the crowd. Eisen and the guards next to him raised their shields. Some firepots struck and exploded on them while others burst upon the cobblestones at the guards’ feet, splattering oil that blossomed in flames and inspired the crowd to further hysteria. The guards, their trousers on fire, danced away, while Eisen and his companions cast their burning shields away. With a wave of her hand, Baezha cast magic to extinguish the flames. As the fires went out, figures hooded and cloaked charged.
Aleena stepped forward to meet the first one. He held a curved short sword with a wicked serrated blade. Not knowing if her opponent wore armor under his cloak, she set her blade to be as sharp as it could. Her blade caught him in his left shoulder and emerged from his right rib cage, resulting in his head and right shoulder and arm separating from the rest of his body. Another one came at her from behind. She drove a kick into his stomach, then turned and split his skull. A third thrust his sword at her, but she knocked it aside and unleashed a counterattack too fast for spectators to follow. They saw her swinging sword as a blur of motion. Then the man dropped, his sword arm, forward leg, and head sliced off.
Baezha hurled glowing blue magic at one assassin in a motion like she was striking him with her palm. The mass of magical power drove him back into a wall with enough force to shatter his skull and several other bones. Another came at her, sword cocked over his shoulder. Baezha wrapped her telekinetic power around his neck and broke it while cutting down another one.
Eisen parried a thrust and stabbed his man in the neck, then blocked another assassin’s sword, grabbed his sword arm, then swung his sword in a low, backhanded blow, amputating the assassin’s legs just above the knees. Other members of the wolf pack took down their foes with the ruthless efficiency of sharks biting seals in half. With that, the assault ended, but there could easily be more assassins within the swirling crowd. Their entourage of artists and scribes milled about, aghast at all that just happened.
Aleena checked a dead assassin and confirmed her suspicion – he was a member of the Serpents of the Void.
“Get back to the palace!” Baezha yelled. “Now!”
The sedan bearers turned back toward the palace, hurrying as best they could under their burden. The guards stood on either side, shields up, the burned ones limping, but they hesitated.
“What are you waiting for?” Aleena demanded. “Get back to the palace!”
“That might not be the best idea, Mistress Kurrin,” Corporal Kade said. “Listen.”
Strident trumpet calls blared from within the palace walls.
“What is that?” Baezha asked.
“There’s been an attack at the palace.”
“You are finished, you insolent, common bitch, do you hear me?” Duvessa said. “I will have your contracts canceled and your pardon repealed. I’ll see to it you’re both convicted of murder and your heads roll.”
“You need us more than ever. The Shrouded Masks have been escalating their efforts, and if I’m right about them using these attacks as diversions, that means they are likely near to achieving their objective, and the day after tomorrow you will have scores of ambassadors and ministers in here. If you want this sorted out before then, you don’t dare cast us aside.”
“And if it’s not sorted out by then?” Lenrick said.
“Then you’ll need all the help you can get. And some of those officials will be from the Artisan League.”
“What makes you so certain?” he asked with a sneer.
Aleena ignored Lenrick and looked at Duvessa.
“You said the purpose of the ball was to curry political and economic favor. In this region, no one has economic favor without being in the good graces of the Artisan League. Do you think that will happen if you convict and execute their Chosen daughters? I suggest, Your Majesty, that you give that serious thought. Oh, and by the by, I’m an insolent Chosen bitch.”
The God Makers
Sisters of the Storm Book Five
by Guy E. Estes
Published 9 March 2021
Genre: Epic Fantasy, Adventure
Page Count: 276
Add it to your Goodreads TBR!
The problem with trying to trap the Death Queens is you run the risk of succeeding.
Over a year ago, Aleena Kurrin, divinely gifted warrior, and her adoptive sister, Baezha Ambrose, divinely gifted sorceress, faced the unnatural monsters of the Shingora – the Eighth Hell. The sisters triumphed, but their victory felt hollow, their souls scarred by guilt – though they saved many people, they failed others, something for which they cannot forgive themselves. Making things worse is the fact that the mysterious alchemists responsible for creating those monsters remain unknown… or do they?
A group of alchemists calling themselves the God Makers has set up shop just outside the alchemists’ guild’s jurisdiction, and they sound exactly like those who created the abominations on the Shingora. Haunted by their failures on the Shingora, the sisters must know for certain if the God Makers are who they fear, and if so, put them out of business. Permanently.
But when they get to the God Makers’ lair, they discover their fears fell short of reality. The God Makers’ master, Arleth, means to show the world just what they’re capable of, threatening a city and the sisters’ loved ones in the process. And the sisters would make an invaluable addition to his ranks… whether they want to or not.
To save their loved ones and a city of innocent people, the sisters chosen by the gods challenge those who would create gods, all while trying to accomplish the most difficult task of all – forgiving themselves.
Though based on the events in Book 3, this is a stand-alone novel and can be read without first reading the others.
“My name’s Gorlik,” he said, his grin never faltering as he stared down at her. “I was hoping for this. The chance to put the God Makers’ strength potion to the test!”
She thrust at his neck, but he twisted aside and struck her sword arm in a nerve cluster, numbing her arm and forcing her to drop the sword. He drove a fist at her face. She barely avoided the blow; she didn’t expect such a big man to be so fast. Slipping aside, she drove the heel of her palm up into his chin. Pain shot through her hand and forearm as his head barely moved. His grin broadened. His hammer-like fist slammed into her forehead with a backhanded blow, sending her staggering back three steps before she fell.
He came at her in confident strides as she got up, her equilibrium still wobbly from the blow he dealt her. Her head felt full of cobwebs, whether from the blow or the sedatives she did not know, but her mental faculties were slow and clumsy, like a limb that had fallen asleep. He shot another fist at her. She slipped aside and came in to deliver a flurry of blows with hands, feet, knees and elbows, then backed off. He continued to grin, amused at her antics. Then he came at her. She could barely block the punches he sent at her. She tried to block one of his hooking punches and slowed it just enough to keep it from knocking her unconscious, but it did light off pyrotechnics in her skull. She backpedaled, trying to buy enough time to recover.
To do what, she wondered. My strongest blows do nothing but amuse him.
He came in with a nice opening in his guard. Aleena shot in and drove her fist into his abdomen with every bit of power she possessed, from her feet, up through her hips and torso, transmitting all of it through her arm into his belly.
She felt like she’d punched a stone wall. He looked down, smiling, and drove a hook punch into the side of her head and her world went dark.
“You won’t join my worthy cause, but you will help me.”
Aleena barked out a harsh laugh. Arleth’s smile fell. His face hardened and a glint came to his cold green eyes.
“A storm is coming, Mistress Kurrin, make no mistake, and I will be damned if I let my homeland be overrun by those backward savages. I will do what I must, grind whatever grist the mill requires, to see the Piatist conquest fail. And to demonstrate to the world that the Chosen are no longer relevant.”
“If that were true,” Aleena said, “you’d be taking those potions yourself instead of forcing them on helpless victims.”
“Fear not, Mistress Kurrin,” he said as his charming smile again animated his face, “for I am well ahead of you on that particular matter.” His smile vanished. “You two are going to help me, whether you want to or not. I require neither your consent nor your sympathy. I simply require your bodies.”
Drusilla gave Baezha a malicious smile.
“Well, Morlus,” she purred, “it seems the rumors are true; you have indeed bagged the Chosen.”
“I’ve already taken blood and tissue samples, but what we’re most interested in are their gifts. Extracting them will be no simple task.”
“Of course not, else it would’ve been done long ago, but that’s not to say it’s impossible.” She glided over to Baezha and placed a finger on her forehead, delicately running it down her cheek. “I would relish the opportunity to try. Either we’ll succeed, in which case we’ll bring these pompous peahens down to their proper place, or we’ll fail, in which case we’ll kill them.” She ran her poisonous pale gaze up and down Baezha’s form. “Either way, we’ll subject them to some absolutely delicious tortures.”
Just then Arleth came in.
“Ah, splendid, you’re awake,” he said. “As I’m sure good Morlus here explained to you, we’ve spent the last several days trying to pry those damned gifts from you. We poured everything we had into it, bent all our effort to it, and yet with all of our talent and resources, we could not even begin to extract them from you. All that leaves us with is your tissues. Mind you, we’ve had absolutely stunning results from your tissues, but I was so hoping for those gifts. But it seems that cannot be.
“But then a thought occurred to me. More like a flash of brilliance, really. Don’t you just love it when you have those, when it seems you’ve encountered an insurmountable obstacle and all hope is gone, and then suddenly you achieve the impossible and think of a brilliant solution? Oh, how I live for such moments!
“But I digress. My sudden epiphany was that your gifts are just those – gifts. Gifts cannot be taken. That’s not how you got them, did you? You did not take them from the gods. No, gifts have to be given. The gods gave them to you. And so, I theorize, you can give them to me.”
“And why in the seven hells would we do that?” Baezha asked.
“To spare your sister her life,” he replied, all charm gone from him. He looked to each of them in turn. “You will give me your gifts. If you do not, you will watch while I slowly reduce each of you into a slurry of ingredients. Or perhaps there’s a worse torment for you.” He turned to Morlus and Drusilla. “Bring them to my personal laboratory.”
Aleena’s gaze locked onto the dissected bodies on the tables.
“Now this madness ends,” she said.
“Have you a plan?”
“Yes. Get free and slay them all.”
“And how do you plan to get free?”
“Granted, a few details still need to be hammered out.”
“I create gods, and I have proven myself your superior in every way!”
“Not quite. I’m still prettier.”
“A useless piece of fluff, that’s what you are,” he sneered, “too foolish to see that it’s already too late. I captured you and Baezha, the great Death Queens, as easily as putting on my boots. I had you under my complete control, tossed you aside when you proved useless, and came here to either convince these fools I was right all along or crush them under their own stupidity.” His voice grew in volume as he ranted on, spittle flying from his lips. “And in all that time there was nothing – absolutely nothing – that you could do! Ever since you started this quest, you failed at every single goal, Battle Queen! You who swore to protect the helpless, defend the defenseless? Just look at all the dead innocents around you! Why do you insist on pursuing this futile quest? Why?”
“If I save even one, it’s worth it.”
“Except you haven’t saved anyone, have you? Once more you let people die! Once again, you! Have! Failed!”
“I did my best.”
“It wasn’t good enough.”
“No, it wasn’t. It often isn’t.”
“Then why bother?”
“Because it’s all I have.”
Guy Estes was born in Huntsville, Alabama in 1970 and grew up on his family’s ancestral sugar plantation in New Iberia, Louisiana, where he currently resides with his wife and three children. His children are the seventh generation of his family to grow up on the place, which was occupied by Union troops during the Civil War. He has a bachelor’s degree in social studies education and a master’s degree in European history. His day job is an instructor at a small safety consultation company. He taught public school for three years and, as a result, no longer fears hell.
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